There are as many routes to becoming a Benedictine monk as there are monks, but there do seem to be common features.

The journey will often begin with the idea that being a monk (or a priest) is possible for me. It may well come completely out of the blue. It may come as the result of some stimulus, perhaps a chance comment, a film or a book. People often dismiss the idea at that point as impossible, a ridiculous idea, not for me. But in some cases the idea will return and even get stronger, so that we cannot ignore it any longer. It is often at this point that a person seeks advice from a priest or a monk or nun, or perhaps a Catholic friend. The next sensible step is also to do some research, some thinking and some praying. There are different types of abbey: enclosed (contemplative), active (apostolic), doing different types of work. A person may visit a Benedictine monastery and speak to one or more of the monks about their feeling of vocation. It is important at this stage to think about the style of monastic life you are looking for, and to remember that monastic life is not an answer to all our problems; we remain the same people, even after putting on a habit.

The Divine Office and prayer are always at the centre of Benedictine life, but what sort of work do you feel attracted to? Do you want to be involved in apostolic work in parishes, retreats, perhaps even education? Or do you want work and a focus that is more on running the day-to-day needs of the monastery? Once you have answered this question you can narrow down the search by excluding certain congregations. It is good to visit different places, but there can be a danger of becoming a vocation tourist and never really giving anywhere sufficient thought: the grass may be greener in the next monastery!

In the end there is one important question: Can I seek (and hopefully find) God in this place, with this people, doing this work? If that is a definite possibility, then visit again, talk to people and think seriously about making an application. In the end we need to remember that it is never the same ‘from the other side’ – in order to try your vocation you have to enter a community and give it your best shot!

Father Anselm, Downside Abbey

To find out more about life as a monk, please email Fr Anselm.
You can also find out more about the Stages of Becoming a Monk here.