Monasteries of the Heart

Old Monk's Journal: Journal Entry 159

This haiku appears every time I wrestle with the issue of dignity and the poor.

the homeless man
takes off his shoes before
his cardboard house
-Penny Harter

This week it shone like a blinding neon sign because I was working on the soup kitchen appeal letter. I know that to change the heart, you must move the heart and there is no better way than telling a personal story. And I’m a firm believer in the adage “there isn’t anyone you couldn’t love, once you’ve heard their story.” But…how much of the stories of our soup kitchen, food pantry, and kids’ café guests are ours to share. When does an appeal to empathy and compassion turn into exploitation? I change the names of the people I write about, but still…. So here are two guideposts that I hold on to. One is the prayer of Saint Vincent de Paul that reads in part: “It’s only because of your love, only your love, that the poor will forgive you the bread that you give them.” Helping to raise money for the soup kitchen is my way of getting bread to the table. Saint Vincent reminds me that I need eternal forgiveness from the poor for showing their faces to the public and writing about them and that their forgiveness depends on the integrity of my love. I know my love is lacking. Still I beg their forgiveness pleading love, however paltry, as my motive. And my second guide is this haiku. It screams “human dignity” at me and holds me in its vise, forcing me to measure every word I write by its standard.

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A blog by Mary Lou Kownacki
A personal journal captures what’s in the heart. Most of my adult life I’ve recorded my notes, brief reflections, poems, reactions to daily events in a journal. It is an ongoing source of monastic formation; the rich and raw material of life that helps shape my Monastery of the Heart. About a year ago, Old Monk began to appear on my journal’s pages. Mary Lou Kownacki, OSB, is the Monasteries of the Heart coordinator.

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