Sunday, May 30, 2021

Trinity Sunday - May 30, 2021

Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY

Br. Scott Borden, OHC

Trinity Sunday  - Sunday, May 30, 2021

Trinity Sunday is unusual among Principal Feasts of the Church. Other feasts mark specific events in our historical tradition. Christmas, Easter, and Pentecost, for example, all call us to remember, to relive specific events. This is not something that Christian Tradition developed on its own – it is part of our inheritance from Jewish Tradition. Jewish Holy Days like Passover are ways of remembering important events in the history of the Jewish People.  

In all of this combined tradition, Trinity Sunday stands out. It doesn’t call to mind an event, but rather a doctrine. To be sure, it is an important doctrine. But how do remember, in the liturgical sense, something that did not occur. I fully intend to leave that question hanging… 

In the church calendar this is really the first Sunday on which Trinity could happen. God, the first person of the Trinity, has been known to us since the beginning of time. And Jesus, the second person of the Trinity has been known to us since Christmas… more or less... But the Holy Spirit only became known to us last week – after Pentecost. Jesus promises us that as he goes, he will send another… the Very Spirit of God… the third person of the Trinity. 

Before last week, Trinity Sunday would have had a missing person… 

The Holy Spirit may be the most vague of the persons of the Trinity. Our older language of Holy Ghost might be more conducive to vague reflection. The non-corporeal nature of ghosts makes it hard to be too literal in our thinking. The third person of the Trinity does not need to be personified... 

Just as Jesus brought about a crisis, a turning point, in the way we relate to God, the Holy Spirit brings yet another turning point. If there is one God in three persons, and one of those persons is a ghost, how do we develop concrete ideas about God? I intend to leave that question hanging too. 

Trinity Sunday has an interesting place in the marking of time – something central to our church year. Here in the US, we count our Sundays for much of the year as “Sundays after Pentecost”. But just across the ocean, the Church of England counts “Sundays after Trinity”. So, in South Africa, where inclusion is a great virtue, we have both Sundays after Pentecost and after Trinity – the numbers being one off… So, a Sunday might be listed as the 2nd Sunday after Pentecost, 1st Sunday after Trinity and 7th Sunday of Ordinary Time… a trinity of counting...  

Our Roman brothers and sisters are more familiar with Ordinary Time. In the Anglican Communion it is not so prominent, but it is part of our collective tradition. And so, while I’m not exploring the questions I’ve left hanging, I’d like to explore the notion of ordinary time... the question on nobody’s lips. 

In a nutshell, Sundays in Ordinary Time are any Sunday that isn’t part of some other season. Sundays of Advent or Lent are not ordinary. But Sundays after Epiphany or Pentecost are… It’s a bit of a new concept, having come about in the reforms of the Second Vatican Council. Ironically, the “reformed” churches use a numbering system more traditional than the “unreformed” church…  

I don’t have any particular devotion to Ordinary Time – at least I didn’t. But I find a rather startling alignment of our lived world and our liturgical world. The church is returning to ordinary time after Eastertide. And I can’t help but feel that the world is returning to ordinary time after COVID time.  

Now, as vaccinations become more common than not, things are beginning to open up. Restaurants, stores, theaters, even cruise ships are beginning to reappear. “In Person” church is coming back. After a worldwide pandemic I can’t think of anything more welcome than ordinary time.  

Of course, the worldwide emergency is far from over. We can begin to relax in North America and Europe, but that is not at all true for our brothers and sisters in India, Asia, and Africa. We now know what needs to be done in regard to COVID, and we have the means to do it. We just need, collectively, to have the will to do it. 

Yet as we prepare to return to Ordinary Time… to Sundays after Trinity, or Pentecost, or whatever you like, we would do well to consider what going back to ordinary might mean. 

Before COVID we lived in a world where it was ordinary for about one percent of the world’s population to own about half of all the world’s wealth. It was ordinary for that small percent to live in unfathomable comfort while even in a fabulously wealthy country like the US, many people went hungry, died because of lack of basic health care, lived in shacks, and had no access to safe drinking water or basic sanitation. That was ordinary – it was also a moral outrage. Going back to ordinary time could be a moral outrage… 

Our challenge, in coming to the end of COVID time, is to move to a new normal, a new ordinary. As it happens, the second Person of the Trinity has given us a great deal of insight into what “ordinary” should be. Think Beatitudes... 

It is easy, at least I find it easy, to get tangled up in the notion of what constitutes justice both theologically and philosophically. Achieving justice in our highly interconnected world is no simple thing. It’s nearly impossible to comprehend… just like the doctrine of the Trinity…  

But we don’t need to understand the Trinity – we need to live it. We don’t need to understand God’s justice – we need to live it. 

