“Why is a Jesuit priest becoming a Trappist monk?”
That’s a question I have been asked often in the past few months. I arrived here at Mepkin Abbey in July to begin the process of transferring from the Society of Jesus to the Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance. It’s a new beginning and one that I am throwing myself into with my whole heart. But why am I doing it? More than anything else, I am making this move because I have come to believe that it is an invitation from the Lord.
Most people, including relatives and friends, don’t understand my making such a change at my age, and I appreciate their confusion. I have been a Jesuit for 46 years and a priest for 34 years and have been blessed all those years, whether working in high schools, living with and serving the poor, visiting men in federal detention facilities and jails, serving as a chaplain in hospitals and helping in parishes by presiding and preaching at the Eucharist and hearing confessions.
People have asked why I would leave all that behind to spend the rest of my life in a Trappist monastery where the life is primarily one of silence, solitude, and ceaseless prayer. One diocesan priest, for whom I have great respect, after I told him about where I was going, looked at me and said, “You are out of your mind!” We both laughed, and I appreciated his candor because he said what I think many have been thinking.
But God has worked through others to enable me to make this move. My spiritual director recognized this call from the Lord and encouraged me to continue to pray and ask God for greater clarity and direction. I did this and God came through. My Jesuit provincial was understanding and supportive and has allowed me to make this move, while at the same time assuring me that I would be warmly welcomed back at any time before I make solemn profession as a Cistercian, which follows a three year probation.
And that is why and how I have come to Mepkin Abbey. Each day I pray for the Jesuits, especially my provincial, and I pray also for my new brothers, the members of the monastic community here at Mepkin, especially our superior.
I have come here seeking the will of God for my life and I trust that God will reveal that to me in time. In the meantime, I wait on the Lord in the silence that surrounds me, asking only for God’s continued love and grace.