Tuesday, July 15, 2008

On the occasion of Br. Bernard Van Waes' funeral

Mount Calvary Retreat House & Monastery, Santa Barbara, CA
Homily for the Funeral of Br. Bernard Van Waes, OHC
by Br. Robert Sevensky, OHC, Superior of the Order of the Holy Cross
Monday 14 July 2008

Henry Anton Bernhard Gaedke
Anton Henry Carter
Carter Van Waes
Br. Bernard

These are the four names by which our departed brother and friend was known. And though those of us gathered here today knew him only by the last two, all four names made him the man he was, were part and parcel of his story, his journey. No doubt there were other names as well…a family diminutive, possibly, or various nicknames given by friends or brothers. I know at least one former Superior of the Order of the Holy Cross who referred to him lovingly as Bern-tooth. Others of us just called him The Bern. He himself was endlessly creative in bestowing such names on friend and foe alike. Alas, I never found out if he had one for me. But afterwards, I’d be happy to share with you some of his choicer creations.

Why so many names?

Perhaps because our Br. Bernard’s whole life can be understood as the search for his true name, his true identity…and the same might be said of all of us.

Henry Anton Bernhard Gaedke was born in 1921 in Flint Michigan to Maria Bachmann, a young German immigrant who in 1901 came with her parents to the United States, and to Edward Gaedke, a traveling salesman. The story is not unusual: the father disappears and the young mother, feeling trapped and overwhelmed by poverty and desperation, leaves young Henry to be raised by her parents, an immigrant couple who ran a bakery in Chicago. Her visits home become less and less frequent over the difficult years of the Depression, as these grandparents, though themselves desperately poor, offer Henry a home. Whatever their limitations, they instill in their grandson two great values…a Teutonic love of order and an appreciation for education, something that they had little opportunity for in their native land. School and work were the twin poles of the boy’s life.

After high school, young Henry worked in his family bakery and in a bookbindery. But already a love of learning and a yearning for something different, something more, had taken hold. Henry dreamed big dreams for himself, dreams that went beyond the ability of his grandparents to provide. Listen to his description of this period as related in his application to join the Order of the Holy Cross:

Further education was out of the question, and so I worked in a bakery twelve hours a day, six days a week. My one day of leisure, after Church, was spent in Museums, Art galleries and musical events, for—somehow I felt the keen desire to go on. I became an avid reader—anything seemed to capture my fancy, but, in particular, volumes on Philosophy, history, and theology. Most of these were completely beyond my ability to read, let alone absorb. Nevertheless, I carried them with me on the bus to and from work—even to church, when on occasion I opened a book when the sermon, too, became incomprehensible.

This established a ‘pattern’—the love of books and what they revealed led me to include in my itinerary of museums, etc., a college campus. I liked to think of myself as a student as I walked the paths and building of the University of Chicago. My interests soon focused on ancient Egypt and my ambition was to one day be an Orientalist specializing in Egyptology. The one outstanding man of that field at the time was Professor James Henry Breasted, head of the Oriental Institute at the University. I was determined to see this great man. With the impetuousness of youth, and being ‘armed’ with the whole armour of grit I presented myself for an audience with the sage and dean of Egyptologists. My complete lack of tact and/or reverence for protocol must have taken all by surprise and I was humored and ushered into the great man’s presence. He was kind, affable, and listened to my plans to one day be his successor. I recall only one small part of that conversation: Dr. Breasted said, “The field is already overcrowded.” My replay was: “But, sir, there’s always room for one more good man, isn’t there?” He smiled benignly, patted my head and replied, “To be sure.”

Yes, there is always room for one more good man…but unfortunately not for Henry, not in Chicago, not then.

So he did what many young men did who sought a way up and out. He enlisted in the Navy in August 1941, under the name Anton Henry Carter. We know of course what happened only a few months later on December 7, 1941. And for the next six years, Anton was thrust into the belly of the beast that was World War Two in the Pacific Theater. He served with great valor, receiving the right to wear countless battle ribbons and serving in the very critical position of Chief Signalman.

Much happened during these fateful years. I mention but two significant events.

The first was an event of deep loss and trauma. On the Feast of the Epiphany, January 6, 1945, a Kamikaze pilot crashed into Anton’s ship, The USS New Mexico. Anton lived, but over a hundred of his mates died in the horrible wreckage that surrounded him, burned alive, mangled, obliterated. These included Anton’s best friend, a Marine named Bill. Shell shock, battle fatigue, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder—call it what you will—the loss was overwhelming, the wounds deep. Anton was left with that most haunting of human questions: “Why did I survive while all my friends perished? What does this mean? Who am I?” It was a question that was to mark him, resurfacing year after year. Only now can we see how rich and incredibly brave and creative was his response to this event. Whatever the wounds, whatever the long-term consequences, he was never defeated by them.

