Category Archives: monastery

My First Real Life Choice

I looked around during meditation that evening, especially at the priests and realized that in another ten or twenty years my life would probably resemble one of theirs. Was there anyone in the monastery I wanted to emulate? I respected several of the priests for their intelligence. Of the three priests I respected most, one seemed rather paranoid and fearful of expressing his own ideas. One I saw as selling out to the establishment and not sticking up for what he thought, much less what we thought. The third appeared broken and bereft of his dreams.

Most of the other priests I saw as unhappy in a variety of ways, or as having made compromises in their commitment to the religious life. After I had considered everyone, I realized there were no priests in the monastery I would like to turn into in the foreseeable future. I also realized that in another ten years I probably would be like one of them. None were willing to challenge the system and the few students who did want to see change were outnumbered and constantly under a cloud.

I reviewed my observations with God. I tried not to be judgmental about the priests I had just finished considering. It was up to them to decide whether they were living the life God wanted for them. It seemed clear that this was no longer the life for me. I didn’t know what God had in store for me next. It seemed that whatever it was, I had learned something about difficult times and felt ready for the next challenge.

I told Father Xavier I wanted to meet with my Uncle Bob who lived in the Union City monastery across the Hudson River from Manhattan. With his permission, I called my uncle who suggested we meet for dinner in a restaurant in Manhattan. He traveled by bus and I took the subway. Remarkably, we both arrived at the restaurant about the same time. After a few pleasantries, I told him that I was thinking of leaving the monastery. He was not surprised, based on our previous conversations and word which had filtered back to him through the Provincial.

He explained that he had always wanted to preach, but never had much of an opportunity to do so. He went to college to prepare himself to teach Physics at Holy Cross. Then he then became Rector of St. Mary’s Monastery, Rector in Scranton and eventually Provincial Consultor. I told him I thought this must have been quite frustrating. He saw it as his being willing to do the things that needed doing so others could do what they wanted.

I told him I admired his self sacrifice, but found it very difficult to let go of any dreams I had. I also found it hard to trust superiors who seemed to know so little about student development in a changing world. They seemed afraid of the changes which progress implied.

Despite our differences, he understood my position and agreed to respect whatever I decided to do. I told him I had thought about all the priests I lived with and did not want to turn out like any of them. I did not feel I had the self sacrifice to live as he did. I told him I thought it was time to leave the monastery. I felt sad on the way back to Jamaica, realizing how happy he had been when I joined the seminary and how disappointed he must be to see me leave, even thought he did not express it.

The reality of leaving seemed to come upon me fast, although I had been dissatisfied and frustrated for some time. I held out the hope that there would be a resolution to the concerns several of us had raised about the limitations and contradictions of our way of life. It became increasingly clear over time that the order was not about to budge and seemed fearful of change. The only possible resolutions seemed for me to give up my interest in change or to leave. I did not think the first choice would be possible for me without leaving me very embittered and resentful. This was not how I wanted to live. Leaving the monastery remained my only choice.

Excerpt from my memoir, Young Man of the Cloth. For a free sample, follow the link to the Amazon page and choose Look Inside. 

My Profession of Vows

The Provincial had selected my Uncle Bob to receive our vows as well as to give our Profession retreat. He would preside over the Vestition and Profession ceremonies in Father Provincial’s place. I was impressed by his quiet appreciation of our faith and of our way of life. I was also happy that he had a chance to preach as he had always wanted to do.

After the Vestition ceremony and a meal of celebration, I had a chance to walk in the monastery garden with my uncle and talk with him a little about the novitiate. “Over the past year, I have had to change my life almost completely. I don’t feel like the same person I was a year ago.”

“You’re not. You have given yourself to God and have let go of your own desires. You will be following God’s will from now on in everything you do.”

“Right now that doesn’t sound too hard. I wonder if I will have trouble with it when there is something I really want to do.”

“No doubt. Everyone has times like that. It is a trial of faith which makes us stronger.”

“I have read about such trials in the lives of the saints. I hope I am strong enough to face them, whatever they are for me.”

“That’s why you have a community to live in. You don’t have to face anything alone.”

My uncle was an intelligent, thoughtful and wise man who also had a good sense of humor. In contrast to my father’s family, most of whom were quite serious and quick to annoyance and harsh words, Uncle Bob was always the voice of reason and was able to use his humor to diffuse any conflict.

He was present at all the major events in my life. He had married my parents before I was born. He baptized me. He was present at my First Communion where I thought he was a visitor. When it was time for me to receive communion, he came down from the altar, gave me communion and then returned while our pastor finished. He was here now to help me with my next major step in life.

I told God I was as ready as I ever would be to take the next step. I knew I was not perfect, but I didn’t think he expected me to be. I promised to do the best I could to follow the religious way of life and live my life the way He wanted me to. I told Him I could not do it on my own and asked again for His guidance.

We entered the monastery church for Profession of Vows in a solemn procession, the newly vested novices singing hymns from behind the altar. I saw my parents, three brothers and sister sitting near the front of the church. Most of the ceremony was a blur to me as I focused on the commitment I was making. The religious community prayed over us. Confrater Gary’s uncle preached a sermon outlining the life we had chosen and the meaning of our vows. Father Augustine Paul served as master of ceremonies. Confrater Daniel’s and Confrater David’s brothers, Bernard and Claude, assisted as ministers for the ceremony.

As at our Vestition, each of us climbed the altar steps and approached a chair in the center of the landing in front of the altar, this time occupied by my uncle. We knelt one at a time before him and placed our folded hands in his hands to signify our connection with the Passionist Order, with my uncle as Father Provincial’s representative and ultimately God’s.

As we knelt, we professed that we would follow each of the three traditional vows of poverty, chastity and obedience as well as the fourth vow of promotion of the Passion of Jesus.  We said all of this aloud. At the end we whispered, “…for three years.” Temporary vows were a chance to try out the religious life without a permanent commitment. If we decided not to continue in the religious life, we could request release from our vows any time during the three years. If we decided to continue in the religious life, we would take permanent vows. If someone still was not sure of a permanent commitment, he could renew his temporary vows. If someone later decided to leave the religious life, he could request release from permanent vows, but only by petition to Rome.