Some years ago, I heard our Brother Christian preach about the Trinity. Christian was notorious for four-minute sermons – and he generally could say more in four minutes than most of us could say in four hours, or even four days. 

Speaking on the Trinity Br Christian noted that he is not much of a theologian, so he doesn’t claim to know much about the doctrine of the Trinity. He described his view as just a simple view of the Trinity.  

This is how he described that view: “I can love God, but I can't say I really understand God. God is simply too big and too vast. And I can say I love the Holy Spirit, but the Spirit is so mysterious that I can't say I even understand who or what the Spirit is – so I'm not really sure what I mean when I say I love the Spirit. But I can understand Jesus – Jesus the human being... I could stand next to Jesus, eat with Jesus, put my arms around Jesus, laugh and cry with Jesus. I can relate to Jesus.” 

But Br Christian didn’t stop there. He said that the things he could understand, think, feel, or attribute to Jesus, he should also be able to understand, think, feel, and attribute to God and the Holy Spirit. The qualities of Jesus are, after all, the qualities of the One God in three persons. 

And, more importantly, Br Christian noted, the things he could not think about Jesus, he supposed he should not think about God or the Holy Spirit either. 

For example, he said, he could not imagine Jesus causing a volcano to erupt and destroy a city. And if he couldn't imagine Jesus doing that, then why would he imagine God would do such a thing. Yet we often respond to tragedies with a sentimental thought that God must have had some purpose... we just cannot understand it. 

I cannot imagine Jesus swatting an airplane out of the air, or causing an earthquake, or hurricane, or flood, or worldwide pandemic – and if not Jesus, then not God, not the Holy Spirit. 

A belief in the Trinity – in one God in three persons – liberates our ability to think about and relate to God. It’s not nearly as complicated as we want to make it. We can look to the face of God that we can relate to. That could be a different face at different times. If I’m listening to a stunning piece of music or hearing a moving poem, I’m probably going to be looking to the Holy Spirit. If I’m looking at a parent struggling to feed their children, I’m going to be leaning on Jesus. If I’m looking at stars scattered across the velvet of the night sky, I’m looking at God. 

We can’t go wrong looking at God. It is when we turn away – turn away from beauty or from ugliness – that we go wrong. St Patrick’s Breastplate proclaims, “I bind unto myself today the strong Name of the Trinity.” Binding ourselves to the trinity, like so many Godly enterprises, is a process, not a conclusion. 

If we bind ourselves to the Trinity, then we must be prepared to live in the midst of the Trinity – in the presence of God – at all times. 

There is a movement within Christian tradition to approach everything with the question “What would Jesus do?” I think a better question might be “What would I do – knowing that Jesus is right here with me, seeing what I’m seeing, holding my hand, giving me strength.”  

For me, the danger of Trinity Sunday is an apparent invitation to go into my own mind. What do I think about this doctrine?  

But the invitation of Trinity Sunday is to go out of my mind, so to speak, and into my heart where I can experience Jesus’ passion and compassion. It's not an invitation to stay in my own heart by myself – it's an invitation to open my heart.  

The Doctrine of the Trinity starts with three persons, but it doesn’t end there. Jesus tells us that we are one just as Jesus and God are one... Just as the Holy Spirit dwells in us and we in the Spirit.  

As St Patrick’s Breastplate calls us, we bind ourselves to the Trinity and that binds us to seeing God in all other person and in all of creation.  

Sunday, May 23, 2021

Day of Pentecost - May 23, 2021

Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY

Br. Bernard Delcourt, OHC

The Day of Pentecost - Sunday, May 23, 2021

God chose a most auspicious day of crowded diversity in Jerusalem to usher the body of Christ on their new and various endeavors. There was no happenstance on the day chosen for the Spirit of God, the Spirit of the Christ, to take center stage.


The name Pentecost comes to us from the Hellenist name for one of three pilgrimage festivals of the Jewish tradition. The Hebrew name of this festival is Shavuot. Our contemporary Jewish brothers and sisters started celebrating their version of Pentecost/Shavuot last week.

Shavuot in the first century had many layers of meaning, some tracing back to Passover. On Passover -- another pilgrimage festival -- the Jewish people had been freed from their enslavement to Pharaoh. On Shavuot, they were given the Torah and became a nation committed to serving God.

Shavuot also was a festival for the first harvest of wheat and was also referred to as the festival of first fruits.

Shavuot attracted a lot of pilgrims in Jerusalem. As one of the three main festivals, it would have obligated all male Israelites within 20 miles of Jerusalem to come to the temple for worship.

