Brother Roger Stewart, OHC
Solemnity of James Otis Sargent Huntington, OHC - November 25, 2014
|James Otis Sargent Huntington|
The prophet Nehemiah also began a great adventure by responding to reports of the bad and demoralized condition of the survivors after the captivity and ruin of Jerusalem. He had not advanced his rebuilding project very far when he became aware that relationships among the people were not right. He could not continue until he had corrected the injustices.
From the start of his ordained then professed ministry, Father Huntington worked in situations in which rampant social injustice was all too apparent. His first efforts went into doing all he could to improve the lot of the downtrodden, and his fame as a Christian social pioneer remains widespread. He threw himself into both challenging the oppressors of his day and stirring up the Church of his day to work for justice.
I think that both Father Huntington and the prophet Nehemiah were motivated by what they would have called the fear of God, a phrase that is no longer in fashion. Nehemiah addressed his prayer to Yahweh, God of heaven, the great and awe-inspiring God who keeps a covenant of faithful love with those who love him and obey his commandments. Both Nehemiah and Father Huntington knew that social injustice is incompatible with life in God's kingdom.
It pleases me that our Founder's Day falls between Christ the King on Sunday and Thanksgiving Day on Thursday this week. The vision of God in the form of our risen, ascended, glorified Lord Jesus Christ whom we worship and obey was a significant part of Father Huntington's spirituality. On Sunday morning, we heard the following from 1st Peter during Matins: Proclaim the Lord Christ holy in your hearts, and always have your answer ready for people who ask you the reason for the hope that you have. Father Huntington wrote a Rule for an Order of monks who would respond to that call.
In his chapter on the Vow of Obedience in the Rule, Father Huntington wrote: The opportunity for this surrender is afforded in our community life. We are to die to our isolation and separateness as individuals, that we may live in the energies of a mystical body wherein the life is one, and that the life of Jesus, our Head. The community is thus our means of entrance into union with our ascended Lord.
My visit to communities of our Order in the US has given me the rare opportunity to live within and yet be alongside those communities, to experience and also observe their life. I had the privilege while at Mount Calvary Monastery in Santa Barbara, CA, of attending the life professions of the first members of the Community of Divine Love, and so witness how the life of our Order has somehow spilled over into that new community. I also had the privilege of attending the funeral of our Br. Nicholas, and so witness how much our Order's presence in that part of the country has mattered and continues to matter to people there.
What matters, wrote the apostle Paul in our reading from Galatians, is a new creation: faith working through love. Earlier in the letter, he wrote: We are led by the Spirit to wait in the confident hope of saving justice through faith. … Be servants to one another in love. … Carry each other's burdens; that is how to keep the law of Christ.
I have seen the sights in New York City. I have seen the Fall glory of the Adirondacks. I have seen the vastness of the Pacific Ocean from the heights of New Camaldoli near Big Sur. But in my time here living in and with the community of Holy Cross Monastery, I have seen something I think even more wonderful than those wonders.
It has been said that a society or an institution must ultimately be judged by how it treats its most vulnerable members, not those with access to power and privilege. I have seen how members of this community try to support the more vulnerable ones, with compassionate gentleness and a self-giving presence.
I had the privilege of attending group meetings in which the community somehow managed to create a safe space for its members to talk honestly about their lives, physical, emotional and spiritual. There was a real intimacy and vulnerability with one another.
I had the privilege of attending a community meeting in which the progress of the newest members was evaluated. Whatever other aspects of their life in community might have been considered, their kindness always seemed to be a significant factor. See how they are learning to love.
I have even had the privilege of attending a house meeting in which the community discussed its business affairs for the coming month. I was moved by the sense of a family deciding together. Who knew a house meeting could be a source of encouragement?
I have heard a senior member of the community declare that he feels he has nothing left to say … and then preach beautifully out of a different place within himself. I have heard an older member preach so movingly about the tenderness of God's relationship with him. I have heard a veteran member preach the light in a Scripture passage I thought didn't have any.
Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem! Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he. These words from the prophet Zechariah rang out during the Office of Matins on Sunday, to be followed by: Return to your stronghold, O prisoners of hope!
I'm not sure exactly what those words would have meant to Zechariah's hearers, but I love the sound of them. When I hear them, I have the image of the monastery as a stronghold and of the monks as prisoners of hope.
I think the strength of the guest ministry here and the testimony I have heard from various guests indicate the effect that the encounter with such a community has on those who come within its influence. I myself have experienced the genuine welcome and generous hospitality.
After the prophet Nehemiah had seen to the rebuilding of the walls of his own stronghold, the scribe Ezra read from the Law of Moses. The gathered people were moved to tears by what they heard, but Nehemiah stopped their weeping. “Today is sacred to our Lord,” he insisted. “Do not be sad; the joy of Yahweh is your stronghold.”
After a solemn ceremony of expiation and a communal renewal of commitment to its God, the rebuilt wall was dedicated and it is recorded that: There were great sacrifices offered that day and the people rejoiced, God having given them good cause for rejoicing … and the joy of Jerusalem could be heard from far away. Thanksgiving Day is on Thursday. Just saying.
Father Huntington said the following during a retreat address here at West Park: We are to think of ourselves as charged with a peculiar and important responsibility to carry to others what we have received on their behalf. … We are taken apart because we are called into a special relation with God. But, once established in that relation, we are to find that He is tremendously concerned about the world, and that He would have us share in His effort to save it. … God is working there. Can it be right for us to turn away in indifference from what He is doing? Must we not rather be eager to recognize His action and to know by His Spirit how we are to cooperate with Him? Knowledge of the world, knowledge of God's work in the world, knowledge of what He wants us to do in the world – these are the lines on which our minds must work. … All this involves effort, time and courage. We must be at pains about it. It must be the business of our lives. It must unify our lives.
Blessed James Huntington, intercede for us.