Oblate Journey: What is an Oblate?

Part I: What is an Oblate?

Some of you may remember that over a year ago St. John’s hosted a gathering of people in our diocese who were affiliated in one way or another with a monastic or religious community as an  associate or an oblate. These are people who want to deepen their spiritual lives by having a relationship with an order and living a modified rule of life similar to that that the monks and nuns follow. This rule is adapted for those living in the world instead of the cloister. Since the Middle Ages such affiliations have enriched the lives of millions of Christians.

I attended that gathering and began thinking and praying about whether or not I am called into such an affiliation. This past Lent I decided to apply to be an oblate of New Camaldoli, a house of the Congregation of the Camaldolese Benedictines in Big Sur. I have been accepted as a postulant, and anticipate being made an oblate around Ash Wednesday.

Being a postulant means I am in a period of discernment as to whether or not I am called to be an oblate. As a part of this process I thought it might be a good idea to use this blog as a means of sharing with you what being an oblate entails, what the Benedictine way of life is about, and the particular vision of the Camaldolese Benedictines.

Let me begin then with a few FAQs:

What is an Oblate?

Wikipedia very helpfully offers this succinct definition:
“Oblates are individuals, either laypersons or clergy, normally living in general society, who, while not professed monks or nuns, have individually affiliated themselves with a monastic community of their choice. They make a formal, private promise to follow the Rule of the Order in their private life as closely as their individual circumstances and prior commitments permit.”

To be a Benedictine oblate is to discover a font of the spiritual life in the ancient Rule of St. Benedict and to apply its insights to daily life, living a modified oblate rule adapted for life in the world. Further, it is to establish a relationship with a specific monastic community.

So why choose the Camaldolese?

That is a long story that I hope to share in future posts. But the short answer is that I have had a connection with Camaldolese monks since my days in seminary. My professor of the History of Christian Spirituality was Fr. Robert Hale, OSB Cam., and is now the oblate chaplain at New Camaldoli. In those days he was part of an ecumenical priory in Berkeley with the Episcopal monks of the Order of the Holy Cross.

Why a Roman Catholic order? Are you becoming a Catholic?

I’ll answer the second question first: No. Benedictine houses often welcome non-Catholics as oblates. Affiliation is with the monastery itself and not with the Catholic Church. My mentor during my early days in the Diocese of Los Angeles was an oblate of the monastery in Valyermo, California. Several clergy of the Diocese of Northern California are oblates of New Camaldoli, including Bishop Barry Beisner and his wife Ann Hallisey.

The simplest reason I have applied to be an oblate of a Catholic monastery is that I have had a connection with them in one way or another for almost forty years. I combine that with my longstanding appreciation of the Benedictine way, and a more recent exploration of the Camaldolese vision.

In the months to come I hope to share much more about my Oblate Journey. Please feel free to ask questions or seek clarifications.

Grace and Peace,