Monday, June 30, 2014

Proper 8 A - Jun 29, 2014

Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY 
Br. Randy Greve, OHC
Feast of Saints Peter and Paul - Proper 8 AJune 29, 2014

Jeremiah 28:5-9
Romans 6:12-23
Matthew 10:40-42

Little Golden Books
It will likely not come as a surprise to my brothers, but even as a child I loved to read. I remember a wonderful series of books called “Little Golden Books”; fairy tales, Disney movies, Sesame Street, or some other cast of charming characters doing fun and interesting things. What child would not want to read about “Scuffy the Tugboat and his Adventures down the River”, “The Poky Little Puppy” or “A Day at the Seashore”?

They are all too cute, ripe for someone who finally got the idea to do a parody of the Little Golden Book titles and call it the “Little Golden Books That Never Quite Made It.” Some of the “never quite made its” include “Curious George and the High-Voltage Fence", "Some Kittens Can Fly", and "The Boy Who Died From Eating All His Vegetables". But my personal favorite parody title has to be “You are Different and That’s Bad”. Which brings us naturally to today’s holy celebration…

I suspect Peter and Paul could have said “You are Different and That’s Bad” to each other in the early years after Paul’s conversion. The feast is rightly framed as two men with different gifts, called by God for particular ministries in the formation of the Church. And certainly they were both empowered and commissioned by the Lord, both gifted communicators and leaders, both bold in the proclamation of Good News and courageous when they knew that their preaching would likely cost them their lives. We rightly laud and magnify their service to God and the Church. But as true as all of that is, snippets in the Acts of the Apostles and the letter to the Galatians hint that their early relationship was not all hugs and kisses. Each had some valid reason to suspect and mistrust the other. What would their first meeting have been like: the fisherman and the Pharisee, the impulsive, passionate, and simple Peter – the intentional, thoughtful, and well-educated Paul - looking into each other’s eyes? Peter surely wondered how the zealous persecutor of Christians had become one so suddenly and unexpectedly. Paul wondered whether his calling to preach to the Gentiles would be accepted by the Jewish followers of a Jewish Messiah. Whatever respect they seem to have ultimately had for each other was not automatic or easy. To paraphrase the stereotypical Western movie line, “This Church ain’t big enough for the both of them.”

The fact that they were both called and sent, being so different from one another, seems overlooked today as cries of “you are different and that’s bad” come from pews, conventions, and holy meetings far and wide. Jesus chose Peter and Paul, these two very different men who maybe didn’t even like or understand each other very much, to go and fulfill the life that was given to each of them. Jesus never said “Here’s the methodology, here’s the right theological emphasis, here’s the most effective technique. Everybody do it the same way.” He just said “go, feed my sheep, go, run the race, - I am with you”. He dared to free the leaders of his Church to be themselves. Authentic personhood, not technique, would be the style of the Way. This is the same Peter who had denied Jesus, who had stumbled around struggling to grasp who Jesus was, yet who could emerge at Pentecost as the voice proclaiming resurrection and new life. And Paul; Pharisee of Pharisees, the unlikeliest of apostles, yet calling all he was before his conversion rubbish in comparison with knowing Christ Jesus. God knew and loved and wanted the individual men, with their flaws and memories, with their doubts and struggles, and, yes, with their courage and conviction. All of it was summoned into the process of transformation.

In Living With Contradiction, Esther de Waal writes, “It is only as I learn to accept, to love and to forgive myself as I really am – the person without the mask, the person who lets go of appearances – that I can accept, love and forgive others with the same reality.”

Whenever I think or say “you are different and that’s bad”, I am putting the focus in the wrong place. I am refusing to look at myself, to reflect on how I am living out my calling, to give more of myself to God and my neighbor. It is a tempting but ultimately unfulfilling impulse to escape, to blame, to criticize – anything to get the attention off of myself, off of the hard questions I need to ask myself that only God and I can answer.

