Every weekend, I talk to one of my best friends, N. He and I have known each other since the seventh grade. Like all friends, we’ve bickered and fought. We’ve been known to get on each other’s nerves and to claw each other’s eyes out. Sometimes, we haven’t talked for months or years. Yet we are still friends so many years later and, miracle of miracles, we’re still talking.
N. is not Catholic. He was raised ELCA Lutheran and has recently begun attending an Episcopalian church. Often, we will have discussions about religion. Sometimes, I will enlighten him about Catholicism and he will do likewise for Episcopalianism and Lutheranism. Having him around helps me be centered in my discernment process. If anybody knows me, he does.
I was talking with him this evening about the discernment process again and how I was feeling drawn to the religious life. He wasn’t surprised in the least when I told him this. In fact, he’s known this since we began discussing this topic years ago. Yet N. is also one of those people who will call my bluff and he did tonight. He told me that I had a great deal to give to the world as a writer and teacher. Would those still be part of my life when I go to live behind the hallowed walls of a monastery? It’s an interesting question.
In a way, my discernment process can be seen as a continuum going from active to contemplative groups. In the beginning, I was really interested in the Redemptorists, Brothers of the Christian Schools, and Franciscans. In each of these Orders, I saw something in their charism that attracted me. But I always found that God didn’t want me to go there for whatever reason.
The more I discerned, the more I wanted to devote myself fully to prayer and penance for the conversion of others. The Carmelites appealed to me, but I shrugged them off. I still wanted to have an even rhythm of prayer and work. I need something to do when I’m not in my cell or chapel. Even if it is gardening, I would like to be something that is useful to me.
As I told my friend, monks are like the marines when it comes to the Church. Behind the monastery walls, the monks are constantly praying for the world at large and for those in the world. They don’t work in soup kitchens giving out food to the hungry or teach in the schools, but they serve others in their own way. Their apostolate of prayer is extremely important to the Church and countless popes have acknowledged this debt to contemplative communities over the centuries. As a matter of fact, some of those encyclical letters have inspired young men to pursue the monastic life.
Of course, this aspect of praying to the world is one of the things that appeals to me about the monastic life. Another is that I find myself coming to a point in my life where all I want is God. There is nothing in this world that I want than to love and serve Him in some way. To give myself over to Him so that He can make me an instrument of His peace, as the old prayer says.
I also feel an increasing need for silence and stillness. I don’t feel a need to watch television anymore or listen to the radio. All of that is extraneous noise to me. After all, have you seen anything good on TV lately? Anything that’s really good? That inspires you to serve God? I haven’t, but maybe that’s because I really haven’t been looking hard enough.
Yet this need for silence and stillness goes further still. It is a need to be alone in God’s Presence and be enveloped in it. By getting rid of all the noise in my life, I am able to concentrate more on him. To use an analogy from days working in radio production, I have to tune into the God frequency and listen. I can’t do that with all of the noise that surrounds me.
Will I be able to teach when I am enveloped in silence? Will I be able to write? I don’t know. If I become a Cistercian, Trappist, or Benedictine, or anything else, my life will probably revolve around whatever Rule the monastery or Order has. Whether that allows me to exercise my talents, I really don’t know. But what I do know that is that God will not allow me to waste the skills that I have gained in the world. Rather, He will use them in His own way and the only thing that I can do is to trust Him.
That’s what discernment boils down to in the end: trust. Trusting in God and believing that whatever vocation He has for me is the right one even if it is one I never expected.
Our Lady of the Angels, pray for us!
St. Benedict, pray for us!