The second event is happier. Anton’s grandparents both died within six months of his enlistment into the Navy. He was essentially left without a family. But a family was provided for him nonetheless through his great good fortune in meeting up with Robert Van Waes, a fellow seaman and dear friend from Illinois. Bob along with Bob’s parents and later Bob’s wife Barbara became Anton’s surrogate family, a reality Anton acknowledged by legally changing his name to Carter Van Waes. We are honored to have his namesake, Bob’s son, Carter Van Waes, here with us today.

So it is now Carter Van Waes who, after his naval discharge moves to Boston and attends Boston University to begin the undergraduate education so long desired and delayed, only to have it interrupted by recall to further active service in the Navy during the Korean conflict. Again, with single-minded service and focus, Carter served his country and then returned to Boston to complete his bachelor’s degree. It was also during this time that he came to know the Episcopal Church in Cambridge, MA and felt called to the ordained ministry. Attendance at CDSP in Berkeley, CA; a pastoral position in Alaska; ordination there; parish ministries in the San Francisco Bay Area; a falling out with the Bishop; a move to Texas; further pastoral work in parish and military base there; a Masters degree in Literature and History from the University of Texas; work as a teacher…and always, always that old question: “Why did I survive? Who am I? What now?”

It is from this question that his fourth name--Br. Bernard--emerges. He was at one of those points in life—we have all had them—when while experiencing a certain desperation, a certain profound dissatisfaction with the status quo, that he remembered his visits here to Mount Calvary Retreat House during his seminary days. He remembered the peace he experienced here. And then…well let him describe it.

When I had finally ‘come to myself’ I discovered, quite by accident (or WAS IT?), a copy of the Holy Cross magazine issue for the summer of 1973. I flipped open to page five, which pictures Novice Fr. Roy Parker quietly pondering his Hebrew studies. I do not wish to be either dramatic or equate this with Paul’s experience on the road to Damascus—however, at that moment my years of desperation and search for my real vocation were ended—and I literally said: “This is where God wants me.” I will not belabor the point.

Nor will I… other than to concur that it was where God wanted him.

These years as a monk were fruitful years and as well as years of struggle. That is the nature of monastic life, maybe of all life. They were years of scholarship and of hard manual work in kitchen and sacristy. Years of spiritual direction and companionship and the daily round of worship. Years of health crises and sometimes emotional crises. Years marked by a fascination with and deep appreciation of the genius of Trappist monk Thomas Merton. Years of art--watercolors and sketches--and breathtakingly beautiful Japanese style flower arrangements appearing as if by magic in the chapel long before the dawn service. Years of gingerbread houses at Christmas and exotic cookies and always, always a wonderfully wry sense of humor, summarized by his favorite needlepoint pillow that says, simply, “Bah, humbug.”

What an amazing man!

It strikes me now that as the years went by, his name got simpler: from Henry Anton Bernhard Gaedke to Anton Henry Carter to Carter Van Waes to simply Bernard. And as his name got simpler, so did he. Those of us who shared the privilege of being with him in the last six months of his life saw a transformation take place that was profound, a simplification, a transparency that was unmistakable. Maybe it was those clear blue eyes or that warm smile. But as he decreased physically, he increased spiritually in peace, joy, trust, honesty. He was at the end the monk he had always hoped to be. It was a gift to know him, a gift to us all.

There is a mysterious passage in the Book of Revelation that says:

“To anyone who is victorious I will give some of the hidden manna; I will also give him a white stone, and on it will be written a new name, known only to the one who receives it.” (2:17)

A white stone with a new name, our true name, written on it.

Bernard now has that white stone. He finally knows his true name, the name written from all eternity at the heart of God.

I pray that he’s there when you and I get our white stones as well. When we, with him, with all God’s children, discover our true name, our true and everlasting identity as sons and daughters of the Most High.

What a happy, what a holy, what a joyous day that will be!

No more “Bah humbug” then! This finally will be the real thing.


Sunday, July 13, 2008

RCL - Proper 10 A - 13 Jul 2008

Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY
Br. Randy Greve, OHC
RCL - Proper 10 A - Sunday 13 July 2008

Genesis 25:10-34
Romans 8:1-11
Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

The Parable of the Sower

First off, and we’ll get it out of the way, your homework assignment: the next time you read a passage of Holy Scripture, especially a Gospel passage, take note of your first reaction to what is said. Before you have time to think about the “right” answer, before what you already know starts to clean up what you hear, read in such a way that you can catch the reflex that the tap of the passage brings out from your inner spiritual muscle.

