Sunday, December 27, 2020

First Sunday of Christmas - December 27, 2020

Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY

Br. Bernard Delcourt, OHC

Christmas 1 B  - Sunday, December 27, 2020

In the Name of God, the Lover, the Beloved and the Love. Amen.


Merry Christmas! May you know deeply of Immanuel, the God that is at the core of all things. Today, with the prologue to the Gospel according to John, we receive Good News indeed. And we receive it in the form of a beautiful poem. It may have been a hymn sung by Christians even before John wrote his gospel. 

As it is, I am mighty grateful that John passed it on to us. It gives us an entirely different nativity than the synoptic gospels; a nativity that goes back to the creation of the universe.


John assures us that in the very human person of Jesus of Nazareth, we came to know the Word of God, Godself. And this anointed one, this Christ, is everywhere and always present from beyond time and space and through and through all of time and space. There wasn’t, there isn’t and there won’t ever be a time when God is not intrinsically present to all creation. 

God was revealed in creation from the beginning of time and space, from the eruption of the universe 13.7 billion years ago. The Logos of God, the Sofia of God was already there when the concept of “there” started existing. The Trinity of God actually was existent even before that, when there was no “there” and no “then” to speak of.

The Universe is an outpouring of God’s Love. And in God’s universe “we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). God is being, beingness, isness. God is the essence of existence. We get befuddled with language here.

And in time and space and the universe, God brought about a canvass for us to have an experience of enfleshed existence. And on that canvass came to exist elementary particles, atoms, molecules, cells, plants and animals, sentient life, humanity. And God is not finished with painting.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. 

What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

Christian theologians use the expression the Scandal of the Particular. It evokes for me how the God who is the source and principle of all existence came to be known to humanity in incredibly underprivileged particular circumstances.

In a Galilean crafts people village family, in a colonised, militarily occupied backwater of the Roman empire, was born a little boy, whom in time, we came to know as the Christ, the anointed one, the Son of God.

The life of that man of Nazareth seems to point out how it mattered to God to have an enfleshed experience of human existence, joy and suffering. And it was thanks to that existence that we more fully embraced the wonder of incarnation. 

The incarnation of God in the stuff of the universe and in the person of Jesus Christ shows that the spirit nature of reality (the spiritual, the immaterial, the formless) and the material nature of reality (the physical, that which we can see and touch) are one. God is not separate and remote, what I referred to in another sermon as an absent landlord. God is intrinsically involved in all of reality up to and including the human experience.


He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.

Immanuel, God with us is what we are celebrating this Christmastide. We are participating in the God experience. We are God-infused in a God-soaked universe and we are building God’s kingdom with Jesus’ solidarity and engagement.

When we recognize how God-drenched reality is, we cannot but engage with God, believe in the universal Christ and participate in God’s adventure of an ever-evolving universe. 

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin talked about the Omega Point. In the book of Revelation, God is referred to as the Alpha and the Omega; the beginning and the end. 

We are participating in the increasing unification of creation in the Body of Christ. We may not notice it every morning with our first cup of coffee but we are.


And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father's only son, full of grace and truth. From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father's heart, who has made him known.

Thanks to Jesus, whose human birth, we just celebrated, we have come to know the Creator of the Universe more intimately than was imaginable before Him. We are on the receiving end of an everflowing source of truth and grace. 

Thanks to Jesus, we have come to know that we are heirs of the Reign of God in the Body of Christ. We are deeply known, acknowledged and loved in the particulars of our humanity. And that humanity is part of what it is to be God. We, and all of Creation with us, are at the Sacred Heart of God.


As the Apostle Paul wrote in his letter to the Galatians: 

“But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children. And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, "Abba! Father!" So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God.”

(Galatians 4:4-7)


Immanuel, God with us. And us with God. Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 25, 2020

Christmas Day - December 25, 2020

Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY

Br. Robert James Magliula, OHC

Christmas Day  - Friday, December 25, 2020

The writers of the Creed knew perfectly well that the Incarnation, or humanization, as they sometimes called it, of the Word of God, wasn’t just a matter of someone who lived in heaven moving to earth. They knew they were using a metaphor because they were convinced that it was not possible to tell stories about God’s life, but only of God’s actions and manifestations in the world. What they wanted to say was that Jesus
embodied the active response of God, and through his life transmitted God’s creative life in and to humanity. They wanted to say clearly that the
whole life of Jesus is God’s gift to us, that God’s everlasting Word, did and does, something in Jesus. What seemed far off became near. What seemed secure and strong meets us in the form of weakness: an infant. The love involved in giving up safety and status provides a hint about the kind of love that is God’s, and that is God.

