Sometimes we get people asking questions about conditions and requirements for becoming a monk. The following extract from Father Matthew Kelty’s publication “Aspects of the Monastic Calling” seems to answer a lot of the normal questions we meet. Father Matthew was a monk of Gethsemani Abbey in Kentucky.
“A calling to the monastic life is a call first of all to prayer. Serious, deep, abiding prayer. Prayer is communication, the relation of lover to loved one. It is not so much a matter of words as of attitudes, a disposition of the heart and a frame of mind.
A man who is beginning to wonder whether or not he should become a monk is a wise man if he makes the wonder a form of prayer. He is touching something very awesome, indeed, very terrible. He may get burned. In any case, the whole business is something he will never forget as long as he lives.
TO BE DISCOURAGED
Some kinds of people are much drawn to monasteries and must be warned that such a life is not good for them, and may even do them much harm. Normally such characters will be noted before they enter, but a great deal of anguish can be spared them if they do not even move that far along the road toward something that is not meant for them.
People with emotional hangups of serious dimensions ‑ enough to require hospitalization or long therapy with psychiatrists ‑ought to stay clear of monasteries no matter how strongly they feel that God is calling them to enter one.
Let us put it plainly: monastic life is no picnic. Day by day there is really nothing very difficult about it, but put a number of days in a row, one after another, and certain types are apt to climb the walls. Some people cannot stand silence, seclusion, monotony, quiet, a lack of excitement and diversion. Neurotic, psychotic types surely not.
If you do not like people, the monastery is no place to go. If you hate the world, this is no place to come. If you get moody and depressed this will crush you for sure.
To ask for healthy young men from a culture as sick as ours is to ask a great deal. But there must be a certain amount of good sense, of courage and of enthusiasm.
There will have to be a love for life and a desire to truly live.
Narrowing it down to what makes the contemplative calling we might add: a sense of wonder.
And a certain intuitive grasp that there is something else besides action. That while action is good enough and absolutely necessary, there is another side to the coin: there is something to be said for musing, for pondering, for mulling.
There ought to be a desire to go to some place where men pray, yes; where they work, yes; where they read good books, yes, but in addition to that, where they do nothing. Where the pause that refreshes is not a drink… a place for men who love the night, and know the moon, who listen to birds sing and watch the wind in the grass on the hill.
And men who can take discipline can accept the responsibility of being who they are and what they are.
- Finish high school for sure. Know what it is to work for a living.
- An experience of college can be useful, depending on where you go and what you do while there.
- Fundamental abilities are much in order: using a shovel, an axe, a hoe, driving a truck, a tractor.
- Fundamental crafts are very salutary: carpentry, bookbinding, printing, machinist, plumbing, cooking, baking, forestry.
- Arts and letters are fine: foreign language, classics, Latin, Greek, Hebrew, literature.
- Science: a little goes a long way. Nature study: excellent.
- Travel: fine: Europe, Orient, South America, USA.
- Most think 18 is too young, but it has been done, successfully. Also unsuccessfully many times.
- College is good if you can get it down. We like it if you can listen to music and play some.
- We like it if you notice rain, feel the wind, hear the birds, smell the soup. We like you to be aware, not asleep; alive not dead; in touch, not gone.
- As for drugs, if you’ve gone too far, this may be tough for you. But here, we feel we do not need them: our culture is not that sick here in the monastery.
- Granted the horrid state of things today, we still feel that the monastic thing works for those called to it and that you can take it straight and get out of it all it has to offer and that without the benefit of artificial stimulus.
- You ought to have your moral life pretty well in hand by the time you are thinking of a monastery. Sudden conversions are all right, but their depth should be tested.
- Monks are sinners, every one, but they all feel too that a man should finish his soup before he goes on to the next course.
- A visit to the monastery for a few days is always in order. You can talk with a vocational secretary. Others too if you like.
- A day or two in the monastery, a few talks with some of these monks and you ought to know whether the thing is worth carrying any further. Write the guest-master to have a room for you.”
In addition to this, let us say that we are a Catholic monastery, so you need to be a practicing Roman Catholic. Celibacy is part of the life, so it is no good applying if you are married. The monastery cannot pay off your student debts or support your children. You need to be free of financial obligations and all responsibilities for any dependents.