Monastic life is formed by the monks or nuns pursuing the goal of the Christian life, by making specific promises to God, their community, and themselves, while they engage in the basic practices of their religious order as expressed in their Rule.
To unpack that a bit, monastics emphasize the goal or end of their vocation, which may be expressed in a variety of ways in their prayers and writings. Amid the various concerns and tasks of life that might pull them in different directions, they never lose sight of the ultimate end, such as to “prefer nothing but Christ” (RSB 72), or the Camalodlese call to “the privilege of love.” These and other ways of expressing the goal or end of Christian existence are all means of speaking of the singular end of the Reign of God’s grace, love, peace, and holiness made known in Jesus Christ.
But it is not enough to know the goal, we are called to engage our hearts and wills in the pursuit of this end. It is to make a personal investment in that end that God has made known to us. Monastic communities do this through making vows. Many orders make vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience as the means of engaging the heart in God’s Reign. These are implicit in Benedictine life. However, Benedictine vows are stability, conversatio morum which can be understood as the continuing conversion of life, and obedience. Making vows is akin to an archer taking aim at her target.
Vows then need to be supported by a new set of habits or practices. It is not enough simple to have good intentions without putting them into practice. For Benedictines this means engaging in the practices of the Rule of St. Benedict, which I briefly discussed in a previous post. The Benedictine idea of Christian practice is the balanced life of “ora et labora” “prayer and work.”
These three aspects of End, Intention, and Practices is not unique to the monastery. In fact, they are intrinsic to all Christian life. It is at the heart of Baptism wherein we are joined with God by union with Christ by the Spirit who dwells in us, we make vows to renounce evil and to turn to Jesus Christ and follow him, remembering the basic practices of Christian life as expressed in our Baptismal Covenant. It is also part and parcel of our Formation in Faith motto here at St. John’s: to know the Story of God, to commit to the Story of God, and to participate in the Story of God. The end of Christian life is embedded in knowing the story, while commitment to the story is made through our Baptismal promises and vows, and the practices derived from the story become the means of our participation.
The problem all too often is that we get distracted from our Baptismal vocation as we go through the vicissitudes of daily life. Monastic communities are living reminders of this threefold understanding of Christian existence. Their intentionality calls us out of our forgetfulness and distraction.
And what of the oblate? Becoming an oblate of a Benedictine monastery is a commitment to live out Christian life as expressed in Baptism through the prism of Benedictine (and for me Camaldolese as well) vision of life. While I will not take vows as would a monk, I will promise to live out my Baptismal promises through the Oblate Rule. I seek the privilege of Love through my renunciation of evil and commitment to Christ. I engage in the life of prayer in the Benedictine way, finding time for the triplex bonum of the Camaldolese vision: commitment to the community of faith, solitude with God, and witness to the Gospel in the world.