Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Feast of Saints Peter and Paul - June 29, 2021

Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY

Br. Randy Greve, OHC

Feast of Saints Peter and Paul - Tuesday, June 29, 2021

The mystery of human life is the inescapable “both/and-ness” of our nature. It is expressed in various ways.  Saint Paul, in Romans 7, laments that he cannot do what he wants and does what he does not want.  The Rule of Saint Benedict inspires and motivates the monk toward the heights of moral goodness and maturity in humility while at the same time much of the text is about what to do when the inevitable faults and conflicts occur.  Luther says we are simultaneously justified and sinners.  One of my favorite sayings, attributed to Saint John of the Cross, is “God has so ordained things that we grow in grace only through the frail instrumentality of one another.”  Therapists and spiritual directors may use language of consciousness and the unconscious to remind us that we do not know everything about ourselves and we often react out of fear to old patterns and wounds. 

All these voices are saying the same thing which is that we are thrust into dealing with the discrepancy between who we want to be or think ourselves to be, and who we actually are.  The tension between our justification and our sin, our vow and our imperfection, is unbearable to our egos. This is why we are so prone to repressing or projecting those rejected qualities within us we do not want to acknowledge.  To just ignore our imperfection or blame someone else brings some relief, if only for a while.  This splitting is tempting but goes against the deeper desire for union and wholeness.  Even within our resistance to the truth, we long to be able to accept God’s acceptance of us and to know in every part of our being the healing mercy of Christ.  

The witness and example of saints like the Apostles Peter and Paul is valuable in that we can watch this reality lived out.  Peter and Paul, both complex, passionate, and driven men are presented to us (and in Paul’s case, his own self-description) in all their technicolor imperfection and their giftedness.  The purpose of including Peter’s impulsive reactivity and then his denial of Jesus on the night of Maundy Thursday and Paul’s history of having arrested and persecuted Christians before the road to Damascus vision, is to heighten the power of God within and through these frail instruments. Peter’s call to follow Jesus does not immune him from his own fear, but takes him further into it.  Paul’s Christian-hunting does not disqualify him from being an apostle, but prepares him to identify with the least and lost. These lowest points in their lives, when they know in graphic and undeniable ways their capacity to cause harm and do evil, become the entry points into lives lived in embodied witness to the reality of forgiveness.  

In their respective crises, they came to the end of themselves – the end of their understanding of how the world worked, what was true, where to find purpose and meaning, how to use power – and discovered in that vulnerable place where going back is impossible and moving forward is unimaginable, the tenderness of Christ who not only was present and forgiving, but desired to send these very humbled men out into the world to proclaim the good news. We are witnesses to and participants in the kingdom of God turning the world upside down in the change of heart in both of these saints: they are delivered out of the world of strength as force and violence into the kingdom where true strength is love, power is humility.  In their greatest suffering, the confrontation with their own rebellion against the love of Christ, when they may have thought of themselves as God-forsaken, rejected, abandoned, they actually meet the Christ who is patiently waiting to heal them.  They could have opened to that healing before their crises. But for the stubborn and willful among us, sometimes we have to hit the weeping and blindness before we get the message.

The Lord is doing something like this when he and Peter meet on the beach after the resurrection.  In four words, “Do you love me?”, Jesus acknowledges the pain and failure of his denial, offers healing, and points the way toward the rest of Peter’s life and death.  In this question he is bringing Peter into the present, into the power of his choice, and into personal, intimate relationship with Jesus.

Peter and Paul shed light on the nature of our vocation to be frail instruments who are never beyond the potential to fail and continually invited to place ourselves in God’s hands.  The monastic call is a call to witness with our whole lives, with all that we think and say and do, to the glory of Christ present and moving, even groaning, within us.  Peter and Paul are faithful and holy martyrs in lives lived in receptivity to God’s compassion, even in death, because they knew that compassion in the humiliation and vulnerability of their sin.  

As much joy and contentment as we discover in this life, each of us has had moments or periods of crisis when we wondered whether we could say “yes” to what was being asked of us by God and the community, whether this was really God’s call or what we desired.  These crises are a natural part of the unmasking and offering of our false self.  Within the regular routine, when it is easy for the process of conversion to idle, a crisis rattles us out of complacency and reorients us toward what is true and real in a way nothing else can.  I know for me and perhaps for some of you, it was within the times of being broken open, of being stripped of our defenses and strategies for avoiding that a more authentic self has emerged.  Life in God will lead us to the end of ourselves, the place we least want to go, but the place we must face if our self-gift is to be total.  Our pain is not the absence of God, but the invitation into martyrdom, a life of witness to God’s beauty and glory in our own stories. 


