Becoming a Monk of Pluscarden
All men and women are called to love and serve God. They are summoned to strive in prayer and work, as far as they are able, so that by the help of divine grace they may attain to Christian perfection and union with the Holy Trinity. Some are called to serve the world by devoting all their energies to preaching the Gospel and tending the poor and needy. Some are called to bring new life into the world through married love. A few, however, are called in love to "give themselves over to God alone in solitude and silence, in constant prayer and willing penance"; and among these are monks whose "principal duty is to present to the Divine Majesty a service at once humble and noble within the walls of the monastery" (Vatican II Perfectae Caritatis 7 & 9).
"Test the spirits to see if they are from God" (1 John 4:1)
If you feel drawn to the life we live at Pluscarden, how can you find out if this is a real calling from God? How can you discern that it is not just an attraction to a deeper commitment to the Lord in the world; or even a delusion distracting you from your real vocation? A vocation involves three parties: God who calls, the person who is called, and the Church which, guided by the Holy Spirit, determines whether the call is genuine. In our case, the Church is represented by the Abbot and Community. The testing of vocation is an interplay of human and divine freedoms and, of necessity, it takes some time.
There are however some objective criteria which are essential for a genuine vocation to our life. The candidate must be male, Roman Catholic, and have received the Sacrament of Confirmation. He must be free from all binding obligations to his family and not be in debt. In addition to this he should have lived a good, moral, Catholic life for a number of years and, normally, have shown that he is capable of earning his own living. Our life is joyful and rewarding, but it is also demanding: a candidate needs robust mental and physical health and an ability to live with others in community. Usually he will be between 20 and 35 years of age. He will need the intellectual ability to gain spiritual benefit from 2 or 3 hours of spiritual reading (lectio divina) a day and to be able to participate fully in the Latin Mass and Office (instruction in Latin is given in the noviciate).
"Is he truly seeking God?"
Abbot Aelred Carlyle, who founded our community, wrote of one seeking to enter that, "spiritually, he must feel that God is really calling him to a life of closer unity with Himself, and that, with a great desire of self-dedication in his heart, he will persevere in spite of obstacles". St Benedict, on the same subject, wrote that "the concern must be whether the novice truly seeks God, and whether he shows eagerness for the Work of God (i.e. the Divine Office), for obedience and for trials" (Holy Rule chapter 58). These 'four seals' of a Benedictine vocation "practically cover the whole of a man's spiritual life: he who truly seeks God and is fervent in the work of the Divine Praise will be chaste, honest and conscientious; he who is obedient and humble will be contented, unselfish and cheerful" (Aelred Carlyle Our Purpose and Method).
These are the signs of a vocation to the monastic life: a desire for God and for the way that leads to God. In it the monk binds himself by solemn vow to stability in the community, conversion of life (in which are included chastity and poverty) and obedience. Unlike more modern religious orders, the monastic call is always to a specific monastery. If you think you may be called to serve God in our community at Pluscarden, what should you do?
How to become a monk
The first step is to come and stay at the monastery to see the way of life at first hand. A number of visits are usually recommended, but at some time one should contact the Novice Master and discuss one's feeling of vocation. If both parties believe God is really calling the candidate, the next steps are usually as follows. Firstly the Novice Master offers the chance of a month in the noviciate, to experience life 'on the inside'. If this works out, a time is fixed for the postulancy to begin, which usually lasts six months. This is followed by a 2-year noviciate, which begins with the rite of monastic initiation during which the novice is given a new name and the tonsure. The noviciate is a period of formation in the monastic life, with classes in the life of prayer, the Holy Rule, Monastic Tradition, the Psalms, Latin and Gregorian Chant, as well as participation in the work of the community. During it the novice is free to leave at any time and may also be asked to leave.
