Benedictine Vocations Today

This week the quadrennial Congress of Benedictine Abbots concluded in Rome. Not much has filtered back to us in the ranks thus far, other than that the Abbot Primate, Notker Wolf, was re-elected to serve a third term in office.

The Catholic News Service has produced a short video made during the congress. It deals with vocations to the order, highlighting the attraction that tradition has for the young men today who are discerning vocation. Though not a Benedictine in the sense of being a black monk, Michael Casey, a wise Australian monk and spiritual guide from the Trappist Cistercian abbey of Tarrawarra, who also follow the Rule of St Benedict, offers some insightful reflection  on today’s vocation discerners.

Fr Michael baulks at the label “conservative” usually attached to them (among some more barbed ones!). Instead he says that this generation is not as conservative as many make them out to be. He calls them “adventurous”, people who are “looking for something which they weren’t finding in the world that the previous generation constructed”. They have, he says, “gone up into the attic” and “discovered new ways of doing things”, such as Eucharistic devotion, pilgrimages, confession, things which are “very exciting for them, and they think they have discovered them” (said with a wry smile). All this, he says, does not reflect “a kind of grim return to the past … but a very light and joyful discovery that here’s something that’s been lying, gathering the dust for so many years, and it still has a value to us”.

He seems to have read the signs of the times, and he highlights that far from being a generation of “young fogeys”, the discerners of today have made the wonderful discovery that what satisfies their souls and their ideals was to be found all the time in the treasury of the Church’s tradition and teaching. Thank God they have found it; forgive us, Lord, that we have allowed it to be hidden for so long. The vocations prayer of any monastery, indeed any congregation or diocese, should seek not only new vocations to be sent to them, but that they might deserve those vocations.

Almighty God, who called St Benedict from the midst of an inconstant world to hold fast to You in the school of Your service through prayer and work; mercifully grant that we might be worthy to welcome more young men and women to learn, under St Benedict’s instruction, to prefer nothing to the work of God in the service of the Church, that You might be glorified and the world sanctified. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.


8 thoughts on “Benedictine Vocations Today

  1. Salve Pater,
    What a very timely post.

    I was very taken with what Fr. Michael says. It is all too easy to use the labels “conservative”, traditionalist, “hankering after the past”, etc. In some cases, these labels are apt. In others, they most certainly are not !

    I’ve watched young people take an interest in things which have been hidden from them, and which they have discovered anew. It’s not just youthful enthusiasm for something which, to them, is a novelty. No, it’s clearly something deeper. I think, let’s watch and see where they go with this. A previous generation may have been uninspired by this or that devotion, but it doesn’t mean that the devotion in itself is uninspiring, or that it is without lasting value, a value which perhaps is now inspiring a new generation. Perhaps I had to grow old in order to see this.

    This is where I draw a distinction. On the one hand, there are things of passing interest, fashionable movements, ideas admired for their novelty, or philosophies which seem to derive from the zeitgeist. Throw them out !

    On the other hand, there are things of enduring worth, values which count for nothing in this world, but which spiritually are of inestimable value. Cling to them !

    It seems to me that forty or fifty year ago, too many people in the Church confused the two things. Those who should have concerned themselves solely with the latter, dabbled, possibly through naivety, in the former. Much that was of enduring value was lost for over a generation. Well, at least it was not lost forever ! Pathetically, there are still those who still cling to ideas that, in a former age, were once new and exciting, but which, having long since lost their novelty, have turned to dust and ashes. And they still don’t see it !

    Being an old cynic, it has long been my philosophy: if you’ve tried something new and it doesn’t work, then drop it. Don’t keep flogging a dead horse. It might be a tired old hymn that was trendy once. It might tired old set of polyester vestments, it might be, oh, all sorts of things.

    Stick to the things of eternal value. There is a massively rich spiritual heritage for Catholics, if only they will use it. On an earlier post, Father once used the expression “babies and bathwater”. That expression is in my mind now.

    I’m all for letting young people (with a little guidance and a decent education in the things that matter,) have a go. But they mustn’t be left in ignorance. Ignorance will get them nowhere. I think in many cases they can do a better do a better job than the previous generation. I only hope I don’t have to eat my words.

    “Ad Deum qui laetificat iuventutem meam”

    Of, dear what a long rant. It’s just as well I don’t turn up to comment very often.

    Pax et bonum




    1. Petrus,

      Welcome back!

      You put your finger squarely on a major question, namely whether in the mid-20th century too many good people in the Church mistook the zeitgeist for the Heilige Geist! This has been a perennial problem in the Church, constantly resurfacing – when people think they see in the spirit of the times the Spirit of God. It is at the heart of the Reformation.

      Not to say, before any commenters take me to task, that these people were necessarily bad. In fact most of them were had high ideals and a deep love of the Church. But it is precisely when such idealism loosens its bond with the Tradition and teaching authority of the Church that tears appear in the fabric of the Church. Should those exercising such authority seem themselves to fall prey to the zeitgeist we would find an even bigger problem. It is precisely this position that the Lefebvrists maintain.

      However our vigorous young, many of them converts, have taken it upon themselves to learn the faith in its integrity, and it is when they have that they have discovered the treasures so many recently have left in the attic gathering dust. For these, young and old, the faith and the Tradition of the Church constitute an adventure of discovery and spiritual reward. They can have youthful impatience with those who cannot see what they see, and with those too whom, perhaps, they see as having hidden the treasure from them.

      Birettas, fiddlebacks and lace are not really my thang, though I would begrudge them to no one as long they were not an end in themselves. Yet, I still find myself discovering hidden gems in the tradition of the Church, in its liturgy, in the monastic life, and even in the history of my own monastery, all of which sometimes lead me to feel a little peeved that they were not more readily available in the first place. Babies and bathwater indeed. No doubt the Church’s performance needed reinvigoration, but instead the script and the props were cast too hastily and too unthinkingly aside in the process of this aggiornamento of the drama of the faith. Sometimes the playwright and the director know better than the audience.

      But as in all things, it is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness. This new wave of priests and religious is certainly bearing candles aplenty. I think you can trust them to do a better job then we have done, though we can always do it with them, now.

      Pax semper!


  2. Thank you, Father, both for the “absolution” and for fixing my mistake with the HTML tag.

    The words ego te absolvo are very welcome and most reassuring, although I think on-line confession is sacramentally invalid ? ?
    I suspect some Vatican dicastery has already issued an Instruction on this subject, though I forget when. In any case, I should have added “also for my several typos”, and then expressed true repentance and purpose of amendment ! Perhaps I should have said, mea maxima culpa. I hope the sort of language I am using is not too old fashioned.

    The one thing which gives me pause for thought in all this is, whither the reform of the reform. In many places (not everywhere ! ), the Benedictine project (I’m sorry, I mean the project of Pope Benedict XVI !!) either seems to have been ignored, or seems to be faltering. I hope I am wrong. Other blogs seem to have picked up on this. Perhaps a fresh papal initiative might be the answer, although after Summorum Pontificum and Universae ecclesiae, and his overtures to SSPX, I really don’t know what else they expect the Pope to do ! Another speech to the Curia about the hermeneutic of continuity ? Well, it has been nearly seven years since the last one (in December 2005). It is an ignoble thought, I know, but the words “falling on deaf ears” come to mind !

    Father’s response (if any ! ) would probably be : Oh, ye of little faith, which in my case would be about right.

    Now, I have tested the good Father’s patience long enough.

    Pax et bonum



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