Sunday, May 15, 2022

Easter 5 C - May 15, 2022

Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY

Br. Bernard Delcourt, OHC

Easter 5 C - May 15, 2022

Our three readings today give us a sweeping view of God’s plan for us all. Mutual inclusion in God’s all-embracing love. It starts with God loving us warts and all. We respond to God in love. We deliberately become instruments of God’s love. It evolves to our including everyone in God and in our God-inspired love. Simple? No matter, for the love of Jesus, let’s do it anyway. ***** In Acts, Peter learns to be as inclusive as the Holy Spirit. He says: The Spirit told me to go with them and not to make a distinction between them and us. And he adds: And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them just as it had upon us at the beginning This passage of Acts expands the message of many of Jesus’ parables. The Good Samaritan and the Prodigal Son come to mind. In order to love our neighbor as God enjoins us to, we have to include everyone, not only the members of our club. And this love enfleshes the love of God for all of creation. God does not love selectively some parts of the creation. God loves all of it and redeems all of it. No exclusion. We don’t get to choose whom God loves. As Christians we commit to love those God loves. Everyone. ***** In our reading from Revelation, we hear: See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them as their God; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; God does not dwell solely with Israel whom he chose to carry God’s message. God dwells face-to-face, elbow to elbow with all of God’s people. Mourning and crying and pain will no longer apply to anyone, no matter their origin, their identity or their righteousness. Yes, God’s mercy will embrace all of us. No one is excluded, no matter how unrighteous they may seem to us or even to themselves. Not even the people we feel entitled to ignore, exclude or despise in our current lives are beyond God’s mercy. ***** Br. Randy once told us of a priest friend of his that came up with a very good illustration of hell. His friend said hell is what happens when folk get to the pearly gates, look in to see who is there, and say, “Oh, I’m sorry, we’re not in communion with them.” Are we willing to enjoy the full inclusiveness of God’s love? Or would we rather be deprived of God’s presence than to share God’s love with people we turn up our nose at. ***** And in the gospel according to John, Jesus says: I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. Remember, this comes after Jesus washed the apostles feet at the last supper. And after Judas departed having received from Jesus’ hand the piece of bread he dipped in the dish. What is new in the commandment is how Jesus’ life, death and resurrection models for us what love is and who is included in that love. A commandment to love had appeared before in the history of Israel. In Leviticus 19:18 it says: You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord. Can you hear the differences? The scope and intent of what was in seed in Leviticus has blossomed in Jesus’ commandment to those who want to follow Him. This is from the man who said: “Love your enemies.” That is quite a leap from loving a member of my tribe whom I would prefer to bear a grudge against. Jesus loved Judas even as he knew he was betraying him. ***** God’s love enfolds us, no matter what we are and what we do. God’s love enfolds everyone and everything. We are invited to be inspired and take our cue from God’s love. That is a daunting task, but it is the task we have set ourselves in choosing to follow Jesus. He says: By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. So this week, I invite you to deliberately identify one or more persons whom you ignore, despise or neglect. Do not be fooled that there are no such persons in your life. It’s just that it’s more comfortable for us to be in denial about that. Can you train your heart’s eye to see that person as a beloved child of God? Can you feel God’s love for that person? And can you yourself treat that person in a way that will make them feel acknowledged, liked or cared for? Can you ask God to help you make the leap into loving that child of God? And by the way, thank you very much for loving all the people you like and care about in your life. Let’s keep it up and widen our scope! Amen.

