Thursday, September 14, 2017

Holy Cross Day-September 14, 2017

Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY
Br. Robert James Magliula, OHC
Holy Cross Day - Thursday September 14,2017

Robert James Magliula 

In 1098 St. Anselm wrote his treatise Why Did God Become Human? In it he posited the first systematic articulation of the Cross as payment for sin. His purpose was to provide a rational argument for the necessity of the Incarnation and death of Jesus. He did so with a cultural model drawn from his time and place: the relationship of a medieval lord to his peasants. If a peasant disobeyed the lord, compensation must be made. He then applied that model to our relationship with God. We have been disobedient and deserve to be punished. And yet God loves us and wants to forgive us. But the price for sin must be paid. Jesus as a human, who was also divine, and thus without sin, paid the price.

A few hundred years later, in response to this theory, John Duns Scotus said that Jesus wasn’t solving any problems by coming to earth and dying. Blood atonement was never required for God to love us. The great mystery of Incarnation was not a problem-solving technique, or dependent on human beings messing up. The Incarnation was motivated by love. God’s love was infinite from the first moment of creation. The Cross was to change humanity, not a necessary transaction to change God. The Cross was a pure gift so that humanity could witness God’s love. Even though Anselm’s theory of atonement was not central in the first thousand years of Christianity, it became the primary lens through which the Cross, the Hebrew Scriptures, and the New Testament were read. This violent theory of redemption legitimated punitive and violent problem solving all the way down to our own day.

For all authentic spiritual teachers, their message is the same as their life; their life is their message. This strong emphasis on being saved by Jesus’ death allowed us to largely ignore Jesus’ way of life. All we really needed Jesus for was the last three days or three hours of his life. We still resist seeing the Cross as the pattern for life and a path for our own liberation. If we would imitate Jesus in practical ways, our consciousness would move toward love, nonviolence, justice, and inclusivity. Immature religion actually stalls people at early stages of magical and tribal consciousness, while convincing them that they are enlightened or saved. We generally prefer heavenly transactions to our own transformation.

The way of the Cross looks like failure. In fact, you could say that the Cross is about how to win by losing, how to let go creatively, how the only real ascent is descent. On the Cross, Jesus came to give us the courage to trust and live into the divine within us. He modeled it for us in his life and death.

The cross validates the centrality of paradox at the heart of Christianity. There is a cruciform pattern to reality. Reality is not meaningless and absurd but neither is it perfectly consistent. Reality is filled with contradictions, and so are we. Our faith is not a belief that dogmas or moral opinions are true, but a trust that God is accessible to us—and even on our side. Jesus was able to touch and heal people who trusted him as an emissary of God’s love, not people who assessed intellectual statements and decided whether they were true or false. Rational certitude is exactly what the Scriptures do not offer us. They offer us something much better: an intimate relationship, a path where we must discover for ourselves that grace, love, mercy, and forgiveness are absolutely necessary for survival in an uncertain world. God is to be found in all things, even and most especially in the painful, tragic, and sinful things—exactly where we do not want to look for God. We are all participating—with varying degrees of resistance and consent—in the faith journey that Jesus has already walked. All we can do is make what is objectively true fully conscious for us.

Jesus agreed to carry the mystery of suffering and not to demand perfection of creation.

Those who hold the contradictions—and try to resolve them in themselves—become agents of transformation and reconciliation. The insistence on the perfect is often the enemy of the practical and good. Perfectionism becomes angry righteousness. It contributes to intolerance and judgmentalism. In society, it creates ideologies that tolerate no compromise or ability to negotiate. We must try to be peace and do justice, but not expect to find perfection in ourselves or in the world. Jesus was a realist; he was patient with the ordinary, the broken, the weak, and those who failed. Following him is not a means of creating some ideal social order as much as it is a vocation to love the way that God loves.

To bear the mystery of the cross is to agree to find God in a clearly imperfect world. Unfortunately, we would much sooner have order and control. Most prefer beliefs, dogma and perfect objective morality to biblical faith, because certitude allows us to predict and control outcomes, and to justify rewards and punishments. That is not the message of the Cross or the Gospel.

The only things strong enough to break open the heart are things like pain, mistakes, unjust suffering, tragedy, failure, and the general unpredictability of life. Life itself will lead us to the edge of our own resources through such events. This reality was brought home to me again and again in our work in South Africa. We must be led to an experience or situation that we cannot fix, or control, or understand. That’s where faith begins. We hear it when Jesus called out on the Cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me” and then totally surrendered into the hands of the living God.

The Cross embodies the way of descent and mature spirituality leads us to enter willingly, into the dark periods of life. Transformative power is discovered in the dark—in questions and doubts, seldom in the answers. Our cultural instincts and ego prompt us to try to fix or change events in order to avoid changing ourselves. We must learn to stay with the pain of life, without answers, without conclusions, and if we are honest, some days without meaning. Grace leads us to a state of emptiness, to that momentary sense of meaninglessness. It seems some form of absence always needs to precede any deepening experience of presence. Desire makes way for depth.

