Sunday, May 15, 2022

Easter 5 C - May 15, 2022

Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY

Br. Bernard Delcourt, OHC

Easter 5 C - May 15, 2022

Our three readings today give us a sweeping view of God’s plan for us all. Mutual inclusion in God’s all-embracing love. It starts with God loving us warts and all. We respond to God in love. We deliberately become instruments of God’s love. It evolves to our including everyone in God and in our God-inspired love. Simple? No matter, for the love of Jesus, let’s do it anyway. ***** In Acts, Peter learns to be as inclusive as the Holy Spirit. He says: The Spirit told me to go with them and not to make a distinction between them and us. And he adds: And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them just as it had upon us at the beginning This passage of Acts expands the message of many of Jesus’ parables. The Good Samaritan and the Prodigal Son come to mind. In order to love our neighbor as God enjoins us to, we have to include everyone, not only the members of our club. And this love enfleshes the love of God for all of creation. God does not love selectively some parts of the creation. God loves all of it and redeems all of it. No exclusion. We don’t get to choose whom God loves. As Christians we commit to love those God loves. Everyone. ***** In our reading from Revelation, we hear: See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them as their God; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; God does not dwell solely with Israel whom he chose to carry God’s message. God dwells face-to-face, elbow to elbow with all of God’s people. Mourning and crying and pain will no longer apply to anyone, no matter their origin, their identity or their righteousness. Yes, God’s mercy will embrace all of us. No one is excluded, no matter how unrighteous they may seem to us or even to themselves. Not even the people we feel entitled to ignore, exclude or despise in our current lives are beyond God’s mercy. ***** Br. Randy once told us of a priest friend of his that came up with a very good illustration of hell. His friend said hell is what happens when folk get to the pearly gates, look in to see who is there, and say, “Oh, I’m sorry, we’re not in communion with them.” Are we willing to enjoy the full inclusiveness of God’s love? Or would we rather be deprived of God’s presence than to share God’s love with people we turn up our nose at. ***** And in the gospel according to John, Jesus says: I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. Remember, this comes after Jesus washed the apostles feet at the last supper. And after Judas departed having received from Jesus’ hand the piece of bread he dipped in the dish. What is new in the commandment is how Jesus’ life, death and resurrection models for us what love is and who is included in that love. A commandment to love had appeared before in the history of Israel. In Leviticus 19:18 it says: You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord. Can you hear the differences? The scope and intent of what was in seed in Leviticus has blossomed in Jesus’ commandment to those who want to follow Him. This is from the man who said: “Love your enemies.” That is quite a leap from loving a member of my tribe whom I would prefer to bear a grudge against. Jesus loved Judas even as he knew he was betraying him. ***** God’s love enfolds us, no matter what we are and what we do. God’s love enfolds everyone and everything. We are invited to be inspired and take our cue from God’s love. That is a daunting task, but it is the task we have set ourselves in choosing to follow Jesus. He says: By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. So this week, I invite you to deliberately identify one or more persons whom you ignore, despise or neglect. Do not be fooled that there are no such persons in your life. It’s just that it’s more comfortable for us to be in denial about that. Can you train your heart’s eye to see that person as a beloved child of God? Can you feel God’s love for that person? And can you yourself treat that person in a way that will make them feel acknowledged, liked or cared for? Can you ask God to help you make the leap into loving that child of God? And by the way, thank you very much for loving all the people you like and care about in your life. Let’s keep it up and widen our scope! Amen.

Monday, May 9, 2022

Easter 4 C - May 8, 2022

Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY

Br. Aidan Owen, OHC

Easter 4 C - May 8, 2022

In the name of the One God, who is Lover, Beloved, and Love Overflowing.
This fourth Sunday of Easter is known as Good Shepherd Sunday. Even though, in our three-year lectionary, it’s only in Year B, which we had last year, that Jesus actually says “I am the good shepherd,” the gospel lectionary for this Sunday always centers on the image of Jesus as the shepherd of the sheep. He knows his sheep; he calls them each by name; he lays down his life for them; and they—that is, we—follow that voice, leading us ever onward to our home in God. I’ve always found the moniker “Good Shepherd” both puzzling and attractive. What does Jesus mean by calling himself the good shepherd? Remember, in Matthew he denies the adjective “good,” and reminds his followers that no one is good but God. Biblical scholars also remind us that his contemporaries might have seen Jesus as the foolish shepherd who leaves his entire flock to search for the one missing sheep—an act that would actually endanger the 99 left behind in the hopes of gaining one insignificant little ewe.
And what is this voice that we know, and that calls us each by name? How do we hear it? I heard a sermon on Good Shepherd Sunday several years ago that pointed out that the word we translate into English as “good” carries in both Greek and Hebrew a double meaning. It means “good” as we understand it—meaning both desirable and morally sound. And it also means “beautiful,” as in pleasing, attractive, excellent. Taken in these layers, the image refracts Jesus' image like a prism refracts light. Not only is Jesus good but he is also beautiful, lovely, attractive, captivating.
Now, it’s dangerous to talk about beauty in our contemporary context, obsessed as we so often are with the so-called beautiful, young things. So often we mix up beauty with glamor. Glamor distracts us. It’s always shiny, new, and seemingly flawless. Think of the gym-toned bodies the advertisers promise us if we’ll only buy this or eat that. Glamor is always rotten at the core, no matter how lovely it seems on the surface, because it is really ugliness papered over with a symmetry and order that speaks to our desire to fly away from these impoverished human bodies. Beauty, by contrast, conveys us to ourselves. John Galsworthy writes of beauty that, “Where Beauty was, nothing ever ran quite straight, which, no doubt, was why so many people looked on it as immoral.” (from The Forsyte Saga) Beauty often covers itself with seeming ugliness, disorder, or disarray, because it elevates the ordinary, the human, the flawed and draws out the line of holiness crouched therein. The most beautiful face I ever saw was that of a very old woman at a museum. Her face was so wrinkled it folded in on itself in crags and valleys. Her skin was dappled with brown, like a forest with the light poring through. Her nose was a bit hooked, and her lips thin and drawn. But as I gazed on her, a deep knowing emerged from within, a knowing that drew me more fully into myself. I became more whole in the moment of my gazing. Such is the power of beauty to convey us to ourselves. True beauty reveals itself to those who have the patience to wait and to watch. It requires something of us. And rather than inviting us to betray ourselves, as does glamor, beauty repays us with a deepening sense of the holy within and around us.
Perhaps you know the poem called “The Bright Field” by the Welsh poet and Anglican priest R.S. Thomas:

