Ever heard of that word? Until a few years ago, I wasn’t familiar with it, and believe it or not, I actually remember my first encounter with it. It was July 2010, our first trip to Conception Abbey in Missouri for Joel’s weeklong summer diaconate formation classes. While attending the initial all-you-need-to-know-for-the-week type of meeting, we were told that evening prayer would be held in the Holy Cross Oratory on the third floor of St. Maur Hall.
Oratory? Sounded a bit like lavatory to me. Those Benedictines sure are a curious lot! All too proud to admit I didn’t have a clue what an oratory was, I simply took my directions.
When the time came for evening prayer, I headed to the third floor of St. Maur hall, and walked into this prayer space.
As my fingers dabbled into the holy water font, I smelled the nutty aroma of incense. My eyes moved toward the altar and the sacred art carefully placed throughout the space. My senses awakened. I then understood the meaning of an oratory.
According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, the word oratory comes from the Latin oratorium, from orare, meaning to pray. An oratory is simply a small chapel, set aside by Church authority for prayer and Mass. The Holy Cross Oratory at Conception Abbey has been the place where I have not only learned to pray the Liturgy of the Hours these past four years, but also pray a “pick-me-up” Rosary or gather together for Advent or Lenten prayer services.
As busy as Joel and I have been the past four years with his deacon formation commitments, and as grateful as I am to see us soon transition from formation to ordination in August, I sure will miss our monthly visits to Conception Abbey. It’s through those visits where I’ve developed a great admiration for the Benedictine way of life — ordered, simple, and purposeful. There’s a time to pray, a time to work, a time to rest, and a time to play. While there, I find myself, almost spectator like, standing on the sidelines and watching monastic life unfold before me. I’ve bent the ears of a few monks, no doubt exhausting them with what seems to be a never-ending series of questions, which essentially boil down to this:
How, if it’s even possible, can I allow the domestic to become more monastic?
I’m learning the answer to that question is never-ending, always in flux depending on the stage and season of the people living within this domestic monastery. Yet I find I’m quite restless to make it happen and perfect whatever it is — perpetually seeking tangible ways to bring that Holy order, structure, and peace into Das Schmidt Haus. To no surprise, I’m naturally drawn to people whose souls are also restless to answer that question and have found practical solutions that work for their family. Thanks to both the local Catholic community and the larger Catholic blogosphere, I’ve found women doing just that, bridging home and church to live their faith well within their homes beyond Sundays.
Given all this, can you imagine my elation when I saw this book (The Little Oratory: A Beginner’s Guide to Praying in the Home) pop up on my social media feeds a few months ago? Extreme elation!
With simplicity and holy wisdom, authors David Clayton and Leila Lawler have birthed a beautiful book here, showing readers how to bring holiness, order, and peace to our homes. They also offer practical suggestions for how to live the liturgical life of the Church more fully. And look there … here comes that word oratory again! The book shows us how to create a little oratory — a little sacred space such like that sacred oratory at Conception Abbey — within our homes.
When the book arrived on my porch a handful of weeks ago, I immediately started reading it and couldn’t put it down until I finished, oh about twenty-four or so hours later. Then I started reading it all over again to really let the book’s message soak in. Now, I’m on my third (!!!) reading, this time slowly absorbing it one chapter per week with not only my husband Joel, but with others who have joined a virtual book club of sorts hosted by Elizabeth Foss at her blog, In The Heart of My Home. Additionally, the book’s coauthor Leila Lawler is joining Elizabeth for weekly podcasts to unpack the book’s message, chapter by chapter. These two women with their gentle, maternal, and wise voices have gifted us something grand.
I have so much on my mind now about this book and organizing my family’s little oratory (so much!). Lucky for me, Elizabeth has created a weekly blog link-up, and I’m planning on unpacking my thoughts and sharing them here week by week this summer. And to show this book isn’t just for the women, Joel promises to lend his voice from time to time, too. As the book states, the family needs the masculine side of things in the same irreplaceable way that they need the feminine.
One last thought. I went on a personal spiritual retreat last week at New Melleray Abbey in Dubuque, Iowa. As I walked the monastery grounds, I spotted the intersection pictured below. It pretty much sums up the inspiration behind my spiritual journey the past five years … seeking to bring the monastic into the domestic so that our family may be strong with the strength of God. I’m looking forward to sharing how we are doing that here, and I’m thankful this book is providing a framework. I highly urge you to check out the book, The Little Oratory, and the corresponding book club at In The Heart of My Home.
Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, pray for us!