Friday, September 08, 2006

More Tales of the Monastery

I've been working on an article about Sam's Club providing sex-change operations (with Ann Coulter as spokesperson), but I'll put it aside to reflect on monastic life again for a while.

I think I'll touch on the reality of monastic life here for a bit. Sort of "Things you've always wanted to know about monastic life but were afraid to ask."

The Vows: Contrary to what everyone thinks, monks don't take a vow of celibacy or chastity. Whaat? That's right. The vows are obedience, stability, and conversion. "Does that mean they can have lots of hot sex?" No, silly bean! The vow of obedience is an "umbrella vow" covering a whole bunch of things, including celibacy. The vow of stability basically means that you'll die and rot there at that particular monastery. (That's the one that did me in) The vow of conversion means that you'll always strive to change, grow, and be a good boy.

Note: This particular monastic order to which I belonged was not "The Trappists" (Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance) but rather, it was the "Cistercian Fathers (Order of Cistercians). All the monks in my order were also ordained priests and worked as teachers or professors. Thus, we were a bit more active "in the world" than the Trappists.

Money Again, monks don't take a vow of poverty, but again, it falls under the vow of obedience. I think the vow of conversion hits on it as well. During the Novitiate year where you're really, really cloistered from everything, the novice director would dole out about thirty bucks when I'd need it; basically, once every two months to cover your basic toiletries. After the novitiate when I took temporary vows of three years and was a full-time student, I got a little more. When one takes final vows and becomes ordained, you get $200 a month. For some elderly monks, that's way more than they'd ever spend but they get it anyway. When one particular hermitty monk passed away, the Abbot found that the old guy had stashed away thousands of dollars in traveller's checks.

The Habit (See pic) consisted of a full-length, white, cotton dress. Over that, was the scapular, which was a black, full-length tapered apron that was tied around the waist with a cincture. The Trappist have a black hood connected to the scapular but our order did away with the hood and had a Roman collar instead since all members were priests. The black scapular was developed back in the old days (circa 1100 C.E) as an apron when the monks did a lot of manual labor. Back then, it was also used when they sat on the communal potty to cover their heads. (I tried that once and it just messed up my hair).

The Cell Monks and nuns rooms are called "cells" but our rooms were larger and quite well-appointed. It was a 10' x 14' room with an additional walk-in closet and private bathroom. (I don't think I could have done the communal bathroom thing). It came with a single bed, a desk, easy chair, a phone and even a little bitty Mac computer for churning out scholarly papers. No internet. I was there during the big Venitian blind-to-mini blind conversion of 1995. It was awfully exciting.

Laundry The cook's wife was our laundry maid and she did an excellent job. We had to mark all our clothes with our name (socks would go into a mesh bag that was labeled with our name) and we'd only have to plop them down the clothes chute. She would do our laundry, fold it an place it in these open cabinets labeled with our name. One day, I was gathering my clean laundry from the bin and I noticed these bright red, bikini style underpants in one of the cabinets. They belonged to this elderly, rotund, eccentric fellow who I liked a lot. When I saw the red underpants, I thought, "Well, good for you!"

Traveling We had seven Toyota Corollas (in various colors) to be shared among the 25 members which was more than adequate. There was a sign-up sheet where you could reserve a car for the time-slot that was needed. The abbot had his own car but he was always ready to let someone else use it if it was needed. One monk was assigned with automobile upkeep; inspections, maintenance, license plates, etc, and he did a fantastic job of it. I, on the other hand, would have been a disaster at that assignment. Monks would have ended up stranded or arrested if that had been my responsibility. My philosophy is that you put gas in a car and it goes.

As far as gas purchase, we had a charge account at a nearby Texaco. It was a rule that you weren't to return a car less than a quarter full. Of course, there was one monk who consistently neglected that guideline and would return with a half-teaspoon left in the tank. Bastard.

Exorcism I don't know of anyone performing any exorcisms, but I did come across the Rite of Exorcism one day while cleaning the sacristy. It's basically just a list of nice, intercessory prayers. I was disappointed. It was so not Linda Blair!

Naughty Monk As the sacristan, I was in charge of keeping the holy water fonts filled. The reserved holy water was kept in a gallon jug and when I needed more, I'd fill it with tap water and get one of the priest/monks to perform the rite that would make it holy. (It consists of the priest placing his hand on the jug and reciting a short prayer. Boom. It's holyfied). One day, I was just about out of holy water and I asked a member to bless it. He was gruff and too busy. Boo! So was the next one. Fine! So, I filled the jug and blessed it myself even though I was not yet a priest. I figured that (1) the water would be happier being blessed by me rather than a grumpy, resentful priest (2) the remaining holy water in the jug would diffuse itself into the new water and make it all holy (3) it's the congregation's belief in the holy water that blesses it anyway. How's that for sacramental theology? I was covered.

Another secret of mine concerning the holy water: It kind of grossed me out to think of four hundred people dinking their fingers into the holy water font every week. After all, people pick their noses at stop lights you know. So, I would put a small glurg of Clorox in the jug before dispensing it into the fonts, thus keeping it sterilized as well as holy. Additionally, I never bless myself with holy water when I go to mass, for that sponge probably hasn't been changed since the Eisenhower administration. I don't even keep wet sponges in my kitchen, for crying out loud. Yet, it's been touched by thousands of people and sits in a dark, wet environment. Sort of like Paris Hilton's hoo-hoo.

Another thing I must confess to: Monks weren't allowed to keep credit cards or bank accounts, but I just couldn't part with my Visa card when I joined. No way! I had worked for Bank One for eleven years, for crying out loud. What if I saw a tiara on the Home Shopping Network that I just couldn't live without? Or was kidnapped and had to make an emergency phone call while on an airplane? Giving up sex? Well, okay, I can do that. But not my Visa card. There is a limit, after all.


At 6:04 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I continue to enjoy these informative posts, and your humor makes them all the more enjoyable. Thanks again.

At 6:58 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good stuff Jon! Great info. and great humor!

At 8:32 AM , Blogger Br. Jonathan said...

My pleasure, guys. I'll be posting a somewhat "sensative" reflection soon.
Thanks always, for your replies.


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