Br Stuart OSB’s Sermon at our Admission Service

Rt Revd Br Stuart OSB, former Abbot of Mucknell, preaching at our Admission Service reminded us of the importance of seeing each other as gifts to us from God *especially* when we infuriate one another. That’s when God-the-potter is at work on us!

His address in full:

First of all, I bring greetings from our Br Adrian – formerly YOUR Br Adrian. He is a much-valued gift from your community to ours!

Secondly, greetings from the rest of my community on your Patronal Festival.

When my old archdeacon was invited to preach at a Patronal Festival he always began by telling the congregation that the reason we keep such festivals is to remind ourselves that the tenor and quality of the life of a church community should reflect that of its patron saint.

So: St Mary:- her vocation was to give Jesus to the world, and that is a vocation we share. But how do we do that?

St Francis is reputed to have said, “Preach the Gospel always, and use words only if you have to.” Live the Gospel rather than talk about it.

Brother Roger, the founder of the Taize Community, used to say, “Si vous etes de Taize, taisez-vous, et vivez!” – ‘If you belong to Taize, shut up and live!’

From what little the Gospels tell us about Mary, two of her qualities spring to mind: her silence and her obedience.

Unlike most proud mums who boast of their children’s giftedness, we are told simply that Mary ‘pondered these things in her heart’. She was there, we gather, quietly in the background, loving her son and ready to give a nudge when necessary – as at the wedding feast at Cana – but allowing him to do the speaking. STATUE???

Obedience? Not a popular concept today, but perhaps that is because the concept has been abused and the word de-valued. The word comes from the Latin ‘Ob-audire’ – to hear and respond appropriately. And when we look at the story of the Annunciation we see Mary’s puzzlement: “How can this be?” – and the Archangel’s assurance that she is loved – ‘highly favoured’ – by God. He is asking her to do this as an expression of his love for her — and the same is true for each one of us. We are loved enormously by God, and it is in that context that Jesus gives us what he calls his ‘New Commandment’. “Love one another as I have loved you.”

When we do that, he promises to be present in a special way amongst us. ‘Where two or more are united in my name, there am I amongst them.’ Jesus present, ready to be encountered by all who come.

That’s the theory. We need to remember that when Jesus gives his ‘New Commandment’ he continues, ‘No greater love have any than this: to lay down their life for their friend.”

It’s much easier to say than to live, either as a congregation or as a member of the Holywell Community. It’s a challenge to us all, and we are all charged with this task of giving the spiritual reality of Jesus to the people of our generation.

It was said of some of the early Christians: “See how these Christians love one another.” Sadly it’s not often said of the Church today, but that is something we are being asked to remedy urgently, and Mary gives us the way forward.

Silence. What happens when we try to be silent? Usually a hundred different voices start clamouring in our head. Many of those voices are coming from aspects of ourselves we ignore or don’t acknowledge or are ashamed of. We would rather be like someone else than accept the truth of who we really are. Basically, we are giving God a slap in the face and saying, ‘When you created me you didn’t do a good enough job!’ If, in the silence we can listen carefully to some of those voices, and begin to recognise and accept the truth of who we are – we will be in business. The Bible has the image of clay in the hands of the potter. God, the potter, hasn’t finished with us yet. We are more like the lump of clay. As long as we pretend to be a beautiful vase, the courteous potter can’t do much with us – but if we can accept the truth of who we are, God can work wonders.

Then obedience – the command to love one another. To love one another as we really are. The fact is that we can only accept the truth of someone else in as much as we can accept the truth of who we are ourselves. Otherwise we will always be disappointed, because the other will never match up with what we think they ought to be.

Mary was puzzled at the Annunciation: ‘How can these things be?’ We, too, will often ask the same question. Often it will be more like looking at the reverse side of a piece of complex embroidery – all we see is a tangle of coloured threads and it’s impossible to make out the design on the front! We simply have to accept that God knows what he is doing when he brings us together.

The Australian monk, Michael Casey, has a lovely passage in his book “Strangers to the City”. It applies to us all, but perhaps it could be particularly poignant for the members of the members of the Holywell Community as they begin a new year. 

He writes: “the cloistral paradise is still in the stage of becoming. But it is conformity to the image of heaven that is the goal of the community’s corporate journey. … The primary characteristic both of the ultimate expression of the ideal and its imperfect realisation here on earth is mercy. An earthly community approaches perfection in so far as it is a living expression of mercy, forgiveness, toleration, compassion, reconciliation. To implement these qualities there must be those who need to be endured, tolerated, forgiven, reconciled. By the grace of God our communities abound in such persons. Without them we would have no hope of becoming more heaven-like.”

For all of us there are moments when we are exasperated by others.  It is in those moments when we are feeling driven to distraction by someone that we need to remember that this may well be the Potter trying to do his work on us.

It is good to try to remember St Benedict’s advice: “Listen. Listen carefully, with the ear of your heart.” This person is here as God’s gift to me in the journey to wholeness. “Lord, help me to calm down and love you in this sister or brother.”  And later, in a moment of quiet, ponder these things in your heart as Mary did, and receive the gift. 

AND because we are all part of the same Mystical Body, the whole body will be enriched and strengthened. So, let’s give thanks for each other and continue to pray for each other, and especially today for Br Josh, Br Sebastian, and Br Nicolas and for Nathaniel as he prepares to come to join the Community in the New Year…and we pray for Fr Mark and Fr Tom and the community’s associates, and for Archbishop John and all the responsibilities he shoulders.  God bless you all.

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