How much time have I wasted wishing I had this person’s ability to socialize or another’s gift of service and compassion? Or criticizing those who did not conform to my obviously superior standards? How often am I unfaithful by imaging the glamour of some big and exciting mission far away while ignoring the opportunities to serve that are right in front of me? Call, vocation, ministry – or just life itself - is ultimately about the willingness to become my true self, the unique person, gifted and flawed, that God accepts and loves. What Peter and Paul realized that having different styles and audiences was not a problem that required one triumphing over the other, but part of being in the Body, part of the diversity within the unity of the Church.
As Paul is nearing the end of his life, the masks are gone, he is vulnerable and open and grateful: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” He has gone where he could go. He has preached where and to whom he could preach. He has worked for peace and harmony, he has welcomed, cared, taught. Some have responded with faith, others have not. Some of the churches he founded were healthy, others were not. Other faithful servants would come and build on his work and spread the Gospel even further. That work was theirs, not his - not his worry or concern. He bowed his head beneath a Roman blade in peace because he was not comparing, not pointing the finger, not wishing for something that was not his.

God loves and uses people I don’t like or understand very much. Thank God it is God who calls and sends, not me. What is given me to do is to accept and love them as God has accepted and loved me and offer my hand of friendship and partnership as we work together for the Gospel. Perhaps we could write a new Little Golden Book, a book that includes the truth about your life and my life and call it “God made me a unique and precious creation and that is very, very good.” That would be a golden book worth more than much gold. Amen.

Peter and Paul give us a sign of the diversity of God’s call and the possibility of living in unity.
Peter and Paul remind us that we can say we have run the race, kept the faith, finished the course only when our identity is rooted in God’s call to us, not in the arbitrary and artificial standards and expectations imposed by someone else. Peter and Paul spent the first half of their lives striving to do what they thought was right and good, straining to conform to a system and a culture that promised acceptance and identity. Then Jesus came along and gave them a new identity. One not based on conforming to an image of ideal discipleship, but based on the freedom to be one’s true self.

Part of the evidence for the presence of the Holy Spirit is the way that Jews and Gentiles, slaves and free, men and women were all included in this new community centered on Jesus as Lord. Old cultural and religious barriers and centuries of mistrust were being broken down in the revolutionary act of becoming one body around the body and blood of Christ. We draw lines and say thiYet the fallen human impulse to force answers when there are none and codify a system where there need not be a system is strong and lived in Peter and Paul, the other Apostles, and sometimes even in us. Whenever we hear a different theological perspective or different language about the spiritual life and think to ourselves, “You are Different and That’s Bad”…

Both Peter and Paul grew after their callings. Peter was still worried about clean and unclean animals well into the Acts of the Apostles. Paul took about 15 years to process his conversion experience before he wrote his first epistle. Their sainthood and example to us is not in their super-human perfection and insight, but in what they did with the awareness of their own inadequacy and imperfection. Simon bar Jonah still lived in Peter the Rock, but he was transformed from the impulsive fisherman to a great preacher and leader. Saul of Tarsus, the former Pharisee and persecutor of Christians became the first great missionary and theologian of Christianity… It took a long time, but they did the work, to arrive at the place of being able to say “you are different and that’s good.”

Whenever I lead retreats or talk to guests I almost always point out that I know of no other way such a diverse community as lives in this monastery could have come together.
The image of Peter and Paul, side by side so different, yet living and dying for the same Lord, proclaiming the same good news, gives me hope that as individuals and communities we can accept our identities and vocations and celebrate the identity and vocation of our neighbor. The Church has had enough of “you are different and that’s bad”.

God has called us and we have grown and still need to grow.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Proper 7 A - Jun 22, 2014

Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY 
Br. James Rostron, n/OHC
Year A - Proper 7 - June 22, 2014

Matthew 10:24-39

            Over the past several weeks, we have observed four first-class feasts that have celebrated different facets of the mystery of our Christian faith and that have brought us into the season of Pentecost. First was the Feast of the Ascension, marking the occasion on which the bodily Jesus left us. Before his crucifixion, though, knowing what was to come, Jesus told his disciples, “But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.” That event to which Jesus was referring was celebrated at the next feast, the Day of Pentecost. As related by Luke in the Acts of the Apostles, “suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit.” On Trinity Sunday, we observed the significance of the then-complete Holy Trinity: God, the creator of all; Jesus, the human manifestation of God; and the Holy Spirit, the amorphous, active, ever-present energy of God. And lastly, on the Feast of Corpus Christi, we commemorated the great mystery of Jesus’s presence in the Holy Eucharist.

