A Word from the Novice Master
Abba Macarius the great desert father was asked for a word of monastic wisdom by some of the brethren and he humbly proclaimed, “I have not yet become a monk myself, but I have seen monks.” This from a man who only ate on Saturdays and Sundays; a man who was known as “a god upon earth” because he would cover all men’s faults.
Spiritually, the more a monk advances the more he sees himself as a novice. Abba Macarius knew this and lived it. Practically however, there are certain stages through which all candidates must pass in order to take full part in the life of the monastery. Because the community in Norcia is a young one, much of our time is spent in learning and teaching the basics of monastic life. Any attempt to systematize a spirit-filled process will undoubtedly fail to capture its essence. But here is a general outline:
Discernment: A young man comes to Norcia for four to six weeks. Through prayer and reflection, he tries to answer two questions: Am I called to become a monk? Am I called to become a monk in Norcia?
Postulancy: The call of the gospel to leave “house, brothers and sisters, father and mother, and lands” (Mk 10:29) is answered. The candidate spends up to a year transitioning into monastic life. First he lives in the guesthouse as a layman. Then he moves into the novitiate and is clothed with the tunic. The goal of the postulancy is for the monk to develop the rudiments of self-knowledge. He must move from an egocentric world view to a God-centered world view. He must grow as a man before he can grow as a monk. He tries to answer the question: What is wrong with me?
Novitiate: The call having been confirmed in postulancy, the young man (now joyfully donning the title of monk) begins the more serious work of conversion. This one year period is required by the laws of the Church. St. Benedict’s Prologue is now addressed to him, “Listen my son, to your master’s precepts, and incline the ear of your heart” In postulancy he sought to grow as a man. Now the young monk tries to become a son; a son of St. Benedict, a son of the Abbot and the Holy Rule, but most especially, a son of God, a son in the Son.
Juniorate: At the end of novitiate the monk makes simple vows for three years. He receives a new name. He takes on new responsibilities. He comes to see the monastery as his own. No longer a stranger in a strange land, he partakes of the inheritance of God. Through God the monk is “no longer a slave but a son, and if a son then an heir.” (Gal 4:4) His commitment to God and to the monastery solidifies. He grows in wisdom and grace.
Solemn Vows: the monk completes the formal process of initiation. He embraces not just a period of conversion, but a life of conversion. The monk begins to understand the protest of St Macarius “I have not yet become a monk myself, but I have seen monks.”