Monday, August 27, 2012

Oblates and the Desert Fathers -- What's the Difference?

Coptic icon of Pachomius the Great, the founde...
Coptic icon of Pachomius the Great, the founder of Christian cenobitic monasticism. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I'm thinking of developing a class on Benedictine spirituality, especially as it applies to oblates, to offer in my parish. I've no idea if they would let me do it or not, nor if anyone would attend. One reason I'd like to do that is to see if I can't interest a few people to look into becoming oblates, at whatever monastery, so that we could support one another in the journey.

Anyway, I thought the class might go 6 weeks, starting with  2 sessions on the history of monasticism, going back to the desert fathers. So, not knowing much about the desert fathers, I started reading. The first book I pulled out of my electronic book bag was Benedicta Ward's book on the Sayings of the Desert Fathers. I was reminded of something interesting.  Here's a quote:

These men and women lived alone as hermits, or with disciples living near by, or, as training became more urgent, in larger groups in monasteries. At the beginning this was a way of life largely unstructured by theological reflection. These people were ordinary Christians who chose to live out their evangelical commitment in terms of the monastic way of life, and in doing so they transformed both Christianity and monasticism in both its details and its ideology.

Monasticism has always been a lay movement that sprang from within the Church. It was driven by ordinary people living their daily lives who wanted to be better prepared for the day, which they expected to come in a short time, very possibly within their lifetime, in which Christ would come. Monasteries were made up of people who wanted nothing but Christ.

What a difference it would make if this were true of more Christians, especially more Catholics. We could truly be the leaven, the light of the world shining before men. I know it would make a difference if I could slow down and be conscious of the goal of living like this would make in my own life. It occurred to be that oblates are, in a sense, trying to recapture that very early monastic spirituality.

Encouraging that could be a very good objective for my course, if I ever do it.

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