Thomas Merton expressed the doubt and uncertainty we all face in this familiar prayer:

My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always, though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.


Sunday, September 10, 2017

Proper 19 Year A- September 10, 2017

Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY
Br. Roy Parker, OHC
Proper 19 - Year A - Sunday,  September 10, 2017

Br. Roy Parker

Today’s readings are about the options for communicating difficult truth in the community of faith, and my rather brief remarks will endeavor to unpack those options a little bit without pretending to cover all the bases.

As to critiquing, we are cautioned about doing anything of this sort in unawareness of our own faults: How can you presume to remove the speck in another’s eye when you do not perceive the log in your own eye?  In eye treatment, are we really equipped for a delicate procedure which risks damage to the cornea? Speaking the truth in love is also governed by the admonition in the Letter to the Romans “Owe no one anything, except to love one another .  .  . Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.” 

Also worth consideration is the opinion of a religious sister associated with the House of Representatives who, when asked how the Congress might be able to restore its bipartisan capability at a time when congressional comity had broken down, recommended each House precede debate by a ten-minute observation of silence. The sort of communication envisioned here, I suggest, might well follow Emily Dickinson’s poetic advice: 

“Tell All the Truth But Tell it Slant —Success in Circuit liesToo bright for your infirm DelightThe Truth’s superb surpriseAs Lightning to the Children easedWith explanation kindThe Truth must dazzle graduallyOr every (one) be blind — ”

“Tell All the Truth But Tell it Slant” is the magic formula within all tales of morality of which we see an early  example in the prophet Nathan’s oblique rebuke of King David’s adultery with Bathsheba. The prophet’s tale of power’s abuse of the vulnerable produces a self-condemnation from the king’s own mouth, a far more effective outcome than a direct confrontation could ever have been. This folkloric incident represents one of the more reliable templates for interpreting today’s Gospel passage.

Experience of this sort of communication in monastic life suggests that it sometimes works better if you start right off with the third option, the gathered community of faith. Does the gathered community represent the Body of Christ? Maybe yes, maybe no. Or, as the saying goes, “The wrath of God is a church meeting from which the Holy Spirit has withdrawn.”  Nevertheless, at its best, the gathered faith community is the primary sacrament of Christ, in which the members can converse according to the rubric Success in Circuit Lies, with Circuit denoting a circular line as well as a way of speaking; Success in Circuit Lies is a way of referring to a method of communal conversation as circle practice, which we don’t discover so much as remember.

Our species’ memory is filled not just with circles we painted on pots and cave walls long ago, but also the formations in which we arranged ourselves as we got to know one another. The Chilean biologist Humberto Maturana writes that humans first developed language when we moved into familial groups. The closer we got to one another, the more curious and expressive we became. Circle is the way humans have always sat together and gotten to know one another.

It’s important to remember this long lineage as we daily sit in rows in classrooms, buses, planes, and churches, looking at the back of each others heads, or as we sit along the straight edges of tables and desks, struggling to find a way to communicate and reach one another. After centuries of separation and isolation, circle welcomes us back into a shape where we can listen, be heard, and be respected, where we can think and create together. Circle is the means to draw us away from the dramatic and angry public exchanges that are not just commonplace but seemingly the only option available for discourse.

The Gospel passage contains another important detail: the outcome of successful communication between you and your sister or brother is that you have regained them, a term meaning that both of you newly reenter the communion of Christ’s Body, which is refreshed and renewed through your reconciliation. Obviously, in terms of refreshing and renewing the communion within Christ’s Body, inappropriate language has no place.   St. Paul uses that same verb about regaining another in stating that he becomes like those to whom he speaks in order to more readily gain them for Christ. In his first letter to the Corinthians he writes, “though I am free with respect to all, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I might gain more of them.

To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to gain Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law so I might gain those under the law. To those outside the law I became as those outside the law so that I might gain those outside the law. To the weak I became weak so that I might gain the weak. I have become all things to all people that I might by all means save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, so that I may share in its blessings.” (1Cor.9:19f.)

Paul’s behavior, his method of gaining, requires the renunciation of any sort of arrogance, superiority, or self-satisfaction of expression or attitude. The disposition to become as the one to whom we speak, a way of loving your neighbor as yourself, works a kind of long-term alteration in our personality as if grace came to the assistance of our original resolve. One of the best illustrations of this occurred for me at a Jewish wedding ceremony I attended in Virginia several years ago. At the point in the service when the groom crushes the wine glass underfoot, the rabbi explained to the congregation that this was the last time in this relationship that the man would put his foot down.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Proper 17 A - Sep 3, 2017

Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY
Br. Bernard Delcourt, OHC
Proper 17 A – Sunday 03 September 2017

Jeremiah 15:15-21
Romans 12:9-21
Matthew 16: 21-28

Br. Bernard Delcourt, OHC
In last week’s gospel, just a few verses before our passage of today, we heard of Peter’s confession. Peter acknowledged Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of the living God. And for this, he was blessed and commended by Jesus.


