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Why I Became A Monk



Abbot Placid Solari, OSB - published on 09/24/14

The First in a Series About Callings

When the students at our college ask how I became a monk, I like to tell them that it was sheer destiny. Their perplexed look in response allows me to launch into my story.

I am the youngest of six children, and was quite a surprise to my parents, coming after they had comfortably settled for several years into the idea of a family of five children. Coming when I did, my oldest brother was already a monk at Belmont Abbey. Some of my earliest memories are of family visits to the abbey. Furthermore, my home parish, Saint Benedict’s, was a priory of the abbey and the monks were my parish priests. I was taught in parochial school by the Benedictine Sisters, and in high school by the monks. After a brief escape to college, I entered the novitiate after my college graduation. This is what I mean by the “destiny” part.

While these formative experiences in childhood and adolescence undoubtedly influenced my subsequent discernment of a calling to monastic life, a vocation is never a mere matter of “destiny”. Rather, the decision regarding the direction and form of one’s life demands a knowledge of ourselves and an awareness of the things that exercise a sometimes subtle attraction on us. In particular, I believe the decision to enter some form of religious life or the priesthood requires a good awareness of one’s strengths and weaknesses, for each form of life has its own unique and distinctive lifestyle, and one will likely be a better “fit” than the others.

Two things stand out which helped turn me towards monastic life. The first was an incredible sense of peace which I felt when I visited the abbey as a boy with my family and we attended Vespers with the monks. The rise and fall of the chant and the very words of the psalms always surrounded me with an incredible sensation of peace that I never wanted to leave. Although I could not explain why this was so, I certainly felt it. The second was that, as long as I can remember, I always wanted to be a teacher.  The monks had been my teachers in high school, and the abbey sponsored Belmont Abbey College. Most of all, however, the monks impressed me as talented men who were doing something worthwhile with their lives. I knew from experience the impact the monks had as teachers on young people, and I thought I wanted to do that, too.

Through high school and college, other possibilities and opportunities presented themselves. At the end of my junior year in college, it suddenly dawned on me that this nice college life was soon going to come to an abrupt end, and I was going to be on my own. It was time to make some serious plans for my future. I still felt a pull to the monastic life. I realized that there was an initial period of formation which allowed one to try out the life, and that it was possible to leave during the first several years if it was not the right “fit”.  I thought that, if I did not follow up on this attraction which kept pulling at my life, I might go through life wondering whether I had missed something I was supposed to do. I therefore applied and was accepted to the novitiate, entering the monastery at the end of the summer following college graduation.

After these many years, I think the important question is not only why one comes to monastic life, but also why one stays. For me, the most significant thing which has kept me here is the immense grace and mercy of God which I have experienced through the monastic life. The love, patience and forbearance of my confreres has been an immediate and powerful expression of God’s love. They, after all, have lived with me every day for a good number of years and know quite well my quirks, foibles and idiosyncrasies. And yet they keep putting up with me.

The aspects of monastic life which turned out to “fit” me are, in the first place, the structure and disciplines of daily life, which open a space for prayer. Prayer in community several times each day and the daily spending time with the Word of God in lectio divina have been a beautiful channel of grace. The stability in the community of profession, characteristic of Saint Benedict’s Rule, has provided a support for stability in the search for goodness and virtue. Although, ironically, I never did have the teaching career which I had sought initially, the relationships developed over the years with succeeding generations of students, and with friends and colleagues in the college faculty and administration, have incredibly enriched my life and have been for me a significant part of that hundred-fold recompense promised by the Lord to those who follow him.

Finally, there is another question students ask which offers another opportunity to perplex them. When they inevitably inquire, “When did you decide to become a monk?” I like to reply, “This morning.”  That takes them by surprise, as it is obvious that I have been around for a while. But it offers the opportunity to explain how the commitment to monastic life, like a commitment to any good and worthy undertaking, is never a one-time decision. It must be renewed constantly, and nourished by the repeated choices which strengthen that initial commitment. It is never an automatic process, but is the daily renewed invitation of grace to create something beautiful with the one life we have been given.

Abbot Placid Solari, OSB, is the Chancellor of Belmont Abbey College. He has been a monk of Belmont Abbey since 1974, and was ordained in 1980. 

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