Here are the interviews I conducted with Brother Robert Hagler and Brother Robert Sevensky of “The Order of the Holy Cross” at Mount Calvary Monastery and Retreat House in the mountains overlooking the Santa Barbara harbor. I didn’t have a tape recorder with me so I was writing furiously as we spoke. While I didn’t always get exact quotes, I was able to cover the essence of the conversation.
Brother Robert Hagler is the 57 year old Prior of the monastery, that is, he is the “manager” of the house:
Steve: How long have you been a monk?
Robert: “27 years.”
Steve: “Why did you become a monk?”
Robert: Very early on… I decided to enter the priesthood of the Episcopal Church but I put it on hold until after my schooling. I’d always been interested in theology, liturgy and faith. I’m fascinated by the Creator and His creation. I grew up in East Tennessee in a small Episcopal church-30 people in church would be like Easter Sunday. I longed for community and the Word. Monasticism is about community and that’s what I’d longed for. In a small town, you know everybody and where they came from-you care-in Monasticism we learn to appreciate idiosyncratic behavior.
S: What was your parents reaction to your decision to be a monk?
R: “They were delighted that I wanted to do something, but were less enthusiastic about my desire to be a monk. They thought, ‘Well, let’s just see what happens.”
S: What did you think monkhood would be like and what was the reality?
R: I wanted to be in a place that was safe and where people would be nice to me. But I found the constant struggles of inter-personal relationships are hard. The vocation is odd in itself. Seeking God is the primary focus of our lives, it’s rooted in the Gospel.
We’ve been around a long time, from the third century. Our spirituality was a devotion of suffering; it was good when life was hard. I’ve found the hardest part of the monastic life is the people (he laughed at this). The more we developed as a community though, the worship became deeper.
The Rule of Benedict: If we are honest, candid, loving and forgiving with one another, God comes. This is the day-to-day living of the crucified life. The lifetime vow of a Benedictine monk is: Stability, conversion to the monastic way of life and obedience. This is all under another umbrella of: Poverty (according to the New Testament, a commonality of all things), chastity, silence, humility, prayerfulness and to love one another.
S: What would happen if a monk violated their vow of chastity?
R: We would dismiss someone for a sexual infraction but not for having a $100.00 dinner. Chastity has very little practical, spiritual value for the first 15-20 years.
S: How does one become a monk?
R: The first step is “Postulate”. There are no vows and the period lasts for six months. They live the life in the community and at the end of six months there is a separation from the community for a period of 10 days so the postulate can think things over.
The next step is “Novice”. The man receives part of the habit (robe), the scapula and the tunic. He serves in the community for two years or longer and is assigned a mentor and spiritual director. He takes classes, does Bible studies and tries to figure out what ministry he’s interested in.
Then they take an annual vow and do this for two years. If they are uncertain whether they want to continue in the monastic way of life they can renew their annual vow. When they’re ready, they take the afore-mentioned lifetime vows
S: What do you think is God’s purpose for you, Brother Robert?
R: I don’t know. I have to wait day-by-day. I don’t know what God’s purpose is for me, it will be revealed when He reveals it. I’m fairly comfortable. I enjoy living here.
S: If you were to die, Brother Robert, would you go to Heaven or Hell?
R: I would go to Purgatory or Heaven. I don’t know. We believe in the Communion of the Saints.
S: What does that mean?
R: I don’t know. I do believe in Hell.
S: How do you respond to Jesus’ words, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
R: I believe it is infinitely more important that God believes in us than we believe in Him. I like what the Pope has to say, “God saves everyone who lives a just, honorable and moral life even though they never heard of Jesus Christ or the Roman Catholic Church.”
S: Do you read the Bible?
R: Four times a day. As an Episcopalian, I don’t have to choose between faith and works. I’m comfortable with a lot of mystery.
S: (I had another man sitting in with me on the interview, a 47 year old retired banker named Hobart who just enrolled in Claremont Seminary) Hobart and I know we are going to Heaven, what do you think about it?
R: If I know something it ceases to be faith. I’m very Freudian. He said “Ego cannot comprehend its own non-existence.” I agree with that. I cannot comprehend what death is…I hope its painless and without suffering. I have faith in -that however I die-there is God…that He is merciful, loving and forgiving. I know that because of the gift of Jesus. And it is my belief that Jesus-that part of the sacrifice on the cross-was an act of faith. I don’t think he wanted to die-the agony-but He endured it. That for me is what faith is and that gives me energy. That allows me the ability to face the day when I die.
I have to admit that Heaven doesn’t have that much appeal to me. As John Cross said, who is a monk in England, “If the resurrection is anything like getting out of bed in the morning, I don’t want any part of it.” Heaven is kind of a weak word. I truly don’t know what I believe in. Words truly cannot express what the afterlife will be. John Spong says, “Human personality remains totally in eternity.”
I’m waiting for surprises. I know God has a surprise waiting for me out there.
The following is a short interview with Brother Robert Sevensky.
Steve: Brother Robert, may I ask you a question?
S: If you were to die today, would you go to Heaven or Hell?
R: I trust that I would go to Heaven. I trust the mercy of God. I trust that the work He began in me, He will bring it to perfection.
S: If you were standing at the pearly gates and Saint Peter asked you why you should be let into Heaven, how would you answer him?
R: I would say that I stand on the promise of God.
S: So you would say, “I trust in Jesus as payment for my sin.”
R: I wouldn’t put it in “payment” terms, I’d put it in terms that Christ has opened up the way of eternity. When you die, there is a process, not Purgatory, necessarily. Ther is a process of transformation that happens beyond death.
By: Pastor Steve Sanchez