I mention this activity because in my own sermon preparation while my head wants to go in one direction with the text, more and more some other angle or theme begins to gnaw at me and nag for attention. Sometimes I charge ahead and say what I want to say. Lately, however, I’ve experimented with saying to that other voice “O.K. Let’s see where this goes…” This inner struggle between my own ego and the Holy Spirit is the soil from which an edifying word to me, the community, and our guests can come.

My first unfiltered and unedited reading of the Parable of the Sower brought to light some of my own struggle and shadow. I said to myself “I’m good soil. The seed of God’s word, God’s self, has taken root and grown in me. After all, I’m a monk, right? Pretty good fruit. I’ve devoted my life to the service of the Church and to living and teaching the Gospel. Check plus for me! On to the next chapter!” After I had worked myself up into a pretty good lather of pride and self-satisfaction, this nagging voice shows up… “Oh, really? Is all of you good soil? All the time?” And then I’m brought back into reality and reminded, not in a condemning or judgmental way, but gently and persistently, that in fact the places in me God wants to seed are not all open and available all the time.

Also, while the Lord describes these grounds as different persons, perhaps what He was talking about were not separate individual persons but the selves that live in me, in each of us. We have been and are capable of choosing to be hard to God’s voice, shallow when consumed by our desires for gratification, and knocked off track when the cares of this world strangle the tender and vulnerable sprouting of virtue.

The symbols of the parable are rich and universal - seed, ground, soil, growth, plant, fruit, and harvest. In farming and gardening, cultivation is the key. For seed and soil to have a successful meeting, planning and preparation are in order beforehand and careful care during the growth process. Hazards and dangers are always present to prevent the fruit from coming to full ripeness. Too much or too little water, insects, and weeds can wreak havoc. If the soil is determined to be good for growing, it still must be given the best chance for producing the desired flower or fruit. An apt analogy for the spiritual life. Our good, real self is present but must be tilled and tended in order to breathe and flourish. The soil is the stuff that makes us us - the divine image that can become hard through selfishness, shallow through arrogance, and chocked through greed.

The image of soil has stood out for me in my reflection and led me to the word humility. The Latin for humility is humus, earth, and is, as we know, the central virtue proclaimed by St. Benedict in chapter 7 of the Rule. The association is important to the parable because humility for Benedict is the virtue that loosens the soil, breaks up the hard ground, clears the weeds and digs deep, preparing the seed to find a welcome home. Humility is essentially a grounded and real understanding and acceptance of ourselves and God. It is the acceptance of gratitude and service that flows from the truth that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us, and that while we fall short in our call to love one another, Christ never ceases to love and forgive us. Humility is living from the unshakable truth of that rather than who we are, what we’ve accomplished, how we feel, or what spiritual experiences we have or have not had. When our hearts are hard and the seeds are choking and dying, it is not because we have lost our value to God, but buried our true selves, our deep soil, to the distraction and allure of easy shortcuts and instant gratifications. Humility is the key to finding it again and remembering what’s real and important. In New Seeds of Contemplation, Thomas Merton says faith and humility are inseparable and: “humility alone can destroy the self-centeredness that makes joy impossible. If there were no humility in the world, everybody would long ago have committed suicide.” (p.181)

The Lord is inviting us to clear and till the ground so that as much of the seed as possible can fall on the best ground possible in us. Our spiritual lives are our willingness to be cleared and tilled so that God can dwell within our whole selves. This parable invites the question: Into what kind of soil does God’s voice fall in me and what am I called to do about that? What kinds of seeds am I allowing God to plant in me today that will grow into a crop at God’s bidding?

Humility reminds us that the seed and therefore the fruit, does not originate in us. In humility we become passive to a process taking place within us that we cannot define or control, allowing God to work rather than dictating to God what our lives will become. We give ourselves over to the work of God. The most difficult part of my spiritual growth is not the part that I can do myself, but the surrender to God of what only God can do in me. The work is to exclude self-consciousness and simply focus on God rather than myself.

Whenever we remember to thank God with our whole hearts, whenever we serve the needs of others with no regard for recognition or reciprocation, whenever we deeply desire for God to soften us and make in us a growing place, then we are tilling the soil and preparing it for the seeds of God’s word to take root and flourish into everlasting life.


Friday, July 11, 2008

Feast of St Benedict of Nursia - 11 July 2008

Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY
Br. Bernard Jean Delcourt, OHC
Feast of St BenedictFriday 11 July 2008

Proverbs 2:1-9
Luke 14:27-33

Almighty and everlasting God, give us hope and fortitude to persevere in carrying our cross, day after day; that we may deserve the name of disciples of Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ, your Son. Amen.


