Thursday, September 07, 2006

Life in the Monastery, Con't.

I thought this would be a boring subject, but there seem to be some interest in it and I've made a couple of new blog buddies, Kyle and Antony. Both of these guys have some very interesting sites that I've enjoyed reading and are well worth a visit.

A New Name In my previous post, I had outlined the daily schedule while in my novitiate year. One thing I forgot to mention was that this monastery still employed an old tradition of giving each member a new name upon "taking the habit" as a novice. The prospective novice would supply the Abbot with three names of saints that he'd like to have. Additionally, they couldn't be names that anyone in the community already had. During the rite in which the novice would be clothed with the habit, the Abbot would announce to the community what the new name would be.

The three names I submitted were St. John, St. Dunstan, and St. William. Strangely enough, no one had chosen St. John yet. I chose St. Dunstan because he was the patron saint of organists and I was now the organist for the community. St. William of Bourges was an obscure Cistercian saint and, to be perfectly honest, I chose it because my last name is 'Wheat' and I liked the alliteration. I also remember wanting to change my name to William when I was seven because Will Robinson on Lost in Space was my hero.

The Abbot chose St. William. From then on, I was Br. William.

Fr. Placid was my Latin and Russian teacher during the novitiate year. The man was pretty amazing due to the fact that at 81 years old, he still put in a full day of work in the monastery and also as a language professor at the nearby university. He was also in charge of compiling this very detailed and complex schedule of readings for each of the five Divine Offices each day. (community prayers, readings, chants, etc) He'd type up the schedule for each day on a typewriter, but then he had switched to using a Macintosh a few years prior.

One day, he asked for my assistance in getting his schedule to print. When I saw his computer, I just couldn't believe it. He was working on a little-bitty Mac (circa 1985) and was using Word 1.0 . One-point-0! The network printer decided it just couldn't use version 1.0 anymore and that's why it wouldn't print. But hey, it served his needs perfectly well. You should have seen Fr. Placid using the computer. He'd type a key and look at the screen after each keystroke, I guess to make sure it was there.

I shouldn't make fun of him and I certainly don't mean to. The thing is, the daily schedule was very detailed, complex, and there was a lot of room for error. I can honestly say that I never recall there being any errors whatsoever on his print-outs that he spent so much time laboring over. He was an incredibly detail-oriented person. It's a darn good thing there are people like him in this world to make up for the people like me.

The University After completing my one year of "monk boot-camp" I began university studies in order to become a priest. The university was next to the monastery and was actually begun by the monks in 1956 when they fled the Communist takeover of Hungary. The university was, of course, a private Roman Catholic institution with about 2,000 students. For some reason, this university attracted a super right-wing faction of students and faculty. (Rick Santorum was the keynote speaker at the 2004 graduation ceremonies). I came up with a good motto that accurately described this place: "The University of Dallas: Where Vatican II is Just a Vicious Rumor."

The monks always wore our habits on campus, I guess to give it that Pre-Vatican II feeling. One day, I didn't wear my habit and several of my classmates were all, "Why aren't you wearing your habit!" They were actually a bit perturbed over this fact. Amazing.

Once a month, a bunch of the Pre-Vatican II faculty and students would come over to the monastery for a "real" mass; an actual Tridentine mass in Latin where the priest has his back to the congregation. As the sacristan, I'd have to figure out how to set everything up for the darn thing with all the weird vestments, incense, ding-dongs, etc. The chapel was already packed with men in suits and women with doilies covering their heads and I had a great idea. What if I went to the rec room, got a guitar, and propped it up next to the altar? I could just see everyone running out, screaming like when The Blob attacked in the movie theatre. Gosh that would have been fun!

One day, I was having a talk with the Abbot, moaning about all the super-conservative students in my classes. The Abbot, in all his wisdom (which he really had) said, "Br. William, you may encounter these people for, say, twenty minutes during your day. But they have to live in their own heads 24/7. Imagine what that must be like?"

Excellent point. I've used that analogy very frequently.

The Food Fortunately, the food was very good. There was none of this bread-n-water type of thing going on. We weren't even vegetarian. The Abbot had recently hired a new cook who was well-trained and provided us with tasty, healthy meals with lots of fresh veggies. One year, I tried my hand at growing a vegetable garden, hoping to supply the kitchen with lots of home-made tomatoes, squash, cucumbers and beans. The bugs and rabbits ate everything.

The Giggles Chanting the Divine Office five times a day along with mass each day can get pretty monotonous. Since we were placed in order of seniority, the guy next to me was about my age and it was not uncommon for us to hear something funny (a burp or fart) or make a silly mistake which resulted in a horrible case of the giggles. It would really get ridiculous at times. A searing glance from the Abbot or Prior would usually end it.

Well, sometimes anyway.

I'll now open this discussion up for questions. Yes, you in the second row . . . .


At 6:33 PM , Anonymous A said...

I enjoyed part 2 very much as well. You write about this with such humor! It is infectious. :)


At 10:34 AM , Anonymous Bryan said...

I've really enjoyed your posts on life in the monastery. Will there be a part 3? :-)


At 1:04 PM , Blogger Jon said...

Bryan - I enjoyed your site as well.
Sure, I'd be glad to post a Part 3. I had no idea there'd be this kind of interest. Thanks for asking.

At 4:54 PM , Anonymous Bryan said...

Sounds good!

At 5:17 PM , Anonymous A said...

Ha! I see all us monastic, I mean oblates and lay cistercians...are finding you now. :)

At 6:05 PM , Blogger Jon said...

Antony - Just imagine what Thomas Merton would have done with a blog! (He wrote too much as it is)


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