This afternoon, I want to say two things about angels and encounters with angels. First, that it seems to me that all angelic encounters are first and foremost about being open to the Other and intimacy with otherness.1 And second, that the mission of angels is bound up with the presence of both light and shadow in each of our lives and that all of our lives are bound up in angelic realms.
Talking about angels pushes us into that most remarkable region of the human mind that is able to entertain ideas and experiences that exceed our conceptual grasp. Belief and myth fall into this region. Religion was born in a world that had little use for the modern idea that belief has to do with intellectual assent to hypothetical and dubious propositions. Belief in its spiritual sense means to “prize, to value; to hold dear.” It’s a heart movement not a head movement, having much more in common with intuition than rational thought. It is closely connected to the concept of faith which in its biblical sense means “trust, loyalty, engagement, commitment.” Jesus set great store on faith but he wasn’t at all interested in whether people believed in him in the sense that we most often use that word. He wanted commitment not intellectual assent.2 Continue reading
“Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but much more now in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” Philippians 2:12-13
“By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” Matthew 21:23
Jesus is pressed on his authority. Who gave him authority to speak and act as he did? God did. The God whom Jesus calls “Father” gave him the authority that we as Christians accept and believe. However the majority of humankind, down through the centuries, are quite different when it comes to matters of religion. The majority of humankind do not experience God, understand the works of God, pray to God, give a name to God the way we do who profess to be Christians. Continue reading
We brothers have been thinking a lot about ‘time’ this year. In fact, we’ve chosen ‘time’ to be the overall theme for our Saturday workshops and for our Lenten video series, which we are filming this week. So it’s – “timely” – that this reading from Ecclesiastes should come up today.
We’ve chosen to think about time because so many people in our culture today wrestle with time. For many there doesn’t seem to be enough time. They race from one thing to the next, always battling the clock, frantically trying to get the items on their “to do” lists finished before time runs out. There seems to be very little time to simply enjoy life, to savor it, and delight in it. And, contrary to what many might imagine about our life here, monks are not exempt from these pressures. We too face the challenge of using time well. Continue reading
Here is my sermon preached this morning. As I prayed and thought with the first reading, from the Book of Proverbs, the words “be attentive” made me remember having read that phrase mentioned in regard to the Lonergan Method in a book on Mystical Theology by Fr. William Johnston, S.J. I don’t think I know any more about the Lonergan Method than what I have mentioned in the sermon, but I think even using those key words I have mentioned can be useful for prayer and meditation in order to grow in our understanding of God’s love.
[Prov. 4:1-9 / Lk 8:16-21]
The beginning verses of the reading from the Book of Proverbs gives a way of looking at the reputation for holiness and humility seen in Sergius, the Russian Saint whom we commemorate today. In the first verse of the reading the word is followed shortly by the words, (Prov. 4:1) The first of these draws attention to the second. This phrase is part of a way of considering the Love of God called the Lonergan transcendental method. Continue reading
The New Jerusalem Bible’s version of the psalm for today, psalm 24 translates the Hebrew four-letter code for God’s name as “Yahweh,” a name so Holy that in Jewish tradition it’s not pronounced while reading scripture. As I read I’ll replace the word “Yahweh” with other kinds of “non-names” since the reminder that we’re referencing the unknowable, unnamable Holy One is important, and it’s a fact ancient Jewish listeners would have been aware of. Continue reading
“What do you want to be when you grow up?” Many of us may have been asked this question, and maybe we’ve asked this question. We ask it to inspire children and young adults to dream, to give them hope, and to open their eyes to a world of possibilities. We ask this question to make young people aware of the freedom and responsibility they have in forming their own identity. “What do you want to be when you grow up?” But, we also this question to set limits. To make clear that though faced at times with a dizzying array of options and possibilities, one cannot do everything. One must choose what one wants to be, and that always means not choosing something else. “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Continue reading
One of the biggest fads to hit social media as of late is the computer ‘meme.’ A lot of you may know what I’m talking about, but for those who are less tech savvy: a ‘meme’ is a picture or video produced with a certain inspirational message that is passed on through social media such as personal blogs or Facebook. These modern day “motivational posters” might have a picture of a beautiful Robin with an earthworm hanging from its beak, and at the bottom of the picture the popular proverb: “The early bird catches the worm!” The saying seems reasonable and there is no arguing that this responsible bird and its chicks will be fed. Recently my friends started sharing a meme that had a photo of a small, rather awkward looking bird with big glaring eyes, disheveled feathers, and an oversized beak that made it look like it was frowning. The message accompanying the picture said “I woke up early…….there was no worm!” Continue reading
1 Cor. 12:12, 14, 27-31/Psalm 100/Luke 7:11-17
I had to consult the Great Google to jog my memory, but I’ve actually visited the village of Nain, where the widow’s son was raised. Today it’s a non-descript Arab village in the Galilee, not far from Nazareth. I don’t think there’s a Christian community there anymore, but there is a small chapel built by the Crusaders, probably over the ruins of a Byzantine shrine. If I remember correctly, a Muslim family are caretakers of the church and unlock the door for visitors.
