Joining an aging religious order


#1

What if one were to join an aging religious order, and, after professing perpetual vows, he/she found out that the specific monastery he/she joined was closing? He/she felt a vocation to this particular monastery, but may not necessarily feel joyful in another monastery in another part of the world. He/she took the vow of stability assuming he/she would live in this monastery for the rest of his/her life with the particular charism. Is this an indication of a “not-so-genuine” vocation? For example, I join the Cistercian Monastery in Alaska (not actually one, but hypothetical situation). I profess the vow of stability for life, because I believe God wanted me in that specific monastery, in that specific location for a reason, and I feel joyful there; the monastery has a school apostolate, and I teach Latin and love it. But then, five years into my perpetual vows, our community votes to close the monastery, and I am to relocate to another monastery somewhere else, like Gethsemani in Kentucky. However, I don’t know if I can be joyful in this change, because instead of true specific apostolate, I am in charge of crafting wooden caskets. Is this a sign that maybe this vocation is not for me? And how much should the charism/apostolate of a religious order give weight to the “this is my vocation?”


#2

You can ask to be released from your vows. To avoid that, due diligence, investigation, travel, time, effort and expense are required. And prayer in abundance.


#3

Your questions need to be a bit untangled.

Indeed, in monastic life that professes the vow of stability, the perceived vocation would be to a specific community…so you are correct in expressing that you would feel called to a specific monastery and, indeed, each monastery has its own unique characteristics.

The next scenario, however, presents a crossed scenario. Cistercians of Common Observance have schools where, indeed, you could have an obedience to teach Latin. Cistercians of Strict Observance, such as the Abbey of Gethsemani, do not have schools. But these are two categorically distinct Cistercian observances, each with their own abbot general. Passing from one to the other would be of the magnitude of a Trappist becoming Camaldolese, for example.

Beyond the vow of stability and the vow of Conversatio Morum, there is the vow of obedience. Over the years of monastic life, one would typically receive many obediences from the abbot. If it is a Benedictine abbey, for example, you could have the obedience to teach or to be involved with the school or tasks internal to the monastery or any number of other apostolates including, yes, casket making.

One cannot enter Religious Life with the illusion that one will know what one’s life work will be. Some obediences one may find personally more satisfying than others. On the other hand, superiors are not inclined today to give obediences for which the person has absolutely no inclination, aptitude or interest.

Through the emission of perpetual vows, one would have a voice in chapter. One assumes obligations relative to the community and, also, the community assumes obligations relative to the members. In the process of closure, those in perpetual vows, above all, will be involved in the disposition of the community and their own personal disposition.

If the community would be closed, the norm in the Benedictine confederation is that you would have a voice in choosing a new community, usually within the same congregation, and this would be facilitated by the Abbot President of the Congregation. The Benedictine structure is different from Cistercians of Common Observance and Trappists and each have their unique aspects, especially given the role of the Father Immediate.

It is rare for a situation to arise when this issue does become fact in which no agreeable resolution was possible. But there is certainly provisions for that.

Beyond that, if this is not a hypothetical question but based on a real life vocational discernment, the persons to speak with about this who could best help you would be the monks of the community themselves. They are aware of the prospects if this potentially lies in their future, I can assure you.


#4

St Joseph Abbey, St. Benedict, LA has a woodwork shop which makes caskets. You may want to check them out.


#5

As I read the hypothetical, it is of a monk who has been teaching in a school – as a Latin teacher – faced with having to transfer stability, due to the closure, and being in an abbey with tasks completely not to his preference…such as casket making.


#6

Interesting question. Many orders have a specific work and apostolate which need professional qualifications. eg teaching, nursing.

IF when that order closes you feel that you cannot live religious life UNLESS you teach then that is clear cut as others have said.

However all religious will involve to some extent in the daily running of the House unless they have a dual system whereby some entrants are there to work at eg housework, cooking

If your calling is of self giving then you would find it a challenge and a growing to adapt, to serve, to give of yourself.

There is a book which although fiction deals well with many aspects of this. “This House of Brede” The book not the film… They say there that when you join you leave everything including your gifts and skills outside the door. If the order needs them they will ask if not you will be given abundant ways to give your life in service to God in that Order.