Sunday, June 27, 2021

Proper 8 B - June 27, 2021

Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY

Br. Bernard Delcourt, OHC

Proper 8 B - Sunday, June 27, 2021

Jesus cares for both the privileged and the poor.  Jesus hears both of their prayers.  He responds to the faith of the one and the other.  Jesus wants us to live fully in God’s integrative love; the love that makes us One with the One.

In today’s passage, Mark the Evangelist displays to us the divinity of Jesus-the-man through his Kingship over both Law and Life.

Jesus does not let the letter of the Law, or even, the spirit of contemporary purity codes, stop him from serving the poor and the desolate.

Jesus does not even let the natural course of Life stop him from ministering to those who call upon him in faith.


But before I explore Jesus’ healing of our lives with you, as illuminated by Mark’s gospel, I want to sound a word of caution.

I have faith in Jesus and I love God as best I can.  I do believe in prayer. And I do believe in God’s loving involvement with each and every parcel of creation (me and you included). 

Yet, I do not know God exhaustively as God is, nor do I pretend to comprehend or understand God’s work in all of creation.

When I pray, the best of me knows that I am coming to the relationship that evokes my true self and builds me up.  I don’t come to prayer to cash into the power of God.  I don’t count on my laundry list of requests being the most important thing in my relationship with God. 

And yet, I know God cares and so I sometimes bring my laundry list anyway.  In prayer, I help God transform me and teach me, while he loves me as I am and for whom I am.


I say all this because today’s gospel passage could be over-simplified as: “believe strongly enough, and anything you ask for will come to pass as you intended.” 

And that is a dangerous way of looking at prayer and relationship with the God who wants us to be One.

Jairus and the hemorrhaging woman believed in Jesus.  And healing beyond their comprehension touched them through the touch of Jesus.  These two things are important:
- belief in Jesus is central,
- letting Jesus touch us is vital.

But, I don’t want to sound absurdly optimistic about what our faith and prayer can achieve.  It can achieve miracles but it is rarely the miracle we thought we were asking for.  Even for Jairus and the bleeding woman, the miracle went beyond what it seemed at first.

Being enfolded in God’s integrative love is miracle enough and it often takes shapes we don’t immediately recognize.  So keep praying, cleave to your faith; by all means.

But I don’t ignore that sometimes, our most earnest prayers seem unheard, or at least unanswered.  Or was it that we didn’t believe in our own prayer to start with?  I don’t know.


In this gospel we read today, Mark the Evangelist weaves a brilliant narrative to reveal the nature of Jesus’ person and the depth of his ministry.  There are actually two stories, of course.  And one is inserted in the middle of the other. Our Br. Roy liked to refer to this as a Markan sandwich.

There is the story of Jairus.  There is the story of the hemorrhaging woman.  The two stories are intertwined for a reason.  And we are invited to contrast and compare them for insight.


Jairus is an honored religious leader.  He has means (servants, a house, paid mourners).  Yet he, a leader of the synagogue, probably a Pharisee, recognizes Jesus’ authority and demonstrates it by kneeling in front of this traveling carpenter from Nazareth and begging for a favor.

In the second part of Jairus’ story, you can nearly hear the sneer in his servants telling him it’s no use bothering “the Teacher” any further.  They may think less of Jairus for resorting to a Galilean uneducated healer. And then there are the professional mourners who actually laugh at Jesus’ assertion that the child is not dead.  Clearly, Jairus is giving honor to Jesus against the flow of his entourage’s thinking.

Yet, upon hearing Jairus’ plea in all its genuineness, Jesus immediately follows him to his home, followed by a pressing crowd.


The suffering woman, on the other hand, is a pariah in her own society.  Her constant bleeding has ailed her health and financial situation.  Her bleeding makes her ritually unclean.  People would move away from her if they saw her coming.  Her touch would make them religiously unclean themselves.

That no male intercedes in her stead indicates that she probably is a widow without male heir.  Such women were very vulnerable to start with whether pure or not.

She too recognizes Jesus’ authority.  But she knows that only stealth will get her close to him.  The crowd is so focused on Jesus that no one even notices her sidling up to him. If they did, they would probably shoo her away.

Yet she does not presume being allowed to address him and make a plea.  Instead, she ardently believes that touching his robe will cure her, and so it does.

But Jesus is aware of her and demands to know who touched him.  This is a moment of jeopardy for the woman; according to the codes of purity, she has just defiled a holy man.  She might be even more deeply shamed and shunned now, than she already has been.

