Sunday, April 25, 2021

Easter 4 B - April 25, 2021

Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY

Br. Robert James Magliula, OHC

Easter 4 B  - Sunday, April 25, 2021

Today’s Gospel shifts from post resurrection appearances to the nature of God’s work in the world. John uses the metaphor of the shepherd to talk about Jesus. It was an familiar image to his listeners, but he puts a spin on it by setting up a contrast with the shepherd and the hired hand. This image of the good shepherd has gotten sanitized and sentimentalized over the centuries. 

The life of a shepherd was dangerous, risky, and menial. For Jesus to say, “ I am the good shepherd” would be an affront to the religious elite of his day. The claim had an edge to it. According to John what makes him good is his willingness to get involved, to risk his life for the life of his flock---the one he has bred, doctored and protected.  He is invested in them.  They are his livelihood, but they are also his extended family. They know his voice, his touch, his walk.  They develop a language of their own. His voice is the sound of safety for them. He knows them by name and disposition. If they are grazing with a thousand other sheep and he calls them, they will separate themselves and follow him home.  In contrast, the hired hand runs at the first sign of danger.

This text speaks of intimacy and security. There is something about ownership that creates intimacy, especially ownership of living things.  Anyone who has owned a dog or a cat knows how they can become a soul friend who knows how you are feeling when no one else does.  They really are extensions of us, creatures who are so much a part of our lives that sometimes it is not easy to tell who owns whom. Ownership is a kind of relationship that is not about mere possession, but about being bound to something beyond ourselves.

We moderns like to think of sheep as low maintenance---especially when they are supposed to reflect us. Sheep might get lost, but they never snarl or bite. They don’t seem to be territorial. They seem to be easy going, passive, dependent, and very obedient---just like us. They don’t need to be pushed or prodded. They are so good at taking direction that unlike cows who must be driven, sheep, prefer to be led. All of this is very sentimental, but not very real as far as sheep or human beings are concerned.

John describes not only how Jesus relates to us but also how we are to relate to one another. We are called by Christ to make a Gospel difference in the world. That means becoming life giving for other people. Life-giving relationships are how we follow the lead of the shepherd who walks ahead of us. His call to us is to enter into life-giving bonds with one another. When he speaks of the hired hand, the lack of care is about taking, not giving. A hired hand isn’t invested in the sheep and won’t risk his life to protect theirs.  The shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 

For Christians, self-sacrifice should be ordinary, not extraordinary. The Christian life, as the monastic life, is a life laid down for others, a life built on self-sacrifice. When we lay down the completely human desire to live for ourselves and let the love of God reorient us toward the needs of others, we are laying down our lives. When we make time, when we put others first, when we live for the good of others, we are laying down our lives. This was Benedict’s and the Founder’s vision in their Rule. To lay down one’s life is to open one’s heart to needs that are visible. If we close our hearts to others, we close our hearts to God. In the last of the post Resurrection appearances before the Ascension, Jesus refers to sheep again when he says, "Feed my sheep." Feed my sheep by hearing me, by following me, by becoming me, by loving the lost, the hurt, the fearful. Feed my sheep by letting me feed you; feed my sheep by listening to my voice and by allowing me to love you. What a relief and joy that we can just "be," safe in the protected care of God who loves us as we are and who is willing to provide all it takes for us to be the persons we were meant to be.

The First Letter of John from our Epistle is a commentary on the Gospel of John. It tells us how loved we are, and how by listening to and following God we become like Jesus. Listening to God takes place in the heart, a slow and simple language of presence and love. Since Christ is the concrete embodiment of God’s love, we cannot believe in Jesus without believing in love, and we cannot have love without action. John gives us no room to negotiate. Love is not only a word, but a deed. “let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.” Love is known in action.

The shepherd’s voice is key. “I know mine and my own know me.”  We all hunger to know and to be known. Forming authentic community is hard work. There are many voices within vying for our attention. We dole out parts of ourselves in stingy bits and pieces, avoid being vulnerable with each other, hold back our feelings and thoughts, are afraid to confront each other. We judge each other without mercy, hold grudges, set impossibly high standards for ourselves and each other. Good intentions are misunderstood and rejected, and commitments are avoided to not risk abuse. Trusting each other is difficult. Sometimes we own others’ problems which ends up crippling them and us, by eroding responsibility for our own lives.  When we make a habit of rescuing other people, we prevent them from learning about the consequences of their actions.  We help them keep their illusions about themselves, and we get to be heroes in the bargain, but it is not good for them or for us.  Everyone deserves a chance to fail.  It is how we learn to be human.

