Wednesday, April 8, 2009

(2) Summer

Work proved an outlet for me. All the duties in the priory were
held in common. One could work in the kitchen as well as read
scholarly texts in his cell. Some of my first work was helping in
the infirmary, tending to the sick. Early on, too, I helped serve
the poor who came our way. Canterbury was deemed a town,
but compared to places like Paris--or even Benevento--it seemed
more like an oversized village. Most of the town's housing was
near the Cathedral or the nearby St. Augustine's Abbey, yet
another Benedictine house. As for the poor, working with them
I got to meet a lot of the town's inhabitants.

Still life was picking-up for Canterbury, based on a tragedy--the
murder of the late Archbishop, Thomas a Becket. Originally he
was a close friend of King Henry II, but over time he was being
steadily pressured by the King's determination to interfere in
Church affairs. The King wanted to *use* Thomas as his own
point person, who would simply give over to him. The Archbishop
would not comply and became a troublesome thorn for the King.
Hence Thomas a Becket was murdered in the Cathedral, only
a few years before I arrived. The King's men martyred Becket,
though Henry tried to beg off.

Consequently, this tragedy spawned numerous pilgrimages
to Canterbury, to the Cathedral where Thomas a Becket was
murdered. This good Archbishop had become a favorite of the
people, and Canterbury had become a recipient of the pilgrim's
money. So life was picking-up for the town.

Anyway, after completing my novitiate I smoothly moved into
the various functions of the priory. Mainly I was designated
a "Master," once again, in that I was tapped to teach the monks
a myriad of religious and theological subjects. This was not
surprising, since only a few of the monks were actually even
fairly well-educated. Most of the monks were younger sons or
left as child oblates, and they were the monastic majority in
the priory. Nonetheless, most were open to learning. I made
it easier for them by trying to make theological and doctrinal
complexities somewhat understandable. And as I did in Paris,
I emphasized Love and Forgiveness.

No doubt everyone has a certain need for forgiveness. But
my need seem to become more critical as each day passed.
Guilt was eating away my heart and mind. Then came the
threshold that I had to pass through. When I was 44 years of
age, our prior left to become the Abbot of Battle Abbey. God
only knows why, but the priory's community voted for me to
become their new prior. I was both stunned and disturbed.

I was disturbed, because I had carried my hidden guilt all
through the years--not once talking about it in confession.
Worried about my position in the Church, I still did not trust
God to help me through. Carrying the guilt, I was not clean.
It wasn't so much the sinful act of lust as it was the terrible act
of spurning Love.

At last I garnered up the courage to take this guilt into
confession. I could do no less, if I were to accept becoming
the Prior of Christ Church Priory. I chose our now presiding
Archbishop Richard to be my confessor. He had once been
the Prior of Dover, and I believed him to be a good and
tolerant man. Nonetheless, as I entered the confessor's
box I was trembling with fear.

It proved a terrible hour for me, unburdening this guilt on
my Archbishop. Good man he was, but he was *not* easy
on me. Essentially he told me what I already knew, that I
would have to pay a lifetime of penance for my crime against
Love. Oddly, he barely made mention the sin of lust that
I surely had committed during the course of this affair. In the
end I came out of that confession feeling at least slightly
more cleansed.

My Archbishop made no objection to my becoming the Prior.
Hence, I accepted the monks' call to be their leader.

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