An Interview with My Former Self (When I Was a Benedictine Monk)

When I was a Benedictine monk, I was interviewed by a high school student for his school project. His teacher had asked him to interview a person who had undergone a life changing odyssey. Here is the transcript of the interview.
Fr. Raphael often smoked a cigarette after Mass.

1. Describe your odyssey, spiritual, mental, or physical. You told me, Luke, that you are reading the Odyssey by Homer. So, it seems to make sense to start from there: “Sing to me,” the poet says to the muses at the beginning of the poem, invoking their help (who, I assume, stand in for the gods, or God). The spiritual longing alluded to in being “sung to” by the gods is intoxicating. Desiring the muses' song describes my odyssey the best. The “mental part” as you put it, is figuring out what the heck the gods are trying to say! And the physical part most likely boils down to the daily decision to get up, physically, in the morning. That, my friend, is an odyssey enough!
2. What was your childhood like? My childhood was for the most part pretty unassuming. I grew up in a suburban town, mainly middle-class. But, as a child, I had a very active imagination. And I spent an awful lot of hours daydreaming and reading books and listening to records. I loved stories and music as a child and I was very much active in drama and performing.
3. Did your childhood inspire your odyssey in any way? I think my childhood was most influential in that I was introduced to the world of knowledge — a world that has become my life’s mainstay. The greatest gift my parents gave to me was bringing me to the Public library and teaching me how to pray. I think my childhood introduction to libraries and an early memory of going to Church, influenced me more than I realize. That was the good part of my childhood. The difficulties of childhood also influenced me too. I learned from my childhood, that childhood is not perfect. In fact, we spend most of our adult life figuring out what the heck actually happened to us as kids.
4. Were you influenced by anyone to go on your odyssey? My mother read to me stories from books, when I was a little child. I think this profoundly influenced me. Also, she was probably the first person to teach me about God. She taught me that God was like a loving father. This too had profound — and also difficult — ramifications for me in later life. Also, my godmother was very influential for me. She taught me to follow my dreams but cautioned me that it would not always be easy. She told me that to pursue your desires often entails heartache, sweat, and a little bit of blood. I am thankful for her does of realism coupled with her undaunting affirmation and love for me.
5. How old were you when you found out your calling? Well, I can remember when I was about fifteen years old I wanted to do something that brought me closer to God and also strengthened my mind. I went on a retreat to a monastery and felt that the monk’s dedication to “love of learning and their desire for God” was an attractive aspect of their life. I have to admit, I did have an overly romantic view of monastic life as a young kid. And now that I am older, I don’t think I am as easily swept away by such ideals. Perhaps, I have learned along the way to acquire some of Odysseus’s practical intelligence.
6. How did your family and friends react when you told them? Well, family members really did not understand. My mother was dead set against it. My brothers were okay, but they figured it was kind of a strange decision. My father really did not have much to say, except telling me, “Do what you feel will make you happy.” My friends are very supportive but some of my friends question the validity of what they feel is an archaic lifestyle. I think they just wanted me to be happy and not make any foolish decisions.
7. Was it hard when you first began? Yes. I packed my bags several times. In fact, it still can be a difficult journey. I don’t believe our journeys are ever free from difficulties. If they were they would cease to be journeys.
8. Did you receive help from anyone who did the same or a similar journey you did? Yes, I have been blessed to have many mentors along the way. I don’t think I have ever had such a great guide as Athena in the Odyssey, but I have come close. There was one monk who told me that when he joined the monastery, he had no idea what he was really getting into. I think that is a great metaphor for life! Do we truly know what we are getting ourselves into? Hah. Probably not.
9. Would you help someone the same way they helped you? Of course. I believe helping a person find their own odyssey is a good thing. An odyssey should not be imposed on a person. That would not be a good thing. People are ready when they are ready. We all have to find our own way in the world. And a little bit of “help from our friends,” to quote that famous Rock song, helps tremendously along the way. In fact, the times I have helped people has in fact been some of the most pleasurable and enjoyable times of my life.
10. Was there a major hardship during your odyssey? Well, the life I lead now precludes me from having a significant love relationship and a family. While, I knew this going into monastic life, sometimes, the lack of a significant other and the prospect of adopting children of my own, has proven to be a hardship at times. But, looking back on my life thus far, I am amazed at what my life has granted to me thus far. I am very grateful. And I am very much interested in what the future will bring.
11. Do you ever look back and want to change anything you did or didn't do? I don’t regret the past. My fears have more to do with the future. You know, like, plans and hopes for my future that are not yet realized.
12. If you could pick one thing to change what would it be? Well, I would have liked to have been born French because I really enjoy French and consider myself a francophile but I have to consign myself to the reality that I am a Louisianian which is close enough! But, seriously, to answer your question, I have been plagued with this question often enough to realize that it leads me nowhere. There are, of course, many things I could change or would desire to change. But a person can go mad spending time dwelling on that stuff.
13. Was your journey always tough, or were there any enjoyable moments? Of course, there were many enjoyable moments. Enjoyment is something I think highly of!!! It is funny though when I think back on my life thus far I tend to think more about the good stuff. I often marvel at how I was even able to manage myself through the difficult stuff even though while it was happening I did not think the same way. One of the most difficult years for me was my junior year abroad when I studied in Europe under the most difficult professors at the University I attended. I was stunned when I got my grades in and saw that I had passed.
14. If so, name the most predominant one. Well, like I said, when I graduated from college with my degree in Philosophy, I was very proud of myself and felt an enormous surge of satisfaction. But also, I have had many enjoyable moments. On an intimate level, the most enjoyable moments have been with my friends on several travels and vacations I have been able to take.
15. Once you were finished your odyssey, how did you feel? Well, Luke, I am not finished yet!! What are you trying to do? Put me in an early grave?! I like to think of life as an enormous Odyssey.
16. Have you ever regret doing it? No regrets. It is too costly to think that way.
17. How has it changed your life? Well, I think I would have led a lonelier life if it had not been for this journey that I am on now. I think by nature, I am a free-spirit, so my decision to become a Benedictine is at first a strange one, because of the constraints put on a monk’s life — but at the same time, my life has helped me to hone my free-spirit nature in ways that I never imagined.
18. How has it helped you in the certain area? (physical, mental, spiritual). I think I am by nature a mental and a spiritual person. I think I chose the life I lead because it matches already (more or less) what is inside of me. Not that there are other things I could be doing but I tend to gravitate toward activities that I already have a natural aptitude.
19. Were these changes for better or worse? The life I lead does not always privilege the physical aspects of life. Running jumping swimming, etc. This change poses a challenge. I often have to force myself to think outside of the mental and the spiritual and just plunge into the physical activity of life. Sometimes this just means closing my book and going outside. So a goal of mine is to try to remain more physically active and not remain sedentary.
20. Are you glad you don’t have to take on your odyssey again? Once this odyssey is finished, I think I will be ready to pack my bags.
An interview with Bede Greig Roselli, OSB by Luke Bernard

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