In 1973 an adventurous explorer named Peter Matthiessen set out on a journey by foot to the Crystal Mountain on the Tibetan Plateau of northwest Nepal.i The trip was to accompany George Schaller, a zoologist who had planned the expedition to study the Himalayan blue sheep called “bharal.” The Buddhist lamas had forbidden people to molest these sheep. And so, where the sheep were numerous, there was bound to appear that rarest and most beautiful of the great cats, the snow leopard. In the previous 25 years, only two westerners – George Schaller, this zoologist, being one of them – had laid eyes on the Himalayan snow leopard. For Peter Matthiessen, the hope of glimpsing this near-mythic feline beast in the mountains of Nepal was reason enough for the arduous journey lasting a number of months. Continue reading
2 Kings 4:42-44; Psalm 145:10-19; Ephesians 3:14-21; John 6:1-21
Our worship of God finds its fullest expression in the celebration of the Holy Eucharist. It is the offering through which we return thanks for all that God has given us in creation, and in our redemption through the pouring out of Christ’s life-blood on the cross. In this sacrifice of bread and wine all that we do and are is joined by the Holy Spirit to the eternal offering of Christ on behalf of the world. It is the meal which intensifies our union with Christ, draws us together as a community, and nourishes us with the grace needed for our transformation and our mission. It is the mystery through which we are caught up into the communion of saints on earth and in heaven, the mystical Body of Christ. It is the gift through which we experience a foretaste of the life to come.
The Rule of the Society of St. John the Evangelist
If you have been reading the papers or watching the news, you will know something of the unfolding drama, set right here in Cambridge, between the professor and the policeman—and which now, unfortunately, includes the president and the press—and probably too many other people. The ensuing parallel monologues—no dialogue here—of the primary parties, recorded with painstaking detail by the media, have generated a lot of heat, but very little light. And whatever else we may eventually learn from this sad affair, it surely serves as a reminder of the power of language and of words. What words are said, how those words are said, by whom and to whom those words are said. There is a lot at stake because words, in what ever context, matter. Words matter. Continue reading
If we were to do a survey of images for God (and by extension, for Jesus) found in the Scriptures, surely the word shepherd would be near the top of the list. Given the pervasive presence of shepherds and sheep in the Middle East, this is not really a surprise. It is today and has been for thousands of years a culturally relevant metaphor, and makes immediate sense in that context. But in North America, not so much. In fact, if we really understood what shepherds do, we might reconsider our fondness of the image. Continue reading
In our culture, the pressures to be busy all the time are intense. Our own Rule of Life acknowledges we brothers are as vulnerable as you or anyone else to the danger of conforming or adapting to our culture of hyperactivity and stress, of being “on” all the time.i
In the Genesis creation account, after heaven and earth are created, God creates the first sanctuary. Surprisingly, this sanctuary is not a sanctuary of place, but rather a sanctuary of time. God hallows time. “And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy.” ii This is the holiness of time. The Sabbath imposes a cadence of rest and re-creation in the course of all the labor that fills our lives. (I’m drawing here on the insight of the great rabbi, Abraham Joshua Heschel.) The Sabbath, as a day of rest and a day for abstaining from toil, is not for the purpose of recovering one’s lost strength and becoming fit for more labor. The Sabbath is a day for the sake of life. To be human is not like being a beast of burden, and the Sabbath is not for the purpose of enhancing the efficiency of one’s work. In the Genesis account, the Sabbath is the final day of creation: “Last in creation, first in intention.” The Sabbath is “the end of the creation of heaven and earth.” iii
Few of us experience God’s call as dramatically as Moses did, yet there are several elements to his story that may help us discern how God may be calling us. I’d like to mention four things worth noting in this story:
2 Samuel 6: 1 – 5, 12b – 19
Ephesians 1: 3 – 14
Mark 6: 14 – 29
There is a wonderful tradition in the church, more familiar in the churches of the Orthodox east than in the west, but one which we catch glimpses of none the less. That tradition is of the holy fool; people who make themselves look foolish in the eyes of the world for the sake of their devotion to Christ. Here in the west, Francis of Assisi is often thought of as one of Christ’s fools.
