Saturday, April 25, 2015


Ever since I found out that I’m being honored at our school's annual scholarship fundraising gala here on May 15 I’ve been trying to come up with an appropriate attitude with which to approach the occasion. I know I’ll enjoy it, and I look forward to giving a little acceptance speech of some sort, but the prospect is not exactly blowing my hair back at the moment. I’ll probably get more enthused about it as the date gets closer.

For one thing, the acceptance speech poses an interesting challenge. I can’t just get up and say the usual things that anyone else would say on such an occasion, because I’m in a unique "insider's" position in the history of the past 42 years of St. Benedict’s Prep, being one of the principal movers behind the new beginnings of St. Benedict's in 1972. I think folks have a right to expect me to do more than mouth some pale polite platitudes. In addition, everyone present will receive a free autographed copy of my book Downtown Monks, (Shhh! That's supposed to be a secret!) so the expectations of a speech from me will be different because of that as well.

Lucky I still have three weeks to come up with something....


This speech was on my mind as I was studying the Gospel reading for the feast of St. Mark (Sat. April 25). The end of it reads as follows:

Then after speaking to them the Lord Jesus was taken up into heaven and took his seat at God’s right hand. The eleven went forth and preached everywhere. The Lord continued to work with them throughout and confirm the message through the signs which accompanied them. (Mk 16:19-20)

The idea of the Lord “working with” the apostles sounded interesting enough to merit a look at the original Greek. Sure enough,what I uncovered offered me some interesting insights into my approach to being honored at that fundraiser.

El Greco "Sts Peter and Paul
The Greek verb for “working with,” synergeo, is a straightforward combination of syn (with) and ergeo (to work).

Paul uses synergeo in I Cor. 16:16 “be subordinate to such people and everyone who works with them.” The noun form, synergos, “fellow-worker,” is much more common. For example in Col 4:11 Paul talks about his "co-workers in the kingdom of God," and in Rom. 3:19 he talks about his fellow workers who helped him in the spread of the Gospel. Based on this, it would seem to me the verb form synergeo implies the idea of two or more partners working together on a task more or less as equals. Imagine that! We along with the apostles are invited to be co-workers with the Lord in spreading the gospel message!

The gem for me, however, is 1 Cor. 3:9. The Greek says Theou esmen synergoi; (Esmen means “we are, ” synergoi" means "coworkers" and theou means either “of God" or "with God.” Thus the sentence can be translated in either of two ways, depending on who the “syn” (with) refers to.

First, we might translate syn- as referring to God: “we are fellow workers with God;” second, we may take syn- as referring to the community of teachers with whom Paul was laboring in Corinth and translate it as: “we are working with one another in the service of God.”

As I saw these two alternative readings (working with God or working with one another), I realized that they each describe a different aspect of my situation relative to my brother monks and fellow faculty members and other helpers beside whom I've been working over the decades to make St. Benedict’s Prep such an extraordinary place.

First, all of us here are “fellow-workers with God,” cooperating with God’s constant divine initiative and energy to make the school work. No one would be crazy enough to think that it was our efforts that have made St. Benedict's what it is today.

But it’s just as accurate for me to use the second translation and think of my brother monks, my colleagues and myself as “working together” as “fellow-workers in the service of God.”

Both aspects, working with God and working with my colleagues, are true, so I needn’t prefer one over the other. Either way, the “honor” being conferred on me is not primarily about me, rather it’s a celebration of the privilege I have enjoyed for 45 years of “working with” (synergeo) God while at the same time “working with” (synergeo) my colleagues "in the service of God.”


Let me end this post by returning to the gospel passage that started this whole thing:
God's math with the apostles
"The Lord continued to work with (synergeo) [the eleven] throughout." Now think about this: our Greek verb here gives us the English word "synergy." The dictionary definition of "synergy" is "the interaction or cooperation of two or more agents to produce a combined effect greater than the sum of their separate effects."

It's mind-boggling to think of God's efforts (which must by definition be infinitely powerful by themselves) as actually being enhanced by my cooperation! By the way, come to think of it, "co-operate" is the exact Latin equivalent of the Greek synergeo. That God's work can be improved by our cooperation is a bit much to contemplate. But it certainly makes sense that the Lord would need our cooperation in order to have people hear the gospel message preached or have sad hearts cheered by a kind word, or have hungry people fed or teenage boys educated. 

"Synergizing" with the Lord to create something even better than God could have done alone? That seems to be one way of looking at the story of our monastery and our school. 

And they want to honor me?
"Fellows, I'm going to need your help."


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