Often, like sheep, we go astray. Jesus assures us that our fears are real and that there is an alternative. Our emptiness and anxiety can be relieved, because we have one who knows us and cares for us, is our constant companion, is willing to die for us. He promises to never let us go. We belong to him.

The Good Shepherd is a powerful image for all who hunger for connection in a society that values individualism. In our moments of loneliness, alienation, and hopelessness, the Good Shepherd responds to our deepest yearnings for community by offering an alternative to our fears and insecurities. We need to remember that the relationship between sheep and shepherd is based upon what the shepherd does, rather than what the sheep do. It’s all about who the shepherd is rather than who we are. Listen for the shepherd’s voice so that we in turn may allow the shepherd’s voice to speak through us.


Thursday, April 22, 2021

Easter 3 B - April 18, 2021

Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY

Br. Aidan Owen, OHC

Easter 3 B  - Sunday, April 18, 2021

In the name of the One God, who is Lover, Beloved, and Love Overflowing. Amen.  

Two or three times a year, often at the changing of the seasons, I look around me and begin to feel suffocated. The need to clean and clean out my space begins in my gut and my throat. I take almost everything out of my cell—furniture, clothes, books, even the pictures on the walls. I clean, and then I add things back in, though fewer things than had once filled the space. 

I do realize that I’m acting out an internal process. But that’s at least part of what liturgy does, too. As I repopulate my cell or my office, I try to pay careful attention to the hair-fine intuition that tells me when I have just enough but no more. I sometimes imagine that I’ll reach a point where I don’t need pictures on the wall anymore, where I can bask in the spaciousness of the expanse of white wall. I’m not there yet, and I’m mostly okay with that. 

This impulse to strip down to just enough is hard-wired in me and therefore part of the weird makeup of the strange person that I am. But it’s also an essential impulse to the spiritual life. John Cassian asserts that the entirety of the spiritual quest lies in purity of heart, which we often translate as singleness of heart. For us Benedictines, that is what conversion looks like. To purify ourselves—or, really, to allow God to purify us—until God can see her reflection in our eyes. That doesn’t mean we need to get rid of all the dirty bits. Really, it means that we need to drop the weights and the preoccupations of our lives so that we can breathe more freely, so that we can stop and really see Jesus standing before us. 

We see some of this experience in the Gospel accounts of the last few weeks. The disciples are all huddled together, in fear or grief or agitation. Then Jesus appears to them. Despite his walking through walls, he doesn’t do anything extraordinary. He doesn’t show off his superpowers, as if to say, “Hey, I’ve actually been God all along.” No, after telling them not to be afraid, he simply shows them his hands and his feet. He says, “it is I myself.” Then, as if to emphasize his humanity and his enduring relationship with his friends and disciples, he does what he has always done with them—he eats.  

It is all so simple. Just Jesus, holding out his still human hands, revealing himself yet again, and inviting his friends to a meal. 

When I was working in the hospital, I got a call that a woman in one of my units wanted to see the chaplain. As soon as I’d introduced myself to her, she said, “I want to convert to Christianity.” I was a little taken aback with the abruptness of her statement, so I asked her for some background. She was raised Jewish and had identified as a Jew, at least culturally, for most of her life. About a decade before, Jesus began appearing to her on the street and in her home—it turns out he still has little respect for walls. Eventually this woman found her way to an Episcopal church where she was going to Sunday Eucharist and participating in the education events. 

She repeated her question to me: “How do I convert to Christianity?” I paused for a moment before telling her that she had already converted. Jesus had come to her and called her. That was the conversion. I encouraged her to talk to her priest about baptism, but the conversion was already done. 

