Monasteries of the Heart

Old Monk's Journal: Journal Entry 167

The body of a woman who came with her two children to our soup kitchen washed up on the lake shore this month. She suffered severe mental illness and committed suicide. This was the first tragic death at the kitchen for two new staff members, Breanna and Karen. They took it very hard, shedding deep tears and struggling with the perennial question, “Could we have done more to prevent this?” My friend Sister Mary Miller who has given 35 years to the soup kitchen said, “I have seen so much tragedy at the kitchen but I never want to become jaded to the pain of losing a guest, a friend that we all know and care about”. She then talked about the brutal murder of a young woman she was close to, the numerous suicides of guests, the abuse she has witnessed, the horrific struggles with addictions that never end. “I was grateful to see the tears of the new people on staff,” she said. “because what we weep for tells us what we care about.”

Indeed, Old Monk thought. If you listen carefully enough you can hear wails of pain in soup kitchens across the land—endless weeping from the homeless, the sick, the hungry, and, of course, the ocean of loneliness that engulfs so many. And our tears must mingle with theirs if we have any chance of becoming more human, of fashioning hearts compassionate and empathetic enough to create the world that Christmas carols envision.

So, weeping and wailing should engulf the land. Listen….can you hear the White House and halls of Congress awash with tears because of the suffering their callous actions cause to the poor and vulnerable? This would be the one sure sign that Christmas in the United States is bigger and better than ever. Let’s listen…. do you hear what I hear? Applause, laughter, rejoicing because the rich are given more silver and gold while a child, so many children, shiver in the cold. But Old Monk also listens to another authority. She listens to the Word of promise proclaimed so clearly by the prophet Isaiah in this holy season. And this is what she hears and holds fast to.

Woe to you who make unjust policies
and draft oppressive legislation,
who deprive the powerless of justice
and rob poor people—my people—of their rights,
who prey upon the widowed
and rob orphans.
What will you do on that Day of reckoning
when disaster comes from far away?
To whom will you run for help?
and where will you bury your wealth? (Is:10)

Then a shoot will sprout from the stump of Jesse;
from Jesse’s roots, a branch will blossom.”
The spirit of YHWH will rest upon you—
You will treat poor people with fairness
and will uphold the rights of the land’s downtrodden.
With a single word you will strike down tyrants;
and your decrees will destroy the wicked.
Justice will be the belt around your waits—
faithfulness will gird you up….

There will be no harm, no destruction
anywhere in my holy mountain;
for as the water fills the sea,
so the land will be filled with knowledge of YHWH. (Is: 11)

Let’s keep listening….

A very blessed Christmas to you and peace to all people on earth.

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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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