From a conversation with Br. Lucas Hall, SSJE
On my first inquirer’s visit to the monastery, when I was not at all sure that I wanted to do this, I asked each of the Brothers, “Why are you here?” One of the Brothers responded immediately that his vocation as a monk was closely linked to the fulfillment of his baptismal covenant. That was a very deep and important moment for me, the idea that a particular vocation like monastic life is simply an outgrowth of a larger vocation, the vocation of being a Christian which we receive at our baptism.
Being plunged into the water of baptism is a rich symbol of participation in the dying and rising of Christ. In ancient baptisms, the newly-baptized were clothed in a white robe, signifying their new life. At each stage of monastic life, the Brother is similarly clothed – first, with the habit when he becomes a novice; then, with the knotted cord when he takes his first vows; and finally, with a ring when he makes his life profession. In this way, we take on a new identity, as we did at our baptism; these signs signify that he is being ‘clothed’ in his vocation, one step at a time.
My baptism was not something that I chose, occurring within a week or two of my birth, and so claiming the new identity we are given in baptism has required a lot of reflection and personal engagement. When we’re thrust into something we didn’t actually have control over, there’s the impetus to test it and to push the limits. I still find myself tested in that regard, wondering if the limits and boundaries of this new life are boundaries that have been imposed on me or boundaries that I have chosen myself. I think it’s important to explore what we’ve inherited, rather than receive it unquestioningly.
Baptism offers us grace in a unique way, and yet we have to cooperate with it and participate in it in order for that grace to actually yield fruit. For me, one of the ways in which this participation is expressed takes place when I enter the chapel and dip my fingers in the holy water stoop and make the sign of the cross. It is an experience of going “through the veil,” of re-entering the baptismal waters of death and re-birth. It requires me to let go of the preoccupations and worries and thoughts and feelings that might distract me, and to enter fully into the prayer and worship of the Christian community. Baptism binds us to this community, but we choose again and again to enter into its life and worship, dying to ourselves in order to discover a new life and a new identity in Christ.