But the woman does not escape, and she acknowledges Jesus’ status by also kneeling in front of him and she courageously confesses to him what has just happened.

Contrary to all expectations of their society, Jesus acknowledges the woman.  He honors her as kin of choice by calling her “Daughter.”  

In so doing, he uses his great authority to restore her to full participation in her community.  Honorable belonging to the community is the apex of what this society would have called healing; well beyond the curing of a physical condition. The woman is now fully healed. She belongs again. Does she become one of the many women who accompanies Jesus in his ministry? We can only imagine it.


Is Jairus on pins and needles while all this happens?  Or is he further mesmerized by the charisma emanating from this man?  The text doesn’t say and he might experience both.

In delaying his visit to Jairus’ home to re-integrate the woman in the people of God, Jesus shows us another lesson we keep trying to forget.  It is what the Roman Catholic social teaching calls the preferential option for the poor.

In our own lives, how do we stand by the poor, be with them, advocate for them and love them?  Where does my preferential option for the poor express itself? Do I serve the underprivileged, as well and as promptly as the privileged?


Yet those favored with ample resources are not forgotten nor ignored.  Jesus chooses his three closest disciples to accompany Jairus and his wife to the deathbed of their daughter. 

After a public demonstration of his standing beyond the scope of the Law, Jesus offers a private glimpse of his standing beyond the scope of Life and Death as we usually experience them.

Another “daughter”, Jairus’ own, is given back to her community.  She had lived 12 years up to then; just as the woman had hemorrhaged 12 years up to then.  Twelve years, as a repeated symbol of the wholeness of the People of God, to whom these females are rehabilitated.


God loves us, engages with us and with our prayers.  Often, it looks nothing like we asked.  Will we move on disgruntled and ungrateful?  Or will grace open our eyes to the even better gifts we have received?  Those gifts that the Spirit, searching our hearts and the heart of God, knew we needed above all? Have faith. And love the Lord of Life and Creation.


Beloved Lord, give us the courage to reach out and touch the hem of your robe, to kneel before you.  Give us the faith to receive and nurture what you know is best for us.  And if there are items on our laundry list that you really like too, so be it.  So be it, Lord.  Amen.

Sunday, June 20, 2021

Proper 7 B - June 20, 2021

Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY

Br. Josép Martinez-Cubero, OHC

Proper 7 B  - Sunday, May 16, 2021

A few years ago, while on one of my trips to Florida to visit my mother, I read a little book by Frederick Buechner called Wishful Thinking: A Seeker's ABC. It was a fun, fast read, and in it, the author offers the following advice: "Don't start looking in the Bible for the answers it gives. Start by listening for the questions it asks." Years before that, a very wise Jewish friend of mine had advised me to never shy away from the parts of Scripture that make me go “what the heck?” That’s where we want to start. That’s how we develop a grounded, engaged, and dynamic faith, by wrestling with the questions when they stir up deep emotion. Well, there are four big and important questions in this very short but intense Gospel passage from Mark that stir up quite a bit of emotion for me, and one of those questions in particular makes me go: what the heck?

After he wakes up, rebukes the wind, and stills the sea, in the calm after the storm, Jesus asks his (very) bewildered disciples. "Why are you afraid?" I always try to think of myself in these scripture stories. It’s an old theatre technique. If I were in this situation, what would I be experiencing and how would I be responding? I would have to honestly say that, if I were in this particular situation described in this morning’s Gospel reading, I’d be terrified. And then, I’d be more than a little annoyed by Jesus’ question. "Why are you afraid?" Really, Jesus? Are you kidding? Could it be because well, we are out in the middle of this lake, there is no land in sight, it’s super dark, our boat (which could not have been all that big) is being swamped by a storm, and we’re not you, so we can’t say to the wind and rain: “Peace! Be still!” and make it all stop just like that, and you were sleeping, and we were about to be capsized. So yeah, Jesus, that’s why we are afraid! 

I grew up on a small island and you learn to have great respect for, and be in awe of water. Something so necessary for life can also threaten life. A hurricane sweeping an island (or anywhere) can destroy and kill. When you go out surfing you have to be respectful of those waves and pay attention. One little misjudgment and a wave can take you down so deep and furiously you can drown. I have also lived in several apartments that have flooded because of broken pipes and damaged many of my belongings. And how about the many migrants all over the world on a daily basis who risk their lives on overcrowded boats fleeing the poverty, violence and persecution in their own countries and end up drowning at sea. 

