Saturday, March 20, 2010

The Monk, the Troll and the 'Coward'

A long time ago, a Monk set out on his travels accompanied by his assistant, a Troll. Night was falling when Troll scurried on ahead to find room and board for the night. Troll searched the dark forest until he found a small cottage, next to a brook. A young lad lived in the hovel. Troll recognized Lad as a former novice from the monastery.

"You coward!" Troll said. "How dare you abandon your vocation from all eternity when poor Abbot needed medicine to heal his stomach pains."

Lad explained that Abbot had been an evil sorcerer disguising himself as a man of God. While cleaning Abbot's study one day, Lad discovered a piece of parchment hidden in Abbot's desk. It was a contract with the Devil and it was written in Abbot's blood.

The Devil promised Abbot all human riches, worldly power and fleshly pleasure he desired in life. In exchange Abbot promised the Devil three things: 1) He would teach his monks to push a poor peasant's cow over a cliff every Sunday and Holy Day of Obligation; 2) Come the full moon, when unholy hunger gnawed inside Abbot's stomach, he would renew his contract with the Devil through the blood of a young novice; and 3) If ever Abbot was caught going about the Devil's business, he would blame Carthusians from the monastery founded by St. Bruno across the river. (The Devil was still angry with St. Bruno for tying his tail to a blessed statue of St. Michael whenever the fallen angel tried to sneak into La Grand Chartreuse. This is where St. Bruno and his Carthusians went about the Lord's work in prayer.)

"I tried to warn the other monks," said Lad. "But they accused me of being in league with the Carthusians. So I fled to both the Bishop and the Baron. Yet they too had been seduced by Abbot's sorcery. He bewitched them by boiling expensive hams in evil potions."

"You're lying," said Troll. The creature's dark mind could not bear the light of truth. The same was true with Troll's brother, an apprentice to Abbot named Brother Jonathan Edward Foxtongue. The apprentice possessed a magical voice that made mothers and maidens swoon. But this is another story for another day.

"Even if what you say is true, you're still a coward," said Troll.

"In the name of St. Bruno and all that is holy," said Lad as he waived a letter sent to him personally by Benedict the Bavarian Bishop. "I swear every word I spoke is true."

At the sound of the truth (and St. Bruno's name!), Troll fled into the forest. Branches snapped and leaves rustled until Troll was lost in the moonless night. Lad returned inside his cottage. There he spent his evenings painting holy prayer cards to St. Joseph, which he donated to the fatherless children living in the forest.

About an hour later, as Lad dipped his brush in golden paint to finish St. Joseph's halo, Monk knocked at his door. "Have you seen Troll?" Monk asked. "He's about my height, speaks with wizened tongue, and his big blue nose juts out like a schooner."

By this time Lad's candle had burned to a stub and he did not recognize Monk in the pale light. Lad pointed to a path between a couple of trees. "Troll took off through there."

Monk continue into the forest until he stumbled across a stone cottage. It belonged to Lieutenant Roch Cannoneer, recently retired from the King's royal field artillery. Like any good cannoneer, Lieutenant Roch kept a statue of St. Barbara in his window for protection. The whole forest knew he mistrusted Abbot and his monks.

"Yes I seen yer silly Troll," said Lieutenant Roch. "I threatened to stuff him in me 15-pounder and blast his blue nose into the mountainside. He called Lad a coward."

"How horrid!" said Monk. "Shame on you for your lack of charity. Troll is a faithful servant of the monastery. He speaks only hard truths that most people cannot bear to hear. You should be grateful to Troll for correcting all you ignorant peasants from the crazed imagination of a 'former novice'. Do you honestly believe that Abbot 'signed' a 'pact' with 'Devil' in 'blood'?"

"Yes, I do," said the cannoneer.

But Monk cut him off. For Monk's interest was in lecturing, not listening. "I've never heard such unholy blarney in my life. It's no different than those ridiculous tales of monks pushing cows over cliffs. You spread more heat than light by repeating such unfounded allegations."

