Becoming a monk

 'As we advance in the religious life and faith, we shall run the way of God's commandments with expanded hearts and unspeakable sweetness of love.’ 
- from the prologue of the Rule of Saint Benedict -

 

The Cistercian way of life

The way of life of the Cistercian order is one of strict observance, an integrant dedication to God in a contemplative environment. It is a life of fraternal unity, solitude and silence, prayer and labour. Cistercians are cenobites, they live in a community in a fixed place seeking God and following Christ under a Rule and an abbot. The Cistercian community wants to be a school of brotherly love. Through liturgy, labour and fraternity Christ is being formed into the heart of the monks.

Cleansing of motivations

Those who want to become a monk follow the voice of their heart. Several motivations will bring people to the monastery gate. Sometimes it’s an elopement from the world or the search for the way inward… But it is always a process that needs clarification and purification. In a monastery, it’s the novice master that attends to this process; he is the one that aids discerning God’s workings in the life of the candidate. That’s why it is essential that the candidate and the novice master built up a bond of trust. A precursory psychological test before admittance can be auxiliary. 

First steps

During the first interview the candidate formulates his request towards the novice master. He gives an open and honest opinion about his life so far. It is of the utmost importance that the candidate does not conceal or evade certain matters that can clarify his desire. On the basis of this first interview a course can be set. It might be possible that the novice master advises to come to terms with certain elements out of the past in therapeutic sessions or to prioritise unfinished business.

Do you have any questions about vocation? Do you want to talk about what is possible? Please contact our novice master brother Samuel (br_samuel@abdijwestmalle.be)

 

1. Internship in the community

When there is an adequate maturity in the candidate, the novice master will invite him to stay in our guesthouse for a couple of days. Here, the candidate can taste the daily monastic rhythm and both parties start to get to know each other. The next step is a longer stay in the community itself, following the novitiate in class, working and praying together with the community. Hence he learns the Cistercian way of life from the inside and he builds up a bond of trust with the brothers. During this prolonged stay he has several talks with the novice master. 

2. Entry in the abbey

If the desire to become a monk still grows and matures and if the candidate really has sufficient emotional and psychological fruition a date of entry is fixed. This is the beginning of the postulate. An arrangement is made concerning the properties of the candidate which in principle remain his own. The postulate is a time of initiation to become familiar with the Cistercian way of life. Prayer, work, liturgy and Lectio Divina are key. The novice master aids in surmounting the difficulties specific for this period of physically and emotionally taking distance from activities and relations in society which before were an important part of his life. Normally the postulate lasts four or five months, depending on personal growth. At the end of this period comes an evaluation in which the desire to stay on course of this road is assayed. 

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3. Noviciate

If the joy of the made choice still has the upper hand and the candidate shows equilibrium, he can start the noviciate. During a small ceremony in the chapter hall, he symbolically discards his worldly clothes and receives the white monk’s habit. He also receives a new name as a sign of his conversion.

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From that moment the canonical noviciate begins. It is a period of personal assimilation into the Cistercian way of life. Though prayer, asceticism, an increase of knowing oneself and participation in community life, the novices gain a deeper personal experience of the Cistercian life. They take classes one hour a day and have a weekly talk with the novice master. The Rule of Saint Benedict, history and spirituality of the Cistercians, psalms, liturgy, Holy Scripture and monastic tradition are all part of the classes. At a more regional level they go on formation weeks together with other candidates from all the Benedictine houses of the Low Countries. The noviciate lasts two years.

4. Temporary profession

At the end of the noviciate the novice explicitly asks the abbot if he can commit himself by pronouncing his solemn vows. This engagement lasts for one year and is repeated three times. These three years of temporary profession can be prolonged to six years at the utmost. By pronouncing his temporary vows the new brother informs the community his will to grow into becoming a full monk. A new phase begins. He gets his own unpretentious responsibilities in the community and leaves the noviciate. In this period he might want to focus on philosophical and theological studies, if the potential and wish to become a priest is real. These studies might start at a later moment as well.

5. Solemn profession

After at least three years the brother can ask the abbot if he may pronounce his solemn vows. By doing this he completely bonds with the community, with the location and with the Order of Cîteaux. This solemn profession is not the terminus of the training process though but a starting point. Becoming a monk is a growth process that lasts a life. In a formal celebration the candidate receives his monk consecration and pronounces his vows of obedience, stability and monastic behaviour towards God and the abbot. From that moment on the brother is an integral part of the chapter of the solemn professed brothers with active and passive voting rights. He receives his own task in the abbey whom he is accountable for with the abbot. He will continue to form himself through personal reading and study, through the ups and downs of community life and through an intimate prayer practice.

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