Tuesday, August 7, 2018

The Feast of The Transfiguration: August 7, 2018

Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY
Br. Randy Greve, OHC
The Feast of The Transfiguration - Tuesday,  August 7, 2018


To hear the sermon in its fullness click here.


Br. Randy Greve, OHC 

A couple of Fridays ago our Chapter Talk focused on the section of the Rule of the Order on the importance of study. The Founder notes that the telos of the study of theology is not to know theology, but to know God. 

Behind such a statement is an awareness of the temptation to amass information, degrees (and for that matter titles, positions, possessions, and power) for our own ego’s sake alone and forget what the whole thing is about. The study of theology has a soul-forming purpose to be kept in mind with every turn of a page if we are not to fall into pride. Pondering the person and acts of God drives us to our knees, not to the ambition of our own agendas.

But what does “know God” mean in our study of the account of the transfiguration? Is the mount the realm of intellectual investigation and reasoned thought? What happens when we come to an event that is not easily defined within the containers of defined faith? Knowing God must be more than the accumulation of learned discourses. An authentic knowing is open to language that also includes silence, understanding with mystery, the safe remove of images which prepares us for a more direct encounter.

This is the gospel paradox when it comes to knowing God. Christ has been revealed and made known to us in the grace of the incarnation; all of Christ’s life calls with the invitation, “come and know me.”  Yet our knowledge is still finite and boundaried around the otherness of God. Just when we have finally intellectually nailed it down, we are in trouble. Knowing on our knees is powerful, because when we stand up and begin to claim absolutes, declare with great zeal and confidence the how and what are who of our knowing, our knowing is no longer about God, but us. Wisdom is in knowing ourselves to be forever beginners in the face of Ultimate Mystery, our best and most beautiful language being feeble metaphors and hints.

We come to the transfiguration most especially on our theological knees. Imagine you are walking around in Palestine at this time and bump into Peter, James, and John on their way down the mount of transfiguration, see that they are a bit frazzled and dazed, and ask them what happened. They report, against Jesus’ command to tell no one and with bated breath and wide eyes, “well, we saw Jesus turn a blinding white, we saw Moses and Elijah, Peter babbled something about building a shrine to the experience, we were enveloped in a cloud and could not tell left from right, up from down, we heard God’s voice. We.. it’s.. I...
“Yes”, you reply excitedly, “so now you know God?”

Spiritual growth is popularly marketed as moving from fear to faith, from confusion to clarity, from mystery to understanding. Our built-in aversion to what does not feel good, make sense, or have definition means that we can label whatever is disorienting as a problem and go about fixing it. On the mount, however, these categories are shattered as a deeper reality and knowing is unveiled into the lives of the disciples.

The whole experience is about being disoriented, overwhelmed, and left with a mixture of terror and confusion. Such is a picture of the life of discipleship. At times Jesus calmly explains, tenderly touches, patiently guides. At other times this same Jesus explodes into light, bursts the heavens open, and shakes the very cosmos, including our tightly grasped images and plans. At those times the best response is to gaze in awe and wonder, to realize that though we are small and insignificant in the grand scheme of things, we are treasured and precious. The glory we are made to reflect, desire to see, is also that which terrifies us and leaves us speechless. Our openness to the magnitude and beauty of the vision of God is itself loving God.

Real knowing is being freed from the safe idols of my expectation in order to be available to unmediated and terrifying glory. Rather than build a dwelling, Jesus is forming them to be the dwellings of the divine life. Jesus is beyond the shelter, beyond the image, beyond the knowing, constantly slipping out of our grasp, eluding our definition.

Peter, John, and James do know God in the transfiguration. Their vision of Christ in his unveiled and glorified state is a knowing that is both real and beyond words, beyond grasping. They were humbled back into the first rule of theology, – there is a God and you are not God. They realized that God’s call was to worship a person, not commemorate a place; to marvel at the miracle of Christ transcending time and space, life and death, without needing to enshrine the ineffable.

The last thing to do after such an event is to attempt to systematize it, classify it, or analyze it. The living reality of transfiguration unveils its mystery in its own way, continues to reverberate and build courage and faithfulness. Kneeling is a posture which can seem like weakness or passivity, and if misunderstood can become just another pious mask of avoidance. Yet in the presence of the glory of Christ it is the posture of receptivity, vulnerability.  By God’s grace we are becoming what we have seen, we are invited to look with wonder, and to remember that growth in the knowledge of God is knowing less than we thought we did and more than we could ever imagine. Amen.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Proper 12 - Year B: July 29, 2018

Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY
Br.  John Forbis, OHC 
Proper 12 - Sunday, July 29, 2018

To hear the sermon in its fullness click here.

