June 20, 2015
Mother Emanuel A.M.E. Church
Dear Sisters and Brothers,
The hearts of the monks of Mepkin Abbey have embraced and surrounded you ever since we heard of the tragedy of the night of June 17. This deed, “beyond incomprehension”, has been the subject of our prayer and tears and groanings. We stand with you and by your side as you grieve your loved ones and comfort one another with the balm of faith and your commitment to the love of the Lord Jesus.
You are an inspiration to all of us as your individual and Church response to this massacre has been to offer forgiveness to the one who has inflicted you with such heartbreak. This is what we hear in the Scriptures and in the Church day in and day out. Forgiveness and mercy are the first message of Jesus on the day of his Resurrection, as they were from his Cross. May your Light continue to shine brightly in all the darkness this tragedy has brought upon us. All we can say is “Thank You”, “Thank You”, “Thank You”, for this incredible witness. May new life spring up for you, for our beloved City, Lowcountry and State from the seeds of Love you are planting with your words and actions. The Face of Christ has never shone out with more splendor. Through you, may Jesus inspire us to look deeply into our hearts, to confront the darkness, prejudice and hate we find there, and to work with all our energy to make our city and our state a place of reconciliation. A place where we see each other as brothers and sisters under the Fatherhood of God.
We pledge ourselves to work more closely with one of your daughter churches, Emmanuel A.M.E. of Cordesville, just a few miles down the road from our Abbey, to make this a reality in our local community here.
We pledge our support as well to you, Mother Emanuel, in whatever way we may help.
Your brothers in the Lord Jesus,Read More »
Job 38:1, 8-11; II Corinthians 5:14-17; Mark 4:35-41
Be still, my soul: the Lord is at your side…. Be still, my soul: your best, your heavenly friend through thorny ways leads to a joyful end…. Be still, my soul…. Be still, my soul…. Be still, my soul.
What amazing words we sang after our five minutes of reflection and prayer on the tragedy which has occurred in our midst in these last days. What a powerful Gospel to hear on this first Sunday after such a senseless massacre of human life in our city. Quiet, be calm, be still, Jesus cries out. Can we hear him? Can we repeat: Be still, my soul…. Be still, my soul when everything within us is in turmoil, in anguish, in deep sorrow and deep anger? There is only one thing that gets us through these kinds of tragedies: our faith. As we sang last night: when we pass through the storms of life, increase our little faith. These are not our words to others, these are words to ourselves. We are not preaching to others, we are speaking to our own souls: Be still, my soul: the Lord is at your side…. Be still, my soul: the waves and winds still know the Christ who ruled them while he dwelt below.
The people of Mother Emanuel church have learned this well. They are icons of the Gospel for all of us to see. How I would have loved to have met Pastor Pinckney, as Guerric has. What must have been his teaching at that church Sunday after Sunday to bring his people to say things like: “Young man, may God have mercy on your soul. May God forgive you as I have forgiven you.” When the two teenage children of Rev. Middleton were interviewed at the prayer vigil held for their mother, each one said the same: “I have forgiven him.” O that such mercy and forgiveness might take hold of each one of us.
How can this happen? I know of only one way: to experience ourselves as loved and forgiven. Loved and forgiven by others. Loved and forgiven by God in Christ. That is the heart of the Gospel which is to be preached day in and day out, year in and year out. This is why the first word out of Jesus‘ mouth is: Repent, change your lives, the Kingdom of God is here. The love of Christ impels us, proclaims St Paul, once we have come to the conviction that one died for all… so that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised…. Whoever is in Christ is a new creation: the old things have passed away; behold, everything has become new.
This tragedy offers us a unique time of grace, a kairos is the biblical term. Will we go the way of violence and lash out. Or will we look into our hearts and see the darkness, the prejudice, those things which keep us from one another? Will we listen to the experience and testimony of others on what they see as the root causes of the racism still a part of our society? Will we have the courage to face them, to turn to the Lord and to one another, to repent and to change? This takes a lot more strength than keeping the problem outside ourselves. To swat the fly that has caused this massacre into oblivion — all of course through the proper judicial process — and then to walk away and treat life as usual.
