NOT REALLY AN OBSTACLE IN DISCERNING MONASTIC LIFE
"Fear is useless. What is needed is trust." Mark 5:36
Over the last five years now, I have fulfilled the role of Vocation Director at Mount Michael Abbey. On occasion I have written articles in the Michaeleen about our program and what we are doing to promote new membership at our abbey. In this article I want to continue to report but also present some observations about what I notice in vocation recruitment and discernment of possible candidates.
Over the past five years, I am happy to report, Mount Michael has had a considerable number of men here who have seriously discerned whether or not monastic life at Mount Michael would actually be what they are seeking. Among all of the possible candidates and visitors,(over 20 men), we have retained what appears to be four new members. Although I can not say that all of the others, who have considered monastic life at Mount Michael, have the same reason for discerning that monastic life is not for them; I can say that there is one obstacle that often raises its face.
It is the face of fear, the fear of failure that often presents itself. I have come to this realization by not only working through the discernment process with candidates, but also through some of my spiritual reading. One of the sources of my spiritual reading that has brought me to this realization is a little book by an Benedictine author, Maria Boudling OSB. The little book is entitled: GATEWAY TO HOPE–An Exploration of Failure. Maria Boulding paints a wonderful portrait of many failures throughout Scripture and how we all go through life dealing with the fear of failure and failure, itself. However, she stresses that it is in failing that we come to realize how we can become successful. "Failure or disappointment may be God's chance to open us more effectively than we can ever open ourselves, and to stretch us beyond our small hopes and expectations."
Usually some where a long the line of discernment with a given candidate, I give him a copy of VOCATIONS ANONYMOUS: A handbook for adults discerning priesthood and religious life, written by Sister Kathleen Bryant, RSC. When I meet with a candidate, we discuss the material of this book, and I find that the chapter entitled: Fear of Failure is often times the one which speaks most poignantly to many candidates.
You might ask, "What does a candidate fear?" Actually, he fear lots of things. Some fear that they might begin the monastic life and within a short period of time decide that this life style is really not how they want to live the rest of their lives. Some fear what their families might say or think, if things do not work out for them. Will they be an embarrassment to their families? Others fear they are not worthy to live the monastic life and that their former life style will not allow them to change and to adapt to a monastic schedule or spirituality. Still others fear that they will be the youngest ones in the community and they will have to care for all of the other aging members and in the end have no one to care for them. Still others fear that their family name will not be carried on because they will be unable to father children. And still some fear to discern who they really are and accept who they really are, for in true discernment one comes to know exactly who one is. These are to mention just a few of the fears that are involved with those candidates considering monastic life.
How do we deal with these fears? I must admit that most of the fears of those who are honest enough to admit them, are quite real. And if most of us, who are in monastic life, are honest, we will would probably likewise admit that we had some of the same fears and still do. But what I find consoling is a writer like, Maria Boulding. Obviously, this monastic has seriously pondered the same fears, but rather than being paralyzed by these fears; she looks to scripture to find her way. A great scripture figure like King David, indeed, was a failure in many ways, and yet, David was a great leader and he accomplished many great feats in the eyes of the Lord. Maria has a wonderful understanding of this common human feeling of the fear of failure and failure itself.
Any candidate for the priesthood or religious life needs to realize that the fear of failure and failure are part of our daily lives. And rather than getting bogged down by the fears and failures, we try to realize that they actually make us better people. Our fears and failures actually make us stronger, if we admit them and deal with them.
Sometimes when I look at those who have great fears about living our life, I become a bit stupefied. As Sr. Kathleen Bryant mentions in her book, discernment in many ways is a win/win situation. A possible candidate is given enough time to ponder, to think, to pray, to relax and time to catechize himself in making the very best decision for the future of his life. For what more can one ask? It really is a time to get oneself totally together. And this is why many who come to discernment need to realize that the discernment may take them some where other than they had first thought.
Truly I want to emphasize that there is much to gain in discerning a vocation and there is no taboo for those who decide that it is not for them. As a matter of fact, one should feel much better about oneself for having really given the thought an honest consideration. For we all know those who go through life who are always wondering if they should have chosen something else. We all know those who have missed their true calling in life.
I think that one of Amy Grant's songs expresses quite well what I am saying. It is entitled, All I Ever Have, the last words of the song go something like this: And all I ever have to be all I have to be all I have to be all I ever have to be is what you've made me! We all have a vocation and we are all called in one way or another. I am sure that many are still called to the monastic life. It is only a matter of listening carefully to the call and answering it. We all need to remember that all any of us ever have to be is what God's has made us to be! What is there to fear?