The vocation process at St. Leo Abbey is designed for a young man to simply explore the reality, beyond many misconceptions about monastic life, without any final decisions at this point.
The abbey perhaps even more than the candidate wants all candidates to be sure when the time comes. The vocation process is slow and supportive, personal and positive. Up to the final vows far in the future, the young man is free to leave as a friend of the abbey and with its blessing.
A Postulant. Second step to become a monk. All men enter the abbey as a candidate for a period of several months which leads to his postulancy. The postulancy is a time of discernment while living in the community. It allows time to learn if his attraction is something he wants to continue. A postulant will wear the monastic tunic. It is about a six-month period. At the beginning of the Advent Season this year Br. Felix will become a postulant if he desires to proceed a step further in his monastic vocation and the abbot agrees. But he still has not made a final commitment. This is a long journey of faith. A man does not become a monk overnight or without having lived as one for several years in the fellowship of the abbey’s brotherhood. Going through all the steps to become a monk and a life-long member of a monastery takes a minimum of five years and may be ten years or more. At some point the young man comes to see that the rigor and disciplines of monastic life are ways to greater freedom in Christ, not less.
The Novitiate. Third step to become a monk. After the postulant and the abbot agree that the postulant is ready for the next step, the postulant enters the novitiate, a time of learning more deeply of monastic life. He is given the monastic scapular to wear over the tunic and is given a new name, often the name of one of the desert fathers.
The Junior Monk. Fourth step to become a monk. After a yearlong time of growth and discernment the novice may become a junior monk by the profession of simple vows. During this time he realizes another basic truth: monastic life is not so much what one gives up, but about the riches of God’s grace and love that are gained.
As a junior monk he receives the full monastic habit. These simple vows are for one year. He repeats these simple vows each year for a total of three years. The junior monk is free to leave at the end of each of the three year periods if he discerns with the help of the formation director that monastic life is not his calling. At the end of three years of simple vows the junior monk is still free to leave if he so desires.
The Solemnly Professed Monk. Fifth step to become a monk. After three years as a junior monk, the young man, now fully understanding the liberty of the monastic disciplines may enter into solemn vows if he is accepted by the community. At this point the monk is no longer free to leave the monastery and in fact no longer wants to leave. Throughout the 1,500-year history of the Benedictines, the path to become a monk is not the path of the weak or timid. Nothing is equal to the spiritual courage, the full armor from the Lord, and strength he receives from our loving God.