I have seen the sun break through to illuminate a small field for a while, and gone my way and forgotten it. But that was the pearl of great price, the one field that had treasure in it. I realise now that I must give all that I have to possess it. Life is not hurrying on to a receding future, nor hankering after an imagined past. It is the turning aside like Moses to the miracle of the lit bush, to a brightness that seemed as transitory as your youth once, but is the eternity that awaits you. Perhaps, as so often happens, the wisdom of language precedes us. Maybe “goodness” and “beauty” are not two different meanings of one word. Maybe they’re shades of one another. Maybe Jesus’ goodness is his beauty, lying hidden in the field we pass on our morning walk. Perhaps his voice is the glint of the sunshine, whispering to us to slow down, to pay attention, to allow the radiance of our life to emerge around and within us. Perhaps the shepherd who leaves the 99, foolish though he may be, understands that wholeness is worth the risk, that wholeness is worth everything, because that is where love lies. If true beauty emerges in and through the contrast of the ordinary, human flotsam with the radiance of divinity, then of course Jesus—fully human and fully divine—is the icon of a beauty that is moral, good, and attractive to both body and soul. And in reconciling the human and the divine—or, rather, in showing that there is no contradiction between them, that, like light and darkness, the human and the divine illuminate and boundary one another—Jesus shows us the way to deeper wholeness and reconciliation in God. We need this vision of a reconciling beauty now more than ever. Dostoevsky famously wrote in The Idiot that “beauty will save the world.” And how, we might wonder? Well, look around. War, yes. Plague, yes. Devastation, yes. But also the crabapples in their peerless bounty, and the love of our families and friends, and these fragile precious eyes we have. The light of Jesus’ resurrection does not banish totally and completely the darkness that fills our world. But it does provide us with the contrast to see that world more fully, to know its beauty and in that knowledge to be known as God’s hands and God’s feet and God’s beating, broken heart in this world. In her book Hope in the Dark Rebecca Solnit writes that “someday all this may be ruins over which pelicans will fly, but for now it is a place where history is still unfolding. Today is also the day of creation.” (Hope in the Dark, p. 114) I would add that not only is today the day of creation. But it is also good, and it is beautiful. We may not be able to end the atrocities in Ukraine, or stop the resurgence of fascism throughout the world, or mend the broken hearts of those struck down by addiction and despair, but if we ourselves are more whole, then the world is, too. If we love more, then the world is that much more loving. If we can turn away from violence and death within us, then world is that much more alive.
Each time we hear the voice of our good and beautiful shepherd calling us by name and choose to turn homeward, Christ is risen within and around us, and Easter dawns once more. Alleluia! Christ is risen!

Sunday, April 24, 2022

Easter 2 C - April 24, 2022

Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY

Br. Robert James Magliula, OHC

Easter 2 C - April 24, 2022

One week ago, God rolled away the stone from the tomb and Mary Magdalene saw Jesus alive. That night, despite her good news, the disciples were still hiding behind locked doors. Not much has changed. They had traded a tomb for a room and a stone for locked doors. This time Thomas was with them. Jesus came and stood among them, saying "Peace be with you." Then he turned to Thomas and offered himself. "Reach your finger here", he said, "see my hands. Put your hand in my side. Be unbelieving no longer but believe." 

Try to forget, for a moment, everything you thought you knew about Thomas. Forget that somewhere along the way you came to believe that Thomas’ primary attribute was doubt. Forget that you still think of him as a slightly inferior disciple who Jesus rebukes him for his lack of faith. Forget it all because the opposite is true. Nowhere in the Gospels is he described as a doubter. What Thomas asked for was exactly what all the other disciples got. When Jesus appeared to them, he showed them his hands and his side and only then, did they rejoice “because they saw the Lord” (20:20). We tend to forget that it was not only Judas who betrayed Jesus. Every one of the disciples abandoned him, apart from the women and John. Thomas was no worse than any of the others in that room behind locked doors. Jesus never accused Thomas of doubting. That’s how we have translated and interpreted the Greek. Rather, Jesus, says, “Do not be unbelieving, but believing.” He could just have easily said that to the others. All of them were guilty. All went into hiding, afraid that they would also be accused and arrested. Traumatized, paralyzed by fear, grief, guilt, remorse, and despair, their brokenness had buried them alive. The locked room was their tomb. 

Christ is risen, the tomb is empty, but the doors are locked. Resurrected life does not come easily. It’s not just the first disciples, however. I suspect we all know about locked doors. God opens the tomb, and sometimes we follow behind locking the door. God declares forgiveness and we continue to live behind the locked door of condemnation of self or others. God defeats death but we still live as if it is the final word. God offers new life, but we live in the past. God declares we are loved, and we lock ourselves out of that love. The locked doors of our lives are not so much about what is going on around us, but what is happening within us: fear, anger, guilt, hurt, grief, the refusal to change. The lock on the door of our life is always locked from the inside.

Resurrection is not just an event or an idea. It is a way of being and living. It is the lens through which we see the world, each other, and ourselves. Resurrection is the gift of God’s life and love. Living resurrection, however, is difficult. It is neither quick nor magical. For most of us it is a process, something we grow into over time. Resurrection does not undo our past, fix our problems, or change the circumstances of our lives. It changes us, offers a way through our problems, and creates a future. Christ’s resurrected life invites us to unlock our doors and sends us into the world.

