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Benedictine Wisdom 1


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January 28, 2020 · 8:00 am

A Monastic Habit

Note: This is another story from my old friend Becket. I just couldn’t resist this one because he speaks of his relationship with Brother George. That make it special to me because George and I have known each other since high school. I am using a pcture that shows all of us when we had just finished a day at the bakery.

By Becket

In the monastery we were encouraged to have a hobby. Developing a hobby was as important as delving fully into our Benedictine motto: Work and prayer. Work in the monastic life was for the monastery. Prayer was for others. But a hobby was for you, and you alone. An avocation that reflected your vocation. In other words, hobbies brought a human element to the monastic life. A healthy outlet to simply be yourself.

Brother Cadfael started a small vineyard. Father Dominic enjoyed archeology and taxidermy. Abbot Justin had a small green house and he grew a lovely garden. Father Augustine enjoyed bird watching, and he jokingly referred to himself as an “ornitheologist.”

For several months I looked for “my” monastic hobby.

I tried working in the haberdasher shop with Father Ambrose. He showed me how to measure and cut cloth. He showed me how to sew with machine or needle and thread. He was patient and kind.

It was good work. But it was not my hobby.

The abbey sits on 14,000 acres of land. One day I went walking toward the dense woods. I passed the retreat house and the bakery. I passed the early 19th century houses where slaves once lived, long before the monastery bought the land. Finally I came to a large barn where the first monks raised livestock for their daily sustenance.

The barn was large. It had once been red, but the paint was faded and peeling off. Mostly it was being used for storage.

The barn door was locked.

I could peer within and see the shadows of a hobby waiting to happen.

Becket, Me, Bede and George after a morning at the bakery.

Becket, Me, Bede and George after a morning at the bakery.

At that moment, Brother George happened to be passing by. He asked me if I’d like to see inside.

Brother George was the monastic accountant. He was a burly man, over 6 feet tall. His size made him seem intimidating. Some brothers feared asking him for pittance.

But he was a born and bred New Orleanian from the Ninth Ward. Brother George wore his happiness over his monastic habit. Same with his sorrow. You knew where you stood with him by his expression.

That day his cheerful face told me good news: He knew where the key was.

Together we got it and unlocked the barn.

Inside was a treasure trove of forgotten furniture and unfinished projects.

Brother George reminisced how he had once worked in there. How he used to build furniture and coffins.

Why did he stop?

“When your work life loses your prayer life,” he said, “you forget how to be happy.”

I asked him if he’d like to work in the barn again.

His cheerful expression grew even more cheerful. That surprised me.

He and I spent the next few weeks clearing a work place in the barn. Much wood had warped in the Louisiana humidity. But some wood was still good.

Together we separated the good wood from the bad. We began dreaming about what we should build.

It had to be simple. It had to be something for other people.

It had to be a three-peg clothes rack, we decided in the end.

You see: Our monastic cells were simple. Older monks had a closet, a toilet and shower, a desk and chair, and a bed. Younger monks had all that – minus a toilet and shower. Ours was communal.

But none of our cells had a clothes rack.

Brother George and I designed one to fit perfectly on the back of the doors.

A professional carpenter would have laughed to see us. But it didn’t matter. It wasn’t our profession. It was our hobby. It was good work that reflected who we were far beyond our monastic habits, in the secret chambers of our very human hearts.

We wanted to be like a carpenter from Nazareth. We were children all over again.

Brother George and I set our finished product before the other monastic brothers. They liked our clothes rack so much that we had several commissions.

Soon our work in the barn attracted the attention of Brother Cyril. He wasn’t interested in building clothes racks, although he was searching for a hobby that he could also give back to the brothers.

Brother Cyril began building coffins.

His designs were elegant simplicity: An oblong wooden box for a believer in the resurrection from death.

Brother Martin was buried in one. So were Father Dominic and Brother Gabriel. So were several other brothers. Soon the barn became the carpentry shop. More coffins were made. So were more clothes racks. And many other projects.

