I ran out of excuses. If one were to ask me why I decided to discern my vocation with the Benedictines, in a nutshell that is my answer: I ran out of excuses. After forty years of life, of serving my country in the United States Marine Corps, of serving the Church as a parish musician for many years, of discerning my vocation for the diocesan priesthood, of teaching children with special needs, of working in the foreign exchange market while teaching English and Spanish as second languages, I, myself, needed what . . . ? In May of 2008, while looking for an answer, and to “get [the idea of religious life] out of my system,” I was on an extended visit to St. Anselm’s Abbey in Washington, DC where I found myself entering into the prayer life of monks who had been praying in our nation’s capital since 1924. The daily routine of prayer begins at 5:20 a.m. and is returned to four more times throughout the day. The monk’s steadily chanted prayer life brought a peace to the depths of my soul – a peace that had long been missing. Even more than the prayer, the opportunity to be still before the Blessed Sacrament for half an hour each day in anticipation of Vespers gave me a sense of what I had longed for and had missed since leaving the seminary. But my experience also made me afraid, for my contemplation made me to think about the rich young man who asked Jesus what one must do to gain eternal life. After Our Lord’s reply, the man said, “I do all that already! What still is missing?” Then came the difficult call of Jesus that sent the young man walking away “because he had many possessions.”
Don’t get me wrong – I knew the call of Jesus is surely a joyful call, one that unites the person all the more to Him. Everything of value has a cost, however, and the more valuable the item, the higher the cost. Religious life is neither for wimps nor for the fool-hearty. This is why it takes years of discernment before one finally makes solemn profession. Back to the rich young man – I didn’t want to be that guy. I didn’t want to walk away from Jesus. I knew in my heart He was calling me to a more disciplined way of seeking and finding Him. Compared with others, I may not have had many possessions, but still, what I had was mine. Most of all, I had my freedom to come and go as I pleased, and to pray or not pray whenever I wanted. In this life before entering the monastery, I had all I needed and some of what I wanted, but I knew something was still missing. I was longing for a more direct connection to Our Lord. That is what I was to find in consecrated religious life.
The excuses I gave to God were many, all beginning with the question, “yes, but what about . . . ?” “Let me worry about that” was His reply. “If you are seeking Me, let that go.” Again and again, with one objection after the other came the same reply. “Let me worry about that. If you are seeking Me, let that go.” Oh how easy it was to hold onto the things of this world and not of this world – things that brought me security and uncertainty, happiness and dejection, joy and frustration, contentment and emptiness. But above all was an intangible longing for something more. The monastic life, I have learned, has all that and much more as well. There is security in the structured way we live, but also uncertainty about the monastery’s future. I get to do what I love by teaching in the Abbey School, and yes, there can be much frustration living in such close proximity with my brothers (who by the way, continue to put up with me!). And although there is a genuine happiness in the monastery, at times here, too, there is an emptiness – when the sea of Our Lord’s grace leaves me at “low tide” and all is exposed. But then the tide returns and I am no longer at the water’s edge, but am now submerged in a merciful and grace-filled ocean where nothing matters but Him.
No longer do I have to wonder what God wants from me – I am living it daily, and sometimes failing miserably at it, but I am nonetheless supported by His merciful love and grace. I now have the fraternity and acceptance of others who have answered a similar call by God to seek and encounter Him in the consecrated religious life. Monastic life continues to provide a deep peace in the depths of my soul – a peace that “surpasses all understanding,” and that grows deeper as each day passes.
Why am I writing all this to you? To share a bit of the joy I have come to experience by deciding to at last stay with Jesus, and not to walk away from Him. No more excuses. By submitting my will to His through the vowed religious life, I am able to see how my monastic vocation is His gift, for which I daily say, “thank you.” To be able to do so sincerely makes all the difference.
Please pray for all who have been called to this life, and for those whom Our Lord is calling even now. By your prayers, please help us to hear Our Lord’s voice that trumps all excuses. Help us hear Him when he says, “let Me worry about that; if you are seeking Me, let that go.”