NEIL ZOLADKIEWICZ is an Oblate of Ealing Abbey, West London, United Kingdom. He is a retired Drama teacher and has written numerous plays for young people. At present, he is working on a novel and writes another blog: ‘Meditations of Neilus Aurelius’ which can be found at http://www.meditationsofneilusaurelius.home.blog.
Neil is Treasurer of the U.K. Oblates Team and has recently assisted with devising several online retreats for U.K. Oblates. He is also the U.K. Coordinator for the 2023 International Oblate Congress in Rome.
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As I begin my tenth year as a Benedictine Oblate, I ask myself what St Benedict’s Holy Rule has come to mean to me. More specifically, what is it about the Rule that has attracted me or encouraged me or even consoled me over the last decade?
In a way this is a redundant question as being an oblate is a vocation. We have been called. So, in that sense, we get on with it. We do our best to follow Christ on the Benedictine pathway as mapped out in the Rule. As my patron St Aelred of Rievaulx explains: we are following St Benedict who is following Christ. This is our way of trying to live out the gospel values in the world. It must be stressed, as Benedict himself stresses throughout the Rule, this can only be achieved through God’s grace within us.
Having been a teacher (and I still was in the teaching profession when I first became an oblate), I am attracted to St Benedict’s idea of the monastery as ‘a school of the Lord’s service’ (Prologue). With consummate humility, he also refers to his Rule as a ‘little rule written for beginners.’ (Chapter LXXIII). A school is a place of learning and development and therefore, there are times when we are beginners, when we may struggle to adapt to new things. We are all beginners. I find that comforting. It doesn’t matter where we are on the journey. We just let ourselves be led by St Benedict so as to get closer to Christ.
Therefore, St Benedict’s Rule is about gradual development not instant perfection. It is dynamic but in a deeply interior way. Ultimately it is about trying: ‘We can only try’ as a fellow oblate once said to me on retreat when I was discouraged. As St Paul’s adage says: ‘The Lord loves a cheerful giver’. I have learnt, He also loves a cheerful trier. Perhaps that sums up being an oblate: to be a cheerful trier.
It comforts and consoles me, then, that the Rule enshrines a developmental process. However. our development as oblates takes time and demands patience, perseverance and prayer, three hallmarks of the Rule. Eventually, as St Benedict explains in his Prologue, ‘by the continual practice of monastic observance and a life of faith, our hearts are opened wide.’
As we know, heart surgery requires an intricate and lengthy operation.
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