I had the pleasure of meeting Becket while I was doing some personal soul-searching at St. Joseph Abbey. At the time he was a professing monk who had not taken his final vows. He has since left the monastery to become the personal assistant of the writer Anne Rice. In a recent conversation has given me permission to reprint his story as he is posting it on Facebook. I hope you find these installments as fascinating as I do. I will be posting these installments on Monday. Irvin
A Monk’s Story Part 4
For those new to this page, some have been asking me to relate some of my story. I have been sharing about the years I spent in a Benedictine monastery. For anyone still interested, I’d like to share about my first brush with Anne Rice. It happened while I was a novice.
There are three kinds of stages for many monks:
Stage 1: Novitiate.
Stage 2: Temporary Vows.
Stage 3: Solemn Vows.
Making solemn vows is like making marriage vows: Hopefully it’s a life long commitment.
Temporary vows is a 3 to 5 year process, beginning after the novitiate and ending with solemn vows. These are called “junior monks.” This is a discernment period, when a junior monk decides whether he is called to make solemn vows. Generally this lasts 3 years. But a junior monk can extend it to 5.
I extended mine to 4 years. But that story must come later.
Lately I’ve been sharing about my novitiate experience, coming soon to the day I made temporary vows.
As a novice I was not allowed to leave the monastery. No novice was. We were supposed to devote one year of our lives to living like a monk before we made temporary vows.
But it was because the monastery bent the rules for me that I had my first brush with Anne Rice.
In previous a post, I mentioned that I earned a BA in music composition from Loyola University New Orleans. I happened to study organ and harpsichord in my senior year. Once I graduated and entered the monastery, I was happy to discover that the abbey had both!
The organ was a new design, commingling technology with tradition: It was a pipe organ, but it was also wired to totally enhance its potential. The sound was gorgeous.
The harpsichord was beautiful too. Only another monk and myself could tune it and play it well.
One day, in the middle of my novitiate, the abbey gets a call from Anne Rice’s office saying that Anne Rice was having a book signing in her New Orleans home, and that she wanted someone to play the harpsichord while fans queued.
She paid well. And the monastery agreed. But only on the condition that the monks deliver it, and the monks pick it back up.
The other monk who could tune it was away from the monastery. So the abbot turned to me. It was one of the few times that a novice had permission to leave the abbey grounds.
Leaving was conditional, however. I could not leave alone. So the abbot asked a junior monk, Brother Bernard, to accompany me.
I hadn’t left the monastery for almost 6 months. Driving away with Bernard was awkward and fun. Like riding a bike again for the first time in years. Nothing forgotten. Everything renewed.
After the 45-minute drive across the bridge over Lake Pontchartrain, we delivered the harpsichord to Anne’s house.
I set it up and tuned it. Day’s work. Done.
Someone else would play it for the signing. I had to return to the abbey. Vespers, our evening prayer service, would be starting soon.
We never met Anne Rice. We were told that she was somewhere on the upper floors of her New Orleans’ home. Writing a novel, most likely.
Even so, Brother Bernard and I were given a tour of the first floor.
It was enough! It was a dream come true! You see: I’d been a fan of Anne Rice’s since before high school. Her books had been one reason I moved to New Orleans. Now I was inside a museum like no other. Rooms filled floor to ceiling with lifelike dolls, ancient statues, precious works of art, gorgeous antique furniture. I had walked into the house of someone whose literature helped me endure the loneliness of adolescence.
“Grateful” seemed like a word too small.
Brother Bernard and I were remunerated with a personal check from Anne Rice.
We would return it to the abbot later that evening. Over the coming weeks he would disperse the money throughout the community, according to the needs of the brothers.
Brother Bernard had a devilish wit. In the car, on the way back to the monastery, he pointed to the upper corner of the check.
There was Anne Rice’s name, address and telephone number.
Bernard turned to me with a cheeky grin. “Wanna make a prank call?”
We returned to the monastery in time for evening prayer. The monks were chanting Psalm 116.
I used to love chanting that psalm.