"Ye'd be about the size of a leprechaun," said Lieutenant Roch. "And ye head is as thick as an iron pot. But it's full o' fool's gold. How about I stuff ye in me 15-pound cannon, light the fuse, and by the heat of St. Barbara's thunder see if the luck o' the Irish carries you over the rainbow?"

"Such negative thinking is unbecoming of a cannoneer," said Monk. "You need to think more positively. Can I interest you in one of my illuminated manuscripts? I wrote it in the monastery."

"Begone with your illuminated manuscripts," cried Lieutenant Roch, rushing toward Monk and wielding a torch.

Monk fled into the forest. About half an hour later he came to the next cottage, which belonged to Mother Mannon Red Hood. Mother Mannon was a godly woman who knit red riding hoods for all of the forest's orphans. She also brewed a mean cup of tea.

Like any good mother, God had blessed Mother Mannon with common sense. She found herself a wee bit suspicious when Monk knocked at her door. What was a strange monk doing in the forest, in the middle of the night, looking for trolls?

"Should you not be chanting Night Prayer like St. Bruno and his Carthusians?" said Mother Mannon.

"Of course not," said Monk. "Benedict the Bavarian Bishop has secretly dispensed us from praying, as it inflames Abbot's indigestion. Between you and me, that's the secret to Abbot's holiness: By not talking to God, God does not talk back to him. So Abbot never says 'no' to God."

Now Mother Mannon was sleepy from knitting red riding hoods all day. Her tea had yet to kick in. She did not follow the logic of Monk's argument. But her Christian sense told her that monks should pray, and that monks who did not pray were not doing the Lord's work. So she slammed the door in Monk's face.

"Such gross lack of charity!" cried Monk. "Don't you know that God writes straight with crooked lines?"

"There's something crooked about your argument," said Mother Mannon. "And it sounds like Abbot is feeding you a line about why he does not pray. By the blessing of St. Bruno, go away. There will be none of your devilry here."

"Such uncharitable words are beyond the pale," said Monk. "Can I interest you in one of my illuminated manuscripts?"

"Go away before I impale you and your manuscripts on my knitting needles. They're nice and straight and they were blessed by St. Bruno," said Mother Mannon.

At the second mention of St. Bruno and prayer, Monk fled. He knew Abbot's stomach pains increased whenever Monk was unfaithful to Abbot's charism. And by praying to God, God might talk back to him, thus bypassing Abbot. Yet providing instruction through Abbot had been God's vocation from all of eternity. Thus praying to God directly might tempt God to sin, Monk reasoned. So Monk continued on his way.

About an hour later Monk came to a third cottage nestled in the forest. This cottage belonged to Mouse. Like most motherly mice she had a habit of peppering Abbot's monks with gnawing questions concerning their troll companions. Especially when trolls started nasty rumors about Lad and other friends of St. Bruno.

"You are way too suspicious," said Monk. "Lad's story is not proven. Abbot is not an evil sorcerer in league with the Devil. And even if he was, have you not heard that God draws good out of evil? You have my word that I will not leave your cottage until you think of something good to say to me, my fellow monks and our troll companions."

After giving it careful thought, Mouse said: "Good-bye!"

And Monk was turned away a third time, but not before trying to sell Mouse one of his illuminated manuscripts.

Friday, March 19, 2010

The Monk Who Milked the Widow

A long time ago, a 60-year-old Monk set out on his travels accompanied by his assistant, a young Brother. Night was falling when the Monk told the Brother to go on ahead to find lodging. The Brother searched the deserted landscape until he found a humble shack. A poor teenaged widow and her infant son lived in the hovel.

The Brother returned to the Monk, who asked - in the interest of the Brother's soul, of course - whether he found the Widow (and with a little more discretion, her infant son) cute.

The Brother blushed.

