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

20 December 2006

Frater Firewall

I'm back in the old cloister for a few weeks, completing the training of my replacement since I was not able to do so before my departure for Rome.

As I mentioned in one of my earlier posts, this cloister was recently made into a training center for brother wannabe's. To my chagrin, most of them are really nice fellows. Sure, they're a little overly pious, but life will eventually take care of that.

Their director (in the old days, he would have been called their "Master", but we are trying to impress people with our egalitarianism) takes his role quite seriously. One of the things he requested as we were getting the house prepared to accept the new students was an Internet filter to prevent them from entertaining themselves at certain types of sites--those having to do with porn, gambling, donkey races or Lutherans, for instance. I agreed (knowing, of course, that if I set it up, I would also know the way to get around it). After several delays, it was finally activated five months after I ordered it, when I was already in Rome. The next day, I began to get frantic e-mails from half of the brothers because they were unable to access their blogs or certain, very innocent websites. The tech was called back, and soon things were working better.

It appears that the first tech had misread the instructions, and had turned on all the filters except those for porn, gambling, usenet and lingerie sites. The second tech reversed the settings. My question is: why weren't the other half of the brothers complaining?

17 December 2006

Random thoughts on traveling

  • A security agent in the Newark airport continually announced: “By following a few simple rules, you’ll make the process go quicker and faster. (Leaving aside the use of adjectives instead of adverbs, does that mean the process will go twice as fast?)

  • While emptying his pockets at an airport security counter once, my cousin discovered four books of matches he forgot he had put there. The security guard told him he couldn't take them onboard. He admitted that he had forgotten they were there and didn’t mind giving them up. The guard gave two books back to him. My cousin gave him an inquisitive look so the guard said that it was permissible to have two books of matches. My cousin said, “So I can start a little fire?” He missed his flight that day.

  • The Atlantic Ocean is really wide.

  • 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!

    05 December 2006

    Legenda Fratrum, Pars XI

    Today, our fraternity had an official farewell dinner for three brothers who are returning to their respective provinces after having worked here many years. One was the Information Systems Manager for the past six years--a very competent, yet humble brother from Brazil. Another, from Poland, was the Porter, answering the door and phone (which is not a pleasant or easy job here, I can assure you). The third brother has been here for 16 years! For the last six years, he has been the Guardian of the fraternity. He is the cheerful, bubbly, extroverted type--the kind I like to call "Brother Fingernails-on-the-blackboard" (FOTB). I don't like to talk about brothers behind their backs, but I'll make an exception in this case.

    The most common mutterance heard from me in the presence of FOTB has been, "Does he ever shut up?" Indeed, he appears to suffer from a chronic case of logorrhea. If he happens to be standing near you as you are talking to someone else, he even feels impelled to respond to the things you've said to the other person. Normally, this trait would be merely annoying, but it becomes dangerous when exhibited by the Guardian, for the Guardian, by tradition, must offer greetings to visitors, good wishes to brothers celebrating birthdays, and all sorts of other little speeches. Since he is constitutionally unable to make little speeches, he invariable says more than he should.

    A recent case in point....

    This summer, the fraternity held a cookout to thank all our lay staff members--cooks, cleaners and secretaries. FOTB felt obliged to thank each person publicly for his or her contribution. He thanked the secretaries for their typing and layouts. He thanked the cooks for their labors in the kitchen. He thanked the launderers for our clean linen and clothing. He finally reached the young woman whose job it was to clean the guest rooms and common bath rooms, to whom he said:

    "Betty (not her real name), every time I go to the toilet, I think of you!"

    04 December 2006

    What would Gregory have to say?

    Brother Lawrence does not live on Gregorian chant alone, which is why he was interested in Blender's list of the 50 worst artists in music history.

    First off, the title of the article seems somewhat pretentious. Looking at the list, you'd think that music was invented in the early 1960's. Surely there must have been a musician worse than Iron Butterfly in the 1400's!

    Speaking of Iron Butterfly, what's so wrong with them? And what is this obsession the authors have with drum solos. It appears that some people are still bitter about not getting those drum sets they asked Santa for in the fifth grade.

    Here is BroLo's list of three musicians that do not deserve to be lumped among the 50 worst, and three that are definitely missing from the list.

    Redeem from history's dustbin: Iron Butterfly, The Alan Parsons Project and Kansas.

    Consign to the lower levels of Hades: Milli Vanilli (listen to the hilarious send-up from Fox's Living Color), Minnie Ripperton and Barry Manilow (in conformity with national and international laws banning torture, no link is provided).

    Amen. The good brother welcomes your opinions.

    03 December 2006

    Grand Re-opening

    Welcome to the new, improved Soliloquy blog. Now even soliliquyer! Yes, Brother Lawrence is back just in time to miss being mentioned in Belgian Waffle's list of the best blogs of all time.

    I apologize for the abrupt manner in which the former blog was abandoned. I figured it was time to do some soul searching. I asked myself whether it was right to post disparaging blogs about my brothers. I decided to ask forgiveness for the hurts I caused and for my flippancy in writing about serious matters such as my vows and Holy Mother Church. Finally, I sought healing for the rotten core of cynicism in my soul.

    Ha! Just kidding. It was mostly due to the overwhelming amount of work I had to do in preparation for my move. Also, it provided an opportunity to update the look and do a little housecleaning. I hope you like the new site.

    You will notice that the blog's name has changed somewhat. Brother Lawrence is in new digs and a new job—not entirely of his choosing. However, the change is good for you, my dear little readers, because my work will now take me to the four corners of the globe, meeting brothers of all races, nationalities, ethnicities, ages, heights and weights. You know what that means... more grist for the snark mill.

    I've gone with a brighter background, with the blue reminiscent of planet Earth, which is in a sense my new cloister. A new e-mail address has meant little or no spam (for the moment) so the Spam Name of the Day section had to go. I am also without a bicycle for the moment so that section is also gone. Those have been replaced by a countdown until the (approximate) end of my term of office.

    It is good to be back.