One week after Easter, is our life different? Where are we living--- In the freedom and joy of resurrection or behind a locked door? What do we believe about Jesus’ resurrection? What door have we locked? If you want to know what you believe, look at your life and how you live. Our beliefs guide our life, and our life reveals our beliefs. Belief in Jesus’ resurrection is not a question of intellectual assent or agreement. It’s not about evidence or proof or getting the right answer. Belief is more about how we live than what we think. It encourages us to be real---to find as Thomas did---that when we admit our need, Christ will meet us where we are. The opposite of faith is not doubt but fear. Doubt is an essential ingredient of faith which can serve us, but fear imprisons us. We’re called to look squarely at our fear, and then step out knowing that Jesus walks beside us. 

Resurrected people know that faith and life are messy. They ask hard questions rather than settling for easy answers. They don’t have to figure it all out before praying, forgiving, or loving. They trust that what God believes about them is more important than what they believe about God. They unlock the door even when they don’t know what’s on the other side. They believe even if they don’t understand. They may never see or touch Jesus, but they live trusting that they have been seen and touched by him. None of us crosses over this gap from death to new life by our own effort or perfection. Each of us is carried by grace. Death cannot win when we recognize that the thing which could destroy us is the very thing that could enlighten us.

Speaking over Thomas’ shoulder to the rest of us, Jesus says, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” Jesus isn’t rebuking Thomas but blessing us. In fact, Thomas emerges as the model of how one becomes a disciple. Once he has encountered himself and Jesus, he makes the ultimate confession in John’s Gospel, acclaiming Jesus not only as “my Lord” --- but also “my God,” Like Thomas we all need to see and touch the mark of the nails. That sight frees us to see our own wounds and those of others compassionately, not fearfully. God transforms the human soul by using the very thing that would normally destroy us—the tragic, the sorrowful, the painful, the unjust deaths that lead us all to the bottom of our lives. Jesus’ death and resurrection is a statement of how reality works all the time and everywhere. He teaches us that there’s a different way to live with our pain, our sadness, and our suffering. We can feel sorry for ourselves, or we can say, as he did on Good Friday, “God is even in this.” God is the one who always turns death into life.

What happened to Thomas is exactly what John hopes will happen to each of us when we hear his story every year on this Sunday after Easter. After this scene John writes, “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name” (20:30-31).

+ Amen.

Saturday, April 16, 2022

Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY

The Rev. Janet Vincent

Good Friday - April 15, 2022

You can listen to The Rev. Janet Vincent's sermon by clicking the link above.

Sunday, April 10, 2022

Palm Sunday C - April 10, 2022

Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY

Br. Ephrem Arcement

Palm Sunday C - April 10, 2022

The Liturgy of the Palms:

The Liturgy of the Word:

Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!

It has been said that the spiritual life is what one does with one’s fears, and I largely agree. Fear has a way of either making us cower and hide or, with some inspiration and faith, to stand up taller, fight harder and overcome. Ever since the ruddy, young David took down the towering Goliath, humankind loves a good underdog story.
As we know, the “greatest story ever told” is about such an underdog: how a young, simple Jewish man from Nazareth overcame the power of death and brought eternal life to all who desire it. It’s the story of the confrontation between the reign of a powerful and violent “Satan” and the reign of a hidden and unassuming God. And one of the greatest lessons followers of Jesus Christ have had to learn ever since Jesus called Peter “Satan” was that the reign of God is entered into riding on a donkey rather than a chariot.

As we find ourselves beginning our Holy Week liturgies commemorating the most pivotal and transforming events of human history, we find ourselves confronted with two primal realities: joy and sorrow. We know how the story ends…and this brings us great joy. But we also know that there is no way to resurrection joy but by way of the sorrow of the cross. We are, as St. Paul expressed, on a parabolic journey: we must descend before we ascend. Like the shape of a parabola, we move from the reign of the self to self-emptying to the reign of God, and this means that the sorrow and fear of the cross must be confronted before God can reign supreme in peace and joy over our lives.

In a previous monastic incarnation, I spent several years as a Roman Catholic Benedictine monk teaching courses on the Old and New Testaments to a group of young and often very biblically naive seminarians. One of my goals was to inspire my students to fall in love with the Sacred Scriptures while simultaneously helping them to be honest with the text. But for many young people today, being honest with the text is a direct challenge to their faith and stokes all kinds of fear…along with some stone throwing and accusations of heresy! One such occasion in fact occurred when I was teaching the Servant Songs of the Prophet Isaiah and tried to help my students get into the mind and heart of Christ who, I suggested, must have often used these Servant Songs for his own personal lectio divina. Just imagine, I offered, a young Jesus probably around their age, reading and internalizing these passages and coming to greater and greater realization of his destiny as the very Servant who was called to fulfill these prophecies.
The Lord God has opened my ear,
and I was not rebellious,
I did not turn backward.
I gave my back to those who struck me,
and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard;
I did not hide my face
from insult and spitting.
The Lord God helps me;
therefore I have not been disgraced;
therefore I have set my face like flint,
and I know that I shall not be put to shame;
he who vindicates me is near.
This was all too much for one student who raised his hand and said that the Church doesn’t allow us to believe that Jesus didn’t always know that he was the Messiah. I challenged him and told him he was mistaken and received an email the following day with a concession speech which he also sent to the whole class reassuring them, that after some research, Fr. Ephrem was, in fact, not a heretic after all!
I share this story because I continue to hold that our Lord did in fact come to terms with his identity and mission throughout the developing years of his life and that a significant catalyst for him was his own Sacred Scriptures, especially the Servant Songs of Isaiah, which our liturgies this week will feature in a prominent way.

This is important because it is crucial that we look to Jesus and his own parabolic journey to help us make our own. How did he face his fears? And how did he overcome them?