And then there is the "drowning" we humans can experience when we find ourselves overwhelmed and overpowered Why are we afraid in the midst of earthquakes, droughts, fires, mass shootings, terrorist attacks, deranged political leaders (or religious leaders!), pandemics? Why are we afraid when we face financial uncertainty in a capitalist society, someone’s depression, the threat of a broken relationship? The answer is because we are human! Fear is a reasonable response to a frightening world. God created us with the capacity to feel fear to alert us to take reasonable measures to protect ourselves.

Why am I afraid? I confessed to my Spiritual Director recently that I struggle with the whole idea of death, mine or anyone's. And I fail to understand why it must so often involve so much pain and suffering. And yes, I embrace all of it, eternal life, joining the company of saints and the heavenly chorus and seeing God and singing the endless alleluias. But however lovely that will be, I don’t know what it will look like, and know it will be different to what I now have. And as wretched as this world can be, it is also a wonderful world and I love it and my life and I’m grateful for all the blessings I experience daily. Why am I afraid? I wish I could say otherwise, but the question baffles. The best that I can do right now is to hope that Jesus is asking it in love, and to trust that with it, he is offering me an invitation to be honest with God and with myself.

"Do you still have no faith," asks Jesus. It is clear in this story that, the disciples are as much in the intimate company of Jesus in the raging waters as they are in the calm that follows. And let’s face it, to be in the intimate company of Jesus always means a journey “across to the other side.” And that journey is bound to meet many storms along the way- the storms within us that can blow us off course and threaten to drown us. Faith does not change the circumstances of our life. Faith changes us. “Peace! Be still!” Jesus speaks to the raging storms within us. Faith does not take us around the storm but through it. Jesus, after all, never promises an easy life but asks us to take up our cross and follow him. And following Jesus does not remove our temptations or conflicts or perils or doubts. Jesus never promised that. But he promised to be with us to the end of the ages.

So, that takes us back to Jesus’ first question: “Why are you afraid?” The problem, I think, is not the fear, but what we do with the fear. The problem is that when I’m fearful, I tend to forget that Jesus is on the boat. My ego tells me I must save the boat all by myself. And when it’s clear that I cannot do it on my own, what happens? Oh, I hate to admit it, but I accuse Jesus: “Don’t you care?” 

“Who is this?”, ask the disciples. He is the one who, even when we are not able to perceive it, is always on the boats of our lives, through the most vulnerable circumstances when we are surrounded by swelling and terrifying waters. He is with us, being tossed as we are tossed and being soaked as we are soaked. He is with us to the end of the ages. ¡Así es, en el nombre del Padre, del Hijo y del Espíritu Santo! 


Sunday, June 13, 2021

Proper 6 B - June 13, 2021

Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY

Br. Scott Borden, OHC

Proper 6 B - Sunday, June 13, 2021

This morning’s reading from Samuel grabs my attention. There are a couple of things that jump out at me. Samuel covers a wild time in the history of Israel – a time of transition from a sort of loose and weak federation into a unified people with a unified leader. Samuel tells us that story – an origin story. 

We generally prefer origin stories that flatter us and denigrate everyone else. In the US, our “received” origin stories focus on things like the Declaration of Independence and the Midnight Ride of Paul Revere and gloss over things like slavery and the Tuskegee Study. Who, after all, wants to tell stories in which they look bad? But the writers of the Hebrew Scripture don’t seem to have gotten that memo. We want Disney Princes. Samuel is more Game of Thrones...  

Just to be clear – when it comes to growth and insight, Walt Disney is not particularly helpful. 

It would be nice to think that in First and Second Samuel we’re dealing with very old, very stable texts... The stories are thousands of years old, therefore nothing can have changed in thousands of years... But that isn’t true. For only about five hundred years the notion of two books of Samuel has been pretty common. But Jerome’s Vulgate, based on Greek texts, gave us Four Kingdoms, combining Samuel and Kings. In the most ancient Hebrew texts available, there is but one book... And recently unearthed documents at Qumran fill in gaps in the ancient record - so the texts of Samuel in the New Revised Standard Version of scripture is a bit longer than its older sibling, the Revised Standard Version...  

Scripture is more dynamic than we may want to believe. That is as it should be. Scripture teaches us about a living God... a dynamic God. 

Why is the Book of Samuel catching my fancy today? It could be argued that Samuel is telling us early stories about forming a system of government; and not just that, but in a primitive sense, about self-governance. It is the people who demand a king. God gives in and makes Saul king with Samuel on hand to anoint him. We pick up the story today when God has come to regret that decision... 

