Br. Randy Greve, OHC
The Feast of Father James Otis Sargent Huntington, OHC, - Tuesday 25 November 2008
Portrait of our Founder, Father Huntington, OHC
This portrait hung in our Mount Calvary Monastery, Santa Barbara, CA
and was lost to the fire that recently destroyed that monastery
Originally uploaded by Randy OHC
On this day when we remember and celebrate the vision and work of our founder, we take stock of his legacy since his death in 1935. Seventy three years later we ask ourselves how we might boast of our Order’s accomplishments and achievements.
We boast in having a founder who envisioned an army of young men joining the Order with a passionate desire for prayer and an eager zeal for mission work. What is the reality? Well, we’re not exactly an army and not entirely young. Our community’s median age is almost 70 and the most pressing issue of the next several years will be elder care. We face the challenges of aging, the realization that many brothers are no longer able to function at their peak, and the pressures on the young able-bodied to take up their work.
We boast in a founder who envisioned monks helping plant and nurture Episcopal schools, missions, and churches that would worship God and serve the needs of their local communities. How are we doing as a denomination? According to Episcopal Church statistics, average Sunday attendance between 2002 and 2007 dropped an average of 381 persons a week. That’s losing a year’s worth of guests in the guest house every ten weeks. Active baptized membership was just above 2,350,000 in 1996 and was, at the end of 2007, 2,100,000. There were 7,305 parishes and missions in 2002, 7,055 at the end of 2007.
We boast that Fr. Huntington envisioned a community life that respected differences, valued listening, shared leadership, and strived for consensus in decision-making - a model of community that could become a witness to the wider church. How are we doing as an Anglican Communion? Four dioceses of the Episcopal Church have voted to leave the denomination in the past few months out of deep disagreement over its direction and theology. Sides are being chosen and battle lines are being drawn. Name-calling, blaming, inhibition and litigation are daily occurrences as fractures deepen - and this behavior in the same church that has prided itself on diversity of ideas and theology around a common life of worship.
And as we learn of departures, deaths and consolidations within the communities of our fellow religious in CAROA, we are drawn to wonder whether we’re becoming extinct, whether monasteries are becoming quaint museums rather than places of witness and transformation. What Fr. Huntington and others saw in the late 19th century as the beginning of a great new movement within Anglicanism by many standards of measurement is fading and dying.
It’s clear from this simple bit of fact-checking that we live in a time of profound institutional change at every level. The traditions and structures most of us grew up with are eroding and shifting. Denominational loyalty is fading. Young Christians are less concerned about the name on the door of the church than with whether the people strive to follow Christ faithfully. Every church is competing in the free market. If a community’s life and worship are rote, routine, dry, and lifeless, it will die. If it is passionate, vibrant, and built on authentic relationships, it will thrive and grow. Spiritual hunger is still innately human, however. Many unchurched are asking the big questions of faith more loudly and seriously than ever:” Is real community, meaning, commitment, and love still to be found in this world of so much hypocrisy and religious lip-service?” Does anyone really live out what they preach? Can faith, can monasteries, still be relevant and important to the next generation? Do we as representatives of the Christian tradition have anything to say, anything to offer people looking for purpose and meaning? Dare we ask for hope and guidance in these trying times?
Evelyn Underhill wrote in the early 20th century:
“The experiments of St. Benedict, St. Francis, Fox or Wesley, were not therefore the natural products of ages of faith. They each represented the revolt of a heroic soul against surrounding apathy and decadence; an invasion of novelty; a sharp break with society, a new use of antique tradition depending on new contacts with the Spirit.”The lesson from Galatians we just heard is an example of that revolt proclaimed with graphic boldness and assurance. The question in the background of the controversy with the circumcision party is “Who do you think you are, Paul?” “Who are you to tell us what to do?” In writing to the church in Galatia, Saint Paul could have appealed to his achievement, his status, his education, his missionary work, his exceptional encounter with the Lord - any of these - as the basis for his authority in the Galatian church. What he does instead is revolt. He says that the authority, the power, the call to the people of Galatia does not reside in him, but in the cross. It is not his own insights to which he appeals, but to the cross. The cross, that jarring reminder of cursed God-forsakenness, is the harrowing act of our redemption, the ultimate act of love, the call to take up our own crosses and follow Christ. Crucifixes are prominent throughout these monastic buildings on purpose, including two large ones in this most holy space. But because we are so familiar with the symbolism, it can become invisible; at least at times it does to me. For St. Paul, for Fr. Huntington, and for us, the cross must never be invisible but always in our sight. It is the constant jolt to wake up, to be alive every day, every moment, to be humble and grateful, vigilant and ready to love no matter the circumstances. It is never just a nice memory or a sentimental piece of history, it is the sole reason why we are here, why we do what we do, why we read and sing and bow as we do. While I was in South Africa, Br. Timothy was fond of saying, “This is not a rocking chair around my neck!”
To boast in the cross is to live the cross-bearing life. It is to examine our hearts and minds for any thought, word, or action of apathy or decadence. It is to continually ask God and each other “What is still waiting to be converted in me? What needs to be crucified in me?” The temptation is to fit in, to be a group of nice brothers living in a nice place welcoming nice people who do nice things, smug in our own enlightened sophistication, careful neither to offend nor inspire. Our lives should be a screaming no to apathy and decadence by constantly reminding ourselves that there is more to life - a deeper community, a wider mercy, a fuller joy, a greater freedom, a darker mystery in this call, in this gift of life which we live.
We are rebels, whether we like it or not; our work is a work of revolt. We revolt when we continue to point each other and our guests to the cross. We revolt when we resist the temptation to boast in our own works. We revolt when we keep before us this act of love, our salvation and our challenge, our life and our example. We appeal to the deeper hunger and mystery at the core of every person. We are called to live and proclaim the cross as the center of the world, the tree of life and hope, especially when the illusions of the age and its form of security shift and crack, revealing their folly. People come here because at some level they long for God in their lives. The sacrifice of our own wills and desires, our revolt against every illusion of cheap happiness and instant gratification reminds us and proclaims to them that life, real life, is offered to us if we would simply choose it. By the commitment to let be crucified in us what leads to death, we live St. Paul’s hope, Fr. Huntington’s vision in the world of today - a world that needs the message of the cross more than ever. We’ve been through some traumatic losses and changes in the past several weeks. More losses and changes await us in the future. But through them all we know where our boasting belongs. When brothers come and go, when others die, when houses are closed or burn down, the cross is our hope. When churches decline, dioceses leave, bishops bicker, the cross is our vision. When money is tight, when tasks are too many and sleep is too little, the cross is our strength.
I began by boasting, or at least attempting to boast, in what we have done, and how great we are, and how neat it is that we are monks in the Order of the Holy Cross. But such nonsense is as silly as boasting in our circumcision like the Galatians!
Our boast is not in the triumph of our opinions, but the cross.
Our boast is not in our systems and traditions, but the cross.
Our boast is not in us vs. them, but the cross.
Our boast is not in our calling, but the cross.
Our boast is not in our petty allegiances, but the cross.
Our boast is not in what we have accomplished, but what Christ has done and will do in us today.