(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Fray Lázaro is celebrating his seventh anniversary as a Franciscan friar. His major concern, that he never had a true call to the priesthood, leads him to write a diary. The diary focuses on his life and on the life of Fray Rufino, a friar who has earned the reputation of a saint.

Both men are under considerable stress because of life at the monastery. Fray Rufino trains cats and mice to eat from the same plate. The monks celebrate this event as a miracle. It soon becomes a curse, however, as the cats stop hunting mice, and rodents invade the monastery. As secret punishment for that “miracle,” Fray Rufino begins to flagellate himself and maintains a heavy work schedule; he frequently takes upon himself the chores of his fellow friars.

Fray Rufino’s reputation keeps growing outside the monastery. People from faraway places start coming to the monastery in order to meet the monk, whose miracles include cures of dying animals and the restoration of a blind woman’s sight. Such personal attention creates in him a fear of losing his true Franciscan vocation to achieve total humility.

Fray Lázaro’s fragile confidence in his religious calling suffers a great blow the day he sees in church a beautiful young woman who reminds him of a past love. To his surprise, the woman, María Mercedes, is the sister of Gracia, the former girlfriend, now a married woman living in town. Against his will, Fray Lázaro feels an attraction to María Mercedes, who appears to love him. Her constant visits cause him severe depression as he begins to debate whether he is in love. In desperation, and in order to stop seeing María Mercedes, Fray Lázaro pretends to be ill.

Suddenly Fray Rufino warns Fray Lázaro to be careful; Fray Rufino tells him that he can see that Fray Lázaro...

(The entire section is 739 words.)