There was perhaps nothing clearer to Jesus, it seems to me, than the fact that his destiny of ushering in the reign of God was replete with suffering. If he did in fact see himself as the Suffering Servant of the prophet Isaiah, then Gethsemane and Golgotha came as no surprise. All four Gospels attest to the fact that Jesus knew that there was no way around the cross. So, what kind of weight he must have bourn from his first realization, probably already as a young man, that his life was to be cut short by the reign of terror and violence and that he was the one destined to be lead as a lamb to the slaughter! How did he have the grace to not cower in fear but to stand up taller and fight and overcome?

The young seminarian might reduce the answer to the fact that he was God. Yes, Jesus was fully divine but also fully human and the dread he experienced about his future was as real as yours and mine would be if we were in a similar situation. A better answer, I believe, is that he was fired with a vision of what his life was and what it meant and this vision gave him a power much greater than the power of fear. The cross became relativized in the light of his ultimate vocation and destiny. He knew that the way of the cross was somehow a part of the mysterious plan of “Abba” who would not, in the end, forsake him. And he became fully convinced that the sacrifice of his life would be the very catalyst for the final destruction of sin and death and pave the way for God’s reign of peace and justice. Every word he spoke, every lesson he taught, every miracle he performed, all poured forth from a heart fully owned by this vision.

Liturgically speaking, and, for some of us, perhaps existentially as well, we now find ourselves in Jerusalem, the city of destiny, awaiting the condemnation of Pilate and the scourge. The cross towers before us like a menacing Goliath and we hear our Lord ask, “will you follow me or will you forsake me?”

It is ultimately a question about what means the most to us: ourselves or our Lord. A question about fear or faith. Before we answer, let us not be like the impetuous Peter but let us soberly consider the stakes and the best way forward. Armed with humility, the knowledge of our own weakness, and the vision of our ultimate purpose and destiny in Christ, let us draw strength and inspiration from the pioneer and perfecter of our faith and continually watch and pray lest we too are brought to the trial. And even if we are and stumble along the way, we are assured that we have a faithful and merciful high priest who is ready to pick us up and egg us on in the fight.

Tuesday, April 5, 2022

Lent 5 C - April 3, 2022

Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY

Br. Robert Sevenksy, OHC

Lent 5 C - April 3, 2022

Last week we heard Jesus’ parable of the Prodigal Son, so called. It is a remarkably moving and profound reflection on the human condition, and it was so lovingly explored with us by Brother Aidan. But what does ‘prodigal’ mean? It wasn't until well into adulthood that I discovered that the word had more nuances of meaning then I realized. On the one hand of course, it refers to being recklessly wasteful or extravagant, such as in disposing of goods or money. And that is probably the meaning that most of us associate with the parable of the Lost Son that we heard last week. But there is a second, related meaning of prodigal understood as lavish in giving or yielding, generous, openhanded. It is this meaning that we need to hold in mind this morning as we listen to the gospel story of the anointing of Jesus.
We hear today of a woman, in this case Mary of Bethany, the sister of Martha and Lazarus, anointing Jesus in preparation for his burial. This story is, in one form or another, told in all four canonical gospels, though as usual John's gospel gives it a particular spin or emphasis. It is placed right at the outset of the beginning of the passion narrative, just six days before the Passover and Jesus’ betrayal, arrest, and death. And ready or not, we are catapulted into Passiontide. What makes this a prodigal act? Well obviously, the expense of the ointment. The gospel narrative tells us that it is worth 300 denarii or about a year's wages. Can that be true? And if it is true, we might find ourselves asking, with the disciples or (in John’s gospel with Judas) the question, “Why this waste? This ointment could have been sold and the money given to the poor.” It does seem, rationally speaking, to be a rather extravagant and over the top action. Yet Jesus immediately intervenes to stop any criticism of Mary. He says, “Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.” Indeed, in the gospels of Matthew and Mark, Jesus goes on to say of her action: “…wherever the good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her.” (Mark 14:9) Following the model of an Ignatian meditation, I'd like to share three points about this event and John’s take on it. First, and I regret that I need to say it, but it must be said: Jesus’ response to Mary’s critics, that the poor are always with us, is no excuse for not caring for those who are poor or in need. Jesus is here alluding to a passage from the book of Deuteronomy, and anybody in that circle would have known the whole quote and we should as well. Let me read it: “Since there will never cease to be some in need on the earth, I therefore command you, ‘Open your hand to the poor and needy neighbor in your land.’” (15:11) There is a continuing obligation on our part to open our hands and our hearts to the poor. Our Lord’s saying this serves as a reminder to us all. This is part of the ordinary obligation of Christian living. But, let it also be said that amid ongoing obligations and ordinary life, extraordinary events can and do call out extraordinary responses from one or another of us. And Mary of Bethany was one who was called out. Second, the