Monday, May 9, 2022

Easter 4 C - May 8, 2022

Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY

Br. Aidan Owen, OHC

Easter 4 C - May 8, 2022

In the name of the One God, who is Lover, Beloved, and Love Overflowing.
This fourth Sunday of Easter is known as Good Shepherd Sunday. Even though, in our three-year lectionary, it’s only in Year B, which we had last year, that Jesus actually says “I am the good shepherd,” the gospel lectionary for this Sunday always centers on the image of Jesus as the shepherd of the sheep. He knows his sheep; he calls them each by name; he lays down his life for them; and they—that is, we—follow that voice, leading us ever onward to our home in God. I’ve always found the moniker “Good Shepherd” both puzzling and attractive. What does Jesus mean by calling himself the good shepherd? Remember, in Matthew he denies the adjective “good,” and reminds his followers that no one is good but God. Biblical scholars also remind us that his contemporaries might have seen Jesus as the foolish shepherd who leaves his entire flock to search for the one missing sheep—an act that would actually endanger the 99 left behind in the hopes of gaining one insignificant little ewe.
And what is this voice that we know, and that calls us each by name? How do we hear it? I heard a sermon on Good Shepherd Sunday several years ago that pointed out that the word we translate into English as “good” carries in both Greek and Hebrew a double meaning. It means “good” as we understand it—meaning both desirable and morally sound. And it also means “beautiful,” as in pleasing, attractive, excellent. Taken in these layers, the image refracts Jesus' image like a prism refracts light. Not only is Jesus good but he is also beautiful, lovely, attractive, captivating.
Now, it’s dangerous to talk about beauty in our contemporary context, obsessed as we so often are with the so-called beautiful, young things. So often we mix up beauty with glamor. Glamor distracts us. It’s always shiny, new, and seemingly flawless. Think of the gym-toned bodies the advertisers promise us if we’ll only buy this or eat that. Glamor is always rotten at the core, no matter how lovely it seems on the surface, because it is really ugliness papered over with a symmetry and order that speaks to our desire to fly away from these impoverished human bodies. Beauty, by contrast, conveys us to ourselves. John Galsworthy writes of beauty that, “Where Beauty was, nothing ever ran quite straight, which, no doubt, was why so many people looked on it as immoral.” (from The Forsyte Saga) Beauty often covers itself with seeming ugliness, disorder, or disarray, because it elevates the ordinary, the human, the flawed and draws out the line of holiness crouched therein. The most beautiful face I ever saw was that of a very old woman at a museum. Her face was so wrinkled it folded in on itself in crags and valleys. Her skin was dappled with brown, like a forest with the light poring through. Her nose was a bit hooked, and her lips thin and drawn. But as I gazed on her, a deep knowing emerged from within, a knowing that drew me more fully into myself. I became more whole in the moment of my gazing. Such is the power of beauty to convey us to ourselves. True beauty reveals itself to those who have the patience to wait and to watch. It requires something of us. And rather than inviting us to betray ourselves, as does glamor, beauty repays us with a deepening sense of the holy within and around us.
Perhaps you know the poem called “The Bright Field” by the Welsh poet and Anglican priest R.S. Thomas:

I have seen the sun break through to illuminate a small field for a while, and gone my way and forgotten it. But that was the pearl of great price, the one field that had treasure in it. I realise now that I must give all that I have to possess it. Life is not hurrying on to a receding future, nor hankering after an imagined past. It is the turning aside like Moses to the miracle of the lit bush, to a brightness that seemed as transitory as your youth once, but is the eternity that awaits you. Perhaps, as so often happens, the wisdom of language precedes us. Maybe “goodness” and “beauty” are not two different meanings of one word. Maybe they’re shades of one another. Maybe Jesus’ goodness is his beauty, lying hidden in the field we pass on our morning walk. Perhaps his voice is the glint of the sunshine, whispering to us to slow down, to pay attention, to allow the radiance of our life to emerge around and within us. Perhaps the shepherd who leaves the 99, foolish though he may be, understands that wholeness is worth the risk, that wholeness is worth everything, because that is where love lies. If true beauty emerges in and through the contrast of the ordinary, human flotsam with the radiance of divinity, then of course Jesus—fully human and fully divine—is the icon of a beauty that is moral, good, and attractive to both body and soul. And in reconciling the human and the divine—or, rather, in showing that there is no contradiction between them, that, like light and darkness, the human and the divine illuminate and boundary one another—Jesus shows us the way to deeper wholeness and reconciliation in God. We need this vision of a reconciling beauty now more than ever. Dostoevsky famously wrote in The Idiot that “beauty will save the world.” And how, we might wonder? Well, look around. War, yes. Plague, yes. Devastation, yes. But also the crabapples in their peerless bounty, and the love of our families and friends, and these fragile precious eyes we have. The light of Jesus’ resurrection does not banish totally and completely the darkness that fills our world. But it does provide us with the contrast to see that world more fully, to know its beauty and in that knowledge to be known as God’s hands and God’s feet and God’s beating, broken heart in this world. In her book Hope in the Dark Rebecca Solnit writes that “someday all this may be ruins over which pelicans will fly, but for now it is a place where history is still unfolding. Today is also the day of creation.” (Hope in the Dark, p. 114) I would add that not only is today the day of creation. But it is also good, and it is beautiful. We may not be able to end the atrocities in Ukraine, or stop the resurgence of fascism throughout the world, or mend the broken hearts of those struck down by addiction and despair, but if we ourselves are more whole, then the world is, too. If we love more, then the world is that much more loving. If we can turn away from violence and death within us, then world is that much more alive.
Each time we hear the voice of our good and beautiful shepherd calling us by name and choose to turn homeward, Christ is risen within and around us, and Easter dawns once more. Alleluia! Christ is risen!