God asks Samuel: “How long with you mourn for Saul?” Keep in mind, Saul is still very much alive. He is just a terrible king. He is ruthless, paranoid, greedy, violent, and mentally ill. We will meet similar rulers with similar flaws throughout scripture – especially when we get to Jesus’ time. It would be wonderful to think that in our modern world, such leaders have been banished. But you don’t have to search too hard to find leaders who are ruthless, corrupt, paranoid, destructive, and mentally unstable.  

God is fed up with Saul. God had such high hopes for Saul... but the illusion of Saul is shattered. I’ve heard some followers of Jesus defending objectively terribly leaders by suggesting that, in scripture, God works through terribly flawed people and so the quality of the leader doesn’t matter. That may be true – God may work through Saul, but God does not leave him in office.  

God sends Samuel off to get the next king. This is risky for Samuel as Saul is not going to go quietly. Desperately hanging onto power is characteristic of despotic rulers... Peaceful transition of power is in our origin story, but it was not in anybody’s story back then. 

Samuel is off to Bethlehem, full of apprehension but faithful to God. This is not the last time Bethlehem will figure in our story... 

In Bethlehem nobody is happy to see Samuel... Saul’s paranoia has infected his people. Nonetheless we meet Jesse – an honorable man with many sons. One of the sons is destined to be the next king, but which son? Samuel is charged with anointing God’s chosen one. So, the family comes together with all the sons in attendance – well almost all the sons... 

When Samuel sees the first son, he is certain that he is seeing the chosen one... This son is tall, good looking; he looks the part in Samuel’s mind. But Samuel is wrong. Looks can be deceiving. The description we hear of the number one son is really an echo of the description of Saul, before he became king. We’re cautioned not to look on appearance or height... God looks at the heart... Is this a lesson for us or for God – who, after all, chose Saul. 

And so, we proceed through the sons one by one. Not one of them is chosen. It's beginning to look like a washout when Samuel asks if, by chance, there is another son. This must be a bit of an ego blow for the first seven. 

But yes, there is one more. The youngest. The one whom no one takes seriously. He is so unlikely that he has been left in the field tending animals. In he comes and, much to everybody’s shock, he is the chosen one. When Samuel sees the first son, he sees a leader – because of appearances. And we are told to look beyond appearance. But when David comes in, we get this almost erotic description of how good looking he is, with ruddy complexion and beautiful eyes... and handsome.  

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If looks are not important, why are we being told how good looking he is? I’m just guessing, but I suspect what we’re really being told is that David looks young – his ruddy complexion is only visible because he has no beard... When David kills Goliath in a few chapters, he is described as little more than a boy... We also know that as David’s story unfolds, his physical attractiveness will be important, especially to Jonathan. Still – the important thing is that Samuel anoints him.  

Fast forward a few thousand years... what is this story telling us?  

It seems to be telling us that we need good leadership. We may not need a king, but we need something... Poor, dishonest, or insane leadership is ungodly. We have some role to play in having good leadership and some responsibility if we have bad leadership.  

The most beguiling leader may not be what we need. The most statesman like figure may not be the best choice. What is in someone’s heart is what we should be most concerned with. That is a hard thing to know. I’d just point out that our modern systems of election in the US, driven by boatloads of money and hours of negative advertising, seem designed to obscure what might be in someone's heart... 

Samuel, the Prophet, has a vital role in the leadership of Israel, but he is not a leader. Saul and David, after all, are anointed by Samuel. In our modern times we have largely pushed the Church out of the government – and that isn’t all bad. Faithful living is a matter of choice, not of legislation. The excesses of religious leaders in the Colonial era in the US sold folks on the idea of secular government. But as one of our friends in South Africa likes to observe, anybody who thinks politics and religion shouldn’t mix doesn’t understand religion.  

The essential lesson from the story of Saul and David is that the proper role of the Samuel is that of Prophet – not king. As the Church, however you define that, approaches our modern political world, the proper role is Prophet, not ruler. 

I’m thinking of folks like Desmond Tutu and Martin Luther King, of Dorothy Day and Pauli Murray. The task of the Prophet is to speak truth to power, not to sit in the seat of power. This task is neither popular nor fun. But without a prophet, without a vision as Proverbs tells us, the people parish.  

Without a Prophet Israel cannot get rid of a terrible king and cannot have a good one.  

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Today without a strong prophetic voice, our governments across the planet seem to be, at best, lazy and ineffective... at worst, corrupt and in service to the rich and powerful at the expense of the poor – of the folks that Jesus is most concerned with... 

Mathew and Luke are at great pains to draw a solid line from David, whom we have just met, to Jesus. This is partly to enhance the perception of Jesus – David is one of the greatest leaders Israel has ever known.  

