Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Disclaimer: I know nothing about vocations.

I just comment on it.

Recently there was a news article published in national newspapers mentioning I had been a Trappist novice.  I believe the author wanted to mention it to give me some credibility since she referenced me as someone who writes a lot about monastic life.  In reality, my experience, now so long ago, gives me no credibility; neither does the fact I had investigated and experienced other religious orders, such as the Carthusians and Discalced Carmelites, and then lived a private quasi-religious-hermit-pilgrim lifestyle for awhile, with approval and a spiritual director's guidance of course.  All of that, though 'religious' in nature, is really just water under the damn and remains an experience akin to basic military training or a strange novitiate for living a single solitary life as a baptized Catholic.  I have no degree in religious life - no authority - no nothing.

That said - I do have personal opinions I often toss about - but I do that with marriage and children as well, although I am not qualified to be a marriage counselor any more than I could possibly give good advice regarding religious life.

Yet people keep asking - more so now since the article on Springbank.  A reader from the Philippines asked how I knew I didn't have a vocation.  Another reader asked about the discernment process, when do you know you are wasting your time and avoiding real life, and so on.  One fellow wrote asking about the Trappists and which abbey I would recommend.  I can attempt an answer to such questions but it is just based upon my personal experience and opinion.

I suppose because these questions have been on my mind, I woke up this morning thinking, 'you enter a monastery to do the work of God - to seek God alone.'  Which means any apostolate must take second place.  For example, in the film, The Nun's Story, Mother Emanuel counselled Sr. Luke, "You entered the convent to be a nun, not a nurse."  Likewise, a community or monastery must be equipped and able to provide stable formation and spiritual training, as well as protecting and nurturing that desire, which may indeed be a genuine response to an interior call or conviction, within the candidate. 

Actually this post came to be because one fellow asked me about the Trappists and which abbey I would recommend.  I replied:
I would have to suggest you look at New Melleray, outside of Dubuque, Iowa. It is an old well established abbey with an excellent abbot, Fr. Brendan and a community of very solid and fervent monks. New Melleray possesses a naturalness about their monastic observance - it is very ordinary, the observance - practical and simple - very Trappist, very Nazareth-like. The monks maintain a close spiritual relationship to their Sisters, the Trappistines at Our Lady of the Mississippi Abbey nearby.  Both are mature, healthy communities.

I left because I felt called to 'move on' - simple as that.
As for monastic life, I personally could only recommend stable communities or established houses.  There are other very good Benedictine abbeys as well, and of course there is the Carthusians and Camaldolese if one feels called to the solitary life.  There are newer orders of Carmelites, but I would focus upon those founded or who have been brought under the umbrella of, the established orders.  As for new 'reforms' of established orders I couldn't recommend any more highly than The CFR's or the Franciscans of the Immaculate.  

If you want to be a diocesan priest, I would recommend my Archdiocesan seminary - it is solid and faithful - although I think most seminaries in the US meet that criteria now.  Additionally, there are often small diocesan communities one may look into - such communities have never attracted me - too 'charismatic' or founder-driven for my taste.  (Not that there is anything wrong with that.  There are just so many now days.)  Throughout history I think there have been small communities that have come and gone to provide a way of sanctity for individuals and to serve the needs of the poor in their local areas.  Thus proving there is nothing wrong with small diocesan communities.

To answer the question how I knew I did not have a vocation - I found out by trying it.   I'm not angry that I 'didn't make it', nor am I jealous of those who did; I don't anguish over it at all - not even on the feast of St. Bruno any longer - I'm very much at peace about my current state in life.   I admire those who have persevered in religious life and priesthood.  As one old Father once told me: "A true monk is one who perseveres in the monastery until death."  I believe that is true - and praiseworthy.  Fidelity to the duties of our state in life - no matter what it is - is the key to holiness.

Photo:  Oops!  Wrong religion... wrong monastery.  LOL!


  1. "Fidelity to the duties of our state in life - no matter what it is - is the key to holiness."

    I remember listening to an America A.A tape and the guy asked his sponsor how to know what he should do next with his life etc, now that he was sober after having 'slipped' for the umpteenth time. His sponsor said "Do the next right thing in front of you"
    "But what if I fall again?" "Pick yourself up, and do the next right thing in front of you, and on and on, every time you fall, however that fall may manifest itself, (word, deed, action etc) get up, and do the next right thing. On and on until the end."

