Christianity is not simply a set of beliefs, nor just a code of conduct, though it includes both of these elements. Rather, it is a whole way of life that involves every aspect of our being. This way of life is what Jesus called "the kingdom of God." His mission was to invite all human beings of every time and place to enter into this kingdom. This invitation is a call addressed to us. The Latin word for call is vocation.
The Christian vocation, then, is a call from Jesus. We are invited to respond to it by faith, that is, by full acceptance of God himself and of all that he wishes to tell us and to ask of us through Jesus. Faith brings us to a realization of the genuine meaning of life and the purpose of our existence. Thus it enables us to live in such a way as to realize God's design for us and to achieve happiness both now and in the life to come.
This call or vocation, then, is the same for all Christians, who are all equally invited to enter into life in the kingdom of God and to follow Jesus. Nevertheless, there is more than one way to follow him, for his own life embraced more than a single path. He worked in the obscurity of Nazareth, he taught by word and example, he alleviated the misery of those he encountered, he enjoyed the company of others, he prayed alone upon the mountain, he suffered intensely and experienced death.
A person is called by God not only to follow Jesus, but to follow him in a particular way. The usual way is that of family life and of involvement in the ordinary human pattern of work and social relationships. But almost from the beginning some followers of Jesus have, by their vocation, been directed into another path. This way of following him involves the renunciation of marriage, family life, and participation in the usual social and economic structures. This call invites a more solitary response, as did Jesus' own response to the call he received from his Father. This is the monastic life, so-called from a Greek word meaning single or alone.
The monastic life is always marked by a desire for solitude, though this is usually experienced in a community made up of others who have the same aspiration. The purpose of the solitude is to free a person from distraction and self-absorption, thus facilitating knowledge both of oneself and of God. The means to such interior freedom are celibacy and a regime of renunciation and self-discipline, including serious work, but above all a constant effort of self-surrender and of prayer and reflection upon the word of God.
The invitation from Jesus to follow him along this path is what is called a monastic vocation. It involves an individual choice, but the person who chooses the monastic way believes, by faith, that he or she is doing so in response to a divine invitation. How does one recognize such a calling? It is a matter of grace and therefore of mystery, but it ordinarily manifests itself by a deeply felt interior attraction to this way of life. Monastic life is for the few rather than the many, but for those to whom the call is addressed it can become a way of joy and personal fulfillment leading to that love of both God and neighbor that is the heart of the gospel.
To become a monk in our community a man must:
- be a baptized and practicing Roman Catholic, free from all canonical impediments;
- be at least 21 years of age and/or have a college degree or some work experience;
- have achieved a reasonable degree of emotional and spiritual maturity;
- have a sufficient native intelligence to grasp the meaning of the monastic life;
- have sufficient physical health to meet the ordinary demands of our community life.
The following are the steps by which one becomes associated with our monastic community:
- Initially one becomes a candidate for the community. This involves making visits to the monastery in order to determine whether or not one has a calling to the monastic life. During these visits the vocation director and other monks help the candidate to discern whether or not he is suited for the monastic life.
- After several visits and upon recommendation by the vocation director, the candidate makes application to enter the community as a postulant. Postulancy is a trial period when a candidate lives within the community for an extended period of time. During this time the postulant becomes accustomed to the monastery’s manner of life and further discerns his vocation. He learns to know the monks, and the community comes to know the postulant better in order to judge whether he has the human and spiritual maturity required to enter the novitiate. He receives instruction about the Christian faith and life.
- At the end of the period of postulancy, which can last from three months to two years, the postulant applies to the abbot to become a novice. In order to admit a candidate into the novitiate, the abbot must obtain the consent of the chapter, which is composed of all solemnly-professed monks. After hearing a report by the postulant director and discussing the applicant’s qualifications, the chapter votes on whether or not to admit him to the novitiate. Once accepted, the novice spends a complete year living the full life of the community, including its common prayer and work as well as daily private reading and prayer. He also receives formal instruction in sacred scripture, especially the psalms, The Rule of St. Benedict, the liturgy, monastic history and spirituality, and the meaning and obligations of monastic profession.
- During the novitiate year the novice master reports to the chapter on the novice’s progress at mid-year and again toward the end. When the novitiate has been completed, if he has persevered and is ready for monastic profession, he makes a formal application to the abbot, who must again obtain the consent of the chapter in order to admit him to profession.
- The rite of monastic profession is a public liturgical act that is ordinarily celebrated by the abbot during the community Mass, in the presence of all the monks and the relatives and friends of the novice. At this initial profession he binds himself to live the monastic life in this monastery by temporary vows that are valid for three years but can be renewed. He thus becomes a junior monk. The period of his juniorate provides for: 1) the deepening of the monk’s conversion of heart so that he may experience a growing intimacy with God and an expanding life of charity in community life and service; 2) further vocational discernment in order to judge whether he is called to a life-long commitment in this community; and 3) preparation for future life and work in the community through the experience of specific kinds of work.
- During the juniorate the monk receives further instruction and formation, and the junior master reports annually to the chapter on his progress. This period lasts for a minimum of three years but may be extended to a maximum of nine either at the request of the monk himself or by decision of the abbot. Its usual length is between three and five years. When he is ready to make a life-time commitment he applies to the abbot for solemn profession, and the abbot must again receive the consent of the chapter.
- A monk’s final profession of vows is a ceremony that binds him to the community for life, celebrated with appropriate solemnity by the abbot and community to receive him formally into the monastery and consecrate him permanently to the service of God in the monastic way of life. It marks the definitive reception of the solemnly-professed monk into the monastic chapter and the end of his initial process of formation. Monastic formation, however, is a life-long endeavor, and each monk continues his conversion and development throughout his life.
Contact Vocations by e-mail or write us at:
Fr. Ron Margherio, O.S.B.
Director of Vocations
Saint Bede Abbey
24 Route Six West
Peru, IL 61354
Phone: (815) 223-3140, ext. 238