Of monks and minds

Whenever I feel it’s time for a long vacation, but I lack the spare time, I stay at a monastery for a week. It’s always the same Benedictine monastery, and according to rumour it has the strictest rules in the entire country. I’m not sure if that’s true: in my country, Catholics who prefer their liturgy entirely in Latin (as they do in this monastery) are quickly seen as ‘strict’, ‘conservative’ and sometimes even as ‘right-wing’.

This is unfortunately true in a majority of cases and granted: doing your whole liturgy in Latin is hard-core Catholicism, but in my experience it says little about what ‘wing’ you belong to ‘politico-religiously’. Or should that be ‘religio-politically’? It does however say something about where you stand aesthetically.

The monastery is frequently used by parish priests for their yearly retreat. As a guest you are thus able to compare priests that live in society among the people and those that have spent their (whole) life away from it. Most older monks have been in this place since their late teens. It strikes me every time that the monks seem to be a lot more aware of society than the priests who live in it. Compared to the monks, who seem perfectly normal, every secular priest I’ve ever met there has struck me as somewhat odd.

Like this one priest who told us about the incident where he was molested, because he was walking around in his clerical collar in a city where a gay pride parade was going on. Gay pride parades in my country are widely advertised events, they’re quite difficult to miss. This man managed to, and not only did he not realise that his collar could arouse aggression among some participants, he also failed to realise that it could have aroused some excitement of a totally different kind.

We never told him and I’m not sure, but I wonder if this man would not have been shocked more deeply if he’d been less violently and more subtly accosted on account of his outfit.


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