Br. John Forbis, OHC 
Now I may be a little slow on the uptake, which I often am, but I just realized something about Jesus:  he likes to have fun with his disciples.  He really enjoys yanking their chain.  As the huge crowd approaches them in this morning’s story, I can imagine how daunting that must have felt to the disciples, let alone Jesus himself.  Yet, Jesus turns to Philip and puts him on the spot, “Where are we to buy bread for these people?”  He asks this as if there is an easily accessible source like Hannaford’s on top of this mountain in the middle of nowhere.  The Gospel claims that Jesus said it to “test” Philip.  But I wonder if he also didn’t ask this question with a slight smirk on his face. 

Philip is the naysayer.  Nope, can’t be done.  It’s pretty clear-cut to him.  Remember, he is the one who later practically demands to see “The Father” after all.

Then, we have Andrew who offers a glimmer of hope with at least one meager offering from a boy, but then he gets quickly discouraged and gives up easily.  We have something here.  But no, it’s not enough.

Now I could provide a cliché here and say, “The story of my life”, but I won’t.  But this certainly is a kind of parable for me and perhaps for you as well.  I am both disciples. 

I do categorically see things as black and white, either/or and make global statements and decisions based on impossibilities.  The problem with this is that I decide what’s possible and what’s not, leaving me flummoxed by objectivity and leaving no room for miracles.

At other times, I can realize that I’ve got something to contribute to make possibilities happen, but then I make an almost knee-jerk decision that it’s not enough and deny potential and again miracles.

These are default positions for me.  They seem to be default positions for our society as a whole.  So this is not just the story of my life.  It can be the story of all our lives both individually to varying degrees and as a community together. 

However, if there are three things I should have learned after being in South Africa for (how long?) 18 years, it is that


  1. There are times when I do have nothing to offer.  I have no experience, skill or even opportunity to face a huge crowd of need and hunger coming my way.  I can also feel so depleted that there’s nothing left.
  2. At other times, I have something to offer the world, and yes, it is not enough.  Yet, it’s all I got.
  3. I can offer what I can when I can, and I’d be surprised about the impact this can have and maybe catch a glimpse of a miracle.
Why haven’t I learned this, yet?  Because Jesus is the piece I often omit from my story and perhaps sometimes even from your story as well.  I apologize for that.  In this omission, we are left with only two results:  the possibilities and imagination are closed off to us, and we are off the hook.  We don’t have to make any effort to try and feed the physically, emotionally and spiritually hungry.  It just can’t be done or we have something we could give them, but it’s not enough.

Only, Philip and Andrew, the naysayer and the not-enough-sayer, have forgotten who they are with.  The joke’s on them.  The joke’s on all of us.  Oh, how we miss the one Tree of Life for the forest.  Have I been all this time with Jesus and still don’t know who he is?

Only, Christ is in our presence, and he makes all things possible.  Paul hopes in his letter to the Ephesians that we will “have the power to comprehend … the breadth and length, and height and depth and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with the fullness of God.”  He also makes the bold claim that Jesus’ power is “able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine” within us.  So yes, possibilities abound and no, we are not off the hook. 

Father Huntington writes in his rule in Chapter 27, “Of the Vow of Poverty”, “We are to remind ourselves that whenever we admit the thought, ‘How much could we do if only we had the material means,’ we are probably hindering God from accomplishing through us those very ends which we desire for his glory, and that if he were to give us the means while we are in that unfaithfulness to holy poverty, we should find them a cause of weakness, paralyzing our work for him.” 

If I say either I got nothing or not enough, such statements of scarcity render not just me but God weak and paralyzed within me.  And yet, Christ amuses himself by showing Philip, Andrew and us, what is unimaginable anyway.  He accomplishes beyond what we can ask. 

Last week we prayed almost every day a collect that dug deeper within me with each repetition.  It got to a point where I was mouthing the words along with Roy and with some of my brothers.  We prayed, “Have compassion on our weakness, and mercifully give those things which for our unworthiness we dare not and for our blindness, we cannot ask.” 

This week’s Gospel passage responds well to this petition.  Jesus takes all we’ve got, even our nothingness, and creates an abundance.  And he makes it easy for us in the process.  All he expects from us is to prepare the people to receive a meal.  He expects us to invite them to come and rest a while just as he and his disciples rested up on that mountain, just before this event. 

Once everyone is fed and satisfied, then scraps must be collected and saved.  We are not to waste anything. Waste is just another symbol and symptom of how distorted and limited our visions are.  Quite frankly, we can’t afford to have our sight to remain sullied, just as we can’t afford to be unscrupulous about possibility and abundance. 

