In the Rule, Saint Benedict states that the novice monk who wishes to profess vows should "In the oratory, in the presence of all...promise stability, conversion of his life and obedience..." (Chapter 58) These are the ancient monastic vows.
The word "obedience" has behind it the Latin verb "to listen". By the vow of obedience the monk undertakes to listen deeply to God, which is the fundamental conversation going on in our lives. That conversation primarily goes on in our listening to the voice of God in the Scriptures and in prayer, but often that voice of God is mediated in human relationships. The monk undertakes to listen to the Abbot, who is believed to take the place of Christ in the monastery and to the other members of the Community. This deep listening sometimes tells us that we are not to do what is easiest or most comfortable for ourselves, but to think of the greater good of the community, or even what is better for ourselves, which sometimes we are slow to realise. This deep listening and responding is the living out of obedience.
The vow of stability is unique to monastic communities. What this means is that the monastery where the monk makes profession is home for the rest of his life. Unlike other religious, the monk belongs to a particular community and not an order, and would not be transferred from one religious house to another. It is true that some monks are sent out to do work in parishes or abroad, but the monastery where he professed will always be "home", and the community will always be their "family" to which they return from time to time. This aspect of the monastic life may be particularly attractive today. The vow of stability binds one to this community for life. In the flux and change of contemporary life many find such stability a source of strength and peace. Although some monks of Belmont may live and work outside in parishes or even abroad, the monastery will always be their 'home'.
The third vow, conversatio morum , can literally be translated as "conversion of life", although its exact meaning is much debated, so it is often left in its Latin form. It means being faithful to the monastic way, being true to a single-hearted quest for God. Although monks do not take them explicitly, it encompasses the other traditional vows which all religious profess - chastity and poverty. We do not marry to be free for God, and our life should be marked by simplicity and frugality, avoiding an ever-increasing accumulation of possessions but holding what we have in common.
If we do remain faithful to the monastic way, St Benedict promises us that "as we progress in our monastic life and our faith the heart expands and we run along the way of God's commandments with a delight of love that cannot be described"