Over the past couple weeks I’ve been debating back and forth, in the comboxes of several blogs, with former LC priest Jack Keogh. He’s an Irishman who runs The Monk Who Stole the Cow blog. The name of his blog refers to a folk tale which is posted in the right margin of his blog.
Mr. Keogh is calling upon LC critics to show more charity toward those who remain in LC. Here’s my take on the situation:
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’.”
“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.”
“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.”