Saturday, June 21, 2008
All the best in the Lord to one and all from New Jersey, and thanks for the cordial welcome to this blog! Has anyone ever heard of us? There are monks here!
I'm a simply-professed member of the Cistercian community here in Mt. Laurel. I came to the monastery a bit over three years ago at the age of 25. In addition to the rhythm of our community life, studying theology in preparation for ordination and priestly ministry dovetails beautifully with this lifelong process of letting God take me from punk to monk. A monk is simply a disciple, in a particular mode of discipleship! We haven't reinvented the wheel here!
I'm house barber, oil-changer, and "assistant branch manager" when we pick up branches outside. I run, enjoy monastic history, change oil, catechize elementary school students, and am putting my hand to making some new vestments. I'm fond of Aelred of Rievaulx and Baldwin of Canterbury, two medieval Cistercians. I have a sense of humor, being the one to write cheeky hymns or affably offensive responsories for confreres' birthdays and namedays. I also enjoy the ample opportunities for solitude that are available in this wonderful form of "mixed" religious life. In my eyes, joyless clergy, seminarians and religious are one of the world's saddest sights; I had been one myself for a time. (It's one thing to be a quiet or formal or grumpy type... but quite another to be utterly joyless)!
I was born in Abington, PA, an only child. We moved up to Quakertown, PA when I was 7. After a variety of experiences, during and after college, a certainty ripened in my heart: I began to see religious life as the place for me to seek to make my response to the gift of my life, to my particular experience of the beautiful claim that God makes on every person. Write to me if you'd like to hear something more of my "vocation story". Maybe monasticism is the "sheet of paper" on which you can best write your life's letter of response to God!
I've certainly "been around the block" in that part of the discernment process that comes before you enter the monastery. I began as a diocesan seminarian at 20. After looking far and wide, I entered what I saw as the ideal monastery at 23: an army of seminarians, solid observance, rich liturgical life. Everything I thought indispensable. It was a wonderful place; I was there for about 16 months as a novice, but my heart would not settle and take root. The draw back to the more pioneering life of this smaller monastery in NJ that I had shelved out of fear was the pea under my mattress. I'm happy to be here!
Our community here was founded in 1961 from the Abbey of Casamari in Italy, and serves a big parish adjacent (but not too close) to the monastery. I'm in the first generation of local vocations. It was quite an experience to visit Italy last summer during my novitiate (paradoxical, huh- join a monastery, see the world!)
I'd be delighted to share what I have to offer of my experience of religious life and the formation/discernment process. The more specific the questions, the better.
In the words of my onomastic patron, Ven. Felix Ghebramlak, "Courage, God is with you!"
The last lines of Psalm 139 were a favorite for me while I was "looking":
Search me, O God, and know my heart,
see that I follow not the wrong path,
but lead me in the way of life eternal.
Foibles, temptations and all, I can look anyone in the eye and say that at the end of the day, when I put my head on the pillow, there's really nothing else that I'd rather be doing, nowhere else that I'd rather be. That's a wonderful blessing, the consolation of the vows!
As Pope Benedict remarked in his recent pastoral visit to northern Italy, it is really up to us to be open to the future. I breathe those words of Ps 139 for all of you reading this. Be in touch!
Br. Felix M. Pierson, O.Cist.