October 6, 2010 by wcobserver
Wrestling with her rolling-walker-with-seat, Jane carefully made her way over to the crowded table in the guest dining room in the basement of Subiaco Abbey. As her dinner companions made room at the table for the heavy-set lady with immaculately coiffed white hair, she proceeded to tell them her story.
Suffering from cancer as well as heart disease, she had come to Subiaco Abbey for the weekend Oblate Retreat to help deal with the pain of the unexpected death of her oldest son this past spring who would have turned 45 on this very Saturday. But, it was not only the loss of this son. She had lost a young baby boy many years ago, and several years ago her second son, aged 21, had died from a rare form of meningitis. Three sons dead and a husband with Parkinson’s lying in the VA hospital in Fort Smith. But, at least she was in her Oblate community who listened to her with real care and concern.
Oblates, in the Benedictine monastic tradition, “offer” themselves (making an oblation) to a Monastery, and pledge to join with the monks in a routine of morning and evening prayers (to the best of their ability) called the Office of the Hours. Oblates of Subiaco Abbey, located 40 miles east of Fort Smith, live and work in the world as professors, business owners, nurses, accountants, mothers, and retirees while being supported by and supporting the monks in prayer.
Making an Oblation involves first becoming a Novice for one year and then returning to the Abbey to dedicate oneself to the service of God and others in a community of prayer. Interestingly enough, there are probably more non-Catholics than Catholic Oblates at Subiaco Abbey. Methodist laypersons as well as ministers, Baptists, including at least one Baptist minister, many Episcopalians, including clergy, and Presbyterians attend twice-yearly retreats held at the Coury Guest House. The retreats, given by monks, generally focus on growing in the spiritual life.
Every six months, Oblates from far away as Texas, Louisiana, Tennessee, gather with the monks at the Abbey, get up early each morning to hurry over to the church and take their places in choir stalls with the monks to sing ancient chants of praise and worship taken from the Psalms and Sacred Scripture. After a busy round of conferences, generous meals, and time for reflection, Oblates and monks end the day watching the sun set through strikingly brilliant stained glass windows as Vesper chants and the haunting “Salve Regina” echoes in the darkening Abbey church. Then to bed. As one monk observed, “It gets late, early around here.”
At home, Oblates try to follow the ancient breviary of the Office of the Hours, knowing that they are reading the same Psalms, scriptural passages, and Gospel readings in the same daily rhythm as the monks at Subiaco Abbey. As Claudette, an Oblate for several years said, “Being able to read the readings and say the Offices at the regular times, gives a structure to my day that I need.”
And of course, at the conclusion of each Vespers, as the day drifts into darkness in the Abbey church up on the hill in Subiaco, the monks pray for their community, including their Oblates and their dead, ”We pray for the soul of James Nicholas Wilson and for the consolation of his family. Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord and let perpetual light shine upon him. May he rest in peace and may his soul and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.” Amen.
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