writer of John's gospel places this event not in the household of Simon of Bethany, as the do the authors of Matthew and Mark, but in the household of Jesus’ friends Mary, Martha and Lazarus. And unlike the woman in the other gospel accounts, this woman is not anonymous. She has a name, she has a family—though admittedly a rather nontraditional family—and she has a relationship with Jesus. Yes, we'd like to know more about all these family members, but what we do know is that they are people with a respected place in their community and culture, people with shared dreams and hopes, and people with complex and life-giving relationships with each other and with our Lord. They are friends of our Lord, and it is in the womb of their friendship that Jesus finds comfort and rest. I find it not only interesting but encouraging that this event, so tender and prophetic and yes, shocking, happens within the intimacy of discipleship understood as friendship and in a place where Jesus can find a home. Third, let’s be frank. This is a pretty wild act on Mary’s part, isn't it? And we're not just talking about the cost of the ointment, its value. There's also the issue of the hair. I'm not sure how the culture of Jesus’ day might have viewed the anointing of the head or feet of a man by a woman, especially in quasi-public setting, but I can't help but imagine that the wiping of the feet with her hair made some of the onlookers just a little bit nervous, kind of the way I get nervous when I see public displays of affection or intimacy. What got into her that she was moved to do this? There is of course something spontaneous about it. The gospel says that she bought the perfume or ointment so that she might keep it for the day of Jesus’ burial. But somehow, she recognized that this was the moment. Suddenly she realized that she needed to act without, I imagine, thinking too much about it or agonizing over it but just doing it, period. Her knowing was that kind of knowing where we realize only later the magnanimity and enormity and consequences of what we had done. Perhaps that's part of what falling in love is like. It's seldom moderate, at least at the outset. There's an insistence, and indeed even a madness, about it which gives it much of its meaning and lasting power. I think of the Friar Laurence in Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet saying to Romeo as he awaits the arrival of his beloved: “Love moderately. Long love doth so.” Of course, as they meet, they throw themselves into each other’s arms, at least in the Zeffirelli movie version; they're having none of that. Their love is immoderate and spontaneous and ultimately tragic. But I wonder if falling in love with God doesn't elicit and need something of that immoderate character, that kind of energy and abandon where we're all in or we're not in at all. Two decades ago, we were blessed for seven years here at Holy Cross with the presence of Mary Klock, a Catholic Religious Sister of Mercy who shared in our life and taught many of us profound lessons in holy living. Mary was of strong Irish Catholic heritage and one day quoted a poem to me which captured my imagination. It was The Fool by Patrick Pearse. Pearse was an Irish political leader and revolutionary, one of the architects of the Easter Rebellion of 1916. Many see him as a patriot, others as a terrorist. That’s the inherent ambiguity of political revolution. In his poem Pearse urges us, as he urged the Irish people, to be all in. It's a dangerous poem, one which can be read as advocating violence. But at the heart of it, I believe, is also encouragement to live prodigally, with abandoned and with trust. I quote a portion: I have squandered the splendid years that the Lord God gave to my youth In attempting impossible things, deeming them alone worth the toil. Was it folly or grace? Not men shall judge me, but God. I have squandered the splendid years: Lord, if I had the years I would squander them over again, Aye, fling them from me! For this I have heard in my heart, that a man shall scatter, not hoard, Shall do the deed of to-day, nor take thought of to-morrow’s teen, Shall not bargain or huxter with God; or was it a jest of Christ’s And is this my sin before men, to have taken Him at His word? The lawyers have sat in council, the men with the keen, long faces, And said, `This man is a fool,’ and others have said, `He blasphemeth;’ And the wise have pitied the fool that hath striven to give a life In the world of time and space among the bulks of actual things, To a dream that was dreamed in the heart, and that only the heart could hold. O wise men, riddle me this: what if the dream come true?
What if the dream come true? What if, after all, the ointment was not wasted? What if the love was immoderate, even embarrassing, maybe even tragic? I am reminded of Mary Oliver’s question: “What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” No matter how old we may be, that question lives.
This has been a season of prodigals: the Lost Son, prodigal in his wastefulness, and his father, prodigal yet more in his loving forgiveness and welcome. There is the prodigal Mary of Bethany, whose wildly spontaneous generosity filled her house with fragrance, covering over the odor of her brother Lazarus’ death even while preparing the Lord for his own entombment. And of course, there is the greatest prodigal of all, our wildly generous Lord Jesus Christ who gives himself freely for us and for our sake and out of love for us and out of all proportion. With this anointing, he begins his journey to the cross and it is to that cross to that we now turn our faces. This is the same Lord who teaches his disciples and us that there is no greater love than this: to lay down one's life for one's friends.
O, brothers and sisters, what a Friend we have in Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, March 27, 2022

