Being Born from Above – Br. Jonathan Maury

Br. JJonathan MauryGenesis 12:1-4a
Psalm 121
Romans 4:1-5, 13-17
John 3:1-17

Though cautiously doing so by night, still, Nicodemus feels compelled to come to Jesus. This elder, a respected leader among the religious authorities, comes to see the mysterious rabbi from Galilee. However, mere curiosity does not motivate Nicodemus’ visit. He seems, rather, to be one of the “many [who] believed in [Jesus’s] name because they saw the signs that he was doing” (John 2:23) during that first Jerusalem Passover festival at which Jesus appears in John’s gospel.

“Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.”(John 3:2) Nicodemus, I would say, exhibits a certain amount of courage and imagination. Courage in approaching Jesus in the wake of his disruptive action in the temple; imagination in that though there is much that Nicodemus already knows of God, he comes to Jesus aware that there is likely still much that he does not know. Continue reading

Divine Leisure: Joining God in the Cosmic Sandbox

SSJE132

 In the first creation story told in the Book of Genesis, God’s spirit broods over the waters of chaos and speaks the universe into being, “Let there be light”—the first day of God’s creating work. Over a succession of five days, God continues creating—dry land, the dome of the heavens, winged birds, earthly creatures and humankind—and blessing everything that God has brought into being, pronouncing it all “very good.”

Then comes the seventh day: “And on the seventh day God finished the work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all the work that he had done.” After much creative labor, God takes “a day off,” simply to enjoy the fruits of this work and delight in all that creativity. “So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work that he had done in creation.”

Though enshrined in the Hebrew Scriptures as the Sabbath, a weekly day of rest, the rhythm of activity and leisure, creation and recreation, remains as countercultural in our present moment as it was in the world of our ancestors in faith. Continue reading

The Rule of the Fellowship

SSJE132As Director of the Fellowship of Saint John, over the years I have received – from committed members of the FSJ and from probationers trying the rule – a request to temporarily suspend their participation in the Fellowship. Most often the reason given is a perceived inability to “keep up” with their personal version of a rule of life. In the past, I’ve been inclined to accept this view without argument. But more recently I’ve tended to push back. Here’s my reason why.

In the gospels, Jesus is criticized for failing to “Keep the Sabbath day holy,” both for his acts of healing and for his disciples’ “work” on the Sabbath in plucking grain to eat. Jesus answers his critics by stating that God’s loving desire to help and heal all creatures overrides a rigid interpretation of the written law. Jesus teaches that the Sabbath observance is a gift of God: the Sabbath was created to serve humanity, not humanity to serve the Sabbath.

Similarly, I’ve come to believe that keeping a personal rule of life is to be seen as a gift of God, a way for becoming fully alive in Christ. By means of our baptism into Christ’s continuous dying and rising, we participate in God’s own life as members of a beloved and redeemed community. Thus the FSJ rule is not a task by which to achieve some self-styled perfection, but an invitation to companionship with God, the SSJE Brothers, and other members. The moment when we’re feeling least able to “keep” our personal rule on our own is the very time to breathe deeply of God and ask for help to creatively, lovingly adapt the rule to our present circumstances.

I wonder if there might be readers of Cowley who have delayed or denied themselves the chance to become members of the Fellowship for similar reasons, out of a sense that they were not somehow, or in some way, “enough” just at this moment: not committed enough, not prepared enough, and so on. If so, I would encourage you: Consider whether becoming a member of the Fellowship might be, not a marker of your arrival at some destination, but a way of a joining companions on the journey. We truly are joined to the Fellowship, even when – and perhaps especially when – during difficult times and fear of failure, we gratefully accept it as Christ’s gift for us.

To learn more or apply to become a member of the FSJ, visit www.SSJE.org/fsj

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A Disciple, Gloriously Transformed: St. Vincent de Paul – Br. Jonathan Maury

Jonathan_Rejoice now“Consider your own call,” the Apostle Paul writes to the fledgling disciples of the Church in Corinth. Now of course Paul knows that every disciple’s call comes from Christ alone, that they are each and all chosen to serve and to be glorified in the one Lord. Yet Paul says, “Consider your own call.” From his own transformative encounter with the risen Christ, Paul also knows that each disciple’s vocation is unique. For just as each person is an image and likeness of the one God unlike any other, so too the circumstances, gifts, and mission of each disciple called into Christ’s mystical Body have a personally peculiar manifestation in each one. Paul says, “Consider your own call,” reminding us that each woman or man’s call will be transformed by God into a strikingly particular life of love and self-offering in Christ.

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Mary Magdalene – Br. Jonathan Maury

Jonathan Maury SSJEAs human beings and Christians, our life of faith and relationship has its source in divine Love who eternally delights in each one of us as an image and likeness of God unlike any other. God’s yearning for companionship and union with all creatures has been, is now and always will be drawing us into the fullness of our created being, into the glory of the divine Life itself. Even now, divine yearning is active drawing us into community, to experience relationship with God and one another through shared worship and service. The present reality of our connectedness to one another in God, therefore, also rests on the foundation of all those who have gone before us as believers. There are some whom we have known personally, who have been instrumental in forming us in the love of Christ and our neighbor. Continue reading

Taking Time for Reconciliation: A call to retreat – Br. Jonathan Maury

If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself… entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.  –2 Corinthians 5:17-20