Many proselytes (gentiles who had converted to Judaism) and many Israelites settled abroad would have made the effort to travel to Jerusalem for this occasion.

The reading from Acts today describes Jews who have traveled from regions as remote from Jerusalem as present-day Libya, Italy and Turkey - in a time when long-distance travel was arduous.

And for this festival of the end of grain harvests, servants would traditionally have been given leave for the day. Many servants and probably quite a few slaves would have taken this opportunity to join in the celebrations.

So, I hope you get a sense of how crowded, cosmopolitan and busy Jerusalem would have been on this day of Shavuot. Think: St Peter’s square on Easter morning or Times Square on New Year’s Eve.


And most of this crowd would have communicated in a variety of languages. But the most useful to communicate with other linguistic groups than your own would have been the Koine. Koine was a common form of the Greek language.

Koine is important to mention for this feast of Pentecost for you could argue that’s the only language that would have been needed.

It was, to the first century eastern Mediterranean, what international English is today to the arena of globalization. How often nowadays do we consider that if the message has been broadcast in English, the whole world has surely heard it?

Most people would have understood a good deal of Koine. Many educated people would have been proper speakers of it. But for most of them, it would not have been their mother tongue -- with all that a mother tongue carries in emotional richness and nuance.

Pentecost was the Koine name for Shavuot because it came on the 50th day after Passover. The root of Pentecost is Pente for 5. Why 50 days? Well, one of the Passover mitzvahs (good deeds) was counting up daily a “week of weeks” until an offering of the first harvest of wheat could be made in the temple at Shavuot. Seven weeks is 49 days. Shavuot comes on the 50th day. Most Jews to this day, consider the word Pentecost does not capture what Shavuot means.


So our Christian narrative of Pentecost is not happening on Shavuot gratuitously. On Shavuot, the disciples of Jesus are hoping for a “breather” of a holiday together, but not the “breather” they’re going to get. The disciples have been on an emotional roller-coaster for about 2 months now.

It started gloriously with the festive entry of their teacher into Jerusalem. It then quickly unraveled in confrontations culminating in the arrest, torture, crucifixion and death of Jesus on the eve of Passover (of which Shavuot is a continuation).

And then, when they felt most lost, anguished and guilty, came the incredible and yet real resurrection of Jesus. But that did not constitute the happy end yet.

After his appearance and teaching to a variety of disciples, Jesus is removed into heaven, leaving the disciples at a loss once more, though a very different one this time.

Would you feel a bit stressed in their place? I reckon I would be a thorough mess of paradoxical feelings and disorientation, if I were in that Jerusalem house on the morning of Shavuot.


And on that very morning, these good Jews have gathered together, supposedly to celebrate this festival as a community; a group of insiders glued together by amazing experiences.

As our Br. Randy once suggested, they now feel “Home Alone”, without the physical presence of Jesus to exhort them to do the right thing.

He has promised them an Advocate, one who would go with them, teach them, and ultimately defend them in judgment. But for now, they are staying put in Jerusalem and going about their usual ways.


And then, quite suddenly, the house seems to come alive with rushing currents of wind that howl. I imagine the house, as in a cartoon, when an explosion makes all the shutters and doors bump on their hinges and buckle as if expanding. And just as suddenly, the disciples’ heads are as if on fire. If nothing will throw you out into the streets, this probably should.

The disciples become part of the Spirit’s rush; they flow with it. And they start to converse with the crowd of onlookers in the adjacent streets who have come to see what the commotion is all about.

And whatever language it is that the disciples think they are speaking, they are heard in their interlocutors’ mother tongue, whichever that happens to be.

I imagine the disciples hearing themselves and hearing the questions and interjections that respond to them in various languages that they don’t know, and yet, now do speak, and trying to not stop to think about it, for it’s too weird for words but it is obviously working anyway.

They proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ crucified, risen and ascended in words that touch the hearts and minds of the many Shavuot pilgrims they meet.

They convey to their fellow Israelites and to the proselytes that the “Age to Come” is here and now, Peter even channels the prophet Joel to convey that.

And word gets around, in whatever language. And more locals and foreigners come running to see and hear -- in their own tongue -- what these simple Galileans have to say.


And so, millennia after Babel divided humanity in misunderstanding and mistrusting entities, the moment of Pentecost gives birth to the universal church. It reverses the curse of divisiveness; not by effacing the differences but by making deep communication possible across them.

As a man who became an Episcopalian on the day of Pentecost 2000, I appreciate how the Holy Spirit, with a somewhat Anglican touch, I may add, demonstrates the effectiveness of spreading the gospel in the vernacular of the people you are reaching out to -- no matter what your language of origin may be.


