When I first began to study the lessons appointed for today, I couldn’t help but to think back to one of my favorite commercials from the 1990’s. The setting is just outside a desert fortress where a criminal is tied to a pole and is facing a firing squad. The chief executioner questions the condemned man: “Would you like a blindfold, Messieur? The man answers quickly, “No!” The executioner then asks, “Would you like a cigarette?” Again, the man answers, “No!” Finally, he is asked, “What do you want on your tombstone?” The man pauses briefly to think before answering resolutely, “Pepperoni and cheese!” The commercial was for Tombstone Pizza which not only offered you convenience: a full sized frozen pizza served piping hot in just minutes with all natural ingredients, but also a panoply of choices suited for all tastes.[i] As Americans, we LOVE choices! We do not like to be boxed in with no options. We want to make the decision with the most concise information and with as little serious discernment as possible. We are highly individualistic and want to feel like every option is personal, tailored specifically for our convenience. Continue reading
Today we remember Antony of Egypt, the founder of Christian monasticism, who moved out into the desert alone to pray. When Antony emerged from the desert and learned of a great persecution of the church, he returned to the city and cared for those in trouble. Later he returned to the desert but many people came out to see him and hear his wisdom. Judges repeatedly called Antony down to the city to advise them in their rulings.
Solitude for prayer, for focusing on relationship with God, is key to our life and what we offer on retreat. Monasticism like ours is life shared together, a company of friends who prioritize friendship with Christ. Continue reading
2 Kings 5:1-15
Leprosy is a skin disease, though, in the Bible it is considered a state of ‘uncleanness’, rather than an illness. A person afflicted with leprosy is encouraged to present themselves to the priest, and not the physician. Leprosy is a spiritual condition, and we can understand it as a metaphor for an inward state of alienation. Unlovely, unwanted, lepers are relegated to the fringes of society, and are to be avoided. But most of us know that an unattractive skin disease is not a necessary condition for feeling estranged. Feelings of alienation, being misunderstood, not fitting-in, feeling “less-than”, and apart-from, being on the outside looking in, this is a real experience for many people. Alienation, the experience of not feeling as if one belongs, is a spiritual condition that Jesus came to save us from. Jesus came to save outcasts and sinners. The Bible often characterizes alienation metaphorically, as leprosy, which brings us to the story of Naaman from our first reading.[i] Continue reading
Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Profession of Life Vows by Brother Luke Ditewig, SSJE
Now I can’t claim to be the list king in this community. There is another brother, who will remain nameless, who is the king of lists, charts and calendars in this community. But what I can claim to be is the brother obituariest (the brother’s call me something else, but it’s a little rude so I won’t repeat it!). Anyway, I am the one responsible for writing the obituaries which we read at Compline, on the anniversary of a brother’s death. It’s a job that I take great delight in. One thing I have done is to make lists of all the brothers who have died in the community since our founding in 1866 beginning with Father Coggeshall, who was the first in our community to die in 1876, up to and including Brother Bernie whose death earlier this year was the most recent. By my count there have been 153 deaths in the community. But while I was making that list, I became curious about another list. I began to wonder how many men have made their life profession in our community, and when. So I began to dig, and it has taken quite a lot of digging, because our records are somewhat incomplete. But according to my count Luke, you are at least the 201st person since Father Benson to make his life profession in the Society of Saint John the Evangelist and the 47thto make his life profession here in this Chapel since Father Lockyer, who was the first to be professed here, on 21 July 1938. 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
One thing that attracts people to SSJE is the experience of community. It is one of our core values, expressed in our Rule: “In an era of fragmentation and the breakdown of family and community, our Society, though small, can be a beacon drawing others to live in communion.” For a day, a week, or even a lifetime, people can experience what it means to be in community with others and thus come to know something true, both about themselves and about God. Continue reading
Today we remember Seraphim, a Russian monk who, after making vows and being ordained a priest, lived as a hermit much like the desert fathers. Word spread about him. People visited, and he received them with much charity. People remember Seraphim for listening well and sharing wisdom.
Today’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.
“For freedom Christ has set us free.” St. Paul in his letter to the Galatians. Words like freedom and liberty will be in the air this week as we celebrate Independence Day on the 4th of July. Freedom, whatever that means, is the essence of what it means to be American and it was very much on the minds of the founders. “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Familiar words from the Declaration of Independence. Our foundational documents and the principles they articulate with such extraordinary sonority have resonated far beyond our borders, and continue to do so. Continue reading
I was reminded recently of the enormous cultural shifts that have taken place in American life since the 1950’s. I was watching a DVD of a 1958 episode of the Leonard Bernstein Young People’s Concerts with the New York Philharmonic. It’s a wonderful series and has introduced music to countless young people over the years.
In my twenties I used to travel a lot. I especially loved the Middle East and North Africa. I travelled through Jordan, Syria, Egypt, Tunisia and Morocco. Whenever I stopped in a village, locals would come up to me and we’d try to communicate. They would show me photos of their family – and they would always ask to see my family. At first I didn’t have any photos – but I soon learned. In the Middle East and Africa, if you want to know someone, you ask about their family. “Let me see your family, then I will know who you are.”
Christian monasticism began when, in 270 AD, Anthony, a wealthy young man, heard the Gospel story read in church of the rich young man who asked Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life.(MT 19:16-25; MK 10:17-25; LK 18:18-25) Jesus replied, “Go, sell what you own and give the money to the poor – and come follow me.” Anthony did so, and followed Jesus out into the Egyptian desert and he became a hermit, or lived the eremitic life, from the Greek word for desert. Many others soon followed his example, and the desert became populated with hermits. Continue reading
Today we remember Antony of Egypt, a founder of monasticism. As a young man gave away a large inheritance and moved out to the desert for disciplined prayer. He lived alone for twenty years. When Antony emerged from that intense solitude, he learned of a great persecution of the church, and he “returned to the city and ministered to those under the sentence of death.”
I must say I didn’t expect it from him. I was caught off guard, surprised by what he said. It didn’t fit. This wasn’t supposed to happen. Not from him. Not from them. I wasn’t supposed to like what he said. But I did. I heard a most encouraging interview with a national Christian leader last week: Jim Daly, president of Focus on the Family. Yes, that right-wing evangelical powerhouse founded by Dr. James Dobson who was so aggressive in his mission.
Focus on the Family has been on my “other” list. I expect to hear things I strongly disagree with, or get mad hearing about from them. That in itself is a reversal. I grew up listening to Dr. Dobson and was positively nurtured by Focus on the Family as a child. But as a young adult I cut ties. I distanced myself so far from them that it is rather shocking to be impressed by and grateful for Jim Daly. Continue reading