Oblates and Oblation

The Christian monastic tradition can be traced back at least to the 3rd century, and there have been Oblates connected with monastic communities, in various ways, practically from the beginning.

Camaldolese Benedictine Oblates continue in this great tradition. Our Oblates are lay persons or members of other orders or diocesan clergy who seek to live a life in harmony with God through the Camaldolese Oblate Rule, striving to incorporate its values and spirituality into their lives.

Over 600 men and women from all over the world have become Camaldolese Oblates. They regularly return to the New Camaldoli Hermitage and/or to Incarnation Monastery for spiritual retreat, as well as attending, when possible, retreats conducted in northern and southern California for active oblate groups.

An 11th century Pope affirmed: The Oblate’s profession deserves nothing but praise, and it is worthy to endure, being as it is a reproduction of the primitive state of the Church. We therefore approve of it and confirm it and style it a Holy and Catholic institution.

Introduction to the Rule for Camaldolese Benedictine Oblates

Adapted from the Camaldolese Constitutions and the Rule Itself

Long before the coming of Christ, humanity’s quest for the Absolute gave rise in various religious traditions to expressions of monastic life. The many different forms of monastic and ascetical life throughout the centuries bear witness to the divine destiny of the human person and to the presence of the Spirit in the hearts of all who seek to know what is true and ultimately real. There is a “monastic” dimension in every human life which the monk witnesses and affirms, just as every Christian call witnesses to that dimension present interiorly in every other Christian.

In the early Church, ascetics and virgins followed the Spirit’s call to a more intense life of prayer. During the third and fourth centuries, with the exodus to the desert, Christian monasticism began to take on those forms of community life and solitude which would determine its later development. This tradition at its best always deeply esteemed marriage and single life in the world as ways to holiness in rich complementary to monasticism.

Saint Benedict (d. circa 550), as author of the Rule for Monks, has always been considered the Western Church’s lawgiver and master of monastic living. Saint Romuald (d. circa 1027) and his disciples (Camaldolese) also profess this rule.

The Rule of Saint Benedict is a synthesis of Christian spirituality including key elements of scripture and the fruit of the first centuries of monastic experience. Drawing on these directives, norms, and precepts found in the Gospel, the Rule wisely blends them with the historical and cultural context of its time. Thus the Rule of Saint Benedict unites the purity of timeless teachings and the characteristics of the author’s own holiness and prudence with spiritual and juridical elements that are linked to his time and so are subject to modification as they are reinterpreted for each age.

Saint Romuald lived and worked during the late tenth and early eleventh centuries. He fully realized in his own life the spirit of the Rule, and he wisely reinterpreted it, emphasizing the solitude of the hermitage. Saint Romuald wanted the hermitage to be characterized by a greater simplicity and a more intense penitential and contemplative practice. Therefore he freely adapted some juridicial and material structures of the cenobitic (communal) and anchoritic (hermit) life as they were lived before him, in order to respond to the spiritual needs of his contemporaries and to the “voice of the Holy Spirit, who presided over his conscience.” (from Life of Blessed Romuald by Saint Peter Damian, #53). The Camaldolese hermitage is a special fruit of Saint Romuald’s broad and varied monastic experience as a reformer and founder. The hermitage retains elements of cenobitic (communal) living, at the same time offering the possibility of greater solitude and freedom in the inner life.

The Camaldolese Congregation (of the Order of Saint Benedict) takes its name from the Holy Hermitage of Camaldoli, founded by Saint Romuald. Quite early on, in the eleventh and twelfth centuries, the congregation was formed with the founding or aggregation of other hermitages and monasteries. Today those include, besides New Camaldoli and Incarnation Monastery, several ancient houses in Italy, and foundations in India, Brazil and Tanzania. There are Camaldolese nuns in the United States, Italy, France, India, Tanzania and Brazil. Our congregation looks to Saints Benedict and Romuald with filial devotion and regards our holy teachers’ doctrine and spirit as perennially valid. Today as in the past, the Holy Hermitage of Camaldoli (Italy) is considered to be the head and mother of the congregation. For each age the Rule of Saint Benedict is interpreted by the Camaldolese Constitutions and the entire Camaldolese tradition.

In both the hermitages and monasteries which characterize Camaldolese life, the monks attend to the contemplative life above all else, which is seeking and communing with God in a very deep way throughout one’s daily life by a sharing in the Paschal mystery of Christ.

