It had been fifteen years since Father Joseph had taken on the monastic life. The Order had been delighted to receive him. The Abbot recognised that Joseph was a very small ember, but had harboured the hope that, at a mere forty years of age, he might, with God’s help, rekindle the flame of their declining order. The other twelve brothers were, at that time, in their seventies and eighties. Sadly, the Abbot’s prayers were not answered, and no new brothers took vows to replace the departed.
Three years had now gone by since Father Alfred had passed over, leaving Father Joseph alone. Initially this made little difference to his daily routine. It had been a silent order and, with the growing frailty of his fellow brothers, all domestic, maintenance and management activities had been placed in the hands of paid lay-helpers and professionals. It was not until Father Joseph received a visit from the Order’s solicitor, some weeks after the death, that he gave any thought to how his home was sustained.
The solicitor imparted two facts. The first was that the value of the monastery and associated investments was around one hundred million pounds. The second was that, as the sole surviving brother, it all, legally, belonged to him.
At first, these two facts had no impact on his routine of prayer. As that first winter progressed, however, he allowed himself an extra few pieces of coal and a blanket on particularly cold nights. He found that these comforts enhanced his ability to focus on his devotions, and after much prayer and meditation he had gas-fired central heating and double-glazing installed throughout the building.
God spoke to him again in the spring, and he understood that the simple life did not necessitate an uncomfortable life. It was during the following summer that the carpets, armchairs and sofas arrived.
Over many years, he had pondered the question of whether religious retreat was just an escape from life. His faith was, certainly, untested by isolation. The arrival of wall-mounted, wide-screen televisions, videos, DVDs, the surround-sound music system, newspapers and magazines confirmed that the contemplative life did not need to be led in a cultural vacuum. Indeed, to understand and love others, he must surely share their experiences?
The advance from a simple vegetarian diet to carnivorous gastronomy and the conversion of the chapel to a fully stocked bar were just further, obvious steps in updating religious practice.
And so it was that an unfamiliar pang of guilt assailed Father Joseph as he sat by the heated outdoor swimming pool, sipping a cool beer and smoking a Cuban cigar. He glanced at his Rolex and realised that he was late for his session of prayer and contemplation – about eighteen months late. He then glanced at the attractive young women sunbathing topless by the pool. Perhaps all this had been a distraction from his path? Also, perhaps, there was time to take two of them to his room before dinner?