Prefer nothing whatever to Christ
“Let them prefer nothing whatever to Christ”1 – these words from the Rule of St. Benedict are so well known. We read them on prayer cards and it is a phrase which surely has a special place in the mind and heart of every monk, nun or oblate.
In the desert tradition, the apprentice hermit would ask his spiritual father for ‘a word’. This is such a word. It is straightforward, without compromise. It provides a curriculum, as it were, for the Christian life and is a very good examination of conscience too.
For the oblate, who has committed him or herself to the following of the Gospel under the guidance of the “little rule for beginners”2, there can be no getting away from this imperative. What, one might well ask, is the difference between the call to love Christ that is given to all the baptised and that given to the Oblate.
For the Oblate, there is an obligation to the community. Even though the Oblate does not live within the enclosure and may not be able to present at the Office in the monastic church every day, he or she has a real relationship with every person in the community. It is a relationship based in prayer and in the call to the monastic way. It is not for nothing that the community prays for absent brethren at the end of Office – and the Oblate should do the same for those living within the enclosure. The Oblate, then, has a particular responsibility to prefer nothing to Christ with and for the rest of the community. The love of Christ must be lived out in love towards the community – in whom we see the person of Christ Himself.
This close relationship strengthens us and provides a foundation – a place – from which we go out to the wider world to witness to the ‘Preference for Christ’, to be examples of life grounded in the Gospel and in which prayer, hospitality and service to old and young alike. It is in the monastic community that the Oblate seeks to learn these lessons – for God Himself has called to Oblate there.
One of the watch-words of the Pontificate of Pope Francis is Mercy. Preferring nothing to Christ enables us to use the tool of good works that St. Benedict leaves to the end of his list: “Finally, never lose hope in God’s mercy.”3
Keeping the love of Christ before us at every moment will enable us to hope in the One who died and rose from the dead out of love for us. Importantly, these gifts are not for us alone – we are called to share them with all.
The church and the world is so much in need of those who really do prefer nothing whatever to Christ and, because this is true for them, are enabled to show His mercy to the world around them. Is the Oblate not called, then, to be an example of the option for Christ and of the exercise of mercy? At this moment in our history, are these not the most important gifts that the Oblate can offer to the monastic community, to the church and to the wider world?
1. RB 72:11
2. RB 73:8
3. RB 4:74
The Right Reverend Richard Moth, Oblate of Pluscarden