Sunday, January 25, 2009



Years ago, I regularly made retreats at one Trappist monastery or other.
One year I took the bus up to Winnepeg to visit a monastery at the edge of the city.
Many unique features:
--The young prior said, “These monks have no stressful decisions; they live long lives. But the abbot is in charge of a huge farm, and responsible for the spiritual welfare of all the monks. Abbots die usually 5 years after taking office.”

--This monastery was only a Priory, under the rule of an abbot in French Canada. This person was reactionary—
he insisted that monks wear their habits, even working in the fields. Regularly, some monk was pulled into farm machinery.

--One monk was allowed to talk; he was the liaison with laymen-visitors.
This guy was a former philosophy prof from Europe.
He noted that, as often happens,
A rich dairy farmer died, leaving to the monks
this expensive herd of cattle (some worth $10k each).
[The Trappists are reformed Cistercians, just as Cistercians were reformed Benedictines.
The Benedictines spent their time chanting, doing little manual labor the way St.Benedict envisioned. The Cistercians were at first very austere; but they were such good farmers they got quickly rich, and just as quickly corrupt. So a noble Frenchman who inherited
The Abbey of LaTrappe set out to found a new, super-strict order called Trappists.
They had a uniquely strict rule against talking; they communicated by hand-signals—Until Vatican II.]

This monk’s job was to care for these cows. “They have no brains; they’re just stomachs and udders. They can’t even give birth unaided; I have to follow the ones in late-pregnancy to help them deliver. I joined the Trappists to pray; but what with these damn cows, I have even less time to pray.”

One day he said, “The bull just screwed a horse. With my luck, the horse will give birth,
And I’ll be delated to the Vatican for witchcraft !”
One guy in the guesthouse was a former monk, who had left the order and was living there while he sought a job.

He had been a salesman in Shanghai when the Communists took over.
He was impressed by the sight of several trucksful of Chinese CatholicsOn their way to execution,
singing hymns. He had a religious conversion.
He joined the Trappists to pray against Communism.

He had interesting stories about life as a Trappist..
As a mere novice, he was helping an older monk fold the altar linens. The old monk carefully folded that fancy linen
Cloth OUTSIDE the cheap homespun cloth that was supposed to protect the linen cloth.
This novice sign-languaged to the other monk that this couldn’t be right; the cheap cloth should be folded outside the fancy cloth, to protect it. The old monk signaled back,
“We’ve always done it this way!” That settled that.

This guy said one reason he had to leave the monastery was to tell the following tale: After Compline every evening
(early, because the monks rose at 1AM) they sang the
very beautiful SALVE REGINA. Laymen used to come to hear that hymn, staying in the chapel balcony reserved for lay observers.

Then the monks retired to their cells, to their straw mattresses; each cell had the dimensions of a public Toilet booth—with walls only 7 feet high.

The Trappists ate no meat,so they ate a lot of beans.
Once they settled down to sleep, they started to fart—
Sharp contrast with the SALVE REGINA. That was the tale he had to tell.

But that wasn’t the main reason he left. Remember, this was frigid Winnipeg.
At Mass each AM, just before they received Communion, they threw themselves on the cold, cold stone floor of the chapel, to say the CONFITEOR
(confessing their sinfulness).

One morning as he was lying there, he fell asleep.
Waking on that bone-chilling floor, he said he heard
Clearly a voice from heaven, saying
LET COMMUNISM WIN ! That’s why he left.

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