"Ah," said the Monk. "You better stay here and sleep in the barn, less the Devil tempt you with a widow younger than yourself. Vocations are a fragile and precious gift. They are given to us from all of eternity. Thus a lost vocation means sure damnation."

"Nevertheless," said the Monk. "We cannot leave her alone with a little one while Freemasons, Jesuits and town criers like Jason Berry roam the night. I will go ahead and keep her company. I'm an old man - nearly 60 - who has never said no to the Holy Ghost. And you know I suffer from severe cramps in the lower stomach area. These bring me relief when temptation strikes."

The Brother nestled down in the back of the cart, to save the cost of an inn for the night, grateful to God for having co-founded a monastery with a such a wise Monk.

The Monk approached the Widow's hovel. It occurred to him that the young widow likely had little means of supporting herself and her son. Her husband had probably been around her age when he died - too young to build up a pension. The Monk guessed that she was Catholic - after all, she had offered him and the Brother room and board for the night. This presented further complications as the Pope had recommended the Monk to the Governor and to the Archbishop as an efficacious guide to young people. The monk was famous! The widow might recognize him immediately and offer what little substance she subsisted on, perhaps at the expense of her infant son!

"There must be a better way," said the Monk under his breath. "I know, I'll disguise myself as a wealthy horse breeder. Or perhaps as one of the King's spies." In the end, he decided to do both.

The widow answered the door, and the Monk, disguised as a spy disguised as a horse breeder, invited himself in for the evening. As he walked through the door, he could not help but notice how big and energetic the Widow's toddler was.

"I bet he drinks a lot of milk," said the Monk to the Widow as she nursed her son to sleep. "And milk is so expensive these days. If you marry me, I will give you your own cow to feed him." Of course the disguised Monk had only the welfare of the Widow and her son in mind. The Monk had taken a special vow of charity, which sometimes required him to break his more traditional vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. Nevertheless, the Monk knew that the Widow was a devout Catholic. She would never think of seducing a Monk (her name was not Lucretia), so to protect her conscience he kept his disguise. This was done out of Christian charity, which God had chosen the Widow from all of eternity to receive from the Monk.

The Widow was taken aback by the Monk's offer. Despite his mustache weaved from horse hair, she could not help but notice he was three times her age. Nevertheless, she accepted his proposal in good faith - and given that our story takes place before the Council of Trent's imposition of canonical form for marriage had received wide promulgation throughout the Church -- the two exchanged wedding vows in the privacy of the hovel.

The years passed and the Monk traveled back and forth between the Widow's cottage and the monastery. The widow never suspected the Monk's true identity. She just assumed that horse breeding and spying for the King kept the Monk busy and away from home. The couple had two more children together.

One day, when the Monk was back from his business trips, the Widow walked into the barn and caught him painting portraits of her sons as the three males stood in a stall. This would not be so unusual except that the Monk and her sons were completely naked. She looked up to their faces: Her younger son looked terrified, her older son looked confused, and the Monk (wearing nothing but his fake mustache) looked guilty.

The Widow had passed the Town Crier on her way home from the market. He had described a suspicious monastic wanted in connection with disappearing cows throughout the county. It suddenly dawned on the Widow. This was no horse breeder. [DELETE EUPHEMISM OF YOUNGER SON PRACTICING HIS MILKING, SINCE WE ARE TO BELIEVE NONE OF THE EVIL WE HEAR IN MEDIEVAL LEGENDS] In fact, she was the one who had been milked - by the seductions of a renegade priest through some unspeakable sorcery.

"This is all a misunderstanding," the Monk pleaded as the Widow invited him to jump over a cliff. "However, I will suffer this temptation to jump like Our Lord tempted in the desert by the devil." He did not have much choice. The Widow was backed by her three sons, while none of the Monk's brothers were around to cover up for him. (Which was quite a shocking scene given that the Monk was still naked.)