Like this woman, and like the disciples huddled in their room, whatever our past experiences it is the appearance of Jesus in the midst of our ordinary, worrying, harried lives that calls us deeper into the heart of God. We may have been raised within the Church, but I guarantee that we are monks or committed Christians today, not because of the way we were raised—though that may have helped—but because one day or over and over again Jesus appeared to us, held out his hands, said “touch me, know me,” and invited us to sit down and eat. 

It really is that simple. 

This Easter, I find myself called or recalled to that simplicity. I find I long for Jesus in a way that I haven’t since I was a child. My heart keeps whispering his name. The Cosmic Christ, Sophia, and the Lord of Creation are all lovely and beautiful. They all have their place. But deep within me, I want Jesus. That is why I am a Christian, and that is why I am a monk. It’s really that simple. 

The great Anthony Bloom connects this stripping down to the work of prayer: 
There is a degree of despair that is linked with total, perfect hope. This is the point at which, having gone inward, we will be able to pray; and then ‘Lord, have mercy’ is quite enough. We do not need to make any of the elaborate discourses we find in manuals of prayer. It is enough simply to shout out of despair ‘Help!’ and you will be heard. 

Very often we do not find sufficient intensity in our prayer, sufficient conviction, sufficient faith, because our despair is not deep enough. We want God in addition to so many other things we have, we want His help, but simultaneously we are trying to get help wherever we can, and we keep God in store for our last push. […] If our despair comes from sufficient depth, if what we ask for, cry for, is so essential that it sums up all the needs of our life, then we find words of prayer and we will be able to reach the core of the prayer, the meeting with God. 
Bloom speaks of despair, and that word might fit. But we might just as easily say “need” or “longing” or “desire.” Eventually, we find that even good things clutter up our lives and distract us from our need of God. To hold out our hands in supplication, to take Jesus’ offered hand in ours, those hands must be empty. They must be free. Another way of putting it is that we have to quiet our lives to such a degree that we can hear the whisper of Jesus’ name reverberating in our hearts. 

The promise of Easter is that he will come to us. He does come to us. Walls will not keep him out. He can push the clutter aside. He will hold out his hands to us, look us in the eyes, and say, “see, it is I myself, the source and the end of all your longing. Reach out, touch me.” 

It really is that simple. 

Sunday, April 11, 2021

Easter 2 B - April 11, 2021

Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY

Br. Richard Vaggione, OHC

Easter 2 B - Sunday, April 4, 2021

Br. Richard preached extemporaneously. You can listen to the recording at the link above.

Sunday, April 4, 2021

Easter B - April 4, 2021

Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY

Br. Leo Sevensky, OHC

Easter Vigil  - Sunday, April 4, 2021

Romans 6:3-11

Mark 16:1-8

In a 1959 article, Trappist monk Thomas Merton wrote: 
Easter is not sufficiently well understood if we think of it only as the time when we reaffirm our belief that Christ rose from the dead. That the historical fact of the resurrection is the keystone of the whole structure of Christian faith is still not sufficient reason why Easter should be the great feast that it is. ... This celebration does not merely recall the act by which we are liberated, it revives our freedom itself, in the renewal of the mystery in which we become free.

It still remains true that we do not understand Easter sufficiently well. I'm tempted to say that we don't understand Easter at all, though that is something of an exaggeration. But Easter is, I believe, less about understanding than it is about proclamation, and about the power of that proclamation to open within us, both personally and communally, a space where God can and does act in our lives. 

Fifty years ago this month, I sat in Mercy Hospital in Scranton next to the bed where my mother lay dying of ovarian cancer. I forget the exact chronology, but I’m pretty sure it was the night before Orthodox Easter, or Pascha as they call it. I was spending the night attending to my mother's needs as well as my own, keeping vigil. And to pass the hours of that long night, I got my hands on an Orthodox Christian service book for the observance of Easter. It was the midnight service of Paschal Matins. As is true of most worship services in that tradition, the text was very long and convoluted and rather obscure with all sorts of biblical and Byzantine references. But I doggedly read through it that night, spreading it out over the dark hours. Frankly, I didn't understand much of it--perhaps most of it--as my mind and my heart were understandably elsewhere. But over and over the service was punctuated by a hymn called a troparion which was repeated countless times: “Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tombs bestowing life.” And just the previous year, a college friend had invited me to his Russian church for Easter Matins. I knew that these words were not just recited but sung again and again.  I could hear the echo of that music as I read them silently by my mother's side as she slept fitfully. 