Elisha in 2 Kings demands more.  The man who brings a food offering to the prophet is told to feed the people. And upon the man’s protest, Elisha repeats his command to “give it to the people and let them eat.”  To prove to the man that his food offering is “worthy” and enough, all Elisha has to utter is “Thus, says the Lord …” 

The Lord is ominously here with us.  Christ haunts us as he did the disciples amidst the darkness, a rough sea and a strong wind.  Jesus terrifies them walking on the sea toward the boat, only to say a kind of “boo” when he arrives. Jesus is having more fun with his disciples again.

Now we’ve reached the punchline of the joke as the disciples suddenly reach land.  It’s not me.  It’s not you nor anyone else.  “Thus says the Lord, “It’s I, do not be afraid.” 

Now, these might be pretty cruel pranks, but how else is Christ going to reach us beyond our egos other than to annihilate the barrier between our ignorance and blindness and “the breadth and length, and height and depth” of “Christ’s love”.  It’s hardly understandable.  What Christ can accomplish within us and through us is unimaginable.  Yet this all-encompassing God will show us just what is possible and what’s impossible!  And that determination is his.  

If ever we are in any doubt about this, all we have to do is to look ahead to the second half of our service this morning.  Now I will be up there helping to prepare a meal, and I may make mistakes when I’m doing it.  I often do.  I either got nothing or not enough.  All of you will come to receive Communion and you will bring your emptiness or inadequacies as I will have offering you wine, probably trembling while doing it.  But Christ haunts us up there.  He is present with us and through us and he will insist that what we have to offer is sufficient because he makes it so.  But … “Just give it to the people and let them eat!”  For thus says the Lord, We “shall eat and have some left”.  And Christ may even say to us in a whisper, Boo!  Amen.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

The Feast of St. Benedict: Preached at Saint John’s in the Village, NYC Sunday, July 15, 2018

Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY
Br. Josép R. Martínez-Cubero, OHC
The Feast of St. Benedict- Sunday, July 15, 2018


To hear the sermon in its fullness click here.


Br. Josép Martínez-Cubero, OHC 
Most of what we know about Saint Benedict of Nursia comes from the Dialogues of Pope Gregory the Great, written about sixty years after Benedict’s death. This work is a combination of biographical sketch and miracle stories, but there are things in it that we can receive as factual. Benedict was born around the year 480, in central Italy, to a noble family. He was educated in Rome, studying rhetoric and law, but was turned off by the excesses of the Roman society of the time. 

So Benedict decided to abandon the life in which he had been brought up, and taking his childhood nurse, traveled about 40 miles to Affide, a community at the foot of a mountain. He found a mentor named Romanus, a monk in a nearby monastery, who encouraged him to become a hermit. And so, Benedict lived as a hermit for three years, embracing prayer, silence, and solitude. During and after that time, stories of his miracles spread, and a community grew around him. He eventually founded twelve communities of monks in Subiaco, Lazio, Italy each with their own abbot, before moving to Monte Casino in the mountains of Italy where he lived in a thirteenth monastery as abbot with a few select brothers.

Benedict’s main achievement is a document he seems to have prepared throughout the duration of his life containing precepts for his monks, and which today is known as the Rule of Saint Benedict. The document is heavily influenced by the writings of John Cassian, another Christian monk before his time, who is noted for his role in bringing the ideas and practices of Christian monasticism to the early medieval West. The Rule of Saint Benedict also shows to have been the editing and reworking of an earlier and very severe monastic rule called “The Rule of the Master. It is the only piece of Benedict’s writing we have, but what he adds, omits, rearranges, and revises from The Rule of the Master tells us more about him than any legend surrounding his life.

A rule is essentially a code of practice and discipline. Since the beginning of time, rules and laws have been important in the way faithful people live their lives. Some rules delineate a code of justice thought to be pleasing to God. There is no need to figure out what is right or wrong but what the rule says and follow it because it pleases God. Other rules define how to live in community in a code of holiness. The aim with these kinds of rules is that all should be treated equally as beloved children of God. This way of living requires constant prayer and discernment, and it is, at times, messy business. So is the Rule of Saint Benedict, which can be an unappealing document for anyone who is looking for a fixed set of regulations.
 
Benedict’s Rule is a reflection steeped in Scripture that describes a way to live in community so that the Reign of God can be manifested. It is a human journey into the heart of God. It called for a community where all had the same access to books for their education; a community where all ate the same adequate amount of food and drink; a community where all had a voice, even the newest members. It sadly sounds like an ideal that could make many political and religious leaders of our day very uncomfortable.
 
I come to you today from Holy Cross Monastery in West Park, NY. It is one of the houses of The Order of the Holy Cross, an international Benedictine order of men in the Anglican Communion. At West Park, we are a multigenerational and diverse community of eighteen men. Among other things, I serve my community as the Director of Associates of Holy Cross, 415 men, and women who we support, and who support us in all our ministries. The Associates of Holy Cross is what in other Benedictine communities is called Oblate Program. 


