Peaceful, but Not Relaxing: One Brother’s Call to the Monastery

Brother Patrick Kokorian, a Maronite monk in Massachusetts

The Arlington Catholic Herald this week published a vocational story from a local Catholic, Patrick Kokorian, and his discernment and entry into the religious life.

I love this story. For committed Catholics, we hear about priestly vocational calls often, but less common are the stories of those persons called to religious life. In part, this is because they are fewer in number. Additionally, their lives, even if not cloistered, are less public as they tend to dwell away from the world.

What I love about this is what Br. Patrick has to say about life in the monastery and how that contrasts with how most lay people (or at least I) tend to imagine it.
I have visited monasteries before, and I like to imagine them as calm, spiritual retreats where one has no obligations or commitments but just lives simply, prays, reads, works, eats, and relaxes, enjoying here-and-now the hope of the beatific vision and life in heaven.

Well, all of that may be accurate, except for the relaxing part; that and a religious person does have many obligations and commitments—they are just different from ours. A religious vocation, even for the most contemplative, is work, a lot of work.

Brother Patrick explains how his experience eroded his (and my) erroneousness image of a monastery as “a place of rest and relaxation.”

Instead, he was even hesitant to be ordained to the priesthood, though his friends and superiors encouraged it, knowing how busy he was already as just a brother and sub-deacon (an Eastern Rite office that is one rank lower than deacon).
According to the article, his daily work consists of:

He attends daily Mass, prays the morning, midday and evening offices according to the Eastern Orthodox rite, and spends two hours in eucharistic adoration a day. Much of the rest of the day is spent doing manual labor, spiritual reading or attending classes….
‘I thought, If I were to become a priest, I wouldn’t have any time at all,’ he said….
After his ordination, he will be in charge of ministering to all monastery visitors. He is most looking forward to celebrating Mass, hearing confessions, and giving spiritual direction to the retreatants and members of his community.

Despite the work and demands on his time, he says “There is the peace of being with God, the silence of the monastery, but it is certainly not a place you come to retire.”

It’s so easy for me, and maybe others, to see monks and nuns as at peace because they don’t have a care in the world. But they do, and they have many cares in the world-to-come. As do we, though we don’t usually spend as much time and energy contemplating it.

The truth is, if a monk or a nun is at peace, it is because he or she trusts and hopes in God. And this is true for lay people also. It’s not having no business or troubles that brings peace, but rather trusting God through it all.

Reading Brother Patrick’s account of his vocational call to monastic life, I don’t think the monastery is as foreign and different a place as we sometimes picture it.

Have you ever thought it would be nice to live at a monastery? What do you think religious life is like? Did this article affect your perception of it at all?