Christianity’s true and unique story line has always been Incarnation. That means that the spiritual and the material are one, that God and humanity truly coexist in the same body, in the same place. Jesus is a
human being standing in human history, Jewish history. Both Luke and Matthew relate the story of Jesus’ birth so as to make it clear that it is God’s initiative. Luke’s Gospel brings this to a dramatic climax in Mary. The Savior is the adopted Son of David, but his human flesh derives from God’s act in a person of no significance. God works through this unknown young girl. There is no mention of any moral worthiness, achievement, or preparedness in her, only humble, courageous trust and surrender. She could carry Jesus because she knew how to receive gift. In that, she offers a profound image of how generativity and fruitfulness can break into this world.

From her we learn that we can’t manage, maneuver, or manipulate spirit. It is a matter of letting go and receiving what is freely given. The art of letting go is really the art of survival. Victimhood is a dead end. Once you make it your narrative, it never stops gathering evidence about how you have been wronged by life, by others, and even by God. Real life starts by letting go. It is the gradual emptying of our attachment to our small self so that there is room for new conception and new birth. If we try to manage God or manufacture our own worthiness by any performance principle, we will never give birth to the Christ, but only to more of ourselves.

Jesus is pure grace, pure gift, so the story of his birth tells us with great vividness that the real miracle is the fact of Jesus himself. He is the mystery of God’s coming among us, God’s own life as gift and love. In the Christmas story we see God become helpless, become like us, become subject to the tensions of growth, become flesh so we might have the confidence to recognize that we have the stuff it takes to become like God.
What was personified in the body of Jesus was a manifestation of this one universal truth: matter is, and has always been, the hiding place for Spirit, forever offering itself to be discovered anew. The flesh, in other words, is all we have. It is our glory. It is our power. It is beautiful, and it is the clay out of which we shape a better tomorrow. Only a nondual mind allows us to say yes to the infinite mystery of Jesus and the infinite mystery that we are to ourselves. They are finally the same mystery.

God comes among us as an infant, vulnerable, wordless, dependent. As an infant he calls forth from us a love that is most natural and unforced, a tender sympathy, even protectiveness----that universal conspiracy of baby worship. But remember it is God we are talking about---the maker of all, the source of all power, the source of our anxiety as we seek approval and support. The human temptation is to get involved in complicated strategies to make things right with God. We devise systems of religious law and observance. We recruit God on our side as the supreme moralist. We use God to bless our crusades and agendas. We capture and display God as our ally. That temptation is heightened at Christmas with this tightly swaddled baby looking like a passive, docile, gift-wrapped object, a lucky mascot for our use. In him we can imagine God is made functional, dependent, and quiet, while we do the talking, boosting our strength, and brandishing this beautiful idol to threaten others, especially the outsiders not included in our circle of religion, morality, and ideology.

We forget that this is a real human baby. Every parent knows that babies are wordless and dependent, but they are not silent as a rule. Nor are they passive. They make their presence felt. They alter lives. Their dependence is a matter of broken sleep, hungry mouths, and dirty diapers. They need to be taught, watched, and entertained. If God is with us as an infant, then God is an insistent presence, without shame or restraint. All the crying can be disturbing since the baby cannot express his need. So, we must wait, attending patiently, until it becomes clear. We have to wait even longer before we can develop a common language. Far from being a tool for our schemes, this divine infant confronts us with the mysterious strangeness of God. God will not be captured and turned into a totem for our tribal passions. This God cannot be relied upon to guarantee our judgements or our prejudices. This is not an imprisoned God, but the God of the stable and cross. His weakness, his wordlessness is his power. He is the God who is there for all----for the enemy and the outcast and all who are not like us.