That long Matins service reaches a kind of climax with the reading of a sermon ascribed to St. John Chrysostom, the 4th century bishop of Constantinople.  It has in fact been adapted for use in some Episcopal churches for their own Easter vigil. The sermon begins by inviting everyone present to the great banquet of this feast, whether or not they had observed the Lenten fast, whether or not they have labored in good works.  For as the writer says: “The table is fully laden: let all enjoy it.” The sermon concludes by echoing Saint Paul (1 Cor 15:55): 
Oh death, where is your sting? 
O hell, where is your victory? 
Christ is risen, and you are cast down. 
Christ is risen, and the demons are fallen. 
Christ is risen, and the angels rejoice. 
Christ is risen, and life reigns in freedom. 
Christ is risen, and the grave is emptied of the dead. 
I found deep consolation and hope that night in this proclamation.  But what exactly did it mean in that place, at that time, to say that Christ is risen? And what does it mean to say it today? 

Like the Greeks of St. Paul’s day, we seek understanding.  But meaning is not quite the same as understanding.  It can be quite other and often much more profound.  Beyond logic and beyond arguments, meaning captures essential truths, rooted in history but echoing through eternity. And meaning can and does open a space in us where hope—that “thing with feathers that perches in the soul” as Emily Dickinson describes it—can take flight.  

There is a story which has fascinated me for decades, and which I have told many times, and which captures for me the sheer power of proclamation. It took place in Soviet Russia under Stalin's dictatorship, when persecution of the churches was especially severe. Church buildings were turned into Museums of Atheism, and the locals, peasants and intelligentsia alike, were herded in to listen to lectures about the folly of religious faith. One local Communist leader decided it would be edifying to have a debate with the old local Orthodox priest. So, the community was gathered in and the official launched into a two-hour attack on Christian faith and practice using the latest in dialectical reason, or at least what passed for reason, to repudiate soundly its claims and its message. The old priest was then brought to the podium and was ordered to respond to the official’s arguments. After a long pause, this old man of God drew himself upright and simply said in Church Slavonic Хрїсто́съ воскре́се! (Christ is risen!). And with one voice the assembly roared back Вои́стин воскре́се!  (He is risen indeed!).  Again, the priest shouted, “Christ is risen!” and back came the response, “He is risen indeed!”  And a third time: “Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!” And then the old priest sat down. 

Who won that debate? What was understood? What was its meaning? Of course, just saying something over and over again doesn't make it true. Unless, unless…truth is about more than rationality and life is more than linear understanding and holiness is quite something other than winning debate points.
We stand here this morning in the face of a deep mystery rooted in time but touching the very center of our lives and hopes. We stand before a mystery which has been variously described in terms of an empty tomb or the harrowing of hell, in terms of resurrection appearances and encounters with the Crucified One perhaps extending over years, in terms of the Ascension and final glorification of Jesus.  But the meaning exceeds the limitations of these descriptions and our human speech. It always will. 

I do believe that Merton was on the right track when he said that this celebration does not merely recall the act by which we are liberated. It revives our very freedom itself and renews the mystery in which we ourselves become free.  To borrow a phrase from Marcus Borg: we meet Jesus yet again for the first time.  Jesus, who is Resurrection and Life, who is Freedom and Possibility, who is Hope writ large, even at the bedside of the dying, even at the graveside, even in the face of despotic governments and human or cosmic cruelty or our own small minds and constricted hearts.  We meet Jesus who is the author and actor of a story that transcends and elevates our personal narratives, giving scope and permission and power to breath more freely and live more fully and to love more passionately and courageously and justly.
May this Eastertide revive in us our freedom and renew the mystery so that we may rejoice. And not only us, but people of every place and time together with the whole created order. This is the meaning of today…whether we understand it or not, whether we can make sense of it or not, whether we even feel it or not.  It is God’s wonderful work, not ours.  And that, my friends, is good news indeed.
Хрїсто́съ воскре́се! Christ is risen! Happy Easter!

