What It’s Like Being a Nun, Brother or Choir Monk
“Parents should talk about religious life with their children and pray for vocations.”
Mother Teresa Christe, founding member, Marian Sisters of Santa Rosa, California (www.mariansisters.com)
What is a nun?
A nun is a daughter of the Church, a spouse of Christ and a mother of souls. If you wish to be successful as a married person, you must dedicate your whole self to your family. A woman who chooses religious life must dedicate her whole self to her vocation.
When I work with young people, they’ve asked me, “Did you become a nun because you couldn’t find a man?” They think nuns are on the fringes of society, but we’re actually at its center, its heart.
St. Thomas Aquinas, in discussing a religious vocation, notes that when we are baptized, we not only receive the three theological virtues and seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, but the seed of our vocation in life. As we grow up, our experiences, including our sufferings and trials, point us in the direction of the vocation to which God is calling us. This is where our baptismal vocation can be lived most fully. It is where we’ll be happy, and have the most positive impact on the salvation of souls.
One doesn’t just decide one day, “I want to be a nun.” Instead, that decision comes after a lengthy dialogue with God. It must not only be attractive to me, but a fit with my life.
I first encountered positive examples of women religious by reading the lives of the saints. I read the stories of wonderful examples of women religious, such as St. Thérèse of Lisieux.
Children can also visit religious communities; some sponsor summer camps for children. This can lead to some more serious conversations about religious life.
Parents should talk about religious life with their children and pray for vocations. From the earliest ages, children will consider the idea of the consecrated life as a realistic possibility. The words parents say to their children are very powerful. When children meet religious, they’ll think, “These are the people for whom I’ve been praying.”
Brothers Parker Jordan and Ken Apuzzo, Brotherhood of Hope (www.brotherhoodofhope.org)
What is a brother?
Brother Parker: A brother is one who lives the call to give all for Jesus. This is done through the evangelical counsels, lived in a fraternal common life …We couldn’t survive without our common life, praying together twice a day, sharing common meals and spending time with one another. I could not live out the call the Lord has given me without brothers.
… the priesthood is a different calling. I have friends in the priesthood, but it’s not for me. I love the Mass, and I love confession, but I have no desire to say Mass or hear confessions.
Brother Ken: God has called us to an exclusive relationship with Him. That’s true of all religious, but the way ours is expressed is that we’re like Navy SEALs, together in mission and daily life, a community of brothers. We share camaraderie and relationships and support one another.
Also, we do not have the sacramental responsibility of priests. That gives us the opportunity to be out where the people are lost; this is usually not the people who show up at Mass. The Parable of the Lost Sheep is key to us, but now it seems like the 99 are lost and the one is in church today! We walk them back to Church.
In the early days of my being a brother, I wouldn’t have said this. But, today I say in a humble way, we feel the Lord is using us to renew the religious brotherhood. It is a disappearing vocation. Ours is a new community. Whenever I meet older religious brothers, they’re surprised that we’re a new community of brothers, not priests, and that we have younger guys. I think we give them hope.
Abbot Philip Anderson, Clear Creek Abbey (www.clearcreekmonks.org)
After explaining that “our work is prayer,” he distinguished between his community’s brothers and choir monks.
We have two kinds of monks, brothers and choir monks. Brothers do more of the manual labor in our community; they’re cooks, they work in shop. We all work, but our brothers have longer periods of work. When men enter our community, they become one or the other.
If a man is really studious, and he wants to learn, he’d want to be a choir monk. Our choir monks often become priests. If a man wants to be out in the open air, and pray in an open manner, he’d become one of our brothers. Our brothers typically have quite a bit of education, unlike in the past, but opt for a simpler existence. It’s a good, complimentary system for our monastery.