the waters of baptism

Posted By on Jan 13, 2014

(Fr. Cyprian) There are two texts about the Baptism of the Lord that I love to quote. The first one is this: The voice of God the Father made itself heard over Christ at the moment of his Baptism so as to reach humanity on earth by means of him and in him: “This is my Beloved!” [This is the line I really like:] Jesus did not receive this title for himself, but to give its glory to us. Now if I had read that out of context I might have made some kind of joke about it being a bunch of New Age hooey––“Oh sure, it’s all about me! It’s all about us. Perfect for the ‘Me Generation’ and our navel gazing culture!”––except for the fact that it’s from St. Cyril of Jerusalem, and it wasn’t a slip of the tongue or the pen. It’s in the Catechism, which follows it up by saying that Everything that happened to [Jesus] lets us know that, after the bath of water, the Holy Spirit swoops down upon us from high heaven and that, adopted by the Father’s voice, we become children of God.[1] So it is all about us! Everything that happened to Jesus happened so that we would know that we become children of God. Jesus didn’t receive the title “Beloved” for himself; he received it to give its glory to us, so that we could be come children of God. Now, I often wonder why Christians, Catholics, preachers don’t talk about all those things more. There’s a certain mystery and hidden secret in Jesus’ message: that we are called to be participants in the divine nature, that this is all about us, that the kingdom of heaven is among us and within us. The prayer of the priest, for instance–– when pouring water into the wine at the preparation of the gifts, By the mystery of this water and wine may we come to share the divinity of Christ who came to share in our humanity––is one of those prayers that used to be called the “secret” prayers. One of my friends said to me, “Why don’t you guys shout that?!” In one sense I think he was right: in some way that needs to be the starting point, as it was for Jesus. If we are to trust the chronology of the Gospels, in the synoptics this Baptism is followed by Jesus’ temptation in the desert, and then his ministry, and then of course his passion and death. It’s almost as if Jesus doesn’t go to the desert, Jesus doesn’t face his life of self-giving in ministry,...

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epiphany: the gifts we bring

Posted By on Jan 6, 2014

(Fr. Cyprian) Wisely watch for the sight Of the supernova burgeoning over the barn, Lampshine blurred in the steam of beasts, the spirit’s right Oasis, light incarnate. Richard Wilbur[1] Just like all the stories in the Bible, it isn’t necessary to accept the literal historicity of all the facts that Matthew represents in this story of the visit of the wise men from the East; but, as Fr. Deiss would say, it would be equally imprudent to just brush them all away. What I find is an interesting exercise is to cleanse the palate of all our preconceived notions, and to try re-imagine the story in a kind of tabula rasa. It’s actually not clear that there were only three visitors; that number comes from the fact that there were three gifts. Nor is there any indication that they were kings; that grew up in popular legend and songs. They do seem to have been astrologers though, which in that time was probably in the brackish water between magic and science, as much fortune telling as anything, but also something common in the Jewish scriptures. (We would probably not condone it now!) And they came in from the East––the place of the appearance of light­­––maybe from Babylon. (Even Fr. Aelred’s translation of the hymn for Epiphany that we sang mentions “…the Persians from the East.”) There is some speculation that they might have even been Jews in exile, but most scholarship thinks that they were non-Jews… and that seems to me to be the most important fact, the thing that the church focuses on in this feast: that God gave some kind of indication, some inspiration, some sign to people from outside the Chosen People that there has been a divine manifestation. The other two manifestations that are normally celebrated together on this feast are Jesus’ Baptism in the Jordan, which is recorded in all the Gospels, and the wedding feast at Cana, which is recorded only in John; but I think it is significant that this one precedes both of those; the manifestation to people outside of the flock of Israel is the one we really focus on. I want to be careful to hedge any kind of perceived anti-Jewish sentiment in these remarks by saying that in my mind even Israel in some way is a mythic symbol in this narrative, just as Herod, Jerusalem and Bethlehem are, symbols of established taken-for-granted-religion as contrasted with something new evolving and being revealed. Geographically, it is really not that far from Jerusalem to Bethlehem, a couple of hours walk. So why didn’t Herod and his chief priests and scribes...

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our life has eternal value

Posted By on Jan 5, 2014

(by Fr. Cyprian) We have heard the Prologue of the Gospel of John several times over the Christmas season, including on December 31st, the second to last day of the Octave and, of course, the last day of the calendar year; and again on the 2nd Sunday after Christmas.[1] It is sometimes said that Christianity has no metaphysical system of its own, no philosophy underneath it. It has ritual, it has myth, it has moral exhortation and narrative and symbols, but there is no real single philosophy under girding our Scriptures, which are indeed a collection of books. And so Christianity immediately borrowed Greek philosophy for its metaphysical, philosophical language. And yet (and I checked this with our Fr. Bruno and, as they say, Caesar nodded) it seems to me that in the prologue to the Gospel of John there is at least the beginning of Christian philosophy, a kind of meta-narrative, if you will. In some ways John seems to be in dialogue with Greek philosophy in his use of the concept of Word–logos, for sure. Let’s say there are, in many systems, these two eternal principles: on the one hand consciousness, soul, spirit, mind, intelligence; on the other hand, matter, creation, flesh, the phenomenal world. Maybe you could call it “the one and the many.” Samkhya philosophy, for instance, which I have studied a lot, ––the philosophy that under girds Yoga––says that these two great principles got angled up together, consciousness and matter (Purusha and prakriti) but it has been an unfortunate marriage, and the whole point of the spiritual life is to end in an amicable divorce, to discriminate and then separate consciousness from matter, soul from body. That is the kind of the movement that underlies a lot of Asian thought. And oddly enough Greek thought isn’t that much different. Plato taught that the body is a tomb for the soul; so again, the end is for the soul to be released to go to the afterlife. From this same line of thinking even the Gnostic tendencies evolve, in a sense, the idea that a perfect and unchangeable God could never be in direct contact with the world or touch anything changeable or imperfect or dirty, so there always has to be a kind of buffer zone between God and the world. These are beautiful descriptions of profound spiritual experiences… but that is not our language, not the language of Judeo-Christian scriptures nor of the Christian mystical experience. We’ll sing an antiphon later this season that is borrowed from the Eastern Christian tradition, which puts the feast of the Epiphany, the Baptism of the Lord...

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