Oblates are Christians who desire to live out their Baptismal Covenant in association with a monastic order, and inspired by Benedict's Rule. Associates of Holy Cross are not only recipients of our blessings, but are also a source of blessings and help for our monastery. I share this with you today because we monks are flawed human beings, just as anyone else, but who have made the radical (and awesome!) choice to live in a monastery. But our associates are deacons, and priests and bishops, yes, but also students, doctors, housewives, carpenters, accountants, teachers, musicians, lawyers, grandparents, single mothers and single fathers, partnered or married parents, and the list goes on and on! Our associates are from all walks of life, and from around the world. In their association with us, our three-fold monastic vow of obedience, stability, and conversion of life becomes the three principles by which they center their lives. So I want to share with you a few thoughts about each of these three principles.
 
Obedience is not a particularly popular word today, and in fact, can be thought of, if misunderstood, as potentially dangerous in the world we live in. The Latin root for obedience is “obaudire”, to listen thoroughly. The very first word of the Rule of Saint Benedict is “Listen.” Benedict asks us to listen to his instructions with the ear of the heart. Not just with the mind as in an intellectual exercise, but also with the heart, which is the root of love. So we lovingly listen to the voice of God speaking to us in Sacred Scripture, and the traditions of the Church. We lovingly listen in our daily circumstances and relationships. We lovingly listen to the words of other people. We lovingly listen to our own hearts. By lovingly listening, we carefully discern God’s will and translate it into action.
 
Stability, “to stay put”, makes us confront our tendencies to avoid God, others, and ourselves. All too often we use our free times to escape into fantasies that remove us from the present moment. Through the monastic principle of stability, we engage in the hard, ongoing, and transformative work of being present where God has called us and where our choices have lead us. And we engage in the radical love that challenges us to learn about, respect, honor, and even celebrate what has been called the otherness of the other, in all his or her difference, and wonder.
 
Conversion of life is central to Benedictine life and has to do with the paschal mystery of death and life as it is lived out daily through a lifetime. It is about being broken and renewed. It is about being in the hands of the living God who meets us most reliably at the point of our temptations, self-doubts, and discomforts with a never-ending invitation to holiness. Conversion of life reminds us of the central symbol of transformation in Christianity- a naked, bleeding human nailed to a cross. It reminds us that there cannot be resurrection before crucifixion. It reminds us that there is a broken, wounded part inside each and every one of us, and that the one thing we all have in common as human beings is our powerlessness. And we can only come to terms with this when we grow in humility.
 
The longest chapter of Benedict’s Rule is on the subject of humility. Humility requires radical self-honesty, and a total acceptance of who we are with all our unchangeable past, gifts, strengths, weaknesses, successes, and failures. It requires that we surrender and learn to love those parts about ourselves that we think of as unlovable so that our capacity to love can widen. Humility is essential for an individual or a community to flourish because it guides us in having respectful and loving interactions with others. The humble is able to respect the dignity of every human being (even the particularly undignified politician) because the humble knows we all are in need of mercy daily. The humble knows that calling evil what it is, is an act of love, but we must do so without engaging in verbal or social violence. It is only through humility that we can ground ourselves in our true identity as people who are called to overcome evil with good.
 
The Benedictine call then, is to be a people willing to be passionately caring; a people willing to be a challenge and example to our society as a whole; a people willing to be in the world, but not of the world; a people willing to stand at the margins of society so that we can see what really is; a people willing to meet the pain and inner death that comes with seeing the real. We do it trusting that God is always able to bring new life out of all loss. We do it with the confidence that God, who shatters our expectations and surpasses our understanding, only desires for us to evolve into the fullness of the image in which we are made. Holy Father Benedict, pray for us. ¡Que así sea en el nombre del Padre y del Hijo y del Espíritu Santo! ~Amen+
 

References:



  • Terrence G. Kardong, OSB, Benedict’s Rule: A Translation and Commentary (Liturgical Press, 2016)
  • Jane Tomaine, St. Benedict’s Toolbox: The Nuts and Bolts of Everyday Benedictine Living, Revised Edition (Church Publishing, 2015)
  • Norvene Vest, Preferring Christ: A Devotional Commentary on the Rule of St. Benedict (Church Publishing, 2004)
  • Rule for Associates of Holy Cross, 1998
  • Br. Randy Greeve, OHC, Sermon for the Feast of St. Peter and St. Paul- Holy Cross Monastery, June 29, 2018
  • Br. Robert James Magliula, OHC, Sermon for the Feast of Saint Benedict- Holy Cross Monastery, July 11, 2015
  • Br. Scott Wesley Borden, OHC, Sermon for the Feast of Saint Benedict- Holy Cross Monastery- July 11, 2012
  • Br. Robert Leo Sevensky, OHC, Sermon for the Feast of Saint Benedict- Holy Cross Monastery, July 11, 2010