Eventually I had to go to school for my MA. I couldn’t work in the carpentry shop any longer. I had to leave my hobby behind to prepare for my future work.

Even now, years after I’ve left the monastery, they’re still making coffins.

The abbey just won a major lawsuit against the state, giving them the right to sell coffins commercially.

I am happy for them.

Yet I cannot forget the condition of the carpentry shop during my novitiate. It had been an old barn. Nothing more. A locked up, forgotten barn. Within which was a shadow of my hobby.

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Filed under Benedict of Nursia, Monasticism

A Monk’s Story Part 5


Following his predecessor Ambrose of Milan Pop...

Following his predecessor Ambrose of Milan Pope Paul VI during Vatican II named Mary Mother of the Church (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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

For those new to this page, I have been sharing about my life before I started working for Anne Rice.


Anne and I met while I was in a monastery in New Orleans.


I was a Benedictine monk for several years.


In the last post I shared with you how I made my temporary vows, received the black habit of the Benedictines, and received my monastic name, Becket.


Now I’d like to share with you what happened right after that…


In most romance stories there’s the courtship and the marriage and then the honeymoon.


For many, once the honeymoon ends, the story ceases to be a romance. It becomes a drama.


I wish that I could say the monastic life was without drama. But that would be to say that there had been no romance with it either.


Yes, before I became a monk, I had a romance with the monastic life. I saw the flowing robes of the black monastic habits, I heard the chanting of the choir monks, and I smelled the good incense wafting in billows throughout the cavernous church.


Yes, the monastic life is beautiful, in the same way any marriage or partnership can be beautiful, especially when each person sincerely desires to be united in love.


After I made my temporary vows, after I gained my monastic name and donned my new habit, I soon realized one important truth: The monastery wasn’t a museum of heavenly saints. It was a hospital for broken men.


And I was a part of them. Indeed I was broken.


Still am.


Were good men in the monastery?




Did hurtful things happen there?




The monastery, I soon realized, was a microcosm of the world.


We were perfectly imperfect men devoting ourselves to prayer and to the great struggle of loving one another with the affection of brothers.


After I became an official monk, I received new work.


Once a week I had to serve as porter, greeting guests and answering phones.


Or I had to ring the church bells for each prayer service.


Or I had to serve as waiter at lunch and supper.


Or I had to wash dishes.


Or I had to read books during meals while my brother monks ate in silence — all of which are more facets of monastic life that I hope to share with you soon.


But the honeymoon of monastic life didn’t end there. That was only work.


The drama of monastic life began when I had to learn to get along with someone I didn’t like, yet had to love.


Brother Simon and I did not get along, at least not at first.


From where I stood, he didn’t seem to have any sincere desire to be a part of the monastery.


As I’ve written in previous posts, the monastery has specific times for prayer. It’s our horarium. Laudes is the hour for Morning Prayer. Vespers is the hour for Evening Prayer. We have predawn prayer and nighttime prayer and mass.


During each of those times, I began the nasty habit of watching Brother Simon because he wasn’t paying attention to the prayers.


He was looking around at all the paintings in the church, and at the gorgeous architecture, and at the magnificent pipe organ, and at anything but his choir book.


I could not understand how anyone would want to be a monk yet at the same time seem so irreverent.


I brought my grievances to my spiritual director, Father Ambrose. It was supposed to be my time for spiritual direction. But I was squandering it as a chance to gripe about Brother Simon, who I thought should leave the monastery.


“My life would be better if he left,” I said.


Father Ambrose was patient and kind with me. His wise and wizened face smiled. He scratched his long white beard. He thought before he spoke. Like all sagacious men, he only needed to tell me a few words.


With his few words, he reminded me that I didn’t know what was in Brother Simon’s heart. My brother might be paying attention to prayer, just not in the same way that I pay attention.


With his few words, Father Ambrose reminded me that I might be just as guilty as my brother. Brother Simon might not be watching his choir book. But neither was I. I was watching him watch other things.


Here are the few words that Father Ambrose spoke to me:


“If you’re not bothered by Brother Simon, you’re going to be bothered by someone else.”