Lent 4 C - March 27, 2022

Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY

Br. Aidan Owen, OHC

Lent 4 C - March 27, 2022

In the name of the One God, who is Lover, Beloved, and Love Overflowing. Amen. One of the great gifts of monastic life is being able to see God’s mercy at work in your brothers. It’s very easy to see other people’s faults. They have a way of glaring at us. But to see their virtues—and more, to see those virtues grow slowly and eventually flower—that takes time, patience, and an attentiveness borne of selfless love and gratitude. Michael Casey, one of the great contemporary commentators on Benedictine spirituality, writes that one of the chief goals of monastic life is to teach us monks mercy. But in order for the monastery to be a school of mercy, there have to be folks around us who need mercy shown to them. Sometimes—actually, quite often, I’m afraid—I'm the one who needs to be shown mercy. That flow of mercy back and forth is one of the forces that binds the monastic community together in the bonds of love. This morning’s gospel reading invites us to explore God’s mercy—and our own—from at least three different angles. First we have the younger son, the eponymous prodigal. Conversion is relatively simple for this brother. For all his maddening irresponsibility, he is so loveable. That doesn’t mean it’s easy. I’m sure, like all conversion, it hurts like hell. But his life is so out of control that it presents him with countless opportunities to wake up. When he comes to himself and makes the journey home to his father, we get a scene that can soften the stoniest heart. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. Before the son can get out the speech he has prepared, the father puts a robe around him and orders a feast. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found! Then we have the older son, who gets less time on the page. Of course he does—his father never gives him anything! He is the dutiful one. The A-student, who goes to law school or medical school or founds a non-profit. He's the one who never makes a mistake, who follows the rules, who takes care of his parents as they age, who does everything right. He’s the good one. He’s also full of anger, resentment, and self-righteousness. It’s so easy to dismiss him, as we usually dismiss the Pharisees, whom he represents. What’s wrong with him? Doesn’t he get it? Doesn’t he realize that God’s love flows abundantly? That grace isn’t a zero-sum game? Doesn’t he see that everyone wins in God’s economy? Well, no, he doesn’t see that. And really, do we? Do we live as if God’s mercy were earth’s most plentiful resource? Or do we try to hoard it up, and parcel it out to those we think deserve it, when we think they deserve it, and only as much as we think they deserve it? Or maybe I’m drawn to this son because I relate to him. I know this person. I have been this person, and sometimes I still am. Perhaps you are, too. For all his goodness, he is trapped in the prison of himself. Never having left home, he does not know the first thing about conversion, compunction, or return. Because he has remained at home, he denies himself the possibility of forgiveness and embrace, which comes through our failures, not our righteousness. Here we find him standing outside the party, refusing to go in and celebrate, because he would rather be alone and right than to be like everyone else and to dance. Deep joy requires surrender, and surrender is near impossible for those of us who think we’re good. Don Bisson says that so-called good people avoid the need for conversion, because we think it means more work. Like Martha, we’re already working so hard that we can’t imagine doing more for God, our communities, our families, or our workplaces. It’s extremely difficult for us so-called good people to become aware of our deep need of God’s mercy. Unlike the younger son, the older could live quite comfortably the rest of his life without seeking his father’s love and forgiveness. After all, he has the entire property now, and with it the cold illusion of self-sufficiency. Until he can see that he, too, is starving in the wilderness, he will never find the road back home. He will remain forever trapped outside the party, because he can’t surrender enough to laugh or to cry, much less to dance. I think that’s why we don’t get the end of this brother’s story. We don’t know whether he goes into the party or not. I’ll confess that even though I wish he would relent and embrace his brother, I find it hard to believe he allows himself that freedom. In my difficulty seeing the possibility of conversion for this older brother, I see reflected my own doubts of God’s grace and mercy and my own need of further and deeper conversion. O Lord, I believe; help thou my unbelief. I notice, too, the compassion I feel for this older brother and my deepest wish that he would allow his father to love him and, in so doing, allow his own heart to turn from stone to flesh. Here we stumble on the deeper invitation of this text, which is not only to see and perhaps identify with two different roads to conversion and surrender, but also to notice and accept the invitation to love as God loves, to show mercy as we are continually shown mercy. A few days ago, Br. Robert left for me the Lenten Prayer of St. Ephrem, which goes like this: O Lord and Master of my life, take from me the spirit of indifference, discouragement, and despair, the lust for power and empty speech. Rather, grant to me, your servant, the spirit of purity of heart, humility, patience, and love. O my God and King, grant me grace to see my own sins and not judge what others say or do. For You are blessed unto the ages of ages. Amen. I particularly resonate with that last line: grant me grace to see my own sins and not to judge what others say or do. It anticipates Julian of Norwich, who encourages us not even to notice the sins of others, unless we do so with deep compassion and love for the suffering which their sins cause them. This is the movement of the prodigal father, who sees the hurt of his sons, who grieves for their hurt, who loves them deeply, and who is filled with joy beyond measure at their return. This is how we are called to love one another: deeply, without reservation or judgment, and with joy at the rebirth of our brothers and sisters in Christ. Mercy is something we have to learn, but we can learn it. As we ourselves follow the journey of either or both of these sons, as we surrender and return and repent—and more importantly, as we allow God’s love and mercy to flow into us and to soften our hearts, to celebrate that we were dead and are now alive again—we can learn to allow God’s love and mercy to flow through us to our brothers and sisters who are hurting, trapped in their own prisons of sin or despair, and also to the world crumbling around us. Mercy is not a private gift, given for us to hoard or to cherish for ourselves alone, much less to hand out only to those we think worthy of it. It is food to strengthen us so that, in imitation of Christ, we can lay down our lives for one another, without reservation. Having returned home ourselves, we are called to run out into the fields to welcome others back. Even more, we are to be like the watchman watching for the tiniest hint of the morning’s light, raising the call of celebration that one of God’s children—our very own brother or sister—was dead and is alive again, was lost and is found. None of us will be saved in isolation. And to the extent that any of us is in bondage, none of us is truly free. The good news is that God waits for all of us to return, no matter how slowly or imperfectly. We will have to make the journey home again and again and again, because we are a forgetful lot. But, each time we do, God is already there waiting for us before we’ve taken the second step, running out to meet us with a robe—the best one!—and a ring and a party to welcome us home.

Friday, March 25, 2022

Annunciation - March 25, 2022

Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY

Br. Luc Thuku, OHC

Annunciation - March 25, 2022

In his book This Monastic Moment, incidentally written to commemorate the arrival of our brothers at Volmoed, the Rev. John De Gruchy, in Chapter 4 entitled In This Time & Place, sub topic, Open to the world: Hidden in God, while quoting Bonhoffer has this to say…

‘this worldly’ interpretation of the Bible which was intergral to the church becoming open to the other was intended to make concepts such as repentance, faith, justification, rebirth and sanctification, accessible to secular people; he was not suggesting that these concepts be discarded any more than he was jettisoning scripture. Even so, there are terms that speak from ‘faith to faith’ - that is, they make sense within the life of the Church where the language of faith is understood. By analogy, there is no reason why cricket-lovers should ditch words like goooly, maiden-over, or leg-before, just because the uninitiated do not understand them.

They are code words essential to every lover of the game. The same would apply to doctrines like the Trinity, Virgin birth, etc,which should not be thrust on to the world in a take-it-or-leave-it manner but taught and celebrated in the life of the Church as mysteries of faith. In this way, prayer, worship, the sacraments, and the creed remain hidden at the heart of the church. That is why Bonhoeffer says that all Christian talk must arise out of prayer and be expressed by doing justice in the world. The church would then be known by its penultimate witness to the reign of God through its service to the world rather than by the disciplines and doctrines that sustain its life of faith, hope and love. And it is in that service to the world that the church shares in solidarity with people of other faiths and those of no faith at all.

I am, therefore, unfortunate enough to stand before you this morning to preach when we commemorate one of the major doctrines or mysteries of the Christian faith, that is the Incarnation, as we celebrate this feast of the Annunciation. Although it is crucial for us to understand how God came to be human, it is also confusing at times because rarely does God, the author of nature, contradict nature but usually works with nature to achieve God’s ends… but in this case he did. I will therefore disappoint some of us by not going into the depths of the mystery of the Incarnation. That I will leave to the realm of the terms that speak from ‘faith to faith’. Instead the Spirit leads me to speaks about the motivation behind the incarnation, which hopefully will qualify as a ‘this worldly’ interpretation.

