Archive for January 15th, 2018


A Career in Hypocrisy?

”When I grow up, I want to be an accomplished and respected hypocrite.”

I’ve not checked with many five-year-olds, but among the few with whom I’ve discussed career plans, becoming a hypocrite is an aspiration that I’ve yet to hear.  I’m tempted to conclude that no one at age five wants to grow up to become a hypocrite, and perhaps at that age they’re just too innocent to imagine it.  Yet, it happens anyway.

Hypocrites begin life meaning well enough.  Like others they have good insights.  They have the best of intentions.  But along the way something happens.  Perhaps it’s the weight of responsibility or the lure of power and influence.  Whatever it is that makes us jaded or cynical, like a thief in the night hypocrisy reaches out to snatch us.  Once in its grasp, it’s really hard to pry ourselves free.

2FE87E19-B1C5-44D1-8A5D-A975FF65B501In chapter one of his gospel Saint Mark doesn’t use the word hypocrite to define who Jesus is not, but clearly hypocrisy was the one thing that distinguished him from the scribes.  Jesus spoke with authority, and not like the scribes.  And when he did teach, he didn’t rely on the power of office.  Instead he taught as one who seemed to know God intimately.  He practiced what he preached, and not for love of gain.  Not surprisingly then, his words packed a punch that stopped people in their tracks.

The drift into hypocrisy can happen to any and all of us, at any time of life.  It can happen as we’re standing in a pulpit.  It can happen as we exercise even the smallest shred of responsibility.  It can happen in a monastery, in an office or in a home.  And it happens when we believe that power of any sort makes us better than others.

Saint Benedict in his Rule warned monks not to be kingdom-builders.  It’s good advice for monks, but it’s also good advice for anyone, because kingdom-building is a temptation for most of us.  And it’s certainly not the exclusive preserve of the high-born and powerful.  But it’s insidious, because for so many it’s the first step down the path to hypocrisy.

Jesus came to serve rather than to be served, and that may be the best antidote to hypocrisy that’s available to us.  Certainly Saint Benedict echos that suggestion; and if it’s good enough for monks, then there’s wisdom there for everyone.

As for me, I’ve not been five years old for some time now, but I still aspire to achieve an age when hypocrisy is beyond my reach.  That’s perhaps why Benedict’s wisdom is still a valuable commodity for me.  For the foreseeable future I will still need all the wisdom I can get.


+On January 9-11 I attended the annual workshop that we schedule in the monastery.

+On January 10th I preached at the Abbey Mass.  Today’s post is a variation of what I preached that day.

+On Sunday the 14th I again presided at the Abbey Mass.  Someday I will harvest from those comments and you’ll see them reappear in this blog.  But not this time around!

+During the past week several trees were taken down in the monastic garden, due to age and disease.  The garden was planted in the 1920’s, and just about now the rows of spruce trees that form the perimeter have reached their life expectancy.  The ones that have not died or been toppled in storms are in their final years, and we are in the process of replanting the entire lot of them.

+On January 14th Brother Joe Schneeweiss left for Rome, where he will become the director of the library at the Collegio di Sant Anselmo.  Sant Anselmo is the international college of the Benedictines, and the abbot primate lives there.  Joe will be on loan to them for several years.

950E2D35-A5E5-4F82-A4C4-88F296D97CFC+This last week Brother Benedict Vuong Tran, O.Cist., arrived at Saint John’s to begin four years of seminary studies.  Brother Benedict is from an abbey in Vietnam, and he joins three other Cistercians from that country who are studying with us.  The Cistercians are an 11th-century off-shoot of the Benedictines.  The Trappists, in turn, are a 17th-century reform movement of the Cistercians.  We’re all relatives in following the Rule of Saint Benedict.

+On 14 January my guardian angel worked overtime.  That afternoon I drove to Minneapolis to catch an early morning flight the next day, and like everyone else I scoffed at the four inches of snow that we were getting.  Along the way I passed twelve accidents and narrowly missed a multi-car pile-up as it was unfolding right before me.  It was a harrowing experience.

+On a cold winter’s day it is always a comfort to recall warmer places, and the photos in today’s post are ones I took at the medieval abbey of San Miniato in Florence.  It has wonderful mosaics and beautiful architectural lines, and my favorite element is the stunning pulpit that sits on the wall that divides the choir from the nave.  San Miniato occupies a lovely perch overlooking the city of Florence.


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