When people hear that I am planning to be a monk - and stop laughing when they realize I am serious- the next question is usually something like "Why?" or "Are things that bad?" Some people think a monastery is a place where one flees to escape problems. Geesh, What a dreadful place monasteries would be if they were filled with problem-ridden escapist. The monks that I have met tend to be normal, happy people.
I began to think about religious life while I was in seminary. I liked when we celebrated the Liturgy of the Hours in common. I realized that this would be gone after ordination. That is when the search for the right community began. As I looked around I had the mind-set of an idealist and judged the communities against these ideals. Probably my biggest confusion as respects to my vocation was how to balance my religious life with my secular life. There a lot of clues in my life that the answer to this was that, for me, there is no balance. It just took me a long time to come to that realization. For example, in the seminary I always wondered why we went on holiday at Christmas. One community I was with puzzled me by reducing the liturgy on solemnities. Some communities suffer from the same malady most people in our culture suffer; namely, that what they do is more important than who they are. I only just recognized that my vocation had suffered from that, too.
This past summer all of the pieces fell together. I was looking for a community where prayer was the first priority. In my secular job, work often interrupted prayer. I want a life where prayer interrupts work. The idea of dropping what I am doing and hurrying to prayer as Vox Dei peels is very attractive to me now. I like the Cistercian way of life because of the balance of work and prayer. And the Liturgy of the Hours is the pulse of the monastic day. The beginning and end of the day is framed by this liturgy. The beginning and end of work and study periods are framed by this liturgy.
Cistercian life tries to strip away that which is not essential. This is the case in work, prayer, liturgy, and even architecture. That is how it was at the end of the 11th Century; this is how it is at the beginning of the 21st Century. With so much fluff and excess in modern life Cîteaux stands out like a beacon, showing a clear path to a safe harbor.