What exactly is the monastic vocation?


Holy Benedictines have suggested that my personality is well-suited to the life of St. Benedict. I have tremendous doubts, however.

What is it about the monastic life that makes monks uniquely beneficial to the Church, alongside active religious orders, secular clergy, and the laity?

When I look at the cenobitic community life, I see three things:

  1. the same psalms at the Office every week, over and over and over again,
  2. the inability to go and be with the poor and embrace them personally,
  3. the sense of being disconnected from the “real world”.

I often try to overcome each of these. I think that perhaps the rhythm of psalms wouldn’t drive me mad. Perhaps the fellow Brothers in the monastery could be “my poor” to serve. Perhaps the disconnection from the secular world would allow me to touch the truly real world of Heaven.

None of these help, though. I fear that somehow it’s less Christian to not be around the poor, or that it’s a waste of time to chant psalms for hours on end. I love the Mass and Office, but it seems a lot.

Does anyone know good resources about the monastic life - theologically, deeply, and spiritually? What is its purpose? Does it please God?

Monks pray for everyone in the world. Constantly, by their lives and their office.
It does us tremendous good.
Others will give you more thorough answers, but I personally thank God for the holy monks around the world who make their life’s work a daily conversation with God on our behalf.
God bless you,

From the CCC 2687 Many religious have consecrated their whole lives to prayer. Hermits, monks, and nuns since the time of the desert fathers have devoted their time to praising God and interceding for his people. The consecrated life cannot be sustained or spread without prayer; it is one of the living sources of contemplation and the spiritual life of the Church.

So yes, as PianistClare said, this benefits the entire world, as prayers from cloistered brothers and sisters rise up to God.

If you have doubts, as opposed to fears, though, I wonder if you truly are suited to a contemplative life, particularly since you state you have a desire for more active ministry such as working with the poor.

I think you need to fully discern your calling further with an experienced spiritual director or contact your local diocese, they all have a vocations department to help you discern. God bless you.

The telling tale of where your vocation lies will be in the peace you find or do not find when you visit a community or contemplate a way of life.

God indeed does speak to us through our desires, too.

The best way to know is to “come and see.”

You seem to be drawn to a more active way of life.

Explore and pray. Go for a day or two to various communities. What matters most is that you respond to what God is asking. If you have a call, then you are called to some specific order and community, just like a person is called to marry a specific person.

Pax Christi!!

I’ve heard before that this is a good reason for the existence of the monks. They still sleep and do the other things that active-religious do, however. I don’t see what distinguishes them as so uniquely-important. Men of prayer exist in every state of life.
Hodegetria**, thank you. I have no deep desire for active ministry. My real dream is to celebrate the holy Mass in quiet places, to meditate, to contemplate, to pray, to embrace silence, to do lectio divina, to dwell in Christ calmly, and to remain at peace. My doubts or fears are with regards to salvation, not vocation. I wonder how a man who stays in a cloister can be saved, since he does not bury the dead, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, etc., as Christ commanded us. The parable of the sheep and the goats terrifies me. It’s not that I desire active ministry; it’s that I desire not to be damned.

JamalChristopher, I appreciate your input. I have intimate and almost daily contact with local active-life Franciscans. They are very kind, but the more time I spend around them the less satisfying their way of life seems to be. Pulled around by a thousand interests, made to run this-way-and-that, and dwelling in so much noise and irreverence. It’s painful to watch. Life in one of the active orders would be a very great penance to me. Unfortunately, I cannot visit a contemplative community because the closest ones are very far away. Is this a “sign” from God, even of itself?

Thanks for the patience, everyone.

The basic idea of monastic life is this:

God has called many people out to the wilderness to listen to Him and live with Him. Not everybody is told to go back out. This was true in Judaism from the earliest times, and it soon became true in Christianity.

As Jesus told Martha about her sister sitting at his feet studying His Word instead of serving the guests, “Mary has chosen the better part, and it will not be taken away from her.”

So primarily, monks listen to God, in the Word, and then they think about it and ask God questions or for favors for the world, and then they praise Him.

The second idea is that monks are hermits who live close enough together to help each other stay alive and fight demons. (Inexperienced hermits had a bad tendency to go nutso or be spiritually attacked. Not so much a problem when you can go to daily Mass and have people around.) So they do have a chance to do service inside the community. Mary did help Martha whenever Jesus wasn’t in town.

