DISCERNMENT: Seeking God as a Lay Cistercian

The Lay Cistercians of Our Lady of the Holy Spirit Monastery (Trappist) in Conyers, Georgia are currently inviting practicing Universal Catholics to join them in a process called discernment. Discernment is an ongoing process because it doesn’t stop throughout your entire lifetime. Discernment has to do with opening your heart to Christ then listening to what the Holy Spirit has to tell you. The Secular World would tell you that all this is just fantasy stuff and you are living in La-La Land.

Discernment allows you time to identify what you want from your spirituality and test it in terms of Cistercian spirituality.

In one of my Lectio Divina sessions on Philippians 2:5, I thought about discernment of the Holy Spirit and how I stumbled around in my Faith before I found a way, in this case the Cistercian Way, to place all these into focus. Other ways for Laity to practice seeking God are out there (Dominican, Franciscan, Benedictine, Augustinian, Carmelite) and they are all good.  I chose Cistercian spirituality because of its emphasis on silence, solitude, work, prayer, and community.  Whatever I discuss here is based on what I know and practice in Cistercian spirituality, although I continue in the process of discernment and transformation until I die.

  • Discernment is a time of inquiry about being a Lay Cistercian. Is it for me? Will I be able to do what is required? What are the other Lay Cistercians like that I seek to join? How will I be able to stick to making monthly meetings? In my own case, I was not afraid of what the Lay Cistercians could do to me, but what Christ would do to me, if I joined.
  • Discernment is a period of time when I make a retreat specifically for discernment, attend some preliminary sessions just for inquiry, attend a session with other Lay Cistercians. It usually takes one year, prior to your petitioning the Lay Cistercians to consider your membership as a Novice.
  • Discernment means you are not quite sure about your decision to be a Lay Cistercian but you want to try a period of testing to see if this is for you, and also to give the Lay Cistercians a chance to see if you are suitable. You can see the requirements on http://www.trappist.net/about/lay-cistercians. Here is the Lay Cistercians’ web page unedited.

What are Lay Cistercians?

We are Catholics with varied responsibilities. Some have jobs and some are retired; some are married, some are single; some are old, some are young; some have families, and some do not. We are ordinary people who have chosen a path that sustains and nourishes us, bringing us closer to God. We have adapted what we can from the monastic world and integrated its rewards and challenges into our everyday lives. Through the Cistercian practices, we strive to understand and live the Rule of St. Benedict while living in the world. In some ways, everything changes and nothing changes. Our outward appearances remain unaltered; our interior life is profoundly changed. We are Lay Cistercians.

Are you associated with the Cistercian Order?

Lay Cistercians are associated with a number of Cistercian [Trappist] monasteries around the world. Our group is associated with the Monastery of Our Lady of the Holy Spirit, located in Conyers, Georgia. The monks of the monastery support our group by their prayers and by providing a monastic advisor who guides us.

What does this have to do with me?

Perhaps you are being called to travel this path along with men and women from all walks of life who seek to apply the Cistercian way of living to their own spiritual life. We have come to drink deeply at the well of contemplation, co-mingling life in the world with the spiritual practices of Cistercian monasticism.

Are there requirements for beginning the journey? 

Becoming a Lay Cistercian is open to all Catholic adults. It is a serious commitment. A period of inquiry of several informal meetings is followed by a five year period of formation in conjunction with our monthly Gathering Day. Individuals, who then elect to do so, and are accepted by the monastic advisor and the community, may make formal promises of commitment to the Lay Cistercian way of life.

What about spiritual practices?

We have spiritual practices similar to those of the monastic community. However, our practices may be limited by the reality of our daily lives. As lay persons, we strive on a daily basis to live the characteristics that define the Cistercians. They include

• frequent participation in Mass and reception of Holy Eucharist

• regular daily prayer times to read Liturgy of the Hours [Divine Office].

• daily spiritual reading and meditation [lectio divina]

• seeking opportunities for silence, solitude, contemplation

• reception of the sacrament of Reconciliation on a regular basis

• monthly attendance for community Gathering Day

• annual weekend retreat

Contact Us

Send applications to:

Lay Cistercians of Our Lady of the Holy Spirit
c/o Abbey of Our Lady of the Holy Spirit
2625 Highway 212 SW
Conyers, GA  30094

Out of the chaos of sixth century Italy, Benedict of Nursia listened with the ear of his heart and heard the call of God. His affirmative answer led to the establishment of what he called “a little school of love.” His communal way of life was codified in the Rule of St. Benedict and became the foundation of Western monasticism. The founders of the Cistercian Order heard a similar call in the year 1098. Under the influence of St. Bernard, it became one of the most dynamic religious orders in history.


