Dear Friends in Christ,

If you are feeling cooped up, which is completely understandable, you may still be looking for things to do at home. I recently saw an article about creating really unattractive flower vases from discarded paper cartons and the plastic containers, but I don’t recommend that. Spinning wool, weaving, drawing, painting, gardening, listening to or composing music, reading great books, singing chant, opera or Gilbert and Sullivan, learning to play an instrument, memorizing poetry, carpentry projects, connecting with family, old friends or teachers via whatever means you care to use, solitary hikes or runs, at the coast or in the mountains or around the block, are a few of the options I would more readily recommend.

Here at the monastery our life goes on as usual, with set time for prayer, study, manual work, exercise, meals, rest, and some “free time” as well. We also have three fairly short recreation periods together on Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday evenings, lasting about half an hour each. Most often “recreation” means sitting or standing in the cloister and conversing with one another about various and sundry topics, without any real structure as to what will be talked or laughed about.

Of late, though, recreation here has been outdoors and included for some of the younger brothers tossing back and forth a football or kicking around a soccer ball, and most recently, the use of beach balls, even though we are many miles from the coast! An adaptable beach ball is something that even the “Golden Boys” (myself included) can toss around from a sitting position. The younger set has used their beach ball more as a soccer ball, but after about fifteen minutes, the ball was as flat as a pancake. Fortunately, it was not a big investment, but we learned that using a beach ball for anything other than gentle tossing needs to be discouraged.

Pondering the reality of ongoing lockdown (who would have ever thought it would last this long?), and thinking about pursuit of things to pass the time, I suppose that many are watching or re-watching worthwhile movie classics during these times.

My modest recommendation in the category of worthwhile films to watch or re-watch is an Italian-French production from 2011 called, “Habemus Papam,” Latin for, “We Have a Pope.” “Habemus Papam” is the phrase used when a new pope is announced to the world by the Protodeacon of the College of Cardinals from the logia or balcony of Saint Peter’s Basilica, at the conclusion of the gathering of cardinals from around the world who assemble to elect a new pope.

The Latin word for the assembly of cardinals electing a pope, is “conclave,” literally “with key,” referring to a place that is locked up. In Roman Catholic parlance, it refers specifically to the cardinals electing a pope being “locked down” (or up!) in the Vatican until a pope is duly elected and he accepts the job.

If you haven’t already seen “We Have a Pope,” directed by the Italian director Nanni Moretti, who also acts in the film, it is well worth viewing, or seeing again. The plot is fictitious, but very believable. It rotates around the election of a new pope who, once elected, is undecided about assuming the role as pope. While he is making his decision about the election, the dozens of cardinals are basically locked down in the Vatican, and must ultimately find things to do to pass the time until the elected pontiff makes up his mind, which he is sincerely trying to do. A psychoanalyst is called in to assist with the process, played by the director of the film, Nanni Moretti. The film is in Italian (how could it be otherwise?!), with English subtitles. It lasts one hour and forty minutes. The music is very enjoyable also.

There are elements of comedy and seriousness throughout the movie, with many points worth pondering regarding the process of choosing a pope, what must go through the mind of one elected, and the great responsibility that must be assumed by the one who is called to lead the Catholic Church as pope.

The newly elected pontiff in “We Have a Pope” is played by the French actor, producer and film director, Michel Piccoli. He does an excellent job of looking like a pope and gives an entirely sincere performance in my estimation. Piccoli died earlier this year at the age of ninety-four. His mother was French and his father was Italian and his acting career spanned many decades with memorable and not-so-memorable roles.

While there is much in the film that is humorous, even somewhat satirical, it is in no way making fun of Catholicism, the process of electing a pope, or of the men who are the electors. I found the most enjoyable moments involved the cardinals “finding things to do,” since they couldn’t leave the Vatican and didn’t need to be on their knees praying the entire time.

The volleyball tournament that the psychoanalyst organizes for the cardinals is a joy to watch and charming beyond words. It certainly reminded me of my own brothers here taking delight in a purely non-linear activity like kicking around a soccer ball, throwing a football and punting a beach ball around the cloister garden.

I will leave the description of “We Have a Pope” at that and hope you will enjoy the film as much as I have.

Abbot Christian