Bizarre Encounter with Anti-clericalism


A few days ago I was walking along in the main building of the University of Vienna on my way to the library, thinking about something abstract and not paying attention to my surroundings, when suddenly a grey haired, vaguely professorial looking man was walking next to me and saying: “Do you know: they used to tell children not to whistle?” I looked at him blankly. “Do you know where that comes from? It’s because they weren’t allowed to whistle in Church.” I was at a loss as to what to say. He regarded me for an instant in silence and then said: “How repressive! Telling children not to whistle! … I experienced this myself!” And then, shaking his head, “I don’t know if you are on the right path, young man, I don’t know.”

I thought to myself: “Seriously? We’re standing in the University of Vienna where year after year clever professors lecture large audiences on how the Church served to dupe the people, keeping them docile to the ruling class, comforting them with lies and illusions, turning the aggression caused by  their oppression away from the oppressors and toward themselves (penance) or toward heretics and Jews; or how She violently repressed the deepest human drives, laying on our culture a staggering burden of guilt, causing all kinds of psychosis, neurosis and so on; or how even now She is a nest of unspeakable hypocrisy and exploitation or whatever… And yet when you see a priest you feel compelled to go up to him and complain about… kids being forbidden to whistle? Seriously?”

Afterwards I came up with three theories about what might have been going on:

1) He had been whistling when he saw me and involuntarily stopped, causing a chain of thought that ended in his bizarre speech. (I didn’t hear him whistling, but then I wasn’t really paying attention to what was going on).

2) He meant it as a kind of masterpiece of understatement. As in the young Žižek writing in one party Yugoslavia: “Latest election polls: it looks like the Communists will win yet again!” This would fit with the ironical and understated character of Viennese people generally, and Viennese anti-clericals in particular.

3) (The least satisfying, but most plausible theory). There is no intelligible explanation. It was an act of random irrationality; the social equivalent of a Lucretian swerve.


562013_10151408917209021_196141803_n (1)Pater Johannes Paul, who was ordained to the priesthood last Sunday, entered the monastery at the same time as I did. Watching him be ordained, and then next day celebrate his first Mass, was extraordinarily moving. Pater Damian, who was also in our novitiate, preached at the first Mass, and recalled the our entry into the monastery, when we had lain on the floor of the Church (in the same place where later we were to lie for the Litany of Saints at our ordinations) and how the Abbot had asked “What do you want?” and we had answered “The mercy of God and the Order.”

Pater Johannes Paul has always been a great example to me of the monastic life as a passionate response to the question “What do you want?” He has often recalled how his own path into the monastery began when he was listening to a CD with quotes from Pope John Paul II. At one point Pope John Paul said: “Do not be satisfied with mediocrity!” The future Pater Johannes Paul says that he realized that his life was mediocre–that he did and thought whatever happened to be fashionable, and wasted his time on mediocre joys–he decided to try to find life in its fullness.

And that is the promise of the monastic life: fullness of life, a life directed entirely toward the infinite good, that tries as far as possible to resist resting in the second best. As St Benedict puts it in the Prologue of the Rule:

And the Lord, seeking his laborer in the multitude to whom He thus cries out, says again, “Who is the one who will have life, and desires to see good days” (Ps. 33[34]:13)? And if, hearing Him, you answer, “I am the one,” God says to you, “If you will have true and everlasting life, keep your tongue from evil and your lips that they speak no guile. Turn away from evil and do good; seek after peace and pursue it” (Ps. 33[34]:14-15). And when you have done these things, My eyes shall be upon you and My ears open to your prayers; and before you call upon Me, I will say to you, ‘Behold, here I am'” (Ps. 33[34]:16; Is. 65:24; 58:9). What can be sweeter to us, dear ones, than this voice of the Lord inviting us? Behold, in His loving kindness the Lord shows us the way of life.

Easter Sunday

The Gospel, photo:

The Gospel; photo: pkw

On account of the snow the Easter Procession, in which the Risen Lord, “really, truly, and substantially present” in the Monstrance,   is carried under a golden canopy, and which usually takes place out of doors, took place in the cloisters.

Since the Easter Mass is celebrated together with the Parish of Heiligenkreuz, the brass band of the village of Heiligenkreuz played for the procession. They played the greatest of all German Easter Hymns, “Der Heiland ist Erstanden”– a march of  tremendous triumph, with such heroic majesty, and with such Germanic seriousness, violence almost.

Easter Vigil in the Snow

Last night it snowed so hard that it was decided not to have the Easter fire in the outer court of the monastery, but in the “hortus conclusus,” the “paradisus claustralis,” the garden at the center of the monastery, so that the people could stand in the cloisters, and only the deacon had to venture out into the blizzard. Not so much fronde nemus gramina flore favent then, but benedicite, glacies et nives, Domino and stolis salutis candidi; in its own way a fitting sign of the unleavened bread of sincerity, of which the epistle of Easter Sunday speaks, the purity of the new life in Christ.

Update: P. Thadaeus, O.Cist., from Vietnam, made the following photos:

Please Pray for Don Reto Nay

Don Reto Screen Shot 2013-03-16 at 13.27.20

Don Reto Nay, of the diocese of Chur in Switzerland, is a wonderful priest. I knew him years ago when he was teaching in Gaming in Lower Austria. I often served Mass for him, and the witness of his great reverence for the Holy Sacrifice was one of the chief inspirations of my own desire to become a priest. I was very glad that he was able to preach at my first Mass in 2011.

He is a man who has suffered much  in his life, and been thwarted and misunderstood at every turn. Now I am sorry to hear he is to be dismissed from the pastoral care of his parish, Sedrun, over controversy surrounding, a youtube-style website that he co-founded. has posted a rather sharp attack on the German bishops’ recent statements on the so-called morning after pill. One can admit that the video in question was lacking in the sort of reverence for the successors of the Apostles that should characterize even legitimate critique, but it still is sad that Don Reto’s excellent work in Sedrun should now be brought to an abrupt end. Don Reto has given his own perspective on the events in an interview. Please keep him in your prayers.