My brothers and sisters, I beg each one of us to choose the former way of acting. This is what the forgiveness and mercy of Mother Emanuel calls us to do. It is not a sign of weakness, but the grandest display of strength. These nine incredible human beings will have died in vain if we only comfort those who are grieving and see justice done to the perpetrator. We are the problem, my brothers and sisters. The causes of inequality and injustice and hatred reside in our hearts, the hearts of each of us — black and white, men and women, Christian and Jew and Muslim….
But we can overcome. That is the message of the Gospel. That is the message of the people of Mother Emanuel. Be still, my soul: the Lord is at your side. In the beautiful words we will sing as our communion song which are put on the mouth of Jesus: The soul that on Jesus still leans for repose, I will not, I will not desert to its foes; that soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake, I’ll never, no, never, no, never forsake.”
May we have the faith that will face our demons, may we have the trust which will enter into dialogue with others, may we have the courage to surrender to Christ who assures us: Quiet, be calm. Nothing will harm you.
What do you say, church?
Amen.Read More »
Isaiah 35:1-10; II Corinthians 4:13 – 5:10 John 14:1-9c
“What a piece of work is a man! How noble in reason! How infinite in faculty! In form and moving how express and admirable! In action how like an angel! In apprehension how like a god! The beauty of the world! The paragon of animals! And yet, to me, what is this quintessence of dust?”
Father Christian Aidan Carr, Conventual Franciscan for 31 years and Trappist monk for another 46, spent all his life grappling with this question. And his great gift was to lead others to face it, uncomfortable as this always is. What is this quintessence of dust? We are never finished with all the real questions of life, nor was Christian. Even on his death bed he declaimed this Shakespearian monologue by Hamlet in perfect diction. What is this quintessence of dust? We go from insight to insight, from partial grasp to partial grasp. As with the divine reality, so human life is a mystery before which we constantly are called upon to fall down and take off our shoes. In that context, what are some of the intimations of truth we can glean from the life and the wisdom of the man who lies before us? What legacy does he leave with us?
First of all, a major apology to Christian. He wrote very clearly in his instructions to the abbot who would bury him: “NO eulogy at funeral; if the (abbot) feels he has to give a homily, o.k., but without any mention of my name.” Father Christian, I respect the deep place of humility from which this instruction flows and I will try to honor it by not having the focus turn to you (‘heh, see how great he is’) but to the Christ who has done these wonders in you.
How have the Scriptures we have heard been fulfilled in Christian? How has the grappling with this quintessence of dust formed and changed the way this man led his life?
Choices have had to be made. I limit myself to five aspects: Joy, Truth, tender love of Jesus, the secret of his counsel, and in and throughout all, faith and church.
Faith. I am the Way, says Jesus. We walk by faith, says St Paul. Christian was above all a man of faith. Faith formed his mind and his heart from his earliest years. There was never a time in his life when the reality of God and the truths taught by the Church and the Christian tradition were not the lodestar and guiding light for all he thought and said and did. Unlike so many of us, he never wavered in this conviction. For him it was always faith seeking understanding. His grappling with the mystery of life was enveloped in his deep commitment to the faith of the Church. I don’t know how to express this better than in the words of Cardinal Newman: “A thousand difficulties do not engender a single doubt.” We cannot begin to understand the legacy Fr. Christian leaves us without this total surrender of faith. And always, always, within the context of community, of the long tradition stemming from the Scriptures and the Church of the apostles, the Church of Origen and Augustine and Gregory and Thomas Aquinas and Bonaventure and Pascal and the Imitation of Christ and Newman and Vatican II.
The secret of his counsel. How could a man of such faith solid convictions be a confidant of such a diverse group of people as Christian was? People for whom the faith is NOT a given, people whose intellects are backed by PhDs and so many degrees in so many fields that it boggles the mind to think how and why they were drawn to Christian. I speak of many who are here in this church, who fought hard with him, who questioned everything he said, who gave counter argument after counter argument, but who always came back to him. Why? I only speak from my own experience. It was because Christian had an incredible respect for the opinions and struggles of others; a respect which flowed not from some wishy-washy sentimentality, but from his conviction of the primacy of conscience. He got this from Newman and from the long tradition which came from an incorrect translation of a line in the prophet Isaiah, so dear, among others, to our father Saint Bernard. Secretum meum mihi is the Latin Christian loved to quote. “My secret to myself, my secret to myself.” No matter how hard he would argue with you, you always knew that in the end he wanted you to follow the inner light you were given, not the inner light he was given. This reality changed my own life profoundly after an intense meeting with Christian many, many years ago. I am far from unique in this matter.
