The Constitutions and Directory of the Congregation of monasteries to which the Benedictine Abbey of Newark belongs include paragraphs about the meaning and the obligations of the vows. I’d like to share with you the ones that have to do with the meaning of the vows (i.e. skipping the Canon Law aspects) firstly, so that you can learn a little more about what we monks are trying to do with our lives, and secondly so that you can see for yourself how the theology of the vows is based on love. (The references to RB refer to St. Benedict's Rule for Monks.)
By his profession of conversion through a monastic way of life (conversatio morum), the monk commits himself to the persevering exercise of monastic discipline and self-denial that school him for growth towards the fullness of love (cf. RB Prol 45-49; 7:67). The ascetical labor of sharing in Christ’s passion by dying to sin and by leaving unchosen many things of great value for the sake of the Kingdom leads to the life and freedom of the resurrection (cf. RB Prol 50). This paschal character of the monastic way of life shines forth in the monk’s following of Christ in his poverty and celibate love.
The poverty that the monk embraces in the monastic way of life has its source in Christ’s total dispossession of himself for love of his Father and the world and finds its model in the first Christian community, "where all things were held in common" (cf. Phil 2:6-8; Acts 4:32; RB 33). Benedictine poverty directs the monk towards a spiritual dependence on Christ as represented by the abbot, towards a radical interdependence among the brothers by a mutual sharing of goods, and towards a reverent and responsible use of material things so that in everything glory be given to God.
In foregoing marriage and family in order to enter into the life of his monastic community, the monk responds to the God who loved him first and calls him to prefer absolutely nothing to the love of Christ (RB 4:21). The monk’s commitment to a celibate life of total continence (CIC 599) serves as a sign that a new age has dawned with Christ and as a means of transforming all his human powers of loving into a living sacrament of God’s love.
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By his profession of obedience, the monk seeks to enter more fully into that mystery of loving obedience whereby Christ, fulfilling his Father’s will, laid down his life for all and opened for the future the hope of the resurrection. Through his listening for and heeding of God’s will as it is mediated to him both by his abbot and by the needs of his brothers, the monk seeks to express the lordship of Christ over his entire life (cf. RB 5:12-13). It is in this spirit that the monk binds himself to obey his superiors, including the Supreme Pontiff, in accordance with the Rule of Saint Benedict and the proper law of the Congregation.
Every Christian, of course, is called to a life of self-sacrificing love; I thought, however, that this glimpse of how we Benedictines try to live that life might be of interest or even of some help to you. (For a very good treatment of how lay people can benefit from the spirituality of the Rule of Benedict I'd recommend The Path of Life, by Cyprian Smith, O.S.B.).
Please pray for our young monks -- and all vowed religious -- that we may all succeed in living out our commitment to the monastic life -- a life of love. Be sure that we're for you as you live out your own commitment to a life of love.