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Seminary, a Benedictine Monk, and Flannery O’connor

It is finished. τετελεσται. This week I completed the work necessary to complete my Masters of New Testament and my Masters of Theology. It has been an interesting journey. It never ended up being exactly what I expected. I suspect, however, it was what God thought I needed. I was blessed to have, as my final assignment, an opportunity to visit a Benedictine Monastery. In many ways this journey was characteristic of my journey in seminary, almost allegorically. So, with that, here is my story:

“The Misfit” and I

I arrived at the monastery around eight in the morning, about an hour before mass. It was a cool, rainy morning. It was not burdensome or violent rain, nor was it the kind of rain that would keep one from going outside. It was the type of rain that caused the air to be wet and appear like fog. It was a mist that shrouded most of the monastery in an opaque haze. Even the church, with its steeple rising above the tree line, was shrouded in mist until one was right in front of elaborate oak doors. It was a quintessential spring morning in the Appalachians, and I wouldn’t have had it any other way.

I was greeted by Brother Isidore. He was exactly what one would think of when one thinks of a monk. He was wonderfully awkward but had a charm that is somehow unique to those who have accepted these Holy Orders, and yet, he also had a presence that, in a humble way, displayed his wisdom and spiritual maturity. He walked  me around the small monastery, pointing out the church, the refectory, the priory, and the guest house. All the while, he walked with his hood on because, as he said to me with a smile, “I don’t want to get my hair wet.”

After Brother Isidore left me, I took my own look around the guest house. I found the most comfortable couch I could find, in front of the largest window I could find. I pulled out my small copy of the Rule of St. Benedict and began reading. It was not long thereafter, however, that it was time for mass. I walked through the mist to the church. I had been to Roman Catholic mass before. It’s a weird feeling to sit through this liturgy. It’s beautiful and worshipful and yet, in the end I cannot sit at the same table as the brothers and sisters with whom I had just chanted: “In union with the whole Church we honor Mary, the ever-virgin mother of Jesus Christ our Lord and God. We honor Joseph, her husband, the apostles and martyrs Peter and Paul, Andrew, and all the saints. May their merits and prayers grant us your constant help and protection. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.” So, I left hungry.

I left the church to spend more time with St. Benedict. “O God, who didst vouchsafe to fill thy most blessed Confessor Benedict with the spirit of all the righteous: grant unto us thy servants who celebrate his Solemnity that, being filled with the same spirit, we may faithfully accomplish that which thou hast enabled us to promise. Through Jesus Christ thy Son, our Lord, who with thee in the unity of the Holy Ghost, liveth and reigneth God, world without end. Amen. Blessed Father Benedict, pray for me. Amen.”

I finished reading through our Blessed Father’s rule that morning. The one thing that most stood out to me was a final chapter titled “The Good Zeal of Monks.”

Just as there is a wicked zeal of bitterness which separates form God and leads to hell so there is a good zeal which separates from evil and leads to God and everlasting life. This then is the good zeal which monks must foster with fervent love; They should each tory to be the first to show respect to the other (Rom. 12:10), supporting with the greatest patience one another’s weakness of body or behavior, and earnestly competing in obedience to one another. No one is to pursue what he judges better for himself, but instead what he judges better for someone else. To their fellow monks they show the pure love of brother; to God, loving fear; to their Abbot, unfeigned and humble love. Let them prefer nothing whatever to Christ, an may he bring us all together to everlasting life. (RB 17)

“A good zeal which separates from evil and leads to God and everlasting life,” this is what I wanted, the good zeal of the monks. “O lord, this is what I want! But at present, I am lowly.”

I ate my lunch after Sext silently with the brothers. I remember there was a reader for lunch, as there is typically at a meal with Benedictines; however, I neither remember what he read nor where it was from. But what I do remember, in great detail, is the silence and being in the presence of “the good zeal of the monks.” It was a heavy feeling. It weighed upon my chest as though each passing moment was another brick laid upon my sternum, each breath harder and harder. Each of these brothers, clad in black robes, had something that I did not. Again, I left hungry.

As the sun further rose to the height of the afternoon the Appalachian morning mist burnt off, and I found a dry spot on a picnic table to sit. And that’s what I did. I sat. I sat and I watched as the weight of the water from this morning’s rain caused the leaves to fall to the ground. I sat and I watched the wind blow the Crape Myrtle flowers unceremoniously from their perch. I sat, I watched, and I thought what it would mean for me to have the good zeal of the monks. I scribbled fervently in a small brown moleskin notebook what I thought would bring me to this zeal. I scribbled out a rule of life as if to say “Lord, what I am asking for is really very ridiculous. I am saying, at present, I am lowly, but give me the good zeal of the monks, immediately.”

