A LITTLE MONK WHO LOVED ST. FRANCIS

 

This is a life I absoluterly love remembering. The recollection opens with a cloister surrounded by stone passages on all four sides which open onto the central space. I am a young monk whose love of all nature - birds, animals, bees, butterflies, flowers - all growing things - has made me the perfect member of the monastery to be given the responsibility for supervising and working in the gardens within this cloister as well as those which lie outside of the buildings occupied by the community.

I live my life in a constant state of ecstasy, upheld by the intensity of my love for all life! My model is St. Francis, whose life is my inspiration. I see him also as my spiritual brother.

Our Order is not one which has been recognized by Rome, although as Christians we consider ourselves to be members of the Church. But perhaps such glorious happiness is too beautiful to survive, especially in the 13th century. One day a delegation arrives from Rome to inspect our practices. The first thing this man dressed all in black will wipe out is our pleasure in eating together. He decrees that from now on, no one is to speak during a meal, and that instead someone is to read to us in Latin from the Bible at each meal.

But this is only the first deprivation. I do not remember all of the changes he insists need to be made, but when he leaves, our daily experience has been transformed from one of a natural flow which feels like living with God and which has always resonated with me like beautiful music into an almost military sense of strict self-discipline in every aspect of life, a kind of enforced daily march.

I do manage to adapt pretty well, in the end, and confine my sense of joy to the moments when I am alone with nature. I live to be quite old, and in the last scene am being cared for in bed by my fellow monks, who love me. Sensing that I am dying, I ask to be carried to an open window which overlooks the distant mountains of northern Italy. This scene is the last thing I see before I pass beyond.

 

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