And so, on this day of Shavuot, God chooses to change the arena and the medium of the gospel. After freely constraining himself to the human limitations of a human life (time, space, suffering); after experiencing human life from within, (as Irenaeus described in the sermon we heard last night) the Spirit chooses to give godself to the nascent church.

We now host God in our deepest self; whether we let God inform us or resist God’s inspiration. For we are still free; free to tune into the Spirit or not, but unconditionally provided-for in God’s Love. We are all sharing in the first fruits of God’s harvest in the Christ Jesus whose Spirit lives in us.


So,will I let my heart, mind and soul catch fire? Will I turn to whatever neighbor is at hand and share the best news ever in a way that transcends our differences? Will you?

It’s early days yet. It’s quite soon to tell whether the Early Church, here assembled, will hear the gospel and stand up for God.

But it’s never too late to be joined to the cornerstone which the builders rejected. We can yet build up the Kingdom of God’s Love, God’s Republic of Universal Welfare.


In closing, let us pray with a verse from Psalm 51 that seems fitting for this feast of Pentecost:
Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me. Do not cast me away from your presence and do not take your holy spirit from me.
(Psalm 51:10-11)


Sunday, May 16, 2021

Easter 7 B - May 16, 2021

Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY

Br. Josép Martinez-Cubero, OHC

Easter 7 B  - Sunday, May 16, 2021

Why do we pray?  The simple answer for me is best expressed with the words of C.S Lewis, who wrote: “I pray because I can't help myself. I pray because I'm helpless. I pray because the need flows out of me all the time, waking and sleeping. It doesn't change God. It changes me.” It just doesn’t get any truer than that for me. I pray with words and without words, through my laughter and my tears, in my hope and in my despair because my soul longs for engagement and attentiveness and connection with God. 

Today’s gospel lesson is considered by many scholars to be the highest level of mystical teaching in the entire New Testament. Jesus’ “High Priestly Prayer” in John’s Gospel is the culmination of his farewell discourse to his disciples and a beautiful prayer for unity with evocative language and complex imagery. The setting is the Upper Room following the Last Supper. Jesus has just washed his disciples’ feet. He has foreseen Judas’s betrayal and has predicted Peter’s denial. He has given his disciples some words of instruction and has promised them the Holy Spirit. 

The seventeenth chapter of the Gospel begins by saying that Jesus “looked up to heaven and said: ‘Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you.’” “Jesus looked up to heaven.” What does that really mean? I want to propose that something much more significant is taking place in this scene than Jesus’ eyes just shifting upward. “Looking up to heaven” means that Jesus’ mind, heart, and consciousness are lifted into that spiritual realm where he is now profoundly at one with God. It is a way of saying that Jesus is entering into the heavenly realm- God’s consciousness, God’s very heart. 

I have been most influenced by James Allison, who, in is magnificent essay, “Undergoing Atonement: The Reverse Flow Sacrifice,” links this passage to imagining the rite of atonement in the First Temple. He writes:

"[T]here is the High Priest, in the Holy Place, with us outside, and he is being ministered to by Angels, he is communing with the Angels who were with YHWH at the beginning of creation. He is spending time in prayer, for it is during this period that he will expect to become interpenetrated by YHWH whom he is going to incarnate for the rest of the rite. So he will pray to become one with God, and that God will become one with him, so that he can perform the sacrifice and glorify God by making God’s people one. This is what At-one-ment is all about. Experts in these matters have long known that in John 17, where Jesus engages in a long prayer concerning the Father being in him, and he in the Father, and him praying that his disciples may be ‘made one’, we have the essence of the High Priestly prayer in the Atonement rite.” 

Jesus prays: “I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word.” In the idiom of the Hebrew world, the “name” of God equals the essence of God. That is why we pray, “Hallowed be your name.” Jesus has made known the divine being. He has given to his disciples “the word,” the revelation of who God is, the revelation that God has given him. The disciples would have understood that the word of God is the revelation of the being of God. The call of Jesus for us all is into a new being in which a new dimension of life is entered and through which a transcendent unity is experienced.

“And now I am no longer in the world,” Jesus says. It is clear that the gospel writer is not composing these words in the pre-crucifixion span of time, but in the time for which this book was written. In that later time the Johannine community is in the world. So he prays for them: “Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.” In other words, Jesus has opened a door for them into the essence of God. He asks that God keeps them in that essence now that he will no longer be physically with them. They have come to a new understanding of what it means to be human. They are, therefore, different, and the world will always hate that which it sees as different. 

“I am not asking you to take them out of the world,” Jesus continues, “but I ask you to protect them from the evil one.” According to biblical scholar, Sandra M. Schneiders, I.H.M., “world” in John’s Gospel means “a construction of reality, which is in opposition to Jesus and his own and which can be incarnated in multifarious ways… [T]his evil world pervades the natural and historical world in which we live, the good Creation of God and the struggling human beings who are torn between good and evil.” 