Saturday, April 3, 2021

Good Friday - April 2, 2021

Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY

Br. Josép Martinez-Cubero, OHC

Good Friday  - Friday, April , 2021

It is not at his birth, not in his teaching and preaching, not through the miracles he performs, not at his resurrection that Jesus is the most human and most identified with us, but in his perfect sacrifice, in his suffering and dying in solidarity with all who suffer. Through Jesus on the cross God enters that vulnerable place of the fears, loneliness and brokenness we hold secret; where we are afraid to be known and yet afraid not to be known. Through Jesus on the cross, who in the despair of abandonment cries “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”, God is revealed, not as powerful, almighty and conqueror, but as Richard Kearney puts it, as the “vulnerable and powerless one who suffers with us” (in "Anatheism: Returning to God After God"). Through Jesus on the cross, who from the goodness of the heart pleads “Forgiven them”, God is revealed as loving, compassionate and faithful. 

It is from the Cross that Love echoes the sorrow, suffering and emptiness of the brokenhearted, the sick, the marginalized; the very people that the powerful of this world oppress and exploit through greed and wealth. But it is also from the Cross that Love echoes the triumph of the human spirit through Grace.

I want to share a story about one of these voices of triumph read by our beloved Br. Andrew on this day years ago. It came from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa in 1996. The Commission brought an elderly black woman face to face with the white man, Mr. Van de Broek, who had confessed to the savage torture and murder of her son and her husband a few years earlier. The woman had been made to witness her husband’s death. The last words her husband spoke were “Father, forgive them.”

One of the members of the commission turned to her and asked, “How do you believe justice should be done to this man who has inflicted such suffering on you and so brutally destroyed your family?”

The old woman replied, “I want three things. I want first to be taken to the place where my husband’s body was burned so that I can gather up the dust and give his remains a decent burial.” She stopped, collected herself, and then went on. “My husband and son were my only family. I want, secondly, therefore, for Mr. Van de Broek to become my son.  I would like for him to come twice a month to the location and spend a day with me so that I can pour out to him whatever love I have still remaining in me.

And finally, I want a third thing. I would like Mr. Van de Broek to know that I offer him my forgiveness because Jesus died to forgive. This was also the wish of my husband. And so, I would kindly ask someone to come to my side and lead me across the courtroom so that I can take Mr. Van de Broek in my arms, embrace him and let him know that he is truly forgiven.

The assistants came to help the old woman across the room. Mr. Van de Broek, overwhelmed by what he had just heard, fainted.  And as he did, those in the courtroom—friends, family, neighbors, all victims of decades of oppression and injustice—began to sing “Amazing Grace.”

Never had the message of the cross been clearer to me than when I heard this story. The fear, the hunger for power, the rejection of truth, and the sin that led to Jesus’ crucifixion are as present today as they were then. But the message of the cross teaches us how we are to respond. What the cross reveals is not just information or news. The invitation of the cross demands our participation in a new reality and a new way of being. It invites us to move from brokenness to wholeness and life triumphant through love.

Demos gracias a Dios.

Thursday, April 1, 2021

Maundy Thursday - April 1, 2021

Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY

Br. Bernard Delcourt, OHC

Maundy Thursday  - Thursday, April 1, 2021

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


“They remembered that God was their rock, the Most High God their redeemer.” (Psalm 78:35)

On this Holy Thursday, thanks to the witness of the Apostle Paul we remember the Lord’s Supper. We remember the last supper with simple bread and wine. 

Bread and wine bring powerful memories of togetherness and connectedness for me. In my family no proper dinner was served without the accompaniment of bread and wine.

I learned to make bread by watching my grandfather Jules Delcourt preparing loaves for the family. He would sometimes let me snitch a bit of raw dough.

When we made our own bread, my father Jacques Delcourt would start the meal by scratching the sign of the cross on the crust with the bread knife and then cutting a few slices for us. 

This would remind us whom we ultimately got our daily bread from. My father helped to provide for it but all our needs were provided for by God.

So the use of bread and wine as the elements of the Eucharist is deeply resonant for me. It not only evokes my family and church heritages. It also evokes Christian community near and far, the mystical body of Christ. 