            And now that this grand opening is concluded, we settle in for Pentecost, a season of long, languid, hot days, of summer vacations, and of church programs on hiatus. A time of rest, until we return to our busy-ness in the fall and begin anticipating the holidays and the coming of Advent. But, wait, that is not correct at all. A slow season isn’t what today’s readings are about. They are instead filled with imperatives and risk and work to be done. And, as I have sat with them over the past week or so, I have been struck with the strong sense of the mystery and power of the Holy Spirit woven through them. Which seems appropriate since this season is, after all, named for that event when the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples and ignited the church. The Spirit, though, has been present always. “In the beginning...a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.” An angel announced to Mary, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born...will be called Son of God.” At the Jordan River “the heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended upon [Jesus] like a dove, and a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” And, in fact, we are God’s beloved, too, and with us God is well pleased. The Holy Spirit is resting on us even now. And, through the Holy Spirit, God continues to urge us to spread the good news and build God’s kingdom.

             So, far from being “ordinary” time, this season of Pentecost really should be extra-ordinary time, time during which we listen to, play with, and find inspiration from, the Holy Spirit. We heard today from the prophet Jeremiah, who is utterly filled with the Spirit and ready to turn himself completely over to God’s will for him: “There is something like a burning fire shut up in my bones,” he says. “I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot.” Jesus delivered a similarly forceful message in today’s gospel: “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and one's foes will be members of one's own household.” Now, I don’t believe Jesus intends for us to deliberately sow conflict within our families, but I do believe he is saying that we have important, urgent work to do, work that may put at risk our relationships as we know them, even with loved ones. Love of God and of neighbor must supersede all other loves.

            What is it, then, that marks a Spirit-filled life in our time? As I’ve been thinking about this, three themes have emerged for me: a Spirit-filled life is one motivated by passion, it is a life not stunted by fear, and it is a life rooted in faith. Jeremiah is clearly filled with passion, saying, “O Lord, you have enticed me, and I was enticed; you have overpowered me, and you have prevailed.” He acknowledges that he must risk his relationships with friends in order to deliver God’s message to the people when he says, “For I hear many whispering: ‘Terror is all around! Denounce him! Let us denounce him!’ All my close friends are watching for me to stumble.” Likewise, Jesus also is asking us to live passion-filled lives, just as he did; passion for love, for justice, for truth, for spreading the gospel: “What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops.” Passion is fire, and as our founder James Huntington wrote, “Love must act as light must shine and fire must burn.”

            To live passionately, it is essential to not be afraid. How many times do we hear that in the Bible, “Do not be afraid?” Jeremiah indicates that he is not afraid when he says, “the Lord is with me like a dread warrior; therefore my persecutors will stumble, and they will not prevail. They will be greatly shamed, for they will not succeed.” And we heard Jesus tell us three times not to be afraid: “So have no fear of them; for nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known,” and then, “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul,” and again, “ not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.” Fear will always give you a reason not to act, but action is what God asks of us.

            Thirdly, a Spirit-filled life is one of faith. That means knowing God’s love for us, trusting in God’s care for us, and letting go of our own selfish wills in exchange for God’s will. When I read the verse about sparrows in today’s gospel, I can’t help but note an echo of Matthew’s wonderful “lilies of the field” passage about faith. He wrote, “But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you – you of little faith?” It is also a message of faith when Jesus says that “those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.” You can let go of all the things you cling to for comfort and security, and in their place you will find something even better, he is telling us. And Paul likewise speaks a message of faith in the passage we heard from his letter to the Romans: “If we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.”

            So, let us make this season of Pentecost an “extraordinary” time, by striving to live with passion, without fear, and with faith that God is with us. Jeremiah and John and Luke and Matthew and Paul and Jesus are all trying to deliver this message to us. But are we listening? Are we committed and courageous enough to take the kind of risks that these prophets are encouraging us to take? Just how far is each of us able and willing to go? How much are we willing to give up? How often do you say or think, “Hmm, I wonder if I could do this?” or “What if we did that?” only to then think, “Nah, that’s a crazy idea” or “It’ll never happen” or “It’s too risky.” Instead, consider what might happen if you were to stay with those thoughts, to allow them to unfold and grow, to share and nurture them, to approach them with passion, without fear, and with faith that God’s will may be done. Imagine the good things that you might start or join in with during this season of Pentecost, in a food pantry, a school, a prison, a hospital, or with a neighbor in need. Allow the Holy Spirit to fill you and work in you, and just see where she might lead you.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Corpus Christi - Jun 19, 2014

Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY
Br. Bernard Delcourt, OHC
Corpus Christi – Thursday 19 June 2014

Deuteronomy 8:2-3
1 Corinthians 11:23-26
John 6:47-58

Bread and wine; Body and Blood

“One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord” says Deuteronomy. And in the gospel according to John, Jesus tells us “I am the living bread which comes from heaven. Anyone who eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I shall give is my flesh, for the life of the world.”


Today, we celebrate our joy at having the sacrament of the Eucharist. Nine weeks ago, on Maundy Thursday we commemorated the institution of the Eucharist but our attention was divided by the washing of the feet and the praying at the Garden of Gethsemane that led to the passion of our Lord Jesus Christ. 

Today, with singular focus, we get to celebrate the presence of our Lord in the bread and wine that is consecrated for us in the sacrament of the Eucharist.


Corpus Christi, or the feast of the Holy Eucharist, is a feast whose origin goes back to the Middle Ages, and I am not a little proud to say, to Belgium.

The institution of Corpus Christi as a feast in the Christian calendar resulted from approximately forty years of work on the part of Juliana of Liège, a 13th-century Norbertine canoness.

Juliana de Cornillon, lived in Liège, Belgium, a city where there were groups of women dedicated to Eucharistic worship. Guided by exemplary priests, they lived together, devoting themselves to prayer and to charitable works.

Juliana was orphaned at the age of five. She and her sister Agnes, were entrusted to the care of the Augustinian nuns at the convent and leprosarium of Mont-Cornillon, where Juliana developed a special veneration for the Blessed Sacrament.

She always longed for a feast day outside of Lent in honour of the Blessed Sacrament. Her vita reports that this desire was enhanced by a vision of the Church under the appearance of the full moon having one dark spot, which signified the absence of such a solemnity.

In 1208, she had her first vision of Christ in which she was instructed to plead for the institution of the feast of Corpus Christi. The vision was repeated for the next 20 years but she kept it a secret. When she eventually relayed it to her confessor, he relayed it to the bishop.

Juliana also petitioned the learned religious leaders, and Robert de Thorete, Bishop of Liège. At that time bishops could order feasts in their dioceses, so in 1246 Bishop Robert convened a synod and ordered a celebration of Corpus Christi to be held each year thereafter.

The feast spread from there until Pope Urban IV in 1264, instituted the Solemnity of Corpus Christi on the Thursday after Trinity Sunday as a feast for the entire Latin Rite, by the papal bull Transiturus de hoc mundo.

Juliana of Cornillon

As monks, it is our joy and privilege to participate in the Eucharist most days of our life. At times, we run the risk of taking that Eucharist for granted as part of our daily routine. It behooves us to remember often just how lucky we are to be given daily a visible sign of God’s loving presence amongst us and in us through the Eucharist.


To our outward senses, the Blessed Sacrament can appear to remain a simple wheaten wafer and regular sweet wine. But our inner senses perceive otherwise. We know that consecration transforms those simple elements into what we poetically call “the bread of heaven” and “the cup of salvation.” At consecration, those simple elements borne from creation and the labour of humans are transformed into the body and blood of Christ.


At Ascension, our human nature was exalted into heaven to the right hand of God the Creator. At Pentecost, the Spirit was given us to have the strength and courage to announce the good news of God’s Kingdom and to be the Body of Christ in the world. On Trinity Sunday, we were invited to ponder the mystery of the Three Persons of God as one community of Love and Light.

Now, at Corpus Christi, we draw on our human nature celebrated with God and in God the Son, we draw on the ever-abiding presence of God and and we draw on the loving unity of God to step into the long season of Pentecost, to live God and be church in the world.

At Corpus Christi, we celebrate the sacrament that regularly reinvigorates our strength on the road to God. At Corpus Christi, we are reminded that we are One Body, the Body of Christ, uniting God’s beloved both on earth and in heaven. “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood lives in me and I live in him” says Jesus.

