If you are discerning a vocation and are interested in learning more about St. Michael’s Abbey and our clerical life, centered around liturgical prayer and service to God’s people, we encourage you to contact our Vocations Director, Fr. Ambrose, with any questions you may have or if you are interested in visiting.
We will be praying for you as you continue to seek out the Lord’s will for your life.
The next day again John was standing with two of his disciples; and he looked at Jesus as he walked, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. Jesus turned, and saw them following, and said to them, “What do you seek?” And they said to him, “Rabbi” (which means Teacher), “where are you staying?” He said to them, “Come and see.” (John 1: 35-39)
The invitation that our Lord extended to his first disciples, we extend to you. For young men who are considering a religious vocation, and who are interested in learning more about our Norbertine community, the best first step is to make a come-and-see visit to the abbey. Lasting anywhere from a couple of days to a couple of weeks, these visits give men an opportunity to learn about our lives by living our lives. Come-and-see visitors stay in their own room in our seminary, pray with our canons in the liturgy, attend classes with the novices and philosophy students, participate in manual labor, take meals with the seminarians in the refectory, and recreate with the brethren in sports, art, hikes, board games, and anything else that might be happening at the abbey during their stay. There is no commitment involved in making a come-and-see visit. Whether you are just mildly curious or already on the verge of applying, we invite you to come and see for yourself what our Norbertine life is all about.
To plan a come-and-see visit, please contact our vocations director, Fr. Ambrose Criste, by filling out this form. God bless you always.
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Postulancy (four months)
Each year on August 27, the feast of St. Monica, a new class of postulants enters our abbey. The purpose of this first stage of formation is to introduce the new candidates into the life of a consecrated religious, beginning the necessary adjustment from life in the world to life in the abbey. Postulants live with the other seminarians in our house of formation. They participate in the abbey’s liturgical prayers, serve the brethren through manual labor, and attend classes with the novices. These first months are meant to help both the community and the postulant himself to make a responsible decision as to whether he should be vested in the Norbertine habit.
Novitiate (twenty months)
Christmas is a special time for our community, obviously first and foremost because we celebrate the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ, and secondarily because St. Norbert founded our Order of Prémontré on Christmas Day in the year 1121. But it is also a special time because of our annual Christmas Eve vestition ceremony, in which the newest men at our abbey put off the black suit of postulancy and receive the white habit of our Order. The abbot also bestows a religious name upon each of the new novices, which the man will bear for the rest of his Norbertine life. Compared to the later stages of our canonical formation, the novitiate has a pronounced monastic character to it. The life of a novice is relatively quiet. Free from clerical responsibilities, rigorous academic studies, and distractions from the outside world, the novice is able to focus more on his own inner life. Manual labor is emphasized in this stage, as are penance and prayer. The novices’ intellectual formation lays the groundwork for more formal studies during the juniorate and beyond. Novitiate classes focus on Catholic doctrine, spirituality, liturgy, Latin, and the essentials of a consecrated religious vocation. These fraters also study our Augustinian canonical life—its identity, charism, and history—along with the particular traditions of our own Order and abbey. The goal is for these young Norbertines to learn what it means to live out our specific vocation: as Augustinian canons regular, of the Premonstratensian Order, of St. Michael’s Abbey, in the Diocese of Orange.
Juniorate (three–seven years)
Norbertines call St. Augustine “our Holy Father,” both because he authored the rule of life that we follow and because he miraculously appeared to St. Norbert to instruct him in the founding of our Order. Thus August 28, the solemnity of our Holy Father St. Augustine, is a fitting day for our seminarians to take their first religious vows. After two years in our community (postulancy plus novitiate), the fraters make their temporary professions of poverty, consecrated celibacy, and obedience. As junior-professed Norbertines, these seminarians will continue to live the liturgically-centered common life of our community, while also beginning their formal ecclesiastical studies for the priesthood. After the initial three years under vows, a junior renews his simple vows until his solemn profession.
Liberal arts studies: Conferes who enter the abbey without completing at least two years of college coursework begin their juniorate by taking basic liberal arts classes, via a university-level distance education program.
