Most of the major religions of the world have some form of monastic life. When Christianity was no longer threatened with persecution by the Roman Empire, early in the 4th century, some people felt that choosing Christ was no longer the deep and radical matter it once had been. They wanted to live out their baptism in a special way, turning themselves over to seeking God and abandoning all else. They began to notice that since the time of Christ there had been countless men and women who chose to live that radical way of discipleship that we hear about in the Bible in Acts 2:42-47 and Acts 4:32-35. These men and women had been living, working and praying for years in the desert. They had left the city for the desert, leaving possessions, career, even family behind. At first they were solitary (“monk” comes from “monachos,” meaning single or solo) but soon found real strength from living in small communities under a guiding wise man, an Abbot. This “monastic” way of life began to spread and soon there were locations spreading throughout the world. And, while many feel called to family life, or to specific work such as medicine or teaching, there are still people today who feel called to leave the worldly values aside and take-on the monastic way of life.
There are many paths to the decision to join a monastery. For some it is the deep impression made on them by monks – perhaps in real life, maybe in the lives of the saints. For others it is the ideals of the life: prayer, brotherly love, honest work and a unity of life that comes from faith and generosity, centered on Christ. Reading the Rule of St Benedict, or books about it, can inspire him. Moreover, knowing his own life story, his gifts and weaknesses, and having an awareness of an attraction to monastic life which he can only partly explain – all these can be part of the picture.
In the Christian tradition, monks live in communities under the guidance of a rule and an abbot. Monastic life for Christians is essentially very simple. You can see the biblical foundation of our communities if you read the second and fourth chapters of the Acts of the Apostles where it describes the early Christian community prayerfully living and worshiping together whilst holding all their goods in common.
We try to be faithful to the Gospel of Jesus and to be like the first Christian community in Jerusalem; where they held everything in common, worshiped and prayed together, celebrated the Eucharist and met the needs of others out of their own resources. This ideal of life is for us a road to God, a sure road that has been trodden by many saints. It is a road in which we can be sure of the companionship and support of our brethren and of Jesus Christ himself.
Monks live simple lives; we devote ourselves to prayer and any work that is necessary. We do not marry, since we are called by God to give our lives wholly to Him and to spend our lives in seeking Him.
Monastic life is a life under vows. These are promises we make to God for our whole life and we can really only make them because we are able to trust in God’s love and His faithfulness to us. A monk makes a promise of his life by vowing three things: stability, obedience and conversatio morum. These form the foundational vows by which we live out our lives.
This is a promise to stand firm in our discipleship of Christ, and not to run away from the challenge of monastic life. By this promise we undertake to persevere in a particular community, as the place where we hope to find our path to God. The monastic community may move if need be, but we always remain members of the same community. A monk may live away from the monastery, but that is in order to carry out some work of the community he has been given. As in any family, our assigned job does not mean that we cease to be a member of our monastic community. In essence, we vow to life out our life in service to God in this community, following this Rule, under this Abbot, until God calls us home.
Jesus was utterly obedient to his heavenly Father. In the same way, we have learned that we can do what God wants of us by being obedient monks. Jesus was obedient even to the extent of giving his life for the salvation of all people. For ourselves, we have vowed to be obedient to the Abbot of our monastic community. Likewise, we have also committed, through the Rule, that we will also practice mutual obedience with our brothers in community. Practically speaking, this means we are open to and obedient to any assignment or endeavor assigned to us by the Abbot. We don’t just undertake it begrudgingly, but rather lovingly as gift given by Christ that will help us in our call to holiness. In the same way we hope to live for others, and to share with all the hope of eternal life Christ promises us.
VOW OF CONVERSATIO MORUM:
This vow has a Latin name. It basically refers to living “a monastic way of life.” This means more than just a set of things to do; it means developing monastic instincts, monastic virtues. As an exterior thing, it includes a commitment to celibacy (not to marry), sharing of goods in a simple lifestyle (poverty), prayer and all that goes to make up the monastic routine. Monastic life is more than a routine. As an interior thing conversatio morum is about giving our hearts, souls and bodies to God, growing in His service, so that He can perfect us in His love.
Each of us 42 monks at Subiaco has a story about how God brought us to this Abbey. We each have the same calling, but God brought us here from entirely different directions. We have men from Arkansas to Pennsylvania, from Florida to California. We have men who have worked as Salesmen or Diplomats, to men who have worked as Teachers or Landscapers. We have men educated from institutions as diverse as Arkansas Tech., St. Louis University, Loyola University, Oxford University, Beda College in Rome, DePaul University, St. Vincent’s College, Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome, Notre Dame University, Memphis State University…and the list goes on and on. Some like sports, some like opera, some like reading, some like watching movies, some like hunting, some like gardening…you get the point! What unites this diverse group of men is that God has called each of us to Subiaco Abbey to live out our lives in service to Him in a monastic community under an Abbot. If you think you might be called to this way of life, then it doesn’t hurt to check it out.