The Benedictine vocation is not carried out primarily by cloistered, celibate monastics. The vast majority of Benedictines in our age are oblates, married men and women from many different Catholic Churches. The spiritual values embodied by the age-old Benedictine monastic tradition is today dispersed among people of the modern society by those chosen few — whose numbers nonetheless are on sharp rise — who have found their calling in the way shown by St. Benedict barely a few centuries after Jesus Christ. Benedictine oblates today represent a promising movement of bringing forth lofty spiritual principles out into the open and amalgamating them into our everyday humdrum existence. This they do by virtue of their thought, word and deed being permeated by the spirit of Christ. : Faith is like love, a very personal and intimate matter. It has a profound beauty and sublimity that cannot be so easily understood by cool rationality. The values and principles that Benedictine monks and oblates cherish and uphold can be best understood from the point of view of deep empathy. This point can be illustrated by a simple example. Some anthropologists study primitive tribes as if they were strange creatures steeped in a culture of ignorance. More mature anthropologists, on the other hand, often try to identify with the subjects of their study, by mingling and living with them, by becoming almost like one of them, by trying to look at the world from their eyes. Benedictine culture and tradition too ought to be ideally studied in the latter manner.
1. Oblates in the Context of Modern Society
The Benedictine vocation is not carried out primarily by cloistered, celibate monastics. The vast majority of Benedictines in our age are oblates, married men and women from many different Catholic Churches.
Benedictine oblates are lay persons affiliated with a Benedictine abbey or monastery who strive to direct their lives, as circumstances permit, according to the spirit and Rule of St. Benedict. (Our Sunday Visitor's Catholic Almanac 2005, p.490). While yet living "in the world," as ordinary members of society, they join themselves spiritually to a particular Benedictine community and seek to observe in the particular circumstances of their lives the important aspects of the Rule of St. Benedict.
In the recent years, there has been a renewed interest among laymen and laywomen in associating themselves with religious communities as oblates or members of secular 'third orders'. Oblates do not take monastic vows but choose to live in close connection to a monastery, while integrating the spirit of the monastic rule into their daily lives. Groups of such "secular oblates" have in fact multiplied today in various forms. The term 'third order' generally has been a category for laity who seek to follow a way of life in the world but under the inspiration and spiritual guidance of a canonically approved religious institute.(Seasoltz, 2003, p.248). These groups often are the lay counterpart of particular religious orders. The First Order of the community was its professed male members, the Second Order, the professed female members, and the Third Order, the nonprofessed male and female affiliates (Wynne, 1988, p.164). People of these third orders seek to deepen their Christian life and apostolic commitment in association with and according to the spirit of various religious institutes.
Considerable numbers of people, most of them lay people with family and work commitments and with many involvements which keep them busy, are today turning to the monastic tradition. The main reason for this is perhaps that in monastic approach to life, in its essence though not in the outer form, they are finding practical help in making the ordinary and the everyday life a way to a higher reality.
Monastic tradition began as a lay movement, and remained so until its intertwining with priesthood much later on