Benedictine Cross Kerfuffle

Nine months before my final profession as a Benedictine Oblate, I began the search for the crucifix I would wear for the rest of my life—the crucifix that would accompany me into the grave.

Rodney Campbell, St. Benedict Monastery, Cloister, Oxford, MI

Growing up I had always wanted to be a nun, not a Sister. I ached to be a nun who wore a habit and lived a cloistered life at a monastery with a garden and maybe cows. Definitely chickens. Better yet to be a nun working a monastery farm to grow food to feed the religious community and the poor. Maybe I’d even get to drive a tractor in veil and habit. I dreamed of growing flowers for the altar and Mother Mary’s alcove. I hoped to stand in the golden light of candles, to kneel in Adoration, to pray, and pray, and pray in the mesmerizing silence of God.

Then I entered adolescence. After giving my Guardian Angel a serious work-out, I eventually returned to my senses and to God.

The ache to be a nun never ceased. I realized there was nothing in this world to satisfy my desire for The Holy. In my late 50’s, somewhat disabled, I was determined an unsuitable candidate by the religious orders I queried.

In 2012 I learned about the Benedictine Oblates from Elizabeth Scalia—an Oblate herself. There was a reawakening of hope that I might find Community. My journey had new direction as I became an oblate novice with a monastery only two hours away.

As formation progressed, Father suggested I purchase a Benedictine cross of a “nice size.” I felt wearing a large cross would be the next best thing to a habit—an outward sign of witnessing for Jesus. If someone were to ask about the cross, I could share about God. My joy would increase at being seen as a mirror that reflected His love.

With my usual exuberance, I thought of a unique design for the cross. It would be silver, have a garden theme—the Benedictines developed horticulture and agriculture—and of course St. Benedict’s medal in the center. The corpus and Christogram would be gold. The 2” cross would hang from a fine, hand-braided leather cord reminiscent of the scourging of Jesus.

Seven months before the oblate ceremony I had secured a jewelry manufacturer to custom make the crucifix. Five months later they backed out. Another two weeks, and Stacey at The Catholic Shoppe, helped me find a second company. They were willing to add a gold corpus to a simple Benedictine cross they had in stock. The Monday before it was to be delivered Stacey called: they too had backed out. It was the end of hope for a custom Benedictine cross.

With only a few weeks to go, Stacey suggested I come in, pick one from her catalogs, and she would rush the order. I selected the only Benedictine cross available with a gold corpus. It was barely an inch-and-a-half long and very, very plain.

When it arrived I was heartsick. It seemed so very small, so simple and insignificant compared to the original custom design. I surrendered my disappointment to Our Lord.  If he willed my cross to be this, it would be perfectly fine with me.

Not until I surrendered did the lesson come through. The word “oblate” means giving of oneself, all in all, in service to God and neighbor. It was not about the veil and habit, the uniquely designed cross, or the largess of the symbolism. It was about serving the Lord in humility and obedience to his—not my—will.

I will not wear this cross until after I come to the altar to make my final oblate profession. Each time I look at the smooth silver cross with the gold body of Christ, I will remember this lesson of simplicity and humility.

There will also be a prayer offered for Stacey who gave me the cross as her gift for my oblation.

I am humbled by all manner of gifts of love.


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