I first visited the Holy Land 25 years ago, when I went with my parish on a pilgrimage. It was during the month of May, and the most memorable day was when we got up early, and drove north from Jerusalem, through the West Bank and up through the Galilee, and even further north. By now the land was becoming more mountainous, and as we climbed, I remember the countryside started to change and look Alpine, very green, covered with beautiful flowers. And then suddenly, in the distance we caught sight of Mount Hermon, shimmering in the sun.
Eventually we arrived at our destination. On the very borders of Syria and Lebanon, we came to the village of Banyas, which marks the source of the river Jordan. It felt very remote, very beautiful. Continue reading
We are here today to give thanks to Almighty God for the life of our dear brother Bernard. Bernie has been part of our community, part of our life for so many years, that it seems hard to believe he is no longer with us. When we brothers make our vows, we don’t make a specific vow of stability, like the Benedictines, but if we did, Bernie would have modeled it to perfection. He fully inhabited the place where he lived – and the place he loved most of all, of course, was Emery House. “This is my home” he would say, as he sat quietly in the refectory, mug of black coffee in his hand, gazing out of the window at the meadow. He made our community his home over 50 years ago.
He was born in 1922 in Alexandria, Virginia. As a young man he worshipped at the Episcopal parish of the Ascension and St. Agnes, and graduated from Central High School, Washington, D.C. He then served for two years in the U.S. Air Force as a bombardier navigator during the Second World War. Following the war, he worked first as a reservation clerk for Colonial Airlines, New York City, and then for Peterson Travel Agency in Garden City, Long Island. He’d often take his passport to work with him, as he would never know if he’d need to fill in as a flight attendant, or assist with a tour group. Continue reading
Luke 2: 1-14
Christmas is here. Glorious, wonderful, magical Christmas is here. The weather may not feel like Christmas, but spread out before us in this church is our beautiful crèche. I love to just stand and gaze at it…with wide eyed wonder, like a child. But then ever since I was a child I have loved Christmas. The magic in the air, the carols, Christmas tree lights and decorations. Opening presents with such excitement, and then turkey and minced pies and chocolates.
But for many people, that is all that Christmas is about. As a parish priest I would visit our local church junior school, and I remember one nine year old boy writing this in his Christmas essay: ‘I know Christmas should be a religious time, but for me, Christmas is a time for the necessities of life, like food, presents and booze.’ I felt sad that one so young should have already acquired such a cynical view. Continue reading
This evening is the second in our series of sermons on the theme of ‘Salvation Revisited.’ We are exploring the theme of salvation, which is central to the faith of the Church, and to the season of Advent, when we are promised a ‘Savior.’
Next week the theme will be ‘The sacred and Imperishable Proclamation’ and the final week’s theme will be ‘Salvation – from What, to What?’
My theme today is ‘Coming Home.’
When I was a teenager I rarely went to church. I was confirmed at 12, at school. Almost everyone in my class was confirmed – mainly so as not to let the house down! But for me, it was a kind of ‘passing out parade.’ No more church. I was interested in religious ideas, but thought Christianity rather facile. I preferred the more exotic Eastern forms of religious expression – far more interesting ways of trying to make contact with the divine. But one day, in my late teens, on one of my rare visits to church, I heard a Gospel which kind of stopped me in my tracks. It was the Gospel we heard read today: the parable of the Prodigal Son. What really moved me, was this image of the Father. Day after day, his father had been longing for his son – missing him, longing for him to come home. Scanning the horizon. Please, my son, come home. And then, one day, he sees him, way in the distance. He is so overjoyed that he runs – runs out to meet him, and welcome him home. Continue reading
“He has walled up my way so that I cannot pass, and he has set darkness upon my paths.” (Job 19:8)
Today we give thanks to God for the life and witness of one of the greatest mystical theologians who ever lived – St. John of the Cross. During my life as a Christian, a priest and a monk, whenever I have felt my life of prayer has become shallow or even empty, I have invariably found new life, hope and passion in John’s writings, and especially in such great poems as The Living Flame of Love and The Dark Night with its famous opening line, “En unanocheoscura.” Continue reading
1 Samuel 1:4-20
It’s a great joy for me to be back at the monastery, after my time of sabbatical. I spent much of my time with my family – my mother and my brothers and sister and their families, my nieces and nephews. I also stayed with friends in England, Ireland and France. It was also a great time for reflection and for prayer. I am so grateful for this time away, and I’m very grateful for your prayers for me.
I visited so many great churches and cathedrals, from York and Durham to Canterbury, and from Cork to Notre Dame in Paris. Whenever I go into a great church, I love to find a place to light a candle, and kneel down, and remember those I love, those who are on my heart, those who I know in need, or have asked me to pray for them. And I know many of you do this in the chapel – lighting a candle and offering up prayers. Continue reading
Funeral Homily for Br. Eldridge Pendleton, SSJE (1940-2015)
Preached at the Monastery by the Superior, Br. Geoffrey Tristram, SSJE
We gather together today to give thanks to God for the life of our dear brother Eldridge. And what a rich life it has been, and a life which has touched and blessed each of us here today in a different way. We are here to give thanks for this man whose gentle kindness, wisdom and sheer grace have made our lives different, this man whose wonderful and sometimes wicked sense of humor and contagious laugh has delighted and cheered us on our way.