Luke’s account of raising the widow’s son has similarities with the raising of Lazarus in John’s Gospel. John calls the miracles of Jesus signs, signs pointing beyond themselves to something greater. The miracles were great; but they point to something greater. These raisings from the dead point to one of the two great mysteries of our faith: Resurrection. We believe in Resurrection; that is, literally, “standing up again”. The Resurrection of Jesus and the Resurrection of human beings. Continue reading
Today we celebrate the central image of our faith, the cross. This stark means of torture reminds us we all will suffer and we all will die. “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain. But if it dies, it bears much fruit.” (1) In dying we live. Most anything would be more palatable. Nothing is so essential. Jesus’ death on the cross saves us. We must die, surrender, daily in order to live.
When I first served as a hospital chaplain, the cross became more real and meaningful as I listened to much heartache. I realized that Jesus was listening to the same heartache but not for a few minutes and not for just a few people. Jesus knows everyone and listens to everyone’s heart, to everyone in the hospital, to everyone around the world in all kinds of suffering. Jesus draws the whole world to himself with a loving ear in a listening embrace. Continue reading
It’s difficult to see clearly when you have a log in your eye. Apparently.
But it’s difficult to remove the log unless you can recognize what it is that is interfering with your ability to see clearly. The log in our eye may be some hidden prejudice, perhaps rooted in fear, that prevents our seeing a person as he or she is. Or perhaps it is some bias that is rooted in the way we were brought up and conditioned to respond to others. Or it might be some disordered attachment that gets in the way: there is something or someone that we want and this thing that we think we need to be happy colors the way we view others. Or perhaps it’s a label that we’ve attached to this person or group of people that is preventing us from seeing who they really are. Or it may be that our strongly-held convictions or beliefs are getting in the way. Continue reading
Jesus’ command to “love our enemies” is one of the most familiar of his sayings, but what does this form of love actually look like? Br. Nicholas Bartoli recalls an important incident from his own childhood that has provided him with a key to understanding the kind of love to which God calls us. “It’s not about treating our enemies a certain way, it’s about the fruits of relating to each other, to everyone, in the fullness of Christ’s love.”
I remember when I was a young boy, I think it was sixth grade or so, and our class was filing out of school at the end of the day. The girl in front of me, Tina, dropped some books on the ground. Now, among my grade school peers I was on the lowest rung of the social pecking order, so in hindsight perhaps I should have known better. But, acting without thinking, Little Nick picked up her books and handed them to her. In response she looked at me with contempt and spit in my face, supported by the laughter of her girlfriends. I can remember Little Nick feeling confused, hurt, and ashamed. When I was older and remembered that incident I always felt very angry at Tina.
Jesus says love our enemies and our reward will be great. We will be children of the Most High. That sounds great, but loving our enemies can seem pretty hard sometimes if not totally impossible. I mean, are we supposed to not get angry at injustices and do nothing? Continue reading
Here is the sermon that I preached Wednesday noon at the Monastery. In the beginning I had thought that I would give a very brief account of Fr. Peck’s life and work and then speak more extensively about what the Japanese theologian, Kosuke Koyama had said about the “Great Commission” not being just “go” on mission, but “go therefore” in the spirit of Jesus’ sacrificial offering on the cross. But as I wrote I realized that would introduce too many distracting themes, and miss the point of honoring the pioneer mission work of Edmund Peck among the Inuit in Northern Canada. I did incorporate the idea of “go therefore”, but I concentrated on the main theme.
1 Jn 5:6-12 / Mt. 28:16-20
The life of Edmund Peck is a good example of the work of the Holy Spirit.
He began life in a worker’s tenement in Manchester, England and entered the Royal Navy while still a child, something quite common in those times. Continue reading
A few years ago, a friend of mine told me about how one Sunday morning his son aged thirteen or fourteen didn’t come down for breakfast. He yelled up the stairs and got a faint groan. Ten minutes before they were supposed to be out the door to church, Greg walked into the kitchen, disheveled, still in his bathrobe, and said he wasn’t going to church. “I don’t want to do this church thing today.” To which his father replied, “Nope, son, no choice about that in this family. Church is who we are.”
My friend was right. Whether it’s right to force thirteen year olds to go to church, I can’t say. I’m not a parent and that I should ever be one seems, well, let me say, dubious at best. But I believe that my friend spoke Truth when he said that Church is who we are. Continue reading
In today’s lesson we hear a story that showcases an essential piece of Jesus’ message. I say essential because Matthew, Mark, and Luke all include this same story in their accounts of the gospel. Jesus and his disciples were followed by crowds who were sick, homeless, outcasts because of their caste, economic status, or because of choices they had made in their lives. The people who surrounded Jesus were starving for good news. But Jesus was also followed by his critics, the Pharisees, Temple authorities who had a particular obsession with keeping the religious Law to the letter. They were educated, wealthy, upper-class, people of means……and they were also starving for good news. And so it’s no mistake that food is at the center of today’s gospel lesson. Continue reading
Jesus is using “mixed metaphors” when talking about what is old and what is new: old cloth and new wine. Very different metaphors.
