Friday, February 22, 2019

Chapter Talk - Friday, February 22, 2019

Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY
Br. Josép Martinez-Cubero, OHC
Chapter Talk - Friday, February 22, 2019

Every month, one of our monks leads us into reflection about the rules that guide our monastic life (the Rule of St Benedict and the Rule of James Huntington, our Founder). The monk in charge prepares a short presentation about a part of the rule, or a theme of the rule. At the end of his presentation, he gives the community questions to open up sharing about the theme chosen. Br. Josép had written notes to share, so we make them available here. We thought you too might enjoy his reflections on the Divine Office.


From the Rule of Saint Benedict, 1980 Timothy Fry, OSB Chapter 43: Tardiness at the Work of God or at Table
“On hearing the signal for an hour of the divine office, the monk will immediately set aside what he has in hand and go with utmost speed, yet with gravity and without giving occasion for frivolity. Indeed, nothing is to be preferred to the Work of God.” 
From Saint Benedict’s Rule, Patrick Barry, OSB Chapter 43: Latecomers for the Work of God or in the Refectory
“When the time comes for one of the Divine Offices to begin, as soon as the signal is heard, everyone must set aside whatever they may have in hand and hurry as fast as possible to the oratory, but of course they should do so in a dignified way so as to avoid giving rise to any boisterous behavior. It is essential that nothing should be accounted more important than the work of God.”
The Contemporary Reading of the Rule of the Order of the Holy Cross states that, the cross transcends time and space because it testifies to “the incarnate Son’s offering of his whole being to his Father in intimate and loving communion.” This act of self-sacrificing love is present to us in every Eucharist, and if we allow it, it has transformative power. Allowing ourselves “to be set aflame with that love”, and sharing in that “self-offering through our own sacrifice of praise, penance, thanksgiving, and intercession for ourselves and for the whole world, is our main ministry. The Order’s Rule also says that the Divine Office is an act of praise and of intercession, and it is central to our lives as monastics. “In the company of the saints we are interceding for all creation.”

We gather in our church five times a day for what Benedict calls the “work of God”. And what he calls the work of God is liturgy- the Eucharist as well as the Daily Office. Benedict’s Rule devotes fourteen chapters to laying out in detail the observance of liturgy, and liturgy is mentioned in one way or another in many more chapters.

In order to have any kind of authenticity, it is important to recognize and acknowledge that our spirituality as Anglican Benedictine monks is essentially liturgical. A huge part of our monastic vocation has to be to that fact; otherwise, we are just pretending or playing at it. The entire liturgical life of the church is the means by which we pass on and interpret our relationship with God and the cosmos.

Most of the input we get as Christians (theological, scriptural, homiletic, and historical) comes to us through liturgy. In liturgy the physical and spiritual come together- heaven and earth touch each other. Through the liturgy, theology is not just talked about, or thought about, but acted out, experienced, and passed on. This is done through the liturgical cycle of the church year: Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter, and Pentecost, and the observance of holy days, and feasts of saints. In the Daily Office we chant psalms, and sing canticles and hymns, recite prayers and listen to the Spirit through Holy Scripture. All of this keeps us grounded and rooted in tradition.

Our monastic life is infused with ritual. When we allow our hearts to soften and a little humility to kick in we can also encounter transformative power in these rituals, such as the reception of a postulant, the clothing of a novice, the profession of vows, the ordination of a priest, the internment of the dead, and even the Litany of Farewell for someone leaving the Order, or the Chapter of Faults. The transformative power of which the Order’s Rule speaks can be found in the gestures, physicality, and stimulation of the senses that make up our liturgical practices. We light candles, and dip our fingers in holy water, we bow, we stand, we sit, we kneel, we make the sign of the cross, we raise our hands in prayer, we listen, we give the sign of peace. On our best days, all of this reminds us that we are alive, and helps us to be engaged. It can also carry us along on the most challenging days when we might not feel like it. It is about practice, regarding all of God’s creation as sacred more than it is about my own individualistic belief, or the way I want things done so that I can stomach them. It is about embracing the mystery surrendering to the fact that we will never fully comprehend it.

We have a wonderfully rich and beautiful liturgical tradition, and as monks, liturgy is our most important daily work. The word “work” conjures all kinds of ideas that, in my opinion, apply directly to our participation in the Work of God. I did not grow up with expectations from my parents of pursuing a sophisticated career or a career that would earn me lots of money or even with their expectation that I would go to college. My mother had only three requirements for my brother and me: whatever we chose to do had to be legal, and moral, and above all, we must always work hard and perform our tasks to the very best of our abilities. One of the legacies I have inherited from her is that, whatever work I choose to do or agree to do, I do to the very best of my abilities and commit to it 100%. Whether I like the work or not is irrelevant to me. My most important work now, according to Saint Benedict and Saint James Otis Sargent Huntington is my participation in our liturgies, the Opus Dei, the Work of God.