As I have been reflecting on these past 16 years since I have known Eldridge, and on the missions which we have been on together, I would say that, more than anyone else I know, his life has been a life of pilgrimage. Continue reading
Today, we give thanks to God for one of the great saints and martyrs of the Church, St. Alban. He is one of my favorite saints because for much of my ministry as a parish priest I worked in the English Diocese of St. Albans, which is in the county of Hertfordshire, some 25 miles north of London. The city of St. Albans, in Roman times, was called Verulamium, but its name was changed in honor of the man who, like his Lord, gave his up his life for another. Continue reading
In the fourth chapter of the Rule of the Society of Saint John the Evangelist, we express how and why we understand that all human beings are called to live in community: “In community we bear witness to the social nature of human life as willed by our Creator. Human beings bear the image of the triune God and are not meant to be separate and isolated.” All of us, as human beings, are called to share in communities of one kind or another, because we have all been made in the image and likeness of God. And God is community: “The very being of God is community; the Father, Son and Spirit are One in reciprocal self-giving and love.” Continue reading
‘Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Who shut in the sea with doors when it burst out of the womb?’[i] In this beautifully lyrical passage from the Book of Job, God invites Job to look and see the wonders of God’s creation. For if you look, you will surely see, in the words of today’s psalm that ‘the heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament shows his handiwork.’[ii]
Or does it? When I was about fifteen, I came across Bertrand Russell’s slim volume, Why I am not a Christian, and I declared to my friends, and teachers, partly to shock, that I no longer believed in God. Well, as you can see, as the years went by, I changed my views and became theist, and eventually Christian. But I have never lost my respect for the scientific method, nor, actually, sensed any fundamental clash between the different purposes of science and religion. As far back as the Renaissance there was a clear demarcation between what was called ‘natural philosophy’ (approximately what we would call ‘science’) which concentrated on empirical evidence from nature, and theology’s concentration on questions of purpose and meaning. They were not seen as contradictory. So, for example, Sir Isaac Newton wrote as much about the Book of Revelation as about the theory of gravity! Continue reading
Over this past week, I have had the privilege of leading a retreat for men and women who are preparing for ordination. We’ve been reflecting on, and praying about the mystery of vocation. And “vocation” is the theme of the days of this week, which are called Ember Days. Each day this week we have been praying for those who have a vocation, and in particular those who have been called to ministry.
Today is the last of these Ember Days, and today’s collect is about vocation – but it’s about your vocation and mine. “We pray for all members of the holy church, that in their vocation and ministry they may truly and devoutly serve you.”
If you have been baptized, then you have a vocation! So what is a vocation? Some people think it must be something that you suddenly get. You’re walking along quite happily one day, and God suddenly “zaps” you with a vocation! I don’t think that’s quite right. I believe that your vocation is that which lies at the very heart, the very core of your identity. It is discovering who it is that you most truly are. Continue reading
As many of you know, at the end of next week I am going to England to preside at the wedding of my niece Katherine and her fiancé Michael. I’m really excited about it, and I’ve been poring over the Church of England marriage ceremony online, so that I’ll look as if I know what I’m doing! I haven’t married anyone for quite a few years, and it was certainly one of the joys of being a parish priest. I have always understood Holy Matrimony as a sacrament: that God’s Holy Spirit comes down upon two individuals, and through a deep mystery, makes them one. In the words of the Church of England rite, “The couple shall be united with one another in heart, body and mind.”
They are changed. God’s Spirit has the power to change us. As a sign of this change, couples often change one or the other’s surname, and wear a ring of their finger. I’m no longer who I was. I have been changed. Continue reading
Nestling in a verdant Norman valley, surrounded by meadows and apple orchards, between Rouen and Lisieux, stands the famous Benedictine abbey of Le Bec Hellouin. In my early twenties I would often go to Le Bec for my retreats. I remember the first thing you would see in the distance – the tall, beautiful, creamy stone church tower of St. Nicholas, welcoming you into the valley. I loved the singing of the monks, I loved my conversations with the abbot about monasticism, and about my vocation.
Le Bec Hellouin also has very close historical ties with the Church of England, and in particular with Canterbury Cathedral. The reason for this is primarily because not one, but two of its abbots went on to be Archbishop of Canterbury. First, Lanfranc, and then in the year 1093, Anselm, whom we remember today. Continue reading
These last three days – Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday, are what the Anglo-Saxon church called the “Still Days.” The Still Days – days of silent mourning, in which all church bells were silent.
Very early in the morning, on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome came, carrying spices, to anoint the body of Jesus. For these women, another Still Day. Like the day when they witnessed their beloved Jesus arrested and tried. The day when they saw his bruised and bloodied body carrying the cross through the taunting crowds along the streets of Jerusalem, and through tearful eyes they saw him die upon the cross. The day when they watched his broken body taken down from the cross and wrapped in a linen cloth and taken to that garden and laid in the rock hewn tomb, and a great stone rolled against the door.
