Monasteries of the Heart

Monks in Our Midst: Mother Gail Fitzpatrick, OCSO, on recognizing the sacred

In J.D. Salinger’s novel, Franny and Zooey, Franny learns the Jesus Prayer, ("Jesus Christ have mercy on me a sinner!") but in pursuing it without a spiritual guide she gets herself into a state of total mental and psychological exhaustion. She is on the verge of a breakdown. Her older brother, Zooey, tries to talk with her, but only makes matters worse until he finally hits on the image of Bessie’s chicken broth. Fannie’s mother, Bessie, has been trying to feed her daughter chicken broth, just as she has all her life whenever one of her kids was sick. Franny rejects the broth, but finally Zooey shows her that she has let preoccupation with the words of the Jesus Prayer blind her to the reality of her mother’s real gift:

I’ll tell you one thing, Franny. One thing I know. And don’t get upset. It isn’t anything bad. But if it’s the religious life you want, you ought to know right now that you’re missing out on every single goddamn religious action that’s going on around this house. You don’t even have sense enough to drink when somebody brings you a cup of consecrated chicken soup—which is the only kind of chicken soup Bessie every brings to anybody around this madhouse. So just tell me, just tell me, buddy. Even if you went out and searched the whole world for a master—some guru, some holy-man to tell you how to say your Jesus Prayer properly, what good would it do you? How in the hell are you going to recognize a legitimate holy person when you see one if you don’t even know a cup of consecrated chicken soup when it’s right in front of your nose? Can you tell me that?

Like Franny, we can miss the sacred in the everyday and in every person we encounter. We can be so caught up—in our work or our personal concerns or even in our prayer—that we don’t see the holiness around us.

Mother Gail Fitzpatrick, OCSO, is a Trappistine nun and the Abbess of Our Lady of the Mississippi Abbey, Dubuque, Iowa. This excerpt is from her book, "Seasons of Grace: Wisdom from the Cloister" (ACTA)

This week, before you retire each evening, recall one simple, but sacred moment given to you that day. Say a prayer of gratitude.

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