Last week, Benedictine Sr. Mary Lou Kownacki died at age 81. You may not have heard of her before but if you have been at CMM over the years – you would have heard me repeatedly teach her interpretation of the Beatitudes. And if you have not, then later this month when the Lectionary readings sit us down to listen to Jesus’ staggering sermon on the mount, I will reach for her interpretation again. Not only a remarkable interpreter of scripture, but a courageous doer of justice and practitioner of mercy. She humbly walked this earth holding the hand of the poor, knowing that she was in fact holding the hand of God. She lived honouring the sacredness of life with every sacred fibre of her own life.
In her 1981 book, Peace is our Calling: Contemporary Monasticism and the Peace Movement, Kownacki beautifully describes the Benedictine way of Christian life. I include some of her description below and encourage you to allow her words to “scan” over your own way of life. Listen out for the words or images or sentence that beeps at you – causing your attention to pause and focus. Hover for a moment over the spot it has touched within you and ask: Why the alert?
BENEDICTINE LIFE IS CENTERED ON COMMUNITY.
The Benedictine way of Christian life was not begun to do any special work. Benedictines are to be living signs that strangers can come together in Christ, care for one another, hold one another up, challenge one another to grow. Our essential ministry is community.
BENEDICTINE LIFE IS FOCUSED BY THREE VOWS: OBEDIENCE, CONVERSION OF LIFE AND STABILITY.
Obedience is a promise to be a faithful listener. … Then we work to respond with generosity and courage. Conversion is a dedication to lifelong growth. We are never fully converted; our lives are a continuing process of listening to the Voice of God, opening our hearts to the Word and growing in love. Daily we pray, “Turn our hearts of stone to hearts of flesh.” Stability is a promise to be faithful to one’s sisters as a way of faithfulness to God. We establish the lifelong human bonds so necessary for healing growth. We agree to search for God together, making our journey as honest, as loving, as human as possible.
BENEDICTINE LIFE IS CREATION ORIENTED.
Benedictines look at the world God has created and say: “It is good.” We affirm moderation rather than severe asceticism; transformation within society rather than withdrawal from it.
BENEDICTINE LIFE IS NOURISHED BY THE SCRIPTURES.
Our common prayer, called the Liturgy of the Hours or opus dei, is based on the texts of the Old and New Testaments … If we are faithful, the Word of God enters our life and disrupts it. Often it impels us to disrupt the lives of others. Always it gives peace.
BENEDICTINE LIFE IS CONTEMPLATIVE.
We think there is great wisdom in the words of the psalmist: “Be still, and know that I am God.” We try to create an atmosphere of prayerfulness, solitude, silence and leisure in our lives so the Word of God can penetrate our hearts and take root. As we enter into solitude we approach the elusive presence of God, open our true selves, and find inner peace. We come to know that we are made in God’s image and that God is love.
BENEDICTINE LIFE IS ONE OF TOTAL GOSPEL MINISTRY.
The intensity of the contemplative vision draws us, as it did Jesus, “to enter compassionately into the struggle, pain and suffering of the world.” Gradually the Spirit transforms us into contemplatives, impelled to action, who see with the heart of Christ: we find the Creator in all creation; we can look on the face of any woman or man and touch our sister or brother.
BENEDICTINE LIFE IS BALANCED.
Each Benedictine community … is a life with a distinctive rhythm. The community gathers for prayer to mark the coming of light and darkness, the passing of night and day. There is time given to serving others and time set aside for reading and personal prayer. Sisters come together for meals and discussions; individuals are encouraged to spend time in silence and solitude. Periods are devoted to study and hours given to play. All creation is treated with reverence, all time is seen as holy. As the days open and close, as the seasons turn and the cycles of redemption are celebrated, a whole and healing life rhythm begins to flow into time.
The creative balance of forces – if she chooses to internalize them – allows each woman to become her truest self. At the depth of her being, at the ground of her being, she discovers love.
Kownacki, Mary Lou. Peace Is Our Calling: Contemporary Monasticism and the Peace Movement
PS: If you have not heard Leonard Cohen’s song Democracy then tap the link “staggering sermon on the mount”.