Patti LaCross’ Homily, November 22, 2015

Holy Wisdom Monastery Homilies Leave a Comment


Grace and Peace indeed to each of you, and to our assembly as a whole this morning!

This greeting twins the ancient Jewish salutation of Peace –  expressing hope that the promise given Abraham will bear fruit;  and Grace –  the early Christian statement of  new life …through the mercy of Jesus. We are the heirs to both.

Today’s short selection from Revelation omits a further three part blessing that precedes and gives contexts to this passage: Verse 3:  Blessed the One who Reads this aloud ; Blessed are those who Listen; and Blessed those who Take to Heart all that it says!

Framed by these beatitudes, Revelations powerfully proclaims a living God who even today is transforming communities of believers into the new creation.

Each of today’s Scriptures includes visions or images that attempt to describe God: God is ancient, fiery, holding court for tens of thousands, enduring. Jesus looks human but somehow more than that, will be seen by everyone –  but appears   before Pilate rejected, arrested, alone.

In a  compelling book by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks entitled Not in God’s Name: Confronting Religious Violence  this notion of recognition / or the failure to recognize  is addressed. Sacks  traces this theme through the book of Genesis, with Abraham and successive generations of siblings: Ishmael and Isaac, Jacob and Esau, Rachel and Leah, Joseph and his brothers.

He researches the common translations of these rather troubling passages, and generations of commentary in the Talmud and the Midrash. Why does the God of Abraham seem to choose one child over another for blessing or curse? What does that say about justice or God?

This reveals key repetitions of the word “face” or ‘panim’ in stories of familial confusion and hurt – Isaac, Jacob and Esau – that do not appear in many translations of the text. From the placement of this word comes a clearer  understanding of some significant encounters between persons, or with God, in this book, because “face” is elemental to a truly human encounter: to recognition, identity, and with these, love, and sometimes reconciliation.

This new read of familiar stories highlights how very intimately our ancestors in faith experienced God in their lives. God understood and showed compassion toward the very messiness of family relationships in all their desire and conflict.

And very early, our forebearers came to know that love alone is insufficient for human society. Love is preferential, and so involves the perceived rejection of others.


Yet- and this is the punchline- each of these jostling Biblical relatives receives a blessing from God! Not to each the same blessing, but one that is appropriate and life giving to that person. Forgiving their deceptions and envies, God blesses each to fulfill their life’s call; Hagar and Ishmael included. What a transformative moment is our discovery that we are loved by God for who we are, as we are!

Islam, Judaism and Christianity – the Abrahamic faiths – hold in common that Justice requires us to act on behalf of the stranger, who we do not know or love. Abrahamic faith traditions all include tell of encounters with a stranger who is revealed to be of God;  so all  require that strangers be treated as God.  In our Assembly we all come to know that the Benedictine Rule requires us to   “Receive every guest as Christ”. Alas it is not always easy for us to recognize our God-of- many-faces.

How world-transforming it will be when these 3 sibling faiths come to recognize the gift of the other! It has been so in ways, at times, and in places, and so it must be in the Home of our God.

Dutch Jesuit Frans van der Lugt was one such witness in  our time. Trained as a psychotherapist and ordained in the Netherlands, Van der Lugt went  to  Syria where he learned Arabic and served for 50 years. During that time he lived in a monastery at Homs, where he created an inclusive farming community for young people with disabilities, providing rare education, work, and forays into the mountains for people normally hidden from society.

Unlike most Christians who supported Bashar al Assad against the rebels, he remained politically neutral and was supported by the rebels, during those years when the rebels were local people. In January of 2014 Pater Frans appealed on behalf of his besieged community for Western support via youtube; a few months later most of his Christian flock and his staff were evacuated , but he chose to remain as a refuge keeper for the starving and frail who continued to seek shelter. He was believed to be the sole European remaining in the area.

Lugt held a doctorate in psychotherapy but as his starving and traumatized neighbors devolved into mental illness, all he had to offer were inadequate donations of food, some lentils, some flour from the local Muslims. He was subsisting on olives and broth made with local weeds.

Known as prayerful, compassionate, affectionate,  he described his life as one of ‘ love and gratitude’.

The monastery at Homs was an interfaith oasis of prayer for Christians and Muslims together. Said Lugt, “I do not see Muslims or Christians, I see only humanity, people hungering to live a normal life.”

Pater Frans van der Lugt was taken from the monastery by gunmen on April 7, 2014, beaten, and executed with 2 bullets to his head.  His was a faithful witness, and thus contributes to the unfolding of the Reign of God in our time.

Finally, John’s Gospel sets Jesus in front of Pilate: “Ecce Homo” – here is the man.

Who is this One?

To Pilate he was certainly an inconvenient truth. He had an incomprehensible power, but refused to defend himself. He had followers, but no militia. He spent all his time with the powerless, but confronted the powerful.

In a time of war, he announced a dominion of another dimension – not by a show of force, but in the lives of those who become faithful witnesses. Everyone – not just the Jews- belongs to this truth.

What can this Jesus, loving and forgiving to his death,  teach us of the One God, Source of our being?

Is he a king? What does he mean to me? to us?  How does he  challenge us to live today? Recently Pope Francis suggested that Humility, Unselfishness, and Beatitude – the sentiments born of the humanity of the Son of God – are those by which we should recognize ourselves “in the mirror”. They are also how we come to recognize God in the stranger.

In our age, we live at once locally and globally. We aspire to create a more just world, and we can start by readying  our own home. What in it can we pass on? In addition to all the other published wish lists, the new county jail chaplain is asking for spiritual resources for inmates: Bibles, books on the search for meaning, meditation, spiritual living. Books that we found inspiring. I’m guessing that among us this is a true wealth area! Please look for some books that have been helpful to you to put in a box I’ll set out. St. Vinney’s always has a fine collection as well.

Those in jail also need warm clothes, sox and thermals. Cards or letters  communicating prayerful support and wishing people well.  Persons in jail are sometimes completely cut off from outside support, so these greetings are especially welcome around the holidays. We’ll post the details.

Several groups are known to be very efficient at getting resources to refugees from Syria and other countries at war:  Mennonite Central Committee, Catholic Relief Services, and others are vetted online. The international response to the ongoing refugee crisis has been underwhelming. While we are unlikely to be able to host any refugees in our homes soon, we can regularly include them in our prayer, perhaps support them in our monthly budget, and even set an extra place at our table in their name during this Advent season.

These are among the thousands of thousands who Daniel envisioned around the throne of God. Theirs are among the faces we need to see so that we can make out the face of our ever new, ever bigger, ever merciful God.

Let us summon now their faces, their hunger and our own; we hunger for the bread that satisfies and for the justice that makes us all whole.

Let us come as one to this table, in the name of Jesus the Christ.


For leaders and ministers of faith communities around the world and in our cities, that they lead with truth and courage in this time  of chaos, violence and the sowing of fear….

In memory of Pater Frans van der Lugt, and other martyrs in the Middle East…

In solidarity with those yet held hostage,  and the millions of families, children, women and men who are refugees from the Middle East and countries in Africa. Let us pray for refuge, safety, and justice in our names and theirs…

For those members of this assembly who are grieving, and those who are facing serious illness, and those included in our book of intentions.  For their peace, strength, and enduring hope…

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