One Oblate's Story... by Dorothy Brigando
When St. Benedict describes the Rule as "...this little rule that we have written for beginners," he extends an invitation for each of us to set out on the greatest of all journeys.
It is its simplicity that give us the courage and confidence to strive for what he describes as the "loftier summits." In a time when so many people question the relevance of monastic life, and perhaps religious life in general, I can say that my first encounter with Benedictine monastic communities which began years ago has also in its simplicity encouraged me to seek these "loftier summits." A monastery is the living invitation of St. Benedict.
My first encounter with Bendictine life was about ten years ago. My husband had become somewhat obsessed with the monks at Weston, Vermont, and I in turn, was somewhat amused and skeptical. Looking back, I think the word "fear" would be a better description of what I was feeling. I remember telling my husband that I would not sit still and watch him turn our home into a monastery! After a while, though, I too was attracted. I was able to overcome fear and began to understand how the values of monastic life fit very nicely into the many other aspects of my Catholic faith, including my roles as wife and mother.
We sought Benedictine communities closer to our home in New Jersey and found that they are as different from one another as can be. We have visited St. Mary's in Morristown, St. Paul's in Newton, Newark Abbey, and one summer we hopped from St. Joseph's in Spencer Massachusetts to another Monastery in Rhode Island. Some make music, some make robes and vestments, some make candy and jams, some sell Christmas trees and help people free themselves from addictions. Each is a wonderful gift in some unique way and all have at least one thing in common - the living Rule of St. Benedict. Personally I was drawn to the Saint Walburga Monastery in Elizabeth, NJ.
I have found close and rewarding ties with the Benedictine Sisters at the Monastery. While the location was one reason for visiting St. Walburga, it has not been the reason for my remaining. My primary reason for continuing to be close to the community at Saint Walburga is the simplicity with which the sisters live the Rule. I've experienced a community of sisters filled with faith when faced with the loss of their chapel following its collapse several years ago. With limited resources and seemingly endless faith, a truly wonderful place of prayer has come to life in their new church.
They also show a deep commitment to further spiritual development by the various programs offered throughout the year. Educational programs, retreats, and days of recollection are offered to challenge and build a strong spiritual life. These programs have attracted a wonderful community of oblates and friends. It has been the everyday "ordinariness" of the sisters and their friends that has called me to respond to the offer of hospitality.
Most recently I have begun to work with the infirm sisters and family members. Being with them in their emotional and physical trials is a gift beyond description. They do not realize what a gift their living faith is to others. How can you describe those who are totally dependent on others for their everyday needs but whose faith never weakens and is a gift to others?
It was the spiritual experiences that kept me coming back even when worldly judgments suggested I was wasting my time. At every step along the way, there have been struggles between spirit and flesh, but through prayers and support I continue - although the "loftier summit" seems farther away as you get closer.
At this point, my journey continues. I am no longer obsessed with the destination since the destination will not be completely achieved during this lifetime. The journey is its own destination. The journey through scripture and prayer is the "loftier summit."
Jesus asked the disciples to "Come and See" where he lived. While He is all around and among us, I have especially found His presence in the unique and blessed way of life in monastic communities. They offer, through their hospitality, an invitation to each of us to "Come and See."