Becoming A Monk
- A Reflection on the Monastic Vocation by Fr. Maximilian Buonocore, O.S.B.
- Solemn Profession
- Frequently Asked Questions
- Contact our Vocation Director
A Reflection on the Monastic Vocation by Fr. Maximilian Buonocore, O.S.B.
A religious vocation becomes truly missionary through the evangelical virtues. In Luke 10:38-42, we hear about Martha who is anxious and busy about the tasks of hospitality and serving, things that we know to be very good activities to engage in, and to which St. Benedict assigns great importance in his Rule. Then why does Jesus rebuke Martha, who wants to get her sister Mary, who is seated at the feet of Jesus, listening and not working, to get up and also become engaged in the tasks of hospitality and service? Well, it is for the same reason that St. Benedict says in his Rule, that for the monk, “nothing is to be preferred to the Work of God,” that is, the Divine Office, where the monk sits “at the feet of Jesus” attending to his Word with openness to his Spirit.
This passage reflects the classic tension between two essential features of human existence: action in the world and contemplation of the divine. Over the centuries there have been many people who have sought to deal with this tension by imposing some degree of separation between themselves and the world. A great example of this is St. Benedict of Nursia. He was born into a wealthy family of the stature of nobility. He was well educated and had the opportunity to become very engaged in civic and economic activities which would contribute to the political and economic life of the society in which he lived. He could have become engaged in the apostolic life of the Church as a priest, who, with his gifts, would have advanced to high positions of leadership and administrative authority in the Church. He was indeed a “Martha” character, very preoccupied with his roles and activities, but, at the bidding of Jesus, sought to live in solitude and prayer at the “feet of Jesus” as Mary did.
It may seem like Benedict was shifting away from an apostolic vocation to a contemplative vocation . . . as if there was indeed such a distinction: an apostolic versus a contemplative vocation. In fact, there is only one type of religious vocation: to be bound to Christ in a contemplation that flows into an apostolic mission. Every vocation is both contemplative and apostolic. It is contemplative first and apostolic second. It is the apostolic dimension that can have many forms. These forms are what gives the religious vocation its variations among individuals and groups. The types of religious people whom we normally refer to as apostolic tend to do work in ministries such as sacramental ministry, faith formation, etc. The religious whom we usually refer to as contemplative are engaged in works which do just as much to evangelize and draw souls to Christ, though these works do not necessarily involve a lot of direct contact with other people outside of the religious community. But the purpose of all religious vocations is to fulfill what we are designed to be: missionaries of the Holy Trinity – to reflect the life and love of the Holy Trinity in the world, and to be thereby evangelical persons. Every human being is called to be evangelical in a very real way, because every human being is made in the image and likeness of God in his Word, and has a calling by his or her very nature to transmit that Word; the Good News of Trinitarian life and love into the world.
I myself left my career as an engineer to join the monastery. Yes, I could indeed exercise my calling as a missionary of the Holy Trinity as an engineer. I was anxious about exercising my career for the good of society, using the money I made for the good of others, and volunteering to do good works, but I knew that, to live that calling to its fullest in this life, I needed to foster the Mary side of me to a higher degree in the context of the monastery. I heard those words of Jesus addressed to the “Martha” in me, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her.” What Jesus was conveying is that Mary has chosen the better part because she was engaged in the kind of contemplative attending which is necessary to make whatever activity that she may engage in an evangelical activity. An activity is truly evangelical when it flows from the Word of God in us – from the Spirit of God in us – as opposed to flowing from our own anxious efforts at accomplishing good things and fulfilling the roles that other people expect of us. It is not that it is not a good thing to fulfill those roles, but we want to bring those roles in line with the highest role that we have as human persons: that is, to be missionaries of the Holy Trinity – to be evangelical persons in the highest sense of the word.
Our vocation, both as individuals and as a community, becomes truly apostolic and truly missionary only when, both individually and together as a community, we become truly evangelical persons. If we are not becoming truly evangelical persons, we may be a community that provides great humanitarian services for those in need – we may provide quality education and health services; we may provide needed sacramental services: masses, confessions, baptisms, confirmations, anointing of the sick, etc. – but, if we are not truly evangelical persons, these services remain just that: services.
