Being Benedictine: Seeing New and Renewed Ways to Live Our Charism

A participant reminds us that Benedict did not expect perfection: “Always, we begin again!” Listening, humility, hospitality, and flexibility all go into creating and accepting change and those are all key components of Benedictine spirituality. It’s in our bones to be open to change. We also remember, however, that we’re all at different places along the way.

The positive experience of so many at our Being Benedictine gathering, and our overwhelming desire to carry our tradition into the future in new ways that fit our emerging worldview, is clear evidence that we understand this gift of our charism. Many comments reminded us that we need openness to emerging approaches to Benedictine life, willingness to experiment, to foster creativity, and to welcome the seeking hearts of younger generations. Other commenters tempered their excitement with very real fear. Once again, the wisdom of our tradition prepares us, reminding us to seek balance.

One concern voiced by many is that of oblates whose vowed monastic community will cease to exist sooner rather than later. They want to begin now to find ways to remain connected and live their Benedictine life in community. Oblates want to be involved in planning for their future, “...not be bashful about trying new things or waiting for ‘permission’.” As Sister Judith Sutera said, “The luxury of slow deliberation is gone.”

There are many facets to Benedictine community and room for great variation. On this weekend we’ve experienced ecumenical Benedictine communities, learned of non-Catholic monastics, and people with a deep commitment to monastic life who are not vowed. We have also heard about the value of intergenerational community. We noted our longing for more diverse communities. Learning about other communities such as Nuns and Nones has offered additional ways to think about community, too. Bottom line, as Oblate Judith Valente said, it’s “about loving the tradition enough to let it be transformed.”

  1. What must we leave behind as we move into the future? Canonical status? Vowed/non-vowed distinction? A hierarchy of calling?

  2. What structural, cultural, and leadership changes might we need to consider as we move into a future where there are more non-vowed Benedictines than vowed Benedictines? What changes need to happen in monasteries? In oblate groups?

  3. What does it mean for oblates when there is no monastery nearby, or their monastery has closed or is closing? What are possible alternatives to closing a monastery when there are no longer vowed members to sustain it?

  4. How can we re-imagine the space of a community when it no longer needs to be physical?

  5. How do we envision living monastic life in new ways and tell others about it? Opportunities for non-vowed to live in the monastery? Offering extra acreage/building space for intentional communities? Creating dispersed expressions of Benedictine community?

  6. Can we envision ways in which oblates could play advisory roles on decisions concerning the future of a monastery’s ministries? In evaluating the sustainability of physical plant and properties? Can oblates enter into creative conversations about their use and future use?

  7. Who finances oblate programs, leadership training, and other costs?  Is the monastery responsible for the finances? If not, how are they financed?

  8. How do oblates or lay cistercians become full-fledged, active members of a monastic community (with a voice, voting privileges)? Is that possible or desirable in conjunction with vowed members, without a life commitment?

  9. Monasteries of vowed members have complex financial structures and fiscal and legal responsibilities to support members and institutions. In exploring questions about greater oblate responsibility in the running of the monastery and more shared leadership, where do these realities come into play?