Jesus is not asking for a physical protection, but for a grounding and constant re-centering in God’s consciousness which is what gives us the strength to walk through pain and danger without falling apart. When we are truly grounded in God, nothing that is outside of us can finally destroy us. We are connected to that which is ultimately real and ultimately eternal. Just as Jesus was made whole and holy and set free to give his life away in love, so are his disciples, and us, to be made whole and holy and be set free to give our lives away in love."

“Sanctify them in the truth.” Jesus prayed for what the Eastern Fathers of the Church later came to speak of as “theosis,” God drawing us toward deeper intimacy, and union. This union with God is not merely a place we go to after our earthly life if we are good, but a place of deep goodness in which we naturally exist. And we experience this divine indwelling by “looking up to heaven” in prayer. In other words, Jesus modeled for us this “at-one-ment,” the lifting up of mind, heart and consciousness into the spiritual realm where we are profoundly at one with God. 

This idea that the Creator of the Cosmos resides within our being was not unfamiliar in the first century. In John’s Gospel, Jesus is the temple (John 2:19). Writing at an earlier time to the Corinthians, Saint Paul declares that our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19). We are reminded to come to this awareness when at the beginning of the Eucharistic Prayer we are asked to lift up our hearts, and we reply that: “we lift them up to the Lord.”

So, why do we pray? I pray because Jesus looked up to heaven and prayed. Love come down prayed. The Word made flesh prayed. May we continue to lift up our hearts to be in communion with that Source of all love. And may that Source of all love keep us ever aware of our connectedness with all that is, that we may always seek the best for all of creation. 

¡Que así sea en el nombre del Padre, del Hijo y del Espíritu Santo!


Thursday, May 13, 2021

Ascension day - Thursday, May 13, 2021

Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY

Br. Randy Greve, OHC

Ascension  - Thursday, May 13, 2021

“Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven?”  Spectators of the mighty acts of God, the great mysteries of the faith, like the ascension, interpret them primarily as acts outside the realm of the rational or ordinary – acts placed in a history that is long ago and far away.  Christian spectators understand our observance of such feast days as acts of nostalgia – a celebration is merely “looking back” to the event.  The question of the angels implies that looking up toward heaven was looking in the wrong place.  Just before his ascension, Jesus said to them, “And you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”  

Witnesses to Jesus are not spectators.  A witness is one who testifies to the living, present reality of the event. Witnesses transcend the traps of a nostalgia that keeps Jesus at a safe distance, welcome a Christ who crosses the boundaries of heaven and earth, and recognize in the great mysteries the living signposts of a cosmos where through the Holy Spirit heaven breaks into and intersects our world in all kinds of ways. A witness is one who is willing and open to perceiving that in-breaking.   A witness is more interested in loving their neighbor than gazing into the clouds.  The arc of conversion in Christianity is from spectator to witness, from observer to participant, from nostalgia to intersection.  This is the journey of our waking up and being present.
Spectator Christianity, like knotweed, pops up randomly and is hard to kill.  Lest we rush to plant ourselves firmly in the witness category, the insidiousness of the spectator dynamic affects us all.  

Whenever we slide into defining ourselves by how much good we do, how much we know, how separate from the “world” we are, how much better than others we are, how our group is better than their group, we are symbolically “looking up to heaven” – seeking some special status or experience to possess and control.  The appeal is the clarity, safety, security, and position that it offers.  It works well with a culture of rugged individualism, personal autonomy, and material-driven achievement.  In spectator Christianity, God becomes an enlarged version of me, especially my American values.  “Spectatorism” even grows and sustains Christian communities, where people with similar desires can gather to seek to have those desires ratified by God.

Thankfully, this distortion is cracking up as we collectively reckon with our history and patterns on race, violence, politics, and the pandemic.  The accommodation of spectator Christianity to ways of thinking and acting that are no less than evil is coming to an end.  Many wise voices are announcing that we have an opportunity, in our time, to embrace a Christianity of witness at long last.  We are ready to move into the risk, the unknown of lives of witnesses, opening our hands and hearts to receive rather than grasp.  And so, in this context, we come to the feast of the ascension of Christ with a fresh expectancy.  We need not invent the ways of becoming witnesses – they are staring us in the face – they have been here all along. Our path forward is none other than the ancient ways of prayer and presence and community rediscovered as if for the first time.  Dominican priest and theologian Herbert McCabe provides a great definition of witness: “Our Easter faith is that we really do encounter Jesus himself; not a message from him, or a doctrine inspired by him, or an ethics of love, or a new idea of human destiny, or a picture of him, but Jesus himself.”  It is in Jesus himself that we are found and called as witnesses.  Messages, doctrines, ethics, ideas, pictures all point toward him.  They do not contain, define, or, God forbid, replace him.  Liturgy and sacrament are our contact points with the intersection of heaven and earth. In our celebration, the glory of the event of our past is drawn into our present, not as memorialized history, but as history operative right now. 