The Monk somehow survived the fall and he petitioned the Pope to allow him to recuperate in a special monastery, where he could spend the rest of his life in prayer and penance. It was not a bad life. The Pope had suspended the Monk's faculties to preside over public prayer, including celebration of the sacraments. Out of zeal for this penance the Monk also forswore - for the good of the Church, of course - his right to private prayer.

The Widow and her sons returned to the cottage. There they noticed the Brother standing in the place of the cow given to them by the Monk.

"Where's our cow?" the youngest lad said.

"You have a duty to remain charitable," said the Brother. "We've taken the cow as payment for the seed your mother stole from the Monk who founded our monastery. How dare she take advantage of him while he was weakened from stomach pains. How dare you embarrass us by demanding the Monk's cow back. That's extortion!"

"But he promised us the cow after lying about being a Monk, bringing me into this world, and making me practice my milking whenever he was home," said the lad.

"Extortion! Extortion!" cried the Brother as he covered his ears and ran toward the cliff.

The Cow That Stole the Monk

A long time ago, an Abbott set out on his travels accompanied by his assistant, a Brother, and a cow. Night was falling when the Abbott told the Brother to go on ahead to find lodging. The Brother found a humble trailer, in the middle of nowhere, which he ignored. The family was obviously poor since they lived in a trailer. And from the statue of St. Peter Claver standing beside the doorsteps, the Brother discerned that the family was probably of darker complexion.

This was hardly suitable lodging for the Abbott, who suffered from a rare allergy to eumelanin - the pigmentation that causes darker skin tones in humans. In fact, the Pope had secretly dispensed the Abbott from ministering to Catholics with dark complexions. Now the Brother had never actually spoken to the Pope or read the letter of dispensation (after all, it was so secret it could only be passed on through the confessional!), the Abbott had assured the Brother that this was the case. Of course, an exception was made for Catholics of African ancestry who possessed a lot of gold (since the metal's bright glistening reflected sufficient light from other sources to neutralize the darkness of their skin tone) or those who wore special red hats given to them personally by the Pope.

However, the Brother noticed a heard of cows nearby, which meant the family were probably migrant farm hands working a nearby dairy farm. So the Brother continued up the road until he notices a large, stately, country manor.

The mother, father and children were dressed in the latest styles usually found only among the big city bourgeoisie. It was pure fashion! And the Abbott, having received a vision of clerical fashions in the 1950's, required his Brothers to conform to his vision, despite the fact the 1950's were still several centuries away. Some would call this the Abbott's charism.

So the Brother asked if he and the Abbott could spend the night in their dwelling. "You are most welcome to spend the night," said the father of the family. They prepared a feast of expensive hams, fine cigars, and brought in some Mariachi minstrels for entertainment. The Abbott's cow was put out in the pasture with the other cows.

The next morning, the Brother and the Abbott said their good-byes and set out to continue their journey. They had an important meeting in Rome and far was their journey. They were even a little behind schedule as it would be several centuries before the invention of airplanes.

"Could we borrow a horse and carriage from you?" said the Abbott.

"Sure," said the Mother. She trusted the Abbott and Brother were holy men of God who would remember her in prayer once they got to Rome, despite the Abbott having been too tired to preside over grace during the visit.

"That's very charitable of you," said the Abbott. "But what about our cow? She could hardly keep up with this horse and carriage. And I have important business with the Pope."

"We could keep her here with the other cows," said the Mother. "I'm sure my husband doesn't mind."

"That's been your vocation since before eternity," said the Abbott. "I knew you would not say no to God. So understand that my cow requires extra care. She has been personally blessed by the Pope. So she is a sacred cow, who due to delicate health has required golden treatment since a young calf. You must massage her three times a day, feed her only the best grains and at specific times, and milk her gently in the morning and in the evening. She requires her stall cleaned daily, and fresh straw to sleep on. Here's the checklist. Plus, because it would be sinful to waste her milk, you must promise me you will feed only her milk to your family. This may sound like a lot, but I know you won't say no to God."