Sunday, April 24, 2022

Easter 2 C - April 24, 2022

Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY

Br. Robert James Magliula, OHC

Easter 2 C - April 24, 2022

One week ago, God rolled away the stone from the tomb and Mary Magdalene saw Jesus alive. That night, despite her good news, the disciples were still hiding behind locked doors. Not much has changed. They had traded a tomb for a room and a stone for locked doors. This time Thomas was with them. Jesus came and stood among them, saying "Peace be with you." Then he turned to Thomas and offered himself. "Reach your finger here", he said, "see my hands. Put your hand in my side. Be unbelieving no longer but believe." 

Try to forget, for a moment, everything you thought you knew about Thomas. Forget that somewhere along the way you came to believe that Thomas’ primary attribute was doubt. Forget that you still think of him as a slightly inferior disciple who Jesus rebukes him for his lack of faith. Forget it all because the opposite is true. Nowhere in the Gospels is he described as a doubter. What Thomas asked for was exactly what all the other disciples got. When Jesus appeared to them, he showed them his hands and his side and only then, did they rejoice “because they saw the Lord” (20:20). We tend to forget that it was not only Judas who betrayed Jesus. Every one of the disciples abandoned him, apart from the women and John. Thomas was no worse than any of the others in that room behind locked doors. Jesus never accused Thomas of doubting. That’s how we have translated and interpreted the Greek. Rather, Jesus, says, “Do not be unbelieving, but believing.” He could just have easily said that to the others. All of them were guilty. All went into hiding, afraid that they would also be accused and arrested. Traumatized, paralyzed by fear, grief, guilt, remorse, and despair, their brokenness had buried them alive. The locked room was their tomb. 

Christ is risen, the tomb is empty, but the doors are locked. Resurrected life does not come easily. It’s not just the first disciples, however. I suspect we all know about locked doors. God opens the tomb, and sometimes we follow behind locking the door. God declares forgiveness and we continue to live behind the locked door of condemnation of self or others. God defeats death but we still live as if it is the final word. God offers new life, but we live in the past. God declares we are loved, and we lock ourselves out of that love. The locked doors of our lives are not so much about what is going on around us, but what is happening within us: fear, anger, guilt, hurt, grief, the refusal to change. The lock on the door of our life is always locked from the inside.

Resurrection is not just an event or an idea. It is a way of being and living. It is the lens through which we see the world, each other, and ourselves. Resurrection is the gift of God’s life and love. Living resurrection, however, is difficult. It is neither quick nor magical. For most of us it is a process, something we grow into over time. Resurrection does not undo our past, fix our problems, or change the circumstances of our lives. It changes us, offers a way through our problems, and creates a future. Christ’s resurrected life invites us to unlock our doors and sends us into the world.

One week after Easter, is our life different? Where are we living--- In the freedom and joy of resurrection or behind a locked door? What do we believe about Jesus’ resurrection? What door have we locked? If you want to know what you believe, look at your life and how you live. Our beliefs guide our life, and our life reveals our beliefs. Belief in Jesus’ resurrection is not a question of intellectual assent or agreement. It’s not about evidence or proof or getting the right answer. Belief is more about how we live than what we think. It encourages us to be real---to find as Thomas did---that when we admit our need, Christ will meet us where we are. The opposite of faith is not doubt but fear. Doubt is an essential ingredient of faith which can serve us, but fear imprisons us. We’re called to look squarely at our fear, and then step out knowing that Jesus walks beside us. 

Resurrected people know that faith and life are messy. They ask hard questions rather than settling for easy answers. They don’t have to figure it all out before praying, forgiving, or loving. They trust that what God believes about them is more important than what they believe about God. They unlock the door even when they don’t know what’s on the other side. They believe even if they don’t understand. They may never see or touch Jesus, but they live trusting that they have been seen and touched by him. None of us crosses over this gap from death to new life by our own effort or perfection. Each of us is carried by grace. Death cannot win when we recognize that the thing which could destroy us is the very thing that could enlighten us.

Speaking over Thomas’ shoulder to the rest of us, Jesus says, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” Jesus isn’t rebuking Thomas but blessing us. In fact, Thomas emerges as the model of how one becomes a disciple. Once he has encountered himself and Jesus, he makes the ultimate confession in John’s Gospel, acclaiming Jesus not only as “my Lord” --- but also “my God,” Like Thomas we all need to see and touch the mark of the nails. That sight frees us to see our own wounds and those of others compassionately, not fearfully. God transforms the human soul by using the very thing that would normally destroy us—the tragic, the sorrowful, the painful, the unjust deaths that lead us all to the bottom of our lives. Jesus’ death and resurrection is a statement of how reality works all the time and everywhere. He teaches us that there’s a different way to live with our pain, our sadness, and our suffering. We can feel sorry for ourselves, or we can say, as he did on Good Friday, “God is even in this.” God is the one who always turns death into life.

What happened to Thomas is exactly what John hopes will happen to each of us when we hear his story every year on this Sunday after Easter. After this scene John writes, “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name” (20:30-31).

+ Amen.