Now, the motivation behind the incarnation was nothing but pure love! God loved us from the beginning and when we failed decided to come be born, live like us and redeem us like one of us. Our salvation became God’s project throughout the Old Testament times and the message of redemption became even more intense with the prophets especially Isaiah, the prophet of hope. In the passage we heard from the first reading this morning (Isaiah 7:10-14), Isaiah is preaching to King Ahaz of Jerusalem who was under an imminent threat of attack from Israel which had aligned itself with the ‘pagan’ kingdom of Aram. King Ahaz responded with unbelief to God and His prophet that God will deliver Judah. Isaiah asks Ahaz to ask God for a sign as proof but he refuses; not so much becuase he didn't want to tempt God(because he was an evil king), but because he was trying to align himself with the king of Assyria, another ‘pagan’ king for protection. This frustrates Isaiah and he tells Ahaz that despite his refusal, God is going to give a him a sign anyway! It is in this context that the promise of a savior is given a name for the very first time (the second time during the annunciation as we heard in the gospel passage)!…The young woman shall bear a son Immanuel. Although this did not happen in the time of king Ahaz, it at least assured him that Judah will have a future, a sign of the perpetuity of the nation.

We are celebrating this feast a few weeks before the Easter triduum, when we celebrate the mystery of Christ’s suffering and death and later resurrection. At times it impossible to not wonder whether these two mysteries we are celebrating within weeks of each other, one evoking sorrow and the other joy are conflicting. The truth, however, is that they compliment each other and are explicitly brought together in today’s second reading from the letter to the Hebrews. The writer of Hebrews put words in the mouth of Jesus… “see God, I have come to do your will” and in this statement both are shown as expressions of the perfect obedience Jesus gave to his father’s will.

The question however remains why all that was God’s will. Why should the eternal son of God lower himself so much to attaining our human nature with all its limitations? Why should he begin life dependent on his mother, then undergo the whole process of growing up which includes the discomforts and inconveniencies of life that we all go through, and worse in the household of a lowly laborer and not in the comforts of a palace? Why subject himself to tempatation, hostility, rejection and betrayal? Why at the conclusion of it all go willingly and knowingly to his passion, to suffer an unjust judgement, mockery, blows and spitting and the humiliation of being stripped naked, then agree to nails being drilled into his flesh and bones? Why hang on the cross for hours, have his heart torn open with a spear and eventually end up in a tomb? Why would a loving God will all that on anyone, least of all His beloved Son?

The answer to that can only be Mercy driven by Love. Jesus did that in order to raise us with him to God. It was the price for forgiveness, out-poured love, an assuarance that we have become sons and daughters, and heirs of divine glory. It means that we are not just adopted or co-opted. We are owned, we are bought at a price and the price was, and still is, the life and blood of God Himself!

The world however has not changed an inch despite this unwavering love. I am writing and preaching this sermon during an unnecessary war being fought in Europe out of pure aggression and “big boy” or bully mentality! Innocent children and adults who just want to live their daily lives have been uprooted from their homes and lost their livelihoods and will most likely be traumatized for the rest of their lives, that is, if they live to tell the story. This is coming from a nation that has a quasi state religion that lays claim to orthodoxy, and the largest at that, the Russian Orthodox church, whose patriarch is rumoured to be a friend of the ‘Russian big boy’ and I can't help wondering if he has tried to tell him what he is doing is wrong! Forget about the current war if you can and open any newspaper or television and what hits you on the face is a confirmation of the negative judgement found in Romans 1:29-30… “they are steeped in all sorts of injustice, rottenness, greed, and malice; full of envy, murder, wrangling, treachery and spite; libellers, slanderers, enemies of God; rude, arrogant and boastful; enterprising in evil, rebellious to parents, without prudence, honor love or pity”

So, are we doomed as a species and the rest of creation with us? Have we tested God’s patience and endurance to its limits? The answer to this is no because we have an example still stemming from the incarnation event. In Mary, God’s love found an answering love. The obedience of Jesus to his father found a corresponding willingness in the maiden who was to be his mother. His goodness and purity of intention, generosity, selflessness, perserverance and humility found their reflection in Mary.

Mary, however, was not your naive or ignorant every day girl. At least she was aware that for a woman to give birth, she must have been with a man. “How can this be since I am a virgin” …she asks in Luke 1:34. She did not get involved in the project blindly. She engages the angel in dialogue and sought clarity. She knew God as the creator and author of nature and hence her question is not so much an expression of doubt but a surprise and an amazement at the extent God can go to communicate his love for us and for creation. Spiritual masters tell us that God’s love is for us as individuals and that if there was only one person living on earth, Jesus would have still come to die for the redemption of that individual. For Mary alone who said yes, God the Son would still have undertaken the incarnation and accepted his sacrificial death for the sake of her alone. Mary however represents the church as the bride of Christ whose profession of love is explicit in the responsorial Psalm for today which we did not read. I would recommend you read this Psalm 45, during your personal spiritual reading or Lectio. It is a love song that would be helpful to situate in the context of the love of God and God’s people the church.

Despite our struggles and despite the sinfulness of the individual members of the church, she still remains Holy, all beautiful, all pure and united in baptism all of us become worthy recipients of God’s enduring love and mercy. We also receive grace in abundance and the Lord is with us. This enables us to respond to the obedience and love of Christ with an answering obedience of our own.

We should therefore pray hard and always so that we may in obedience and love come to know the will of God for us, and the portion of the Letter to the Hebrews that we read this morning tells us that… “God’s will is for us to be made holy, by the offering of his body, made once and for all by Jesus Christ”. Hebrews10:10.