The word “work” suggests obligation, responsibility, and repetitiveness. When we truly love our work, it often does not seem like work. Work always comes with expectations of accountability. We have choices. We either choose to be accountable to those expectations or we choose to find other work. Work may not always be interesting or immediately rewarding. Work may challenge our minds or seem trivial. We are expected to perform our work on a daily basis whether we feel like it or not. We are expected to show up and to be on time. Not doing so negatively impacts those we work with and can get us fired. We are also expected to be prepared and mentally ready for the task at hand. There are even expectations about showing up to work well groomed and not like you just rolled out of bed. We are expected to approach our work with a good attitude, with maturity, and without arrogance. We are expected to work well with others. Ideally, we bring gifts to our work. We also learn from work, and gain experience by doing it over and over again, through practice.

As a musician, I can say one or two things about practice, and one is that practice is seldom an exciting experience. Most of the time I am not transported to another realm during practice. And so it is with the Work of God. Naturally, we want prayer to make us feel good, and to leave us with the assurance that God has heard our prayer and will respond immediately. But the reality is that it does not always work that way, and we all experience times when God seems distant. And this work of God is not always an exciting experience, and I’m learning that when I actually get it right, it seldom takes me to another realm. And why? Well, because Benedictine prayer is not designed to take us out of the world to find God. That would be like a fish getting out of the ocean to find the ocean. Benedictine prayer is designed to make us realize that God is in the world all around us. The Work of God might be our work for God, but more than that is God’s work in us. If we consent to it, it brings us to the awareness that we are already sitting in the consciousness of God.

I’ll end with this quote from a sermon preached by Br. Randy back in 2014 when I was a postulant. It helped to understand how I needed to approach this new endeavor on which I had embarked:
“Even before I enter this church I dip my finger in the holy water and make the sign of the cross and say to myself ‘I am a baptized member of the Body of Christ, I am a new creation, I am loved and accepted by God, I resolve, with God's help, to live out my place in the Body and in this community with humility, obedience, love, and joy...’ With God’s help I don't wait until I understand what it means, until I know what will happen, until I feel like it. I don't say ‘this is not working for me’. I don’t demand God on my terms. I ask God to take me once again to the river, to the place of repentance, forgiveness, and community.”

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Epiphany 6 C - Sunday, February 17, 2019

Holy Cross MonasteryWest Park, NY
Br. Bernard Delcourt, OHC
Epiphany 6 C - Sunday, February 17, 2019

Jeremiah 17:5-10
1 Corinthians 15:12-20
Luke 6:17-26

Click here for an audio version of the sermon.


In the gospel according to Luke, the paragraph just preceding our reading of this morning tells us that Jesus spent the night in prayer on a mountain. At the end of that night, he chose twelve apostles among the troop of disciples who was with him. Then they all came down on the plain.

Luke notes that Jesus was full of power and healed many among the crowd that awaited them on the level field. Full of the Spirit, Jesus then gives what is called the Sermon on the Plain which extends beyond what we read today.

Our passage today is a parallel to the Beatitudes in the gospel according to Matthew. But besides four blessings, Luke recounts a mirroring four curses that vividly contrast the rich and the poor in regard to the Kingdom of God.

*****

Less than a month ago, I got to preach to you about the Magnificat which I characterized as Mary’s revolutionary song and a socioeconomic manifesto. Well, in today’s gospel, a grown-up Jesus is making his mom proud by preaching just the reversal of fortune Mary sang about in the magnificat.

Mary sang what God is really like. God is not the least impressed by any of our pride, power, or opulence. God has mercy on those who are in awe of God. God favors those who humble themselves. God cares for those who turn from the ego boosting accumulation of wealth to the lowliness of self-denial for the sake of others.

In today’s gospel, Jesus goes further than his mother did and tells us that the rich are shamed and cursed by their attachment to wealth. It is a case of comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable (from humorist Finley Peter Dunne).

*****

In Jesus’ day, ostentatious wealth was seen as proof that one had helped themselves to more than their share of the economic pie. Wealth was seen as limited and the accumulation of more wealth was necessarily at the expense of the less fortunate. To be very rich smacked of dishonesty and dishonor. This did not keep the powerful from accumulating wealth in Jesus time. Power led to wealth.

The small religious and political elites were much wealthier than the masses of peasants and craftspeople. Jesus’ listeners would overwhelmingly have been poor. There was no middle class in Jesus’ time. And the rich and powerful elites would have found his sermon distasteful if not abhorrent.

*****

In our contemporary US, wealth leads to power. For a long time, we lived (maybe we still do live) with the belief that wealth-formation is accessible to all and that extra wealth for some does not preclude wealth-formation for everybody else.