I went to None that afternoon. It was just the monks and I this time. The sisters prayed this hour in private. The monks processed, in followed by the abbot. They took their seats and we sat in silence. The abbot then, by rapping the pew in front of him with his first knuckle, gave the signal for us to begin. We stood and began to say the prayers to ourselves, but I was distracted. “Our Father, who art in heaven… I am lowly, oh God…..hallowed be thy Name. Thy Kingdom come. Thy will be done…grant me the good zeal of the monks, oh Lord… On earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread… but the Lord can do that, can’t he?…and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. Amen… The Lord can grant the good zeal of the monks to the lowly.

We finished the liturgy and the monks processed out. I stoped and stared at the altar. I, myself, then processed out. I dipped my hand in the Holy Water Font, crossed myself, and left the monastery. I left hungry, but hopeful.

And so, I leave seminary hungry but I leave hopeful.

A Christmas Homily

I was encouraged to post this. This is a short homily I preached at the end of the fall semester. This has been a hard year/semester for most of us. This was my attempt to speak into that. Special thanks to Tim Norton and Henry Coates, who’s homiletical skills are unrivaled.

I have put a link to the audio below, my delivery is less than ideal, e.g., I get off to a rough start and I sound Canadian when I say shepherds, but I thought I’d include it anyways.

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One of my favorite stories in Lord of the Rings is from the Chapter Houses of Healing in the Return of the King. After the battle of Pelanor fields, when the City of Minas Tirith was successfully defended, many are left wounded by the enemy and not even the greatest healers of the city are capable of healing them. The people are left desperate for a king, for Aragorn has still not revealed himself and there is an old tale, still believed by some in the city, namely a healer by the name of Ioreth, who has tried everything she could to heal the wounded. The old saying goes, “The hands of the King are the hands of a healer, and so shall the rightful king be known.” “The hands of the King are the hands of a healer, and so shall the rightful king be known.”  The rightful King, THE true King, the King we are waiting for is both a mighty ruler AND a healer. “The hands of the King are the hands of a healer, and so shall the rightful king be known.”  I want you to keep that in your mind as you listen to this text. Really sit with these words.

Now in those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus, that a census be taken of all the inhabited earth. 2 This was the first census taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3 And everyone was on his way to register for the census, each to his own city. 4 Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David, 5 in order to register along with Mary, who was engaged to him, and was with child. 6 While they were there, the days were completed for her to give birth. 7 And she gave birth to her firstborn son; and she wrapped Him in cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

8 In the same region there were some shepherds staying out in the fields and keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; 11 for to you is born this day in the city of David a savior. 12 This will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest,

And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.”

15 When the angels had gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds began saying to one another, “Let us go straight to Bethlehem then, and see this thing that has happened which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 So they came in a hurry and found their way to Mary and Joseph, and the baby as He lay in the manger. 17 When they had seen this, they made known the statement which had been told them about this Child. 18 And all who heard it wondered at the things which were told them by the shepherds. 19 But Mary treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart. 20 The shepherds went back, glorifying and praising God for all that they had heard and seen, just as had been told them.

“Unto you, is born this day the Savior!” The savior has come. And He does not pass you by as did the priest and the levite did the man who had fallen amongst thieves. He makes your situation his own. He has taken on your situation unto himself and made himself lowly. He remained what he was, and what he was not he assumed. Truly God became truly man. And this man came to heal and to teach the way, he put Himself at the disposal of those who needed Him. He took on the cancer of sin upon himself in order that He may cure it. He took on the cancer of hate, of racism, of death. He took all of this upon himself. He assumes sinful flesh and through this Christ heals. That’s what Christ has done. That’s what this text announces.

Christ invites us into the life of the trinity, and our humanity cannot preclude us from this.
Through this, Christ heals.
The cause of the widow and the orphan have been taken up
Through this, Christ heals.
The blind receive sight and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up.
Through this, Christ heals.
To you a savior is born, and this savior stands with you
Through this, Christ heals.
The hands of Christ are the hands of a healer.

We are able to recognize hope because of the healing that is given to us in the incarnation. The Holy One Himself comes down to us, God in child in the manger. God comes. The Lord Jesus comes. Christmas comes.

