Monastic formation is "a life-long process, where everyone needs each other to deepen their lives of faith, hope, and love and to grow to their full stature of life in Christ," (To Prefer Nothing to Christ, 25). It is “first and foremost cooperating with the grace of God,” (Program for Priestly Formation, 68), "God's work through the Holy Spirit, who 'shapes the hearts of us all' (Ps 32:15) and who never takes his hands from the clay," (To Prefer Nothing to Christ, 26).
The Church recognizes that this occurs on four levels: human, spiritual, intellectual, and pastoral, which apply to our monastic way of life. The English Benedictine Congregation in its document on our monastic mission summarizes: "This transforming collaboration works gradually through the practice of monastic life (conversatio morum). This is the principle means for continuing, or on-going, formation, with the various channels that contribute to it. The liturgy, attentively listening to the Word of God, prolonged in silent personal prayer, is perhaps the primary means; the formal preaching and teaching in the community, personal study and readying by a monk and nun, as well as the enrichment of cultural experience, for example in arts and music, are precious ways of growing in wisdom and experience of the ways of God. No less important can be the experience of the natural world and social relationships. All can help us open our hearts more generously to God who also comes close to us in the lives of those we meet or serve." (To Prefer Nothing to Christ, 27)
We know that God works with us through our humanity, and indeed each of us is called to surrender our humanity to Christ. In the words of theological tradition, grace gradually heals, elevates, and perfects our nature. We read in 2 Corinthians 3:17-18 “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being changed into his likeness from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” In the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ document The Basic Plan for the Ongoing Formation of Priests, a reflection on St. Paul’s words in the above verse leads to a description of formation: “The apostle Paul marvels at the work of the Holy Spirit who transforms believers into the very image of Jesus Christ, who himself is the image of God. This grace of the new covenant embraces all who have joined themselves to Jesus Christ in faith and baptism. Indeed, it is sheer grace, all God’s doing. Moved by that grace, however, we make ourselves available to God’s work of transformation. And that making ready a place for the Lord to dwell in us and transform us we call formation.” Furthermore, we read “The foundation and center of all human formation is Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh. In his fully developed humanity, he was truly free and with complete freedom gave himself totally for the salvation of the world.” (PPF 74)
This ongoing human formation of a monk in conformity to Christ occurs in varied ways. During postulancy, the monk begins to live the monastic routine of prayer and work, with an emphasis on manual labor, which helps ground the monk in his humanity and the law of work. The rhythm of prayer and work continues with greater structure in the novitiate, and then throughout the monk's life, gradually forming his humanity to be more docile to grace and conformity to Christ. In his prayer and work assignments, relationships with fellow community members, the monk's many human weaknesses are exposed. While this is a painful process, it is also a blessed one, so that these weaknesses can be gradually lessened and at times overcome by God's grace, and replaced with virtue. "Each of us is personally responsible for co-operating with the one who is 'powerful enough to reform what in us is deformed.' We need each other's support too, as example, help and friend," (To Prefer Nothing to Christ, 26) In this way within the monastic community he can slowly become more whole, more in the image of God. This is a process that takes a lifetime, and is only perfected in the next.
The monk is called to “prefer nothing to the love of Christ.” (RB 4) Spiritual formation takes place primarily through the Work of God (Mass and the liturgy of the hours), lectio divina, and private prayer. The essence of spiritual formation is “to live in intimate and unceasing union with God the Father through his Son, Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Spirit. This is the foundational call to discipleship and conversion of heart.” (PPF 107)
This spiritual formation centers around the monk's personal friendship with Jesus Christ, through which he enters into relationship also with the Father and Holy Spirit. In turn, growth in this spiritual friendship leads outward to spiritual communion with his fellow community members, those guests and others who the monk encounters in work or local community.
Our monastic intellectual formation begins in the postulancy and novitiate with numerous classes covering various areas of our life such as Prayer, Scripture, and the Rule of St. Benedict. Often following initial formation, our monks will be sent to a local institution such as Catholic University or the Dominican House of Studies for further studies, including those required if the monk is to be ordained as a priest. Other opportunities for ongoing intellectual formation include our annual Thomas Verner Moore lecture series, as well as regular speakers, preaching in the community, and community table reading.
The typical pastoral work we do involves ministering to our Oblates and any other who may present themselves needing spiritual nourishment. For the monk, pastoral service flows out of his relationship with Christ and the community. This also takes place in our community through service to our school, which educates young men, grades 6-12.