April 12, August 12, December 12

When they are to be received, they come before the whole community in the oratory and promise stability, fidelity to the monastic life, and obedience. This is done in the presence of God and his saints to impress on the novice that if they ever act otherwise, they will surely be condemned by the one they mock. They state their promise in a document drawn up in the name of the saints whose relics are there, and of the abbot, who is present. The novice writes out this document themselves, or if they are illiterate, then they ask someone else to write it for them, but the novice puts their mark to it and with their own hand lays it on the altar. After they have put it there, the novice themself begins the verse: ‘Receive me’, Lord, ‘as you have promised, and I shall live; do not disappoint me in my hope (Ps 118[119]:116). The whole community repeats the verse three times, and adds ‘Glory be to the Father.’ Then the novice prostrates themselves at the feet of each monk to ask their prayers, and from that very day they are to be counted as one of the community.

 If they have any possessions, they should either give them to the poor beforehand, or make a formal donation of them to the monastery, without keeping back a single thing for themselves, well ware that from that day they will not have even their own body at their disposal. Then and there in the oratory, they are to be stripped of everything of their own that they are wearing and clothed in what belongs to the monastery. The clothing taken from them is to be put away and kept safely in the wardrobe, so that, should they ever agree to the devil’s suggestion and leave the monastery – which God forbid – they can be stripped of the clothing of the monastery before they are cast out. But that document of theirs which the abbot took from the altar should not be given back to them but kept in the monastery.    

‘Stability, fidelity to the monastic life [or conversion of life], and obedience’. These three vows (or promises) that Benedict asked his monastics to make are the same three vows that oblates of The World Community for Christian Meditation are invited to make.

Stability, at its deepest, is about being grounded in and living out of our deep inner being. It is also about a growing “faithfulness to the community one has joined”[1], a faithfulness founded on a sense of belonging. As we meditate, this stability is established in a growing stillness.

Conversion is about embracing the reality of the human journey as a pilgrimage of change and transformation, ultimately into the God-life. As this happens, there emerges “an ever-fuller harmony with the principles of peace, tolerance, selflessness and generosity and the courage to say the truth about injustice”[2]. The silence of meditation is the transforming movement of God within us and the meditator’s yes to this movement as it happens.    

Obedience is about being attuned enough to the Spirit of God both personally and relationally. In our faithfulness to community, obedience may require doing something we do not want to do; however, it always means “listening sensitively and selflessly to each other”[3]. The ‘unhesitating obedience’ (chapter five) that the rule asks for, here arises from simple conscious living – something that meditation and community foster. In this simplicity, we freely express who we are regardless of circumstance.

In these vows the oblate finds a context and a support to live the journey into the rediscovery and expression of who they most deeply are, and the encounter with the God who makes this who we are possible. Within this journey is the invitation divinity makes to all humanity: discover your basic unity with the Divine and grow in the living of your life from this unity. Living from this unity is to experience a deep contentment and purpose that nothing and no one else can give.

This chapter of the rule shows us the communal and personal nature of a Christian vow. A vow, no matter its relational context (married, priest, or monastic for example) is a promise to manifest God in the world through self and relationship. Our deepest self is relational; any vow is a commitment to this deep and relational self.

Community is both a support and a witness. Often the witness aspect of communal involvement has been highlighted at the expense of a focus on an ongoing commitment from the community gathered to support those making vows. Support is about providing loving help when needed. It is not about lip service and the attitude that a communal vow is the business of only those making the vow. While the vow is the responsibility, ultimately, of those making it, the community is there to support the vower as they grow into the responsibility of the vows they have taken.

As God is trustworthy, my word to you is not both ‘Yes’ and ‘No’. For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, proclaimed among you by us, by me and Silvanus and Timothy, was not ‘Yes’ and ‘No’; he is always ‘Yes’. As many are God’s promises, each in him is ‘Yes’; therefore also through him is the ‘Amen’ to the glory of God through us. (2 Corinthians 1:18-20, RNJB)

[1] Laurence Freeman, The Oblate Path, 15. The Oblate Path is available from the WCCM’s oblate website.

[2] The Oblate Path, 15.

[3] The Oblate Path, 15.