I was shaken like never before.


These words caused in me a cascade of thought, helping me realize that everyone is bothered by someone.


It’s a part of human nature.


But Father Ambrose continued helping me see that human nature also has a surprising capacity to transcend brotherly hate.


At that moment I understood: That’s what it meant to be a monk.


Being a monk wasn’t only about the work of prayer. I was supposed to be working what I’d learned in prayer.


I had been unjustly judging Brother Simon. I was looking at the outside of the man, yet I wasn’t searching for the interior life of the monk.


You see, not all monks are the same. We were simply men who had one important common bond: We have a deep interior life that searches for an existential truth by means of work and prayer.


We worked together. We prayed together.


Yet sometimes we struggled to be in the same church together.


The thing that kept us working together and praying together was our long-term goal of discovering truth along the pathway of self-discovery and self-sacrifice.


The more we discovered about ourselves, the more we were challenged to sacrifice.


Father Ambrose had handed to me a profound helping of self-discovery. Now it was time for self-sacrifice.


So, Brother Simon and I talked.


That’s all.


It was all that needed to happen.


Brother Simon and I communicated our struggles. We shared our fears and our hopes and the things that confused us. Most importantly, we listened to one another.


Today Brother Simon heads the media department at the monastery.


It took some time, but I have come to admire him greatly. He has excellent taste in the visual arts. He’s a wonder with Photoshop.


And today, if I’m in insufferable traffic, or if I’m behind a penitentially slow person in the supermarket checkout, or if I’m struggling to like the person sitting next to me, I recall Brother Simon, and Father Ambrose’s lesson…


If I’m not bothered by this person, I’m going to be bothered by someone else.


I can’t rid myself of temptations to hate. That would be impossible. Temptations are natural. Hate is natural.


But sacrificing my “self” is also a natural action.


In the same way I chose to start seeing the inside of Brother Simon, I try to see the heart of the brother or sister beside me.


Does it expunge the temptation to hate?


No. But it does diminish it enough for me to work with kindness and patience.


Do I always succeed?


Certainly not.


But the purpose of my life isn’t to be pure perfection. It’s to accept myself as a perfectly imperfect person, struggling to surrender.


What am I surrendering to?


A truth that I’m still trying to accept: I don’t know everything.


But I know enough to be kind.



Filed under Christian Journey, Christian Living, Church Conflict, Monasticism

A Monk’s Story Part 1

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 and 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 1

by Becket

 Some here have asked about my life before meeting Anne Rice, namely from what I’ve shared previously — that I was a monk.

If you’re interested in it, here’s some of the story:

In 1997 I moved to New Orleans. I had been a fan of Anne’s for years, having read her books in high school. I remember the first time I walked down St. Charles Ave., with the streetcar passing by, the old double gallery houses, and the branches of the large oak trees canopying over the Garden District. My first thought was: Lestat hurtled down this road on a motorcycle, listening to Bach’s Art of Fugue through a Walkman. I was agog at the magic of that ancient and beautiful city.

New Orleans’ spiritual heritage encouraged my eagerness to grow closer to God.

I entered a little monastery not too far outside the city, across Lake Pontchartrain, on the North Shore — St. Joseph Abbey, a house of the Benedictine order (an old order dating back to the 5th century). St. Joseph Abbey is about 100 years old. But, for 1500 years, the Benedictine Order has lived by two fundamental rules: Work and prayer. That’s all I really wanted. I sought to work, to pray, and to use both as tools for deepening my relationship with a power greater than myself.

That lasted eight years.

If you’re interested in the daily routine of my monastic life, I can explain it in days to come. I fear this is getting too long.

Let me leave with this: I met Anne shortly after I became a Benedictine monk. When she began writing Christ the Lord, Out of Egypt, she emailed me with a question. A delightful email correspondence began shortly thereafter.

In 2005 when I left the monastery, Anne offered me a job on her staff.

An amazing 8 years later, here we are……….

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Filed under Benedict of Nursia, Benedictine Rule, Christian Journey, Monasticism