But I wonder if there isn’t a second connection to be noted... I think there may be a similar line from Samuel to the church.  

Throughout history there are times when the Church has failed to find its prophetic voice. Too often the Church (not all of it, but parts...) has used its voice to prop up terrible governments. The Church had a sorry role in the Crusades. The Church had no small part in supporting the Apartheid Regime in South Africa. The Church helped the Government of Canada in terrible crimes against the first nations peoples. In the US, the Church was complicit in slavery and, even today, much of the Church is silent in the face of racism that shreds the very fabric of our society. That is nowhere near a full list... 

So, how long will we mourn Saul? How long will we delay before we find our prophetic voice, our Samuel voice, and speak the truth that needs to be spoken. How long until we can no longer ignore Dr King who reminds us that justice delayed is justice denied... Knowing that God’s love is justice. 

Samuel does not tell us about a fairy tale world, but rather a real world with a vast display of ugliness. But with God’s love and in God’s name we have the ability to heal and transform that ugliness; not just the ability, but the responsibility. The vocation of the Church, in part, is to use its voice.

Sunday, June 6, 2021

Proper 5 B - June 6, 2021

Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY

Br. Robert James Magliula, OHC

Proper 5 B - Sunday, June 6, 2021

Eden is the backdrop for this mythical account of human origins. Having encountered the crafty serpent, the man and woman now encounter, as if for the first time together, their Maker, walking in the garden in the cool of evening. Our reading begins, after the serpent has already deceived Adam and Eve into disobeying God’s command.

As a result, they do what many of us mortals would do: they hide. In fact, they hide so well that God does not seem to be able to find them. God calls out to them, “Where are you?” The man gives up their hiding place by responding to the question. He reveals his knowledge of their nakedness and the scene shifts from hide and seek to the blame game. He blames the whole thing on the woman, deflecting the attention to her. The woman gives an honest answer to God. “The serpent tricked me.” 

In his commentary on the Book of Genesis, Walter Brueggemann suggests that the serpent is the world’s first theologian because it is the serpent who convinces humankind to exchange obedience to God for theology about God.  If we think about God narrowly enough, we can distract ourselves into believing that we can think our way to salvation. Our knowledge becomes a means of self-preservation and protection, rather than a means of communicating trust in the living God. Theological talk is a dangerous enterprise when it seeks to analyze and objectify matters of faithfulness. Our anxiety arises from doubting God’s providence, rejecting God’s care, and seeking to secure our own well-being. The serpent succeeds in seducing humankind into believing there are securities apart from God. This still lies at the heart of our living in fear of God rather than in obedient trust.  We think of sin as breaking a rule, but at heart it is a betrayal of trust and love, and it gets expressed in our shame at our very creatureliness.
To be like God, knowing good from evil would seem on the face of it to be a good thing. According to OT scholar, Samuel Terrien, the narrator’s intention in telling this story is simply to show “our lust for self-deification.”
No creature is guileless. Deception and self-deception appear even in paradise. 

“Where are you?” is the first question that God asks in Scripture and, it is asked not just of the characters in this story, but of every one of us. “Where are you?” At once, the question assumes an answer—we are not where we should be—and poses yet another question—where should we be? We sense that there is an estrangement from our essential created selves that’s rooted in our alienation from God and gets expressed in behaviors that alienate us from one another. It’s not that the image of God in which we were created has been erased from our DNA, but that deep within ourselves we are not fully what we are meant to be, and we know it. Yet God cuts through our thick underbrush of words and ideas, calling out to us, “Where are you?”

These last decades have been marked by the exponential growth and sophistication of technology. The world is more connected than ever, but it may also be more distracted than ever. Technology can distract us from everything from our ability to have meaningful face-to-face conversations, to keeping our eyes on the road and off our screens as we drive. So, it is with our lives of faith. When moments of tension invariably arise in community, we get distracted by arguments, anxieties and self-interests, and so we cut ourselves off from community and, in turn, short-circuit the possibility of reconciliation.
To consider this question of where we are, we must discern where God is inviting us. One place to start is to take account of all that distracts us from living lives of faithfulness. Distractions look different for different folks, but their central characteristic is the same: they draw our attention away from focusing on the life-giving parts of our lives. We can become distracted in our relationships, our work, our desire for meaning, acceptance, intimacy. Even our sabbaths can become muddled with distractions about what we might be missing. Distractions draw us away from the places in our lives that afford us peace, joy, and love. Ultimately, they distract us from our life with God. The Good News is that ours is a God who, no matter where we hide, seeks us, calls us, and invites us back. 