In Christ, each of us is made a minister of reconciliation in the realizing of God’s vision for a new creation in which all creatures are made one with God and each other, freed from the bonds of evil and death. Grace-filled, transforming reconciliation, therefore, both within our own selves and with others, always takes place in partnership with the One who first brought us into being. God has always been reaching out to us and continues to reach out to us, yearning for companionship with us. In this longing, we can see that the essence of both the divine life and our created nature is to be in relationship. In Christ, God has been revealed as a community of reciprocal self-offering love, the Holy Trinity. Thus we, made in the image and likeness of God, can only come to be fully reconciled in and alive to our created dignity through relationship with God. We, like God, find the fullest expression of who we are in community, so our relationships with one another also have their source in God. We become truly who we are only in relationship to others. In lives committed to loving ourselves and one another as God loves us, we fulfill the ministry of reconciliation by beholding and honoring the image of Christ in every person.

6795590081_05f384fcde_oJesus Christ is the exemplar and embodiment of the ministry of reconciliation. Fully human and at one with God, Jesus chooses to bear in himself the misunderstandings and rejections that mar and distort human relationships, and he takes the risk of personal vulnerability and loss in order to redress our brokenness. Jesus looks at the disciples gathered around him and says, “These are my brothers, my sisters, my mother,” that we might come to understand ourselves, in relationship to him and one another, as having been adopted into the family of God. Jesus teaches that relationships involve the exercise of tough love and the willingness to forgive – even before those who have wronged us seek forgiveness. Jesus commands us to forgive as many as “seventy times seven,” to expose ourselves to the same vulnerability toward others in which he lives. It is much easier to avoid difficult relationships and to ignore within ourselves the same traits we despise in others. But Jesus calls us to live into the fullness of our humanity, to embrace what we, in our brokenness, experience as physical, psychic, or spiritual limitations. Jesus urges that, rather than seeking to be cured of our limitations, we ask God to heal us in them, and waken us to the spiritual gifts hidden in them. God desires that each of us live into the particular image of divinity which only we can be, and which God’s world needs in order to be reconciled.

One way to find renewed energy and desire for our role in God’s work of reconciliation is taking time for intimacy with Christ in silence and prayer. The chapter on retreat in the Society’s Rule of Life explains how times of retreat give us an opportunity to “celebrate the primacy of the love of God” in our lives as the sole focus of our attention. Regardless of how fragmented our lives may seem, how alienated from the world or at odds with others we may feel, retreat allows us inner space and time to know that we are beloved of God. Many guests in our houses remark on the experience of coming to a deeper knowledge of themselves and those around them in the silence of retreat. They are learning, as the Rule also says, to cherish “adoring love for the mystery of God,” to “honor the mystery present in the hearts of our brothers and sisters, strangers and enemies,” as well as to revere that mystery present in themselves through the indwelling of Christ. This kind of silence does not see the mystery of self or other as a problem to be solved or as something to be understood. Instead, in silence, we acknowledge the mystery of self and other, like that of God, as a wonder to be adored. Even in the absence of those with whom we seek to be reconciled, praying for them and practicing silence can help us come to truly love them.

Reconciliation takes place within us not so much by what we think as by who we allow God to help us to become. God calls us to emotional honesty with ourselves and others, and we can best find that disposition through intentional relationship with God. In the humility of silence, we can hear the voice which speaks in every human heart, and says, I cannot be the God I truly am without being fully in relationship with you. Times of retreat can help to awaken in us the desire for that time when all people will be drawn into that community of love which is the only God.

 

 

Formed by Community – Br. Jonathan Maury

Jonathan Maury SSJEToday’s scriptures parallel one another in presenting us with images of brothers in community. Genesis portrays the sons of Jacob who are blood brothers, though born of different mothers. In Matthew, Jesus is gathering a community of “brothers” as followers. Some of these are pairs of blood brothers, namely Peter and Andrew, James and John. The others in the group have been paired together as “brothers” to share with the blood brothers in Jesus’ itinerant ministry of exorcism and the healing of diseases. But this group of twelve also has a representative role. Their number and gender symbolize a reconstituted Israel, the nation of twelve tribes descended from the patriarch’s sons. They are being chosen and given authority to act as a focus for the gathering Jesus movement. In company with other “brothers”—and sisters too—they are being empowered to proclaim in word and deed that the kingdom of heaven has come near.

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Psalm 131 – Br. Jonathan Maury

Contemplative Humility: A Meditation on Psalm 131

O LORD, I am not proud;
I have no haughty looks.
I do not occupy myself with great matters,
or with things that are too hard for me.
But I still my soul and make it quiet,
like a child upon its mother’s breast;
my soul is quieted within me.
O Israel, wait upon the LORD,
from this time forth for evermore.

Apart from their grouping under a shared, descriptive superscription, “Song of Ascents,” the psalms numbered 120-134 seem a motley crew at first glance, unconnected, even fractious: some are individual laments, others collective thanksgivings; some laud the joys of domesticity while others the glories of the assembly at worship; communal doxologies contrast with a single penitent’s cry for divine mercy; personal pleas for deliverance from enemies are juxtaposed with hymns of gratitude for national protection.

