Brother Leven: Young Monks Waking Up the World
Visitors to Benedictine College are often surprised to see the number of young monks in St. Benedict’s Abbey. We interviewed Brother Leven Harton OSB, Benedictine College class of 2006, the Abbey’s Vocations Director about his approach.
How did you find your own vocation?
My vocation was a surprise for me. I grew up in a wonderful Catholic home, but my family has not been blessed with many religious/priestly vocations. So this way of following Christ was not a factor for me growing up. I would have been surprised if someone would have suggested it for me!
It was during my four years at Benedictine College, when I began to take my prayer life seriously and, for the first time, dug into my interior, that I saw a glimmer of interest in religious life. I discovered a fascinating depth to my person and to the encounter with Christ as I immersed myself in prayer during my junior and senior years in college.
My senior year, even though I was dating a beautiful woman, I found prayer more interesting than her! Daily deep prayer gave me a vantage point to see that the complete gift of self to Christ via celibacy was what my heart most desired. After I graduated, I entered formation at St. Benedict’s Abbey, excited to commit myself to this place that had given me the decisive experiences of my life.
What is your strategy as vocations director?
The invitation that you make to discerning individuals as a vocations director is not primarily to a specific work or to a specific lifestyle or set of human relationships. The calling to be a religious is to give unreservedly oneself to Christ. We must desire Christ first — not Christ’s work or the culture or the liturgy, even though these are all good things.
With this dynamic in mind, our office attempts to do two things: First, make young men aware of our Abbey as a beautiful way of encountering the Lord and serving the Church, and second, invite them to consider this life as their path to holiness, accompanying them in the discernment process and helping them make a good discernment.
We are blessed with an excellent college environment at Benedictine, and so we focus efforts on the Benedictine College population. But we also host Come and See retreats for young men from all over, as well as youth events and various other opportunities for discerners to experience our life. Benedictines are blessed with the vow of stability, which makes the monastery home forever. To “Come and See” has particular poignancy for monks because the monastery really is a home!
How is the vocations effort going?
This past year has been crazy! We have hosted over 10 retreats and worked with almost 50 college-aged men in discernment of religious life. In addition, we have executed six events for youth and high school kids, along with a lot of time spent with Benedictine students as well as traveling to schools and young adult groups. We have two young men in application with us for this fall and a few more that could be on the horizon for coming years. Overall, the intentionality with which we’ve been making invitations in the past year has increased our exposure and the number of men with whom we’ve been in contact.
In the past two years our local Atchison community has been persistent in asking for the monks to host the boys for retreat days. What a blessing to be in a community where parents encourage their children to consider religious life! So we’ve organized a couple events each year for our local community and have had quite a bit of interest. For instance, we hosted a youth day for 5th-8th graders and had 21 boys come up and spend a day living like a monk (except for the scavenger hunt and the freeze-pops)!
Your slogan is “Wake up the World,” quoting Pope Francis. What does that mean?
“Wake up the World” captures the fundamental judgment of the Christian claim, namely, that the human heart was made to be fascinated by reality — by the God who presents to us His presence in reality.
Plato’s Allegory of the Cave strikes me as particularly relevant for discussing Pope Francis’s exhortation to religious. Our world is full of distraction, full of ways to stay distracted, stuck in the cave. Multimedia, of course, is not intrinsically evil, but there is so much risk! Risk of preferring entertainment to all of the resistant, contradicting, purifying, challenges the adventure that life is intended to give to us. To “wake up the world” is to be a sign that reality is good, that Christ has taken on our humanity and offered His grace to help us take the journey toward the Father.
Joy is undeniable. Religious are called to “wake up the world” through a joy that is not feigned or put on as a cultural stratagem, but that issues from seeing the face of Christ every day!