The ascension of Christ is a witness-making event, as Jesus’ presence passes into the sacraments the Church born at Pentecost.  The presence of God in heaven that takes on the human flesh of Christ takes that very flesh back into heaven.  Christ is universalized beyond the confines of past and future, matter and spirit.  Heaven and earth are joined in the risen body of Jesus.  Jesus himself is the place of intersection between heaven and earth.  Jesus ascending body and soul to heaven means that a new order has once and for all entered into our world and we are part of that.  Spectators may believe in the event, affirm its truth, but not really “see” it, live in the world in which we are participants in the glory of Christ to be revealed in this world, in these very bodies, at the end of the age. The question is not so much “How can I fit the ascension into the world I know to be real?”, but “Do I choose to live in a world where the miraculous is an ordinary intersection of the reality that a man of flesh reigns in heaven and the Spirit of that same man is within and around us?”

When we gather around the altar, the presider will say “Lift up your hearts” and we will answer “we lift them to the Lord”.  In such simple, beautiful, powerful, ordinary words, the liturgy is teaching us how to be mystics who witness to the presence of Christ.  This lifting is decidedly not “let’s try extra hard to reach up to heaven and arrive where the Lord is”.  Rather this is precisely the kind of spiritual language of witness that renounces the spirit of observation and invites our participation in the miracle being offered to us once again in the Holy Eucharist.  This lifting means that we offer our deepest selves to God. We open the essence of how and who God made us to be back to the loving presence of the Mystery who made us and holds us in being.  We become anew living testaments in our own flesh as we eat the flesh and drink the blood of Christ who still bears in his flesh the scars of nail and spear, the Christ who sits in heaven, the Christ who rules on earth. The Jesuit theologian Karl Rahner was prophetic about our time when he said, “The Christian of the future will be a mystic or he will not exist at all.” 


Sunday, May 9, 2021

Easter 6 B - May 9, 2021

Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY

Br. Luc Thuku, OHC

Easter 6 B  - Sunday, May 9, 2021

We gather once again to celebrate the resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ and to hear him teach us through his word. All three readings today are focusing us on the theme of genuine and sincere love, and its importance in living the life of a follower of Jesus Christ. From the readings we hear that love is not optional but the core, and also the sustaining force for all who call ourselves Christians because as Jesus states clearly, God is Love and we can only be identified as his disciples by our love!

In the first reading that we heard from Acts 10:44-48, we see the continuation of the story of Peter’s vision and obedience to go to the Gentiles which marks a shift, and a significant one at that, in Peter’s ministry, awareness and understanding of what the Christian message is all about. Peter had witnessed the Spirit’s work among the Gentiles in Judea, Galille and Samaria which was passive witnessing but in this passage, he is becoming a witness in the active sense, that is, he is bearing witness to the word and directly through him, the Spirit makes himself/herself manifest as he speaks!

Peter has finally been able to shake the ethnic prejudices that had held him captive, by cooperting with the Holy Spirit who was steadily chiseling away the hardness of his heart towards those “others” that he had been taught to avoid. As soon as Peter removes the barrier that prejudice is and opens himself to love, then the Spirit falls on his hearers as he speaks and this indicates that the Holy Spirit is the true preacher. The Holy Spirit makes the Word of God present through, or perhaps even inspite of, our words! We also see that God is no respector of rubrics, sequence, procedures and practices. Remember until this instance, the outpouring of the Spirit usually followed baptism but this occassion was unlike any other because it marked the breakthrough of the Church towards the Gentiles, who until now were only welcome to the church if they first accepted the Jewish faith. God grants the gift to the gentiles without them having to first convert to the Jewish faith as a confirmation of His love for them just as they are. God clearly manifests that His love is universal and does not depend on any merits on the part of the recipients!

Like Peter, we have been called to a ministry of proclamation and of witness through proximity. It is easier to claim to love from a distance but the real deal happens when we come into contact with those we are supposed to love. This is  when our love is tried, stretched and proven. 

In the process of our ministry, both our hearers and ourselves receive blessings because God is always at work through the Spirit to tear down ethnic and racial barriers so that God’s very word can be heard. The Word has the power to renegotiate our preconceptions of others and our judgements of them, including the limits we put on ourselves and them about what they can or cannot do. The word has the power to transform and lead us into the proximity of the others whom God loves!