Yet the designation “Song of Ascents” indicates their commonality and interrelationship, for all are psalms of pilgrimage – toward and into God. And as such they are hymns for an upward journey experienced on two levels simultaneously, the outer and visible, and the inner and unseen. Outer and visible, since pilgrims traveling on foot to Jerusalem, whether coming from north or south, east or west, must physically ascend through hill country. For though not itself one of earth’s great peaks, Mount Zion presents a sometimes arduous climb, whether approaching via Roman road or overland. But also inner and unseen, for pilgrimage entails a moment-by-moment commitment to rise to the new life which is God’s gift to us in Christ. The temple to which we make ascent is the Lord’s own crucified and risen body, of which we are members.

The “upward call of God in Christ Jesus” of which Paul speaks is made in humility in walking through life, day to day: feet treading the ground of reality, of paradox, upward ascent implying true groundedness. Humility stilling the soul (the word humility derives from humus, the soil, earth, and clay from which we come). Speaking of fears, trials, losses and hopes, dreams and lasting meaning. Making the ascent to God’s dwelling place in pilgrimage, we learn that it is very much within, trusting in humility as a child on its mother’s breast, nurtured, caressed, kissed, sung to, suckled.

Psalm 131 comes as an oasis on the way, a place of respite for the journey, a reminder of the Holy One who has preserved us in life to this very moment, and who promises life yet more abundant, even beyond our wildest imagination, when the pilgrimage ceases. This hymn of humility invites us to revel in remembrance of God’s love, which first brought us into being and which at this moment as always delights in our companionship.

“O Lord, I am not proud; I have no haughty looks,” we pray, first confessing our forgetfulness in acknowledging ourselves as entirely dependent on God alone, a vital truth which we often refuse through our illusion of self-sufficiency.

“I do not occupy myself with great matters, or with things that are too hard for me,” the Spirit prays from deep within. And though we have occupied and still do so occupy ourselves with reactive, unconsidered words or actions, the Source of all being invites us to rest from our striving and wait patiently upon Love.

“But I still my soul and make it quiet, like a child upon its mother’s breast; my soul is quieted within me.” Here in the midst of pilgrimage we come upon an image of God unique in the scriptures: God as the nursing, nurturing mother; God gently rocking and calming the weary and hungry child who seeks the security of unconditional love. We pray to return to the child-like dependence, even vulnerability, by which alone we enter the kingdom and the security of God’s embrace.

And so our journey in prayer comes full circle: “O Israel, wait upon the Lord, from this time forth for evermore.” We travel on in humility, joined to the community of God’s chosen, and knowing even now of our union with the One to whom we ascend. The stance of waiting is pregnant with expectation, the hopeful assurance of seeing things which are now hidden from our sight. It is to trust in God’s unfailing generosity, which ever provides not what we think we need, but what we actually need – in the right degree and at the right time. The unexpected is made visible to the contemplative heart, which watches and waits on God in all circumstances.

The Prayer I Need This Day: A Given and a Gift

I don’t actually remember a time in my life when I didn’t have an awareness of God as the creator and source of being.  A desire to be in relationship with this God seems always to have been in me. In addition to taking us regularly to church, our parents encouraged my two younger brothers and me to pray before bedtime using the traditional, “Now I lay me down to sleep.” They also invited us to add our own prayers for particular people as we felt a need, so a spontaneous and affective aspect to prayer developed in me somewhat naturally.  But I first became conscious of having an active prayer life – realized that I was speaking to God and hearing God’s voice – when I was an adolescent.  Keeping very much to myself in those days, I often took long bicycle rides around Nantucket Island. I’d stop on the moors or at the beach to commune with God, sometimes with words and sometimes without.  The Rule of the Society of Saint John the Evangelist expresses what I grew to know in those years with these words from Chapter 27: “The gift of silence we seek to cherish is chiefly that of adoring love for the mystery of God.”  From a very early age, I felt and sought this mystery.

Though the particulars of experience will differ for each person, as an individual image and likeness of God, I have come to believe that all human beings instinctively desire to seek and know God, and that God is drawing each of us into relationship through the Spirit’s gift of prayer.  At the same time, I also know the human tendency to shy away from, even resist out of fear, the loving intimacy of and with God which is prayer.  This paradoxical tension is articulated in Chapter 21 of our Rule, on “The Mystery of Prayer”: “There are many conflicts on the way into the experience of divine love… a deep wound to our humanity…hinders us all from accepting love. As the Spirit exposes it to Christ’s healing touch in prayer, we shall often have to struggle with our reluctance to be loved so deeply by God.”  Just as the innate desire to be present to and with God has a unique character in each person, so does this wound, too, take a particular form in each of us.  Even as our created nature impels us toward God, this primeval wound also causes us to resist being loved by God as deeply as we begin to perceive God loves us.  The opening lines of Francis Thompson’s “The Hound of Heaven” vividly portray the internal conflicting emotions of yearning and fear:

 

I fled Him, down the nights and down the days;

      I fled Him, down the arches of the years;

            I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways

                  Of my own mind; and in the mist of tears

                        I hid from Him, and under running laughter.

 

Up vistaed hopes I sped; And shot, precipitated,

      Adown Titanic glooms of chasmed fears,

            From those strong Feet that followed,

                  Followed after.

                     But with unhurrying chase, and unperturbèd pace,

                           Deliberate speed, majestic instancy

                                 They beat—and a Voice beat

                                       More instant than the Feet—

                                           “All things betray thee, who betrayest Me.”

 

We flee and yet wish to be captured; we fear being what we most desire.  We seek to know God and desire relationship with God, while shying away and disqualifying ourselves as unworthy of God’s embrace, of the integration and wholeness found only in divine Love.  At the point of encounter with God, we draw back, fearing the cost of – and yet yearning for – the transformation by which we may be made whole.

