Saint Parisio was a Camaldolese monk of the 13th century. He was a chaplain for a large community of Camaldolese nuns in the city of Treviso, near Venice, and he persevered in this ministry from his ordination at age 31 to his death at more than 100 years of age. Parisio’s life is a challenge for us Camaldolese today. He offered his vows in the hands of the mother abbess, and lived with a small community of monks in a separate part of the monastery, observing the same cloistered life as the nuns. None of this fits our paradigm of religious life today. Perhaps we can best prepare for the celebration of the hidden mystery of the Eucharist by asking how ready we are to rethink our life today in the light of our long history and of the new demands of the gospel.
[This is the opening prayer for that day:]
O God, by whose gift our monk Parisio persevered in imitating Christ, poor and lowly, grant us through his intercession that, faithfully walking in our own vocation, we may reach the perfection you have set before us in your Son Jesus, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.
Let’s stay with good old St. Parisio, who died at the age of 108, very rare but not impossible in the 13th century. The Camaldolese nuns and monks of Santa Cristina in Treviso had a guest house and offered hospitality to “pilgrims”: a word that in those days could be applied to most people who traveled alone or in small groups. Vacation time was not available to the masses, but if they were headed out from Venice or points north down to Rome, they would be welcome at the monastery, where they could stay free of charge for three days — and even more, if they were sick.
“Hospitality” and “hospital” come from the same Latin word for guest, and in those days, monasteries didn’t make much distinction between retreatants and patients. The nuns in Treviso obeyed the Camaldolese Constitutions, which required that each hermitage or monastery maintain a hospitium, guest quarters that did offer hospice care if need be. Medical science was not as we know it today, but our predecessors in the Middle Ages treasured and copied old books of herbal remedies, and these apparently worked quite well, to judge by the long, fruitful life of St. Parisio.
Our monastic life, like the Gospel itself, is all about healing: healing of relationships, healing of our speech, healing of religious hypocrisy. You could say that the ethics of the Gospel are based on the first sentence of the Hippocratic Oath that physicians are required to pronounce: Primum, non nocere, “First, do no harm.” An even better comparison is with the first principle practiced by the Yogis of India: ahimsa, not just “non-violence” but total harmlessness.
The gospel extremism of Jesus transcends even ahimsa: a passing thought in your mind that a brother or sister has something against you, when you are about to offer a gift at the altar, is enough to make you leave your gift, turn your back on the altar, and go face your aggrieved sister or brother. Only when you have healed your relationship can you return to the altar without hypocrisy. By the same token, a single harsh word, like calling someone a fool, puts you on the road to hell.
This is, of course, extreme ethics, but it is grounded in the real difference between hell and heaven: hell is judgment, heaven is forgiveness. Heaven is like the nuns’ guest house: you do not have to pay to go there, but you do have to live your pilgrimage in this world imitating the God of heaven who, on earth, offers forgiveness for everyone’s sins in Jesus Christ. Today’s Eucharist is this forgiveness, and it is the food and medicine for our pilgrimage.
Most merciful God, in our monk Parisio you were pleased to create the New Person in your image, the old having passed away; graciously grant that we, renewed like him, may offer you the acceptable sacrifice, our worship in Spirit and in truth. Lord, lead us always in your love, through the example of our monk Parisio, and bring to fulfillment the good work you have begun in us until the day of Christ Jesus, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, for ever and ever.