I was interviewed this week by Frank Fromherz for a biography that he’s doing on Bishop Tom Gumbleton, retired auxiliary of Detroit, who is a long-time friend from Pax Christi USA, the national Catholic Peace Movement. Tom and I worked together for about 13 years when Tom was Bishop President of Pax Christi USA (1972-1991) and I was chair of the board and then National Coordinator. (Frank also interviewed Sister Anne McCarthy, another former National Coordinator, Sister Joan Chittister, and a few people who were staff and friends from the days that Pax Christi was headquartered in Erie.) The best thing was that Tom came to Erie with Frank and his friend, Sue Stadler, IHM, and we had a wonderful visit.
To prepare for the interview, I reread my journals from that time period as well as all the Pax Christi magazines that I edited as national coordinator. It was a brief excursion into Peace Movement Past and I was surprised at how much I’d forgotten. My favorite story about Tom took place in 1988 during the United Nations Special Session on Disarmament when tens of thousands marched in New York City for nuclear disarmament, including a large contingency from Pax Christi USA. After the March, Pax Christi sponsored a Peace Liturgy at Saint Paul the Apostle Church and, as National Coordinator, I was to give the homily. Leaflets announcing the liturgy and my homily were mailed to parishes and posted on church bulletin boards, etc. When Cardinal O’Connor of NY got wind of it, he called Tom and told him that it was against church law for a woman to give a homily and Tom was to see that I didn’t preach. Tom and I talked about it. My first idea was to stand at the altar podium with a gag around my mouth while Tom read my homily. After that little joke, Tom and I agreed that he would say a sentence or two and call on me to give “testimony” not a “homily.” (Ah, the games we play. But we were trying to protect Pax Christi New York from any repercussions from the chancery.) So, we’re sitting in the altar area and it’s time for the homily. I’m waiting for Tom to get up and do his thing. And I’m waiting. Finally, he leans over to me and says, “We’re not going to pay attention to those guys. Just go ahead and give the homily.” Which I did.
I first met Tom in 1978 when I was writing a book on the relationship between contemporary monasticism and the peace movement. I interviewed prominent monastic figures and peace movement leaders to see if they thought monastic men and women had a responsibility to work for world peace in addition to being ‘gurus” of inner peace. Tom gave me some good insights asking if members of monastic orders were too secure and fearful of risk because to take a stand for justice and peace would put monks in danger of ridicule, controversy, loss of benefactors, and possibly jail. But as Tom noted, “Monks should easily say: we have already given everything away, we have nothing to lose…It’s too easy for monks to be apart from the world and therefore untouched by the world and consequently unable to touch the world either.” He also thought monasteries should throw open their doors to people in the peace movement for shared prayer, meditation, reflection on Scripture, and discussion. He believed that a nonviolent “peace and justice movement must be grounded in a deep and rich spirituality, a spirituality flowing out of the Scriptures.” His comments deeply influenced my life’s work.
A Jewish legend holds that there are 36 hidden righteous ones living among us whose goodness keeps the world from being destroyed. I have always believed that Bishop Thomas Gumbleton is one of the 36 holy ones who is holding up the world.
Began reading Drinking from the River of Light by Mark Nepo today. Even before I got to the introduction there was this opening quote by George Bernard Shaw: “You use a mirror to see your face, you use art to see your soul.”
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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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