“According to article 2 of the Statute of Italian Benedictine Oblates which was finally approved in the year 2000, the Benedictine oblate is a lay or clergy Christian man or woman, who, leading a normal way of life, acknowledges and accepts God’s gift and His call to serve Him in conformity to the potentialities of baptismal consecration and to the needs of his/ her social status. Oblates donate their own being to God with oblation, infusing the values of the Holy Rule according to the spiritual monastic traditions into their paths of faith.”
“Oblatus”, the past participle of the Latin verb offerre (to offer), is the action of something that is offered, and, the oblation of children on behalf of the noble families is accurately described in art. 59 of the Benedictine Rule; these families used to donate a child to the Lord forever by wrapping one of the hands in the altar’s cloth of the monastery where the petition had been laid down.
This practice was also mentioned in the Dialogues of St Gregory the Great, in Book II, where we read that, in certain cases, children were offered by the Roman Patricians at Montecassino to be trained in the service of God.
Since then and many years before the Patria Potestas or paternal authority came definitely to an end, that is, at the time when parents had the say about their children’s future, many adults used to offer their own beings as oblates in a monastery. Some of them worked or to carried out a duty there either because they preferred the labour environment of the monastery to any other or else because they wanted to escape the oppression of powerful lords. Some others joined the so-called pro remedio animae monastery so as to make sure that the monks were praying for the conversion from their usual habits and for the salvation of their souls; many a time they asked the monks to be buried in the monastic cemetery.
In the course of centuries, many ways how to be spiritually tied to a claustral community have been recorded, that is, either by living inside the monastery walls and wearing a special garment or else by attending the monastery to pray or to carry out a duty. Some characters have been taken as examples. Here, we would like to distinguish two figures: St. Francesca Romana (1384 - 1440), the patron of Oblates, and Elena Lucrezia Cornaro Piscopia (1645 - 1684) , the first woman in the world who got a degree.
Francesca Romana was an oblate of the Olivetan Monastery of S.Maria Nuova in Rome. Besides dedicating herself to the poor, to the sick and to the moribund of her own native town, she worked hard for the unity of the Church, for peace and for the reconciliation between enemies. Her whole life as a spouse, a mother, a widow and as an authoritative member of the community, was animated by prayers and by the practice of obedience.
In 1678, Elena Lucrezia Cornaro Piscopia was proclaimed magistra et doctrix in philosophy. Culturally moulded in classical subjects, critical towards traditional Aristotelianism, scrupulous of natural experiences and very determined in her personal and political choices, Elena Lucrezia was a very pious oblate and very dedicated to studying, exercising charity, praying and attending the monastic rites, first at St. George’s in Venice, where her oblation was ratified, and later at the Abbey of St. Giustina in Padua, where she is buried.
From its institution till the present day, the Benedictine Rule has always been a guide for oblates. As oblates are spiritually tied to a Benedictine monastic community, it is a constant reference point from the very minute that that they are called to live the incorporation of the Body of Christ grafted in them with baptism in a conscious and radical way.
Establishing a strictly personal bond with the monastic community that every oblate is called to be a member of, oblates listen (the chief word in the Benedictine Rule) and ob-audisce, that is, they incline the ear of their hearts and, struggling against any inertia of the spirit, they start moving on...
The oblate’s life is marked by a constant quest of God’s will and of the miracles that He works among his people, disclosing the infinite forms which the Lord reveals himself in: from the Scriptures, by The Word of God which the oblate is nourished by through the practice of divine readings, to nature, to the daily events, to the working instruments, and to the people, monks and oblates, offered to him/her as brothers and sisters. It is also distinguished by dwelling in God’s presence and offering to Him, in communion with his/her monastic community, a praise which is a praise of the Church, a thanksgiving to the Father in Jesus Christ, a concordant task of mind and voice.
Oblates live by the labour of their hands (cfr. B:R: 48, 8) and are aware that they are at the service of mankind, their brethren, and, that they are taking an active part in the completion of divine creation (cfr. GS 67).