Jesus’ encounter at the Pool of Bethesda with a man who has lay there ill for thirty-eight years (John 5:1-18) is, for me, a paradigm of God’s unwavering pursuit of relationship with each one of us.  Jesus approaches this man as someone who has already come to know him better than any other.  And so Jesus’ first words are a question which cuts to the heart of the sick man’s predicament: “Do you want to be made well?”  The man’s response is, to my ears, a litany of complaints and reasons why this hasn’t happened (and perhaps can’t happen): “I’ve been here all these years, waiting for the healing waters to stir; but when they do there’s no one to help me get there, and someone else gets there first…”  It is as though the man is saying, Well, that might be a wonderful thing, but there are all sorts of reasons why this can’t (or shouldn’t) happen for poor me.  The Lord seems, nonetheless, to hear not the man’s words, but the thoughts of his heart.  “Stand up, take your mat and walk.”  And the man does, thus giving his unspoken “Yes” to God.

Each of us, too, wants to “be made well” at the core of our God-given being.  In spite of our reluctances, evasions, and sins, each human being deeply wants the health and wholeness that is possible only in the relationship with God which we call prayer.  I speak of  the prayer which is known in the simplicity of  being present to Presence, just as God, Presence, is always so to us.  All the diverse forms of prayer we might attempt – repetitive prayer, contemplative prayer, corporate prayer (and others surveyed at the end of this article) – have their root in the simple act of unselfconsciously being with God.  Even when we “give up” on prayer or say we “can’t” pray, we do so having already been drawn by and known by this Presence.  The Mystery who we call God has not left us, and is seeking us still, calling us to more authentic self and relationship.  Any desire to pray, however feeble, and every attempt at prayer, however halting, is prayer, for it is always God reaching out to us.  Every prayer, every desire, even our resistance is, in reality, our response to God’s kindling of yearning within us, in response to God’s own.  We may seek to repress that desire, or try to shield or distract ourselves from it.  But our flight in fear of unworthiness, in resistance, even in our turning elsewhere for meaning in life, God uses to draw us ever closer and deeper into the embrace of divine Love.

So what do I do to know and receive the prayer I need this day, the pray which the Spirit is giving me this day?  Show up. Show up. To paraphrase Woody Allen, “90% of prayer is just showing up.”  Enter into your daily prayer with the assurance that God is already there. If you’re showing up and giving yourself over to God during this time, then whatever happens is the Spirit’s gift of prayer for you today.  Sometimes you may be drawn to meditating on scripture or to “sitting” with an image or word, to intercession or spontaneous petition, even to contemplative prayer and a wordless silence.  At other times, we will experience distraction, which at its root is our resistance or shying away from what is being given to us.  It may not feel comfortable, may even be painful, because it’s not what we were expecting or wanting to happen, but it is the prayer which God is giving us this day.  If you feel even the feeblest desire to desire to pray, you already have received a gift of prayer.  For that fleeting wish is God stirring your heart, kindling your soul with God’s desire for deeper relationship with you.

God gives us the prayer we need.  Each day it will be the prayer for this season of our life. We receive each day, at each moment, what is best for us.  God gives us what we truly need rather than what we think we need, and prepares us for the next thing gradually, according to our present capacity to receive.  We can find an authentic peace in accepting the given-ness of prayer, even though what we are given is not what we may wish, even when what we receive disturbs us.  Whenever our experience of prayer feels dry, dull or disappointing, the simple act of “showing up” day by day is, in truth, the opening of our hearts to God, by God.  Even when we are not consciously praying or are avoiding prayer, still we are responding to the presence of God’s Spirit, deep within.  Whenever we respond to love, to need, or to beauty, we are always responding to the Love, the Voice and the Presence of God within us. We are being made whole by God – in our showing up, our being attracted or repulsed – however we may be seeking the silence “of adoring love for the mystery of God.”  God is not giving up on us.  Let God give you the gift of prayer you need this day.

A few of Br. Jonathan’s favorite prayer corner resources:

The Hymnal 1982
From my first days as a junior chorister, the church’s hymns have been a source of sung     devotion for me.  Hymn 698, “Eternal Spirit of the living Christ,” which I frequently use       to begin a time of prayer, also inspired this article.

Prayers and Meditations of St. Anselm with the Proslogion; ed. Sr. Benedicta Ward, SLG
Saturated with the vocabulary of the Psalms, Anselm’s prayers often move me into a         place of deep affectivity.  In his prayer to St. Mary Magdalene, he asks “my most dear Jesus” for the “bread of tears” in order to come to the “everlasting sight of your glory.”

The paintings of El Greco (Domenikos Theotokopoulos)
This native of Crete was a writer of icons in the Orthodox tradition and later influenced by Venetian painting.  Meditating on the beauty of this artist’s Crucifixion and   Resurrection (among many other works) moves me toward contemplative prayer.

The poems of Rabindranath Tagore
This Bengali poet’s lyrics speak to me about the “living God within” in an almost   Christological sense.  A favorite line: O master poet, I have sat down at thy feet. Only let       me make my life simple and straight, like a flute of reed for thee to fill with music.

Devotional gifts from family and friends
A varied range of small objects, handmade or from nature, move me to prayer of   gratitude, intercession, petition and, often, repentance.