Religious life is about a humble self giving in Holy Obedience


#7

I second rosebud77’s words. Religious life is about detachment. If the monastery votes to close, that is God’s will being made manifest. We are human, and will have to go through a grieving process. You’d be permitted to visit other monasteries to see if they fit you. Otherwise, you’d also be given the choice of release from vows. I personally would not want teaching Latin to be a hang-up for me and my salvation.

Blessings,
Cloisters


#8

Thank you all for the responses. They are insightful and helpful


#9

The hypothetical you pose is really not what would happen. First, someone transferring from a community where they were teaching to Gethsemane is more than just moving from one monastery to another. Second, the normal option for those who have taken a vow of stability (which ONLY applies to those in the Benedictine tradition; there is not a vow of stability elsewhere), is to choose to stay in place or to move. You don’t simply leave religious life–that’s a whole other thing.

In the US, there have been a number of Benedictine monasteries that have closed. In ALL cases, the religious involved had options of moving to one of the other monasteries in their federations. In a few cases, monasteries returned to the original house from which they were founded, but individual members sometimes chose to go to a different house. Of course, this transfer has to be approved by the house involved. And merger, or reunification is a complicated process that takes mutual discernment and time.

If you are part of any tradition other than Benedictine, you may well be transferred from place to place, or ministry to ministry. Different congregations have different ways of interpreting obedience; most these days to not simply order people from one place to another… This is normally a process of mutual discernment, not blindly following orders from on high.

Another factor is that you seem to think that the religious commitment is contingent upon how you “feel.” Does it make me happy? Etc. It is not all about you, or about feeling good. This would be the equivalent of a spouse deciding to take off if, say, their husband or wife became disabled or seriously ill.

This is all why serious discernment before entering, and through the years of formation and temporary vows, is so important…


#10

Hello nunsuch, thank you for your reply. Let me quickly respond to some of the points you raise:

I’m not exactly sure what you mean by “someone transferring from a community where they were teaching to Gethsemane is more than just moving from one monastery to another.” Can you explain this?

I should have just been upfront and informed everyone that this is indeed a real case scenario, not a hypothetical one. Fr. Ruggero observed this point. However, for privacy reasons, I preferred using “Cistercian” instead of “Benedictine.” … Oh well.

I’m not so sure that a monk can “choose to stay in place” if their monastery is closing. Maybe you mean something else, but please correct me because I’m unsure what you mean. I understand that leaving religious life is a whole other thing… So I guess back to my main question, if one can’t imagine himself/herself doing the Lord’s work elsewhere in the world, does this mean that he/she shouldn’t pursue that vocation? I’m not sure, I’m still praying about that and trying to figure it out.

Lastly, I just want to clarify that I recognize religious life is more than “feelings.” There is a substantial difference between happiness and joy, particularly in the context of religious life. Happiness is, like you said, about the “feels.” Joy is the recognition that you are giving God’s Love back to the world, in the way He is calling you to do so; it radiates your whole being and is not as shallow/superficial as happiness…

Maybe you are right though? Maybe there is selfishness involved if I am called to monastic life, but I cannot picture myself doing it at a different monastery?


#11

I completely agree, but then I wonder, maybe I am too interested in the specific apostolate of a given monastery? Maybe I am not actually discerning full-blown monastic life?


#12

Gethsemane is a strictly cloistered, contemplative monastery. It does not run schools; it is not something that one would be involuntarily “transferred to” from a congregation that has an active ministry like teaching. You could not be involuntarily transferred from a community with active ministries to, say, a Trappist one. And, if you are talking about members of the Benedictine family, generally if a monastery closes, movement would be to another in the same congregation or family.