New Camaldoli Hermitage, Big Sur, CA was founded from the Holy Hermitage of Camaldoli, Italy, in 1958. New Camaldoli’s daughter house, Incarnation Monastery, Berkeley, CA was founded in 1979. Incarnation Monastery is also the seat of the Saint Benedict Monastic Institute and serves as the house of studies for New Camaldoli.

Camaldolese Benedictine Oblates are a group of Christians who experience an attraction of the Holy Spirit to deep prayer and experience a bond of friendship with our monastic community and its long spiritual tradition. In fact friendship is an important value cherished by the Camldolese family and therefore encouraged between monks and those living outside our houses. Oblates are extended members of the Camaldolese Benedictine family, seeking to share, in their own special way, in its way of living the Christian life. To this end, the Rule of Saint Benedict, the Camaldolese Constitutions and the rich and ancient Camaldolese tradition want to be adapted to the life of oblates living their own Christian vocation. For both monks and oblates, the heart of our life is the seeking of God, the following of Christ’s twofold command of love in the natural rhythms of daily life. Scripture, Liturgy of the Eucharist and the Hours, silence, solitude, deep interior prayer of quiet, work, shared life with others—these are the means which enable us to seek and find God with a pure heart. The oblate faces the challenge of setting up his/her own structure of life animated by key elements of the Camaldolese charism in order to live and grow in the life of Christ. Of course active participation in the local Christian community remains important for rootedness in the Christian life. Oblate spirituality seeks above all else a loving union with God through a full, prayerful life; a life which is at the same time both deeply interior and outwardly expansive in love and service of neighbor. It is a spirituality which is particularly nurtured through solitude and silence as well as through warm community.

The Rule for Oblates attempts to take the principal elements of the Camaldolese charism and apply them in general to the life of oblates without many of the structures of life here at the Hermitage. It is up to each oblate, according to the circumstances of their life, to set up their own structures for living the basic elements of Camaldolese spirituality, which are rooted simply in the Christian Gospel.

Rule for Camaldolese Benedictine Oblates

Prayer

God the Father has chosen us in the Son and has predestined us to be adopted children of God. For with the Son we have died and have been risen up in baptism, so that we might receive “a spirit of adoption through which we cry out ‘Abba’ (that is, ‘Father’)” (Romans 8,15). It is God’s Spirit who enables us to persevere in steadfastness of faith and who inwardly strengthens us, so that in Christ we may stand with confidence before God.

Nourished by the Body and Blood of Christ and transformed into Him, we live in the hope that God’s loving plan for us will be fulfilled. Consecrated by the Holy Spirit, who forms us into a spiritual temple and a holy priesthood, we are called to offer our lives to God as a spiritual sacrifice, acceptable through Christ. Thus we become true worshipers and we exercise fully our priestly role, united in the Church’s sacraments to Christ’s own offering of His life to God.

As sincere seekers of God (Rule of Benedict 58, 7) we approach God as sons and daughters. We center our lives on the encounter with God, which finds expression in forms of prayer handed down in early Christian, patristic and monastic traditions. Ultimately, our prayer seeks to become the very prayer of the Holy Spirit within our hearts.

Liturgy of the Eucharist

“The Liturgy is the summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed; at the same time it is the fountain from which all her power flows” (Vatican II Constitution on Liturgy). The paschal mystery of Christ is made present and effective for our salvation in the celebration of the Eucharist. The Eucharist is the center of the life of the Church because from it the Church is born, lives and continues to grow until she is ready to meet her bridegroom Christ as He comes in glory.

The sharing in God’s life and the unity of God’s people are in fact given fitting expression and a mysterious realization in the Eucharist, in which the Church, made one with the sacrifice of Christ, offers herself to God. In the Eucharist the Church receives an outpouring of the Holy Spirit and enjoys a foretaste of the perfect communion with the Blessed Trinity which will be hers in the age to come.

The life of the oblate should be oriented in such a way that it is a preparation for, and an extension of, the eucharistic action. The Eucharist should be celebrated at least once a week and in as full, conscious and active a way as possible. Thus, by God’s gift , the oblate may attain that total inner openness to God’s action which the spiritual masters have called mystical experience or contemplation.

Liturgy of the Hours

As Camaldolese Benedictines, we have always considered the celebration of the praise of God to be a fundamental element in our life. In the celebration of the Liturgy of the Hours, the Church offers her sacrifice of praise to the Father, and she thanks God for the salvation that comes to her in Christ. In the Hours, as in the Eucharist, Christ is acting out his priestly role and bringing to completion the covenant of love that unites bride to her bridegroom.

