Br. Robert Magliula, OHC
Feast of James Otis Sargent Huntington - Wednesday, November 25, 2015
|James Otis Sargent Huntington, OHC|
The real reason, the only truly sufficient reason, for becoming a monk is to be crucified. That is what happens. The Religious Life is a contrivance of Divine ingenuity whereby a soul may be crucified with Christ. The vows are the three nails with which we are nailed to the cross. It sounds grim, but it’s true. Do not attempt to become a monk or nun unless you intend from the bottom of your heart to surrender yourself wholly to Jesus, to hang with him on his cross with perfect submission to the will of the Father on behalf of human souls.
Robert, our Superior, gave me this manuscript while I was looking for material on the Founder. It was written between 1947-49.His intention in writing it was to give the youngest members of the Order an intimate glimpse of the men who formed us, we read it aloud in novitiate class. It’s not surprising that Fr. Whittemore, in the concluding chapter, draws from the words of the Rule our Founder wrote and lived in describing our life. He conveys the flesh and blood reality of the Founder. This is crucial if saints are to serve as models for us in this life, not just for those in authority, but for the whole community. It’s the most moving, humorous, and loving works I have read on the Order. Much of what I want to hold up for us on this feast rests on Fr. Whittemore’s reflections.
Even though there are photos and paintings of the Founder throughout the monastery and guesthouse, for me, they have never really conveyed James’ physical presence until I read Fr. Whittemore’s description. Physically, he describes our Founder as having a large body with big strong hands. “His head and features were beautifully molded. His lips were full and extraordinarily expressive. His large eyes looked through yours into the depths of your soul.’ For an experience of those piercing blue eyes, stand before the Founder’s portrait in the crypt.
James Huntington was a born leader. He was holy. His self-discipline contributed an iron element to his sanctity. He had a massive intellect. Reason was his predominate faculty. His every thought and action was expressive of a deep well-integrated thought. As a result, one could always reason with him. In fact, he encouraged the brothers to express their ideas and deepest thoughts and helped to develop them. He had a great respect for liberty. He never tried to compel one to his opinion. He saw the positive element in either side of a question. Even when he presided at Chapter meetings as Superior, he withheld his opinion afraid of smothering the ideas and free choice of others.
Even as he aged, he was forward reaching, interested in the future, looking for enriching change and development He was more abreast of the latest books, ideas, and gadgets than the youngest brother. His instinctive reaction to a plan or project was affirmative. He led; he never pushed. His ideal for the Order was that of a family, fostering cooperation and teamwork. He welcomed suggestions and criticism. He not only consulted, but also accepted feedback on his sermons, speeches, and articles from the youngest men in the community. He encouraged self-expression allowing individual brothers to develop and contribute their fullest personality to the life and work of the Order. He inspired affection and loyalty in all sorts of people. He never talked down to them, even children, and was skillful in presenting truths to them simply. His memory was inexhaustible, quoting long poems and sermons. His work ethic was strong and focused, working painstakingly to get a thing done.
Lest we despair of our own shortcomings, let’s not lose sight of his. We must remember that he was a New Englander raised in a privileged Victorian family. He had an austerity that was described as coming dangerously close to arrogance. He was cursed with a scrupulosity against which he struggled for most of his life. He was rigorous with himself, with a dread of anything too personal. There was loneliness there, and although he may have discouraged expressions of affection, he didn’t despise them. There was also an aloofness, due in part to his shyness, although he struggled to be gracious. He seemed a little afraid of having too good a time. He was very conscious of his background, his breeding, and his Harvard education. His keen mind could be contemptuous of weaker ones. There was also a streak of weakness in dealing with the more strong willed.
His exaggerated fear of disease from his youth translated into concern for others even with the slightest malady. It also made him wonderfully understanding in the confessional. His deep sense of filial relation to God was full of love and tenderness, mirroring the attitude toward his human father who was devoted to him. His sense of humor was quiet, reflecting his early training, which discouraged loud laughter. He even developed a way of laughing noiselessly, appreciating jokes, even on himself. Over against these traits of nature was his tremendous humility. Fr. Whittemore wrote: “He was the most utterly pure and innocent adult I have ever known.”
James believed that the chief hope of helping people was through religion. He never allowed his profound interest and extensive involvement in the economic and social issues of his day to overshadow his evangelistic work. He felt that his prime vocation was to establish Religious Life in the American Church, subordinating his social and political views to that end. For him the spiritual life was understood in terms of organic growth and development. This related to the Order as well. He believed that life and growth involved adjustment to changing conditions. If the time ever came when the Order ceased to change, he believed that it would die. To him, no amount of apparent piety could substitute for the virtues of courage, generosity, joy, and kindliness. He would refer satirically to “a good religious as a person who never whispers in halls nor is late to an office but whose heart is filled with fear, scrupulosity, indignation, and bitterness”.
For years the leadership of the Order passed back and forth between Fr. Huntington and Fr. Hughson. Each was ablaze with zeal, sincerity, and love for the Order. Their practices, their policies, and their whole outlook on monastic life were diametrically opposite. I believe that it was to the very tension between them, as well as to the positive principles for which each stood, that our Order owes a vast deal of its richness and strength.
No leader is perfect, and there is often a season when one particular set of skills and gifts are required for our common life. Our history proves that the Holy Spirit has a way of bringing life out of our most fearful and less than perfect choices. No leader frees us from accountability or daily responsibility for our own conversion. The best we can hope for is that they inspire, challenge, encourage, and assist in our transformation. Certainly we would not be gathered here today had it not been for James’ faith, courage, and perseverance. For that we give thanks.
Fr. Whittemore, concludes this work, inspired by what he witnessed in the Founder’s life and death:
There is a beautiful secret which I have saved for the last and which makes all the difference in the world. It does away with the grimness and renders the Religious Life the dearest, sweetest, and blessedest thing in the world. The Religious Life is a Love Affair. All souls are invited to become the brides of Christ but the Religious does not wait for the life beyond the grave. He steels a march on the others. They have heard in their hearts the whispering of the Perfect Lover. And it has been their dearest passion and their joy to surrender themselves to him unto death, even the death of the Cross.”
Blessed James, pray for us. +Amen.