Have you heard the one about the three nuns who fell out? No, me neither! But you can bet the punchline includes the word 'habit!' The word 'punchline' is also quite apt, mind, especially in the case of the convent being closed down in Italy because two of the three nuns left there found the Mother Superior so difficult. It's reported that they'd had enough and finally turned on her, scratching her face and throwing her to the ground. But the fight continues! Mother Superior has vowed to stay where she is, despite the intervention of the Archbishop and now the Vatican. So wait on the next news item as she chains herself to the convent gates or organises a 'pray in!'
The news item brings to mind a story that Cardinal Basil Hume once told in one of his books, of a young novice in a convent who was having a few difficulties. Mother Superior's answer was blunt and profound. 'Don't drag your cross, sister, carry it.' It's easy to see the funny side of the story from Santa Maria in Bari but there's a more important point, too. One of my recyclable school assemblies is to introduce (in a virtual way, of course) a number of different friends I have, each with different jobs: Sarah the teacher, Jon the homeless worker, Kate the computer programmer, Vivienne the children's doctor and Patrick the monk. The young people then have to organise them in order of who has the most difficult job. They invariably declare that the monk has the easiest 'job'! Of course, if that was the case our convents would be spilling over and our monasteries would have a queue to get in for surely, none of us in our right mind would go out of our way to make life difficult for ourselves! So why not be a monk or nun - it's easy!
But easy, of course, it is not! The story of the three nuns shows the frustrations of living together in community, the pure humanness that spills out and over into extreme behaviour and which becomes a caricature for gaps in the news. It shows, too, that none of us is perfect. St Benedict, the father of Western Monasticism, called his monasteries 'a school for the Lord's service.' In other words, we always go on learning - though I'm not sure he had in mind the playground fights and bites and the scratches succumbed in a school yard fight! Or maybe he did. Holiness is a natural thing. The easiest and the most difficult thing in the world. Which is why so many us get it wrong and so many of us make mistakes on trying to get it right. So, it's back to school for all of us, I think! Just keep your nails to yourself!