But if, through our community life in the cloister, we are seeking to become truly evangelical persons, those services will not be just services, they will become occasions of encounter: encounter with the joy of the Gospel, encounter with the mystery of the divine presence through truly loving encounter. The services that we render become occasions for others, through us, to get a glimpse of the mysterious reality of the Divine, whose threefold personal generativity and communion is made manifest in the threefold personal presence of faith, hope and love, which is a reflection of the great Trinitarian mystery of the Godhead. When services are rendered from the threefold personal evangelical virtues of faith, hope and love, these services are no longer mere services which satisfy natural and spiritual needs. They become occasions for the divine mysteries to be really experienced, even if only in a small way. This is my monastic mantra. It should be our mantra as a monastic community.
So let us examine ourselves daily to see if our activities and efforts at doing good are imbued with evangelical contemplation, or are they more imbued with the merely human anxiousness to accomplish some good or to fulfill some role. This is the biggest question that I ask myself every day: “Am I becoming a truly evangelical person?” That is the question that the Lord was asking Martha to ask herself. That is the question that the Lord is asking each of us to ask ourselves today and every day.
A person interested in a monastic vocation to Newark Abbey contacts the Vocation Director at email@example.com who will invite him to make several brief visits to the Abbey. Individual cases vary according to circumstances, but the inquirer is encouraged to be in frequent contact, including overnight visits. Eventually he may be invited to come live in the monastery for a week or more. If the candidate wishes to enter the monastery he may apply for admission to postulancy.
Under the guidance of the Director of Formation he will live in the novitiate and join the monastic community at prayers, meals and recreation. During this period he will engage in various kinds of work and take certain classes in the monastery as determined on an individual basis. The usual period of postulancy is about six months, although how long it can last depends on the candidate, his relationship/knowledge of the community, and his experience at said community.
At the end of the period of postulancy the candidate may be invited to apply for admission to the community as a Novice. If accepted by the community he will spend a period of one year under the Director of Formation (Novice Master) studying the Rule of Benedict, scripture, monastic history, liturgy and other topics. It is during this time that the candidate begins to learn firsthand what it means to be a monk of Newark Abbey by leading a life of prayer, work, and study. Like a Postulant, a Novice is not in vows and is free to leave at any time.
If the Novice feels that he is indeed called to be Benedictine of Newark Abbey he applies to be accepted for temporary vows as a member of the community. If accepted by the community, he makes simple vows, which last for a period of three years. During this time he will, depending on the individual monk, work in St. Benedict’s Prep and at other jobs in the monastery, or perhaps engage in formal study.
A junior monk who feels that he may be called to the priesthood will need to discern such a vocation with the Abbot and the Director of Formation.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can I become a monk if I am a newly baptized Catholic?
Yes, however, there is a waiting period required in church law of two (2) years before a neophyte can enter religious life.
How long does it take to be come a monk?
The formation process takes several years as outlined above. The typical monastic formation period is about 5 years.
Am I too old to become a monk?
We have a ceiling of 45 for entering formation as a monk, however you should contact the vocation director to discuss options since exceptions can be made depending on circumstances.
Can I become a Monk if I am a Roman Catholic Diocesan Priest or a member of another Religious or Secular Institute?
Yes, however, you would need permission from your local ordinary (Bishop or major Superior) and would need to follow all the procedures of Canon Law, as well as be accepted by the monastic community. Although the priesthood is a beautiful calling, when a diocesan priest or Religious becomes a monk he must go through the same novitiate as all other monks and he is not granted an easier path, simply because he is a priest. The same is true of those who have formerly been in religious life, or who transfer from another institute. We currently have three monks who have been through the transfer process and would attest that the process although challenging is rewarding.
Can I become a monk if I am divorced?
You can become a monk, only if you have had your previous marriage annulled by the Church and have received a "Declaration of Nullity" also you must have already fulfilled any and all requirements toward children resulting for the previous marriage (i.e. Child support, child has met the age of emancipation, etc.) only at that point would we be able to accept an application from a previously married candidate.
Are monks able to stay in touch with family and friends?
Yes, monks often see and communicate with their family and friends in their spare time which is not set aside for prayer, lectio, or community obligations. Many monks speak with their families and friend regularly and visit with them particularly during holidays and vacation times.
Do monks go on vacation?
Yes. Once, professed as a monk, junior monks may take a week of vacation each year and solemnly professed monks may take up to 3 weeks each year.