Who do you say I am? – Br. Jonathan Maury

Ecclesiastes 3:1-11; Psalm 63:1-8; Luke 9:18-22

There is poignancy to the opening phrase of our gospel from Luke: “Once when Jesus was praying alone, with only the disciples near him…”

Already we have of Jesus praying in the Spirit several times in Luke:

‘When Jesus…had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, and… a voice came… ‘You are my…Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’ Continue reading

“Rejoice now!” in the light of Christ

A stone-struck flint flings forth a spark in a flash, igniting gnarled bits of twigs, which in turn gradually kindle dry wood into flame. Burning slowly, the dead wood is transformed into energy. Rising upward, gathering strength, the fire begins to dispel the pre-dawn darkness of the early spring night and to illumine the faces of the faithful who await the light. The white-and-gold vested Presider prays, “Sanctify this new fire, and grant that in this Paschal feast we may so burn with heavenly desires, that with pure minds we may attain to the festival of everlasting light.”

The towering pillar of wax is incised with the sign of the cross “Christ yesterday and today, the beginning and the end…” and marked with symbols of God’s eternal now “…the Alpha, and the Omega. All time belongs to him, and all the ages. To him be glory and power, through every age for ever.”  Grains of incense in red waxen nails, signs of God’s sacrifice, are inserted at the cross’ five points. “By his holy and glorious wounds may Christ the Lord guard us and keep us.”

Last year’s Paschal candle, marked with Alpha
and Omega, and pierced with grains of incense
in red waxen nails, signs of God’s sacrifice.

Lighting the great candle from the newly kindled fire, the Presider prays, “May the light of Christ rising in glory dispel the darkness of our hearts and minds.” The Deacon takes up the Paschal Candle and carrying it before the assembly, leads them from the garden into the still-darkened church. Stopping at three points and lifting high the great light, the Deacon intones, each time at a higher pitch: “The light of Christ.” At each station, the people respond, “Thanks be to God” and, as they enter the narthex, light their handheld candles. The waxen pillar of fire, placed in its stand at the center of the choir and censed with sweet-smelling smoke by the Deacon, becomes a glowing pillar of cloud as well.

And now the Deacon sings the Exsultet, the Easter proclamation of good news. Bathed in the light of Christ’s resurrection, those gathered in the candles’ radiance are invited to “Rejoice now” with the whole company of heaven, every creature on earth, and Mother Church in all places and times – at the victory over the powers of darkness won through the King who humbled himself unto death.

All are then bidden, “Lift up your hearts.” Christ is praised as the Paschal Lamb who by his blood delivers people, as the Hebrews were delivered from Egypt. The Paschal feast and sacrifice are likened to the Exodus: As the children of Israel were brought out of bondage through the Red Sea, so all who believe in Christ are delivered from sin and death and given new life through the waters of baptism. The poetic paradox that the “happy fault” of our first parents’ disobedience should bring to us “so great a Redeemer” recalls the words of Paul: “O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!” (Romans 11:33). And so the lighted candle, “the work of the bees your creatures,” is offered, set apart, and blessed as a sacramental sign for us of Christ the Morning-Star and Sun of Righteousness which never sets.

The Exsultet, our Easter hymn of ecstatic gratitude, like the Great Thanksgiving of the Eucharist, proclaims at once what God has done for and is doing in us. By our Paschal celebration, God’s wondrous creation of the universe, the mysteries of Christ’s incarnation, baptism, and preaching of the kingdom, his passion and death, resurrection and ascension, and the abiding gift of the Spirit’s power are all made sacramentally and really present as kairos, the eternal now, breaks into chronos, this old world’s passing away.

So we make anamnesis, remembrance, renewing the promises and vows of Holy Baptism and feeding anew on the Body and Blood of the Risen One. The Exsultet becomes the joyful angel calling us from the tomb, proclaiming our share in Christ’s glorious resurrection, and singing of the light kindled in us, which shall never be extinguished.

“Behold the Light of Christ.”

 

Mammon – Br. Jonathan Maury

Romans 16:3-9, 16, 22-27; Psalm 145:1-7; Luke 16:9-15

Luke’s Jesus speaks about money a great deal; or perhaps more precisely about possessions and the money or wealth which make them ours.  Of course, these things—wealth, money, possessions—have but one original source: the generosity of the God who brought all things into being.

As Br Geoffrey so rightly made clear in his homily yesterday on Luke’s parable of the dishonest steward or manager, all things which we call ours—possessions, relationships, power—are given to us in trust.  We are made stewards of all that we possess.  We may receive them with an avaricious or selfish attitude and come to be possessed by them.  Or we may come to realize that all we hold in trust is much better, more shrewdly or astutely, used for the building of community, for the nurture of a community in which God’s gifts to us—and the responsible sharing of them—create lasting well-being for all. Continue reading

True Humility – Br. Jonathan Maury

Romans 11:1-6, 11-12, 25-29; Psalm 94:14-19; Luke 14:1, 7-11

Just a few minutes ago, the prayers, thoughts and desires—individually and corporately—which we bring to the Lord’s Table today were ‘collected’ with these words: “…increase in us the gifts of faith, hope and charity…make us love what you command” (Collect for Proper 25, BCP 1979).

