(by Fr. Robert) For many people it can be quite a shock to have the “feast” of Holy Innocents right in the beginning of the season of Christmastide, as we celebrate with joy the coming of the Prince of Peace. Of course many of us might not be that shocked any more, just a tad saddened, because over the years we have become used to it. But should we get used to it? Of course salvation history teaches us again and again that more innocent people can be oppressed, and even slaughtered, by others who are jealous of them, or feel threatened by them, or are angry, or whatever. For instance the very day after Christmas we have the feast of St. Stephen, exemplary Christian and deacon, stoned to death for proclaiming Christ risen. And going way back, almost to the beginning of salvation history, Genesis presents Abel, upright shepherd, slain by his own brother out of jealousy. Then Pharaoh in the Book of Exodus orders that all the newborn Jewish male babies be destroyed, a direct prefiguring of the slaughter of the Innocents at the Incarnation. Even the supposedly just and holy King David had Bathsheba’s good, loyal husband, who is also David’s loyal officer, killed, in order to have Bathsheba. The Prophets were persecuted, some killed, for proclaiming God’s truth. And so the last and greatest of the prophets, St. John the Baptist, beheaded for a trivial oath of evil King Herod at a drunken palace party. With the era of Christ all, or nearly all of his own Apostles are martyred, including the giants St. Peter and St. Paul. And after New Testament times, we think of all the martyrs of virtually every age, and not just Catholic martyrs, and into our own time. And the slaughter continues today, in Africa, in the Middle East, etc. Of course for us Christians Christ himself is the supreme example of innocent suffering, in his being persecuted, then viciously tortured, and executed in that barbaric way. How are we to “deal with” this horrendous, ongoing tragedy? In faith we beilieve that Christ was not just an unwilling tragic victim, dragged to his death, but rather that his paschal self offering in love became, in his Resurrection, redemptive of all of humanity, of each one of us. Moreover, there is that mysterious conviction of St. Paul that his (and our) sufferings are “completing what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is the Church” (Col. 1:24). In our experiences of suffering, that can be a powerful consolation, it seems to me. And what, in other...

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two christmas songs


Posted By on Dec 26, 2013

Our friend Devin Kumar recorded Fr. Cyprian and James performing these two Christmas pieces on December 19, 2013....

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on earth, peace; on people, kindness


Posted By on Dec 25, 2013

The fullness of time brought with it the fullness of divinity. God’s Son came in the flesh so that mortals could see and recognize God’s kindness. [Bernard of Clairvaux] There’s one word that got my attention this year as we were preparing for Christmas––“kindness.” And I don’t mean simply that emotional glow that we feel around the holidays, though there is something to be said for that too. It’s just that, as real as it may be, it’s only a pale imitation, a faint echo of something even greater, which is the kindness of God. I’m not sure why we don’t use that word more often about God––kindness, that God is kind. It’s certainly in the psalms––The Lord is kind and merciful; The Lord’s kindness is everlasting for those who fear him. Maybe it’s too soft for us. We might associate “kind” with being “nice,” and somehow it doesn’t feel like it’s enough to say that about God. But I keep running into it over and over again, especially in reference to God at Christmas, that Christmas as an expression of God’s kindness, that the birth of Jesus is an act of God’s kindness. I don’t want to pick on the new translation of the Missal, but there is one little thing that got my attention. The liturgical translators wanted to be more faithful to the Latin texts for the Mass, and so they translated the first line of the Gloria––…et in terra pax hominibus bonae voluntatis––as “…and on earth peace to people of good will,” which is a perfect translation of the Latin. But I wish they had done some real ressourcement instead and gone all the way back to New Testament Greek in the Gospel of Luke which we hear at Midnight Mass and from which this great liturgical canticle is drawn. The word used in the Gospel of Luke is eudokias, and the line could be translated either as “and peace on the earth to the people He [meaning “God”] loves,” or else, very simply, “on earth, peace; to people, kindness.” I like to put the words “love” and “kindness” together in the compound word that’s used often in the Buddhist tradition, but that we don’t use very much in English: “loving-kindness,” which means something like “tender benevolent affection.” As Jesus tells us about his Abba in John 3:16, God so loves the world… God has such tender benevolent affection for the world. “On earth peace; and to people, loving-kindness.” In the Word-become-flesh, God’s intention is to pour out on the earth peace; and to pour out on human beings loving-kindness. And a later verse in...

