Some might be surprised to know this, but religious life is a hotbed of practical jokes, hoaxes, and pranks. Here are some that I have witnessed over the years:
At Benedict XVI's Saturday morning Mass at St. Patrick's Cathedral, one of our brothers had the honor of being one of the gift bearers. On the television feed, you could see that they conversed a little. So everyone wanted to ask this brother what he had said to the Holy Father. Someone started the rumor that he had asked, "Does this count for Sunday?"
Another urban legend claimed that a certain friar was the son of wrestler King Kong Bundy. (There was a resemblance.)
There have been imaginary phone calls from bishop's secretaries, and from provincial superiors in India, sending brothers off on fool's errands of various kinds. Attempts to arrange full ecclesiastical funerals for dogs and cats have also been called in. False summonses to appear before the Apostolic Penitentiary "tomorrow morning, Rome time, first thing" have also been received.
An urgent 'While you were out' note instructed a brother to return the call of Sister Mary Ellafanta, giving the number for the Bronx Zoo. Another invited a brother to call the local funeral home and ask for 'Myra Mains.'
I once received a forged birthday message via fax, bearing the letterhead of the apostolic nunciature.
These sorts of things work well on us because many of the phone calls and requests we receive are, in fact, stranger than fiction but entirely legitimate. I once got a call to arrange a wedding:
"Here's the thing, Father. I'm not a Roman Catholic, I'm a--what do you guys call it--a Melkite, that's right. And my bride, she's one of them Orthodoxes--Russian, Greek, I dunno, one of them things. So how do we get this thing on the road? Tell you what; I'll come in and bring that crazy girl with me, and I'll bring a few beers along too so we can have a good time while we figure this out!"
After making the appointment and instructing my interlocutor that we might wait until our second visit to "bring a few beers," I hung up. I didn't even write down the appointment, presuming it had been one of the friars putting me on with his deft combination of the Ecumenical Directory and the Jerky Boys. Funny thing, but it turned out to be real.