Today’s Gospel points to how family itself can be a distraction. No matter what type of family we come from, we had or still have a role to play within it. Jesus returns to his hometown to mixed reviews. He is confronted by those who are committed to maintaining domestic and religious life in the midst of troubled times. The only ones who seemed to provoke Jesus to intolerance are his family and the law-abiding scribes. For them, Jesus’ disordered love of humanity feels like falling into chaos, best symbolized by the demonic or insanity. People fear what they do not understand. Since people generally fear change in their own lives, the chances that they would support change in others is slim. We may think we know what is best for the other person but usually, it is what is best for us.

Jesus’ family attempts to get him under control, if not out of fear for his safety, at least to remove their own embarrassment because of his rising notoriety. This was not the only time that Jesus wrestled with his family or the religious authorities. In this passage Jesus is reminding them and us that those who take care of us, love us, nurture us, can also distract and bind us. They do this not because they are evil, but because they were captive themselves and had come to accept that this is how to find and maintain life. 

Jesus challenged his Jewish culture when he declared, “Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother” (Mark 3:35). Insiders and outsiders are now defined, not by blood, but by commitment to doing God’s will. If we are to experience the gracious love of God, Jesus challenges us to expand our family by looking beyond our walls, our race, culture, denominations, socio-economic status in order to see our brothers and sisters and mothers. Doing the will of God often means leaving our comfort zones. We cannot do this alone. Jesus’ single-minded focus on God’s will is our model. It takes a strong person to become who God created them to be and to continue to make positive changes even when it puts personal relationships in jeopardy.

In the Epistle, Paul reminding us that everything human will perish, steers us to a hope that sees God’s presence, with the eyes of our heart, outside and inside us.  “Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day.” (2 Cor. 4:6). We take comfort that the resurrected Christ lives in us creating a new solidarity with all of humanity, in its moral, physical, spiritual beauty and imperfection, allowing us to give up our self-absorption, and to live into the densities of human joy and suffering. Jesus comes to set us free from both our inner and outer captivities, so we can discover the freedom of the children of God.  

May we listen intently enough to hear God’s voice and discern deeply enough to answer God’s call.  


Thursday, June 3, 2021

Corpus Christi - June 3, 2021

Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY

Br. Aidan Owen, OHC

Corpus Christi - Thursday, June 3, 2021

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

Almost every Sunday before pandemic time, I used to take communion to our brothers Laurence and Rafael in the nursing home. The way Laurence received communion struck me every time. He would close his eyes, receive the bread onto his palm, and place in gently in his mouth. Then, eyes still shut and head bowed, he waited for a moment in silence.  

Then he would pray the anima Christi in a low voice. At the words “O, Good Jesus, hear me. Within your wounds hide me,” his voice took on a timbre of such love and such longing that it brought tears to my eyes almost every week. 

 I’ve never discussed this experience with Laurence. But I’ve wondered if having essentially fasted from Communion for a whole week sharpened his longing and deepened his gratitude at being able—finally—to receive his Good Jesus in the flesh. 

Most of the Church was not able to receive Communion for over a year during the first part of the pandemic. Bishop Dietsche used the metaphor of exile to describe the experience. Once restrictions on in-person worship began to ease, I started to hear stories of people receiving the sacramental Body of Christ for the first time in over a year. As people would tell me these stories, their faces would light up from within and usually tears would fill their and my eyes. The pain of a year’s separation, the joy—the ecstatic joy—of return and reunion. 

We here at the Monastery chose a different Eucharistic witness during this time of pandemic. We chose to witness to the abiding, daily presence of Jesus in the bread and the wine. I don’t think that was a wrong choice. But I did notice in myself a longing to fast from the Eucharist as most of the rest of the Church had to fast. There was a part of me that wanted to join the wider Church in its exile. 

I recently shared that desire with a guest of ours. He understood where I was coming from. And he also expressed his deep gratitude that we could be a tabernacle, holding onto the sacramental witness of Christ’s Body and Blood while the rest of the Church sojourned in Babylon. 

Either way, the contrast of our fullness of our Eucharistic witness here and the barren witness of the Church in exile has highlighted for me the deep dimensions of fullness and emptiness within the Eucharist itself. We need both fullness and emptiness to experience the totality of God’s sacramental and bodily presence among us. We need to feast and we need to fast in order to know the fullness of God’s love for us and all the world. 

In her seventh revelation of divine love, Lady Julian offers the following: 

[God] revealed to me a supreme spiritual delight in my soul. In this delight I was filled full of everlasting surety, powerfully secured without any painful fear. This sensation was so welcome and spiritual that I was wholly at peace, at ease, and at rest, so that there was nothing upon earth which could have afflicted me. 

