My monas­tic life Wil­fred De’ath

WIL­FRED DE’ATH is rel­a­tively happy in his French re­treat

The Oldie - - CONTENTS -

The el­derly monk/gar­dener in charge of the monastery grave­yard at Solesmes doesn’t like me us­ing the side gate to le cemetière. ‘The dead like you to use the front en­trance,’ he told me. What are they go­ing to do? Rise up out of their graves and shake their rosaries at me?

This wasn’t the only funny thing that hap­pened to me dur­ing my two months as Solesmes, the great Bene­dic­tine monastery on the River Sarthe. A bald bearded re­treatant in the room op­po­site to mine in the guest­house com­plained that I made too much noise lock­ing and un­lock­ing the door to my cell – he fur­ther alien­ated me, later in my stay, by ask­ing if I knew of a ‘gay’ club in Sablé, the lit­tle town three kilo­me­tres away. This would be like ex­pect­ing to find a gay club in a small English cathe­dral town like Ely or Wells. Even if there was one, I wouldn’t be seen dead in it.

The guest­mas­ter, a very nice Amer­i­can named Michael, lent me a book called The Day-by-day Life of the Desert Fa­thers in Fourth-cen­tury Egypt. I found it heavy go­ing. He also lent me a book named Sex­u­al­ity Ac­cord­ing to Jean-paul II by the ap­pro­pri­ately named Yves Se­men.

One night, we all had to stand by our ta­bles in the re­fec­tory for nearly ten min­utes be­fore the Latin grace be­cause a car­di­nal from Africa (Sene­gal) was com­ing to din­ner and he was late: even the Ab­bot grew rest­less. But the black car­di­nal did us all a favour. He ate so slowly that we did not have to rush our meal, for once. It took him nearly five min­utes to put his nap­kin ring back on. That is the time we nor­mally get for the main course! This is not good for the di­ges­tion – the only thing I do not like about life at Solesmes.

The book about the desert fa­thers in fourth-cen­tury Egypt does con­tain one very il­lu­mi­nat­ing anec­dote. Two broth­ers each quit the desert to take a wife. They re­ported that the Fa­thers gave them both the same penance: one year in seclu­sion with noth­ing to eat but bread and wa­ter. At the year’s end, one was pale and glum, the other in great health and very happy. This was be­cause the first one had spent his year in fear, think­ing of his faults and the pun­ish­ment. The other had done noth­ing but thank God for hav­ing ex­tracted him from his im­pu­rity. I am try­ing to put this les­son into prac­tice.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.