All Christians, by virtue of their baptism, have a vocation from God to live the Gospel in their daily lives. However, some receive a particular call from Christ to follow him in a more radical manner such as becoming a monk. “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me” (Matthew 19:21). It is an invitation, not a command. The person must be free to accept in love. The call is an interior movement of God's grace which the person senses, attracting him to a deeper prayer life and the idea of offering his life to God, but it is often ambiguous at the start. Many people have a similar feeling which, while good in itself, is not actually a vocation to the monastic life. That's why discernment is required.
One doesn’t enter a monastery seeking to escape the difficulties of life in the world or seeking personal fulfillment. The strictness of the monastic schedule, the penitential nature of our life, the challenges of living in community and especially the demands of the Benedictine vows which one takes make it essential that the candidate “truly seeks God" in all things (Rule ch. 58) and not his own will. It is an invitation to someone to “deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow” Jesus (Luke 9:23) in humble service within the enclosure of the monastery. But, St. Benedict assures us that “truly as we advance in this way of life and faith, our hearts open wide, and we run with unspeakable sweetness of love on the path of God’s commandments” (Rule, Prologue).
A candidate needs sufficient good health to enter fully into the monastic life. People with significant psychological problems should not think of entering. People who tend to be very moody or get easily depressed, or who do not like people, will not do well in the monastery. A candidate needs good sense and generosity. He must be able to get along with other people, and be at ease with silence, seclusion, and a rather monotonous existence. He needs to be adaptable enough to do promptly and graciously what others ask of him, and have the strength of mind to make a commitment and persevere in it. None of these qualities are extraordinary, but the combination is perhaps not so common. Certainly not everyone is suited to monastic life, and none can live it well and persevere in it unless God first calls him to it.
A candidate must be a baptized and confirmed, practicing Roman Catholic man. A college degree is not required, but if he doesn’t have one it is desirable that he have several years of work experience. There is no strict age limit, but experience shows that men between the ages of 25 and 40 are the most likely to persevere. Younger candidates would have to show that they have the necessary maturity, and candidates over 40 would have to give us good reason to believe that they could adapt to community life as lived here.
One who feels a potential call should resort to frequent prayer for light and guidance and may benefit from talking to a wise spiritual guide. The person should visit some monasteries to experience the environment and liturgical practices of each, meeting with vocation directors who can assist in discernment.
A true vocation to a particular monastery must be made manifest within the monastery through a long discernment process. Both candidate and community are involved in this discernment.
If someone is interested in entering the monastery, he should contact Brother Bernard, our Vocation Director. If there is no impediment, he is invited to visit the monastery as a guest for a few days, preferably more than once, and participate in the community’s liturgical celebrations. If the desire to enter persists, he can request to make an observership. If accepted as an observer he lives inside the monastery for a month, is assigned work duties, attends all community exercises and gets to know the community. During this time he meets with Father Gregory, our Novice Master, who helps him in his discernment. He then returns home for at least a month to assess his experience. At the end of this time, if his desire persists, he can ask to enter as a “postulant”.
If accepted, a postulant spends the next six months (at least) fully participating in our life in the monastery. This period allows him to adjust to his new life and allows the community to assess his suitability to advance to the next stage. At the end of the postulancy, if approved, he becomes a “novice” for two years. He is clothed in the monastic habit, takes on a new name, and begins novitiate studies here in the monastery in various subjects, including Christian doctrine, Scripture, liturgy, the Rule of St. Benedict, monastic vows, Gregorian chant, and Latin. The new brother is still free to leave at any time.
At the end of the novitiate, if approved by the community, he becomes a junior monk with the profession of the first of normally three (up to nine) one-year vows. At this point, he should intend on remaining with the community for life, although he is free to leave at the end of each yearly vow. During the juniorate, he continues studies.
Finally, if approved by the community, the monk professes solemn, that is, permanent vows and receives voting privileges as a full member of the community. Since he can no longer own personal property, he disposes of all personal wealth and property as he wishes.
Some brothers become priests. A vocation to the priesthood is not considered until the monk has made solemn vows. No monk has a right to ordination, nor can he be forced to be ordained. The priest-monk serves the needs of his fellow monks, the nuns of our twin community, and our guests by celebrating Mass and hearing confessions, but he is also assigned manual labor just like non-priests. In keeping with our contemplative mission and cloistered way of life, our priests do not celebrate Mass in parishes or give directed retreats or ongoing spiritual direction. Occasionally a diocesan priest or priest from a non-contemplative religious community feels a call to monastic life. He would be required to undertake the same discernment process as anyone else.
St Mary's holds a Monastic Experience Weekend usually once or twice a year when men can spend a few days living in the monastery, experiencing our life first hand. In addition to participating in choir in the liturgy, they receive instruction in lectio divina and are assigned a few hours of work, and have the opportunity to ask questions and talk to our vocations director and other members of the community.