My very first days in the monastery! I remember every detail or perhaps I should say I “feel” every detail. I entered the monastery on October 15, 1980 after a two-day trip by Amtrak from North Dakota my native state.
To talk about those first days I need to share with you the days prior to my entrance into the monastery. I connected and visited with friends and relatives. Finally my family gathered on my last day home to say farewell. These were weeks poignant with emotion, as I did not know when I might ever return and see these people again.
There was the growing realization of the radical break I would make to depart from the familiarity of all I had ever known and to go to something new, not so much in the sense of a change of career or the move to a new region of the country, although these were part of it, but to live the gospel by a new, uncharted course to God, totally unpredictable. It was a wrenching experience, an exile, a death, but that is what the desert (monastic) vocation is about. And it is rooted in baptism the ultimate death experience for a Christian.
At the same time I was excited and joyful that after years of discernment and dreaming of a monastic vocation I would at long last enter the monastery. There were the expected transitional adjustments, the challenges of adaptation, the doubts, and the homesickness but underlying it all were faith, hope, and love that God had called me by name to be with God in this special desert setting of Trappist-Cistercian life. I have never looked back and God has kept his promise and blessed me a hundred-fold.
Father Paul Mark Schwan