Life Profession of Keith Robert Nelson SSJE
2 Chronicles 6: 12 – 15, 41 – 42 – 7: 4
1 Peter 1: 3 – 9
John 15: 1 – 11
I don’t know if this was your experience, Keith. It certainly was mine. When I announced to my friends that I was coming here to test my vocation, a number of them responded, what a waste. Some thought that I had suffered a setback, a disappointment, in life, and that I was going off to the monastery to lick my wounds, to heal, to hide. Others thought that I was throwing away my life as a parish priest, in exchange for a life they could not understand, much less comprehend. A few thought that I was turning to a life that was too heavenly minded, to be any earthly good. There were one or two, who thought that I was disappearing behind the monastery wall, and would never be heard of, or seen again, and they grieved my coming here, as if I had died. A few assumed that I was simply running away from something. It was impossible to explain in ways they could understand, what I was doing, and why I was doing it. It took a huge amount of determination, and persistence to come, because in this day and age, our life does seem to many, to be a waste. It appears to them that we are running away. It looks to them that we are hiding from the real world. Why on earth would a talented, young man, with enormous potential, choose such a life that is so foreign, so alien, so strange, to the world around us?
Looked at one way, our life is unfathomable. It makes no sense. It is a waste, because the one thing at the core of our life is so, so incomprehensible, to so, so many people. That incomprehensible thing of course, is God.
This life makes absolutely no sense unless, and until, God makes sense. As Father Benson reminds us, [we] must seek to realize increasingly the purposes for which our Society is called together – to live for God…. It is this single-minded living for God that is at the core of our life, which sets us apart from the prevailing culture around us, and which to some, makes no sense at all.
Feast of St. Alban the Martyr
Profession of Initial Vows: Brother Lucas Hall SSJE
Today is one of those days when we have the opportunity to pull back the veil, if ever so slightly, and look within, in order to catch a glimpse of a wonderful mystery. This mystery is at work all around us. Mostly, however, it works in secret, away from prying eyes, for it is too precious, sometimes too fragile, often too personal. But today we are allowed a momentary glimpse, and what we behold causes us to stop, to step aside, to look, to see, to think, to ponder, to change our direction, even to offer our lives. It is only when we have stopped, and stepped aside to see, and ponder, does this mystery give us its name.
Today we see that mystery, and hear it speak its name.
We see the mystery and hear its name, in the life of Moses, the Servant of the Lord. Touched by this hand of mystery at birth, and snatched from certain death in a watery grave, he encountered that same saving mystery once again in today’s lesson from Exodus. This time he is not a baby floating in a basket made of reeds, but a man, a shepherd, keeping watch over his father – in – law’s flock, in the wilderness. There at Horeb, near the mountain of God,the angel of the Lord appeared to [Moses] in a flame of fire out of a bush; he looked, and the bush was blazing, yet it was not consumed.Such was the mystery that Moses encountered, that he could not but stop and look. ‘I must turn aside and look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up.’It was only when Moses stopped and turned aside, that the mystery spoke. When the Lord saw that he had turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, ‘Moses, Moses!’And in speaking, the mystery was revealed. ‘Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.’ He said further, ‘I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’ And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.
Having heard the voice of God, Moses can do no other, but hide his face. But this mystery, who is God, asks for more. ‘Come, I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.’And having asked, God promises. ‘I will be with you.’
Having stopped, to step aside, to look, to see, to think, to ponder, Moses’ life was changed, as he offered it to the service of the mystery who is God. And at this, the veil is lifted, and we glimpse, even just for a moment, the mystery of God at work in the soul of Moses. And there, in the heart of Moses, we see God making a home.
We see the mystery, and hear its name in the story of Alban, whose feast we keep today. Alban was a Roman soldier stationed in Britain. One night a Christian priest, fleeing from persecution, appeared on Alban’s doorstep. For some reason, rather than handing him over to the authorities, Alban took him in, and hid him. Perhaps likes Moses’ encounter with the burning bush, Alban knew that in the presence of this priest, he was on holy ground. And like Moses, the mystery who is God was revealed to Alban, and having stopped, to step aside, to look, to see, to think, to ponder, Alban’s life was changed, as he offered it to the service of the mystery who is God. When the soldiers finally came to his door in search of the priest, Alban gave himself up, proclaiming his name to be Alban, and [that] I worship and adore the living and true God, who created all things.And at this, the veil is lifted, and we glimpse, even just for a moment, the mystery of God at work in the soul of Alban. And there, in the heart of Alban, we see God making a home.
For some of us, once we have encountered this mystery who is God, like Moses, like Alban, we can do nothing except to stop, to step aside, to look, to see, to think, to ponder, and our lives are forever changed, as we offer them to the service of the mystery who is God.
