A Decision of Peace - The Day I Joined the Abbey

n article by Abbot James Albers, OSB

Abbot James entered the novitiate on December 7, 1995.  His family, including his Grandmother Bette Sittenauer (above at left), were on hand to see him receive his habit and Rule.

I remember well the afternoon of Sunday, August 13, 1995.  My weekend was over; Monday morning and work were staring me in the face, and there I was sitting in my vehicle parked in front of St. Benedict’s Abbey feeling like I was going to get sick.  I had just walked out of the Abbey Guest House after speaking with Father Meinrad Miller, telling him that I thought I was being called to join the Abbey.

When I came up to visit that weekend, I don’t think I had any intention to ask for an application to enter the community; I can’t say going into that conversation with Father Meinrad I had a burning knowledge that this is what I was supposed to do.  In fact, I had made an earlier visit that summer, a return visit to the Abbey and Benedictine College, to get Father Meinrad off my back about joining the Abbey.  Make the visit and that would be that.  So what was I doing here again, a month later, asking for an application?

In understanding that moment, all I can say is it had to be the Spirit that prompted me, because I had so many reasons for not requesting an application.  Even more odd, I examine that moment and really see how God can work with imperfect intentions to bring about his will.  Discernment?  I knew little about it at that point in my life, but I know now that something was there that encouraged me to make the decision to join St. Benedict’s Abbey and God has worked through it; he purified my honorable, yet imperfect, intentions.

There are so many events, things, people and memories in our lives that influence how we each make decisions.  That is really the beauty of one’s personal discernment, just that, it is personal, and it is based on one’s relationship with God.  Each of us nurtures our communication with God in a unique way; the tragedy comes when we don’t foster that relationship with the Father and therefore we don’t know how he responds to us and what his voice sounds like to us.

It is easy enough to ask God for this or that, maybe even to ask for understanding of what he desires for us.  But how often do we simply open ourselves to hear what God wants?  St. Benedict prescribes quiet meditation during which our main purpose is to listen.  “Listen carefully, my son, to the master’s instructions, and attend to them with the ear of your heart.  This is advice from a father who loves you…” (Prologue to the Rule of St. Benedict, v. 1).

St. Benedict understood that discernment is as much about figuring out who I am as it is figuring out my relationship with God and his will for me.  To know one’s own heart is a challenge; to love is a challenge.  As we come to understand ourselves, we then see how our relationship with the Father is so important to our happiness.  We begin to hear what God has to say to us and are then able to internalize it, pray over it, wrestle with it, understand it in context to who we are, and then pray over it some more, asking God to bless the decision with peace.

Having formerly served as Vocation Director for the Abbey, in addition to the young people I have journeyed with through spiritual direction, I’ve been blessed to see how this awareness of self and this relationship with God can develop in individuals.  When this happens in a person’s life, both the response to the will of God and the practice of making a choice are done out of love.

“And this is my prayer:  that your love may increase ever more and more in knowledge and every kind of perception, to discern what is of value, so that you may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ…” (Philippians 1:9-10.)

I look back on that August day, and maybe I didn’t fully recognize how God was working through me, through my discernment and my choice.  I recognize now that sometimes God’s thoughts are not my thoughts, and his ways are not my ways (see Isaiah 55:8).  Our prayer should be that we open ourselves to a relationship with the Father that will expose our hearts to him so that he can mold us and shape us.