Sunday, September 10, 2006

Cistercian Monastery -- The Good Stuff

It's true that I did leave the Cistercian Monastery after four years. I left to join another Order in New York who had wooed me. I enjoyed being wooed while my Cistercian directors had been challenging me, just as they should have been.

In retrospect, I was a big, monastic wimp who'd bailed out to a new, inviting ball-club (The Franciscans) with whom I remained for the next four years. While with the Franciscans, I truly blossomed and found my 'calling' as a counselor. I completed tons of graduate studies at U. of Toronto as well as three internships as a substance abuse counselor in New York and Toronto.

However, in retrospect, I only look back on my years with the Cistercians with unalloyed fondness, with happiness, and with quite a bit of longing. Perhaps my past years with the Cistercians is similar to that feeling one has for their first love: You never forget the love and euphoria; the remembrance also wipes away anything negative.

Yadda-Yadda-Yadda, I left Religious life soon before ordination in 2001. (I hated having to leave Canada)

Back to Cistercian life . . . .

Confession We were expected to go to "confession" at least once a month and choose a confessor with whom we felt a spiritual bond. I easily chose this elderly, Hungarian monk who I'd not heard anything negative about. He had been with the Order since 1947, left Hungary in 1949, and joined up with the Dallas order in 1956. He was this short, elderly fellow who always seemed to be smiling.

Every time I entered his room at our appointed time, he'd have nothing on his desk but a Bible that he'd be reading. So many other monks were so scholarly, with huge hoards of books stuffed in their rooms, some with obvious obsessive/compulsive hoarding disorders. But not my confessor. He'd been a professor since 1956 and had recently retired. I can honestly say that I never entered his room without seeing him reading his Bible. That's all he had in his room, aside from his bed and desk. No books. Not even the Imitation of Christ. Just a Bible, opened, in the middle of his desk.

His room was always spotless and clean as a whistle. Upon entering, you could practically feel that his life was un-cluttered, that his soul was un-encumbered. Gosh, he was an inspiration without uttering a word.

To this day, I have made it a point to keep my life as un-cluttered as possible. Each day, I make it a point to toss something down the trash chute. (A magazine, an unused spice, there's always something)

Father Roch was my spiritual director while I was converting to Catholicism, long before I ever considered religious life. While participating in RCIA, someone suggested Fr. Roch at the Cistercian Monastery as a spiritual director.

I met with him once a month and he loaded me with TONS of intellectual challenges and literature. I'd meet with him in his cell for two hours each month discussing the challenging material he had previously assigned.

It turned out that Fr. Roch was also the vocation director for the monastery. Soon after becoming a Catholic, I read Thomas Merton's Seven Story Mountain and well, I wanted nothing more than to become a member of Fr. Roch's monastery.

(Note: If I were a vocation director, I'd immediatly disqualify anyone who had read Merton's Seven Story Mountain. It's like accepting a vocalist into a Verdi opera who'd been inspired by The Sound of Music.) That may sound rough, but it's the truth. Getting featured in a big opera and becoming a monk both require a lot of fortitude and gonads; inspiration should play a lessor role. That's the most applicable advice I can give.

It was a long process. I stayed several weekends with the monks, attended the 6:00 am mass every day on my way to work as a Corporate Cash Manager with Bank One, while continuing to live in my glassy high-rise in downtown Dallas.

After what seemed an interminable wait, Fr. Roch told me that I could enter on August 31, 1993.

I don't think I've EVER experienced any more stress than I did after that! Woah! Big surprise! I had to get rid of an entire apartment of furniture, kitchen appliances, a new car, IRA's, everything! My bread machine?? My wok that I've had since I was ten years old? Home videos of my roller coaster adventures? My exercise equipment? My piano?

It all had to go. And you gotta find someone to take it that will give it all back if it doesn't work out.

But Fr. Roch became my postulant and novice director. After cherishing my once-a-month meetings with him, I now got to meet with him every day. And boy did he challenge me!

After I completed the novitiate with him, I also had him as a professor for three semesters of Systematic Theology in graduate school. Fr. Roch knew me by heart. He knew all my foibles, and could challenge me like no one else.

He was a treasure.

One day, I came to him just completely frustrated over that fact that I couldn't bring myslef to study. I had no incentive. Motivation was completely arid. Futile . . . .

He plucked out an essay by the 20th-century philosopher, Simone Weil. It was a heady thing titled, "Reflections on the Right Use of School Studies with a View to the Love of Prayer."


Simone Weil provided all the answers. I became a Simone Weil addict and I still am to this day.

Whenever I doubt anything about God or Christianity (as we all should) my dear Simone provides answers.

I had Fr. Roch as a professor for Christology, Sacramental Theology, and Ecclesiology (the three Big Hunks of Systematic Theology). Those were the most challenging courses I've ever taken.

My God, did he challenge me! Tough, hard, mean, Christ-the-King theology! (I'm including a candid pic of us together. We actually did smile a lot.)

I'll have to admit that I didn't apply myself as well as I should have in Ecclesiology. Fr. Roch knew that. He gave me a C+ which was a failing grade in graduate school. I challenged him on that, and he raised my final grade, raising it to one-tenth below the passing grade but balked over one phrase that I wrote on an essay.

I blew up at Fr. Roch. Big time. I remember slamming my fist on my desk. I acted like a spoiled little brat. I banged on my high-chair and went to the Abbot who quickly put my in my place. . . "How DARE you challenge a man who has loved you so much!"

" . . . . Ooops, okay, you're right!"

I knew that I didn't deserve a passing grade in Ecclesiology. I had been lazy and Fr. Roch knew it. I was SO mad at Fr. Roch even though I knew I was the one who'd been a complete asshole.

When I went to take my comprehensive exams to obtain the Master's of Theology (M.Th), Fr. Roch had given credit for completing Ecclesiology

. . . . Once again, death and Resurrection hit me right in the face. That's always as it should be . . .


At 8:34 PM , Blogger Kyle said...

I don't have any pithy or insightful comment on these wonderful entries, but I'm certainly enjoying reading them. Thanks for taking the time to post them, and I hope you enjoy writing them.

At 11:31 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have to second Kyle's words. You write well; I love your humor, and I have thoroughly enjoyed by these glimpses you have given us into that life. I've learned some stuff too.
Peace to you


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