How do we respond to such a God who has come among us? What do we make of this gift of love too great to make sense of? When the mystery of God’s love breaks into our consciousness, do we run from it, or like Mary, respond from our deepest, truest self and say yes to what will change us forever. The shepherds, who stood on the margins of society, were struck with awe and rejoiced. Today, we too can offer God the gift of our rejoicing. God yearns for the hearts of those who can and will rejoice in this gift of love. The useless gifts of art and beauty, of ritual and music, are not an end in themselves, but are there to liberate our joy. When our joy is liberated, so will our generosity and compassion be. It is only when we learn to give, not from a sense of debt, but from an overflowing joy, that we can have some share in this action of redeeming and recreating love. We are so bad at loving that we need the shock of joy to set our love free, to have our selfish habits and self-obsession broken open. Our love needs to be shocked into action.

Joy cannot be cultivated. We can’t go out looking for it. As C.S. Lewis noted, we are surprised by joy. The point is not about joy but about what causes it. We must freely yield ourselves to the wonder of God’s gift. When we have made that basic surrender, like Mary, and exposed ourselves to the shock of it, then the joy and beauty, the transfiguring compassion and love will flow in generous and loving acts.

On this happy morning we give thanks for the God who has come among us, sweeping away our tribalism, our moral smugness, our religious fussiness. The inarticulate crying and the incomprehensible laughter of a real infant wakes us out of our deathlike sleep and life begins: the life of patient and loving attention to our Great Lover, the slow learning of a new language and a new world we can share with him.


Sunday, December 20, 2020

Fourth Sunday of Advent B - December 20, 2020

Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY

Br. Robert Sevensky, OHC

Advent 4 B  - Sunday, December 20, 2020

The contemporary writer Denise Levertov (1923-1997) begins her marvelous poem Annunciation as follows:
“We know the scene: variously furnished, almost always a lectern, a book;
always the tall lily. Arrived on solemn grandeur of great wings, the angelic
ambassador, standing or hovering, whom she acknowledges, a guest. But we
are told of meek obedience. No one mentions courage. The engendering
Spirit did not enter her without consent. God waited.”
How right Levertov is when she says we know the scene. We have seen the frescoes, the great paintings, the icons, and all the other visual representations of the events recounted in today's very familiar gospel passage from Saint Luke. Indeed, it has become so familiar that it risks becoming a cliche, and we fail to see the depth of meanings which are present, layer upon layer, in the visit of the Angel Gabriel to the Virgin Mary.

Levertov is, of course, heir to a great tradition of reflection on the Annunciation. I hear echoes in her poem—which is well worth reading and meditating on—of a homily of Saint Bernard of Clairvaux in praise of the Virgin Mother which we read here at Holy Cross on the feast of the Annunciation in March, exactly nine months before Christmas. That, too, is a masterpiece of Christian art and spirituality which revolves around the question of waiting. Who is waiting? Saint Bernard says:
“The Angel is waiting for your answer: it is time for him to return to the One who sent him. And we too are waiting, O Lady, for this word of mercy, we who are overwhelmed by misery under sentence of condemnation.”
Bernard continues that it is not only the Angel who waits on Mary, nor us alone, but a whole world, a whole cosmos which awaits her response. He develops the dialogue in exquisite detail. 
“Adam asks this of you, O loving Virgin,” he says, along with all his poor children. “Abraham begs this of you; David begs this of you; all the holy patriarchs, your very own ancestors, beg this of you, as do those who dwell in the valley of the shadow of death. The whole world is waiting, kneeling at your feet.”
Now Bernard of Clairvaux is no shrinking violet by any means. So he dares to go so far as to pressure Mary saying:
“Give your answer quickly, my Virgin. My Lady, speak the word which earth and hell and heaven itself are waiting for… Why delay? Why be afraid? Believe, speak, receive!”
The oration reaches its climax:
“Behold, the long desired of the nations is standing at the door and knocking. Oh, what if he should pass by because of your delay and again in sorrow you should have to begin to seek for him whom your soul loves?  Rise up, then, run and open! Arise by faith, run by the devotion of your heart, open by consent. And Mary said, ‘Behold I am the handmaid of the Lord. Let it be done unto me according to your word’.”
Whew! That's pretty intense and, some might say, rather purple prose for a 12th century Cistercian abbot. But the truth is that it is only the poet, the fiery preacher, the artist, the singer, or the mystic who can begin to open to self and to others the drama and the meaning of this event. We must thank God for them. 