Philosophy studies: Juniors spend two years here at the abbey studying Thomistic philosophy, focusing especially on the writings of Aristotle and on St. Thomas Aquinas’ Aristotelian commentaries. They spend one further year of their philosophical education in Toronto, studying the Catholic intellectual tradition more broadly, including courses in literature and art history.
Apostolic year: Every seminarian devotes at least one year of his formation to serving in an apostolate of our canonry. Most often, fraters spend their apostolic year as teachers in our abbey preparatory school. Getting some experience on the other side of the desk affords the seminarians a break from their own studies. But more importantly, it offers them a taste of what their life will look like after solemn profession, when preaching and teaching and other apostolic endeavors will become an essential ingredient in their Norbertine life.
Theology studies: Our fraters receive their theological education at the Toronto Oratory. One of the finest theologates in the Church today, the Oratory offers a comprehensive program of study for future priests, which focuses especially on Sacred Scripture, the Fathers of the Church, St. Thomas Aquinas, and modern issues and clarifications. During their time in Canada, our Norbertine seminarians live in community together and continue their liturgical life in common. By the end of their studies, all of the fraters will have received a Masters of Theology.
Roman experience: Although we no longer send all of our fraters to Rome for extended theological training, we believe that some exposure to the Eternal City is important for men preparing to be Roman clerics. Thus all confreres will spend some time in Rome before the end of formation. Those Norbertines who will go on to pursue more advanced academic degrees—whether in theology, philosophy, sacred music, canon law, or another subject—usually will do so at one of the Roman universities. During their studies abroad, such confreres will spend several years living in Rome at our Norbertine Generalate House, oftentimes as deacons or young priests.
Canon Regular of Prémontré
At some point during his studies, a junior-professed seminarian requests to take perpetual vows. With the recommendation of the community, this confrere makes his solemn profession to the abbot in our abbey church. Solemn profession advances the religious to full and complete membership in the canonry of St. Michael’s Abbey, which means that he will be a Canon Regular of Prémontré for the rest of his life. The canon irrevocably vows the religious life of the evangelical counsels, according to the Rule of St. Augustine and the constitutions of our Norbertine Order.
Diaconate (one year)
Some time after solemn profession, the newly professed canon regular receives the sacrament of Holy Orders, shepherding him into the transitional diaconate. During his year as a deacon, the confrere assists the abbot and the other priests at the altar. He also sings the gospel and begins preaching homilies, in preparation for his priestly ministry.
Having completed at least one year as a deacon, the canon regular is promoted to Christ’s holy priesthood. The confrere will exercise his priestly ministry in service to the Church from that day forward. Our Norbertine priests spend their weeks teaching or working in some other apostolate of our canonry, and they assist each weekend at local parishes. Of course, our priests also continue to live out their religious consecration in our Norbertine liturgies and common life. “You are a priest forever, a priest like Melchizedek of old.”
Lectio Divina—Old Testament
Marian Life and Consecration
Introduction to Prayer
Introduction to Catechism
Constitutions of Our Order
Life of St. Norbert
History of the Order
Lectio Divina—New Testament
Introduction to Liturgy
History of Canonical Life
Philosophy of Nature
Philosophy of the Soul
History of Ancient and Medieval Philosophy
History of Modern Philosophy
Third-Year Philosophy (“Map Year”)
Nineteenth-Century Catholic Philosophy
Theology and History
Theological Aesthetics: Early Christian and Medieval Art and Architecture
The Catholic Shakespeare
Twentieth-Century Catholic Philosophy
Twentieth-Century Catholic Theology
Christianity and Politics
The Catholic Novel
Introduction to Theology and Scripture
De Deo Uno
Early Church and Patristics
De Deo Trino
De Deo Creante
Beatitude and the Human Act
Historical Books of the Old Testament
De Verbo Incarnato
De Lege et Gratia
Passions, Virtues, and Gifts of the Holy Spirit
The Sacraments in General, Baptism, and Confirmation
The Cardinal Virtues
The Theological Virtues
The Eucharist and Orders
It’s 5:30 a.m.