According to Christian tradition, the purpose of the Liturgy of the Hours is the sanctification of the entire day. Hence it is necessary that the celebration of the various Hours (Vigils, Lauds, Vespers, Compline, etc.) correspond as closely as possible to their proper time of day. Special importance should be given to Lauds (at daybreak) and Vespers (at sunset), the principal moments of the Liturgy of the Hours. Though we are aware of time pressures for so many, these two hours are recommended for oblates if possible. Each element of the Hours—the psalms, hymns, scripture, prayers—is to have its proper place in the celebration. The Hours are enhanced when prayed slowly and reverently and when accompanied by scripture study and a deeper understanding of the psalms.

Lectio Divina

Lectio Divina (divine or holy reading) is a principal practice of our spirituality. True to its biblical origins, the monastic life seeks above all a listening heart wherein God’s Word—God’s self-communication—is made manifest in Christ, in the Scriptures, in the human heart and in the heart of the cosmos. Lectio Divina is a method of approaching scripture in order to listen to the depths, seeking to encounter Christ, the Word, through the power of the Holy Spirit, hidden in the words of the text. Ultimately it can be said that the goal of lectio is an ever expanding capacity to listen with the heart to the Word of God in all of life’s situations, leading to a more constant awareness of God’s presence. It is a listening as communication not so much for a particular message but for the nearness of the Living God. It is therefore a listening that leads to a new way of seeing. In this sense the faithful practice of lectio undergirds our entire life of prayer, work, and communion with others.

The traditional method for Lectio Divina is fourfold:

  • Lectio: The repeated reading of the text until certain words and phrases call for attention. Sometimes footnotes in a good study bible (for example, the Jerusalem Bible) as well as cross references help here. This stage has often been compared to taking in food, as the first “eating” of the word of scripture.
  • Meditatio: The further “chewing” or ruminating on key words and phrases. One stays as long as one is so attracted to a word or phrase. At this stage the heart of the text for the reader should begin to emerge.
  • Oratio: These key words and phrases of the text eventually lead the person to prayer inspired by the text and a growing awareness of God’s presence in Christ by the Spirit. This is the deep tasting of the text.
  • Contemplatio: Eventually the particular words lead the reader beyond words to a silent awareness of God’s presence—simply an abiding or communing with God. This is the savoring of the sweetness of the Lord. Lectio is also enhanced when an oblate does scripture study and learns to consult good commentaries to support his or her reading. In this way the subtle nuances of a text will be more available to the reader. The oblate should try to do lectio as often as possible but at least once a week in preparation for Sunday Liturgy, using the readings for that Sunday.
  • Interior Prayer: Personal participation in the liturgy and the regular practice of lectio are reflected in one’s interior prayer, flowing up from the depths of the heart under the influence of the Holy Spirit. This “secret” prayer, the fruit of repentance and purity of heart, is taught by the Gospel and recommended by Saint Benedict, Cassian and the desert tradition. The atmosphere of silence, in which God speaks, is indispensable for this practice. Silence permeates it and nourishes it, and when an oblate is faithful to this prayer (Jesus Prayer/Centering Prayer/Christian meditation, etc.) it becomes a constant reality in his/her relationship with God as son/daughter. It is recommended that this prayer be offered twice a day, morning and evening, for ten or twenty minutes or more, when possible. This prayer gradually becomes expansive, embracing more and more of our day and ourselves as we become aware of God’s continual abiding presence, even at work, during traffic jams and those brief moments of pause interspersing our day. Be attentive and open to the voice of the Spirit, knowing that prayer is her gift. Continually ask for this grace; and as you long to take part in the Church’s mystical marriage with her spouse the Lamb, allow the Spirit to draw you into the silent state of the heart called quies or (rest, stillness), there to experience your own mystical union with God. It is important to model your whole spiritual life on the mystery of Christ, following the Church on her journey through the annual liturgical cycle. Find the best way of entering into and celebrating as intensely as possible the principal seasons of the Christian year—Advent, Christmas, Lent and Easter.