William R. Newell, a Bible teacher and a Commentator on the Book of Romans summarizes our life with the Incarnate Son of God with the following hymn that he composed one day in 1895 on his way to teach a Bible class….

Years I spent in vanity and pride Caring not my Lord was crucified Knowing not it was for me He died On Calvary! Mercy there was great and grace was free Pardon there was multiplied to me There my burdened soul found liberty At Calvary! By God’s words at last my sin I learned Then I tremble at the law I’d spurned Till my guilty soul imploring turned To Calvary! O the Love that drew salvation’s plan O the grace that brought it down to man O the mighty gulf that God did span At Calvary! Mercy there was great and grace was free Pardon there was multiplied to me There my burdened soul found liberty At Calvary! Now I’ve giv’n to Jesus everything Now I glady have Him as my King Now my raptured soul can only sing Of Calvary! Mercy there was great and grace was free Pardon there was multiplied to me There my burdened soul found liberty At Calvary! (William R. Newell, pub.1895)

Sunday, March 20, 2022

Lent 3 C - March 20, 2022

Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY

Br. Bernard Delcourt, OHC

Lent 3 C - March 20, 2022

At the beginning of Lent, on Ash Wednesday, we are reminded of our mortality; “remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” And Saint Benedict, in his rule, enjoins his monks “To keep death daily before one's eyes” (RB 4:47). These instructions are given out of love and not morbidity. They are to remind us of our need to turn around towards God and make progress in that direction while we have a chance. ***** Today’s gospel reminds us that we do not get to choose either the time or the manner of our death. Death comes to us on its own terms. In today’s gospel, Jesus also warns us that the time and manner of our death says nothing on how good we are in the eyes of God. We all shall die some day and we are all sinners. We all fall short of how we could love God and neighbor. But as long as we are alive, we are given new opportunities to turn to God and to consent to God’s healing action in our lives. ***** An “act of God” is a legal term for events outside human control, such as sudden natural disasters, for which no one can be held responsible. It’s convenient shorthand in legal language to name it an act of God, but it is theologically unsound. No act of evil whether natural, political or personal can be imputed to God. God does not cause evil or hurt. Evil causes evil and hurt. Sin happens all the time and sin, by definition, is not God’s will. So whether natural or human-caused, I do not believe that hurtful occurrences are God’s retribution for our sin. It would be tempting to want God to act as a comic strip superhero stopping every evil act or hurtful phenomenon. But in that case, we would no longer have free will. We would no longer be able to freely do what is good. We would no longer be able to embrace God with a love that we voluntarily initiate and direct to God and neighbor. God tolerates evil because he wills that his children freely will or choose to live with him and according to his ways. Being free children of God requires our freedom of choice and our being exposed to all the risks that being alive implies. We are not a puppet on a string and that comes with the risks of having autonomy of will; one of which is the ability to sin and even cause evil. ***** So catastrophes and evil do happen. Bad things happen. The news cycle makes sure we never forget about that. And those things happen to all kinds of people. Good people and “bad people” alike are the victims of catastrophes. We do not need to ask whether they deserved what came to them. And attributing their ill fate to sin is just a way of making ourselves feel superior. We are all sinners anyway. Victims of catastrophes are not worse sinners than we are. They are sinners as we are; on average, no more, no less. When we escape catastrophe, we are not morally better than those who perished or got hurt. We are just lucky. And we receive the grace of living a little longer to bear good fruit in our lives. ***** And that is what the parable of the fig tree can teach us; bear good fruit while you can. We do not know the length of our life. In the light of eternity, our lives are short. We should use every moment well. We are called to live every day as fully as we can. If we lose sight of eternity we can be lulled into thinking that we have plenty of time, that we can reform later, and that for now we can do as we please. Procrastinating is not a good idea though. In the end, God may not look kindly on parasites. The fig tree that year after year produces nothing good, but only takes up space, time, and natural resources is a symbol for willfully unproductive human beings. These are the takers, the consumers, the parasites. They take out resources from the environment, but put nothing useful back in. The world and people exist simply to meet their needs. Does this paint the picture of a society we know? The parable teaches that nothing will survive that merely takes out and gives nothing in return. That is the definition of a parasite. True, we all draw strength and sustenance from a soil not our own by God’s grace, but we are to bear fruit so that others may draw from us. The parable teaches that we may get a second chance, or a third, or more, but eventually comes the final chance. *****

On a personal note, I am an adept of the doctrine of universal salvation. Universal salvation, or Christian universalism, is the doctrine that all sinful and alienated human souls—because of divine love and mercy—will ultimately be reconciled to God. I imagine that our triune Godhead, through the living experience of Jesus, has a deeply human yet divinely infinite mercy and love. In the end, I believe, we will be judged and found lacking, but God’s mercy will prevail. Jesus will be our advocate. He will show how we availed ourselves of his help in our life. He will point out the good fruit we bore. And he will ask for forbearance for our shortcomings. When I was growing up as a little Roman Catholic boy, I was taught about Purgatory. I do not believe in a purgatory, where the souls of sinners suffer in expiation of their sin. But I imagine something like remedial classes in loving like God loves. I imagine that being in the presence of the all-loving God will be enough to make us regret our sins and finally fully turn towards God; call it ultimate conversion, ultimate metanoia. I hope, for the benefit of obdurate sinners, that God will give us our last chance at conversion even beyond death. Those who, even at that stage, will adamantly want to further reject God’s abundant and free love will indeed be removed from the presence of God. And an eternity of that will be hell indeed. But the biblical record is mixed on this issue of salvation and there is also plenty in the bible to support the idea of damnation of some, or even many. So conversion in our lifetime could be a prudent choice. Don’t you think? But even more compellingly for me, we should tread the path of conversion out of sheer love for the God who showers us with his grace and mercy in this life and beyond. So I enjoin you, repent and turn towards the God who loves you beyond all human knowing while you still have your living. It will give you a full and abundant life, even now. Amen.