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

11 April 2010

A day in the life – Pranzo

The main meal of the day, pranzo, is served at 1:00. In a nod to the many Asian and African brothers in the monastery, white rice is available every day, but otherwise the menu is strictly Italian. There is always a first course of pasta, rice or, on rare occasions, polenta. The American brothers, whose only experience of Italian food is spaghetti with meatballs in tomato sauce, are usually awestruck at the variety of pasta dishes we are served. The second course is equally varied. At least two days a week we have fish and the other days there is some kind of meat. There are usually potatoes, several kinds of vegetables, including lots of greens, and salads. It amazes me how many kinds of food two people can put out each day.

At exactly 1:00, we say grace. Before the sound of the “Amen” has completely died out, there is a mad rush to the serving tables. First in line is always Brother Lupinus. Why is he always first? Because it has always been that way. Now stop asking silly questions. Except for the rare occasion when a number of unexpected guests show up, there is always enough food for everyone so the reason for the mad rush is a bit a mystery to me.

It wouldn’t be an Italian meal without wine. Both red and white varieties are available. Every few months, a truck pulls into our courtyard, extends a hose into our cantina and refills the 500 liter wine tanks. This made a huge impression on me the first time I saw it—who knew that wine could be delivered in large tank trucks?!

After the midday and evening meals, all the brothers help with the cleanup. Some clear the serving tables and put away the leftovers. Others clear the plates from the tables, and wash and dry them. Another crew clears the glasses and utensils, which are washed in their own dishwasher. Brother Lupinus has the job of hand-washing the serving dishes so he keeps a pair of rubber gloves in a corner of the refectory for this purpose. After the closing prayer, he dashes over to get his gloves, then runs to the kitchen while putting on his gloves. Seeing him coming toward you while snapping on a pair of rubber gloves makes it look like he is preparing to uh….. Well, as one of the brothers once said to me, “I wouldn’t bend over just now if I were you!”

With the cleanup done, the brothers head over to the recreation room for coffee. These days, the coffee is provided by four espresso machines, at least one of which is out of order on any given day. There have been days when there was only one functioning machine. Talk about surly brothers…. After coffee, it is time for Italy’s greatest contribution to the humanity, the siesta.


07 April 2010

Brother Rufinus is in the confessional…

Nun: … and I farted once.

Bro Rufinus: That’s not a sin, sister.

Nun: But I was in the church at the time.

Bro Rufinus: Ah, I see. Did it extinguish the sanctuary candle?

Nun: Of course not, Father.

Bro Rufinus: Then it’s not a sin.