Saturday, June 01, 2013

Notes from a Novice - By James Janicki

Saint Scholastica at her altar in the Saint Leo Abbey Church

Why? This simple, powerful, one word question asked with the sincerity and innocence of a child inspired a nearly eight year quest and journey leading me to the altar steps of the St. Leo Abbey church on March 21, 2013 to celebrate the feast of St. Benedict and begin my journey anew as a Benedictine oblate novice.

We may be kindred spirits if: from the time of your earliest memories, you feel as though you are orbiting slightly outside, but always part of any social situation, you secretly suspect you have some additional insight to events, circumstances and relationships, you have an unceasing desire to be immersed in your immediate surroundings experiencing sensations in their most intense and pure form, and you ALWAYS ask “why?” reluctant to entrust your true self to the beliefs so eagerly embraced by those we know and love.

I sincerely admire, and to some degree, secretly envy those souls among us capable of going about their days with great vision and focus contributing and creating within our communities with an apparent unwavering acceptance of our society’s institutions and doctrines. It only takes a moment and we can all think of a family member, friend or neighbor who embodies the teachings of their chosen religious faith, lives and espouses the ideals of their political party affiliation, and embraces a life of family, career, and a home in the suburbs complete with manicured green lawn, swimming pool and family pets.  You would be correct if you surmised I am not describing myself.

My life can only be described as blessed from birth. I know this now. Yet, I cannot remember a time without feeling as though something was missing; maybe not so much missing but more a knowing there was something more. I believed always this was a sensation unique to me. After all, everyone around me appeared completely accepting and happy in the circumstances of the moment. Yes, there were good times and bad times but as a whole, everyone I had known appeared to accept middle class American life at face value and it was good. I searched but could not find this easy comfort. I knew there was more. I began to ask “why?”  Why do I go to church on Sunday? Why do I work hard at my career? Why do I choose to maintain a suburban home?

The year was 2007 and at the age of thirty-eight, the restlessness that resulted from the ever present “why?” accompanied by family and career circumstances, could no longer be ignored. I asked my wife for a new bible as a birthday gift. I did not know what questions to ask but I knew where to look for answers.


  1. Hi James,

    Thanks for the article. After a few years as an oblate, I still feel like a novice. It is true the goal seems clearer now, but I can also see it’s further away.

  2. Have not given up on my attempt to post to this blog. Let this be my test to learn how it's done.
    Don Mulholland

  3. Another test to check on any problems Don might be having.

  4. Letters to My Brothers and Sisters, by Abbot President Denis Huerre, OSB.

  5. Sacred Readin: Michael Casey
    Benedictine Order in the US: Joel Rippinger
    Lives of the Trappists Today: Frank Bianco.
    The Family Cloister: David Robinson
    The last time I type thist. Lost it last time when I tried to edit.
    Don Mulholland

  6. Just finished reading (again) Lives of the Trappists Today. In the light of Brother Prior's recent oblate session it provides greater understanding of Benedictine spirituality.
    An interesting note (p.127) mentions that marriage among priests was common, and their children were offered to monasteries (with a suitable donation) while still young to assure them some degree of comfort. Could this be the true origin of oblates?
    The book also covers in detail the origin and recent changes in the role of the "lay brother" vs the choir monks.
    But more important is the familiarity of the author with the monks, and his perception of the love of God and its function in our lives and how we see ourselves as showing God's love on a daily basis by emulating the brotherhood of the monks.