At Corpus Christi, we rejoice in a sacrament that gives us visible and tangible unity with our ever-present God. In that way, the feast of the Holy Eucharist is very much a feast of the Incarnation.

At Corpus Christi, we rejoice in a sacrament that gives us eternal life with God. Jesus said “As I, who am sent by the living Father, myself draw life from my Father, so whoever eats me will draw life from me.” and “anyone who eats this bread will live for ever.”


Today especially, as we approach the Lord’s table to partake of the feast offered to us, I invite you to taste and see that the Lord is good and to give thanks in your heart for the gift of the Blessed Sacrament of Jesus’ body and blood. And may we remember our good fortune every time we get to participate in the Holy Eucharist.


Monday, June 2, 2014

Easter 7 A - Jun 1, 2014

Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY 
Br. Roy Parker, OHC
Year A - Easter 7 - June 1, 2014

Acts 1:6-14 
1 Peter 4:12-14, 5:6-11
John 17:1-11 

On this Sunday between Ascension and Pentecost the readings are a kind of overture for what we’ll be celebrating next Sunday, Pentecost itself.
For example: 
Jesus ordered them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father (for) you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit (in short order) and you will receive power when that Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses. (Acts)

.  .  .  do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that is taking place .  .  .  to test you as though something strange were happening to you  .  .  .  but rejoice because the spirit of glory and of power, which is the Spirit of God, is resting on you  .  .  .  Humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, so that God may exalt you in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him, because God cares for you.  .  . (1Peter)

Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you  .  .  .  All mine are yours and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them  .  .  .  The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one  .  .  .  (John)

So, now we’re in a season of waiting for the promise, of waiting to be exalted in due time, of coming to know the glory which Jesus has given, and
to illustrate this I’ll focus on Peter’s imagery of the fiery ordeal, and of casting all our anxiety on God.

Peter assures us that the fiery ordeal is tantamount to the Spirit of God resting on us. Rabbi Robert Kushner has described the fiery ordeal for Jews in answering the question ‘Where was God at Auschwitz?’ by replying, “God was with the victims at Auschwitz.”  Or to put it another way: Emmanuel is rooted in the God who appears when God has disappeared in the anxiety of doubt. 

The disappearance and appearance of God is described by Jesus in terms of ‘a little while’ in the Fourth Gospel, a phrase which keeps the Twelve guessing. “A little while, and you will no longer see me, and again a little while, and you will see me” and “Because I am going to the Father.”

To this the disciples say, “We do not know what he is talking about.” Jesus continues by assuring us that the birth pain of a new mother is overwhelmed by the joy of bringing a human being into the world,  apt imagery in the light of Dame Julian’s description of the Savior as Jesus our Mother.

The extraordinary mystery is that our poor heart with all its ragged edges is in its very poverty the place God’s presence is perfectly manifested in the world. It is coming upon the realization that we are most powerless in being powerless to be anything other than infinitely loved. That is, it is coming to the realization that nothing we do or say can make God love us more. Nothing we do or say can make God love us less, that the measure of God’s love for us is never what we do or say. The sole measure of God’s love for us is the measureless expanse of Godself given to us whole and complete in and as who we simply are as precious in our brokenness. In the Christian tradition they speak of the gift of tears. 

Sometimes these tears are literal. Sometimes it’s an inner weeping that is the joy of being loved without foundations. It’s the joy of the ultimate irrelevance of anything we do or say as having any bearing whatsoever with regards to the absolute sovereignty of the infinite love that is itself the origin and ground in the fulfillment of our life. (substantially indebted to the thought of James Finley in Christian Meditation: Practices and Teachings for Entering the Mind of Christ)  
And it might be summarized by the following rabbinical story:
At Passover a child asked her mother, “Mom, when did the Red Sea part for the children of Israel? Was it when they stepped into the water?  .  .  .  “No, child, not then.”
“Was it when the water reached their knees?”“No, not then.”“When it reached their waists?”“No, honey, not then.”
“Well, what about their necks?”“Not even then.”
“When it reached their eyes?”“Not then.”
“Mom, when the water closed over their heads?”“Yes, dear, that’s when the Red Sea parted for our ancestors.”