The third idea is that monks provide hospitality to anyone who travels by, or anyone who needs help. So again, they do have a chance to serve outsiders, and Martha gets her look-in.

If you don’t like the idea of monks, it might be because it’s not your spiritual style, or it might be because it scares the willies out of you. (Surprisingly many people who end up loving monasticism hate the idea before they try it or see it done.)

May I ask generally where you live? I would say spend time in adoration and ask the Lord to reveal His Will for you.

The monastic vocation has been a key part of the Church’s life since about the 4th century. Given this, there is nothing to suggest that it is in any way incompatible with salvation or the gospel.

Holy Benedictines might also have told you that the Benedictine charism is based on ora et labora - work and prayer. In other words, they engage in active work (be it in a parish, a school or a farm, to give a few examples) while centring their life around prayer, particularly the daily office. Praying the psalms and canticles every day doesn’t become boring (IMHO) but rather actually quite meditative. However, from the description of your desires above, it sounds like a vocation to the Cistercian order (OCSO) might be more what you’re after.

Mintaka, I love the idea of monks. I do not hate them. I’m just afraid for my own soul, following the judgment parable of Matthew 25. At the end, the Lord won’t ask whether we prayed, or entered the wilderness, or believed in Him, or had mystical visions. He will ask whether we loved the poor and our brethren in general. Perhaps His description of the consequences of that love - giving food, drink, clothing, visitations - is tailored more for people in the world.

I know that passage from Luke 10 very well. I’m not sure how it applies to both worldly and non-worldly vocations.

I’d rather not say where I live. I often pray for guidance, but should go to Adoration.

May I ask why you mention the Cistercians, as opposed to the OSB? I do have a fond love for their saintly founder, for their idea of noble simplicity, and for their silence. I’m not sure exactly how they differ from Benedict’s Order. There is an order of Cistercians somewhat-near to me in Rogersville, NB, Canada. They run a very big farm and do many things - seemingly more than the Benedictines. Thus, I’m not sure why you’d recommend them as being particularly different.

Well, it depends on your age, but at some point you will need to go on a visit to the monastery you are considering even if it’s 1.000 mi. or 2000 km (depending where you live)

Jesus Bless You.

Thank you. Due to my own personal struggles with anxiety and other things, I often feel vocationless. I know the Monastic life is no pushover. They probably work harder than most secular people.

Are there any orders which stress silence, contemplation and such things over a louder communal liturgy? I’ve noticed Benedictines often employ organ to accompany their psalms. Do Carthusians not tend to do so? “Into Great Silence” didn’t seem to show any musical instruments. Given that the sacred liturgy is more than half the monk’s day, we should be careful about where we go.

Carthusians are the most austerie I think. They are the only order, I’ve read, never to have been reformed since its founding.

It is not a life for most people, even among those called to religious life. I’m not sure who comes in second place for silence.

I think the Cistercians have a lot of silence in their daily life, not 100% sure.

I know that the Carthusians are radically silent. Those who are ordained basically live as hermits, apart from some Offices said in choir. Now that sort of silence would drive a person like me - and many others! - a little bit insane. It requires a very special draw.

Must find out more about the Cistercians… but I wonder if the “new monasticism” has any place in Catholicism. Stranger things have happened. :slight_smile:

“New Monsticism”?? Can you elborate?

I’ve only heard echoes of it - nothing concrete. Perhaps it’s a Protestant thing. Anyway, it involves small groups of lay-people living essentially monastic lives and praying together. I think it’s done in order to avoid the perceived rigidity of hierarchical structures. It probably isn’t very Catholic.

Sometimes I wonder what God intends for people with emotional, anxiety, or psychological problems who also have an intense desire for community, peace, silence, prayer, and the liturgy. The future holds many things.

Well, as a person who struggles with less than perfect mental health, I believe that God desires that we all try to know, love, and serve him to the best of our ability no matter what.

I suffer very poorly as far as I can see, anyways, but I do know God wants us to carry our Crosses with his help as best we can. It is my belief that some are given heavier crosses than others, but I sure don’t pretend to have all the answers.

My understanding is that Benedictine (OSB) life is more active and less austere compared to that of the Cistercians who maintain a greater degree of silence, do not engage in public ministry and, generally, tend to locate their abbeys in the countryside. Granted, as both follow the Rule of St Benedict, the differences are unlikely to be all that great but, at the same time, will also differ from community to community. It’s important not to lose sight of the fact that a monastic vocation more of a call to join a particular community rather than an order.