    I think this is a good mode of behaviour for all of us and it fits in with what you said about becoming holy.

    For example, it's 7.45ish am here. The next right thing for me to do, is haul my teenage son out of bed and shoo him off to school. Or maybe for someone else a cat needs a meal. That's a steward of the earth's duty too, God made us stewards. I am also sometimes a bar-stewrard (well I am here at Abbey Roads)!

    Praise the Lord for duties, they smooth out our rough edges.

    And remember, Diamonds are formed under tremendous pressure!!!

  2. Head over to the Orwell's Picnic blog where such questions of vocation and occupations are being discussed.


    There are some good follow up posts too. Personally, I agree with Hilary that some of us are damaged and therefore unable to fulfill the requirements of vocations to marriage or the religious life.

  3. Jimf - That is another blog I've never read - I'll check it out.

    I also agree with this:

    "some of us are damaged and therefore unable to fulfill the requirements of vocations to marriage or the religious life."

    It reminds me of Leonie, St. Therese's sister, who I suspect would have never made it without a special grace from her sister in heaven.

  4. jimf - I read the post - very good. I like her blog and just linked. Thanks.

  5. I spent 2.5 years in a Franciscan convent in Bosnia-Herzegovina in the early 80's. Likewise, I'm no expert in religious life as a result of that, but also look back at that period as one of the most important of my life. I don't think one can enter a monastery or convent, or embark on a formation program and come out the same. Even today, I draw on things I learned during that time. Of course, this depends on whether a particular group has the mind of the Church or is wayward.

  6. My stint in religious formation was in the mid to late 80s. Unfortunately, I was "damaged" when I went in and probably even more damaged when I left. It took me years to live it down and erase patterns that were established as well as some questionable theology. The vocation question is still a big, unanswered mystery to me. For now, I continue to say no to the call (if it exists) and pray there is no penalty for doing so.

    Glad you like Hilary's blog. She has a lot of good, essential stuff there. And your blog is great also, Terry. Such blogs help me to clarify things for myself. And I love the art.. .

  7. jimf, Patrick Dunn had some good things to say in relation to vocation in the comments to the previous post, if you can wade though all the pananoia and crap I caused there.

  8. jimf

    Your experience reminds me....

    I left the United States because in the 1980's I was aware that religious communities were in big trouble. Religious sisters I knew were certain that the priesthood would be opened to women.

    I happened across some Franciscan sisters in Chicago when traveling with my ethnic Croatian dance troupe. I could see that they espoused what I valued in religious life, so I talked to my pastor at the ethnic Croatian parish in Detroit, and over the next two years, arrangements were made for me to enter as a candidate. For the most part, they were quite traditional. Later the charismatic movement made inroads in that area, and some sisters gravitated in that direction, but not all. In any event, they were deeply devoted to Mary, and the Eucharist.

    I can imagine how some had very bad experiences, especially in the 70's and 80's, and even into the 90's in some dioceses and communities.

    A poorly catechized young person, entering a community where new age-ism has taken root, or where dissidency flourishes - that is a very volatile situation that can cost people their faith.

    I think the web has changed a lot in this area. What young people read is no longer controlled in some library by people who espouse "strange teachings". What the Pope says today, can be read today, without being filtered. Young people today can read what was in the documents of Vatican II. They are not dependent on being fed the "spirit of the council" because the documents aren't readily available.

    The web is one of the biggest game changers in the fight against dissidency in religious orders and we see where the growth is.

    When I say that those were some of the best years of my life, I'm thinking back about some of the things the sisters taught me.

    - Not to remain idle
    - Spend time in silence
    - Devotion to Mary and the Eucharist
    - practicing virtues by learning to interact with others around you in God-pleasing ways.
    - Spending time reading the saints
    - Ways to avoid temptation
    - Appreciation for Scripture
    - The value of order and structure in one's life, and learning to deal with interruptions.

    This is just the tip of the iceberg.

  9. Charismatic Catholics are not 'new age'

    Just in case any of the comments might be suggesting that,

    At least three popes have endorsed the charismatic movement, including our present Holy Father. If needed I can cite.

  10. Shadow - when I use the term for this subject I'm not thinking of the Charismatic Movement - rather I use the term as regards a "charismatic personality" driving things... take M. Nadine Brown for an example.


Please comment with charity and avoid ad hominem attacks. I exercise the right to delete comments I find inappropriate. If you use your real name there is a better chance your comment will stay put.