Vocational inquiries are not uncommon. I receive telephone calls, letters, and emails asking for information about our way of life. It occurred to me today that I ought to write something more than what is found on the sidebar of Vultus Christi. I decided to write this "something more" in the form of a personal letter. A few photos accompany it. Tell me what you think.
If you have come to this "Vocations" page, it is because in your heart you are searching for something more. For a monk, that something more is, more precisely, SOMEONE who is ALL: Our Lord Jesus Christ. He is the pearl of great price, He is the treasure hidden in the field, for which one is ready to renounce all else.
Truly Seeking God
When Saint Benedict, in his Rule for Monasteries, reviews the qualities needed in a man who comes to be a monk, he would have us examine, before all else, whether the candidate is truly seeking God (Rule of Saint Benedict, Chapter 58). While this may seem self-evident, it needs to be said clearly and unambiguously. One comes to be a monk because God alone has become, or is becoming, the one and only desire of one's heart.
The Face of Christ
For a Benedictine, this search for God focuses on the adorable Person of Our Lord Jesus Christ or, if you will, on His Face, for Jesus Christ is the Human Face of God.
Philip saith to him: Lord, shew us the Father, and it is enough for us. Jesus saith to him: Have I been so long a time with you; and have you not known me? Philip, he that seeth me seeth the Father also. How sayest thou, shew us the Father? Do you not believe, that I am in the Father, and the Father in me? (John 14:8-10)
For a Benedictine Adorer of the Eucharistic Face of Jesus, this same search leads to the altar, where, concealed in the tabernacle or exposed to our gaze in the monstrance, the Face of Christ, hidden beneath the sacramental veil, is turned toward him, revealing the infinite mercy and loving friendship of His Sacred Heart.
In the Here and Now
Our little monastery is still in its embryonic stage. Should you come to visit us, you will find nothing of what one would expect to find in an established monastery with a numerous community. The beginnings of a monastery require, not only that a man truly seek God, but also that he be willing to seek Him in the midst of something that is still being built, in the midst of uncertainties, surprises, challenges, and seemingly endless opportunities for self-sacrifice.
In the very near future our little monastery will be relocating to a more suitable setting. This transition will require a readiness to let go of much that is familiar, comfortable, and settled. Benedictine stability is, more often than not, purchased at the price of a certain initial mobility. Even Saint Benedict relocated more than once!
Men with a romantic vision of what monastic life ought to be, need not apply. Our search for God unfolds in the humble reality of what is here and now. While we do not lose sight of what may develop later on, in God's good time, we cannot indulge in idealistic daydreaming. God comes to meet us in the real, not in the cherished ideals that we have nurtured of ourselves and by ourselves.
We do not aspire to become a grand abbey. Our aim is to grow to the size of a large family, that is between fifteen and twenty-five members. A diversity of talents and aptitudes are needed: manual, intellectual, artistic, and technological. If you come to us, be prepared to stretch and be stretched. My own life experience has taught me that monastic obedience often allows a man to discover and develop gifts that he never knew he had.
There are days when our life seems like a series of interruptions. There are always people at the door; Saint Benedict says that they must be welcomed as Christ Himself (cf. Rule of Saint Benedict, Chapter 53). Things go wrong. Technology fails. In a small community, the horarium (daily time-table) must be adapted and re-adapted to accommodate the human weaknesses of fatigue, illness, and unforeseen demands on time and energy.
This readiness to adapt is integral to the Benedictine vision of things. Saint Benedict would have the Abbot be "discrete and moderate . . . so tempering all things that the strong may have something to strive after, and the weak may not fall back in dismay" (Rule of Saint Benedict, Chapter 64).
Confidence in the Love of Christ
In a community still at its beginnings, the monastic journey does not always flow smoothly. There are bumps in our road. There are spiritual potholes. There are detours and wrong turns. For all of this, I can still say with complete confidence, "that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor might, nor height nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Romans 8:38-39).
Where Do You Fit In?
Experience has shown that after one's mid to late thirties, it is difficult to adapt to monastic life, to submit to the process by which one yields to the demands of life "under a Rule and an Abbot" (Rule of Saint Benedict 1:13). Similarly, men with a previous experience of religious life, find it hard to enter into a new experience with the freshness, sense of wonderment, and discovery that should characterize those taking their first steps in a monastery.
If a man brings with him a cheerful, flexible disposition and the ability to adapt to changes in routine, he will do well with us. If, on the other hand, he is rigid, legalistic, all bound up in personal patterns of piety, and incapable of adapting himself to the exigencies of a new foundation, he will not thrive with us. It goes without saying that anyone with a disposition that is chronically critical, judgmental, or arrogant is unfit for monastic life.
Guests and Friends
There are other things that you should know. While we cherish our silence and enclosure (separation from the outside world) we are welcoming towards all sorts of people, including families; sometimes families have noisy little children. Saint Benedict says that, "guests, who are never lacking in a monastery, [sometimes] arrive at irregular hours" (Rule of Saint Benedict, Chapter 53). Apart from the courtesy and reverence incumbent upon all people of good will in the House of God, we do not expect our guests to conform to our monastic disciplines.
We have a very gentle dog named Hilda, for Saint Hilda of Whitby. If you are not dog-friendly or are easily shocked when a dog acts in a very doggy fashion, you will not be happy among us. My experience is that a dog can help monks to be more human. One of the Desert Fathers said, "Even a dog is better than I, for a dog loves and does not judge."
I have no desire to lead anyone on by presenting a picture of our way of life that does not correspond to its reality. You can read about some of the characteristic elements of our particular monastic charism below. If, after reading, you want to get to know us first hand, call or email me. My contact information is at the bottom of this page. If you have read this far, you will probably want to continue!
In lumine vultus Iesu,
Dom Mark Daniel Kirby, O.S.B., Prior