In other words we believe that the economic pie could always get bigger, and that everybody’s slice kept growing accordingly. This derives from something like a capitalist creed that enterprise, creativity and hard work are always the main engines of wealth-creation. And a belief that income and wealth are distributed according to merit alone.

This ignores that there are systemic aspects that facilitate income generation and wealth accumulation for some groups rather than those outside the privileged groups.

And if you have even a small amount of privilege because of the groups you belong to, you participate in those systems. Think of racism, sexism, homophobia, ableism, to name a few.

*****

In the last few decades, systemic obstacles to income generation and wealth accumulation have worsened for many. Beginning in the 1970s, economic growth in this country slowed and the income gap widened.


Income growth for households in the middle and lower parts of the national income distribution slowed sharply, while incomes at the top continued to grow strongly.

The concentration of income at the very top of the distribution rose to levels last seen 90 years ago (during the “Roaring Twenties”).

In many of today’s corporations, the average employee "needs to work more than a month to earn what the CEO earns in one hour."

And that’s about income generation. What about wealth accumulation?

Also starting in the seventies, and accelerating since the eighties, wealth which was always more concentrated than income has started concentrating even further.

Wealth can be considered as the value of a household’s property and financial assets, minus the value of its debts.

The share of the national wealth held by the top 1 percent rose from just under 30 percent in 1989 to nearly 39 percent in 2016, while the share held by the bottom 90 percent fell from just over 33 percent to less than 23 percent.

More wealth has been accruing to the already wealthy. A shrinking part of the national wealth is accruing to the others.

And in today’s world, wealth not only provides for both short- and long-term financial security. Besides, it also bestows social prestige, and contributes to political power. The combination of wealth, prestige and political power can all be used to accrue more wealth to the rich. And it is.

The standard of living of the working and middle classes is dependent upon income and wages, while the rich tend to rely on wealth. As a result of the increasing inequality of income distribution, working and middle class folk find it increasingly difficult to maintain or improve their standards of living.

So much for our little refresher in socio-economic realities of wealth production and accumulation in today’s United States. Hopefully, it makes you realize how relevant Jesus’ blessings and curses are to today’s national conversation (or lack thereof) on economic security for all.

And today, I am not even touching the disparity of resource use between the rich and poor countries in the world.

*****

In Jesus’ blessings and woes, the fortunes of the world are turned around. The Kingdom of God provides commonweal: welfare for all without exception.

While we trust for this Kingdom of God to be fully realized in heaven, we are also encouraged to unite heaven and earth in this Kingdom.

Where our current ministry lies is in building up the Kingdom of God here and now (close at hand) so that comfort, health and economic security are available to all in a way that sustains the planet which sustains us in turn.

*****

Of course, the blessings and curses of Jesus are not meant for us to usurp God’s place and judge people’s hearts and souls. We are to love poor and rich alike.

Jesus’ curses invite those of us with more resources (yes, also many of us in this church today) to share them more broadly.

Jesus’ blessings engage us to build a just society.  That is a society where wealth distribution is more equitable. It is a society where wealth disparities don’t shame the rich in their abundance and the poor in their unmet needs.

*****

Our true wealth lies in Love; love of God and love of neighbor. As God revealed to Saint Paul:
“My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12: 9a)
As Christians we are to follow Jesus, not only worship Him. This involves loving our brothers and sisters. That love includes working towards a more just and equitable distribution of resources. How are we rich? Do we need to repent and come to share in the poor’s blessing? Pray about it. And see what actions you can undertake to bless the poor and yourself in the process.

Amen.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Life Profession of the Monastic Vow by Br. Aidan William Owen - February 12, 2019

Holy Cross MonasteryWest Park, NY
Br. Robert Sevensky, OHC
Life Profession of the Monastic Vow by Br. Aidan William Owen - February 12, 2019

Song of Songs, 8:5-7; 10-14
Romans 8:18-30
Luke 15:11-24 [25-32]

Click here for an audio version of the sermon.

Who chose these lessons, these Bible passages?

Well, Br. Aidan, that's who.  And if you know him at all, you can hear him and his interests and his heart all over them.  From the Song of Songs through the Paul's Letter to the Romans to the ever evocative story of the Lost Son, we are hearing themes and memes and questions that Aidan and we have pondered and wrestled with for generations.  Of course, there are no doubt more private or interior reasons for their selection that only Br. Aidan knows.  And I'd venture to say that there are other reasons or motives that even he is as yet unaware of.  Scripture is like that: we think we know what we are getting into, and then find ourselves surprised, challenged, rebuked, transformed.  We think we know where we are going with some familiar psalm or biblical passage and discover, if we stick with it long enough, that it has another, often more profound and more relevant role to play in our journey.