Asceticism/Discipline

The Church shares in the mystery of Christ her head, which is a mystery of death and resurrection. Sealed by the Spirit, “the pledge of our inheritance”, the Church longs for the fulfillment of God’s kingdom as she awaits “Our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.” (Ephesians 1,4/Titus 2,13). Monks and oblates humbly welcome the word that has taken root in them, with its power to save, and they strive to be continually converted by that word and to be doers of the word and not merely listeners. All Christians strive to follow the poor, chaste and obedient Christ according to the particular circumstances of their lives. This means lives that are marked by simplicity, sharing, chaste loving and continual surrender to God’s desire for them and the world. Oblates seek to undertake those ascetic disciplines necessary for their life in the world as extended members of the New Camaldoli and Incarnation Monastery. The daily dying to selfishness, to control, to possessiveness, to activism, to addictions and anything else that hinders the oblate’s transformation in Christ is the basic asceticism. A life of moderation, integration, focus, wholeness, and depth must be sought through whatever practices help in this regard (i.e. fasting, retreats, good spiritual reading, spiritual direction). Moderating the use of television, media, alcohol, etc., would also be helpful forms of asceticism.

Work

A great deal of our lives is spent at work. For our spirituality, work is more than earning a living. It is a means of developing our human faculties, continuing the work of God the Creator and contributing to the fulfillment of the plan of Divine Providence. Sometimes work also entails some suffering, and to this extent it is for us a participation in the redemption of humanity through the mystery of the cross. Work develops our skills and talents as well as offering a means through which we can contribute to the betterment of society. Work also enables us to acquire material goods and thereby to share with those less fortunate than we. Work can also be an expression of God’s beauty and loving care for this earth. Oblates should seek to make their work an integral part of their spirituality, uniting themselves with God who in Christ is working in the world in order to bring all things into unity. Work is also a necessary part of our Christian dignity, expressing outwardly in doing our very being as sons and daughters of a loving creator God. Work does not define who we are but rather gives expression in an incarnational way to who we are as well as mysteriously expanding our very being in God.

Silence and Solitude

Silence and solitude have a privileged place in the Camaldolese Benedictine tradition. The encounter with God in silence and solitude is distinctive of our tradition. An apt image of such an encounter with God is the desert or wilderness, where one is stripped of everything but that alone which is truly necessary. Oblates find the Hermitage at Big Sur, CA, to be in many ways a desert/ wilderness experience of silence and solitude supported by community. While this might remain hard to duplicate precisely, oblates should nevertheless cherish such silence and solitude, seeking creative ways of finding them in their daily lives. It is especially important to seek for silence and solitude of the heart, which can be found everywhere if one has learned how to remain in vital contact with the depths. Of course oblates should periodically spend time away on retreat, especially at the Hermitage or at Incarnation Monastery in Berkeley, CA, if possible.

Other Information for Oblates

There is a one year probation period of postulancy during which time an oblate candidate carefully reads and prays over this rule to see how well it “fits” and to discern the Spirit’s movement in the candidate’s life. At the end of the probation, the candidate should notify the oblate chaplain if oblation is desired. There is a formal ceremony for the reception of an oblate which ideally would take place at the Hermitage or at Incarnation Monastery. However, in order to accommodate those not able to come to either of the Camaldolese houses, the ceremony can take place at a local monastery or church. During the ceremony a medallion with our ancient emblem is given to the new oblate. Once received, the oblate is placed on our mailing list for our quarterly newsletter along with recommended book/tape lists. The newsletters, besides providing a meditation on some aspect of our spirituality, also keep the oblate informed about life at the Hermitage and Incarnation Monastery. Special events for oblates are also announced in the newsletter.

The oblate is asked to write or meet at least once a year with the oblate chaplain as a means of keeping contact and just letting him know how one is doing living the oblate rule. If for any reason the oblate wishes to discontinue in this relationship with us, we would appreciate being notified.

Oblates are continually remembered in the prayer of the Camaldolese community and of course always welcome at any of our houses. When we are notified of the death of an oblate, the Eucharist is offered as soon as possible for the deceased in the Camaldolese community to which the oblate is affiliated.

Oblates are encouraged to adapt the rule to the particular circumstances of their lives in consultation with the oblate chaplain.

For more information about the Camaldolese Oblates, please contact:

Fr. Andrew Colnaghi

Incarnation Monastery
1369 La Loma Ave.
Berkeley, CA 94708
facolnaghi@aol.com

Fr. Stephen Coffey

Monastery of the Risen Christ
2308 O’Connor Way
San Luis Obispo, CA
sgcoffey@yahoo.com

Fr. Daniel Manger

Monastery of the Risen Christ
2308 O’Connor Way
San Luis Obispo, CA
dmangerj@gmail.com

Fr. Michael Mifsud

P.O. Box 206
Warburton VIC 3799
frmpm50@bigpond.com