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.”