Both Moses and Alban could have acted differently. Both could have failed to see what was before them. Moses could have walked passed the burning bush, failing to see in it the mystery of God. Alban could have left that priest outside, alone, in the dark, to face his persecutors alone, failing to see the mystery of God in the one who stood before him. But neither did. In both bush and priest, Alban and Moses heard the voice of God speaking their name: Moses, Moses, Alban, Alban. And hearing that voice, their lives were changed.
Father Benson, the founder of our community, puts it this way: It is a most blessed thing to [hear God’s] call. [When God] opens the ear of the soul to hear His voice calling, directing us by His providence, impelling us by His constraining grace to be wholly His, then we must continue in this life by a reliance on the Divine strength. The vow does not remove the uncertainties of the will, the fluctuations of feeling, the tendencies to depression, the uprisings of passion. It does not shut out the visions of the world or quench the fires within, or benumb the lower human will. But it brings down the pledged blessing in giving to the soul the unchanging assistance of God. The life-giving hand of the Eternal is given to the soul [that] is bound to Himself, enabling it to rise triumphant over all the temptations of the world. The soul becomes dead, not with the death of apathy, but dead to the world because alive to God.
Lucas, like Moses and Alban, you have heard the voice of God speaking your name, and as Father Benson reminds us, that is a most blessed thing. It is a most blessed thing to hear the voice of God speaking deep within a heart that it eternally aflame with love, aflame with the love of God, aflame with the love of all whom God has made.
For the last three years we have watched, Lucas, as your heart has burned, but not been consumed, with God’s love. And with Father Benson we can say, looking at you, that [it] is a most blessed thing to [hear God’s] call. [For when God] opens the ear of the soul to hear His voice calling, directing us by His providence, impelling us by His constraining grace to be wholly His, then we must continue in this life by a reliance on the Divine strength.
Today Lucas, the veil is once again lifted, if even for a moment, and all of us who love you, are privileged to see, if only just for a moment, that which is precious, and fragile, and deeply personal. And what we behold causes us to stop, to step aside, to look, to see, to think, to ponder, for we see that the God of Moses, and the God of Alban, has made a home in your heart, inviting you to [spend] your … life abiding in him and giving [yourself] up to the attraction of his glory.
But Lucas, there is more that we see, for having given yourself to God, as you do this day, God gives to you, as he gave to Moses. I will be with you,God promised Moses. I will not leave you orphaned, I am coming to you,Jesus promises us.
Again as Father Benson reminds us, [in] the vow of a Religious, there is to be the real trusting of the soul to the love of God, I believed, and therefore will I speak. God has promised all we can desire; we need not fresh promises. We trust ourselves to Him who cannot deny himself. We give ourselves up in perfect confidence to His love, and He will give more than human words can make known. Give up all to God, and God will give up His holy Being to us. All for all, the all of earth for the all of heaven, the all of man for the all of God.
Today, as you trust your life and soul to God, God in Christ gives himself to you. I will be with you, God promises you this day. I will not leave you orphaned, Jesus promises you this day.
As our Rule of Lifereminds us, it is a great privilege to be called to the religious life.And for us who love you Lucas, it is a great privilege to be with you this day, and behold with awe and wonder the fire of God’s love burning deep within you. Like Moses we cannot but stop and turn aside. And having turned aside, we too see a great mystery, and know that in your presence, we stand on holy ground. As you give yourself up to the mystery who is God today, we know also the promise God makes to you today, I will be with you. That promise comes again to you today from the lips of the Lord Jesus,I will not leave you orphaned.
Lucas, as you make your vows of poverty, celibacy, and obedience today, we who love you are on holy ground, for in you we see a great sight: we see nothing less than the power, and the glory, and the majesty of God, burning within you, as the eternal mystery who is God, Father, Son, and Spirit comes and makes a home in your heart.
