Are you called?
Here we provide helpful answers to some questions about discernment and our neo-monastic life and formation.
How do I know if I have a call to neo-monastic vocation?
The call to a monastic life is a vocation. It often begins with a sense of relentless restlessness which only seems sated by the things of God. If this is what you’ve been experiencing, God might have something more in mind for you.
Do you find that your regular attendance at Mass and participation in the Daily Office are not quite enough to fill your spiritual hunger?
Do you enjoy sharing your faith with others, most especially those who are searching for God?
Do you feel drawn to be part of an accountable community?
What can I do to discern God's call more deeply?
The best answer to this question is to pray, pray, and pray some more! Our Abbot cannot stress this point enough! And make sure that your prayer life is balanced between active and contemplative prayer. God speaks to us in the silence of our hearts. The more time you spend with God in prayer, the clearer your vocation may become.
Examine your conscience daily and seek to know yourself better in the light of God's love and mercy.
Find a good spiritual director who understands the religious life and has the wisdom to guide you. Please note that many spiritual directors are unfamiliar with the religious life. Be sure to ask about this specifically.
Attend Mass, Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer as frequently as your schedule will allow. Daily prayer in community is an absolute in religious life.
Read Scripture daily and the classics of the spiritual life- learn about the various religious orders in the Church and their histories. Many of the recommended titles can be found on our website at this link.
Participate in retreats. There are opportunities to participate in many religious life retreats within the Episcopal Diocese of Georgia, many of them at Honey Creek & The Convent of the Order of St. Helena. Much can be learned from such exposure and attention to your spiritual life.
What are some of the basic requirements for acceptance into this community?
One should be confirmed in the Episcopal Church (or be a member of the Anglican Communion)
One should be in tune with their emotional health and wholeness. We are all broken in some way, but the good news is that Christ meets us where we are. So vows the SSAR.
One should be comfortable functioning within a community. While the SSAR does not live out it’s profession in a cloistered community, we worship, labor and socialize together often within the church and in the world community.
One should be of sufficient age and maturity. While there is no age prerequisite to be considered for aspirancy, a bit of "life experience" can be very helpful.
One should possess a willingness and ability to be formed. One does not come to community to demand changes or exceptions, or to instruct the community on your ideas and preferences. Rather, one comes and humbly embraces the ideas and customs of the community which are already present. They will form you into a good and faithful monk.
What is the best age to enter?
The best age to enter is when God calls. The greatest impetus comes when God's grace makes us "ready". For some, this call comes in their twenties, for others it comes much later. Whatever the case, God's call is mysterious. What is most important is deep self-knowledge. If you know yourself and have prayerfully considered monastic life and its essentials, you may possess a sincere and well-informed desire- this is God's gift.
I find that I am attracted to both monastic life and marriage. Does the fact that I would love to be in a committed, loving relationship and have a family mean that I don't have a religious vocation?
No, this simply means that you are normal! The Society of Saint Aelred seeks to be as inclusive and as receptive to the call to neo-monastic life for all persons who discern a call. Bearing this in mind, we feel led to live in community of the world with persons in all manner of relationship whether someone be single, celibate, married, partnered, widowed, or divorced. We vow fidelity to the state in which we find ourselves. God has blessed us with varied experience and states which can enable and enrich our ministry in the contemporary world. We receive that as a gift which is to be regarded and respected as holy from God.
What about dating and discernment?
Because the call to neo-monastic life is an invitation to freely follow Christ, dating in the midst of discernment often only throws shadows on how to proceed. The call to the neo-monastic life is a radical call to surrender oneself wholly. This surrender is to Christ alone in the totality of our self-gift. Because all of our loves are ordered in and through Christ, we can lose nothing by setting dating aside for a time to allow Christ to speak to our hearts and direct the love He has first given to us.
What is the basic time frame for formation and the various steps along the way?
The first step is inquiring, thus, the candidate is known as an Inquirer. At this stage one makes initial contact with the community and begins a dialogue with the Abbot about one’s experience and what one perceives might be a call to the monastic life. At this stage, one should spend time with the community in prayer and mission before being admitted.
If the Inquirer's interest in the community continues and deepens to the point of serious consideration toward application, the inquirer will be invited to complete the Application to Aspirancy by the Abbot or one of the other members of the Society. Aspirancy is a time for the candidate to work and worship among us and participate fully in our life for a longer period of time. If all goes well and the aspirant and the community feel that there is a "good fit", then the aspirant will be invited to enter the Society as a novice.
The first stage of formation is the Novitiate (novice period), which lasts at least 1 year. The novice works in the community and begins to study the Customary, Constitutions and the history & tenants of Celtic spirituality and Benedictine practice. The novice is clothed in the habit of the Society at the time of his or her first year profession. At the conclusion of the novitiate year, the novice may petition to make second-year profession of vows which must last at least 1 year. The final step is the Solemn Profession where the monk vows to live the neo-monastic life for the rest of his or her life.
I don’t live in Savannah, GA, yet I feel led to pursue the neo-monastic vocation as lived out by the SSAR. What is there for me?
The Society of Saint Aelred has members in a few different places. Since we live out our vocation according to the idea of “the new monasticism” or monastery without walls, this opens up our community to be the hands, feet and heart of Christ in many communities.
What about the sacrifice of giving up so many of the good things of the world?
The grace of a religious vocation in the Society of Saint Aelred is to respond to God's call to love the world as Christ loved us. This entails sacrifice and change. Yet this sacrifice, joined with Christ, brings great joy. The call to the neo-monastic life is an invitation to look beyond the things of the world in all of their goodness, in favor of the ultimate realities of heaven. Through the vow of simplicity, Christ detaches us from the desire to accumulate possessions and frees us for vocational devotion to Him. Through the vow of obedience, He conforms our wills to His. Through the vow of fidelity, He teaches us to "stick with it" even when the going gets rough.