We catch occasional glimpses of this foolishness for God in scripture, including in today’s lesson from Samuel where we watch David danced with wild abandon before the ark of God and not (if you’ll pardon the expression) giving a damn what people (and least of all his wife) thought.
Jacob was a rather shrewd scoundrel. His latest coup was to trick his father. Jacob knew it was the father’s prerogative and power to bestow a blessing upon his eldest son, such a blessing, highly significant and irrevocable. By means of deception, Jacob himself co-opts the blessing intended for his brother, Esau. Jacob receives the blessing, but it comes at a near-crippling cost because he does not have the stature to carry the blessing.
You may have noticed that my brothers have allowed me to choose a different gospel lesson from the one designated for this day. I chose this passage from Matthew because I want to talk about judgment. Now before you say, “Oh-oh, what are we in for now,” I want to assure you that I rarely deliver ‘fire and brimstone’ sermons and that, in spite of my background as a Calvinist, I am not likely to preach a sermon entitled “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.”i Judgment is not a favorite theme of mine.
This sermon is available only in audio format.
Graffiti found in an alley of the old city of Jerusalem – “We need peace.”
I’ve just had a meeting with a group of people interested in forming a Boston area chapter of Kids4Peace. Kids4Peace (K4P) is an organization that began a few years ago in Israel/Palestine at St. George’s College in Jerusalem. SSJE’s work with St. George’s as chaplains for many courses brought us into contact with the K4P program and its founder, Dr. Henry Carse
K4P is a fascinating undertaking. Kids from Jerusalem 10-12 years of age representing the three Abrahamic faiths of Judaism, Christianity and Islam gather regularly for activities and conversations designed to foster better understanding and genuine mutual regard. In the summer, the Jerusalem kids come to America for camp experiences with kids of the same age. As a promotional brochure puts it: “By celebrating the differences and similarities between their cultures and faith traditions, these children are taking a step toward global understanding and peace.”
I am sure many of you are aware of the Society’s current missionary work in Tanzania and Kenya. But you may not know of our early work in South Africa, both in Capetown and in the Transkei area of the East Cape. The Society of Saint John the Evangelist was founded in 1866 as a society of missionaries and the ministry of the Society was intended to be missionary work, both domestic and abroad
Its organization was modeled on that of St. Vincent de Paul’s Company of Mission Priests, founded in France in the mid 17th century. Within four years of the founding of SSJE, a missionary province had been opened in the United States, and in 1874 the Society established a base in India. It was not until 1883, however, that the Society began its work in South Africa, when Fr. Frederick William Puller arrived in Capetown to serve as chaplain to the All Saints Sisters of the Poor, who ran a hostel for girls and a medical mission which included the care of lepers on Robben Island. The Society started the parish of St. Philip the Deacon and built a school. The work in Capetown was primarily with native Africans, mainly migrants from countries to the north; and “coloreds,” which included all other non-whites—Malays, East Indians, and persons of mixed blood. Virtually all of these were men who had left their families and had crowded into Capetown seeking work. To provide them housing and to serve as a evangelical base, Fr. Puller established St. Columba’s Hostel in 1886. It was through St. Columba’s that Bernard Mizeki, a native of Mozambique, became a Christian, was trained as a catechist and sent as a missionary to Mashonaland (now Zimbabwe).
“From the earliest days God has given members of our Society the calling and gifts for the ministry of spiritual direction.” (Rule of the Society: Chapter 30.)
The ministry of spiritual direction is very rewarding. The exercise of this ministry is for me a deeply humbling experience and one which I never take for granted. As the Benedictine writer Matthias Neumann put it, “It is an immense responsibility to take on the guidance of human lives, especially the sifting, discerning, and supporting of the inner-most secrets of hearts.”
In the monastery here in Cambridge we have several rooms set aside for spiritual direction. Many of the brothers meet with individuals regularly, perhaps once a month, over several years. We also offer directed retreats where we welcome a person to spend a few days with us and give them the opportunity to meet with a brother several times during their stay. At other times a person will ask to meet with a brother just once in order to receive guidance about a particular issue in their life with God.