Exodus 3: 2
Exodus 3: 3
Exodus 3: 4
Exodus 3: 5, 6
Exodus 3: 10
Exodus 3: 12
John 14: 23
A Great Cloud of Witnesses, Church Publishing, 2016, June 22
John 14: 23
Benson, Richard Meux, Instructions on the Religious Life, First Series, 1927, page 14 – 15
SSJE, Rule of Life, The Call of the Society, chapter 1, page 2
John 14: 18
Benson, Richard Meux, Instructions on the Religious Life, First Series, 1927, page 13
SSJE, Rule of Life, Prayer and Life, chapter 22, page 44
The Restoration of the Religious Life in the Anglican Communion:
The Profession of Marian Rebecca Hughes
“I was enrolled one of Christ’s Virgins, espoused to him and made his handmaid and may he of his infinite mercy grant that I may ever strive to please him and to keep from the world though still in it.”[i]
A twenty-four year old Englishwoman named Marian Rebecca Hughes wrote these words in her diary in the year 1841. On Trinity Sunday of that year, she stepped boldly but quietly into uncharted territory for a nineteenth-century Anglican: she vowed to remain unmarried in devotion to Christ and in service to the church. From John Henry Newman and Edward Bouverie Pusey, pioneering priests and theologians of what we now call the Oxford Movement, she had learned that such consecrated women had played a vital role in the early church. From her growing knowledge of the Roman Catholic Sisters of Mercy in Ireland and of the social work of Lutheran deaconesses, she drew inspiration to live a life of service. Her vows were received by Pusey in a private home, but this private ceremony also included a humble, public act. Marian went immediately to the Church of St. Mary the Virgin in Oxford, where she knelt at the altar rail beside Lucy, Dr. Pusey’s daughter. Lucy, aged 12, was that day receiving her first communion. Both Newman and the young Ms. Pusey were fully aware of Marian’s consecration; they were, in a sense, co-conspirators. Upon receiving communion and completing the final prayers of consecration, Marian had become the first person to take up the vocation of vowed religious life in the Church of England since the dissolution of the monasteries at the Reformation. It is difficult from our historical distance to fully appreciate how counter-cultural this decision was. While she was amply resourced by highly sympathetic male clergy, Marian was a young Victorian woman in an age that still had no cultural reference points for the life she aspired to live. For the next nine years, she gathered information about Roman Catholic women’s religious life in France and cared for her aging parents. It was not until 1850 that she would take up life in a community of Anglican sisters, the newly founded Society of the Holy and Undivided Trinity. By the time Mother Marian died in 1912, in the ninety-fifth year of her age and the seventy-first year of her religious profession, she had witnessed the firm foundation of Anglican religious life for women and men – including the founding of our Society in 1866.
Preached at Order of the Holy Cross, West Park NY
Psalm 104:25-35, 37
John 14:8-17 (25-27)
I know that not many of you know me, but those of you who do, will perhaps remember that my undergraduate degree is in history. All my life I have been interested in history. There was even a time long ago when asked what I wanted to do when I grew up, my response was more likely to be a pioneer, than anything else. I remain fascinated by history and especially, for obvious reasons, by the history of the revival of monasticism within the Anglican tradition.
Reading the history of the monastic movement within Anglicanism is lots of fun, because you come across all kinds of people, some of them inspirational, like Father Huntington or Father Benson, and some of them just plain nuts, like Father Ignatius of Llanthony.
Commemoration of John Cassian (360-435)
We remember today a monk named John Cassian, born in the mid-fourth century in what is now Romania. As a young man he was struggling as a follower of Jesus in a time when the church and world seemed to be falling apart. In many ways his world was not unlike our world today, minus the electronic technology. As a young man, John Cassian traveled to Bethlehem and later moved to Egypt to be formed by some of the great desert hermits.
At the heart of the desert spirituality was the conviction that we have been created in the image of God, and nothing will ever change that. “Original sin,” which we read about in the Book of Genesis, or our own subsequent collusion with sin, never coopts our “original blessing.”[i]We are created in the image of God. At our very core, our soul has the capacity and yearning to love God with the same kind of passion with which God loves us. The aim of the desertfathers and mothers, the abbas and ammas, was to rid themselves of the anxieties, and distractions, and self-judgments that called their attention away from knowing and practicing the love of God with their our heart, soul, strength, and mind.
Life Profession of Nicholas Bartoli SSJE
Exodus 33: 7 – 11
Psalm 139: 1 – 12
1 John 4: 7 – 12
John 15: 9 – 19
If truth be told, I am more than a little surprised to be here today. Indeed, I am more than a little surprised that any of us are here today. I am actually most surprised that Nicholas is here today!
There was a time, not all that long ago in the scheme of things, that I was convinced that this life profession of our Brother Nicholas, would never happen. And I am not the only one. I think Nicholas was even more convinced that it would never happen! He was so convinced in fact, that he went around telling Brothers individually, that he was leaving the community!
In the midst of all of this, I tried to convince Nicholas that leaving, at least leaving when he was thinking about doing so, was not a good idea. But in case you didn’t know, Nicholas has a stubborn streak in him as wide as the Brooklyn Bridge! What saved the day was a conversation he had with a good friend of ours. In the course of that brief conversation, our friend put a couple of questions to Nicholas. In less than an hour Nicholas’ mind was changed as whole new possibilities opened up. A little more than a year later, here we are. Here we are to witness, and support, and encourage Nicholas as he makes his life profession in our Society, promising to God and before the whole company of heaven and in the presence of this congregation … that [he] will live in life-long observance of poverty, celibacy, and obedience, according to the Rule of this Society.
