Dude, let's crash at the monastery

monks 02 Did you hear the one about the Super Bowl fans who crashed at the monastery? This is no joke. But it is an amusing, if unserious, story in the The New York Times. Reporter Katie Thomas wrote about the fact that Our Lady of Guadalupe monastery in Phoenix, Ariz. is renting rooms to those in town for the Super Bowl. Naturally, Thomas' story is about the humorous clash between the sacred and the secular. Her lede is a perfect example:

There is no sauna, no heated pool, no chauffeur or sommelier. In fact, no alcohol is allowed on the premises, and guests share a bathroom with their next-door neighbor.

But for $250 a night in a city where Super Bowl rentals are topping out at $250,000 a week for a mansion in Scottsdale, the sisters at Our Lady of Guadalupe Monastery figure they have an offer that cannot be beat.

In debt from the recent purchase of a nearby parcel, the Benedictine nuns are hoping to make a dent in their mortgage by converting their 10-bedroom spiritual retreat into a crash pad for Super Bowl fans this weekend.

You gotta love Thomas' details -- sauna, heated pool, chaffeur, sommelier. Further down in the story, Thomas piles on some more, noting that the Super Bowl guests will sleep in rooms named after various female saints -- Hildegard, Helen, Monica, Ann. By marshaling specific examples of the contrast between the sacred and secular, Thomas achieved the difficult feat of making religion a topic of good-hearted amusement.

To her credit, Thomas' story showed more than the fact that the secular (Super Bowl fans) were growing closer to the sacred (the Benedictine nuns). She showed that the nuns were secular in some ways. For example, the prioress of the monastery, Sister Linda, is an avid fan of the NFL:

"It is violent, but not as violent as some others," she said. "Now, I'm not into boxing or some of those. But football, yeah, I like football. For the most part, it's a down time for me, and a time to just sit back and just enjoy it."

Sister Linda said she admired Eli Manning and Tom Brady -- "they're both talented men," she said of the two quarterbacks -- but added that she was rooting for the Patriots. "They've had a perfect season, and it would be so sad to lose at this point," she said.

Call me a killjoy, but Thomas' story was a bit too unserious. She failed to explore the consequences of the Benedictine Sisters' decision to let rooms to Super Bowl patrons. Might the policy not be an example of creeping secularism?

Having once lived in a Benedictine monastery, I know that monks worry about their lives becoming too secular. Some monks mentioned that before Vatican II, the monastery subscribed only to religious publications as opposed to mainstream fare such as Time and Newsweek. When our group of young men plus some monks met one evening with the Benedictine sisters, a vigorous discussion broke about whether the Sisters ought to be wearing habits rather than secular clothes.

No reporter should be expected to know of such intra-mural squabbles; even the Benedictines, the most public of monastic orders, are not exactly as accessible as parish priests. But everyone recognizes that monasteries are for contemplatives, not partygoers. What happens to monastic life when monks live alongside revelers and sports fans?

Give Katie Thomas credit. Her story was worth several chuckles and smiles. It just did not induce a scratch of the head or a rub of the chin.

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