Frequently Asked Questions
What are vows/why do you make vows?
A vow is a solemn promise and commitment made to yourself or another. Monastics make vows as a sign and acceptance of the serious nature of belonging to a community committed to each other and Christ.
Consider the more familiar tradition of making marriage vows, which in principle, are similar to monastic vows. Before marriage in the Catholic Church, the couple must seek the council of the local parish priest or formation director, and seriously consider marriage as a calling within the larger context of the faith community. Upon affirming that call, the couple make vows to preserve that commitment. This means to enter into a community, to trust in the community's support during difficult times, and to serve the community through the stability of a committed relationship. Entering into a Catholic vow is not a personal and isolated thing, it means to enter into the Tradition, strength and commitment shared by those within the 2000 year Catholic Faith. Monastic vows share in this Tradition. Making vows within a community is to commit one's self to that community, to preserve it, to strengthen it, and to expect to receive these same qualities in return. Similar to marriage vows, discernment of the call to monasticism is not the sole responsibility of the individual. The community also discerns potential candidates to the monastic life.
What vows do Benedictine monks make?
Benedictines make three vows: obedience, stability and conversion to the monastic way of life.
OBEDIENCE: Though this word may be a difficult one in today’s culture, it is important to know what it represents in today’s monasticism and at Saint John’s Abbey. In short, obedience certainly means to listen openly to Holy Scripture and the Rule of Benedict, but also to the abbot (the elected head of the monastery) as well as all the monks, including the juniors (the Spirit often speaks through the youngest.) Now, to listen does not necessarily mean to follow blindly, but to give full attention to what is being said. Often times the things that we most disagree with are exactly what we need to listen to, and possibly act upon. Obedience also means to give my very best every day; in prayer, work and recreation with my brother monks. Obedience means accepting what my superior asks of me, for often times he can see a talent that I have that I might not see myself. If indeed the task becomes too much I may asked to be excused. "Should he see, however, that the weight of the burden is altogether too much for his strength, then he should choose the appropriate moment and explain patiently to his superior the reasons why he cannot perform the task." -RB 68:2
STABILITY: Though Benedictine monasteries have been established all over the world, each Benedictine monk makes his vows to a particular community in a particular location. Here at Saint John’s, the monastic community has existed for over 150 years in central Minnesota. Stability means that it will always remain here, or go out of existence, but will never move. (There are extreme exceptions to this throughout the 1500 years of Benedictine history.) A Benedictine monk of Saint John’s makes his vows to the present monastic community, the earth that is Saint John’s, and the past and future community of Saint John’s. Stability overlaps with obedience in that the monk seeks the stability of Sacred Scripture and the Rule of Saint Benedict.
CONVERSION TO THE MONASTIC WAY OF LIFE: The third vow that Benedictines make, conversatio morum or conversion through a monastic way of life encompasses many things including: living simply, living a celibate chaste life, and simply living the schedule of daily prayers, meals with the community, sacred reading, and constantly dealing with the ups and downs of living in community. It is the daily life that slowly, one day at a time hopefully changes the young novice some sixty to eighty years later into a holy monk. The difference from one day to the next is not detectable and over time, it can be parallel to the slow dripping of water that eventually wear a hole through solid stone. However, the change does occur and the daily renewal of this promise to devote one’s life to the working of this transformation is what this vow is about.
What is the difference between simple and solemn vows?
After a year and a day of testing as a novice, a monk may apply for first vows. The simple/first vows of a junior are temporary, and after a minimum of three years a monk may apply for solemn vows. Solemn vows constitute a life-long commitment to monastic life and the community, made to the Abbot and signed on the church altar.
Becoming a novice is a commitment to the monastic life and community, however it has a conclusion. Novitiate is complete after one year and a day, and if you have not applied and been accepted to the juniorate you will no longer remain a novice; you will leave the monastery with no further commitment to or from the Abbey. To apply and be accepted into the juniorate is a further commitment and discernment to the monastic life. Lasting normally no more than six years, junior monks in some ways are nearly indistinguishable from solemnly professed monks, joining in community prayer, recreation, and pursuit of full time employment and responsibility, in short, full participation in the monastic life (with the exception of voting rights.) Solemn profession is a lifelong commitment to the monastic life. These men are full members of the community with all the rights and responsibilities of a monk of Saint John's Abbey.
Isn't there a vow of poverty?
There is no specific vow of poverty made by monks of the Order of Saint Benedict. However, we hold all things in common and following a life of simplicity inherent to the vow of conversion to the monastic way life.
Isn't there a vow of chastity and celibacy?
There is no specific vow of chastity. However, the commitment to a celibate, chaste life is inherent to the vow of conversion to the monastic way of life (conversatio morum).