Monasteries of the Heart

Old Monk's Journal: Journal Entry 203

Whenever I hear the name Francis of Assisi, I think of Saint Claire—they were a spiritual super team. But after reading my saint of the day feature in Give Us This Day, I now have to associate Francis with Blessed Jacoba of Settesoli. I’d never heard of her, but today I learned Francis and she were intimate friends. It was Jacoba that Francis called to his deathbed—Claire was still alive—and he was buried in the shroud that she brought him. Francis even insisted, despite his community’s strong objections, that she be allowed into the friary to stay by his side until he died. But here’s my favorite part. When she was summoned by him to Assisi, Francis asked her to bring a shroud, wax candles and something good to eat. And Jacoba baked his favorite almond cookies. That makes Old Monk smile. There is such asceticism associated with Francis of Assisi, cavorting as he did with Lady Poverty to the extreme. But here he is on his deathbed, thinking about a loved one and savoring almond cookies. That we should all be so lucky in death. To have gained such wisdom. I mean. If Suzuki’s last words were “thank you. Thank you. Thank You,” the monk can do no less.

Of all the stories I have copied for decades in my commonplace book, this is my all -time favorite.

Once a holy monk was on his deathbed and his closest disciple decided to bring him his favorite pastry treat before the master died. The disciple went to the village and returned with a little cake that the old master accepted with a weak but broad smile. As he slowly nibbled on the little cake, his other disciples crowded around his bed and pleaded, “Master, do you have any departing words?” Wiping a crumb from his lips he replied, “Ah, yes!” As the disciples quickly gathered closer around the bed, he said, “My, but this cake is delicious.”

Two spiritual masters—Francis and this anonymous monk—leave us with the same answer to the meaning of life: open yourself to love and “it is all delicious.” Enjoy, be grateful, taste and savor every mouthwatering moment.

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She sang a Stevie Wonder song and then gave a brief talk to all the sisters and guests gathered in the monastery dining room. “This is like coming home to me,” is how Brenda, a former prostitute, began. We were all gathered there to honor Edwina Gateley, recipient of the annual Prophet of Peace award given by the Benedictine Sisters of Erie. Edwina, who lives in Erie, was recognized for her outstanding work for women and for the poor on the national and international scene. Edwina is a bestselling author and poet, a sought-after international speaker, and founder of a volunteer lay missionary group and Genesis House, an outreach to women in prostitution walking the streets of Chicago. Brenda was there because of Genesis House and she called the monastery “home” because for years Edwina brought a group of recovering prostitutes to Mount Saint Benedict for a weekend retreat. Brenda was one of those women and she thanked the community for being so open and accepting and loving to her and the others who came to the monastery. Brenda is quite a success story, she left the streets and is now a nationally recognized leader to end human trafficking. You can learn about Brenda’s work by clicking here. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2Fooo_ysOXM

If anyone ever asks you “what is a monastery,” try to remember Brenda’s story and a Ryokan poem. A monastery, you can answer, is where a group of monks pray every day, “O, that my monk’s robe were wide enough to gather all the suffering people in this floating world.”

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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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