After the end of the noviciate, there is a vote of the community to allow the novice to take temporary vows and receive the white habit. These vows last for a minimum of three years during which time the junior monk receives further formation in Scripture, Catholic Theology and Liturgy, to enable him to live a fruitful monastic life. After another vote of the community he may proceed to Solemn Vows which make him a full member of the community. There is thus ample time, at least five and a half years, to make a free and informed decision to commit oneself to the monastic life as it is lived at Pluscarden. For those who are thus called it is the best way to serve God and the surest way to peace in this life and eternal beatitude in the next.
"He who can receive this, let him receive it" Matthew 19:12.
The School of the Lord's Service
In the Prologue to his Rule, St Benedict addresses a man thinking of entering the monastery: "Hearken, my son, to the precepts of the master and incline the ear of your heart; freely accept and faithfully fulfil the instructions of a loving father, that by the labour of obedience you may return to him from whom you strayed by the sloth of disobedience. To you are my words now addressed, then, if you are ready to give up your own will, once and for all, and armed with the strong and noble weapons of obedience to fight for the true King, Christ the Lord". This perfectly expresses the loving, austere, obedient and humble life of the cloister and, without any compromise, situates the monk on the victorious side in the cosmic battle between good and evil. He fights in this spiritual combat "against the spiritual hosts of wickedness" (Ephesians 6:12) as part of a community, and his warfare is simply and humbly to live the common life of the monastery. For the Benedictine monk, the monastic community is the context for spiritual struggle and growth.
The Prologue ends with a magnificent vision of the monastic life: "Therefore we intend to establish a school for the Lord's service; in founding it we hope to set down nothing that is harsh or burdensome. The good of all concerned, however, may prompt us to a little strictness in order to amend faults and to safeguard love. Do not be at once dismayed by fear and run away from the way of salvation, of which the entrance must needs be narrow. But as we progress in our monastic life and in faith, our hearts shall be enlarged and we shall run with inexpressible sweetness of love in the way of God's commandments; so that, never abandoning his instructions but persevering in his teaching in the monastery until death, we shall share by patience in the sufferings of Christ that we may deserve also to share in his kingdom. Amen."
If you are drawn to this vision and to our way of life at Pluscarden, please write to the Novice Master:
The Novice Master
IV 30 8UA.
(Or use our web contact form - please note we can only reply if you include your postal address)
For further reading:
- The Rule of St Benedict There are various editions and translations in print e.g.
- RB 80: The Rule of St Benedict in English, (Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 1982).
- St Benedict's Rule for Monasteries, (Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 1948).
- The Rule of St Benedict, translated by David Parry OSB, (Leominster: Gracewing, 1990).
- Aelred Carlyle OSB, Our Purpose and Method, (Caldey, 1907; Pluscarden 1987).
Available from Pluscarden Abbey Shop, £2.00 + postage.
- Michael Casey OCSO, Truthful Living: St Benedict's Teaching on Humility, (Leominster: Gracewing, 2001).
- St John Cassian, Conferences, translated by Colm Luibheid, Introduction by Owen Chadwick, (New York: Paulist Press, 1985).
- Marcel Driot OSB, Fathers of the Desert: Life and Spirituality, (Slough: St Paul Publications, 1992).
- Augustine Holmes OSB, A Life Pleasing to God: The Spirituality of the Rules of St Basil, (London: Darton, Longman & Todd, 2000).
- Cyprian Smith OSB, The Path of Life: Benedictine Spirituality for Monks and Lay People, (Leominster: Gracewing, 1995).
- Columba Stewart OSB, Prayer and Community: The Benedictine Tradition, (London: Darton, Longman & Todd, 1998).
- Ambrose Tinsley OSB, Pax: The Benedictine Way, (Blackrock: Columba Press, 1995)
- Korneel Vermeiren OCSO, Praying With Benedict: Prayer in the Rule of St Benedict, (London: Darton, Longman & Todd, 1999)
- Adalbert de Vogüé OSB, Reading St Benedict: Reflections on the Rule, (Kalamazoo: Cistercian Publications, 1994)
- Adalbert de Vogüé OSB, The Rule of St Benedict: A Doctrinal and Spiritual Commentary, (Kalamazoo: Cistercian Publications, 983