Men become monks in order to dedicate the whole of their lives to the service of God in a clear and distinctive way. It is for this reason that the monk binds himself to God, to the Church, and to his Community, by the Profession of Vows:
☩ Vow of Stability With this vow the monk promises to remain a constituent member of the monastic family. This implies that, in normal circumstances, he will live from then on in the Abbey which is home to his Community. The monk unites himself with the Brethren primarily through the vow of Stability.
☩ Vow of Conversion of Life conforms the monk’s life to a common standard of morality in which chaste celibacy and personal poverty are implicit. The monks share in the common wealth of the Abbey, acknowledging that they are called together to be responsible stewards of the graces that are entrusted to them by God.
☩ Vow of Obedience gives the monk the potential of being set free from the demands of selfish self-gratification, by following the leadership of the Abbot, the corporate mind of his Brethren, the principles set down in the Rule of Saint Benedict as mediated by the Constitution and Customary of the Monastery.
A man becomes a monk because it is for him the way of acknowledging that God, who gives us life and sustains us in it, is at the centre of everything, and that it is to him alone that we may become attached. This does not mean a lack of concern for other people: a true attachment to God enables a true concern for others in which service of their needs may better be undertaken. Monks do not come to their vocation relying on their own strength; as the Prologue of Saint Benedict’s Rule makes clear to us:
“Every time you begin a good work, you must pray to God most earnestly to bring it to perfection.”
The Rule of Benedict, Prologue v4
The gift of vocation to the monastic life (as to any other way of living) and the strength to answer that call, will be given to us by the grace of God.
The fundamental basis of a monk’s life is that he is called by God to live out the Christian life in a monastic family. A genuine call from God forms his vocation, and no final commitment is made before that vocation has been established.
Training takes place to ensure that the obligations of the monastic life are known and understood. Testing takes place through the experience of the practical living of the life.
When an individual begins to feel that the monastic life may be for him, he may be called an Aspirant. At this stage, it is appropriate that informal visits are made, at weekends or during holidays, just to be an observer, to see how the monastic life is lived out.
As the sense of vocation develops, the Aspirant may ask to be considered as a candidate for the monastic life. After interviews with the Abbot and Brethren appointed by him, the individual may be admitted as a Postulant. The Abbot may not consider candidates for the Postulancy before they have reached the age of 18, and will only admit men over the age of 50 after consultation with the Chapter of Monks in Solemn Profession. The Postulant will move in to the monastery to share in the life and work of the community and to continue the discernment process. Postulancy has no fixed duration but usually, after six months, the Postulant, by approval of the Abbot, may move on to the next stage.
The next step is a definite move marked by the ceremony of Clothing as a Novice. No vows are taken at this stage. The rites of monastic initiation are very simple: a chant, a dialogue between the Abbot and the candidate, two scriptural readings, intercessory prayer, the clothing, a blessing and a final hymn. The individual now wears the distinctive scapular and hood. Those who go on to this stage are guided by a Novice Master, a monk who has the responsibility of directing their training during the year of novitiate.
If the apprenticeship of the Novitiate proves satisfactory, the individual will be developing into a responsible member of the Community, but is not yet ready to make a life-long commitment. At this point, he makes the Benedictine First Vows of Stability, Conversion of Life, and Obedience for a period of three years.
At the end of his First Vows, a monk may go forward to make a life-long commitment to God and his Community. This Solemn Profession, a permanent dedication, comes only after the previous stages have been passed.
If you feel that God may be calling you to share in the life of our Community, what should you do?