The portion of Luke’s gospel proclaimed today tells of one of several incidents remembered on an occasion when Jesus went to a house of a leader of Pharisees to eat a meal on the Sabbath. We are also told, “…they were watching him closely.”  The context of this observation would suggest a kind of surveillance with less than charitable intent toward Jesus, and not a few presuppositions and already-formed opinions about him.  Jesus, we are told, is observing, taking notice of the behavior of the guests, as they jockey for places of honor at the banquet. Continue reading

Welcoming the Guest, the Stranger, and the Pilgrim: A Conversation on Hospitality in the Renovated Guesthouse with Jonathan Maury, SSJE

Q: What physical changes have been made to the buildings that will affect the way guests are welcomed?

The Chapel, Guesthouse, and public areas of the Monastery have been made fully accessible to those with special needs by the addition of improved hand-railings at all entrance stairs and a wheelchair lift at the Chapel entrance. Other lifts and ramps allow visitors to move about most areas without using stairs: to accessible restrooms; to the common room and conference rooms of the Guesthouse; to the conference space and offices in the undercroft; and to meals in the refectory through an inviting, all-year receiving room on the newly glassed-in cloister. Former “pass-through” areas are now within the mo­nastic enclosure as originally intended. These changes will allow the Brothers to welcome guests more comfortably, allevi­ating the awkwardness often experienced through unclear boundaries between public and private space.

Further changes have been made in the Guesthouse to increase accessibil­ity and enhance privacy for our resident guests. The first-floor guestrooms (in­cluding one designed for wheelchair use) are in close proximity to fully accessible bathrooms, allowing us to host at least two people with special needs at any given time. We’ve also made changes to the bathroom facilities on the upper floors: each bathroom entrance opens onto a small corridor leading to three fully-enclosed, individual units with toilet, lavatory sink, and shower. All these changes to physical spaces will aid both guests and Brothers in maintaining inner silence and their sense of presence before God.

Q: What is the theological significance of these physical changes?

We say in our SSJE Rule of Life, “The source of hospitality is the heart of God who yearns to unite every creature with­in one embrace.” The physical changes to the buildings serve as an outward sign of our call to live more deeply the truest kind of hospitality, to ourselves become a sacrament of God’s heart, to offer a welcome which shares in God’s inten­tion and desire for each and every man, woman, and child as images and like­nesses of God. The Rule further teaches that, “Our faith must recognize the one who comes to us in the person of the guest, the stranger and the pilgrim. It is the Lord, who has identified himself with each of his sisters and brothers.” The renovations challenge us to expand our understanding of this each—to wel­come all in Christ’s name and recognize Christ’s presence in each guest, regard­less of gender, age, race, class, sexual orientation, or physical limitation. By making these physical changes, we hope to better learn how to welcome each person equally, eliminating obstacles which might keep any from crossing our threshold and entering sacred space.

Q: How is hospitality characterized in the Gospel?

The Gospel message is a proclamation of God’s hospitality, of God’s inten­tion to gather all people into one, of the divine desire for humanity to live in harmony with the whole creation, that all people may know how infinitely loved they are as children of God. Jesus is encountered in the Gospel narra­tive as guest and as host, in both roles implicit in the practice of hospitality. At the homes and occasions to which he is invited, the Lord comes as a guest to embody the healing, forgiving, and reconciling message of the Gospel. With his disciples, with multitudes in the wilderness, or teaching in synagogue and street, Jesus is present as host at table. From the table of God’s word or of created bounty, Jesus provides what is truly needful and offers himself as the Bread of Life. To any who come to him seeking it, Jesus provides sustenance, both without question or the making of any distinctions. He bids his disciples, as guest or host, to act as he does, and turns the work over to them.

In our ministry of hospitality to others, we Brothers are invited to share in this Gospel work. Always mindful that we ourselves are the Lord’s guests, we are hosts to others who join us at table, either in worship at the altar or at meals in the refectory. A renovation change made to this aspect of our min­istry is the addition of a refectory and small kitchen on the lower level of the Guesthouse. With their own spaces in which to take breakfast in silence, both guests and Brothers can more readily feed on the fruits of morning worship and meditation.

Q: What is the connection between the Brothers’ enclosed and vowed life and the ministry of hospitality?