And what's true of Sacred Scripture is true even more so of God:  we think we finally have a handle on the Holy One only to discover that, on the contrary, it's the Holy One who has the handle on us.  How frightening, disorienting and wonderful.

And then there's vocation...the way we live out that relationship in our lives.  Chosen, we think, for good reasons, solid, apt. And then we find out  that we may not have been in the driver's seat at all.  As Paul says to the Romans:
“..those whom God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his son... And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified.”
That's you, Br. Aidan.  And that's us too, brothers and sisters. That's all of us here today.

The first reading today may be especially puzzling or surprising to many.  It is from the Song of Songs, a book traditionally ascribed to King Solomon.  What it is is a love song, a rather sensual and erotic love song, a dialog between the Lover and the Beloved.  But those who know something of monastic history know that this tender, racy, exquisitely lovely paean to human erotic attraction and sensual love also know that in the Medieval period, during the flowering of the monastic spirituality, it was next to  the Gospels, the most commented upon text from the Bible.  Not bad for a book of only 8 chapters!  And this is because the monastic tradition had not yet fallen into the unfortunate segregation between so-called different kinds of love—agape love, brotherly love, erotic love, contemplative love—that we find in 20th century writers.  Rather they knew that—to quote out of content—love is love.  And our love of God, our love of the True and the Beautiful, our love of the Just and Holy, follows a shape and a desire that is not foreign to the love between people, whether that of spouses or friends or scholars.  We learn about loving God by observing these loves in our world and even in ourselves. The monastics of old knew this.  And we constantly need to rediscover  it.

The Song of Songs tells us that:  “...love is as strong as death, passion fierce as the grave.  Its flashes are flashes of fire, a raging flame.”  I think it certain that the tradition saw in this love strong as death, this passion fierce as the grave the person of Jesus, whose victory over death is, first and last, a victory of love, a triumph of Life. If, as Paul says, the whole creation is groaning, it is groaning for a full participation in that victory, yearning as does Aidan,  as do we all, for fullness of Life.

In some sense, it was Br. Aidan who already wrote his own profession homily.  It is in his blog “Grounding in the Spirit” posted on January 6 and titled “planting tulips in a time of war.”  If you have not read it, I urge you to do so.  It is both a profound reflection on one man's vocation journey in dialog with a short story or dream narrative which is also his and an honest exploration of the dynamics of hope.

The title “planting tulips in a time of war” takes its weight from Br. Aidan's love of and concern for the future of the earth and the grounding and revolutionary act of planting tulips or other fall bulbs.  It is about the hope implicit in it, the outrageous character of committing small acts of beauty when the heart is breaking and the world around us and perhaps within us is falling apart.

Br. Aidan says:
“Part of the reality I live with is that...I still choose to stay.  My choice isn't painless. But it isn't difficult either. I don't chose to stay because I love monastic life, though I do love it. I don't choose to stay because I feel somehow God has ordained me for it. I don't believe in that kind of God. I choose to  stay because this is who I am. I am a monk. And not just any monk, but a monk here, in this place, on this land, in this moment of history. I stay because I cannot do otherwise.”
Could this be what St. Paul was getting at after all, with all his talk of predestination and justification and glorification?

Br. Aidan goes on:
“I stay in the monastery because it is who I am. But it is also who I choose to be. I choose to allow this land, this place, these people to claim me.” 
And:
“I also choose to stay, because not to choose is to die.”
This manifesto published a month ago rings clear today and it will echo every day in Aidan's life as it does in all lives.  I think of St. Bernard of Clairvaux, the great 12th century Cistercian founder, who asked himself daily:  Bernard, what are you doing in this monastery? And he asked not an opportunity for a quick exit when the going got rough, but as a reminder, the kind of reminder each of us needs, whether the subject be monastery or ministry, profession or relationship or life story. And as an opportunity to revisit, recalibrate and recommit.  It is true of all of us:  “Not to chose is to die.”

Yes, planting tulips is a very great act of resistance.  And it would be nice if, as part of the ceremony today, we gave you tulips.  But no, instead we are going to give you a Rule and a Cross.  A Rule to remind you and us that we are partners together in this enterprise that we call monastic life, Christian life, human life.  And a small wooden Cross, you one and only possession. But we we give you that cross with the reminder that we follow not the cross but the Crucified One. He is the One who will meet you when you are still far off and run and put his arms around you and kiss you. The One who will bring out the best robe and put it around your shoulders. The One who will put a ring on your finger and sandals on your feet and will kill the fatted calf and celebrate.  Because, finally, finally you have come home.

Br. Aidan, today we all celebrate: for you, for ourselves, and for the countless people, of many faiths and none,  who dare to risk and to hope and to trust...and to plant tulips.

Thanks be to God!