17 July 2008

Direction of Personal Work and (Some) Posts: A Beginning

During retreat, and prompted in part by the close proximity of three feast days: SS Romuald, Benedict, and Bonaventure, as well as the anniversary of my final oblature with Transfiguration Monastery (Camaldolese), I came to see that part of the reason for my sometimes feeling like I am neither Benedictine nor Franciscan (or both!!) is the apparent discrepancy between my own vows (Classic 'Franciscan' vows of poverty, chastity and obedience) which are called for by canon 603 (at least this is the usual formulation), and the classic Benedictine vows of stability, conversatio morum, and obedience. Now let me say right at the outset that there is no profound discrepancy between the two, especially when I consider the eremitical context and diocesan framework of my life, profession, and consecration. Neither do I expect to find huge gaps in my profession which makes it other than essentially Benedictine. In fact, I know that I will not. However, it is challenging for me personally to explain how a profession cast in terms of Franciscan vows (which, along with a scholastic elaboration of the meaning of religious profession, are really how most non-monastic religious and eremitical vows are framed today) translates into a primarily (or essentially) Benedictine profession and identity -- and Camaldolese Benedictine at that.

Also, of course, it is approaching the anniversary of my solemn (perpetual) eremitical profession, and at the same time some of the readers of this blog are themselves preparing for vows (or beginning their novitiates to do so), or learning to live into their own vows. It is time for me personally to come to some clarity on the relation between my own vows and the classic Benedictine formula, so I will be spending time on that in the next weeks and months. One of the things that most intrigues me is my own sensitivity to what I have called the unique charism of the diocesan hermit, and the relation of that to the Benedictine value or vow of stability. This is embodied in the introductory lines of my vow formula, and has been too-little appreciated while I focused my own attention on the contents of the vows themselves. I am wondering if my awareness of this charism is not partly due to my concern with the Benedictine value of stability, especially as embraced during oblature in the parish context. Meanwhile, the underlying or global reality grounding my profession, a commitment to the life of friendship with Christ and to ongoing conversion in that, is underscored in the final lines regarding its perpetuity and in whose Name it is made. All of these things are things I need to live into and explore more deeply and completely, and there is no doubt that some of that work will end up in this blog.

Thus, in order to prepare for this work (or at least for any posts I put up here) I am including the text of my vows once again at this point. (They were included earlier as a part of the Rule of Life I wrote, submitted to my diocese, and posted last year, and which is subsumed under the Rule of Benedict.) I hope these posts (and vows) will be of interest to others who read this blog. Personally, I have always thought that they embody values which, with the exception of consecrated celibacy (celibate love), any Christian ought to be able to undertake or embrace. I would ask for others who are publicly vowed (or preparing for public profession and consecration) --- whether Benedictine, Franciscan, Carmelite, etc, eremitical or cenobitical!--- to share your own observations and reflections with me on the relationship between what are called today "the evangelical counsels" and the classic Benedictine vows. That would be particularly helpful (and joy-filled) for me personally. Or, if these posts raise questions (etc) for any readers, I hope that folks please send them my way via email. Those questions could also be of immense help to me.

Note that the first sentence below was a canonical requirement and has been used by other hermits making profession under canon 603. It sets the eremitical context for the entire profession, and significantly, the SOLITARY (as opposed to communal or semi eremitic) eremitical context. The vows themselves are my own, composed for definitive profession back in 1976, and rewritten slightly for the eremitical context I embraced after 1983. I would ask people not use them for any reason without permission and attribution. The final portion of the formula after the vows (I ask you. . .) is also a standard canonical formula used by other hermits in their professions and consecrations, and is equally important for the establishment of the diocesan context of the vocation.


I earnestly desire to respond to the gift of vocation to the eremitical life and freely follow the inspiration of grace to a hidden apostolic fruitfulness in a life of prayerful contemplation as a solitary hermit. I, Sister Laurel M O'Neal, come before you, God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, [Triune God] to make my profession to live out my baptismal commitment more fully.

Religious poverty:

I recognize and accept the radical poverty to which I am called in allowing God to be the sole source of strength and validation in my life. The poverty to which my brokenness, fragility, and weakness attest, reveal that precisely in my fragility I am given the gift of God’s grace, and in accepting my insignificance apart from God, my life acquires the infinite significance of one who knows she has been regarded by Him. I affirm that my entire life has been given to me as gift and that it is demanded of me in service, and I vow poverty, to live this life reverently as one acknowledging both poverty and giftedness in all things, whether these reveal themselves in strength or weakness, in resiliency or fragility, in wholeness or in brokenness.

Religious Obedience:

I acknowledge and accept that God is the author of my life and that through his Word, spoken in Jesus Christ, I have been called by name to be. I affirm that in this Word, a singular identity has been conferred upon me, a specifically ecclesial identity which I accept and for which I am forever accountable. Under the authority of the Bishop of the Diocese of Oakland, I vow obedience [to be obedient]: to be attentive and responsible to Him who is the foundation of my being, to his solitary Word of whom I am called to be an expression, and to the whole of His People to whom it is my privilege to belong and serve.

Consecrated Celibacy (Celibate Love):

Acknowledging that I have been called to obedient service in and of the Word of God, and acknowledging that Jesus’ gift of self to me is clearly nuptial in character, I affirm as well that I am called to be receptive and responsive to this compassionate and singular redemptive intimacy as a consecrated celibate. I do therefore vow chastity, this last defining [definitive] aspect of my vocation with care and fidelity, forsaking all else for the completion that is mine in Christ, and claiming as mine to cherish all that is cherished by Him.

I ask you, Bishop Allen H Vigneron, as Bishop of the Diocese of Oakland, to accept my vows in the name of the Church and grant me your blessing. May the Word of God which I touch with my hand today be my life and my inspiration, this I pray.

Understanding these vows to be perpetually binding, I pronounce them in the name of Jesus Christ who lives and reigns with the Father in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God forever and ever. Amen.

Made this day, 2.September.2007 at St Perpetua Catholic Church, Lafayette, CA.