Disclaimer: The series of letters entitled “Correspondence on the Monastic Vocation”, while based on the real questions of a number of men in various places and states of life, is entirely fictitious. Any resemblance to actual persons, institutions, or places is purely coincidental.
Letter 18: Max
I have been interested in becoming a Benedictine for about four years. I will be 21 in December. I met two Silverstream monks on the Chartres pilgrimage last spring. They gave me a card with the monastery's address on it. I found the card only last week in the pages of a book that I bought in Chartres, and so I decided that I should write to you.
What can I tell you about myself? I am the third of a family of eight children. I have two older sisters, four younger brothers, and one younger sister. We live on a farm in western Ohio, but my Dad is from California and my Mom is from New Jersey. My Dad is a veterinarian and my Mom is a nurse. We began home–schooling when I was 5 years old. My oldest sister just joined the Poor Clares and my second oldest sister is engaged to be married to a senior at Aquinas College. I am at a crossroads. I will be finishing college (the Great Books program through Catholic long–distance learning) in January.
My family has always gone to the traditional Latin Mass or at least for as long as I remember. My Mom and Dad had a kind of conversion after a retreat that Dad made with some monks in France. They decided there and then to have as many children as God would send them and to raise them in the traditional Catholic way. We've always had family rosary and weekly Confession. We've never had TV. . . and never missed it. There is always plenty of work on the farm and with our studies. I'm told that I have a "green thumb". We sing as a family and I play piano and violin. We started chanting Compline in Latin about five years ago. In some ways, life as a Benedictine will not be much different from life in my family. Ora et labora.
I am attracted to Silverstream Priory because of your adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and devotion to our Blessed Mother. I think that I am prepared to become a monk. I have been reading Christ, the Ideal of the Monk by Abbot Marmion, and want to live every chapter of it. I was wondering if I could come to Silverstream for a month. I want to visit two other monasteries also, but already I feel closest to Silverstream. I can come in February 2016, if it is alright with you.
Thank you for your fine letter of introduction. I am glad that you met our brothers at the Chartres pilgrimage. They came home with sore feet but with happy hearts. We go to the Chartres pilgrimage because it is a great opportunity to meet young men who may, in fact, have a monastic vocation.
Family life is a wonderful preparation for life in the monastery. It is splendid that your family chant Compline together. Last August, at the Latin Mass Society pilgrimage to Wrexham Cathedral in Wales, I met a little 10 year old lad who was chuffed to tell me that he said Benedictine Compline every night . . . in Latin! A future monk, I should think.
In my experience, men from larger families tend to adjust more easily to what Saint Benedict calls, life "under a Rule and an Abbot" (Rule, Chapter 1). Although God calls men to monastic life from all sorts of backgrounds, even from very broken and unbelieving backgrounds, the man who has grown up in a family community comes into the monastery with skills for life together that men from other backgrounds have not always developed in the same way. Chapter 72 of the Holy Rule describes Benedictine family life in terms of a good zeal, a kind of holy eagerness to "do those things which are pleasing in God's sight" (1 John 3:22).
As there is an evil zeal of bitterness, which separateth from God, and leads to hell, so there is a good zeal, which keepeth us from vice, and leadeth to God and to life everlasting. Let monks, therefore, exert this zeal with most fervent love; that is, “in honour preferring one another.” Let them most patiently endure one another’s infirmities, whether of body or of mind. Let them vie with one another in obedience. Let no one follow what he thinketh good for himself, but rather what seemeth good for another. Let them cherish fraternal charity with chaste love, fear God, love their Abbot with sincere and humble affection, and prefer nothing whatever to Christ. And may He bring us all alike to life everlasting.
There is no need for me to write you at great length. Plan on coming to Silverstream in February as you propose. The only disadvantage to coming at that time is the weather here in Ireland — very damp, dark, and cold in February — and the onset of Lent, which can be a bit of a challenge. The best way to get to know us is to spend time here. A month is good for an initial visit. If, at any time, you or I think it better to end the experience, this can be done. If, on the other hand, you would like to prolong it, this can be discussed. I would ask that you send me ahead of time a letter of recommendation from your parish priest.
In the meantime, Max, do keep on reading our incomparable Blessed Abbot Marmion. He is a father to those who seek his intercession and always points souls to the "glory of God that shines on the face of Christ" (2 Corinthians 4:6). I will be thinking of you as we celebrate his feast on October 3rd.
With my blessing, Father Prior