The woman promised and the Abbott headed off in the coach with the Brother. Years later, a Bishop ordained the Brother a priest. So he too became a Monk. One day he found himself on the same road where he found lodging so many years ago. Remembering the comfortable digs and the special treatment, he decided to visit the family. He rounded the curve in the road and to his surprise, he saw the mansion reduced to rubble, surrounded by gardens that had been taken over by weeds. In the middle of the field, flies buzzed around the rotting carcasses of an entire herd of cows.

The Monk knocked on the door. A poorly-dressed man answered. The Monk asked, "What ever became of the family who used to live here? Did they sell the property to you?"

The man looked surprised and said he and his family had always lived on the property. The Monk told him how he had stayed in a nice mansion on the same spot, with his master the old Abbott. "What happened to the family that lived here?" he asked.

The man pointed a pike at the Monk's throat. "You know Father, we used to have a herd of cows. They kept us alive. Quite comfortably, I might add. But then my wife invited your cow into our field, as an act of charity toward you and the Church. Your cow required a lot of care - my wife started spending all her time in the barn, to the neglect of our children, me and the household. The effort burned her out. I tried to reason with her, but you had her convinced the cow was sacred and that God would punish her if she did not put your sacred cow before everything else."

"Moreover, our kids - who had always been of strong constitution - fell ill most of the time, and could no longer help out around the farm. Either they were helping Mom keep up with your checklist, or they were suffering from the effects of their sickness. At first I thought the sickness was due to them and their Mother spending too much time in the barn, stressing out over your cow. I called the doctor. He informed me that my wife and children had Mad Cow disease, which we traced back to your cow. But by then it had spread to my herd. Our family is ruined is because of the charity you extracted from us!"

"How dare you say such uncharitable things," said the Monk. "That cow was blessed by the Pope!"

"Well this morning my farm hand Cyrene Porres came over to the farm, roped your cow, and at my instructions pushed it over the cliff," said the father. "Although it is too late for my family and herd, your golden cow will not be infecting any more families or herds."

And with that the Monk rushed over the cliff attempting to save his sacred cow.

The Monk, the Cow and the Apology

A monk and his abbot were passing through a poor farming village atop the cliffs of Ireland when they came across a humble cottage owned by an impoverished Catholic family with three children. Nevertheless, the family took the monk and abbot in for the night. The family shared with the religious what meager milk and cheese the family had, produced from a single cow. This was the only farm animal the family could afford, and they relied upon the cow for their subsistence. Nevertheless, despite their poverty, the family was happy, knowing God was with them and provided for their daily needs.

The following day, as the 'good' religious left the village, the abbot ordered the monk to return to the cottage and push the cow off the cliff. The abbot was widely reputed for his 'holiness' and claimed 'never to have said no to the Holy Spirit.' Therefore the monk obeyed as an ever-obedient co-founder. After all, being pushed off the cliff was the cow's vocation 'from all of eternity.'

About five years' later, at a village two counties over, villagers discovered that the abbot had a certain unnatural affection for cows. What the penitential books at the time referred to as 'unspeakable' sins involving farm animals. Given that this was medieval times - not the modern era where folks are somewhat more civilized - the villagers responded by pushing the abbot over the cliff. But that's a story for another time...

The monk narrowly escaped the peasant uprising. He made his way back to the initial village under the cover of darkness. Seeing the cottage where he had stayed five years ago, and given the cold wet snow outside, he knocked on the door to request shelter and food for the night. He could not help but notice, as he waited for someone to answer the door, that the cottage was even more beaten up and weather-worn than he remembered it five years ago.

An older man answered in threadbare clothing. He had lost some weight, most of his hair, and his skin was wrinkled with worry. Yet the biggest change was in his eyes: Gone was the spark that had made the family happy, despite the poverty in which they found themselves.

"What do you want?" the old man grumbled.

