Sunday, 24 April 2011

What sort of a Catholic animal are you?

Would Brother Camel fit your character?

St Gregory, in his writings, made reference as to how he alluded to the monks in his charge as various types of animal, each according to its imagined spiritual character.
So, he has Brother Rhinoceros, Brother Locust and so on. In all, Gregory the Great characterized some 72 different Christian animal types.

This must have been a foreunner to the management training programme so popular in the 70s and 80s (and, maybe now, for all I know). We were taught (as young, green marketeers) to identify those sitting around the conference table and to give them animal identities according to their character. So, the Lion was the blustering, bullying type and the snake was the've got it! The idea was that, once one knew the characters you were dealing with, you could handle them accordingly and I am sure the same thought must have been in the mind of Abbot Gregory, as he then was.

Now this is where the story becomes a shade tortuous but, stick with me and, hopefully all will soon become clear. Back in 1989 when, we,  as a family, decided that we could not take any more mullarkey at Sunday Mass we declared UDI and set up our own chapel in a wing of the old schoolhouse where we lived in Pembrokeshire. There, only the traditional Latin Mass was celebrated by visiting priests. Our immediate neighbour was a 9th century church, now part of the Anglican Church of Wales and ministered to by a vicar by the name of Brendan O'Malley. Now it transpired that Brendan was an ex priest, in fact he was an ex Benedictine monk and had a marvellous academic and learned mind. I like to think that he peaked during his Catholic period and never since then has repeated his excellent works and writings but that might be a little unfair on him. Both then and today, Brendan and I have little in common as he has a most liberal Anglican approach to life. In fact, whilst he was vicar of this gem of a Pre Reformation church he ordered the oak pews ripped out and miles of carpeting laid, on top of which went a series of sofas and armchairs - more House of Fraser than House of you may see how we differ essentially.

Nevertheless, after he left the priesthood (but was still a Catholic) and with the images of the monastery fresh in his mind, one of his writings was published under the title of 'The Animals of St Gregory' under the name Brian O'Malley. A rewarding book to read and to use to identify the characteristics (less desirable ones) that manifest themselves within one's own character.
The characteristics outlined by Brendan O'Malley are interesting because, of course, they are a blend of both the good and the bad that are in all of us. So, Brother Lizard is a slow and apparently, untalented Brother, here is a passage from his chapter:-

"....he was not attractive to look at nor was he clever or quick-witted. Everything he did was accomplished with painstaking endeavour. He was the monastery cook and from his kitchen he poured out his love in the service of others. He had a happy heart and his attitude was transmitted in his work, so that the simple fare he served took on the element of a sacrament. Through his work his love was made visible. In his work, he found the reality of himself, something no one else could know....."

While Brother Ostrich was a shade less loveable:-

"...Brother Ostrich had a certain amount of time for God; he felt that it wasn't so much a matter of his belief in God as of the feeling that God believed in him. If he had worked as hard at prayer as he did on his image of sanctitiy, he would, in all probability, have been able to fly, but he could not fly in prayer, because of his need to impress all beholders. Grovelling in his heart in things below, Brother Ostrich could not maintain a life of sanctity. He could not, in truth, even rise from the ground, but walked along the broad spaces of his thought, silently uttering his own praises, such was the weight of his hypocrisy....."

The blurb on the cover informs us that: "The animals of St Gregory can be met in any High Street. You will find Brother Rhinoceros and Brother Locust in any bar. They are also to be found in the heart of each one of us"

Which poses the question, what sort of Catholic animal are you?

The Animals of St Gregory by Brian O'Malley
Published by: Paulinus Press   ISBN 0 907740 00 6



  1. I've been called a cheeky monkey in the past.......
    Happy Easter to you too.

  2. Alelluia!He is risen indeed!!

  3. Richard,
    Resurrexit sicut dixit, Alleluia !
    I have been told by my Chinese friends that I am a dog, being born in that year. I was puzzled at the time how an animal can reveal certain human traits, fortunately (for me) the year of the dog means I am loyal and faithful in their tradition.

  4. This interesting and quirky question calls for some serious research! Hence, I asked each member of my family what animal I was like. Here are the unedited results (certainly points to ponder);
    Son 1 - a lion because you are quite bossy
    Son 2 - a mouse because you are cute and busy
    Daughter - an owl because you know a lot of things
    Husband - a dog (with a bone) because you will not let go of important things
    Mum - a chimp because you are fun!

    Happy Easter

  5. Slightly off topic but not completely,I have this belief that a dog is an excellent guide to the nature of its owner. Snappy and aggressive; friendly and lick-you-to-death; round and podgy; lean and lugubrious; shaggy and unkempt-but usually friendly; mean and nasty; somehow these so often replicate the characteristics of the owner. This isn't much help when 'labelling'religious, but is useful in the outside world!

  6. I have no idea....Perhaps a magpie because I was struck by one bright shiny idea in your piece:
    "More House of Fraser than house of God"!

    That is SO good! I KNOW I will use it some time!

  7. Patricius, I am ashamed to say that I have nurtured that phrase since the little church was vandalised in such a fashion some 20 plus years ago. It was with a sense of relief that I was able to use it at last :)