Did you know that some monasteries have a “zealotor,” a monk who is endowed by the abbot with the responsibility of reinforcing monastery discipline? “Zealotor” is pronounced to rhyme with “Skeletor” (for those of us who grew up with He-Man and She-Ra), and it’s an unenviable position, as Father Joseph Gabriel, the zealotor of the Monastery of Christ in the Desert, explains.
Father Joseph Gabriel, because of his role, is the monk who most often butts heads with Alex, the young ex-Marine. This second episode of “The Monastery” helped to round out our impressions of both Alex and Father Joseph Gabriel. Father J.G. had admitted in the first episode that the Abbot may have appointed him zealotor because of certain traits in his personality, and it’s easy to see what he means. When he sits down to have a heart-to-heart with Alex, he emphasizes conformity to liturgical actions, almost taking a “just do it” sort of approach (rather than explaining why it can be useful to faithfully “go through the motions” until you believe—an approach that seems more fitted to those who already have some sort of belief to start with). When Alex said that he came to the monastery hoping to hear Bible stories, I began to feel sympathy for him. “Tell the boy a story!” I yelled at the TV. These particular monks have so much wisdom about prayer and other spiritual disciplines, but Alex might be someone who needs to fall in love with a Story before he can participate in it.
While I was disappointed with Father Joseph Gabriel’s approach, we got to see his wisdom and gentleness in the episode as well. And, after all, showing his weaknesses as well as his strengths helps to remind us that Christ always works through imperfect people—even crotchety ones.
The big “event” in the episode was Alex and Jon’s successful raid (raids?) on the monastery kitchen to procure beer. As Tom says, only two kinds of people would break in through a skylight to steal beer from a bunch of monks: an alcoholic or a Marine.
After a few days of getting drunk in their rooms, Alex finally confesses to Abbot Philip. The Abbot takes a positive approach, praising Alex for being honest. When he takes Alex and Jon aside privately, he tells them that he’s not about to make anyone do penance for having fun. “You are mischief by nature,” he tells Alex, and then encourages him to direct that mischief and energy toward something productive. “And you,” he says, turning to Jon, “are only mischief by association. You need to learn to become more mischief by nature, so that you feel good about living, and to really enjoy it. I see this as your big challenge.”
Waaaa! I almost started crying during this part, as someone who sometimes forgets how to be a mischievous otter. Abbot Philip’s words to Jon seemed like a moment of spiritual insight that came directly from God, through the Abbot, rather than from book-knowledge of psychology. I didn’t always agree with everything the Abbot did during this episode, but, though flawed as we all are, he’s truly open to being used by God, and that can make all the difference.
In this episode, the monks, by simply being monks, sort of countered the whole reality show set-up that it’s up to them to help these seekers grow spiritually. It’s not up to their skill or their “niceness”—it’s up to God, and that’s a comfort. Because they don’t think it’s all up to them, they actually can help the seekers see God.
Add comment November 4th, 2006