the little ones

Posted By on Feb 28, 2014

(Fr. Cyprian) An interesting piece of liturgical trivia happens on Thursday of the 7th week in Ordinary Time Year II. The 1st reading, from the Letter of James (5:1-6: Come now, you rich, weep and wail over your impending miseries. Your wealth has rotted away, your clothes have become moth-eaten…), which is on its own cycle, is paired with this reading from the Gospel of Mark (9:41-50), which is also on its own cycle (meaning they are not intentionally chosen to go together): “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were put around his neck and he were thrown into the sea. If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter into life maimed than with two hands to go into Gehenna.” What’s interesting to me about that is that those same two readings collide in Year B on the 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time, when they are also not on the same cycle. If this was not intentionally calculated by the compilers of the Lectionary, which would have taken some manipulation and planning indeed, it still calls to mind the adage that “There are no coincidences with God.” I thought of a story that I am not sure comes from Greek philosophers or from the monastic tradition that sort of ties to the two together. A man was seen throwing a bag of gold into a well. When he was asked why he would do such a thing he replied, “Better for me to drown it that for it to drown me.” One of the teachings of our late liturgist scholar Cipriano Vagaggini that I liked very much was his application of the four senses of scripture to the Sacraments. So, just as every scripture reading can be understood for its literal meaning and symbolic meaning, in its moral sense and its mystical sense, every Sacrament too has a literal meaning, a symbolic meaning, and also a moral meaning. The moral meaning is the obligation that it implies. And I think this teaching especially applies to the Eucharist: there is a moral imperative in preparation to participate in the Eucharist. In order to approach this altar worthily I need to make peace with my neighbor, but even more than that I need to wash his or her feet, the great choreography that we celebrate on Holy Thursday. Then comes this the amazing moment––I think as a presider in a parish it was always my favorite moment at the Mass––when in the presence of our...

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not one iota!

Posted By on Feb 17, 2014

(Fr. Cyprian) 6th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A There are three possible approaches to today’s Gospel (Mt 5:17-37), especially dealing with that first paragraph where Jesus is praising the Law. The most common one is to start out with the assumption that the Jewish religion at the time of Jesus had degenerated into a kind of soulless legalism, and Jesus is addressing that. There was a French Jewish scholar named Jules Isaac who was commissioned by the French president to have an audience with Pope John XXIII before the 2nd Vatican Council, and he presented the pope with a request that the church address certain anti-Semitic teachings that were common in Catholic preaching, and that was actually one of them. Like the idea that the dispersion of the Jews was a providential punishment for the crucifixion, and that God still continues to punish the Jews for its rejection of Jesus, for instance, a little more subtle but very common, is this generalization that somehow all of Judaism had degraded into a soulless legalism. That’s not fair and it’s even subtly anti-Semitic. And that was exactly the original reason for writing Nostra Aetate, the Vatican II document on Non-Christian Religions, to do away with thinking like that. So let’s get that one out of our minds: not all Jews were soulless legalists, not all of Judaism was or is just legalism. A second approach, a little more attractive, specifically about this saying of Jesus that not one letter, not one stroke of a letter will pass away…, follows from the speculation that Jesus was an ardent disciple of John the Baptist. John was an advocate of a return to the covenant, a following of the Law. And early on in Jesus’ public ministry, Jesus was a zealot for the Law as well, calling his people back to a strict observance. But something happens in Jesus after the death of John the Baptist, so the theory goes, and he has a kind of conversion experience where he turns his back on the law, gives up hope in the Law. (Scholars who hold this point of view say that same kind of thing happens in Saint Paul.) But whoever was compiling the Gospel of Matthew strung together these various sayings of Jesus for this beautiful discourse called the Sermon on the Mount, using almost entirely teachings of Jesus from his later years, but one little bit from this earlier time, when Jesus was zealous for the Law, accidentally slipped into this chapter. That seems to have some validity to it. But there’s a third approach––that Jesus actually said these things then...