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Immaculate Conception


Posted By on Dec 11, 2013

Fr. Cyprian Consiglio, OSB Cam, Prior December 9th, 2013. This idea of Mary being conceived immaculately goes back well before the ninth century, and was originally celebrated as the feast of the conception of Mary by St. Ann. Later in the 19th century, when it was defined by Pope Pius IX, he was only doing what councils of the church are always supposed to be doing––affirming and, in a sense, explaining something that is already held by the Church in its tradition, a tradition of which common ordinary everyday believers with the sensus fidelium are often the custodians, beliefs that theologians then try to square with their technical language. But what is really important for us to keep in mind, as we begin this celebration, is what we hear in the reading from the letter to the Ephesians, that God destined us to be holy and blameless in his sight. In some ways, theologically this is one of the more complicated feasts in the church year. What we need to remember is that anything said about Mary is also about the Church; and anything said about the Church is also said about us, the living stones that make up the temple that is the Body of Christ. And anything said about us refers to all creation, which is groaning and agony while we work this out. But foremost, anything said about Mary is really telling us something about Jesus, something about how God so loves the world in Christ. In some ways all of this goes back to Saint Augustine, because he had taught that all human conception was stained––and yes, there actually is an archaic, poetic word “maculate” which means “stained”––; all human conception is maculate, stained, by desire, by libido, by concupiscence. We are talking here about Mary’s parents really, at first, more than about her. Up until the 14th century, theologians assumed that Mary in some marvelous way had been redeemed of this stain of original sin just like all other human beings. But the sensus fidelium, the instinct of ordinary believers, was that her conception was actually un-stained by selfishness; it was a pure act of self-donation, a pure act of love. No one was sure how to explain that theologically: did this mean that she didn’t have to be redeemed? It was the Franciscan theologian John Duns Scotus who came along and articulated it simply thus: for Mary it was not through redemption from sin; she was redeemed by preservation from sin. She was spared that automatic impulse that happens in us human beings to grasp, to selfish clinging. That’s what Pius IX echoed...

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One of the strongest images I have from my brief intense trip to Jerusalem is of Rabbi Eli, probably the closest thing to an Old Testament prophet I have ever met. This was a guy who had been arrested several times for standing in solidarity with Palestinians, protesting the human rights violations and protecting their land against the Zionists and fanatics. We were standing outside at a high spot in East Jerusalem looking out over the disputed territories, he was pointing out the various iterations of the security wall making its serpentine way through Palestinian land, and showing us a map of a new settlement about to begin construction in total defiance of the UN and the US which would effectively cut Palestine in half thus preventing any possibility of Palestinians ever having a contiguous piece of land to call their state, thus also effectively destroying the so-called two state solution. And, here’s my point, he said, “And so we are asking ourselves: what time is it? Is it a quarter to midnight? Is it five minutes to midnight? With this development I think it’s one minute to midnight. It’s almost too late.” That line seared so deeply in my mind––“one minute to midnight”––that on the way home I wrote a whole song about it, the closest thing to a ‘60s protest song I had ever written, and it included lines from this first reading from the prophet Isaiah, too: “We’ve beaten our plowshares back into swords / and made spears of our pruning hooks. / We’ve turned revelation to a battle of words / and made weapons of our holy books.” “Do you know what time it is?” That’s what a prophet asks, like Rabbi Eli: they don’t predict the future; they predict the present. Prophets tell us what time it is, in our personal lives as well as in our communal lives, and they say, “If you keep on this course, this is what is going to happen.” Advent is different from Lent in subtle ways. It’s not really so much a penitential season as it is a prophetic season. And we speak of the microcosm and the macrocosm at the same time, the big picture and our individual lives, and everything in between. We start out talking about the end of time and we move backwards, swim upstream to talk about the birth of Jesus, the beginning of the fullness of time. We are asking ourselves individually, “What time is it in my life?” in the same way we are asking ourselves as a church, as a species, as a world, “What time is it? Where...

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