Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY
Br. Robert James Magliula, OHC
All Saints' Day and First Profession of the Monastic Vow- Tuesday, November 1, 2016
|Aidan's Handwritten First Profession of the Monastic Vow.|
Around this time last year, Matthew shared with me a piece written by Cynthia Borgeault about how the Fall offers us a Triduum in All Hallows Eve, All Saints, and All Souls Day. Triduum, which means “three days”, is the name applied to those three days that form the heart of the Holy Week celebration encompassing Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter. The solemn passage through this sacred space is experienced not only as a set of external observances, but also as a journey deep within our own hearts.
Both Spring and Fall Triduums deal in different ways with the Paschal Mystery, that passage from death to life which is at the heart of Christian and all mystical paths. In Spring the days are lengthening, the earth is bringing forth new life. In the Fall the movement is more inward. The days are shortening, and the earth draws once again into itself. Everything in the natural world confronts us with reminders of our own fragility and mortality. She wrote:
“In the quiet, brown time of the year, these Fall Triduum days are an invitation to do the profound inner work: to face our shadows and deep fears (death being for most people the scariest of all), to taste that in ourselves which already lies beyond death, then to move back into our lives again, both humbled and steadied in that which lies beyond both light and dark, beyond both life and death.”
So in the midst of this season, the days do offer themselves as a journey, a venue for the process of conversion, one that is not so unfamiliar to the inner work with which a monastic cooperates.
All Saints’ is the centerpiece of the Fall Triduum and is the thinnest of the thin places between heaven and earth, the living and the dead. We Christians dare to hope beyond the constraints of mortality. In a culture that seeks its own gratification at any cost, that spends its produce and its people as though there were no tomorrow, we dare to live as though there is a tomorrow and more, a place wherein which, and a people with whom to share that tomorrow.
In The Cloister Walk, Kathleen Norris describes an experience that gets to the very heart of what today’s feast is about. She writes:
“A monk said to me one day, ‘It’s time for you to meet the rest of the community.’ We walked to the cemetery, and through it, and as we passed each grave, he told me stories about the deceased.”
Today we celebrate our unity with the body of Christ throughout time. Each time we worship at the altar, the whole host of heaven crowds the air over our heads. It’s one of the miracles of God’s grace that all of time and space are gathered in that moment. At the altar, in that moment of intimacy, the kingdom, which is to come, is present. The limitations are lifted, and we are one. For this reason the Church commends this feast as one of the five set apart for Baptism. What an appropriate context it is for Will to be deepening his commitment to the monastic expression of the baptismal covenant today, where we all receive our call to be saints.
In the Letter to the Ephesians, the writer prays that the hearers’ hearts might be enlightened, so that they may know the hope to which Christ calls them. To see with the heart is to imagine the future God is preparing. We are not only shaped by our experiences; we are shaped by our hopes, by the future into which we are living, and by the convictions by which we are living. Hope is best perceived by the eyes of the heart. Hope is best lived within a hopeful community, in the company of saints, both living and dead.
Barbara Brown Taylor reminds us that “To be a saint you don’t have to be famous, or perfect, or dead. You just have to be you—the one-of-a-kind, never-to-be-repeated human being whom God created you to be—to love as you are loved, to open your arms to the world.” That’s a good description of the inner work of initial formation, and what Will has been tending to these past two years. As a Benedictine he has come to know that this happens in community.
We have all this company—all these saints sitting right here whom we can see for ourselves, plus those we cannot, all of them encouraging us, challenging us, and perhaps most especially, reminding us that we and they are not perfect. We are part of them, and they are part of us. None of us would be here if not for the love and prayers, the guidance and teaching of friends and family, of these saints living and dead, for whose lives we give thanks.
The vow that Will is about to make is extremely counter-cultural. We live in a society that places great importance upon external signs of success. We have to assure ourselves and others that we are valuable and important—because we doubt that we are. We live in an affluent society that’s always expecting more, wanting more, and believes it even deserves more. But the more we own, ironically enough, the less we enjoy.
The more we project our soul’s longing onto things, the more things disappoint us. Benedict and James Huntington knew this well and addressed it in their Rule. Happiness is an inside job. When we expect to find happiness outside of ourselves, we are always disappointed.
The true goal of all religion is to lead us back to the place where everything is one, to the experience of radical unity with God and all of creation. That’s the monastic quest that Will has been living. When we live consciously we experience that basic connection. Out of that comes a sense of satisfaction and abundance, which makes it easier to live in the truth of who we are. We’re then able to draw from that abundance and share it freely with others. We stop trying to decide who is worthy of it because we know that no one is. It is pure grace and gift! Last month Will posted this in his blog:
“Eventually in every faithful life, we will reach a point–most likely many points–when we realize that we are desperately in need of salvation and, at the same time, totally unable to save ourselves. When this knowledge travels from the head down to the heart, it breaks that heart open. Such experiences are painful. But as we allow the weight of our poverty and need to break open our hearts, there is more room for those same hearts to be filled with Christ’s transforming light and life.”
This lived process he describes requires vulnerability. Vulnerability is the key to ongoing conversion and growth. It’s a risky position to live in a kind of constant openness to the other—because it means others could, and inevitably will, sometimes wound us. But only if we take this risk do we also allow the opposite possibility: the other might also gift us, free us, and even love us. Benedict and James arrived at this truth by lived experience, which led them to emphasize building community, and crafting a Rule, and a vow that would support it.
The Spirit flows through, out, and beyond us when we live a vulnerable life—the life we see mirrored in a God who is described as Trinity, as three perfectly handing themselves over, emptying themselves out, and then fully receiving what has been handed over. Such a life naturally births creativity and generativity.
It’s been my privilege to witness the work of the Spirit in Will’s ongoing discernment these last years: his cooperation with both the work of his psyche and that of the Spirit, keeping himself vulnerable to life and love, cultivating creativity, and wrestling with all that would destroy it. The ego hates and fears change and failure, but those who are Spirit-led never stop growing. The path to holiness is the same as the path to wholeness. We are never there yet. We are always on the way. There’s no controlling or manipulating it. All we can do is recognize it and tend it. Again, Will named it when he wrote:
“As we learn to surrender this kind of dying and rising action, we allow God to turn our lives into an oblation for the healing of the world. We cannot accomplish this pouring out of our lives. We can only accede to it. In the moments when we do, we find that the crucified life that we seek draws us ever deeper in to the heart of God.”
As I said last month at Josép’s profession, the religious life is an ever-deepening love affair. This is the only way to make sense of it and faithfully live into it. In the words of the Order’s great mystic, Fr. Alan Whittimore:
“I have known very many monks and nuns who were successful in love beyond all dreams or imagining. For they have heard in their hearts the whispering of the Perfect Lover. And it has been their deepest passion and their joy to surrender themselves to Him unto death, even the death of the Cross.”May it continue to be so for you, Will!