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Archive for September 5th, 2016

IMG_3065The Qualities of a Monk

Last week a friend of mine emailed to ask what qualities we should expect in a candidate for the Order of Malta.  I’d not really thought about it in great detail, so I decided to reply with some random ideas about membership in the Order of Saint Benedict.  Of that I’ve had lots of personal experience; and in some respects the two orders have similar expectations of their members.

So what exactly do we look for in someone who wants to be a monk?  An essential prerequisite, as Benedict lays out in his Rule, is that someone comes to the monastery to seek God.  That’s a good start, but if that’s all one brings to the door of the monastery it will earn the caller a warm welcome and best wishes for a good life — somewhere else.

It’s not that monasteries try to be overly fussy, in spite of the fact that Saint Benedict wrote that admission should not be easy.  Still, there are hopes and expectations that every community has for its candidates.  For instance, most Benedictine communities want someone who is spiritually in the mainstream of the Church.  That’s practical, because we don’t need monks who are willing to speak with only two or three percent of our guests.  We have to see Christ in all of our guests, and not just in the few who meet our personal standards.

IMG_3151Next, we don’t need big egos.  Monasteries really don’t need anybody whose working principle is “my way or the highway.”  We need people who can respect not only their brothers but also the leadership in the community.  Of course that doesn’t mean a monk has to agree with every last word that comes from the mouth of the abbot.  But a monk has to accept the proposition that somebody has to represent Christ and that somebody has to be in charge.  He has to live with the thought that until the community elects him as the next abbot, he has to live with the guy who currently has the job.

A newcomer has to accept the mission of the community, as it exists when he enters.  Of course he has the right to hope for some gradual change, but there are limits.  If, for example, a community sponsors a school or some other particular ministry, a novice cannot reasonably demand that the monks chuck everything and become hermits.  It’s just not fair to everyone else to expect overnight change.

IMG_3154St. Benedict also expects his monks to respect the elders and to love the juniors.  That roughly translates into acceptance of the people who got here first and some confidence that the newcomers didn’t come here for the sole purpose of wrecking the place.  To be blunt, monks need to welcome and gradually share responsibility with those who come after them, simply because one generation of monks cannot rule future generations from the grave.

There are a few other things we hope to see in someone who intends to become one of us.  For one, they should be even-tempered and have pleasant personalities.  They should have the potential to show up for important stuff, regularly.  They can’t be set in their ways, because the rest of the community simply won’t adjust to the most recent person to come in the door.  Candidates should also be capable of growth.  They need to be adaptable and tolerant of some change.  This takes tangible form in a willingness to make room for new people who may have slightly different gifts or personalities.

This brings me back to where I started on the discernment of a vocation to the monastic life.  Such a person must truly seek God, and that candidate must be willing and able to translate this spiritual aspiration into visible practice.

IMG_3164I sent this list off to my friend, and only then did I realize that I don’t know anybody in the monastery who has all of these qualities.  In fact, I’m fairly sure that even I don’t have all these qualities.  So are we all pious frauds?

Actually, we’re not pious frauds, because we are only people who continue to seek God.  We’re pilgrims en route to God, and along our way we continue to discover faults that need paring away and virtues that need shoring up.  In short, we are works in progress rather than finished products.  Only when we’re ready for the cemetery is our work of self-improvement done.

This brings me to a last point, which is of great personal comfort.  Jesus Christ did not come to save those who are already perfect and have no need of him.  Rather, he came for the imperfect — to those who have need of serious growth and know it.

Coincidentally, these are exactly the people that St. Benedict had in mind for his monastery.  Not surprisingly, these are the sort of people we need in the Church and in groups like the Order of Malta.  These imperfect people are kindred spirits whom Jesus came to gather in.  They’re his kind of folks.

IMG_3161Notes

+I managed to stay home for the entire week, and I will continue for yet another one this week.  I did not miss the security gate at the airport, and it gave me the chance to enjoy the landscape as summer winds to an end.  On September 3rd I took the opportunity to attend the Saint John’s/College of Saint Scholastica football game.  8,000+ people came, including Bishop Donald Kettler of Saint Cloud.  He is a regular at these games when he’s able to make it, and it is always great to host him.  Saint John’s managed to win, 49-7.

+The new school year sees the return of Fr. Nickolas Becker, who this spring completed his doctorate in theology in Rome.  He takes up teaching in the theology department and in the School of Theology.  Meanwhile, Fr. Michael Hahn continues his doctoral studies at Boston College, while Brother Daniel Morgan begins graduate studies at the University of San Diego.  Fr. Columba Stewart left this week for a year of sabbatical at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Princeton, NJ.

IMG_3187+Autumn is approaching, and there are hints of color in some of the leaves.  But the lush green of summer persists, as the photos in today’s blog illustrate.  I’ve also included several photos in a Game Day Gallery, which gives a portrait of a lively weekend at Saint John’s.  The link will connect to twenty-one photos.

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