My question for y’all is, how do we recognize this hope when we do not have someone to point it out to us. How do we recognize hope when we do not have a multitude of the  heavenly host to proclaim it to us? This has been a hard year. There has been so much pain: the shootings of San Bernardino, California, Roseburg, Oregon, Charleston, South Carolina, and the pulse nightclub in Orlando, the racial tensions from the police shootings of innocent black men to riots, the most contentious presidential election we’ve ever seen. How do we recognize hope when, instead of a heavenly host proclaiming the hope that has just been given, we have a news anchor announcing more death, racism, and hate?

If you are like me, you are so desperate for some semblance of hope that you will follow anything that looks like angels proclaiming it and try to heal the hopelessness yourself.  You will burry yourself in your work, you will try and find hope in friends, or you simply plug your ears and hum only to find the every single effort fruitless.

To find the true answer we turn to our passage. “For to you is born this day in the city of David a savior” These words, friends, “to you, a savior,” is the Christmas story. The event that is being proclaimed here by the angel of the Lord, the action of the man who provides us hope, is how we recognize hope. It is true, we do not have angels descending from heaven to proclaim the presence of Hope to us. We do not have angels to proclaim to us that we should not be afraid, when we fear all hope is lost and we feel the weight of pain and hopelessness. What we do have is knowledge of a specific event, an event in history, an action taken by he that gives hope, in the city of David while Quirinius was governor of Syria.

We recognize hope by the past and promised action of Christ, god with us.

But what exactly is the action that is being done that gives us hope, that allows us to recognize this hope without the angel of the Lord proclaiming it to us like he did to the shepherds keeping watch over their flocks by night? My friends, the action that we may know him by, that we may recognize hope is his movement towards us, the Holy one himself comes down and becomes a child in a manger. “to you, a savior!”

Brothers and sisters, sometimes we need to be reminded of this. We need to be reminded that hope is given and we have found it. That a light shines in the darkness, and the darkness cannot lay hold of it. For in this action, we can recognize our hope. When we do not have angles to sing and proclaim our hope, we tend to follow any proclamation we can find in an attempt to heal ourselves from whatever is bearing down upon us. We try and find hope in relationships, we try and find hope in our accomplishment within the church, or we burry ourselves in our studies and we make our grades and our performance apart of our identity. We need to be reminded that our hope is found, only, in these words, “to you, a savior.” And it is this savior, alone, who heals.

For the hands of the King of the hands of a healer and and so shall the rightful king be known. We left Aragorn outside of the city, however, seeing the need, but still not wanting to reveal himself as the true king just yet, enters the city but he furls up his banner and enters as a Ranger, a man of an unknown, mysterious people from the North. He enters the House of healing, gathers a little known weed called Kingsfoil, and heals Faramir. Faramir stirs and Aragorn tells him, “Walk no more in the shadows, but awake! You are weary. Rest a while and take food, and be ready when I return.” He is recognized as the rightful king and rumors spread throughout the city that the true king has returned.

Walk no more in the shadows, but awake! You are weary. Rest a while and take food, and be ready when I return.

That is what we do in Advent. We wait. We wait for the final consummation of Christ’s action towards us. It is true that Christ has come, christ has healed, and we see this and recognize this hope but because of this action we also await a future hope. We wait until Christ comes back and makes all things new. But this time He will not enter the city as a Ranger with banners furled, or a child born in a manger because we cannot find room for him. He will come, written on his robe and thigh, King of Kings and Lord of Lords. The Holy city, the new Jerusalem, will descend down from heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And he will tabernacle amongst us. He will wipe away every tear from our eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying, nor shootings, nor racism, nor hate. He will heal all. For the former things will have passed away.

Until that day, we wait. We sit with the hope found in the incarnation, god for us. We see the action taken towards us, we see the hope. Brothers and sisters, until that day, walk no more in the shadows, You are weary. Rest a while, and take food, and be ready when He returns.

 

https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B21e4gsNtkFwV21WX0s2M3hYMXc/view?usp=sharing

A Seminarian’s Reminder

This semester has been a roller coaster. More and more I find myself drowning under the weight that is piled upon me. I feel like how I can only assume Atlas feels, carrying his yoke, all the while wishing it would crush its bearer. I am continuously reminded of all that I have left to do on this journey I have chosen. The next resulting thing is a question, one I have pondered late into the night, like tonight; “What the hell am I doing here?”