Monastic life has always been character­ized by the creative tension between solitude and engagement reflected in the life and teaching of Jesus. In order to nurture both of these gifts in our life together in God, we Brothers maintain private enclosure space and hold it as essential to the life of prayer from which all of our individual and corporate ministries flow. The practice of enclo­sure, through appropriate personal and community boundaries, in turn teaches us how to offer guests similar spaces of security and privacy in which to meet God. Enclosure actually helps to create a ministry of hospitality in which we are intentional about the ways we engage with guests, allowing them also to be fully present to the love of God in soli­tude. Our honoring of boundaries in the practice of enclosure becomes a mutual gift between host and guest, enriching our times of engagement in fellowship.
The living of our monastic vows of poverty, celibacy, and obedience also flows directly into the hospitality we seek to share. Our vows are a time-tested way of living the vows of baptism shared by all Christians. While with us, guests have an opportunity to befriend their “inner monastic.” On retreat, guests learn of their spiritual poverty as they allow God to provide for their needs, material and spiritual. In making themselves totally available to God in prayer and worship, retreatants experi­ence the gift of celibacy, their “one-ness” before God. And as guests share with us in the rhythm of prayer and worship in silence, they learn to practice obedi­ence, which is, in essence, to listen with open hearts to God.
The Rule teaches us that, “The gift of silence we seek to cherish is chiefly the silence of adoring love for the mys­tery of God which words cannot express. In silence we pass through the bounds of language to lose ourselves in wonder. In this silence we learn to revere ourselves also; since Christ dwells in us we too are mysteries that cannot be fathomed, before which we must be silent until the day we come to know as we are known.” The practice of silence opens a spiritual window through which we may each contemplate the unique nature of our redemption in Christ. So we invite our guests to join us in the Greater Silence, the twelve night hours when we refrain from conversation, and the only words spoken are those of corporate worship. Through solitude and silence, we invite guests to move into that “new day” when they will fully know themselves as the beautiful mysteries which they are before God. Such silent solitude nur­tures in us greater mutual transparency and compassion, by connecting us to that primacy of the love of God which is the foundation of all life.
We hope that people who come to the Monastery will experience how God invites us all into regular patterns in our daily lives, including the rhythm of engagement and silence, community and solitude.
Q: Does any particular personal experience in your life shape the way you step again into the role of Guest Brother?
When I first visited the Monastery, I experienced the trepidation which I remembered from my childhood experi­ence of beginning school. All seemed so new and unknown. But my reception as a guest was so warm and welcoming that I was soon at ease, with a sense of being “at home.” As I again take up the ministry of Guest Brother, I feel blessed by the opportunity to offer others what was offered to me when I came here those thirty years ago—a welcome and inclusion which becomes an occasion for celebrating the new life we have in Christ. This doesn’t necessarily mean speaking of things “religious.” But it does mean being open to the initiation of a new and unique relationship which reflects the boundless hospitality of God.

Q: We’ve talked a lot about how the Brothers hope to offer hospitality. What do the Brothers receive by welcoming guests?

When we have guests on retreat in the house, I often experience the depth of intention and love in their practice of prayer as pure grace. The quality of the silence which we Brothers practice to­gether is, in many ways, deeper and more intense—and more relaxed—when we have guests who are seeking God along­side us. Even alone in our own cells and other places of prayer, we are strength­ened by solidarity with our guests. In this awareness, I experience anew the wondrous interplay of solitude and com­munity, of enclosure and welcome, which undergirds and renews our vocation. Our guests enrich our common life in ways which they will likely never know, simply by choosing to accept Christ’s invitation to be with us for a time.
Each of us Brothers was drawn to become a member of the Society in a particular way but for the same reason: We were called to experience the love of Christ here, in the life we share with one another in community and through the presence of our guests. Christ who dwells in our guests comes to meet Christ who dwells in us. There is a reciprocal grace in the welcome offered, for it is Christ who both speaks and receives it. Hospitality is true mutuality in the Spirit. As we usher our guests into silence and prayer through the ministry of hospitality, they become instrumental for our journey into and final welcome home by God.

From the Archive: “So I Did Sit and Eat” – Br. Jonathan Maury

In this sermon, originally preached on July 18, 2004, Br. Jonathan Maury unfolds the texts appointed for this week, Genesis 18:1-10a(10b-14) and Luke 10:38-42, in order to suggest how God invites us, like Abraham and Martha and George Herbert before us, not only to hospitality, but also to “sit and eat”

When first glimpsed over the flat, scrub-covered land, it appeared quite small. Gradually, though, this was revealed as an optical illusion created by its isolation in the vast expanse before us. As the truck driven by our host Father Gabriel moved closer and closer, its immense height and expanse became clear. Its proportions seemed to be as those of legend and folklore. Its spreading boughs created a shelter from the lightly falling rain. We had arrived at one of the nearly two-dozen out stations in Father’s cure, at a gathering place of Christians for worship and fellowship in rural Zimbabwe. As pilgrims, guests and strangers, we had come to the great tree—to a place of meeting and hospitality with God… Continue reading

The Spirit’s Gift Continues – Br. Jonathan Maury

1 Kings 17:8-24; Psalm 146; Galatians 1:11-24; Luke 7:11-17

“Pentecost continues! Pentecost is most fundamentally a continuing gift of the Spirit;”

So begins “A Pastoral letter to the Episcopal Church” (2 June 2010) [http://www.episcopalchurch.org/79425_122615_ENG_HTM.htm], issued this past week by Presiding Bishop and Primate Katharine Jefferts Schori.

“Pentecost is most fundamentally a continuing gift of the Spirit, rather than a limitation or quenching of that Spirit,” writes the Primate. Her letter comes in response to the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Pentecost letter to the Anglican Communion (28 May 2010) [http://www.episcopalchurch.org/79425_122553_ENG_HTM.htm] concerning current struggles within the Communion. Bishop Katharine expresses concern that the text of that letter “seems to equate its understanding of the Spirit’s outpouring,” as she puts it, “with a single understanding of gospel realities. Those who received the gift of the Spirit on that day all heard good news,” Jefferts Schori continues. “The crowd reported, ‘in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power’ [Acts 2:11].”  Continue reading

Intercessions: Passion – Br. Jonathan Maury

 

Jonathan Maury SSJEWe invite you to pray these intercessions, composed by Br. Jonathan Maury for this preaching series, which followed the sermon at the Tuesday Eucharist.

When his hour came, the eternal Son consummated his obedience to the Father and expressed his love for us to the uttermost, by offering himself on the cross. That all people may know that God loves them even as God loves Jesus, let us pray saying, Loving God, suffer your passion in us.

On our own we are powerless to act in self-less freedom in response to all that you desire. That we may spend our lives abiding in Christ, who came to do your will, and give ourselves up to the attraction of his glory, we pray, Loving God, suffer your passion in us.