As most of you know, we have been reading in our refectory a book by former Presiding Bishop Frank T. Griswold titled Tracking Down the Holy Ghost: Reflections on Love and Longing (2017). It's a delightful combination of spirituality, memoir and theology, peppered with incidents and observations from Bishop Griswold’s life and ministry. In his chapter on our human inclination for and need of community, Bishop Griswold reflects on how ordinary events or situations in our lives can be the place or moment where our world is enlarged as we become, or recognize that we already are, part of something that transcends us, something that is much bigger than our individual selves. Sometimes, he says, community catches us quite by surprise. Let me quote:
“I remember once having dinner with friends in a crowded restaurant when suddenly a young man at a nearby table leapt to his feet and cried out: “She said yes!” All  conversation stopped, all heads turned, and then everyone in the restaurant burst into cheers and applause. His new fiancĂ©e blushed and beamed. In that instant, we all became one in our shared joy for the young couple. Very moved by the moment, I sent them a bottle of champagne!”
Such serendipitous events have the capacity to move us deeply and with a variety of reactions. Joy, yes. And perhaps also nostalgia, or longing, or even a certain sadness for what has been or may be. It is why we find ourselves moved to tears at life events such as baptisms, weddings, religious professions, and any other rites of passage, even secular ones such as the swearing in of new citizens or the inauguration of a new President. They fill us with joy and a certain hope, chastened by our life experience, individual and corporate.

But I wonder if we could use Bishop Griswold’s experience at that restaurant as one way of imagining anew the Annunciation. And perhaps also appreciate better Bernard of Clairvaux’s wonderful rhetoric. What if the Annunciation is not a very private event in a sequestered chamber with the Virgin, the Angel, and the lily? Rather, what if it is enacted in the restaurants of our lives, and it is Gabriel the
suitor who jumps up and shouts, “She said yes!” And what if we, along with the whole universe, were to break out in cheers and applause? And what if, like the good bishop, we are moved to offer the champagne of our prayers and our joy and our tears. It's all quite a bit more dynamic than, say, Fra Angelico or Botticelli or Tanner or countless other artists.

Levertov continues her poem by asking:
“Aren't there annunciations of one sort or another in most lives? Some unwillingly undertake great destinies, enact them in sullen pride, uncomprehending. More often those moments when roads of light and storm open from darkness in a man or woman, are turned away from in dread, in a wave of weakness, in despair and with relief. Ordinary lives continue. God does not smite them. But the gates close, the pathway vanishes.”
Well, of course there are annunciations of one sort or another in our lives, probably all lives. And not, I think, once or twice, but over and over again. Like Mary, we need to be attentive and aware. Like her, we need to ask the wise questions. And like her, we need to be prepared to say Yes at the right moment, in the right circumstances. Most of us, if we have survived long enough, recognize that there have been times when we said No and have come to regret it. Or perhaps even more tragic, we said Yes prematurely or without asking the right questions or without real freedom, interior or exterior. But we also trust that God is endlessly creative and may have yet other and even more enticing invitations for us. Yes, as Levertov says, the pathway vanishes, at least for a space, for a time. Perhaps for a very long time. But by God’s mercy, new pathways may appear.

During this late Advent and into the coming Christmastide and at the end of this very, very difficult year, our task is to prepare ourselves to recognize and welcome the Angel when he arrives; to realize when we are being courted and proposed to in  the restaurants of our lives; and, cooperating with God's grace, to have both the wisdom and the courage to say Yes.

And who knows? Maybe we, too, will be sent a bottle of rare and expensive champagne from a nearby bishop. Stranger things have happened. And I’m told that they happen every day.


Sunday, December 13, 2020

Third Sunday of Advent B - December 13, 2020

Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY

Br. Aidan Owen, OHC

Advent 3 B  - Sunday, December 13, 2020

In the name of the One God, who is Lover, Beloved, and Love Overflowing. Amen. 
We’re three weeks into Advent now, and still no baby, nor even a hint of one. Instead, we remain at the River Jordan with John and in the wilderness with Isaiah. 