Tonight as I asked that question to myself I began to read Isaiah, chapter six.  Here I am presented with Isaiah having a vision of the throne room of God. I am given two different reactions to the presence of God.  Isaiah sees the seraphim before him, glorifying and praising their God. They say to Him, “HOLY, HOLY, HOLY, is the LORD of host, the whole earth is filled with his glory!”

I love how this sounds in the original Hebrew:

קָדֹ֧ושׁ קָדֹ֛ושׁ קָדֹ֖ושׁ יְיָ צְבָאֹ֑ות מְלֹ֥א כָל־הָאָ֖רֶץ כְּבֹודֹֽו׃

qädôsh qädôsh qädôsh [Adonai] tz’väôt m’lo khäl-hääretz K’vôdô

And then Isaiah gives his response to the presence of God. “Woe to me! For I am destroyed! For I am a man of unclean lips and I am living among a people of unclean lips! For my eyes have seen the king, LORD of hosts!”

Too often I follow Isaiah when presented with God and his plan for me. I am destroyed, for I am a man of unclean lips. I am not smart enough! I am not capable! I am not able to fulfill all that you have planed for me! I am a sinner! I am ‘so mean that in remembrance of my mortality, I mayest say to corruption, “Thou art my father,” and to the worm, “Thou art my sister”’  I see God’s glory and the possibility of an abundant life because it is centered around Jesus Christ and I shudder.  Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death?

I forget about the provision of the Lord. I forget His promises of love and forgiveness. I forget that  the LORD God condescended to Isaiah and a seraph flew down to him and touched a hot coal to his lips and told him; “Look! This has touched your lips and has removed your guilt, and your sin is annulled.”  I forget that ‘in Christ thou art so honored that thou canst say to the Almighty, “Abba, Father,” and to the Incarnate God, “Thou art my brother and my husband.”’

The_Prophet_Isaiah_1726_29

The Lord God then says “Whom shall I send? Who will go for us?” Because Isaiah’s sins are cleansed and he is made right in the eyes of the Lord, he is able to respond;

I am here! Send me!

Sometimes I forget, that is why I am here. I am here because the only response that I know of to God’s grace and provision, and his forgiveness and love is the phrase “I am here! Send me!”

I have dedicated my life to spurring others on to a deeper relationship with Christ through discipleship, being intentional with my relationships, and by humbly seeking after the deep things of God and teaching others what I have learned. And I, like St. Peter, know of no where else to go and know of no one to go to. For Christ has the words of eternal life and I believe and have come to know that He is the the Holy One of God. I am convinced that he will provide manna for me while at seminary.

Sometimes I just need a reminder.

Letters to a Pilgrim Pt. 7

The final letter in our series, we find the pilgrimage complete and both the seeker and discipler thrilled.

 

Dear Bear Necessities,

I am thrilled to hear of your success and that you have finally made it back home.  And yes I would agree with you, there does seem to be a link between aesthetics and ontology.  Realizing that we are creations of the most high God leads us to realize our ‘beauty.’ He has placed us above the creatures of the earth and even the earth herself.  We, being bent creatures, are sought after by our creator, a relationship, though not needed by Him, is sought by Him and is achieved through our Lord Jesus Christ.  The mighty world in which you saw on your pilgrimage may point to Christ, it may be glorious and magnificent, but we are the only creation that a relationship is sought by God.  I am reminded of what Spurgeon once said, and it would be quite appropriate to state it here, “Pause here, devout reader, and see if thou canst without ecstatic amazement, contemplate the infinite condescension of the Son of God in thus exalting thy wretchedness into blessed union with His glory. Thou art so mean that in remembrance of thy mortality, thou mayest say to corruption, “Thou art my father,” and to the worm, “Thou art my sister”; and yet in Christ thou art so honored that thou canst say to the Almighty, “Abba, Father,” and to the Incarnate God, “Thou art my brother and my husband.””

Christ condescended to save US! That, friend, is more glorious than anything you may have seen on your journey.  It is through communion with and salvation through Christ that we are able to, like other creations, point to and glorify the artist.

I am ecstatic to hear that this is what you have realized. That you friend are a son of the most high God, the same God that numbered the stars and placed them in their place, the same God that built the mountains in which you climbed for six months.  From here, I am not sure there is much more I can say, so I will leave you with this

“Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.”

I look forward to hearing more about your pilgrimage over a pint and bowl of fine Virginian Pipe Tobacco.