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clothing of brother cassian

Posted By on Feb 15, 2014

Cassian: What’s in a Name? (Fr Cyprian) There’s a tradition in monastic life that when a man enters the novitiate that as he takes the habit he may also take on a new name, his monastic name, his name in religion. Our friend James has chosen to exercise this option and so from here on out he will be known as Brother Cassian. For those of you who don’t know, John Cassian was the great chronicler of the desert monastic tradition. He was probably born in present day Rumania, but moved to Palestine and joined a monastic community there. But then, lured by stories of these great abbas of the desert, he and his friend Germanus traveled down into Egypt and spent many years living among the monks there, the absolute solitaries, as well as the hermits who lived in groups and the monks who lived a communal life, and so familiarize themselves with the tradition of Saint Antony of the Desert, Evagrius of Pontus and Pachomius. After that Cassian relocated again to an area near modern Marseilles in Gaul and founded his own monastic communities, and wrote two famous books called the Institutes and the Conferences, which recount for them the lessons learned from the cenobites and hermits respectively. From there his teaching passed on into Western monasticism via Saint Benedict of Nursia, who is considered the Father of Western monasticism and whose who rule we ourselves follow having been left under it by our founder Saint Romuald. It is significant for any monk to take this name, but especially for a Camaldolese monk, for several reasons. First of all, Cassian is a bridge between East and West, especially between Eastern and Western Christianity. Not only does he come from a time before the divided church, like our own Saint Romuald, but he also makes this journey from Rumania into Palestine into the desert of Egypt and then back into Europe bringing with him the treasures of each place. In him it’s as if East and West are not two. But also, especially poignant for a Camaldolese monk, he writes about both the solitary and the communal life, the first two goods of our own charism, and supports them both. One of the things we speak of here is what we call the “both/and”; we’re always trying to dwell in that place where there is not a polemic between one aspect or another, as Romuald left it to us; the solitary life and fraternal communion flow into each other and they both have their gifts to offer––and Cassian is a fine example of that. We also have as...

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(Fr. Cyprian) There are several famous pairings of male and female saints, besides Benedict and Scholastica that I think of often. The first is Saint Anthony of the Desert and his sister. If you remember the story, Anthony and his sister are orphans, and when Anthony has his conversion experience, he hands his sister over to the care of a community of virgins. What I always notice is lacking in that story is it’s not clear that he asked his sister what she wanted to do! And the other example is Francis and Clare: Clare wants to follow Francis in his heroic gallivanting around Umbria, but that would be unbecoming and unsafe for a woman in that day and age, and so he hands her over to the care of some cloistered Benedictine nuns and eventually sets up a new order of strictly cloistered women for her––the Poor Clares. There’s no indication that Clare minds this, but both of these stories leave me with the impression of “locking the feminine away”––maybe to protect it, granted, but still… I agree with Fr. Bruno and others that there really is something to this modern era, what some are calling the 2nd Axial Period, a new shift in consciousness when we need to rediscover the importance of three things that go together––the earth, the body and the feminine. It’s time to unlock the feminine––and the body and the earth. So often in the case of Benedictine monasteries I’ve visited, the men’s community is up high on a hill and the women’s communities are down below. This too is kind of archetypal, even of the so-called 1st Axial period: the men are reaching to the sky, climbing the ladder to heaven; the women are closer to the earth, sanctifying the ordinary. I think what is rarely noted is how much women’s religious communities suffered since the 2nd Vatican Council. Partially that’s because for centuries women were not allowed a real place at the table and a real voice of authority in the church, even at the 2nd Vatican Council! Benedictine women, to give one example, had such a storied history of monastic life in Europe, but when they were brought over to the US they were brought to be active, missionaries and teachers. That has its validity, but the problem is that they were not allowed to have their own abbeys or abbesses. In Europe abbesses were historically very powerful, even to the point of a kind of semi-sacramental power; here they had to be under a bishop. They were not allowed to make solemn profession as nuns nor really live a monastic...