In the second reading today from 1 John 5:1-6, We heard John once again reiterate what he has constantly repeated in his letters; that belief in Jesus and love for one’s brothers and sisters, the believers, cannot be separated! Love is the true mark of being born from God. John here tells us that a true mark of being born from God is believing in Jesus Christ. Anyone who believes in Jesus will love the father who sent him and anyone who loves God, the father of Jesus, will love all God’s other children. 

When God created the world, He wanted to communicate and share His love. He later sent His son as the ultimate act of love to the world but it is particularly within the community of the Church, informed by faith and empowered by the Spirit where love can be learned and lived. The love for God therefore does not consist of ecstatic experinces or private feelings only, but of concrete, public and visible obedience. This involves confessing faith in God’s son and by unconditionally loving God’s other children who are everybody living now, and not yet born, as well as loving and caring for our common resources and heritage, the environment. This, however, is not easy and hence the most likely reason that Jesus presented it as a commandment but by Jesus making it a commandment, he did not make it a burden because as we heard in verse 4 of this passage, those who have been born of God through faith have conquered the world; meaning that they will always be victorious despite the hardships and barriers they encounter as long as the will to love is there! Victory is found through faith in what Jesus is and has done and nothing else is needed.

This Easter Season we are being reminded that in the Cross and Resurrection of Jesus, God’s love for all has been revealed and God’s love has overcome all possible opposition. Victory over the world is a reality made concrete in the community of the church as God overcomes the divisions, animosities, and death that the world promotes, maintains and exploits. Those who believe have overcome the world  because their life, love and identity are not determined by the deceptions of the world but by the object of their faith, who is Jesus as the son who was crucified, died and raised to life!

In our Gospel passage from John 15:9-17, We heard the words of Jesus at the last supper handed on to us by the beloved disciple. The language is simple and the style repetitive and it sounds like the theme is moving in circles or better, in spirals. This passage gives the meaning and purpose of human life and a deep Chistian Spirituality or Christian Mysticism for those who prefer that kind of language. One can never come to an end of reading this words of Jesus, meditating on them, wondering at them and even rejoicing in them, for they hold our life and our glory and because they have the secret by which our worth, our value is revealed.

We hear in the passage Jesus exhorting us to abide in His love!… “Remain in my Love” comes the invitation of Jesus! His love is permanent. It is not just a kind of hit and run deal but we should or must remain! Unless we remain, abide, stay a while longer, we will not be able to calm or be still enough to listen and hear as our holy father St. Benedict urges us, with the ear of the heart, to the master’s instructions.

The instruction from the Master this morning is that “as the father has loved me so have I loved you!” How did Jesus experience the love of the father? What did he get as a result of his unfaltering obedience? Well, being in the Easter Season and knowing that what was witnessed by all was death, and not the resurrection which was witnessed or experienced by a chosen few, some may be tempted to think  Jesus got nothing! We however know that God the father gave His son Jesus an infinite sense of belonging and of being rooted in His love, a firm foundation, the convinction of His presence, His counsel and His faithfulness in times of extreme trials and tempations. He also gave him peace that exceeded by far the restlessness, hopelessness and emptiness of this world, a sense of safety and security. I don’t know about you my brother and my sister, but I personally could do with a good dose of all that positivity in this world we are living in today!

This is the assurance that Jesus is giving us this morning. That if we abide in his love and as we experience his love, we are beneficiaries of a love that exceeds anything we can think of or imagine, a love that exceeds human understanding, a love that cannot be earned and a love that knows no boundaries of time or space, ethnicity or color, social or economic status.

From our readings today, we hear that God loves us all, each one of us. In a perfect world, we would all love God and love our neighbor as ourselves, and this would instantly ensure that all wars and hate would stop. This is not a perfect world however, but if I, you, and you, and you too, decide this very moment to radically respond to God’s love for us individually, as a community, as a church and as the human race; the only true race that exists…all other classifications being futile attempts to create superficial division, then we can start to make it a perfect world.

This however requires that we put aside our spiteful, angry, selfish, proud, lustful, grasping, vain and foolhardy thoughts and tendencies. We must cultivate humility and purity of heart, which our holy father St.Benedict wisely exhorts in the rule that guides us here at Holy Cross Monastery. 

I receive a quote every day from the Website of an organization, called A Network for Grateful Living, founded by Br. David Steindl-Rast OSB, a monk of Mt. Savior, and the word for April 25th this year, was a quote from Lucille Clifton and she had this to say… “In the bigger scheme of things, the universe is not asking us to do something; the universe is asking us to be something. And that is a whole different thing.”  In the same vein, as Christians we are not called to love but we are called to be love. This is because the love of Christ demands everything and must cost us everything. Sometimes we are delighted with it and embrace it but then somehow lose sight of it and refuse to go further towards it. 