Paul’s telling of the Lord’s Supper is chronologically the first written record of it. Paul hands on to us a treasure that was handed on to him from the Lord, he says, through the disciples of Jesus most probably.

This brief passage in the first epistle to the Corinthians is also referred to as “the words of institution;” the words by which Jesus institutes the sacrament of his Body and Blood in the form of the Eucharist. That’s why they sound so familiar. We hear them time and again during Mass.


Paul tells us of Jesus handing over to the disciples the elements of the bread and wine. With his prayer of thanksgiving and his words Jesus symbolically is handing over his body and blood to the apostles. 

Later that evening, his flesh and blood are handed over to the religious authorities. 

The next day his body and blood are then handed over to death on the cross at the hands of the civil authorities.


That evening, Jesus understands what the love of God and love of his disciples are leading him to. And he consents to it. He has understood this for a long while now. He tried to prepare his disciples for it. 

But he wants to, he needs to, be remembered. And through that very human need, he gives us the most blest sacrament.

When I try to imagine what Jesus’ many feelings may have been that evening, his words are made particularly poignant. “Do this in remembrance of me.”

I imagine he must have been feeling fear and sadness. At the same time, he must have trusted in God, and longed for God.

Did he experience regret at not having more time for his ministry, Or did he have regrets for the paths not chosen in his earthly life? Was he tempted by anger at the looming betrayals?

In any case, he chose to focus his message on remembrance and love. He wanted the apostles to have a symbol by which to remember and experience his message of love. And he wanted them to have a simple yet powerful symbol by which to share his meaning with the wider world.

He took everyday foods available at the Passover table and transformed them into symbols that will carry through the ages.

We offer thanks tonight for Jesus’ institution of the Eucharist. As we will offer thanks through this Triduum for his passion, death, and resurrection. All three of these are included in the Eucharist.


These Eucharistic symbols that make tangible God’s ever-present grace are so easily available at Jesus’ Passover table. And yet, for many, they have been hard or impossible to come by in these times of pandemic.

Some churches have restarted worship in person but not all, and many people are still wary of the contagion risks involved in in-person worship. 

Our little band of brothers has been very lucky to be able to continue to celebrate the Eucharist this past year. We have been aware of the great privilege afforded us by the fact that we are a single household that could continue to receive the Blessed Sacrament together.

Besides receiving the Body and Blood of Chist at the Eucharist, many brothers spend quality time in front of the tabernacle where consecrated hosts are reserved. We are blessed in all those ways.

But it is important to remember that those blessings are not imprisoned within the walls of churches. The sacrament of the Eucharist is but a tangible sign of an ever-present grace from God. God is in the tabernacle and God is everywhere else too.

Wherever we are, God is not separate or remote from us.


I am regularly reminded of the root of our word Eucharist. I comes from the Greek Eukharistia which means "thanksgiving, gratitude." I loved discovering the word “thank you” when I visited Greece as a young man. Greeks say Efharisto several times a day. That seems about right for me; to give gratitude with a word redolent of God throughout the day. 

In the Eucharist we remember Jesus’ life, death and resurrection and we give thanks for them and for Christ’s abiding presence in our lives.

So as often as possible, I remember that the whole created universe is eucharistic. Any and all of creation reminds me of God’s omnipresent grace. All of creation can elicit my gratitude for God’s grace so lavishly given, if I only pay attention and remember it. 


From time to time, I reread Teilhard de Chardin’s Mass on the World to help me in the remembrance. He wrote it while doing paleontological excavations in the desert steppes of Inner Mongolia. He had no bread, no wine, no altar but he had his remembrance of God’s grace in and through all of creation around the world.

If you are still deprived of receiving communion in person, I pray that you may remember that God is giving Godself to you nonetheless, in the immediacy of your life, and in your experience of the created world.


In this Easter Triduum, remember how God’s love encompassed the experience of Jesus and his disciples - betrayal, pain and horror included. God was not absent.

God is not absent from our own suffering, including the pain of missing the in-person Eucharist. God is an ever-present companion, feeling your pain, remembering Jesus’ pain and constantly working towards the victory of love.

This Maundy Thursday, we remember that Christ is the victory of love. Just as Jesus loved us, we should also love one another.