Monasteries of the Heart

Old Monk's Journal: Journal Entry 168

As I write this, Erie is recovering for a record-setting snow that dumped 84 inches on us in 5 days, beginning on Christmas Day. December is ending with a whopping 121 inches of falling white stuff. For almost 60 years I’ve prayed the psalms and canticles as part of daily monastic prayer. One of the Canticles is “The Song of the Three Young Men” from the Book of Daniel. In that story, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon put the youths in a fiery furnace for refusing to bow before the King’s image. When they escaped unharmed, they burst into a song of praise that includes these words: “Cold and chill, bless our God; frost and cold, bless our God; ice and snow, bless our God….” Not that I want to question the prayer of these saintly youths…but, what did they really know about snow and ice in the Euphrates Valley? If you really want to take a gratitude litmus test, pray those words this week in Erie, PA.

last day of the year
city hushed…buried in snow
front step railing gone
A friend asked me to react to a paper she wrote on the theological underpinning of nonviolence. I read though her points—all solid—and thought about how I had given a good portion of my life to making these arguments, hoping the church would take an official stance in favor of nonviolence as the Christian option. It does seem silly that one could read the Gospel and still have a question about nonviolence, but 2,000 years later the church is still asking theologians for “proof” that the message of Jesus is against war. But I looked at those arguments and the Scripture citing and knew that the more militaristic among the faithful could also make a case with Gospel footnotes.

Maybe the best case for nonviolence as the Christian stance should be church itself. Who does the church choose for its saints, its declaration that these humans embodied the best of the faith. Check it out. Given the thousands canonized, how many generals are there? Who is the patron of war? There is no human “saint” of war. The church resorts to myth trying to explain the struggle between good and evil and names an angel, Michael, as patron of soldiers and war. Some say the patron of soldiers is Saint Maurice, but look up his biography. What he’s praised for is refusing an order to kill the innocent. No, the choosing of saints is the church at its best and I say this knowing all the politics of official canonization. In naming those whom we should emulate, the church resorts to it deepest and purest instinct—it names people of extraordinary courage, conscience, and compassion. It forsakes warriors in deeds of battle and elevates those who turned the other cheek, to those who resisted oppression and injustice nonviolently. This is the best case to make to church leaders looking for proof that nonviolence is the Christian option: Thou hast said it thyself.

Happy World Day of Peace. Happy Solemnity of Mary. Happy New Year 2018.

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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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