This lasted only for a time, and then I was changed, and abandoned to myself, oppressed and weary of my life and ruing myself, so that I hardly had the patience to go on living. I felt that there was no ease or comfort for me except faith, hope, and love, and truly I felt very little of this. And then presently God gave me again comfort and rest for my soul, delight and security so blessedly and so powerfully that there was no fear, no sorrow, no pain, physical or spiritual, that one could suffer which might have disturbed me. And then again I felt the pain, and then afterwards the delight and the joy, now the one and now the other, again and again and again, I suppose about twenty times. And in the time of joy I could have said with St. Paul: Nothing shall separate me from the love of Christ; and in the pain I could have said with St. Peter: Lord, save me, I am perishing. 

This vision was shown to teach me to understand that some souls profit by experiencing this, to be comforted at one time, and at another to fail and to be left to themselves. God wishes us to know that he keeps us safe all the time, in sorrow and in joy; and sometimes a man is left to himself for the profit of his soul, although his sin is not always the cause. For in this time I committed no sin for which I ought to have been left to myself, for it was so sudden. Nor did I deserve these feelings of joy, but our Lord gives it freely when he wills, and sometimes he allows us to be in sorrow, and both are one love. 

Both the sorrow and the joy are one love. 
In the reading from Deuteronomy this morning, Moses teaches the Israelites something similar: God humbled you by letting you hunger, then by feeding you with the manna […] in order to make you understand that one does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord. 

Sometimes God hides his face from us in order to stir up our longing. We feel God’s absence so sharply that we call out for relief. Particularly when we have fallen into the slumber of the ordinary routine, or the self-regard of our own obsessions and illusions, we need this sharp jab in the stomach to wake us up to our need of God. 

At other times, God feeds us tenderly and sweetly. God reveals his face to us in all its simplicity and beauty, and our whole being is flooded with love for God, for ourselves, and for one another. 

In the classic language of Christian spirituality, we might call the former experience desolation and the latter consolation. But Julian would call both of them love. It is for love that God hides his face from us, to stir up our longing. And it is for love that God reveals himself to us and feeds us with himself. And both are one love. 

Picking up on this theme of fullness and emptiness, the Founder’s rule reminds us both that we should welcome the appointed times of fasting with joy, seeing in them an opportunity to free ourselves from our own disordered attachments. In so doing, they become for us a spiritual feast. And also that our feasting too must have something of the character of a gracious simplicity that is readily recognized as proper to the monastic life. In other words, feasting and fasting are two dimensions of one love. Fullness and emptiness both have their part. 

Strange as it may sound, today’s feast of the Holy Eucharist is not a celebration only of our fullness in God. It is a reminder, too, that we must empty ourselves of whatever is not God. We must allow our hunger for God to be so stirred within us that we allow ourselves to be satisfied with nothing less than our Good Jesus. 

It is so easy to see in comfort and fullness the signs of favor or success. To the extent that we are genuinely wearied by the changes and changes of this life, as one of our Compline collects so poetically puts it, we may long for comfort. But monastic life—indeed any Christian life faithfully lived—exists on the knife edge of fragility, where we don’t know what will happen next, whether we will perish or whether we will thrive. That is where faith is born, and it is where faith leads us. 

God continually draws us out into the deserts of this world and of our own lives, not to abandon us, but to reveal the fullness of his mercy, to pour down mana from heaven, to teach us with his indwelling Word, to reveal the full glory of his face where there is nothing to distract us from absorption in the holy. 

The bread that we break and the cup that we share every day at this altar are a kind of spiritual amuse bouche. They are meant to stoke our hunger for God, even as they satisfy that hunger in part. They are, in the words of our tradition, but a foretaste of the heavenly banquet. The feast at this altar should inspire in us a fast from all that is not God, so that in us feast and fast, too, become one love: the love of God poured out for the world through us who are also, united, the Body of Christ. 

Whether we feast or whether we fast, I pray that like our brother Laurence, our love and our longing may be so joined that we can pray to be hidden in the wounds of our Good Jesus. And so with one voice and one love we make our prayer (please join me if you know the words): 

(Anima Christi) 
Soul of Christ, sanctify me. 

Body of Christ, save me. 

Blood of Christ, inebriate me. 

Passion of Christ, strengthen me. 

O, Good Jesus, hear me. 

Within your wounds hide me. 

From the wicked foe, defend me. 

Suffer me never to be separated from you. 

At the hour of my death, call me and bid me come to you, 

That with your saints I may praise your Name forever. Amen.