That is very informative. Thank you.

I’m definitely not the most qualified person to respond, but I’m discerning monastic life and have done a fair bit of research on a university level concerning monasticism.
About Cistercians:
The Cistercian Order was reformed in the 17th century. The reformed Cistercians are commonly known as Trappists or OSCO (Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance). Apart from popular belief, St. Bernard of Clairvaux did not actually found the order, but he heavily influenced the reform. That’s correct! Cistercians are a reform themselves. They were Benedictines in the town of Cîteaux (Latin Name: Cistercium). To answer your question “what’s the difference?” Well, there isn’t a whole lot. Cistercians follow the Rule of Saint Benedict like most western monks except Carthusians. Benedictines became lax by the 10th century so the Cistercians became strict. The Cistercians became lax by the 17th century so the Trappists became strict. Nowadays there are monasteries and abbeys in most orders that are lax, strict, or somewhere in between.
Concerning Vocation:
I can’t speak a whole lot about the your situation or the Benedictines you know since I don’t have a ton of information about either. One thing to be careful of is that some religious (monks, friars, sisters, etc.) say, “You’d make a great XYZ!” because they see some kind of holiness in you. The thing is, every saint could potentially make a great XYZ because they were so holy. But the question is, what XYZ would you make the best of? (Rather, what would make you the best?) St. Thomas Aquinas could have been a holy Benedictine, but he was called to be holier as a Dominican. Also, as someone else mentioned, God uses our natural inclinations? If you don’t find monastic life attractive it might not be for you. (I realized you may actually find it attractive, but this is generalized for the sake of anyone reading.)
Salvation and Monasticism:
I would first warn you from saying, “I don’t want to be damned if I become a monk.” You can rest in assurance per the Magesterium that monastic life is a perfectly acceptable manner of achieving salvation. Otherwise, the church would condemn that life, not promote it. Instead, the church canonizes monks and nuns and shows their lives to be exemplary Christian lives. So the “become a monk” part is not the issue. The issue of damnation may arise only at the “if I” part of the statement. Monasticism may not be your vocation and if you choose monastic life knowing it is against God’s will, you have obviously committed a sin (likely a grave one too).
Purpose of Monks:
If the church is a body, contemplatives are the muscles to the heart which keep the pulse and graces flowing to the rest of the body. (Pius XI, St. John Paul II, and many popes hold this view.) They spend their live constantly praying and sacrificing for those who have no one to pray for them. While missionary orders administer to the Church Militant (living on Earth), monks are the missionaries to the Church Suffering (living in Purgatory). Many think all monks do is pray and, hopefully, they’re CORRECT! Every action of a Christians life should be a prayer in some regard. St. Benedict says, “Nothing should be preferred to the Work of God (Opus Dei).” He explicitly uses Opus Dei and the Divine Office synonymously. For monks, rising at 4 am every day and chanting the entire psalter is their labor of love (naturally they physically work as well). On a spiritual level, it is no less work than missionaries. This is why St. Therese of Liseaux (cloistered Discalced Carmelite Nun) is the patron saint of missionaries along side of St. Francis Xavier.
Monks can often practice the seven spiritual works of mercy on a much deeper level than active religious might be able to. They write letters/books, give retreats, pray with/for others, administer sacramentally and spiritually to visitors and brother monks in order to 1) instruct the ignorant, 2) counsel the doubtful, 3) comfort the afflicted, and 4) admonish the sinner. Living with the same men in the same place for your entire life, a monk learns to mercifully 5) bear wrongs patiently and 6) forgive offenses willingly. And arguably the greatest act of mercy that can be done amongst the physical and spiritual is 7) praying for the living and the dead.
I’m not going to go into great detail on how intercession and grace works now (that’s for another forum), but monasticism is not avoiding the world. Monasticism is the embrace of both physical and spiritual worlds from a great distance. Monks must be prepared to never know the good they did on Earth and to never have consolation in this life for the sake of the salvation of their souls and the souls of others. (For anyone wondering, acting for the sake of the salvation of your own souls is GOOD. It naturally comes about though when acting out of love for God and others.)
I sincerely hope this helped. You are surely in my prayers. Please keep me in yours.

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