Benedictines With a Different Kind of Cell
Benedictine monks traditionally called their room a “cell.” A new program helps make Benedictine oblates — laity who share in the spirituality of St. Benedict’s Rule — out of men and women who are in prison.
At St. Benedict’s Abbey, located on the campus of Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas, Rebekah Firestine has written an article about the work of Father Matthew Habiger, a moral theologian, former Benedictine College professor, and frequent contributor to the Gregorian. Father Habiger leads the Abbey’s prison oblate program — bringing Benedictine spirituality to prisoners.
Father Matthew gets 50 handwritten letters each week as part of his work. “It is a challenge and I don’t have the benefit of meeting prisoners face-to-face. But it is heart-to-heart,” Father Matthew told Firestine. “You can imagine how correspondence goes. These men and women have to articulate what’s on their minds and hearts and handwrite it.”
The program has 482 oblates all across the country learning Benedictine values and practices — and the number is growing. What is the secret of the program’s success?
God is. “I never publicize except by word of mouth and the newsletters getting passed around,” said Father Matthew. “The program really takes on a life of its own. These men and women are delighted to know that they are not isolated. They belong to something. They belong to a group of people who pray.”
Firestine’s piece ends with this testimonial from a prisoner:
“You give Living Water to men who are dying of thirst. You can help those who have never had any sense of meaning in their lives discover their purpose. …. You can take men who are destitute and believe they have no value, and help them discover the greatest treasure this world has ever held.”