"I'm a poor monk seeking food and shelter for the night," the monk said. "You hosted my abbot and me several years ago."

"Oh, you," said the poor man.

"Look, I have nothing to give. It seems that everywhere you went cows kept falling off cliffs," the peasant continued. "After our cow fell off the cliff, the baby died for lack of milk. This broke my wife's heart, and she died about a year later. She died angry at God for having taken away our baby after showing you and your abbot some Catholic hospitality."

"That's blasphemy!" the monk said. "Your wife should have been more charitable with God, not to mention forgiving of our abbot. Then God would have blessed her with the serenity not to give in to the sin of bitterness."

"Well she might have endured this crisis," said the farmer, "but for the fate of our middle son. See, he was over in the next village begging for moldy and half-rotten potatoes - of which we ate a steady diet after our cow died - when he witnessed you pushing another cow over the cliff. You did so at the urging of your abbot. Horrified, my son ran to the bishop's house only to catch your abbot offering the bishop a gift of freshly butchered steak."

"My son reported what he had seen to the bishop. But your abbot denied everything and both you and your abbot claimed my son was lying out of jealousy for your meal of steak and fresh milk. It was his word against yours. That of an impoverished young boy against two men of the cloth. So the bishop believed you. He reported everything to the Prince, who also believed you and the bishop. The Prince then ordered my son's cheeks branded with a red hot poker ending in the letter 'L' - a sign to all who come across him that he was a liar. Additionally, my family was ordered to turn over our remaining possessions - minus this cottage - to you and the abbot, as restitution for having accused you of pushing cows over cliffs. We never ReGAINED these possessions."

"Well let's not talk about past misunderstandings," said the monk. "Let's talk about happier things. How is your oldest daughter doing? The Abbot sensed God had called her from all of eternity to a vocation as Consecrated Wench. She would not say no to God, would she?"

"I don't know," said the farmer. "After speaking with other consecrated wenches who had left the village, she decided that a more merciful fate awaited her as a galley slave to Moorish pirates. Unlike your abbot, their lust is satisfied in the afterlife by 72 virgins. That's more than twenty but less than a hundred - in case you can't count. Anyway, it's just me left in this hut now."

"Well let me in and I will keep you company," said the monk. "It is your duty as a Christian to forgive."

"Let's make a deal," said the farmer. "I'll forgive you, and offer you room and board for the evening, if you apologize for pushing my cow over the cliff and the pain it caused my family."

"That's not fair!" said the monk. "I was only following orders."

"Those orders brought much evil on my family," said the farmer. "So you can freeze outside in the snow until you apologize."

"Okay," said the monk, whose was feeling the chill of the wind against his soaked habit. "I apologize for the abbott's 'unfortunate orders,' which I cannot explain, and the pain they're now causing me as I try to find room and board for the night."

"Well what about the living hell you caused my family?" said the peasant.

"How dare you act this uncharitably!" said the monk. "I know other peasants whose cows were pushed over cliffs and they don't describe their experience as 'living hell'."

"Look, here comes a follower of St. Ignatius. I wonder if he needs room and board?" said the peasant. "After all, it's cold and wet outside."

"Okay, you're twisting my arm. Although I am grateful for all the good my abbot passed on to me and others who received his charism, I... uh... apologize ... for whatever pain his unfortunate orders, which I find difficult to reconcile with the good I saw while following him from village to village, caused you and your family."

"A little better," said the peasant. "But what about the pain YOU caused our family by following his orders. What about the pain your lies caused my son in having him branded a liar when he reported the truth about you, your abbot and cows were falling over cliffs?"

"How dare you judge me!" said the monk. "Only God can judge. Where's your faith in the Church?"

"Behind you," said the peasant, pointing to the Jesuit walking up the alley to investigate the situation. "Fr. Ignatius, can I offer you room and board for the evening? It's a cold night out, I need good spiritual direction to overcome the spiritual pain that has cursed our family for the last five years, and this monk was just leaving."