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

30 April 2007

Retirement planning

I have just finished responding to an email from a friend who recently left her monastery after being a nun for 20 years. In her email, she lamented the hardships she is facing in the real world, and urged me to never abandon my life as a brother.

Her concern that I might one day walk away from this life is not entirely without foundation. Once, years ago, I confided to her that I felt as though I had never really unpacked my suitcases—that I might leave the next day if the right opportunity came along. I knew, of course, that this was a very unsatisfactory way to live so I decided to deal with it through a method I have used successfully to make other difficult decisions in my life, i.e. I ignored it til it went away.

I have reached a stage of my life, however, when I no longer have a desire to chuck it all in. After all, why give up free food at my age? As a nod, however, to that unredeemed part of myself, I have decided that in my waning years I shall be a grumpy old brother whose only joy will be to rob the younger brothers of theirs. Yes, if I see one enjoying the company of a female friend, I will accuse him of cavorting with loose women and causing scandal to others. If one has a drink, I'll accuse him of being an alcoholic. God forbid that anyone should go to the movies!

And with all the practice I'm getting by keeping this blog, I feel I shall be very good at my future occupation.

18 April 2007

Dissipation at high noon

Now that Lent is over and we have unburied the Alleluia, as we say, I can once again indulge in more than just bread and water. Ahem. Thus it came to pass that lunch today was courtesy of Open Grove Claudia. We went to a Tex-Mex place called "Rio Grande Mexican Restaurant," where I had the flautas de pollo with sides of rice and black beans. Very good. For desert, I had the flan. It was denser than usual, but very good, as well. Best of all, however, were the margaritas. Well, margarita (as in one) for me. Claudia had like five of them, but then she had to drive so she needed the extra courage.

During the two-hour lunch, our topics of conversation covered, among other things, politics, religion, bee-keeping, American versus European culture, friendship, life and her relationship with Mark McGuire* (this latter topic surfaced sometime around her fourth margarita, I think, so its credibility was slightly impaired).

A good time was had by all.

* Mark McGuire?
Yes, your majesty. A well-known player of the quaint sport the colonials call "baseball", an inferior form of our own cricket. One might say that he is to baseball what David Beckham is to football.
Oh, I see. Carry on then.

11 April 2007

Legenda Fratrum, Pars XIII

This week, I can be found in the great plains of America presiding at my first provincial chapter*. By pure coincidence, this chapter happens to be in my own province. If Jesus was correct that no prophet is accepted in his own country, then I must not be a prophet because I have been rather warmly received.

Being here is a homecoming, of sorts, for another reason. The monastery where the chapter is being held is where I made my novitiate back in the early 80's. The monastery and its attached church are dedicated to Saint Fidelis of Sigmaringen, a Capuchin friar martyred by a group of Protestants in the Grison area of Switzerland. I visited the site of his martyrdom several years ago, and my Swiss brother guide informed me that St. Fidelis got what was coming to him. Apparently, his fiery sermons had exactly their intended effect of infuriating the locals.

One of the brothers who lived in the monastery during my year as a novice was Father J. He was 85 years old at the time, the senior brother of the province and a transplant from Germany. His uncle had been pastor when the church was built so Fr. J was understandably proud of it. The church was an historical landmark so it received visitors by the busload from near and far. Fr. J would provide a tour for these visitors, including his own brand of theological reflection on each picture and stained glass window in the church. For example, "In dis vindow, ve haf the Nativity. Ven Jesus vas born, he passed tru da vomb of the Virgin Mary like light tru da vindow."

One day, a group of Baptists, complete with minister, visited the Church and took Fr. J's tour. When he reached the picture of the martyrdom of St. Fidelis over the main altar, Fr. J. stated, "Hier is da martyrdom of Saint Fidelis. He vas murdered by the heretical Grison Calvinists." The minister, wishing to spare Br. J any embarrasment, whispered to him, "Father, I think you should know that the Baptists are followers of Calvin."

Unimpressed, Fr. J responded, "Dats alright. You're all heretics just like they vere!"

* A chapter, for those of you unfamiliar with monastic terminology, is a meeting of the brothers for electing leaders and discussing matters affecting the life of the brothers.

08 April 2007

The New York Tales

The Disgruntled Passenger's Tale

So I was flying on US Air to New York last week. On top of all the other indignities visited upon the denizens of that mile-high slum called, "Coach Class", they announce that if you want to listen to the movie, you must use your own headphones or purchase a set for $5 or €5. (For the record, there is quite a large spread between $5 and €5, these days, but that is another story.) This, of course, was the one time I had forgotten to bring headphones. I pay for their cheap piece of crap with a $20 bill, at which point the flight attendant informs me that she does not have change. You would think that an airline that charges for drinks and headphones, besides selling duty free items, would have change for a twenty on hand.

Note to the airline industry: MAKE UP YOUR MINDS! If you want to be in the retail business, have sufficient change on hand. If you want to be an airline, give free headsets and roll the cost into the price of the ticket.

Tale of the Obsessive-Compulsive Flyer

Flight attendant to the lady in the seat next to me: "May I get you something to drink?"

Lady: "Yes. Three glasses of water with one ice cube each."