Hugh of Lincoln – Br. Eldridge Pendleton
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Titus 2: 7-8, 11-14;
Psalm 112: 1-9;
Matthew 24: 42-47
When Hugh was five years old his family gave him to the Carthusian monks of the Grande Chartreuse in the mountains of south eastern France to raise. That a noble family would give a son at a tender age to a monastery to educate was not unusual during the Middle Ages because monastic foundations were centers of learning. Even so, most parents might have hesitated sending a son for training to the strictest religious community in the Church. Those of you who have seen the movie Into Greater Silence or read Nancy Maguire’s account of 20th Carthusians in England, An Infinity of Little Hours will have some familiarity with this religious order. Into Greater Silence gave a glimpse of the daily life of the Carthusians at Grande Chartreuse, which has changed little since the order was founded by St. Bruno in the 11th century. Blanketed by deep snows during long winters, the silence of the season compliments the disciplined silence of the monks. One can only imagine the impact such an atmosphere of holiness and austerity would have on children brought up in it. We know that Hugh thrived there. When he came of age Hugh joined the ranks of the Carthusians who had raised him, and while still quite young gained a reputation for personal holiness and spiritual vigor. When King Henry II wished to establish a house of Carthusians in England, Hugh was chosen to found one in Somerset. The foundation grew and flourished quickly because many were attracted by Hugh’s holiness and dedication to prayer. The friendship between Henry and Hugh, however, was often stormy because Hugh openly opposed the King whenever he thought his demands were unjust and oppressive. Later, when it came to taxation to support the wars of Henry’s son, Richard, Hugh openly opposed him. Faced with his resistance, both monarchs relented.
Later, Hugh became bishop of Lincoln, a role he reluctantly accepted but served well.
In his letter to Titus, St. Paul outlined the qualities for Christian leadership.
“Show yourself in all respects a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, gravity, and sound speech that cannot be censured, then any opponent will be put to shame, having nothing to say to us. . . Godly grace trains us to renounce impiety and worldly passions, and in the present age live lives that are self-controlled, upright and godly while we wait for the blessed hope of our salvation.”
Even in leading the demanding life of a bishop, Hugh maintained his monastic discipline, while supporting the poor, the oppressed and the outcast, and in his quiet way, living a life close to the model St. Paul set forth for Christian leaders.
Hugh’s story of exposure to holiness at an early age has made me conscious of the tremendous responsibility each of us has as Christians. After all, part of our vocation as followers of Christ is leadership. What Paul offers as a model for elders is a model for us, because non Christians and new members of the faith look to us to see how to live a Christian life. In today’s Gospel we are exhorted to live in such a way that we are prepared for the Lord’s return. “Blessed is that slave whom his master will find at work when he arrives.” By our baptism we are incorporated into the body of Christ and given the authority to lead others to God. We do this best by the way we live, not with great fanfare, but in the quietness of daily living, by loving our neighbor, by good works, by resisting evil in every way we can. In doing so we become models for others, and by doing so we are prepared for the Lord’s coming.
I doubt that I would be here talking to you this evening were it not for the influence my grandmother had on me when I was a small child. She had been widowed at a very early age and left to raise two children. I suspect Christ had always been at the center of her life. No day passed for her without prayer and meditation on the scripture. She taught Sunday School for over fifty years and her teaching was so popular that people would stop me on the street and remember many years after her death the impact she had on their spiritual lives. The God she introduced me to as a child was a God of love and the bible stories she taught me were all reflections of that love. Early in my life I had discovered that some people were only Sunday Christians and did not live that way the rest of the week. My grandmother lived like a Christian every day. She told me once that the Jesuits say train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is older he will not depart from it. I know that Christian discipleship was her hope for me. Despite her example and my love for her, during my early adult life my Christian observance was spotty at best. There were years when I did not go to church. But because of her quiet, loving witness I never doubted God, and in midlife after much wandering I finally came home to the Church and found my true vocation.
I have any number of friends who have become grandmothers in the last few years and I envy their relationship with their grandchildren. What joy it can be to glimpse the spiritual world of children and what an awesome responsibility they have to welcome them to Christ. But when I start to envy I remember that we are all called to guide the way, to be spiritual grannies, no matter what our age or whether we are women or men.
My first teaching job was at a rural high school near Albany, New York when I was 23 years old. I was hired to complete a year, replacing someone who had been fired a month earlier. What classroom discipline he had established had disintegrated into bedlam in the weeks since he left. I was new at teaching and had never had charge of a classroom before, and so was curious to see how other teachers maintained order. Some tried to be heard by shouting over the tumult, others seemed to be on the offensive. But the one who impressed me most was the librarian, Mrs. Koch, who had charge of several periods of study hall. Whatever the class or time of day, there was always perfect silence because she rarely spoke and never raised her voice. Should there ever have been a peep of disorder, I am convinced she would have dealt with it immediately and effectively so that it would never happen again. But such outbursts never happened under her quiet control. Hers was the method I admired and made my own.
What we learn from Hugh of Lincoln and what I also learned from my grandmother and Mrs. Koch is that the most effective witness is the quiet, sustained and ever present one. To be heard in these noisy times we need only to lower our voice.
In closing I would like for you to consider what opportunities you have to model the Christian life.
Are you prepared by the way you live to encounter Christ?
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Thanks for the gentle and tender reflection. I was moved by the example your grandmother gave you. My mother, now wracked with Parkinson’s and succumbing to dementia, played that part for me as a child. I wandered in the wilderness, too, in my youth, answering God’s call much later. With my own children, i realize how important it is that we give them room to experience Christ’s love in us; it does serve them well.
Thank you for this beautiful reflection.