In the gospel according to Matthew, the confession of Peter marks a transition in Jesus’ ministry. After the disciples have acknowledged him as the Messiah, Jesus spends more time teaching and preparing the disciples for his passion and his resurrection.

From that time on, Jesus teaches the disciples what kind of Messiah he is to be. And until that is clearer to them, he doesn’t want the disciples to spread that title around for it is fraught with preconceptions that run against Jesus’ redemptive mission.

And understanding Jesus’ type of Messiah is a difficult transition for the apostles. That difficulty is amply demonstrated by Peter’s rebuke of Jesus for announcing his passion in today’s gospel passage.

You see, the Jewish people were waiting for a Messiah who would come in glory and redeem Israel from oppression. The Jewish people were under the rule of the Roman Empire and the collaborating civil and religious authorities. Oppression under a domination system was the Jews’ clear and present reality in the time of Jesus.

No wonder Peter is attached to the generally accepted view of a glorious redeemer as Messiah. Wouldn’t it be nice if Jesus were to be increasingly revealed as an all-powerful vindicator who would put everything right for Israel very soon?


Don’t we all, at times, wish for a God who would instantly fix all sufferings and injustices? What if God could give us very soon Universal Healthcare, Free College Education for All, Living Wages for All, Restorative Justice instead of Mass Incarceration. Even Jesus might have found divine overrule over human destiny a tempting alternative. Does he not say to Peter “You are a stumbling block to me.” Jesus seems to be tempted, if for a moment, by the allure of being a vindictive Messiah who puts all right by power.

But let’s remember that this is a temptation that Jesus had already rejected in his meeting with the devil after his baptism.

In Matthew, Chapter 4, we heard:

“Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendour; and he said to him, ‘All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Away with you, Satan! for it is written,
“Worship the Lord your God,
   and serve only him.” ’

This was the last of three temptations in the desert and after this the devil left Jesus for a while. But in our gospel passage, Peter is again mirroring to Jesus the temptation of grabbing and using divine power to achieve human ends.


From the time the disciples recognize Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of God, Jesus will teach them to understand what God’s version of those titles is. The Messiah must suffer with humanity to the fullest before the glory of resurrection can happen.

Even today, after his resurrection, the Messiah continues to suffer with humanity to the fullest, even now. There is no human pain or suffering that God does not understand or feel. God feels the pain and suffering of those who lost loved ones, homes or livelihood to Hurricane Harvey, God feels the pain of non-white Americans who bear systemic racism, God feels the pain of North Koreans living under an inept, brutal and megalomaniac dictatorship. God also feels your pain even now.


And in calling the disciples, in calling us as disciples, Jesus calls us to not be afraid to take up our cross and follow him to his passion. This is a countercultural call today as much as it was in Jesus’ lifetime. We hear a harbinger of the apostle Paul’s call to not be conformed to this world as we heard in the epistle today.

We are to be ready to deny ourselves on our path to following Jesus up to the point of being detached from what happens to our very life.


Mind you, Jesus is not asking us to deliberately turn our lives into a misery. But he asks us to not hold back anything from our commitment to him as the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.

In a way, today’s teaching is a mirror image of the Shema prayer found in Deuteronomy (6:4-5) as applied to Jesus:

Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.


We are to hold nothing back from our love for God, not even our life. And in exchange for giving our life, Jesus promises that we will find our life. “Those who will lose their life for my sake will find it.” And while this may sound like a promise of eternal life beyond death, I also believe that it is a promise of fulfillment of life in the here and now. We must die to our false self, to let the true God-centered self live abundantly. In giving ourselves totally to God, we are finding the fullness of whom we are meant to be.


As an important aside on today’s gospel, I would like to come back to Peter’s predicament in this passage. Not long ago Jesus blessed him for his insight and named him a foundation of his church. And a few days later, the same Peter, for his traditional interpretation of who Jesus is, is called names and told to step behind Jesus.

Peter is not less in today’s gospel passage than he was in last week’s gospel passage. Peter is still a chosen servant-leader of the church. And yet, we are shown here that not even our most distinguished leaders are beyond needing to fine-tune their image of who God is.

We all need to listen to what God is saying about Godself in our lives. God can still surprise us. We need to question our long-held views of who God is.

Are we instrumentalizing God in any way to achieve what our goals and hopes are? Are we willing to accept that God’s being may be different and larger than the picture we have put in God’s place?

Throughout the gospel, Peter is learning who God is, sometimes in embarrassing or painful ways. May we be willing to continue to learn who God is in any way God sees fit for us.

And may we be willing to hold nothing back to follow Jesus, no matter what detachment is required of us.