Archive for May, 2009

A Monk in the Kitchen

Saturday, May 23rd, 2009

There once was a child born the fourth son of a noble couple. As he demonstrated no particular skills and as he was highly unlikely to inherit his father’s title and property, the couple gave him to the local abbot to be raised as a monk.

The abbot found no skills in him that might benefit the monastery so he put the youngster to work in the kitchen. For many years, the boy laboured at the lowest tasks, working himself slowly up into positions of greater and greater responsibility. He learned to butcher and to preserve. He learned the secrets of winemaking and brewing beer. He mastered the arts of baking and saucing.

In his middle years, the monk became master of the kitchen and tutored the many younger monks who were assigned to assist him. The kitchen’s reputation grew and grew until it became famous throughout the kingdom.

The abbot granted him leave to absent himself from vigils and lauds as he was so busy in the kitchen preparing the food that would become the three meals of the day. “Work is prayer,” the abbot said, and so it was.

Visiting abbots and princes sought to steal the monk chef away from his monastery but his vow of stability wedded him to the place where he was first professed. The abbots of neighbouring monasteries often sent young monks to work and study under him.

One day, there was a convocation of bishops and abbots at the monastery for which the chef monk prepared the best dishes of which he was capable. Praise was heaped upon him and he was deeply gratified that so many important people appreciated his art.

That night, the chef monk dreamt that he was in Heaven where he met the Lord. Jesus Himself greeted and welcomed him. There were dark green bushes on which beautiful golden fruit was growing. When the monk looked at the fruit, Jesus bade him to pick and eat. It was the most wonderful flavour he had ever tasted … and he had tasted many.

In the early morning, the abbot saw the chef monk in his assigned place in the choir at the first daily order of prayer. Accustomed to his absence, the abbot sought him out after the liturgy and asked why he was there when he had been excused.

“I had a dream last night,” the monk told his abbot, “in which I learned that the highest things I can accomplish on earth are lower than those things which are freely given in Heaven to those who have not so much as earned them.”