Let us pray to God as we look forward to Pentecost to give us the Spirit of enlightenment so as to know that as our love is called upon, and exercised, and stretched, so is it purified, and deepened, and widened, and strengthened until finally it flows easily, spontaneously and naturally, with all the joys of the Holy Spirit. To reach this stage is the highest conceivable good for us, and no human aspiration can go beyond that. To live according to this is to be perfectly happy! To live without it is to live without the beatitude, for which we were created and for which as Christians and monastics we have been called and set apart for!


Sunday, May 2, 2021

Easter 5 B - May 2, 2021

Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY

Br. Bob Pierson, OHC

Easter 5 B  - Sunday, May 2, 2021

“God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.”

This line from the first letter of John, chapter 4, reminds me of the often quoted phrase:  “Love, and do what you will.”  Wondering where it originated, I googled it, and discovered that it's from a Sermon on Love, by St. Augustine of Hippo.  The basic point is that if what you are doing is done in love, it cannot be wrong because God is love, and if we love we are acting like God would act.

Of course, that begs the question, “What does it mean to do something in love?”  Here, love is not just a warm, fuzzy feeling, but a desire to do what is best for the person we love.  And sometimes, we need to practice “tough love” and say, “no” when we are asked to do something or support something that we know would be harmful to those we love.  Parents know about this all too well, as they frequently find themselves telling their children “no” when it would be so much easier just to say “yes”.

Clearly, love is an important Christian value.  When asked what is the greatest commandment, Jesus offers two commandments:  Love God, and love your neighbor as you love yourself.  So love is directed first of all to God, and then to others and yes, even to ourselves.  Both the gospel of John and the first letter of John teach us a great deal about love.  Jesus says, “God so loved the world that he gave the only-begotten Son that whoever believes in Him may not perish, but may have eternal life.”  Last Sunday we heard Jesus say, “I am the Good Shepherd, and I lay down my life for my sheep.”  And in the 15th chapter of John's gospel Jesus says:  “There is no great love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends.”   And a bit later in the same chapter, Jesus says “This is my commandment:  Love one another as I have loved you.”

But how do we discern what is the loving thing to do?  Earlier this week I heard a story about a newpaper reporter who went to interview a successful small business owner.  “How did you do it?” he asked.  “How did you make all this money?”  

“I'm glad you asked,” the businessman said.  “It's a great story.  When my wife and I married, we started out with a roof over our heads, some food in our pantry, and five cents between us.  I took that nickel, and went down to the grocery store.  I bought an apple, shined it up, and sold it for ten cents.

"What did you do then?” the reporter asked.  “Well,” he said, “I bought two more apples, shined them up and sold them for twenty cents.”  The reporter thought this would be a great human interest story, so he asked excitedly, “Then what?”  The businessman replied, “Then my father-in-law died and left us $20 million.”   The moral of the story:  You need to be connected to the right people.

In the gospel today, Jesus makes it clear that in order for us to flourish as the branches, we need to be connected to the vine, connected to Jesus.  “Abide in me as I abide in you.  Just as the branch cannot bear fruit unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me.”  How do we discern what is the loving thing to do?  By abiding in Jesus, and letting his example of selfless love teach us how to love as he loves us.  And he promises us that “if you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.”   What a promise!  Of course, it assumes that if we are abiding in him, the things we ask for will be according to his will and his way of doing things.  As long as we love, as long as we abide in him, we can't go wrong, or so it seems.

But how do we know that we are abiding in him and listening to his voice?  What about the possibility of self-deception?  We all need the help of a wise guide—a good friend or a spiritual director who can help us see clearly and avoid self-deception.  That's the lesson we learn from the section from the Acts of the Apostles we read today.  The Ethiopian eunuch was a man of faith, who had traveled a great distance to worship in Jerusalem.  But he needed help to understand what he was reading in the prophet Isaiah.  Philip provided the guidance he needed, leading him to ask for baptism.  Philip explained the good news and helped the Ethiopian eunuch to see how he, too, needed to abide in Jesus.  We all can benefit from the help of a trusted friend or spiritual director who witnesses the Good News of God's love for us and encourages us in our desire to love one another and to abide in the vine so that we can bear much fruit and become his disciples.

As we approach the table of the Lord to receive his body and blood which he left us as a sign of his love for us, we are nourished and strengthened to love one another as he loves us by laying down our lives for one another.  May we always abide in that great love.