NOVICE: This is a period of two years from the time you are accepted to see if you are able to practice Cistercian spirituality with some amount of focus and  consistency, especially Lectio Divina. Brother Michael, O.C.S.O. told us that you are Lay Cistercian if you pray as you can, not if you spend hour and hour in prayers. Lectio is the key to transformation of self to God and contemplation is the lock into which that key fits.

JUNIOR- The period of being a Junior is for three years, making temporary promises once a year for those three years. Each year, Juniors make promises to be faithful to attend the Gathering Day, once a month, and converting their lives to be more like Christ.

PROFESSED- At the end of five years, with the vote of all other professed Lay Cistercians, we make promises before the Abbott that bind the other Lay Cistercians and the Monastic community together for a lifetime. Each newly professed Lay Cistercian writes out their own promises.  This is what I wrote and read on May 6, 2018, before Dom Augustine, O.SC.S.O., abbot of Our Lady of the Holy Spirit Monastery (Trappist), Conyers, Georgia, in the presence of other Lay Cistercians.

I, Michael Francis Conrad, a member of the Lay Cistercians of Our Lady of the Holy Spirit, a community of Catholics living in the world, promise to strive for a daily conversion of life as my response to the love of God.

I commit myself to live in a spirit of contemplative prayer and sacrifice in obedience to God’s universal call to holiness, using daily Cistercians practices and charisms of simplicity, humility, obedience to God’s will, hospitality and moving from self to God.

I give thanks to my wife, Young, my daughter, Martha, for standing with me on my journey. I ask for prayers from the monastic community and Lay Cistercians. I place myself in the hands of those already standing before the Throne of the Lamb, including Holy Mary, Mother of God, St. Benedict, St. Bernard, the Seven Cistercian Martyrs of Our Lady of Atlas Monastery, Father Anthony Deliese, O.C.S.O., and other deceased monks and Lay Cistercians and also Deacon Marcus Hepburn, Ph.D.

Finally, I accept the Rule of St. Benedict as my guide for living the Gospel within the time I have remaining.

–Michael F. Conrad, Ed.D.

Final Profession means you promise stability to the Monastery of the Holy Spirit and to the Lay Cistercians there.


The late Lay Cistercian Spiritual Advisor, Father Anthony Deliese, O.C.S.O. was once asked by someone inquiring into becoming a Lay Cistercian, “What are requirements to join?” Father Anthony, with his characteristic wit, replied, “You have to be a sinner.” No more need be said. You have to have the desire to seek God where you find Him, in the case of a Lay Cistercian, using silence and solitude and Cistercian practices and charisms in the midst of the World, one that does not know Joseph or his brothers. (Exodus 1:8-10)


Almost imperceptibly, but inexorably (if that makes sense), I have found myself approaching the Mystery of Faith ever so slowly, ever so deliberately, just like those rocks that seem to move in the Mojave desert with no one around them.


The Mystery of Faith, like the photo of the iceberg above, is an example of what we know in this lifetime about Christ and how to love others. What is hidden, what is invisible is most real, but only if you live in three universes (physical, mental, and spiritual). We will never know (with our minds) all that there is to reality because it is hidden to us.  I like to think of myself as just approaching the iceberg, seeing what I can see above the water, but ever increasingly realizing the immensity of that which we cannot see.

Jesus, in a way, is like the iceberg and the Mystery of Faith. We don’t even know what he looks like, but know his message to love others as He has loved us.  As a Lay Cistercian, all I can do is approach Christ in contemplation and keep looking at the part of the iceberg that my human mind and my senses reveal to me, then try to go deeper by using my heart to feel the presence of Christ, the energy of that part of the iceberg that is hidden. I only get a hint of it, but it is enough to know that I will sell all I have to be a Lay Cistercian and practice, practice, practice being in the presence of God, through Christ, in the unity of the Holy Spirit. That is what I see when I am before the Blessed Sacrament, sitting on a park bench in the dead of Winter, hoping that Christ will pass my way. This is the same bench I call the Tax Collector’s seat, the one I use at Church in the very last bench, the one where I cannot raise my eyes to Heaven, the one where I keep repeating, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy of me, a sinner”


My spiritual attention span is expanding rather than contracting. Some days are better than others, but the direction is clear. When you increase the capacity of God in you, even if you don’t notice it, you make more room for God and less room for you. I must decrease, He must increase, says St. John the Baptist.

I have to travel 250 miles, one way, to attend the monthly Gathering Days. (Matthew 13:44-46) Is it worth it?  Not if l Iive in just two universes (physical and mental).

Ultimately, you just say to yourself, it all sounds good, it all looks good, it all feels right for me, so let me try it out as a Novice. One caveat, not everyone is accepted to be a Novice.

Taste and see that the Lord is good, happy are those who take refuge in him. Psalm 34:8. This tasting is not an act of the will, but one of the heart.

That in all things, God be glorified. –St. Benedict


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