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One Thing:  In Honor of Richard Meux Benson SSJE – Br. David Vryhof

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R.M. Benson – I Kings 19:9-12; Psalm 27:5-11; I John 4:7-12; John 15:9-17

Today we remember the founder of our community, Fr. Benson, who died on this day in 1915.  We have received a great deal from him, and his example and teaching continue to inspire our life and mission today.

Fr. Benson was a man who made a strong impression on those he met.  One of his contemporaries described him as “shabby, untidy, ill-kempt, and quite eccentric,” but at the same time claimed that  there was “a divine tenderness (that) shone through all that was most uncouth” (p.19).  It seemed to those who knew him that his gaze was always fixed on things above, which were just as real to him – and far more valuable – than things below.  He lived in the presence of God. “He conveyed a sense of the immediacy and nearness of God,” says Donald Allchin.  “There was something in him and around him which spoke of eternal and heavenly realities” (A.M. Allchin, in Benson of Cowley, p. 19).  

By his words and example, he reminds us our vocation is, first and foremost, to seek God.  “We come apart from the world to worship God,” he tells us. “We are called out of the world…in order that we may see God.  God has appeared to us, and God wants us to come apart from the world in order that we may see Him.  He desires to show Himself to us.  He desires to make us experience the delight of His fellowship.  He calls us apart for this express purpose…”  “Whenever we come…to our chapel let us think that we are coming…in obedience to that command.  Let us expect to have the revelation of God.  Let us remember that we are not coming…merely because we like to come, but because the voice has bidden us to come.” (p.21).

This was the call – the invitation of God to come apart to seek and worship him – that was at the center of Fr. Benson’s life, and that is at the center of our vocation.  Every aspect of our community’s life, every detail of our Rule and observance must be seen in relation to this one end.  Our daily worship, our times of meditation, our regular gatherings, our daily tasks, our interaction with others, our ministry to those who come to us and to those to whom we are sent – all of it must be seen in relation to this one end.  The one goal of our life in community is to enter more deeply into the divine life, to grow in union with God.  Our purpose is “to draw near, to see, to love, to hear the one who calls (us) out of this world into himself” (Allchin, p.21).

And yet it’s not always easy to keep our lives oriented towards God when we are much distracted with the things of this world, including capital campaigns, building repairs, demanding ministries, and life together.  Today gives us a chance to remind ourselves of our calling, and to set ourselves to seek first the kingdom of God.  Nothing is more important or more valuable than this.  It is only when we maintain this vision and continually deepen our desire for it that our vocation has force and meaning.  It is for us the “one thing necessary.”

“One thing have I asked of the Lord,” the psalmist says, “One thing will I seek.  That I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the fair beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple” (Ps. 27:5-6, BCP p.617).  It would be hard to find a clearer description of the life we have chosen to live here in this Society, a life which Fr. Benson has so beautifully modeled for us.

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9 Comments

  1. Ruth West on January 14, 2016 at 19:52

    Thanks for this good message. I am reminded of the account of Br. Lawrence, “Practicing the Presence of God.” I see your founder as one who could share that reality.

  2. Father Ralph Howe on January 14, 2016 at 17:10

    As the time approaches for the celebration of Richard Benson and Charles Gore this Saturday, be assured of the prayers of hundreds of children for SSJE at St. James Episcopal Day School in Baton Rouge, tomorrow at our Holy Eucharist. Two of the priests here have enjoyed the hospitality in Cambridge in the past, and are thankful for you all. Father Ralph Howe, Senior Associate and Day School Chaplain

  3. Heather Clark on January 14, 2016 at 13:57

    I belong to St. John’s Anglican Church in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. I look forward to your e mail every morning. Thank you.. We celebrated your founder at our Thursday Eucharist today.

  4. Alice on January 14, 2016 at 10:31

    Wonderful and healing words, calling us back again. So easy to turn away and wonder where God has gone. 🙂

  5. Marta E on January 14, 2016 at 07:10

    I have been reading and studying Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s life and works. It seems this focus of Fr. Benson is like DB’s “From the Phraseological to the Real”. I, too, seem to be experiencing a coordination of events, and insights that seem to be very spiritual, although not in the laundry aisle of the grocery store! Yesterday, I was in my (home) office on the second floor, working and watching the sunrise. It was pale pink, then turned to silver. I “knew” that my expected Baby Girl grandaughter was born. It is true. My son e-mailed me at 8:03 that she had been born at 7:03 a.m., the exact time of the sunrise! praise God.

  6. John McCausland on January 14, 2014 at 18:06

    Thank you so much for this homily, and for the life of the Community through the years to which it speaks so eloquently. It seems to me that we so often seek to “use” God, or appropriate him, for our own purposes, rather than orienting our life to seek him and his purposes. I grow very discouraged about this, even in how we orient our parishes, and then my times with S.S.J.E. or reading things like this call me back and remind me that I’m not crazy. Thank you all so much.

  7. Bill Underhilll on January 14, 2014 at 16:46

    Thanks, David, for sharing that posting. It is a good reminder (I need those daily) of our calling as Christians and as clergy . Your daily “Words” are often on the mark, and in every case, a blessing you (SSJE) share with all of us.A blessed anniversary, of Fr. Benson, and timely for me as yesterday, the 13th, was an anniversary for me, the 57th of my ordination to the priesthood. Your posting was of special value to me. Thank you.

  8. Anders on January 14, 2014 at 12:02

    A recently published book “Coming Apart” the author Charles Murray uses “coming apart” as in “coming apart at the seams”. Fr. Benson terminology to “come apart from the world to worship God” is confusing to me. Is it an act of surrender? Aestheticism? meditation and focus? In an earlier quote from Fr. Benson, he wrote “Satan´s temptation is for us to seize life as our immediate ´right´ instead of to receive it progressively as God´s gift.” Is “coming apart” a way of saying we should discard our answers to gaze at life for the questions, and step aside from our focus on the tree of the knowledge of good and evil to wander in the greater garden?

  9. The Rev. Dr. Christian Brocato, Rector on January 14, 2014 at 08:15

    Dear Brothers,

    I pray with you today as you remember your founder, a very important day in the life of a religious community. I celebrate with you his legacy and the foundation which he helped to establish which continues to nourish the people of God in so many ways.

    Peace and blessings to you on this day.

    Christian+

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