And then the day of Sabbath, when they rested, according to the commandment. Still Days, for prayer and silent mourning. Continue reading
This coming May, I am really looking forward to going to England. May is a lovely time in England, but what I’m most looking forward to is marrying my niece Katherine. That is, I will be officiating at her marriage! It will be particularly moving because I also married Katherine’s mother, my sister Elizabeth, just after I was ordained.
As a priest, it is a great joy to conduct weddings, and there is the unique opportunity beforehand to spend time getting to know the couple, and helping them understand the nature and meaning of the commitment they are about to make. I remember that one of the first choices the couples had to make was whether they wanted the modern or traditional wedding service. When it came to making the vows, the modern version had each couple say to each other, “and this is my solemn vow.” The traditional words though, had this very strange sentence, “and thereto I give thee my troth.” So what’s a troth? I don’t think any of the couples I married knew – but it is in fact a wonderful word, rich in meaning, and I don’t know any other word in English that is a synonym. It’s “I give you my love and my loyalty.” So it’s a special kind of love. Troth is the love between two people who have made some kind of commitment to each other – who are tied by a mutual commitment, or we could say covenant – in this case, between two people who have publically promised to love, comfort, honor and keep the other, in sickness and health, forsaking all others, as long as they both shall live. Continue reading
Forty years ago, there lived in England a remarkable priest called Reginald Somerset Ward. He was enormously gifted as a spiritual director, so gifted that he left his parish and took up a sort of peripatetic ministry going around the country and meeting with bishops, clergy and laity who wanted his guidance and direction. He always had one main thing that he always said to people from the very beginning if they wanted his spiritual direction. “If you want me to direct you, you will have to abide by these 3 priorities. I will always expect you to give your first priority to God, your second priority to your family, friends, leisure, recreation. And then your third priority to work. In that order. And he never changed it.
And there’s a story of a young priest who came to see him and said “Can you be my spiritual director?” Somerset Ward laid out his 3 priorities, and the priest said, “I couldn’t possibly do that: I’m far too busy.” And Somerset Ward replied, “Well, I can’t direct you, because I don’t direct mad men!” (I wonder if he’d have taken you on?) Continue reading
Mark – Chapter 7
Jesus said, “Nothing you eat can defile you.” It’s hard to realize today just how revolutionary, how outrageous such a statement was for Jesus’ Jewish listeners. Among the greatest of all the Jewish martyrs were those who were killed rather than eat pork and other forbidden foods. The Second Book of Maccabees tells of how, shortly before the revolt of Judas Maccabeus, the ruler Antiochus IV arrested a Jewish mother and her seven sons and tried to make them eat pork. When they refused, he tortured and killed her sons one by one, before her very eyes. The last of her sons makes a speech and declares that his brothers are dead “under God’s covenant of everlasting life.” Continue reading
Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah, saying, “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry against it.” (Jon 1:2)
Now the word of the Lord came to Simon and Andrew, and James and John, as they were casting their nets in the sea, saying, “Come, follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” (Matt 4:19)
When Jonah heard the Lord’s voice calling him, he immediately got up and hightailed off in the opposite direction!
When Simon, Andrew, James and John heard the Lord’s voice, they immediately left their nets and followed Jesus.
Two very different responses to the call of God. And as I was reading the two stories set in today’s scripture readings, I was reflecting on the mystery of vocation – of how God is always calling us to larger life, and our very mixed, and not always very impressive or heroic responses! Continue reading
Isaiah 9:2-7 / Psalm 96:1-4, 11-12 / Titus 2:11-14 / Luke 2:1-20
Christmas is here again! It’s a dark night – it’s a very dark world right now. And yet, on this night, this holy night, joy bubbles up! Joy, that God has come into our world, and given to us a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. The joy that Isaiah announced to Israel: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.” (Isaiah 9:2) The joy that the angels announced to the shepherds: “Behold I bring you good news of great joy for all people.” (Luke 2:10)
This joy, this good news, is proclaimed in the very midst of the darkness; “The light shines in the darkness” says St. John, “and the darkness did not overcome it.” (John 1:5) Continue reading
Matt. 21:23-37; Psalm 1
How dare you come into this sacred place? How dare you claim to heal the blind and the lame? How dare you vandalize this holy place, throwing tables onto the floor, with money flying in every direction?
How dare you – who are you anyway? You’re a nobody from Nazareth of all places. How dare you? And then the really telling question. Where does your authority come from? The chief priests and elders know where their authority was from: They had the legal qualifications to prove it. But what about Jesus? He had no documents – no legal qualifications. You’ve got no authority.
But he did. And it was recognized constantly. Earlier in Matthew, at the conclusion of the Sermon on the Mount, we read, “the crowd was astonished by his teaching because he taught them as one having authority – and not like the scribes.” (Matt. 7:28) Continue reading