No matter how many Advents I live through, I always expect this season to be a happy one. Somehow, from year to year, I forget that Advent is not about building a crib or painting a nursery in joyful anticipation of the coming of a sweet baby among us. Instead, Advent descends like a thief in the night, stealing us away once more to the desert, there to be tested and there to be formed or reformed once more. 


It is all so disorienting. And I suppose that’s a big part of the point. 

Amos reminds us that we may not know what we’re really after. “Why do you desire the day of the Lord? It is darkness, not light; as if someone fled from a lion and was met by a bear; or went into the house and rested a hand against the wall, and was bitten by a snake.” (Amos 5:18-19) 


No, Advent is not a warm fire and a cup of coquito. It is a dry and dusty sojourn through the wilderness to the borderland of our belonging, where we can once more encounter our wild and wily God. And as much as we may think we are waiting on God, it’s really God who is waiting on us. 


John’s station at the River Jordan is not accidental. The Jordan formed the border between the promised land and the desertIt is in that wilderness that the Israelites wandered after their slavery. It is there that they encountered God and that, through their trials, murmurings, and cursing God forged them into a community. It is through this wilderness that God brought her people back from the exile in Babylon. And it is into the same wilderness that the Spirit drives Jesus after his baptism, there to be tempted, but also there to be formed. For it is through his temptation that Jesus touches his deepest desire, which is for God alone. 


It is in this place of wild wandering that we come to know God and, in that encounter, to be known as God’s beloved.  


And so, it is to the wilderness that John calls—or we might say recalls—the people when they have strayed from God’s ways. And it is in the wilderness of this historical moment that we, too, must face down temptation and despair. It is in this wilderness of plague and political unrest and longing for communion and community that we may allow God to strip down our desire, until all we want is God. And it is from this wilderness of darkness and wandering and disorientation that our hope will emerge. 


For three weeks now we have heard some of the most exquisite poetry in scripture, as Isaiah offers words of hope to those longing for their homeland. The desert in which the Israelites wandered, in which the exiles yearned for their return, and in which we, too, cry out for the bread of life, is the very place of our salvation. We might be used to thinking of the wilderness or desert as place through which we pass on our way to the homeland of God. But such a view, beautiful though it may be, shortchanges God’s promise to us. 


The wilderness is not a waypoint. It is, if we have eyes to see and hands to work, the blessed theatre of our redemption. And as such, it is a paradise amidst the ruins and the dwelling place of God. 


Thomas Merton, in his book on Benedictine monasticism, writes that “the monastery is a tabernacle in the desert, upon which the shekinah, the luminous cloud of the divine Presence, almost visibly descends.” He continues, “the monk is one who lives ‘in the secret of God’s face,’ immersed in the divine presence. […] The monastery is never merely a house. […]  It is a Church, a sanctuary of God. It is a Tabernacle of the New Testament, where God comes to dwell with [us] not merely in a miraculous cloud but in the mystical humanity of His divine Son, Whom the cloud prefigured.”1 


Our Advent prayer - Come Lord Jesus! -  is not a plea to be saved from our lives. Or, at least, it shouldn’t be. God is not a superherowho swoops down to rescue us from the world we have created. No, God is a candle in the darkness, revealing the world in which we live, and illuminating the way to new and deeper life. God is the loving one who pries apart the chains that bind our hearts and frees us to offer our lives as a living sacrament. And sometimes God is a push out the door to encounter this extraordinary place we have been given to live, with all its joy and all its pain. 


We Christians—and, in a peculiar way, we monks more especially so—are an in-between people. We live between the proclamation that Christ has died and Christ will come again, planting ourselves right here where Christ is risen. Just so, we make our living in the desert of this world, refraining from the easy convenience of either despair or oblivion. No, we are not the Messiah, but we, too, can be voices crying out to this world, drawing the people, and, yes, ourselves, too, back to the desert where the stars shine more brightly, pointing the way home to God.  


Our longing for return is its own answer. And in our hunger for God, we are already fed. For in the ruins of our lives, God has planted us as oaks of righteousness, her full glory on display within and around us in the mystical humanity of her dear Son in the face of our brothers and sisters.