Soliloquy in an International Cloister

Watch your step as Brother Lawrence takes you inside the monastery walls of a five hundred year-old international order. You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll wish you had ignored your hormones and joined the monastery.

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Location: Rome, Italy

08 December 2006

Happy Feast Day

Warning! This post contains frequest references to the Blessed Virgin Mary that may be offensive to non-papists. What you call "idolatry", we prefer to regard as "compensating for the obvious paternalism of our religion".

Today is the Feast of the Immaculate Conception—the "Immaculata" as the Italians call it—the commemoration of Mary's birth without original sin. In the Roman Catholic world, it is known as a holy day of obligation because you are required to attend Mass today. In the parts of the world where bishops have lowered expectations, the obligation has been transferred to the nearest Sunday.

Here in Italy, it is a public holiday. Now, the Italians, for the most part, stopped attending mass, Sunday or otherwise, decades ago. If they consider themselves Catholics at all, it is in a sort of cultural sense ["I was born into a Catholic family, and remember visiting a church once when I was little."]. They certainly don't believe the Pope or any other member of the hierarchy has any business telling them anything; they'll take their orders directly from God, thank you very much. Despite all this, there is absolutely no discussion in Italy about abolishing the public holiday of the Immaculata. In fact, the quickest way to ruin your political career in Italy is to suggest that since it was a papist invention meant to win over the hearts of people who were growing ever more disenchanted with the Papal States, perhaps it should not be celebrated. And that's just the Communist Party!

Here in the cloister, we celebrate the feast in several ways. First, we get a sleep-in. Instead of beginning our prayers at 6:15, we get to begin at a very decadent 7:00! The midday meal is also more abundant than usual, including some form of pastry and sparkling wine after the meal. Quite nice, really. Since the feast occurs on a Friday this year, it allowed our Guardian to declare a ponte—a venerable Italian custom in which the day between two feast days (in this case, the Immaculata and Sunday) is also treated as a feast day. That means another "sleep in" tomorrow morning. Hooray!


Blogger Open Grove Claudia said...

I think I'm gonna sin extra today to make up for Mary.

08 December, 2006 18:35  
Blogger heartinsanfrancisco said...

I hate to be tiresome, Brother L, but there is a question.

If the Church no longer consigns unbaptized babies to limbo because they haven't sinned, how can anyone, then, be born into sin?

I do not dispute Mary's specialness, but wonder how original sin differs from the sin of not being baptized.

Of course the bottom line is that you are able to sleep late and eat pastry. And that is good for the world.

08 December, 2006 18:41  
Blogger BroLo said...

HISF: I have to preface my answer by stating that although I studied theology, I do not consider myself a theologian. There are entire books written on these subjects, and it is difficult to give an adequate, blog-sized answer.

Original sin is a condition all humans inherit by virtue of being human. Adam was, in a sense, the spokeman for the whole human race when he rejected God's authority, and the price we pay for his rebellion is original sin. Thus we start out life with a presumption of guilt.

I don't know about you, but it always seemed a little harse and unfair of God to punish me for a sin committed by someone else, even a distant relative. In the first place, however, original sin is not so much a punishment as a statement of fact. All humans tend to rebel against God, at least it seems to me. Secondly, the same logic that made us share original sin also allows us to share salvation. After all, it was the obedience of Jesus, not our own, that allows us to be saved.

I hope that explains it somewhat. Truth be told, I myself struggle with the original sin thing.

08 December, 2006 21:29  
Blogger BroLo said...

OGC: Behave yourself. Besides, you know you're too old for any of the really good sins. Go on, admit it. I've read your blog. You don't even want to be one of the 24!

08 December, 2006 21:31  
Blogger Open Grove Claudia said...


09 December, 2006 02:19  
Blogger heartinsanfrancisco said...


Thank you. I suppose the concept of Adam being our spokesman makes sense considering that the human race seems not to have evolved very much in all these millenia.

We are still (mostly) hardwired for aggression, greed, and a staggering lack of compassion. We are mired in denial of the basic fact that we reap what we sow, and therein probably lies our rebellion against God.

As a mother, it is hard not to contemplate Mary's pain when I see the daily death counts in Iraq.

10 December, 2006 20:34  
Anonymous pog said...

Cakes and snoozes for her flock. She was a natural mother, that Mary ....

12 December, 2006 11:23  
Blogger Eleanor said...

We call it faire le pont here, although I personally don't get any pastries or sparkling wine. No fair.

14 December, 2006 00:03  
Anonymous Moobs said...

A lie in to 7:00 am? How do you resist the corruption that surely must inevitably accompany such decadence

15 December, 2006 01:10  
Blogger Christina_the_wench said...

Recovering Catholic here. I remember. *winces*

15 December, 2006 19:25  
Blogger BroLo said...

Exactly, Moobs. Next you know, we won't be sprinkling ashes on our food.

Christina: What do you remember? I deny everything.

17 December, 2006 22:07  

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