Monasteries of the Heart

Old Monk's Journal: Journal Entry 202

What is forgiveness? Rabbi Rami Shapiro writes that forgiveness is not forgetting, excusing, accepting, denying, or numbing yourself to pain. What is it then? Forgiveness is letting go, not clinging to memories and feelings of pain that you caused others or others did unto you. That’s a definition worth memorizing and living.

“A guy is laying in the middle of the street in his underwear,” is what my godson told me when I opened the door to his knocking. It was -1 degrees, with a wind chill of -18 on the week of the Polar Vortex Split. My godson had already called 911 and within a few minutes the police arrived, and a death was averted. A suicide, really. Earlier in the day the young man’s mother had tried unsuccessfully to get her son into a mental health facility. It was determined that her son was not ill enough for mental health and they returned home. Unknown to the mother, the son snuck out of the house in early evening wearing only boxers and yellow socks and attempted suicide by freezing to death.

Somewhere in this country is there not a young woman or man, a Mary Ward or Catherine McAuley, a Francis of Assisi or a Benedict of Nursia, who recognizes the needs of the times and responds? Mental health ministry is a need of the times. Drug addiction ministry is a need of the times. Education of the poor is a need of the times. Our Inner cities need a committed loving presence. Etc. Etc. Etc. I look in vain for new religious communities to spring up dedicated to one of these pressing problems. But don’t government and corporations take care of these ills now and so there’s no need for a religious response? Not really. Look closely at a nearly naked young man almost freezing to death in the street because mental health facilities are stretched to the limit. They do not have the funds, resources, facilities or personnel needed to dent this need. The recourse is to medicate the mentally ill and hope for the best. And if it doesn’t work, the person with a mental illness ends up homeless, or in prison, or attempting suicide, or actually committing it.

Every morning I pick up the booklet, Give Us This Day and read about a saint of the day, great figures who saw a need and despite all obstacles addressed it. Soon others were seized by the vision and joined him or her and –Voila!— a community began. And those communities changed education, health care, prison conditions, women’s right in the nation. In my lifetime, Jean Vanier had such a vision for those with developmental disabilities and Dorothy Day breathed the church’s social teachings to life. I think the contemplative prayer movement led by a handful of Benedictines meets a great need. All of them demonstrated how a viable community is formed: show me something worthwhile to give my life for and I’ll join you. A religious movement for the mentally ill is something to give a life for. So is the environment. So is gender equality in the church. So is ….

In the deserts of the heart
Let the healing fountain start.”
--W.H. Auden
Old Monk ordered a new heart from Amazon when it was on sale for $22.95. She got the last one in stock, but when it arrived at her door, she knew that someone had tampered with the package. Old Monk didn’t know what to do—replace hers with an unknown and possibly damaged heart or keep her original one, so worn and familiar and lovingly damaged.

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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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