#13

No…no, I wouldn’t say that at all

In the Benedictine life, as was said, one is called to a specific house. Everything about that house enters into the discernment. You shouldn’t, of course, choose a house based on who is Father Abbot as he will change in the course of your life. But, the location of the house, the character of the monastic chapter, and, yes, the work the abbey does, are factors to consider

There is, for example, a house I visited years ago which has no outside apostolate. Their focus is their monastic life. It’s a very nice monastery. I found them to be a wonderful community. If you were attracted to a more contemplative life, without becoming Cistercian or Camaldolese, they’d be wonderful. But if you’re not drawn to that, it would likely be a poor choice

Then, there are abbeys which run schools of varying levels…high school, college, university, seminary. One who wanted to teach but was loathe to teach high school would do well not to choose the abbey which runs a high school. Ultimately, these are factors to be weighed and to be discerned. Both by you as well as the community in your regard

I don’t find your focus illegitimate or inappropriate

I will offer you several pieces of advice

  1. I have seen over the years communities that I thought would not survive which rallied and had an infusion of vocations unexpectedly…after years-long dearths of even interest let alone vocations

You cannot know the future. It could be that you’re one part of the renewal of the house by the Lord. Who knows? If the Lord calls you to it, you would have to trust that He has a plan for you and your monastic vocation in the event the house had to be dissolved

The solution may not be clear now for many reason – not least simply because you don’t know what the future options could be…or where you will be in terms of your life and thought ten or fifteen years from now. By that time, the desire to teach may have transformed into wanting to be an academic working at the doctoral level and the disposition of events could seem as God’s Providence

  1. Monastic life can be like marriage. One goes into it without knowing all the twists and turns that the years can bring…the unforeseen and the unexpected

There will be occasions where you will have to surpass yourself and accept obediences you may not find to your choosing

So, yes, at the end of the day, you will have to discern if you are called to a particular house and to its monastic life above and beyond the specific work that they do, which after all can change, and then accept that obedience may take you in directions you might not choose. Sometimes, those are the obediences which make us grow the most…and becoming a saint is the ultimate purpose of monastic life…not making us the best Latin teacher the academy has ever seen

What if the Lord were to call a plethora of young men and your abbot discerned that you were the best one, five years after perpetual vows, to form them as novice master and bade you set aside teaching to take on that task for the good of the monastery as well as, ultimately, the school it sponsored?

  1. It’s completely different once you put on the habit. Until then, you are always a visitor. You are on the outside. You begin a discernment thus…but it is only when you are part of the community – really part of the community – that you will come to know it in order to discover if that is what you are called to. It is only then, too, that they will begin to see the real you. The discernment is, after all, a two way street

You would have more than four years before perpetual vows…even longer if necessary. In that time, you will experience interaction with the other houses of the congregation. You will likely have a visitation from the Father Abbot President, who would be able to speak with and reassure you. There will be time to weigh all of this as part of your discernment leading to vows

I appreciate that, in the moment, it could feel as though no other house could satisfy you. Perhaps it really couldn’t – but until you are a monk, you can’t know and experience other houses in the way you would as a monk of your monastery

And you must understand that your life after formation really is changed. You will have a different outlook and mindset. It’s not from night to day, necessarily, but the change is more than external to be sure and you would likely see the other houses in a different light in that context

I understand why you would be concerned…but I wouldn’t let the concern paralyse you or make the decision for you. You will have to trust God and the monastic chapter to some extent

I do not want us to go into more detail as it would eventually cause the compromise of the anonymity of the house if we became any more specific. But now that we can at least say that it is Benedictine, that frees us from the pecularities of Trappist observances and the Father Immediate and the unique relations that exist among their houses

With Benedictines, it’s very different. It’s important to know and understand that. You are seeing it as someone outside and not part of the monastic chapter…you must bear in mind that you have only part of the picture right now

The resolution of a dissolved house does not happen from one day to the next. It can be a years long process. I know a case where it is over a decade and still counting. The unresolved matters are entrusted to the Abbot President and his council pending final canonical disposition of all those in perpetual vows

When you are 1500 years old, time and perspective are very different. And there is significant wisdom, the accumulation of many many lifetimes, to draw from


#14

Wise wise words. So often the truth lies therein. And that is a hard but needful place to be.

If you can get a copy of “This House of Brede” read it. It approaches this very sensitively. ( not the film!)


#15

Thank you for your wise words Father


#16

Wise wise words. So often the truth lies therein. And that is a hard but needful place to be.

If you can get a copy of “This House of Brede” read it. It approaches this very sensitively. ( not the film!)

Thank you Rosebud :slight_smile:


#17

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