The tender love of Jesus. The core of Father Christian’s spirituality was Christocentric. One of his favorite passages in Scripture is the Gospel we have just heard. I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. How many times he would quote and expand on this in his talks or homilies. His theology, his spirituality and his prayer life were founded on his personal relationship with Jesus. My own abiding image of him is sitting in the Blessed Sacrament chapel for long periods, especially in his later years, praying from his various prayer books; or lying prostrate on the floor offering up heartfelt prayers and groans. The person of Jesus was the be all and end all of his piety. Sentimentality it was not, but it was full of tenderness and the emotion of a man who desired deeply to give his life to God at each moment. And yet, to me, what is this quintessence of dust? For him it is the person called and invited by God to partake of the divine mystery, to be one-d with God through the man, Christ Jesus. And he believed it was his privilege to lead others to see in Jesus the fullness of their longing. That is what the ordained priesthood was for him. His desire for monastic life that culminated in his leaving the active ministry of the Franciscans and entering the community of Mepkin was a response to the grace offered by God to give himself more totally to this tender love of Christ. For him it was summed up in the only song he requested to be sung at his funeral: Friends of Jesus. Father Kevin and the schola will sing this as our final farewell to our brother. How many times he meditated on this song! How often did he look forward to singing it in our liturgy. Love the beginning and love the ending, we’re Friends of Jesus….
Truth. I am the Truth. Christian spent most of his Franciscan life in academia, he edited an important periodical for priests, he gave countless chapters and talks to monks and guests, he preached retreats in most of our US and Canadian monasteries, and he never ceased his avid interest in a wide range of intellectual and poetic subjects. To my knowledge, he read a passage of the Summa of Thomas Aquinas every day of his adult life. He constantly prayed with the Imitation of Christ. Emily Dickinson, Gerard Manley Hopkins, and, of course, his beloved Shakespeare, were never far from his hand, his mind or his imagination — or any time he opened his mouth to speak. He urged us all to make an acquaintance with the great poets and dramatists of human life. They were his bread and butter, not just the dessert. And though no scientist, he would read countless books and articles on the natural world and its scientific wonders. He did all of these things in order to better understand the revelation given us by God in the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures. I am the Truth. Christian spent his whole life in the search to understand more fully just who Jesus is and how we can relate to him. That is part of his legacy to each one of us.
Joy. I am the Life. For Christian, life meant Joy. A life without joy is not Christian life, he would say to us over and over again. For him, joy is the characteristic par excellence of the Christian. Joy in the little things of life, a good meal, a lively song, a fragrant flower, a child’s laugh — all these things brought a smile to his face, a sparkle to his eye, a deep laugh to his voice. Everlasting joy shall be upon our heads, we shall obtain joy and gladness; sorrow and sighing shall flee away, Isaiah proclaims. And Christian let us know that such joy and gladness are for now as much as for the life to come. “Get crackin,’” he would urge us and when he was on a roll he could keep us laughing with total obliviousness of time. Joy, Joy, Joy that was his constant theme. And in his later years how many times would he tell us, linking two of his great themes: “Where there is more Truth, there is more Joy.” Truth and Joy and Faith and the tender love of Jesus and the primacy of the individual conscience were all meshed in Christian and are part of the great legacy he has left us. How fortunate are we to have known him. How graced are we to have lived with him, and for some of us to have lived under him as abbot.
Yet Christian would be the first to say that all of these things did not originate in him, but in the grace of God within him. Thankfulness, gratitude, is the last word of Christian’s legacy to us. How often in these last years did he express this gratefulness to each of us, over and over. Thank you, thank you, thank you, he would say. That was the core of his humility. That was the core of his spiritual life. Gratitude for all that God had worked in him.
In our final farewell to him, let us echo that thankfulness in our own lives. Let us be grateful to God for giving us Christian Aidan Carr, OFMConventual and OCSO, and let us learn to live with a deeper faith, a stronger conviction of the respect due to each other, a tender love of our Savior, an intense striving to know the Truth which sets us free, and Joy, Joy, Joy which is the result of all these things.
Father Christian, pray for us as we will for you.
Amen.Read More »