Like Samuel in the darkness of night, like Elijah on Mt. Horeb, I had no dramatic encounter with God in wind, earthquake or fire. Rather God calls in the sheer silence of life. “What are you doing here?” God asks over and over again. God calls your name over and over again. All we can do is respond: “Here I am! Speak, for your servant is listening.” My students and others I meet often ask “Why did you become a monk?” My reply is the same: “I don’t know; it was God’s idea!” Because it was God’s idea, He brings it to fruition. It wasn’t because of some event or series of events. God reveals Himself to us over time, gradually, often in silent and subtle ways.
I didn’t come from a particularly religious family, though we were Catholic and Mass attendance wasn’t an option. But we didn’t say prayers, nor do I recall many religious objects or symbols around the house. My maternal grandparents, however, were much more overtly Catholic, but not in an ostentatious way. It defined who they were. My grandfather was a physician and was more concerned about healing souls—people—rather than a disease. He truly cared for people as Christ did, and wanted them to be well. I’m often reminded of this when I meet his former patients. He treated many priests and religious associated with Seton Hall University since his office was nearby. He never charged them a dime since their prayers were worth more to him. They speak of him as a good, kind man who really cared for them. My grandmother came from a prominent Newark family of Irish Catholics. The Church was everything. Both grandparents regularly prayed the Rosary but always in private. I enjoyed attending Mass with them. They were fun to be with, and their deportment at Mass was impressionable. This [Mass] was important! My grandfather always gave my sisters and me a quarter (a big deal to us at the time) to put into the collection basket. It was his way of instilling in us a sense of giving generously to the Lord. It was also, in hindsight, his way of making us feel included in his efforts. I think my grandmother gave separately. No one is to be left out of giving back.
When I was taken to Delbarton for an interview (begrudgingly) it was probably providential. My father and his three brothers preceded me here. My parents were married by one of the monks in 1961. We always went to Delbarton as kids for alumni events, and we loved it. So beautiful and lots of grass for running around! As a student in the school it soon became clear it was more than the grass. God reveled Himself in the quiet beauty and in the caring, fun-loving monks. Their life fascinated me. I never really knew any religious or priests before. I was never an altar boy so I had no previous experience with priests outside of Mass. The monks I came to know made my classmates and me feel at home, let us be ourselves, and introduced us to glimpses of their life. Going to Vespers, for example, was awesome. By 15 it seemed clear to me that this is where God wanted me to spend the rest of my life.
Through 4 years of college that remained the case, though that didn’t stop me from enjoying the college scene! I volunteered as a sacristan, which I loved, and enjoyed meeting the priests of the college. I sang in the choir and became more involved in campus ministry. As my senior year of college waned, I had to do something after graduation. I took my portfolio (I was an art major) to NYC to show it to a family friend in advertising, for his assessment. I don’t remember what he said. But it wasn’t really where my heart was. So my advisor/spiritual director said of applying to the abbey: “What have you got to lose? Give it a try.” So I did…and never looked back. Living in community is not easy, and taking on extra penances seems like overkill. There are enough. Getting into a monastic rhythm takes years. At this point, nearly 30 years later, it’s inconceivable to do or be anything else. Amid routine, or the mundane, God continues to reveal Himself. God also loves surprises—usually pleasant. “What are you doing here” “Whatever You want…here I am! Your servant is listening!”