In the Catholic Church there are many ways in which one can consecrate one’s life to God.

Some believers dedicate themselves to God by removing themselves completely from a secular existence and serving God as hermits through prayer and atonement.

Some join with others who share similar desires or expectations and unite to form communities, both large and small, founding monasteries in which they subject themselves to the leadership of their superior.

Others dedicate themselves to God by living and working in the community in an open way (e.g. helping youth or people with illnesses and addictions).  Members in communities link up with each other in various ways depending on their charisma and the way in which they minister. Some forms of consecrated life come to an end when their purpose or mission is fulfilled, but new ones also emerge. This has been the case ever since the first attempts by people to dedicate their lives to God.

In the 6th century, Saint Benedict mentions four principal categories of monks, some of which he praised but others which he criticised for being more concerned with themselves than with serving God.  He saw the Cenobites as representing the best form of monastic life at the time, and it was for them that he wrote his Rule that even nowadays is still proving robust and useful. Cenobites are monks who live in a cloister – having formed a community – living according to specific rules and headed by a superior. We, the Cistercians, belong to this category. The Cistercian monastic community is led by our superior, who is called the “abbot”.