The following frequently asked questions have been answered by Rev. Robert Campbell, O. Praem.
How do I know I am called to religious life?
If I think I may be called to religious life, what is the first step I should take?
Prayer, spiritual guidance, and educating yourself on the wonderful varieties of religious life would be helpful. I feel it is very important to talk with people, especially other religious, about your interest in consecrated life. Time and the Holy Spirit will bring you clarity.
If I do feel called to religious life how do I know which community I am called to?
You need to come taste the soup! As you educate yourself on the different gifts, lifestyles, and ministries of the various religious orders you will naturally find yourself more drawn to some than others. Prayerfully look at the pictures on their websites. Can you see yourself in them? Contact their vocation directors and arrange a visit. Often you can tell in just one visit whether you are strongly attracted to their way of life, or not. A strong attraction is the spiritual gift of desire—a consolation and sign that you are indeed called here.
How much time should I take to decide? Can I take too long? Can I decide too quickly?
You take as much time as you need. I think you could decide too quickly. As I said, time and the Holy Spirit will give you clarity. If you feel rushed by a particular religious order to decide to join them this is not an indication of a good fit. However, I do think you can take so long that you get stuck. I good spiritual director would be helpful in such a situation.
What is the difference between a religious priest, or a diocesan priest etc?
Diocesan priesthood is a very different vocation than religious priesthood. Religious life is a radical life of poverty, chastity, and obedience according to the traditions of each particular order. Your religious priesthood would be a life of ministry AS a Norbertine. We live a very different lifestyle than diocesan priests. We do not live in a rectory. We live in a monastery, in community, with our traditional liturgy of the hours and common meals. We own no individual property (ok, I have a radio in my room, and my own clothes, but even those are provided to me by the community). All my income as a minister, I am a hospital chaplain, goes not to me but to my community. Although we serve our local bishop he cannot ask us to do anything contrary to our way of life. For example, he cannot impose on us any ministry which would require one of us to live outside of the priory, or which would constantly take us away from our common prayer and table.
What is a religious brother?
This is a wonderful way of life. I know because I was a solemnly professed Norbertine brother for many years before discerning a call to priesthood. A brother is a full member of the community living our way of Norbertine life and ministry but not ordained. I was a brother because I loved simply being a Norbertine. That was all I needed to be happy.
What is a canon regular?
That’s who we are! The canons were originally (and in some places in Europe, still are) priests who served the great Cathedrals. They lived in community but took no religious vows and in St. Norbert’s time in the 12th century they had become rather rich and decadent. St. Norbert led a reform movement of the canons in which he gathered them into a monastic life with the classic vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience combined with priestly ministry. He also included brothers in the life who are also considered canons. Norbertine canons take an ancient vow of stability in service to the local church going back to St. Norbert himself. We are called canons regular because we follow a regulare, a rule which guides our life. We follow the rule of St. Augustine and I highly recommend you read it. It is quite beautiful in describing how to live as friends on our communal journey into God.
What is the difference between a canon and a friar?
Because we vow stability in service to the local church/diocese we do not move around from house to house. We stay put in one place, all together. Friars serve an entire province or region with many local houses. Their communities tend to be much smaller and they tend to move depending on the needs of the province. A friar can actually be dispensed from communal prayer for the sake of the mission or ministry. That would not be possible with us since praying together is vital to canonical life
What is the difference between a canon and a monk?
A monk takes a vow of stability like us, but his vow is to live in the particular monastic community he is joining. Also, monks generally do not have ministry per se, nor do they “serve” the local church. They live a simple life of prayer and sacred labor as their means of sanctification. So do we. But our “sacred labor” is ministry. This means we generally leave the monastery for our ministry assignments and then return (we also run a retreat center here at our Abbey). We strive for a balance between communal contemplative life and ministry.
How do Norbertines live?
Prayerfully. Come and see for yourself. We gather at 7:00 am for morning prayer followed by mass. We tend to our ministry assignments. I return from my chaplain work in the afternoon and am free to read and pray in my room until vespers or evening prayer at 6:00 pm. Then we all gather for dinner, basic meat and potatoes stuff but tasty. After dinner we all clean the plates together. I generally go to my room to pray, read, and listen to music on my radio. Others gather in the common room to watch TV (usually some sport, basketball, football, and baseball are the most popular). In the morning we rise to serve the Lord again. On the weekends some are providing masses and tending their parishes, we all get some free time to visit friends, go to a movie if we wish, whatever recreation or rest we need. On Saturday and Sunday after vespers we gather in the common room for fellowship and conversation before dinner.
What do Norbertines do?
Here in New Mexico we serve the ministerial needs of the archdiocese of Santa Fe (the oldest church community in the nation). I am a pastor of a parish. We serve in two parishes. We also have men who work as chaplains in hospitals. We serve in the Church's social service agencies. We do retreat ministry, teaching in the local Catholic high school and in our Masters in Theological Studies program and prison ministry. We are also chaplains to the local community of the Canossian Daughters of Charity whose convent is down the road from us. Whatever the ministry need is, we try to meet it. You might have skills and talents to help us expand our ability serve!
But really our life of prayer in community, striving for holiness as living witnesses to the faith is in itself a great spiritual gift to the Church, and is certainly as important as any ministry we do.
How are Norbertines unique? What makes them different from other religious?
I think being canons regular living in community according to the rule of St. Augustine on our journey into God is pretty unique.
Why do Norbertines wear a habit?
The habit is a sign of our unity and a visible witness to our life of radical commitment to God. It is the tradition of our order going back 890 years. I must say I love wearing the habit as impractical as it may be. We are required to wear the habit for Norbertine liturgies, it is encouraged for our ministries (I wear mine to the parish), and optional all other times.
Director of Vocations
Brother James Owens, O. Praem.
Norbertine Community of
Santa Maria de la Vid Abbey
5825 Coors Road S.W.
Albuquerque, NM 97121-6700
505.873.4399 ext. 237
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Many blessings upon you as you continue to discern the will of God in your life. Let us keep one another in our prayers.