There is truth in advertising in today’s Gospel. We are not promised a rose garden. Jesus is on the way to Jerusalem; eventually he will wear a crown of thorns. And turning to the crowds that follow him, he challenges them to measure the depth of their commitment.


Last week, on our way back from “Monk Camp” (as we affectionately call the Benedictine Juniors Summer School) Br. Randy and I visited our Mount Calvary Brothers, for a few days.

And then, on Sunday, we flew back home out of Santa Barbara airport, which seems to be a movie set from the fifties. In the airport lounge, Randy picked up a few freebie magazines to browse on the plane.

One of those magazines billed itself as being about wellness, lifestyle, metaphysics and spirituality. By the way, note that ethics and religion don’t seem to move advertising newsprint these days any more.

One article, disguised as an interview, was publicizing an upcoming seminar by an inter-denominational guru who shall remain nameless here.

One sentence got Randy puffing in disbelief and giggling at the same time. It advised this guru’s followers to find and practice their chosen “bliscipline”. That’s right, you heard me: “bliss-ipline”. At first, it looked like a typo, but upon a second reading, it appeared that another oxymoronic neologism had been born. Bliscipline!

The combination of discipline and bliss into a new word is not innocent. It attempts to erase the fact that following a discipline -- that is; a training that corrects, molds or perfects the moral character -- will require effort, perseverance and trials.

Instead, it tries to imply that such training could occur in perfect happiness -- in bliss -- and allegedly, without effort.

I must admit to feeling somewhat sorry for that guru’s clients; disillusion is bound to await most of them. Either the expected bliss will fizz out or the results of true discipline will never show up.


We get no such gloss-over from Jesus, today. He warns his followers on the full extent of the renunciation and obedience that is expected from them if they want to be his disciples. And he warns them to do a thorough reckoning of whether they are that eager to be his disciples.

In today’s passage, Jesus tells us that the cost of discipleship is twofold:

· First, to carry the cross and follow Him,

· And second, to give up all our possessions.


Carrying the cross is not a once over event. It continues throughout our discipleship. As monastics, day by day, our cross presents itself to be carried in various ways.

Some day, it is the annoying behavior of a brother. Some day, it is an inability to see meaning in the journey. Some day, it is the maneuverings of community life. Some day, it is my unyielding sinfulness gnawing into my best intentions. Some day, it is the perceived poverty of means for the terminal accomplishment of objectives (mine as well as the community’s). Some day, it’s just routine and ennui.

But the nature of the cross we are to carry with Jesus remains the same: it is a phenomenon we are to stay with, no matter the cost, if we are to reap the full fruit of discipleship. The stability of the monastic makes it possible that, given prayerful attention, God may give me to taste, feel, hear and see what I need to learn out of my experience.


The other pre-requisite of discipleship that Jesus offers us is the need to give up all possessions. In reading both books from Luke the Evangelist (the Gospel and Acts of the Apostles) we can determine that Luke sees this as a multiple renouncement.

The initial post-Easter Jesus community lived in solidarity after multiple relinquishments:

- For starters, they had abandoned living with their families of origin. In their society, this stripped them of status, access to family support, family networks, land and other patrimony,

- And then, whatever assets they had owned coming into the Jesus community, they disposed of and they gave the proceeds to the community.

In joining a Benedictine order, monastics eventually do the same and then they renounce two more possessions.

One is the arbitrary disposal of their body and heart in relatedness to others. They choose to be in loving relatedness to God and to all of God’s children. This comes at the expense of being in relatedness to a partner of their sole choice.

The other renounced possession is their arbitrary self-determination. In obedience, monastics choose to aim for mutual collaboration. They place the common good of ever larger groups of humans before self-indulgence.


Well, if none of the difficulties of community life that I listed earlier seemed like much of a cross to bear to you, some, if not all, of these renunciations ought to make up quite a cross to carry to most observers.

And the grace-filled thing is -- that in carrying our cross with Jesus, day by day -- the monastic life fills most of us, most days, with purpose and meaning in this life and with hope and expectation of even greater justice and love in God’s Kingdom.

Forget any chosen “bliscipline”! Give me the discipline of following Jesus any day. In carrying our cross day after day we find redemption, we find freedom!


In closing, allow me to pray with a quote from the one whose life we celebrate today, holy Benedict of Nursia:

Do not be daunted immediately by fear and run away from the road that leads to salvation. It is bound to be narrow at the outset. But as we progress in this way of life and in faith, we shall run on the path of God's commandments, our hearts overflowing with the inexpressible delight of love. Never swerving from his instructions, then, but faithfully observing his teaching in the monastery until death, we shall through patience share in the sufferings of Christ that we may deserve also to share in his kingdom. Amen.