I remember asking that question in 2018, sitting in Sue’s front room, clutching notebook and pen. I was visiting Sue for the first time to find out more about joining Single Consecrated Life, and as we were wrapping up, she suggested that I might consider becoming an oblate. I had never even heard the word before. Oblate? What’s that?
The meaning, when googled, is ‘One offered up’.
Within a few weeks I was visiting Edgware Abbey for a ‘Quiet Day’. The Abbess of the Benedictine Order of St Mary at the Cross, Mother Mary Therese, had invited me. I think most people have had that experience of visiting somewhere new and feeling that they have been there before. I experienced that when I came into the cloister at the Abbey. It felt like a homecoming. I knew it was where God wanted me to be.
At Edgware Abbey the daily celebration of the Divine Office overflows into a ministry for the care of the sick. From the time of foundation, the Sisters had their own hospital caring for children with incurable diseases and disabilities. Over time, like so many monastic orders, the Community had become much smaller and the nursing needs had changed. To meet the changing needs, half of the Abbey had been sold for private flats. The profit was used to build up the Charity Trust that supports the charitable works of the Sisters, including a ‘state of the art’, fantastic care home for 30 residents with complex care needs, built in 1992.
Mother Mary Therese and Sister Barbara, the two remaining nuns, had moved into the converted laundry wing. They had kept the cloister and large and extremely beautiful chapel, and had room for retreat guests and, like on that day in 2018, for events within the chapel and guest wing.
On 6th June 2019 I became a Novice Oblate and started visiting the Abbey every two weeks to be in Community with the nuns, say the Offices with them, and to clean the chapel, which I had felt called to do (although to be honest it’s always spotlessly clean… I can only hope that my little effort makes a difference).
My Life Oblation was arranged for April 2020… but of course we all know what happened to 2020! For me, one of the hardest things about lockdown was not being able to go to the Abbey. It had already become an important part of my life. It felt like an anchor. I had my very own ‘quiet day’ experience every two weeks, sometimes staying the night. I don’t want to compare it to what many people had to sacrifice during lockdown, but it was a personal loss for me and one I felt keenly.
So of course, it was a joy when I was able to go back at the end of July this year. Mother Mary Therese then scheduled my Life Oblation for 15th September, on the Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows. I had in the time away from the Abbey, asked if I could stay for two consecutive nights a month as soon as I could go back. The answer was Yes. I felt a deepening of commitment. In fact, if I’m honest, there is a part of me that longs to live there. It’s impossible of course. They do not have the facilities for another permanent resident, and I have too much responsibility where I am… not least my elderly mum who moved into the flat beneath mine during lockdown, and a learning-disabled friend who I care for…. oh and there’s Dickie the 3-legged cat…
In the weeks before making my Life Oblation I felt a strong sense of this being absolutely the right thing to do, God-led, as indeed it had felt from the outset. I do think of my life in terms of a pilgrimage and like all of us I have times when the road is flat, the sun is shining and the going is easy. But, also like all of us, I have those times when it’s a rocky old road, uphill, cold wind blowing, pouring with rain and I’ve got blisters on my feet! I’d had quite a lot of that terrain during lockdown. Neither my physical nor mental health are great and I often struggle, but always, in my single consecrated life, and now as I moved towards becoming an oblate, I could feel a forward movement. However rough the going, I was still moving on. However discouraged I might feel, I did not turn back. I never felt abandoned by God.
in my single consecrated life, and now as I moved towards becoming an oblate, I could feel a forward movement. However rough the going, I was still moving on. However discouraged I might feel, I did not turn back. I never felt abandoned by God.
And I wasn’t abandoned when I spoke the words of the Charter of Oblation at the Mass:
In the name of Jesus Christ Our Lord.
I, Patricia Blalock, after a time of Probation, offer myself to Almighty God, to the Blessed Virgin Mary, and to this Monastery of St Mary at the Cross, Edgware Abbey.
I promise before God and all the Saints, the life of oblation according to the Spirit of the Rule of Our Holy Father Benedict, and the constitution of this monastery.
Signed by me and Abbess + Mary Therese OSB
So it was done. A sandwich lunch, Victoria sponge cake and I waved my guests off and went inside to do the dishes.
And how did it feel? At first I have to admit, completely exhausting. I don’t mean just tired. I mean flat out ‘done in’! The following Saturday we had our SCL conference on Zoom which I had been looking forward to, but when it came to it, I could barely get out of bed. Too tired to read or watch TV, I lay there all day feeling nothing at all. An emotional and spiritual void.
Of course, it passed. I recovered. And I feel different. There is a newness to my faith. A clarity that wasn’t there before. The sun is most definitely shining. The road is straight. I’m not a naïve woman and I know that it will change again. Will move on. Will hit rough patches. Forward though. Not backward. One more groping, unsteady step toward God. Knowing that he wants me, just as I am.
There is a newness to my faith. A clarity that wasn’t there before. The sun is most definitely shining.
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