Vatican Council II urged lay people “to learn how to donate their own beings, so that day by day, for the intercession of Jesus Christ, they are made perfect in unity with God and with their brethren, so that, at the end, God will be all in each and every human being” (SC 48). This is the oblates’ life schedule, who, like monks and with monks, are called to unity (monos), to the simplification and the unification of their own beings in their endless journey to discover their inner selves so as to be on an on-going reconciliation with God and with their brethren, to recuperate the cosmic order, to preserve it and to work for peace; all this perducatum Evangelii (B.R. prol., 21), so as “to prefer nothing to the love of Christ” (cfr. B.R. 4, 21; cfr. B.R. 72, 11), and, as Paul quotes: “It is not I anymore who lives but Christ that lives in me” (Gal 2,20).
Which is why, in art. 3 of the above-mentioned Statute we read: “An oblate is bound to lead a way of life in progressive conformation to Christ, the only goal for his/ her oblation and that of a Benedictine spirituality, and, trying to irradiate the world with his/her own life, gives evidence of the everlasting vitality of the monastic life in Christian experience.”
At the same time the bond of authentic brotherhood grows among oblates belonging to the same monastery thanks to esteem, respect, sharing, listening to the Word and celebrating it, and the meditated prayer, as becomes people who get together in the name of the Lord. Mutual relationship between groups of oblates help to expand hearts expand (cfr. B.R. prol., 49) and so by welcoming new members, new situations, new guests, the everlasting innovation of History, which is Christ, is granted.
For relational developments between the various groups of oblates, co-operative organisms have been set up in Italy; among those playing an important role are:
‘L’Assemblea dei Coordinatori di gruppo’, that is, a group of chairmen who meet once every three years in a sitting, which is summoned and presided by the National Chairman; and ‘Il Consiglio Direttivo Nazionale’, summoned by the National Co-ordinator at least twice a year and is composed by the National Co-ordinator, the National Assistant, the two vice Assistants appointed by the National Benedictine Intermonastery Organisms and the nine oblates elected by the Assembly on behalf of the three geographical areas of Italy - the North, the Central and the South.
Firmly convinced of the importance of monachism, oblates are bound to cherish and to convey the Benedictine charism, interpreting it with creative faithfulness, and, introducing new ways and shouldering the responsibility because the various conditions for charism accomplishment, according to the oblates’ status, do not belittle it, but on the contrary, they can induce it to a greater fruitfulness and, nevertheless, they are unified deeply in the mystery of the communion of the Church and are co-ordinated dynamically in the one and only mission for universal call to holiness and to the fullness of love.
Oblation is a liturgical-spiritual act which is recognized by the Church (cfr. Statute article 3) and is the result of a formative training lasting for a period of time at the discretion of an Abbot and of the community that the oblate enters into relation with. Under the guide of the Abbot or the assistant delegated by him/her, oblation finds its expression in the personal path of conversion, as proposed by the Benedictine Rule, by taking part in the duties and in the prayers which differ a lot from a monastic community to another, and also by participating in constructive face to face discussions, which might be enrichening.
Growing in faith and practising good deeds (cfr. B.R. prol.,21), oblates are engaged to render Christ, the Lord of history, visible.
Therefore, seeing the present world as it is: fragmented, discordant, banal, rushed, addicted to waste and in search of distraction, a world in which the familiar and social roots seem to be withering out, they look at it with paschal eyes and are more convinced that “in everything God works for the good of those who love him” (Rm 8,28).
In the space-time that God has placed us, each one of us must learn how to disclose the spiritual sources, the infinite potentialities, natural and of grace, which nowadays are hidden in the people around us and in the cosmos, without putting off the tension towards the One: “in him we live and move, in him we exist” (Acts of the Apostles, 17, 28)
This is how Italian oblates see the present and the future and they have started once more to promote the values of the Heavenly Reign, to create human conditions for peace, justice, freedom, dignity, solidarity, negotiations, operating as the yeast in bread, with ability and responsibility, together with mercy and compassion.
St. Benedict teaches us that perfect Charity originates when we endure one another’s physical and spiritual infirmities (cfr. B.R. 72,5).
Discernment, a Benedictine virtue which envelopes common sense and equilibrium, humbleness and simplicity of the heart, will get to the heart of the evangelization of our world.
Longing for unity and for perfect harmony with our inner selves, with God, with our brethren and with nature, lies deep down in the heart of each and every human being, stored up to be extracted and to be conducted to its fullness.