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JAMES BEHRENS: Brother Ken's lists reflected the love he bestowed upon others

James Behrens

James Behrens

We lost a good monk recently. Brother Ken Sullivan succumbed to cancer at the age of 85. He had been in failing health for a while but was diagnosed with a malignant and rapidly moving form of cancer just a few weeks ago. It is hard for us to believe that he is gone. He was up and around a matter of weeks ago.

Among other responsibilities, Ken was our mail monk. He posted the mail every morning and sorted the incoming mail when it arrived in the afternoon. He was a very detailed, meticulous man. His office had a lot of stuff in it, but it was all organized and neatly arranged.

I was his backup when he was away or otherwise unable to handle the mail. Brother Chaminade would help me. He would post the mail and I would sort it. So I became familiar with the mail routine.

Ken loved lists. He kept copious lists. Lists of reminders, lists of things to do, lists of birthdates of friends and family, address lists, lists of where other lists were. I wonder if all the lists betrayed a worry on his part that he would be remiss in remembering something or losing or misplacing something of value to him.

Several months ago I was chatting with Ken. He told me that he was afraid of the Particular Judgment, which in Catholic tradition is the individual’s encounter with God immediately after death. As if in a flash, we go straight to the defendant’s chair before the all knowing judge who is God, who knows everything, who has the Big List.

I thought for a few seconds as to what to say to put Ken at ease. For he, like maybe all of us, was a worrier when it came to the unknown realms beyond this life. So the conversation went something like this.

“God is love, Ken.”

“Yes, but real love involves judgment.”

“Try and think of it this way. We keep lists. Some might be called reminders. Others might be called grudges remembered for slights that came our way, intentional or not. But God is love. There is no fear with love. Love banishes fear. God does not keep lists.”

“No lists?”

“No lists.”

Ken spent many years in this monastery, doing his best to keep track of birthdays, anniversaries, the good and not so good times of monks, friends and family.

I would make note cards for him to send to all these people in which I am sure he wrote words of hope and encouragement. Millions of words on paper, written with love. His words, I am sure, touched people with their warmth and sincerity.

If there is a Particular Judgment, I like to think God smiled and embraced Ken, and thanked him for letting others know of His love through his monastic life, and through writing —making each list worthwhile. It is the only kind of list that is real.

It was — and is — a list that reached into the lives of many, allowing God to be better known and loved through the loving care of one man.

Father James Stephen (Jeff) Behrens, O.C.S.O., serves at the Monastery of the Holy Spirit, 2625 Highway 212 SW, Conyers. His email address is james@trappist.net.