The Family Brothers of Assumption Abbey and the monastic community enjoy a mutually supportive and nourishing relationship. The Family Brothers finds participation in the monastic life-style for a limited time to be a significant part of his response to the Divine call. The monastic community feels the joy and satisfaction of sharing its heritage, while benefiting from the presence and services of the Oblate.
Below is an article entitled New Identity by Richard A. Ortez that describes the Family Brothers vocation.
Way of Life
The Family Brothers will live within the monastic community for periods of at least 4 days and no more than 7 days several months per year.
During these live-in periods, the Participant:
Attends all the monastic offices and Masses
Takes his meals in the refectory
Wears the Family Brothers smock in Church and at the noon meal
Works where and when assigned
Observes the Grand Silence and stability
Does not engage in prolonged conversations, or spend time, with brothers in formation
Sees his monastic mentor and the Abbot at least once each visit
May have a carrel in the Chapter Room for lectio after Vigils and other times
Attends Sunday Chapters, and other meetings when invited
May be assigned to such services as: Mass server, Mass reader, Refectory Reader
The Family Brothers may visit the monastery at other times as a regular guest in the Guest House. During these visits he may join the monks in choir.
Apart from meals and basic necessities during his live-in periods, the Family Brothers is responsible for his own financial support and material maintenance, including medical and health needs. There is no financial or material compensation involved in the Family Brothers/Abbey relationship.
The Family Brothers may withdraw from this program whenever he wishes. Also, with just cause that will be clearly explained, he may be asked to withdraw.
Discernment and Acceptance
A person may be moved to request to be an Family Brothers of Assumption Abbey after a period of visits to the Abbey during which time the candidate has come to know the brothers and to feel a spiritual identity with the Cistercian way of life as expressed by them.
A suitable candidate will have a personal lifestyle that is free from behaviors or associations contrary to gospel and monastic values and that could cause scandal to the candidate or to the Abbey.
If the Abbot with the consent of the Monastic Council accepts the candidate's request, the candidate begins a period of probation.
He will be entrusted to a monastic mentor, the liaison between him and the community. In most cases this will be the prior of the monastery. He will begin living according to the program laid out above, but without wearing distinctive garb.
During this time of probation, the candidate will be offered some form of orientation to monastic spirituality and practice.
At a time agreed upon by the candidate, his monastic mentor, and the abbot, the candidate will renew his request to be accepted as a Family Brothers of the Abbey. The request is accepted by the abbot with the consent of the Council and after consulting the Conventual Chapter.
The candidate makes an act of oblation before the abbot and community of his intention to live as an Family Brothers. He will receive a blessing from the abbot and the Family Brothers's smock at the time of his oblation. This oblation will be renewed annually, after a period of evaluation involving the Abbot, the monastic mentor and the Family Brothers himself. After three annual renewals, the renewal can be made permanently.
By Richard A. Ortez
Recently, in a conversation with a friend who had lost his wife, as the subject turned to the concept of "moving on," I surprised myself when I uttered these words: "I was not able to 'move on' until I found a new identity." Now, I don't mean to imply that one ever really "moves on," but one does adapt, and what I suddenly realized was that, in my case, that process had been aided by finding a new identity. Now I have been many things in my short life, and continue in many of them: a human person, male, son, husband, father, teacher, researcher, farmer, cook, etc. But, to this list I must now add a new one - monk.
Let me explain! A couple years after Mary died I went on retreat to a monastery in New Mexico. This was not something new; I had gone on retreat regularly when Mary was alive and in good health. But towards the end, her health did not let me get away so easily, and it had been a while.
While there, I discovered a little book in the gift shop entitled: The Inner Room: A Journey into Lay Monasticism, by Mark Plaiss. The concept of monasticism was not foreign to me; I had been in seminary before Mary plucked me out to make me, in her words, "a father of a different kind." I found this concept of somehow wedding secular life with a monastic one very intriguing. So, on returning home, I wrote to over twenty men's religious houses within a days drive of Glencoe, OK inquiring if they were familiar with any such programs as described in that book; and if yes, was there something available at their institution. To make a long story short, only three of the twenty replied and only one of them positively - Assumption Abbey, Ava, Missouri. That was in 2004, and that marked the beginning of a journey that reached a high point on May 31st, 2009 - and shows no signs of letting up. On that day I made temporary profession as an "Family Brother" to that abbey; vowing to live the life of a Cistercian (Trappist) Monk "in the world." And that is the new identity, which now shapes everything I am and do. The picture below was taken on the occasion of that profession, the moment when I received the habit of a Cistercian Family Brother.
A word about monks in general and Trappist monks in particular! Perhaps the broadest definition of a monk is simply: one who seeks God through some level of withdrawal from the hustle and bustle of the world into one of greater quiet and solitude. A narrower definition is: one who seeks that quiet and solitude within a community of like-minded persons, within an enclosed structure called an abbey or monastery. Such are the Cistercians of the Strict Observance (Trappist) monks who founded Assumption Abbey; they seek a particular balance in life between prayer and work (often agricultural). However, Assumption Abbey has become value-added, supporting itself by making and selling fruitcakes (125 a day, six days a week, and 11 months a year). As an Family Brother, I have vowed to live a comparable life style while remaining "in the world." However, two or three times a year I make two-week visits to the abbey where I live within the enclosure, and follow the daily routine of the core community. These are periods of great spiritual growth as I meet frequently with a spiritual advisor to discuss: where I am, where I'm going, and how best to get there.
I have been reluctant to share this beyond a small circle of very close friends and advisors for fear of appearing arrogant; but now I feel I must, and hope everyone will understand. The reason I must now share it is because I have reached a point beyond which I can not grow without making some significant changes in my daily routine. You see, secular life and monastic life run on very different clocks, and seek very different ends; and, eventually come into conflict with one another in someone trying to live both. I am at that point, and have decided that some of my secular activities must give way to allow for expansion of those more closely associated with the monastic/contemplative life style.
I plan no abrupt change; I will continue to farm, cook, and run the business; and I certainly have no plans to "leave the world" entirely (fleeing permanently into the desert of full monastic life). However, I do plan to gradually withdraw from many other current activities in order to make more time and energy available for prayer/reflection/contemplation. You will begin to see less of me, and I want you to understand why. Know that I love you no less, in fact more; and that this withdrawal from the world is to allow me more time to pray - for you, as well as for myself.
Please pray for me, you will be in my prayers always.