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(Fr. Robert) St. Bruno Boniface (whose feast is Febuary 12) is very important to us, to our Oblates and friends. We honor him as monk, Archbishop and martyr. And for a very special reason even beyond that: he penned the very first document that we have in our Camaldolese heritage: the “Life of the Five Brothers.” It is from that document that we have precious passages about St. Romuald. And that is particularly important because St. Bruno Boniface knew Romuald personally, and as our historian Fr. Lino Vigilluci writes, he “is the disciple who best assimilated the Holy Reformer’s teaching and experience, and became St. Romuald’s favorite disciple. We have also, of course, St. Peter “Damian’s valuable Life of Romuald, but St. Peter Damian never met St. Romuald, only his disciples, and wrote years after Romuald’s death. St. Bruno’s “Life of the Five Brothers” gives us the full text of St. Romuald’s precious “Brief Rule” (we have it from no other source, and it is the only writing of St. Romuald that we have). Also there we have precious references to our “Threefold Good” of Community, Solitude and Mission.” This “program,” expressing our very charism, is central for every Camaldolese and Oblate. It is mentioned only in The Life of the Five Brothers. One key theme that emerges from Bruno’s writing is the central importance of Christian and monastic friendship. The theme of friendship was very important for the monastic middle ages, as witnessed in St. Aelred’s wonderful book “Spiritual Friendship” written over a century and a half after St. Bruno Boniface. (Here also, the Camaldolese precede the Cistercians!) As with St. Aelred, St. Bruno before him stressed that it is the intense love of Christ, who calls us no longer servants but friends, that bonds Christians and monks. So Bruno writes of Benedict: “Burning for love for Jesus, like wood in the fire, the man of God Benedict was motivated by one desire only: to attain eternal life with the one pure love of God’s wisdom.” And elsewhere Bruno quotes the Psalm in addressing his dear friend Benedict, “Whoever seeks the salvation of his soul, seeks in the name of Jesus.” The love of Jesus, of God’s Wisdom overflowed into love of one’s fellow monks, in the modality of friendship love, regularly termed brotherly love. Thus the title of the work: “The Life of the Five Brothers.” And the central motive of writing the work, to make the sanctity of his dear brothers more widely known, leading hopefully to their canonization—as in fact it did. So the central purpose of his writing the book comes from Bruno’s fraternal...

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our beloved deceased

Posted By on Feb 9, 2014

(Fr. Robert) We monks of New Camaldoli commemorate our beloved deceased once a year, in February. The readings this year, though not especially selected, were amazingly appropriate. In the first reading King David’s son had been attempting to kill David and seize the throne. Nevertheless, when David hears of his son’s death, he mourns in heartrending cries: My son Absalom! My son Absalom! If only I had died instead of you, Absalom, my son, my son. The grief of losing a loved one is intensely expressed in this early Jewish text. If we love deeply, we are going to suffer and grieve deeply, whatever be the faults of the person lost. In the Gospel the crowd is grieving the daughter of Jairus, a Temple official, convinced she is dead. Jesus says she is just sleeping, and ordering all the others out of the room, he raises her up. Another powerful prefiguring of the central Gospel proclamation for us that Christ broke out of the grips of death and rose to endless Life, and will raise us up similarly, into the boundless joy and peace and love of heaven. How should we relate in our time with our beloved deceased? Some of us have had wonderful experiences in this life with them, others less so. But if we are at all at peace with who we are, where we are, how many good things of life and the spirit we enjoy, how much of all of that do we owe to our family members who have gone before, maybe parents, brothers and sisters, grandparents, etc.? Our sheer existence, our having been fed, physically, mentally, and hopefully spiritually, able to make it to where we are. We can thank them in heaven, and thank God, Who worked so providentially through them. Then our fuller, deeper genealogy links us to a huge multitude of deceased family members, the great majority unbeknown to us. In the past, families might trace their lineage back only through the male line, father, grandfather, great grandfather, etc. It was assumed that the male was decisive in the begetting, the female only a “receptacle” for the growing life within her from the male. But just our DNA knowledge demonstrates how decisive the mother and all previous mothers have been for the offspring, for us. And in this fuller tracing of genealogy, connections rapidly fan out exponentially. One has only 2 parents, but then 4 grandparents, then 8 great grand parents, etc. etc. and with all the uncles and aunts and cousins to consider. Not so much a family “tree” as an immense family Amazon forest! So if we...

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