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Br Stephen O Cist four-wheelerBrother Stephen was once a practicing Episcopalian.  He is now a Brother in the Order of Cistercians and has his own blog, Sub Tuum

On August 13, 2009, he wrote of his impressions one year after joining the Cistercians in ‘Lessons from One Year in the Cloister‘.  It’s excellent reading for anyone who believes they might have a calling to a religious vocation.  It’s also instructive for those who do not think that monastic living has a place in Christian life.

Brother Stephen disabuses us of some commonly-held myths and also points out the many opportunities for spiritual growth within a religious community.  Excerpts follow, so please be sure to read the full entry (emphasis mine):

Do not delay. If you think you have a vocation go now and try it. Don’t bury father or mother, wait until you wrap up a few things, or turn discernment into an end in itself. The longer you wait the harder it will be … Go while you still have plenty of psychic collagen for the stretching and reforming that the life requires.

The monastery is not a place to run from unfinished business. Whatever you were dealing with in the world will come with you to your cell and here there is no job, television, or nights on the town with your friends to distract you …  The monastery is a place of radical honesty that offers hope for healing and integration, but expect some hard looks at yourself, some hard realizations, and some hard work. This is not a detour around your problems, it’s the scenic route right through them at low speed.

There is no perfect house and you need a lot of work yourself. When you go through the cloister door and the newness and wonder wear off in five minutes or five weeks, cling to charity and trust that God is at work, just as the professed are doing the same for you (and to a greater extent than you probably will realize for quite some time) … Be grateful and be charitable in return, especially when you work yourself into one of those states where you are disillusioned and can see only the things that you believe should be different. The house has not been waiting since the day of its founding for you to walk through the door and set things aright.

Your old identity is dying and a new one is forming. The death throes will be painful for you and you will probably kick and flail another person or two in the process. Let it happen. The traditional language for this is purgation … The imagery is of fire and burning away of impurities and it will often feel like it. Accept it with all of the grace and trust you can muster and pray to be given even more…

Trust the process. Religious houses have had 1700 years to observe human nature and figure out what works. Swallow your pride and assume that the wisdom of the order is greater than your own wisdom.

You’re a herd animal now or, at least a pack animal, behave like it. The old guides continually warn against the vice of singularity …  Your identity is now a group identity–you are part of a band of pilgrims on the road to God ...

Monks are most often individualistic and mavericks. Most monks are type A personalities with a highly developed take on the world. Br. Adam likes to say that we are here because we need more help, not less … Our unity and fraternity come from charity, not similarity.

Persist. Pray for grace, ask others to pray for grace for you, seek counsel when you’re discouraged, but persist. The life is full of moments of sweetness and joy and spiritual consolation and also of despair and doubt … 

There is more, so please visit Brother Stephen’s site to read it all.  May God bless him in his vocation.

Think about living in community — all the different personalities all day every day, not all of them agreeable. I spoke with an Anglican nun who said that it can be difficult running into another sister with whom one has a trying relationship day in and day out.  (I saw the older sister trying to antagonise her through ‘correction’ via gentle yet constant nit-picking.  Not very pleasant!)  Even monks say this. 

There is also no staying in one’s jim-jams until noon on a Saturday because there are prayers to be said and work to be done.  No cocktails at seven or a relaxing cigar at weekends.

The attraction to such a life comes in seeing documentaries or reading articles about people who go to monasteries or convents on retreat.  The joy of silence and the peace that comes with calm is so appealing.  But, we lay people can also engage in more monastic living and better developed prayer at home, both of which could surely bridge the gap.

However, for those few with the faith and the mettle to answer the call to the religious life, Stephen advises, ‘Be ready to stretch and to be surprised.’   

H/T: Haligweorc.

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