April 13, August 13, December 13
If a member of the nobility offers his son to God in the monastery, and the boy himself is too young, the parents draw up the document mentioned above; then at the presentation of the gifts, they wrap the document itself and the boy’s hand in the altar cloth. That is how they offer him.
As to their property, they either make a sworn promise in this document that they will never personally, never through an intermediary, nor in any way at all, nor at any time, give the boy anything or afford him the opportunity to possess anything; or else, if they are unwilling to do this and still wish to win their reward for making an offering to the monastery, they make a formal donation of the property that they want to give to the monastery, keeping the revenue for themselves, should they so desire. This ought to leave no way open for the boy to entertain any expectations that could deceive and ruin him. May God forbid this, but we have learned from experience that it can happen.
Poor people should do the same, but those who have nothing at all simply write the document and, in the presence of witnesses, offer their son with the gifts.
As monasteries became more established the circumstances arose where parents would offer their sons to monasteries. Whether in the hope of a better life for their children, or perhaps hopeful of some divine reward or enhanced social status, these children would be oblatus (Latin) or ‘offered’.
When the offered children reached an appropriate age they would be given the choice of remaining in the monastery or leaving. Some would remain and yet, for some reason, not take the vows of a monk. Others would leave and still maintain contact with the community they had left. They did this, presumably, because they felt they were still a part of the monastic community that had supported them. In time this way of living with monks (whether physically and/or spiritually) became formalised and named as being an ‘oblate’. Eventually people did not even need to be reared in a monastery to become an oblate. A more general resonance and association with a monastery was enough.
As poor and noble parents alike approached monasteries with their sons, it was important for these monasteries to preserve a system of rank based on entry date rather than social status. With differing social status would come differing expectations and values. Chapter 59 helps to protect a monastic culture of equity from the dangers of inequality. A monastic culture is a contemplative one that aims to imbue the monastic with ‘God-vision’. The challenge in the time of Benedict, as now, was to grow in seeing life and people as God sees life and people.
Whatever the time, place, and motivation, in the seeking of God there come communal moments and ceremonies of commitment to this seeking. This can happen as people marry, in baptism and the renewal of baptismal promises, at ordination, profession, confirmation, and in becoming an oblate. Each day, in fact, could have a moment in it when we re-commit ourselves to the seeking of Divine Love – a simple daily thing done that is our way of re-wrapping a hand in the altar cloth. In these rituals we give ourselves to a daily living into the glory of God in a way that cannot be understood with just our thinking. Ritual is a full body commitment to growing in love.
Love is a relational and communal reality that we can personally participate in and experience together. Our daily relating can bear witness to this. We are experiencing something of Divine Love in life when we, deep down, sense something or someone uncreated and mysteriously with us as we go about the ordinary business of daily relating. Our twice daily meditation practice disposes us to this sensing. Creation is immersed in Love, as are we (as part of this Creation). A prayer life solid enough in meditation and community helps us see and live in this loving reality.
In view of this we also pray continually that our God will make you worthy of his calling, and by his power fulfil all your desires for goodness, and complete every work of faith, so that the name of our Lord Jesus Christ may be glorified in you and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ. (2 Thes. 1:11-12, RNJB).