The Carthusian Vocation
All religious life is a response to a call from God. To the young man who comes and asks Him what he should do, the Lord answers : “Come, follow me” (Mt. 19,21). Vocation is the name given to the personal form of the general call addressed by God to all humanity.
God calls in very different ways. A reliable sign of a vocation is if one feels in his heart God’s invitation to surrender himself to God alone. An invitation is not a command! Just as in marriage the decision involves both concerned, so a response to a religious vocation must be made in a spirit of freedom and generosity.
The Carthusian vocation is presented as follows at the beginning of the Statutes of the Order: ” To the praise of the glory of God, Christ, the Father’s Word, has through the Holy Spirit, from the beginning chosen certain men, whom he willed to lead into solitude and unite to himself in intimate love. In obedience to such a call, Master Bruno and six companions entered the desert of Chartreuse in the year of our Lord 1084 and settled there.” (St 1.1)
The grace of a vocation may manifest in a number of ways:
It may be the conclusion of a rational search, a study or a reflection on different possible religious lifestyles, to the point when the seeker recognizes where God wants him to go.
It may result from a spontaneous and diffuse attraction, an instinctive sympathy for Carthusian life.
It may sometimes manifest as an irrepressible desire for this Carthusian life, excluding all alternatives.
But whatever form the manifestation of the vocation may take, even if it is already quite convincing and persuasive, the final decision to enter the life requires in all cases some time for reflection, a positive examination and the approbation of the Order.
Many people decide to follow God’s call to a special closeness with Him. This does not necessarily mean that God is calling them to the Charterhouse, however. For a Carthusian vocation it is necessary to also feel a longing for a life devoted to prayer and silence alone.
To quote the Statutes again : “to become a Carthusian in fact as well as in name the mere wish is not sufficient; in addition to love for solitude and for our life, a certain special aptitude of mind and body is required, from which the existence of a call from God can be known” (St 9,3) and ” it is not enough for a monk to be occupied in his cell and to persevere there in a commendable manner till death. Something more is required: a spirit of prayer. For if life with Christ and intimate union of the soul with God were lacking, faithfulness to ceremonies and regular observance would be of little profit, and our life could be justly compared to a body without a soul.” (St 9,5)
Therefore there are a number of elements in a vocation that can be evaluated and judged only by the Carthusians themselves. These elements are the specific moral, psychic, intellectual, physical aptitudes that anyone aspiring to Carthusian life must possess. Candidates should, of course, have an aptitude for solitude, but also for life in community. They must be physically and mentally healthy, practicing Catholics with a well ordered religious life and at least a fundamental education in the Faith.
Carthusian life demands a strong desire to give oneself to seek in the solitude and silence of the cell. Cell is how the Carthusians call their hermitage. Because of this it is mandatory to have a well balanced temperament, a sound judgment, a good measure of common sense, a frank and open character.
A good maturity is necessary to cope with the requirements of solitude and community life. For this reason candidates that are too young cannot be accepted to the Carthusian life. But aspirants should be young enough to be able to adapt easily and to be flexible in receiving the formation. They must be free from military service, if this applies, so that they don’t have to leave the monastery again. And they must finish their studies first so that they may be ready to take up a stable and suitable job in life.
These are only very general basic indications. Practically, if you sincerely think that you have a Carthusian vocation, the best is to contact the Master of novices of the monastery and to come for one or more retreats of several weeks in order to live under his direction the life of the brother or the father in cell. This is the only way for a young man to truly and objectively test his vocation and for the officers of the monastery to decide about this new vocation.
We normally advise applicants below 23 to wait, and if they are in college, to finish their degree; and applicants over 40 are not often admitted as they, in general, are already “formed” and habituated to their own style of life.
The entrance in monastery demands considerable courage as it is most often made without the benefit of any foreordained certainty, save that which faith provides. Jesus permits such uncertainty as He wants us to decide based on Himself alone, not sheer calculation. One thing however is certain: no one has ever regretted such a decision when made in love for God.
After one or more retreats if one decides he wishes to enter, the decision is made between the Prior and Novice-Master. Once admitted, the candidate becomes an aspirant for a period of about six months and receives a black mantle and skullcap, which is worn during the common liturgy. He next undertakes a postulancy of about a year and receives a longer mantle with a hood. After this, if he perseveres in his resolution, the postulant asks in chapter to be received “for probation in the monastic habit, as the most humble servant of all”. The community then votes in secret on his acceptance, while the final decision rests with the prior. Such a petition and voting accompanies each subsequent step in monastic formation.
The stages of the vocation
- Aspirancy (6 months): both the aspirant and the postulant live the same life as the monks but without having professed any kind of vows.
- Postulancy (3 to 12 months)
- Novitiate (2 years): the novice is clothed. He wears a black cloak over the white Carthusian habit.
- Simple Vows (3 years): the novice becomes a junior professed monk and wears the full Carthusian habit.
- Renewal of simple vows (2 years)
- Perpetual profession.
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