Over the past several weeks, Canon Lawyer Pete Vere has been exchanging comments with me on other blogs. Pete Vere grew up in Northern Ontario, where he attended French Catholic schools. He is a revert from the SSPX schism, one of the youngest canon lawyers in North America, and a doctoral candidate with the Faculty of Canon Law at Saint Paul University. He took it upon himself to rewrite my version of the "The Monk Who Stole The Cow." You can read Pete's version here. Unlike me, Pete applies the fable to Fr. Maciel and to the Legionaries of Christ. I use the fable to suggest that we can succeed despite adversity and, maybe, even because of it. The characters in my version are not intended to depict any person living or dead. Pete is a vocal critic of Fr. Maciel and the Legionaries of Christ reaction to the scandalous life of their founder.
As an Irishman I think I have a sense of humor. One of my favorite authors G.K. Chesterton said:
"There are two ways of dealing with nonsense in this world. One way is to put nonsense in the right place; as when people put nonsense into nursery rhymes. The other is to put nonsense in the wrong place; as when they put it into educational addresses, psychological criticisms, and complaints against nursery rhymes." (ILN 10-15-21)
There is no better tool than a sense of humor to keep a firm footing and avoid slipping into an abyss of despair. I've found that to be true in my life. Another of my favorites acknowledges the power of humor to overcome adversity: Victor Frankl, renowned Psychiatrist, holocaust survivor and author of "Man's Search for Meaning." He wrote: "I would never have made it if I could not have laughed. Laughing lifted me momentarily. out of this horrible situation, just enough to make it livable. survivable."
So, I thought I'd re-write Pete's version of my story. I am not laughing AT anybody. I want to laugh with you. A sense of humor reflects the ability not to take oneself too seriously and it is usually indicative of the ability to learn from mistakes. So here goes. My edits to Pete's version are in italics:
"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?"
The peasant's daughter, when she thought her father might want to be a nun, took the next boat to the US where she got a job as a bar maid in Queens, NY. She made a small fortune and married an Italian. Soon after, the opened their own restaurant which they called "The Gaelic and The Garlic." The remained Catholic but they didn't go to Mass most Sundays. They did however have their children baptized and to went to Church at Easter and Christmas. They lived happily ever after and had beautiful children.
The Prince is another story. Eventually he drummed up the courage to ask for the hand of a beautiful princess in marriage. She thought about it for an instant and then said, "No!" The Prince lived happily ever after. Thus the Prince lived the shortest fairy tale known to man.
."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."
He closed the door and left the Monk in the cold. Then he ran out to the back and got a shovel. He ran around the side of his hovel, crept up behind the Monk and whacked him over the head. The Monk eventually recovered, left his order and went on to be a successful Canon Lawyer.
"Oh 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."
The peasant decided he needed solace (not spiritual direction) so he invited the Jesuit in and they shared a flask of the peasant's home made (illegal) whiskey. They both got very drunk, bared their souls and sang rebel songs. They discussed the Kelly Report on the Irish scandals and wondered if the history of violence in Ireland and the power accorded to the clergy was the cause of it all? The Jesuit said he would make that the subject of his doctoral dissertation in Rome. Then he went home (with a terrible headache) and obtained scholarships for the peasant's sons to attend Clongowes - the Jesuit secondary school in Dublin. One of them was featured in James Joyce's "A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man." Two of them ended up with business degrees and went on to make loads of money as corporate executives. They both married and divorced.
The youngest of the sons wrote a book. The theme was about how screwed up the Church (and most human organizations are.) Despite this he wrote, "God manages to write straight on crooked lines." He urged people to analyze the "big picture." "The only way to heal awful memories, he wrote, is through forgiveness. You have to find your inner Faith and be very careful of narcissistic and charismatic leaders." The book was a huge success! He moved to New York to be near his sister. He ate lots of fine Italian food, put on a lot of weight and, married a lovely Irish lass with loads of common sense. He died penniless but happy - he left all his money to Mother Theresa's congregation.