The abbey bell is ringing for the first time today—the only sound in an otherwise quiet abbey—to rouse the confreres from sleep and to call us to prayer. In silence, one white-robed figure after another is taking his place in statio, lining up beside the cloister gardens to prepare for Morning Office. One priest is just finishing his candlelit Latin Mass in the chapel. Some of the seminarians already are making the rounds on their rosary beads or prayer ropes. This week’s lector is holding his breviary, glancing over the patristic homily that he is about to proclaim in the liturgy. Now it’s 5:45, and we are processing into the church together in hierarchical order, bowing to the altar and to one another, and taking our places in choir. The rector chori is intoning the first words of the Liturgy of the Hours: Domine, labia mea aperies, et os meum annuntiabit laudem tuam. “Lord, thou shalt open my lips, and my mouth shall announce thy praise.” The day has begun.
It’s 10:00 a.m.
Thus far this morning, we have prayed Matins and Lauds, spent half an hour reading Sacred Scripture (lectio divina), celebrated or assisted at the community’s conventual Mass, eaten breakfast, and prayed Terce. Now our priests are busy with their daily pastoral work. One is leading his high school literature class in a dramatic reading of Macbeth. Another is rehearsing St. Thomas Aquinas’ famous five ways with his freshmen. Still another is on the air with Catholic Answers Live to explain divine predestination to thousands of radio listeners. And several more priests are offering Confession or spiritual direction in various parlors around the abbey. We seminarians are in class. This morning the novices are studying Gregorian chant, the writings of St. Augustine, and the history of our Norbertine Order. The philosophy students have just finished Aristotle’s Metaphysics, and now they are diving into the Prima Pars of the Summa Theologiae. In our free periods, we are getting ahead on Latin translations, or writing letters to friends and family, or taking a much-needed nap. At 11:55, the abbey bell will ring, and we will gather in the church once more to consecrate the day to God.
It’s 3:00 p.m.
We have already prayed Sext and processed to lunch, where one of the fraters served as table reader. (At lunch we always read from the Rule of our Holy Father St. Augustine, from the Norbertine Hagiologion, and from some other spiritual book—recent selections have included a biography of Pope Benedict XV, a theological study on the role of angels in liturgy, and a history book on the early Christian martyrs.) After lunch, our priests returned to their apostolic endeavors, while we seminarians cleaned up the refectory. If today were a Monday or Wednesday, then the philosophy students would have headed down to their cells to study, while the novices would have assembled for a work meeting and then manual labor—and if it were a Friday, everyone would be working. But today is Tuesday, so all of us seminarians have a free afternoon. Several fraters are down on the field for a fierce game of ultimate frisbee. A few others are on a bike ride through the canyon. Two are in the kitchen making apple butter and hot sauce. A handful have gathered around a piano to practice their musical act for our next talent recreation. Most of the painters are hanging out working on their newest icons, while one is over in the woodshop crafting a frame for his. Our confreres enjoy their leisure time in all sorts of different activities, but the common thread running through them all is communio—we are united in love of God and the brethren.
It’s 6:30 p.m.
After cleaning ourselves up, we finished the afternoon by convening to pray None. Then the lights in the abbey church were extinguished, and we seminarians spread all throughout the sanctuary and nave for our daily rosary. We sanctified the evening by gathering in statio once again and processing into the church for Vespers. Then we had dinner, prepared by our saintly Dominican sisters. Our table reader began the meal with a few minutes of the Roman Martyrology and the constitutions of our order, and he ended with a passage from the Life of St. Norbert. But most of dinner is spent in conversation—a “family meal” at its finest. Now that dinner is finished, some of our priests are in the computer room, preparing their homilies for the parishes where they assist on Sundays. A couple of others are out for a run on the trails. Several fathers are relaxing together in the priest recreation room. One or two are in the parlors giving spiritual direction. As for us seminarians, several of us are resetting the refectory, while others are bringing dinner to the elderly fathers, or setting up vestments and chalices for tomorrow’s conventual Mass, or shelving books in the library, or doing any of the other beautifully routine tasks that help maintain our religious life. Soon we will head down for our nightly seminarian recreation. Sometimes we play a board game or sing songs, but more often we just sit back and enjoy each other’s company. After recreation, our grand silence (magnum silencium) will begin, which will continue until breakfast tomorrow morning. Thus we begin and end each day in the silent peace of prayer.