Cloth needs to be patched when it is worn out or frayed. Jesus presumes we don’t simply toss out what is old. We keep it and patch it and continue to use it. Jesus is speaking symbolically about claiming our past, about being on good speaking terms with our own past. Jesus promises to be with us always, and that’s from the start until the end of our life.
In the wear and tear of your life, there’s going to be frays or holes of need. They are bound to happen. The fabric of your life will feel torn when someone dies, or when a relationship ends, or when you feel disappointed or hurt, or when you don’t get what you wanted or imagined. When some new tear or hole appears in the fabric of your life, remember your past, draw on your past, how you’ve been provided for, sustained, protected, healed, empowered up until now. Sooner or later, something is going to get ripped in your soul. It happens. When it happens, remembering and reclaiming your past will help you stitch help into the present and hope for the future. In the wear and tear of your life, when a fray or hole of need appears, remember your past. The patch comes from the past, from the old, well-worn cloth of your past. Continue reading
1 Thessalonians 5: 21b-24 | Psalm 126 | Luke 12:4-12
Many of you who have heard me preach over the years will know that I grew up in St. Mary’s Anglican Church, Regina. St. Mary’s had been founded about the time of the First War as an alternative to the Cathedral and at one time would have described itself as a cassock – surplice –and –stole, cross, but no candlesticks, Holy Communion second and fourth Sundays and Morning Prayer all the other Sundays sort of place. The Cathedral on the other hand had … wait for it … candles on the altar! My grandmother remembers the rector sometime in the 1940’s putting candles on the altar at St. Mary’s. When he asked her what she thought, her response was they looked pretty. Obviously others didn’t. The candles disappeared a week later.
St. Mary’s was a small town sort of Church. My grandparents attended the “early” service and we the later one. We went to public school with many of the kids who were in Sunday school with us and one year my Sunday school teacher was also my grade 1 teacher. My father served on the vestry and as a sidesman with men he had grown up and gone to school with and the children of people, who went to Sunday school with him, were now in Sunday school with my siblings and me. Continue reading
We are probably more aware than any previous generation of how we have polluted and exploited our beautiful planet. Every day, the news brings fresh evidence of the ravages humans have exacted upon the spaces we inhabit. We recognize now that we are in the midst of an ecological crisis.
What we are, perhaps, slower to recognize is that our ecological crisis also reflects a theological crisis. The earth we have polluted is none other than God’s creation. The Book of Genesis expresses in unforgettable language the great act of creation: With power and love, God brings forth dry land from the watery void, and in successive stages creates a wondrous world filled with every kind of plant and animal, and at creation’s climax, makes humankind. To these humans is entrusted the incalculably important task of caring for this dazzlingly complex and precious work of God. “Let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.”(1) Continue reading
Q: When did you first have a sense of your own vocation?
I grew up in the age of cheap gasoline. There was a gas station down the street from where I lived, and I have a distinct memory that the gas was twenty-nine cents a gallon. When gasoline was cheap, a favorite family pastime was to go for rides. Sometimes our rides took us to attend Vespers at St. Joseph’s Abbey in Spencer, Massachusetts, which was about forty miles from where I grew up. This was still in the day when the Roman Catholic liturgy was in Latin, and there was an area in the chapel that was screened in with curtains, because the monks were still under strict cloister. I remember that, from the extern area, you had a view of the altar but couldn’t see the choir monks. I was fairly small; I could peer through the opening in the curtain.
When I had my first thought about being a monk, I was probably about seven years old. I remember looking through the curtain down the nave of the abbey church, which seemed huge to me, to where I could see the monks at the far end of the choir in their white robes. There probably were about seventy monks at the time, so there were a lot of these white bodies down at the end. And I just remember having the thought, “That’s what I want to be when I grow up.” Continue reading
Richard Meux Benson was born in 1824 in London and studied at Christ Church, Oxford University. In 1866, together with two other Anglican priests, he founded the Society of Saint John the Evangelist, “a small body to realize and intensify the gifts and energies belonging to the whole Church.” SSJE became the first stable religious community for men in the Anglican Church since the Reformation, patterned on the missionary vision of St. Vincent de Paul, the spirituality of St. Ignatius of Loyola, and the corporate prayer of Benedictine monasticism. Father Benson was a contemplative and a mystic; he was also a tireless evangelist and retreat leader. His prolific preaching, teaching, and writing often focused on God’s glory and our life-long conversion to Christ. “We cannot bound into the depths of God at one spring; if we could we should be shattered, not filled. God draws us on.” He understood God’s revelation as continuous and ongoing. “Faithfulness to tradition does not mean mere perpetuation or copying of ways from the past, but a creative recovery of the past as a source of inspiration and guidance in our faithfulness to God’s future, the coming reign of God.”
For this article, we asked four of the men in our novitiate to select a favorite quote from Father Benson and comment briefly on it. Continue reading