The testimony of the disciple whom Jesus loved has a special power for those whom you call into his fellowship. That the one closest to Jesus’ heart at the supper may be an icon of the relationship we enjoy with your Son through prayer, we pray, Loving God, suffer your passion in us.

Christ’s gift of enduring love called the Church into being from the cross when he gave Mary and John to one another as mother and son. That we may have grace to risk all for Christ, who risked and gave all for us, we pray, Loving God, suffer your passion in us.

Through the mystery of self-giving love you open our hearts to the pain and weakness in the lives of our brothers and sisters. That we may know your presence in sharing one another’s experiences of suffering, grief, and loss, we pray, Loving God, suffer your passion in us.

Our sexuality, power to love, and creative energy for relationship are of your making and belong to the heart of our humanity. That by offering these gifts to Christ to bless, shape and use them, we may mirror your passionate love for all creation, we pray, Loving God, suffer your passion in us.

Following the example of Jesus, we learn to listen to you intently, and to support each other in the struggle against all that resists your gracious will. That we may burn with Christ’s desire for your justice and peace, we pray, Loving God, suffer your passion in us.

With hearts set aflame by your passionate love, O God, we now name before you the persons and concerns that you have placed in them:         (Silence)

 

O passionate God, you so loved the world that you gave your only-begotten Son to reconcile earth with heaven: Grant that we, loving you above all things, may love our friends in you, and our enemies for your sake; through Jesus Christ our Savior. Amen.

 

Intercessions: Redemption – Br. Jonathan Maury

 

Jonathan Maury SSJEGod sent the Son into the world to heal and raise us up so that, empowered by the Spirit, we could surrender our whole selves and be reunited in the love of God. Looking forward to that day when God will gather all for the eternal banquet, let us pray saying, Jesus, Redeemer, fulfill your salvation in us.

You draw each disciple into that particular expression of community needed for the working out of their salvation. That together we may change and mature, in response to the Spirit who makes all things new, we pray, Jesus, Redeemer, fulfill your salvation in us.

From your fullness we all receive grace upon grace. That we may be brought into harmony with the very being and Triune life of God which is boundless sharing, we pray, Jesus, Redeemer,fulfill your salvation in us.

You call us to be of one heart and soul through our baptism into your death and rising and so give us a foretaste of the communion of saints. That we may be set us free from self-centeredness as members of one Body, we pray, Jesus, Redeemer, fulfill your salvation in us.

We were created to bless and adore God and to experience in worship our highest joy and deepest communion with one another. That the power of your word and the grace of feeding on you in the Eucharist may bind us together in love, we pray, Jesus, Redeemer, fulfill your salvation in us.

Our hope lies not in what we have done for God, but in what God has done for us. That we may offer our whole life to the glory of God, thankful for the mercy that has drawn us into the divine life, we pray, Jesus, Redeemer, fulfill your salvation in us.

All praise and thanks to the Father for the gift of the hope of glory. That the Spirit may open all that we are to the promise of eternal fulfillment beyond death, we pray, Jesus, Redeemer, fulfill your salvation in us.

With hearts enkindled by your redeeming love, O God, we now name before you the persons and concerns which you have placed in them:         (Silence)

O God, you relieve our necessity out of the abundance of your great riches: Grant that we may accept with joy the salvation you bestow and manifest it to all the world by the quality of our lives; through Jesus Christ our Redeemer. Amen.

 

Intercessions: Grace – Br. Jonathan Maury

We invite you to pray these intercessions, composed by Br. Jonathan Maury for this preaching series, which followed the sermon at the Tuesday Eucharist.

God loved the world and gave the only Son, the eternal Word by whom all things were created, to become flesh and live among us. Thankful that Christ has made known to us the grace and truth of the Eternal Father, let us pray saying, Gracious God, we thank you.

You strengthened the Beloved Disciple and Mary to stand at Golgotha, beholding the suffering of Christ. For that perfect love shown on the cross, by which we receive grace to face together all that we are tempted to run from in fear, Gracious God, we thank you.

You broke all the limits of generosity in the incarnation of your Son, who emptied himself for our sake. For the graces and gifts by which you bring us to share in that same simplicity, obedience and self-offering love, Gracious God, we thank you.

Through the mystery of prayer you draw us to participate in your divine life, that ceaseless interchange of mutual love which unites your Three-Personed Being. For the graces of worship, meditation and your Spirit praying within us, Gracious God, we thank you.

You teach us to revere ourselves as those in whom Christ dwells, and you create us in your image as mysteries that cannot be fathomed. For the gift of the silence of adoring love for you which our words cannot express, Gracious God, we thank you.

You grant us grace in Baptism to surrender our lives to you through the vows which bind us to Christ. For the voice of the Spirit which never ceases to call us into deeper union with you and one another, Gracious God, we thank you.

For your Wisdom communicated to us in prayer and life, and absorbed into our hearts for ever; for your voice coming to us ever new, and bringing gifts beyond what we know now, Gracious God, we thank you.

With hearts emboldened by your gracious favor and love toward us, we now name before you, O God, the persons and concerns for which you would have us pray:

O God, you have given us the Good News of your abounding love in your Son Jesus Christ: So fill our hearts with thankfulness that we may rejoice to proclaim the good tidings we have received; through Jesus Christ our Savior. Amen.