Editor's note: Benedictine Sr. Joan Chittister delivered a keynote address at the Fourth International Oblate Congress, which took place Nov. 4-10 in Rome. The following is Chittister's address, "Let the call be heard." Read the full address at NCRonline.org.
The question of the day is a simple one but potentially life-changing one: The question is, why would anyone even bother to get attached to a Benedictine monastery? What is the purpose of doing something like that?
The truth is that both of us — both you and I, I as a vowed monastic, you, as committed Oblates — are in the process of discovering again in new and vibrant ways what it means to hold a charism in trust for the church.
First, the purpose of a charism — the purpose of the gifts given to us by the Spirit in order to maintain the spirit of Jesus in the church today — is not to horde it and hide it for ourselves. No, the purpose of a charism — the purpose of this charism we call Benedictinism — is to share it, to give it away! We do not come to a monastery to hold this great charism captive to some kind of ecclesiastical elitism, by the less than 1 percent of the Christian community who claims to own it.
And there are several ancient stories that indicate best, I think, both the purpose and the spirituality of what it means to be a Benedictine Oblate.
The first of those stories is from the tales of the desert monastics: One day Abbot Arsenius was asking an old Egyptian man for advice on something. Someone who saw this said to him: "Abba Arsenius, why is a person like you, who has such great knowledge of Greek and Latin, asking a peasant like this for advice?"
And Arsenius replied, "Indeed I have learned the knowledge of Latin and Greek, yet I have not learned even the alphabet of this peasant."
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