Monastic Profession: Our Promise to Try

And what does the Spirit say? Come and listen to me...  Rule of Benedict

Monastic life is not a static life of perfection, as the monk in the cave thought, but a journey of coming to recognize human weaknesses and then depending upon God's mercy and help to grow into a tender, understanding and gentle person.

Thus, monastic commitment is not a commitment to be instantly perfect, but a commitment to seek God and grow into perfection. This is why a monastic makes monastic profession rather than takes vows. Vows are a state of existence in which a person promises to live now: poverty, chastity, and obedience. If the person does not keep one of the vows, the person transgresses the vow and fails.

But with monastic profession, a person promises to be on a constant journey of seeking God (conversatio morum). The journey is not complete on the day of profession, but on the day of death. A monastic fails in monastic life when the person stops seeking, when the person stops growing, when the person stops depending upon God for loving kindness and merciful forgiveness. – Daniel Ward, OSB

St. Benedict surely was one of our wisest saints. Writing his Rule to help "safeguard love," he wove critical concepts throughout the text that help form the promises Benedictines make at their monastic profession. The promises lay the foundation for "a journey of coming to recognize human weaknesses and then depending upon God," according to Daniel Ward, OSB.

Here's how we recognize our weaknesses and depend upon God, as articulated by the newest members of our community.

Promise #1: Obedience

Coming from the Latin word obedir, to hear, obedience is the promise to listen. Listening to the voice of the Holy Spirit in Scriptures, in nature, in one another, Benedictines are guided by the question of what is best for the members of the community, both individually and as a group. "Obedience is willingly – not blindly –giving up the inclination toward selfbeing, self-wants, self-priorities," Novice Jackie Walsh says. "As a member of this community, I am no longer just one person. I am a part of the whole, and as such, my priorities are no longer mine alone. Obedience is listening to the voice of God as it reverberates within."

Promise #2: Stability

Stability is the promise to live life together. For Benedictines, stability requires celibacy which enables us to devote all of our time and energy to the service of one another and others. It also requires monastic poverty, which enables us to live simply and share all we have with one another.

"Bloom where you are planted," Sister Bobbi Bussan says. "I think that is exactly what we are called to do. We are called to be a witness today in our fast-paced world to a different way of life. We are challenged to grow in love and humility, service to each other and the world, obedience to each other and God. We could not do these things without the soil that stability provides."

Promise #3: Fidelity

While fidelity may be recognized by our culture as nothing more than an offhand promise to be true, Benedictines take the concept quite seriously. Fidelity to the Monastic Way of Life is the promise to keep God at the center of our lives. It is both life-defining and transformational ... and lived in the context of the daily.

"The promise of fidelity is the promise to attend community night," Novice Stefanie says. "It's the promise to be in chapel for prayers. It's the promise to put my community's needs before my own. For example, when looking for a teaching job, I talked with my formation director and the prioress about it, and whether I should work full-time or parttime. These things can affect prayer and community life. I received their blessing before I accepted a job. I did this in fidelity to my community, just like I would have done in a family."