Philip, Deacon and Evangelist
‘Hey! Do you go to church? Why?’ ‘Are you a Christian? Why? Just tell me in a few words.’ What would you say? If you only had 30 seconds, a kind of ‘elevator speech’, what would you say? ‘I go to church because…’ If you don’t say anything, you may have lost an opportunity. St Peter in this first letter tells us, ‘Always be ready to give an account for the hope that is in you.’ So, what would your 30 second account be?
Today we give thanks for a man who was always ready to give such an account. His name was Philip, and along with Stephen and five others, he was chosen by the apostles to be one of the first deacons in the church. Each of the seven men chosen exercised their vocation in different ways, but Philip was above all, an evangelist. And he must have been a wonderful evangelist because in the whole of the New Testament, filled with apostles and teachers and prophets, Philip is the only person to be called an evangelist. In Acts chapter 21, St Paul writes that, ‘When we came to Caesarea, we went into the house of Philip the evangelist, one of the seven, and stayed with him,’
Following the death of our beloved Brother David Allen last summer, I became the senior member of our brotherhood – both in years of age and in years in the Society. My Brother Superior James Koester dubbed me the “Brother of collective memory.”
Over the thirty-seven years that I have been in the Society, I’ve come to see how entirely our particular monastic vocation – vowed love, community life, and service – is rooted in the baptismal vocation shared by all Christians. Perhaps this is one reason why so many people are able to find transformative wisdom in our monastic Rule of Life. We created this text to shape, inform, and inspire our community quite specifically. Yet by God’s grace, its reach has proved far more expansive. Over and over again, we hear how others have found illumination for their lives in the same forty-nine chapters that shape ours.
In this spirit, I’d like to offer here a collection of some of the teachings from our Rule of Life which have most struck and stayed with me over decades of living and learning with this text. Of all its many topics, the Rule is particularly rich in its teachings navigating the challenges and rewards of life in community. These teachings point the way ahead for all of us who are trying to live together in recognition of the fact that we are bound to one another by Christ’s loving authority.
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.
Acts 14: 19 – 28
Psalm145: 9 – 14
John 14: 27 – 31a
When I was 7 or 8 I made a book of coupons for my mother, which I presented to her on Mother’s Day. Each coupon was good for something different. One was for taking out the garbage. Another was good for breakfast in bed. I don’t remember what the other ones were good for, but the idea was that she would take out one of the coupons, return it to me and I would do whatever the coupon was good for. Curiously, she never used them. I found the coupon book years later among her things. My hunch is that my book of coupons said more to my mother than any number of breakfasts in bed.
Each of us have different ways of showing love. We might be one of those people completely comfortable telling another I love you. Or we might be one of those whose love for another is shown, not so much in words as in deeds: flowers, acts of kindness or generosity, thoughtful gestures, small favours. That may be the way we show love.