It’s 9:00 p.m.
We are right where we belong: kneeling together in our abbey church, adoring the Holy Eucharist. This is the end of our day, and also the end of our nightly holy hour, which begins with chanted Compline and concludes with benediction. Two of our priests have been hearing Confessions throughout. Some of the fraters are reading and meditating on Scripture, while others just lovingly gaze at our Eucharistic Lord on the altar, and others still recite the Jesus prayer or simply talk with God. In a few minutes, the Blessed Sacrament will be reposed, and all of our canons will make their way towards bed. Then we rest, we rise, and we do it all again.
Choose Your Own Vocation
by Fr. Maximilian
“Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.”
I know what you’re thinking: “He’s going to talk about vocations. Blah, blah, blah.” Yeah, fair enough. Because “vocation” is actually not a very helpful word—other than the one vocation that we all must follow: the vocation to heaven. But, other than that sense of the universal vocation, it’s a far less helpful word than most of us imagine.
“Oh, Father, I know that God is calling me to marriage.” No; that’s your flesh calling you. “I know that I have a vocation to the priesthood.” Sorry, actually you don’t know that—not until the bishop lays his hands on your head. I’ve heard lots of pious folks claim to have a vocation from God when really they are just following their passions.
The truth is: Each of us, by nature, is called to marriage and family. We Norbertines also, celibate religious, still have the “vocation to marriage,” according to what God has given us by nature. The vocation, the “call” to marriage, is rooted in what you are. No personal vocation or private revelation needed.
On the other side, the Lord’s invitation to the religious life as a religious sister or brother also is not some private, special thing for a select few. It’s a public invitation, written in the Gospel: “If you would be perfect, go sell what you have, and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven, then come, follow me,” and: “There are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let anyone accept this who can.” Let anyone who can accept this, accept it. That’s public revelation. It’s in the Bible. No personal vocation or private revelation needed.
So, yes, you young folks will have to choose a state of life, but it’s not very helpful to think in terms of “vocations.” Because, boys, the good news is: You each have a vocation to marriage—’cause, yeah, your nature is called to it. And the other good news is: You each have a vocation to religious life—you heard the invitation in the Gospel this morning.
Therefore, go ahead and feel free to choose a state of life, any one, in peace, without anxiety. Both holy Christian marriage, and holy Christian celibacy lead to heaven. And don’t worry about messing up and choosing wrong, because the merciful Lord can make either one work for your salvation.
Is one better than the other? Sure. And maybe that’ll influence your choice. But don’t stress over it. In the body, the heart is a nobler organ than the liver, fine, but the body kind of needs both to not die.
So, if you can, and you want to, dude, just ask that nice Catholic girl to marry you. It’s a good thing to do. Or if you can, and you want to, just apply to enter the abbey. You don’t need any special excuse or fireworks, because it’s a good thing to do. So, you see, a lot of folks can freely choose a state of life, without worrying about “vocations.”
Even more, we read in the lives of the saints, especially of former times, how many were just put into a state of life by their parents without any of their own say in the matter. St. Norbert’s parents dropped him off at the local church to begin training for ordination when he was about nine years old. St. Elizabeth of Portugal was twelve when her family arranged her marriage and sent her off.
The point is: They became saints! They, and myriads like them, didn’t struggle with any period of discernment over their vocation, nor did they even get to choose which they preferred. They simply accepted the state in life they were given—valid marriages and vestitions—and they followed the call, the vocation, to holiness.
So, then, there turn out to be three ways one might enter a state of life:
First: It certainly can be, for some, by a special, unique vocation: “Do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife.” That does happen sometimes, to some people. Don’t plan on it happening to you, but if it does, listen.
Second: You students are looking forward to your free choice of a state in life: “Let him who can take it, take it.” Learn your options, and choose something good.