Until then, with much love,

Rufio

Letters to a Pilgrim Pt. 6

Dear Bear Necessities,

Yes I agree, your pilgrimage could in fact be considered a ‘aesthetic experience.’ But like I mentioned in my previous letter, you must be careful to remember that it is not the beauty itself you should attend to, it is that which the beauty points to that deserves your attention.  It is only then that the beauty will mean anything. Without a wholly Other, that created this beauty, the object holding said beauty would be worthless.  Furthermore, I am convinced that without the existence of a wholly Other, the idea of beauty would make no sense at all.  In order for us to label something as beautiful, we must refer to something that transcends us, it would mean nothing if we are simply referring to how an object makes us feel.  Beauty, friend, is not in the eye of the beholder, it is in the object beheld. Simply stating an subjective observation would mean nothing to the object in which we are talking about.  If we are indeed talking about the object, and not our feelings that are manifested by it, then we are talking about a value it holds, a value that is given to it by its Creator, during its creation by a wholly Other.  Now, there is indeed a subjective way in which we experience the objective, this is where Kant’s idea of the sublime comes in.  The sublime is that in which illicits a reaction from us, it is our subjective experience.

By the time you receive this, you will be arriving near the 100 mile wilderness. I indeed hope this reaches you in time.  This area is the longest portion of the Appalachian Trail with no civilization, hence the name.  This will be one of the hardest parts of your pilgrimage, not only because of the distance but because of how close it is to the end. You must push through friend.  Take courage, you have prepared for this.  It is here that solitude will be at its height.  It is here that you are least likely to run into your fellow hikers.  This portion will, if you have not already, draw you closer to your creator than ever before.

Love

Rufio

P.S.   Look out for moose.

Letters to a Pilgrim Pt. 5

Dear Bear Necessities,

You are approaching the final and hardest leg of your journey.  This is when most pilgrims drop out and give up. I pray you will not be one of these unfortunate many.  I think Nietzsche got it wrong.  It is not the end that will justify the means, I believe the end will, however, justify the pain it took to get you there.  Drawing a metaphorical line to your pilgrimage to life is not so hard in this sense, although, that may have been the point of pilgrimages in the first place.  Life here on earth is in no way simple or easy.  Christ never said following Him would be easy, but he did say the end will be worth it when we have ‘shuffled off this mortal coil.’ But it is not the dreams that must give us pause, it is everlasting communion with Christ. Oh to be there now, to live with the Almighty, that must give us pause. “ For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. But if I am to live on in the flesh, this will mean fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which to choose. But I am hard-pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better; yet to remain on in the flesh is more necessary for your sake. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all for your progress and joy in the faith, so that your proud confidence in me may abound in Christ Jesus through my coming to you again.”

Your friend.

Rufio

Letters to a Pilgrim Pt. 4

Dear Bear Necessities,

I am happy to hear the trail is rough.  I know this may sound off to you, but a pilgrimage worth doing is always going to be rough.  You’re journey is going to try your patience. It is going to wear you down to as low as you have ever been but when you are finished you will be higher than you have ever been before.  But take heart my friend, you are almost there. You must remember to not allow this desire to be finished distract you from the ultimate purpose of this pilgrimage.  Like I mentioned in my previous letter, you must slow down to smell the coffee.  Do not allow the trail to become a means to an end otherwise you will not reach the end. Do not be fooled friend, Maine is not your goal.  Through this pilgrimage I pray you will find who you are, more importantly, who you are in Christ.

Furthermore my friend, I am both saddened and pleased to hear that your trail mates have left.  Solitude on the trail is hard, but I think in the end you will find as you sojourn alone with Christ and his creation that this state will help you realize who you are in Christ.  Ultimately, I think, community is about a group of flawed people coming together as a flawed and broken group to commune with God.  For without this community, we are left with a Kantian god, an unknowable wholly other.  Community-less, or rather churchless, Christianity is, indeed, an illusion.  This communio sanctorum should be the start for understanding. It is only through this communio sanctorum that we are able to embody fides quaerens intellectum. However, you must not allow community to define you, this is where time alone will teach. Friends and family, because of our broken nature, will let us down, and if our identity is found in this community, we will find that our lives will come tumbling down with them.  This is why I believe time alone with God is so important, it reminds us that our identity should be placed solely in Christ.  Being alone is difficult and trying but it is an opportunity for so much healing, identity-shaping and self-awareness. Because sometimes the only time we are forced to look inward is when there is nothing distracting us outwardly.

Your humble servant,

Rufio