I had the pleasure of meeting Becket while I was doing some personal soul-searching at St. Joseph Abbey. At the time he was a professing monk who had not taken his final vows. He has since left the monastery to become the personal assistant of the writer Anne Rice. In a recent conversation has given me permission to reprint his story as he is posting it on Facebook. I hope you find these installments as fascinating as I do. I will be posting these installments on Monday. Irvin
A Monk’s Story Part 3
At the heart of every religious vocation is the call to love. Love one another as we are loved. Sometimes love is prayer. Other times it’s work.
Before I entered the monastery, I don’t think I loved myself. Sure, I had a healthy hope of survival. But that’s not the same as healthy self-love. To be perfectly blunt, I didn’t love myself because I couldn’t. I didn’t know who I was. How could I love someone I didn’t know? This question begged another: If I don’t love myself, how can I love someone else?
Before the monastery, I didn’t fit in. In high school I clique-hopped. Early college too.
I couldn’t do that in the monastery. There were no cliques. There was only a small group of men working everyday to be kind to one another.
So my first year in the monastery was the quintessential pivot-point of my life. It shifted me from self-ambiguity to healthy self-love.
As a novice I had to have a spiritual director. Usually this is an older or more experienced monk acting as a guide to monastic formation.
One monk in particular I hoped would be my spiritual director, Fr. Ambrose. He was elderly, wore large glasses, and had a long white beard. He was always reading, always quiet. He seemed to have an appealing grandfatherly kindness.
So I was greatly shocked when, upon asking him to be my spiritual director, he said, “No.”
Later I came to know him better. Today I believe he denied my request because all he truly wanted was to diminish before his brothers. That is, he wanted a more hermetic life. Quiet, simple.
A brash novice like myself was a thunderclap in his serenity.
Despite my disappointment, I returned to him twice more.
Finally he consented. I became his spiritual directee.
Quickly I discovered that he and I had different personalities, and that we appreciated different ways of communicating. Nevertheless, he proved to be the best spiritual director I ever had, and one of the best men I’ve ever known.
As my religious brother, he observed me in community, at meals, at recreation, and during prayer and work. As my elder, he called me on many faults. “A monk must let go of the world,” he would tell me. “You’re thinking too much about temporary things on earth and not about the heart of eternal love.”
The greatest fault he caught in me changed me life. He saw my great fault. It wasn’t something that I did consciously. You could say that from my youth I was taught to behave in a particular way. It wasn’t bad behavior. It just wasn’t healthy. Fr. Ambrose saw that how I was was not who I could be. And he said to me in so many words: “Whether you stay a monk or get married, whether you make monastic vows or wedding vows, you can’t give to anyone else something you do not possess. And healthy love is a possession that must by its very nature be given away freely.”
What didn’t I possess, Fr. Ambrose?
“Your self,” he said to me.
The true journey of my monastic vocation began at that moment.
- The Various Stages of the Monastic Life (brotherisaac.wordpress.com)