by Dan Madden
Special to The Leaven
ATCHISON — Brother Leven Harton did not make a permanent commitment to monastic life without some anxiety. But for the Wichita native and former Benedictine College student, it came down to acceptance, which in the end gave him confidence that he was not moving forward too idealistically.
“This is going to take a lot of perseverance,” he said of the life he chose when he decided to profess solemn vows Aug. 6 at St. Benedict’s Abbey in Atchison. “We don’t live in a stable world and it’s not easy to do these kinds of things. If I wasn’t a little anxious, I would have to ask myself if I was really facing the calling and the demands of it. I have had good examples in my life — my parents, teachers, the people around me—and the people who have been the happiest are those who are committed to a calling.”
Brother Leven prepared for his profession thoroughly — a period of postulancy, a yearlong novitiate, and three years of simple vows. When the time approached, he asked for a six-month extension to be sure. He says what he found in that six months was what he already knew.
“This community is my identity,” he said. “It made me who I am; it formed me entirely — as a human, as a monk, as a child of God.
“There is a joy for me in continuing that formation.”
In his address to Brother Leven at the profession Mass, Abbot Barnabas Senecal spoke of Brother Leven’s preparation and of the fear that resides in everyone.
“In preparation for today, his day of solemn profession of vows, [Brother Leven] spent several days on a mountaintop with four Cistercian monks at Ava, Missouri,” the abbot said of Brother Leven’s pre-profession retreat. “These men were not familiar to him but, for the moment, they were with him, helping him to see himself as a monk, as a man committed to being with the Lord, in a special, lifelong endeavor.
“Surely he brought back to Atchison with him a deeper satisfaction in his decision to make vows today, as he, too, revealed himself to these monks by his quiet presence and diligent imitation of their lifestyle.”
Quoting the Gospel of the day, the feast of the Transfiguration, the abbot said, “Rise, and do not be afraid.”
“These were the words Jesus spoke to Peter, James and John, who had become frightened upon hearing a voice from the cloud: ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.’”
Abbot Barnabas promised the young monk that family, friends and confreres were gathered to say the very words of esteem and appreciation to him:
“St. Benedict would have us offer you that support, today and every day. He would have us say the same to one another, building up a companionship that is supported by the vows we make, the promises to be obedient, to strive for conversion of life, and to see ourselves as permanent members of this group and confident within ourselves as we seek God together.”
Brother Leven says he has looked at his life during the formation of simple vows and examined how he is equipped for monastic life — and especially how he is ill-equipped.
“That doesn’t mean I’ve seen everything,” he said, “but I’ve seen my shortcomings . . . and I still want to do this.
“And that’s pretty good.
“That’s pretty good.