A Heavenly Treasure In A Concrete Life – Br. Sean Glenn

St. Elizabeth of Hungary
Luke 12:32-34

“The call of God,” observed our visionary founder, Richard Meux Benson, “is continuous, abiding, and progressive. Continuous, because […] the voice of the Spirit never ceases to call us into deeper union. Abiding, because the wisdom of God […] is absorbed into our hearts never to perish. Progressive, because God’s voice will come to us in the future ever new, […] bringing us gifts beyond what we know now.”[1]

While he uses this language to address the earliest members of the SSJE concerning their monastic vocation, I believe his observation holds true for all Christians—indeed, all people—whether called to the monastic life or any other vocation. I also believe, however, that in some instances (if not many instances), the continuous, abiding, and progressive character of God’s call is a person’s life may not necessarily conform to the content of their individual desire.

Whatever the reason—be it the necessity of context or the lack of apparent opportunity—some of us may feel a deep tension between what we have always imagined our vocation to be and the actual shape of our vocational unfolding expressed in the concrete realities of life. I know this has been true for me at several junctures of my life; moments when my own longing did not seem to bear a resemblance to the facts of the life I was living. I’m reminded, particularly, of my rejection from doctoral study, or that “dream job” I thought I wanted at Grace Cathedral, San Francisco, which was never offered to me. This incongruity even marked the first months of my postulancy here at SSJE, for I had not yet begun to shed the romantic associations I had with the life into which God had drawn me.

For this reason, Elizabeth of Hungary, thirteenth century princess of Hungary, whom the church remembers today, stands out to me as more than an example of the saintly life for which she came to be known. Yes, all of these aspects of her memory—her deep love of and daily service to the poor and sick, her alms giving, her patronage of hospitals and the Third Order Franciscans—are worthy of our admiration and praise. She was, indeed, as Fr. Kevin Estabrook[2] describes her, “a holy woman, more concerned about the nobility of her soul, than her noble status in the world—more concerned with clothing her soul with virtue, than with the fine garments of a queen—a holy, virtuous woman, industrious in doing good works.”[3] Here was a woman whose “treasure” was where her heart had been drawn—into union with God.

Yet, behind all of this great and heavenly treasure, stood a woman whose vocation did not seem to conform to her deeper desires. Necessity and custom had seen her betrothed from age 3, and while she and her husband enjoyed an unusually happy marriage before his untimely death, she nonetheless yearned to live a life given over to prayer and service in a community, such as the (then novel) Franciscans.

God comes to us where we are. God’s call meets us in the concrete realities of life. Not where we think we should be; but where we actually are. And if we hold our vocational aspirations lightly, I believe that, like Blessed Elizabeth of Hungary, our treasure too will be where our heart is.


[1] Richard Meux Benson, SSJE, Chapter 4, The Religious Vocation (London and Oxford: A. R. Mowbray and Co., 1939), 69—78.

[2] Note: the preacher mistakenly attributes this to a different author during the oral delivery of this homily.

[3] https://fatherkevinestabrook.blogspot.com/2014/11/homily-november-17-st-elizabeth-of.html

The Gift of Disillusionment – Br. Keith Nelson

Br. Keith Nelson1 Corinthians 13:8-12 & Mark 8:22-26

Because children have a limited capacity to understand certain standard operating procedures of the adult world, they often come to conclusions that are very logical, but alas, entirely incorrect. National Public Radio’s Ira Glass calls this universal phenomenon “kid logic.”[i] For example, my younger sister was convinced that any building called a warehouse was a designated habitat for a werewolf, since these were the only two words she ever encountered with that particular prefix. Similarly, after overhearing an adult conversation featuring the improbable word “concubine” I became convinced that this was a rare species related to the porcupine. My parents patiently let us discover the errors of our “kid logic” on our own, and when we realized the inaccuracy of our theories, we were able to laugh at ourselves — and recalibrate. As children get closer to adolescence, they have a harder time with this gradual approach to revising their narratives. It’s a stage when many instances of “kid logic” collapse, often rapidly and ungracefully, in the face of new evidence about the world. That pre-teen struggle to integrate a vast range of new knowledge – along with the inner imperative to project a persona of effortless maturity to keep up with one’s peers – can make junior high school an unusually cruel boot-camp in disillusionment. Read More