Thursday, January 14, 2016

John the Baptist: a homily delivered on the Sunday after Theophany

By Brother Luke

Malachi 3:20-4; Ephesians 5:8-20; John 1:19-34

            Who left the coffee cup on the window sill? What? Not me!
            Who left the dog poop out on the lawn? What? Not me!
            Who left the light on in the mud room? What? Not me!
            Who left the light on in the dog run? What? Not me!
            Who took the library book out without checking it out? What? Not me!
            Anybody know where the car keys are?  What? Not me!

            Now these are all very small matters. And the answers may all be true.
We joke about this in our house and sometimes say: “Well, it must be the 13th monk!” Of course, there is no 13th monk.

In the Gospel of John, the story of Jesus Christ does not begin with the birth in a manger but rather with John the Baptist and the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan. And as we heard in this morning’s gospel passage, John the Baptist is busy denying many things more weighty than those I just mentioned. And yet, his denials are of a different character. He is not denying something to avoid responsibility; rather he is denying being identified as someone greater than he really is.

This entire Christmas season, a season of lights, which continues up to the Feast of the Encounter, is a 40-day-long Epiphany, a revelation about who this Jesus really is: the long-awaited Messiah, the savior of the world. And John the Baptist wants to make it absolutely clear that he himself, John, is not the expected one. He is only Isaiah’s “voice crying in the wilderness.” His role is to point to the other, not to himself. So even though his role is not the central theme of this season, nevertheless it is one worth considering. It is worth considering because he models something valuable for us in our lives.

John is viewed as a rabble rouser and a trouble causer. The authorities fear that he is stirring up people to question those in authority within the Jewish community. His call for repentance seems to imply the need for individuals to take actions that will reorient society and challenge the status quo. However, the call for repentance is a call for interior change that as it grows and spreads will inevitably affect others and ultimately society as a whole. The challenge is real but indirect.

For us, another challenge might also be noted. This is probably not the challenge the gospel writer had in mind. Yes, John the Baptist is a rabble rouser, but he models for us in his actions something else of value: humility. In a society where self-promotion is seen as the necessary avenue to success, John’s “success,” if you will, comes via humility. He points to Christ, not to himself. He points to one about whom he says he is not worthy to even unstrap his sandal. He baptizes with water to begin the process of repentance, but the greater one will baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire. In other words, John does not claim to be the greatest, the best, and the pinnacle in this work, but just the servant of another who is greater.

So what does this mean for us?  It is not a call for self-abasement, but rather a call for self-awareness and honesty. It is not a call for safety, either. After all, John the Baptist lost his head, literally, despite pointing to another. He did not point to another to avoid responsibility for his actions; he pointed to another because he knew his task was to prepare the way for another. He knew what he was about, and he was forthright in stating it and not overstating it. By doing this he also acts as Jesus will act in his ministry. For Jesus also points to another, namely, the one he calls Father. Jesus acts on behalf of his Father and our Father. The goodness he displays is always that of God.

John the Baptist also was not exhibiting false modesty. He wasn’t saying one thing while secretly hoping for something greater. His task, preparing the way for the Messiah, was arduous enough; he had no need to add to it. And the light he points to as a witness is the same light we are always called to point to.  We, with John the Baptist, are called to witness to the light of Christ in the world, to point to that one who is greater than we are while also doing what we can to live up to that perfection of God insofar as we are able.

Glory be to Jesus Christ!


On the Road at Emmaus House

New Skete Guesthouse Improvements Under Way

by Brother Gregory
One year ago, in an effort to continue the tradition of hospitality already well established by the Companions of New Skete, the Monks determined that they would continue to use Emmaus House to welcome visitors.

The response has been overwhelmingly positive from those seeking to renew their relationship with God and neighbor, and to spend some quiet time in reflection.  Some visitors came with sadness, some with joy, some as part of a planned group retreat or seminar or individual spiritual retreat, and some to catch up on their relationship with the monks and nuns. We even had a professional photographer use the house for her “Seeing with New Eyes” photography retreat. Her attendees enjoyed the experience so much that she has booked two more retreats here in 2016.  All who have stayed at Emmaus House left as friends of New Skete.

It is apparent that New Skete’s Emmaus House has a future.  It fulfills our monastic ministry of hospitality, and it provides visitors with respite.  But we know that to ensure that future we must make repairs and improvements to the structure and facilities.

Over the past year, Michael Sellingham and Joshua Elliott (our maintenance department) have been working hard to chip away at a long to-do list. They have trimmed some overgrown shrubbery, applied fresh paint and refinished wood trim in the common areas, and expanded the parking area.  The first week of this month saw the installation of new carpeting in the great room and hallway to replace the original carpet, which was over thirty years old and was worn and stained.  The new carpet, a neutral color and pattern, includes a pad under it (the old one was directly on the concrete slab floor), making the floors warm and toasty on these cold winter days.  Friends of the monastery have donated some furniture, appliances, and other items for a homey touch.
Looking ahead, we hope to replace some of the sliding doors, the carpets in the individual bedrooms and parlors, and curtains. We also plan to make an upgrade to the current heating system.

Emmaus House was built in 1983 by the Companions of New Skete, the married monastic community.  Recognizing the need for couples and individuals to make time to deepen the spiritual aspect of their lives, they opened their doors to share the daily rhythm of monastic life.  They lived here until a year ago, when Brother Stephen and Sister Melanie moved to Albany to be near medical resources and family.  They made Emmaus House holy with their prayers and lives, and we are pleased to share their sanctuary.

For information on staying at Emmaus House, visit