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

28 December 2012

Christmas in the monastery

Christmas was a little different for the brothers this year. First, we have temporarily relocated while our monastery is under renovation. Secondly, the ruling junta made a conscious decision to be present for Christmas this year. Usually most of the priest-brothers scatter at this time of the year to various parishes in Italy or their home country "to help with confessions and masses" (I always suspected they were less than completely sincere about their motives). This left four or five non-ordained brothers in the monastery and one disgruntled priest-brother assigned to celebrate our masses. Needless to say, the services were not exactly inspired.

Our celebrations this year began with solemn vespers and a Christmas party on December 20 — because many of the student brothers were leaving the next day for various parishes around Italy. Our founder, usually a stickler for austerity, felt that Christmas was so important that we should "smear the walls with meat" so Christmas dinners tend to be among the most lavish of the year. This year's did not disappoint, with various kinds of appetizers, a pasta dish, and a main course of roast beef. Afterward, we played Tombola. Many of the prize packages looked suspiciously like large books, presumably the unsold (and unsalable) copies from our print house. One of the lucky winners received an elegant red bathrobe — most useful for walking the two meters between his bed and bathroom each morning. At the interludes between games of Tombola, perhaps to take our minds off the dwindling pile of prizes, groups of brothers came forward to sing a traditional Christmas carol from their region of the world. The evening's unofficial "Irony Prize" went to Brother Otto. With this year's confused organization, he thought they had forgotten to include his traditional rendition of "O Tannenbaum", which led him to grouse, "This is more like carnevale! Where is their Christmas spirit?"

The English-speaking brothers were also expected to contribute something. My suggestion was very swiftly and disrespectfully discarded. I happen to think that "Grandma got run over by a reindeer" is a perfectly acceptable Christmas carol.

With all the prizes handed out and the caroling finished, the brothers drifted off to their celibate cells and went to sleep with visions of sugar-plum angels dancing on the head of a pin.


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