So friend, if you are out there, we owe you our profound thanks, because if it weren’t for your intervention, today’s profession would not be happening! (Although, there may be days in the future we blame you that it has happened!)
2 Corinthians 6:1-10
Today we remember the Saints of the Society of St. John the Evangelist, the Brothers who have gone before us. We remember them one by one reading aloud their obituaries at Compline.
They came from various backgrounds with a range of interests. Writers, poets, architects, artists, book-binders, and insect enthusiasts who served in England, Scotland, India, South Africa, Japan, Canada, and across the United States.
They were pastors, preachers, spiritual directors, teachers, retreat leaders and more. Sometimes much at once. I like the story of John Hawkes who during the Great Depression presided at a marriage, baked and iced the wedding cake, and supplied the rings.
Sermon for The Restoration of Religious Life in the Anglican Communion, 1841
The leaders of the Oxford Movement in the Church of England in the 19th Century came to a general agreement that there was a need to establish Monastic communities. This was because in the four years between 1536 and 1541 over 800 monasteries and convents had been dissolved and destroyed, or given over to other uses. This was a regrettable part of that tumultuous period of the Anglican Reformation.
Finally, on June 5, 1841, under the guidance of Dr. Edward Bouverie Pusey, a young woman, Marian Rebecca Hughes, made solemn monastic vows in St. Mary’s Church, Oxford. That event marks the restoration of the Religious Life in the Anglican Communion. The vows that she took that June morning were an act of love for God, who loves us.
In the following years a number of communities for women were founded. Several unsuccessful attempts were made to establish communities for men. Eventually our own Society of Saint John the Evangelist was successfully founded in 1866, and others soon followed.
It is of significance for us who are living the monastic life here today, and for you who come here to worship with us, because from that event which we commemorate today other communities did develop and flourish. Many good works have developed from those communities. These have become centers for teaching deeper understanding of the spiritual life of the whole Church. This witness to the life of prayer continues today here and in many other parts if the world.
Will you pray with us for more vocations to the Religious life? Pray also for a deeper understanding of that life and of all that it stands for in the life of the whole Church.
In the calendar of the church we remember today an Egyptian monk named Pachomius, who lived years 290-346. Pachomius was born in a small village in northern Egypt to a family who worshipped the gods of the Pharaohs. As a young man Pachomius was conscripted into military service. His fifth-century biography, the Vita Prima, recalls that where he was billeted, he for the first time met Christians who did “all manner of good… treating [everyone] with love for the sake of the God of heaven.” Pachomius was smitten by the kind and generous camaraderie, the koinonia, of Christian believers, the very thing described in the Acts of the Apostles: “They were of one heart and one soul,” and who essentially practiced three things: these Christians lived together in community, they prayed and worshipped, and they served others. This experience for Pachomius was life-changing. He prayed to this Christian God, promising that he would live his life in the same way. When he was discharged from military service, he was baptized, and for several years was formed in the Christian life by one of the desert hermits.
Pachomius had a series of visions, something he had never experienced before. The visions were about his becoming a monk, but not alone. Christian hermits had already been living in solitude in the Egyptian desert for about 50 years, since the late 3rdcentury. But Pachomius’ visions were about his living as a monk in community. He had as a model the words which we just heard from the Acts of the Apostles: “All who believed were together and had all things in common. They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.”[i]And “day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.”
The Spirituality of the Cistercians
On the Feast of St Robert de Molesme (Cistercian monk, 1029-1111)
Genesis 12:1-4 and Matthew 19:27-29
It’s not easy for us to imagine a group of 22 men, in the latter half of the 11thcentury, heading into a remote and thickly forested region of France to establish a new monastery. With whatever tools they had brought with them, they began to clear the trees and bushes, and to build small individual huts out of branches. They had little to eat, few possessions, and none of the comforts that we so routinely take for granted. In addition to this, they set for themselves a rigorous daily schedule, based on the Rule of St Benedict: four hours of sleep in the night, followed by four hours of prayer, both private and communal. A meager diet of roots and herbs. Hard manual work during the day, off-set by more worship and periods of reading or study.
Like Abram and like the apostles in our readings tonight, they left everything– homes, families, possessions, livelihoods, friends, one could say even civilization itself – to give their lives (as completely as they knew how) to God. Their leader was a 69 year-old man, Robert de Molesme, who had become a Benedictine monk at the tender age of 15. Not long after having entering the monastery, he began to be recognized for his piety and sanctity, and at a comparably young age, was elected as its prior.