Third: For some, their state comes by the necessity of circumstances: “There are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men.” It could happen that certain options are simply closed off to you. Trust in God’s providence. “But one and the same Spirit produces all of these, distributing them individually to each person as he wishes.”
So far, so good. But, forget about the students for a minute. What about us, professed canons, and what about you married folk in the back? You boys might be able to freely choose a state of life, but I can’t. Sure, I did—but even if what you want gets you into a state of life, your wants aren’t what keep you there.
Example: My brother Dominic is married with four children. I am … as you see. But he and I are very similar. We both like craft beer and Star Wars and overly complicated tabletop games. We both need to be virtuous in order to live our states rightly and become holy and get to heaven.
So, get this: I could have gotten married to some nice Catholic girl, and it would have been a good and holy thing for me to do. Dominic could have entered a abbey, and it would have been a good and holy thing for him to do.
But, at this point, who cares whether either of us made our choice for good reasons? Because for either of us, now, it would be a sin to break the vows that we’ve made.
I know a young lady who, because of manifestly bad choices, found herself with a baby to take care of. Alright, confession, absolution, fine. But now she really is in the state of motherhood, and so it would be a sin for her to try to become a nun. She’s got a kid to take care of.
If you’ve already made a vow—of marriage or of religious profession—then you are obliged to keep it. Even if you find yourself in a state of life through no fault of your own, you still have to fulfill your duties of that state. And then what? Then you just do what St. Elizabeth of Portugal or St. Norbert did, and make the best, holiest life you can with what you’ve got.
I love Dominic. But that’s not what makes us brothers. “If I could, I’d ask her to marry me all over again.” Well, that’s cute. But it’s not what makes you married. “If I could do it over, I wouldn’t make vows.” That’s sad. But it doesn’t make your vows any less binding.
What I said earlier about arranged marriages back in the middle ages is not obsolete. The secret, what they won’t tell you, is this: All marriages are arranged—and usually not by someone older and wiser, but by stupid kids: their younger selves. If you have a fifty-year wedding anniversary, it will be the anniversary of a marriage to a spouse chosen by a kid fifty years ago.
And all of us Norbertines were dropped off here at St. Michael’s by someone else: our former selves. When St. Anthony was a hundred years old, he could have said, “That was an eighteen-year-old kid who enthusiastically ran out into the desert. Why should I have to continue what my idiot former self chose?” But he didn’t say that. He kept at it, which is why he’s a saint.
Remember this, when we shall, as sometimes we must, have difficulties, crosses, arising from, on account of, our state of life. The presence of the cross does not mean that we are in the wrong state of life, but that we are in the right one, following our crucified Savior to the joy of heaven.
So, if you are saying, “I don’t want to play anymore; I’m not free to do what I want;” to you Sirach says today, “God provides a way back; he encourages those who are losing hope and has chosen for them the lot of truth.”
The way back, the encouragement, the hope, come from what? From the lot of truth. What is the truth of your situation? What is your actual state in life? I really am a religious priest. I’m also happy about that, but that’s not what makes it true. Dominic really is married to Rachel, regardless of how they feel about each other four kids later; there is a real family relationship which has nothing to do with any feelings of “being in love.”
Yes, there are other good orders, probably even better ones, but you didn’t make vows there; you made vows here. Yes, there are other, more wonderful women out there than your wife. But just because you feel in love with someone else doesn’t mean you have to commit adultery.
Yes, things could have been different. But they’re not, so don’t worry about it. “The truth will set you free.” “It is well for a person to remain as he is. Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be free. Are you free from a wife? Do not seek marriage.”
We are all members of one body in Christ, so if you end up a hand, don’t fret that you’re not an eye, and if you end up a kidney, don’t try to become an elbow. As members of one body, your hand does see, by means of your eye; and your eye grasps. The body of Christ has very good hand-eye coordination. I participate in the blessings of my brother’s marriage, and Dominic participates in the grace of religious life. “And all things are mine, and I am Christ’s and Christ is God’s.”
What is our vocation? For each of us, Jesus must be the bridegroom of our soul. He is enough. He is all.