(fr. Cyprian) Even though our official name is New Camaldoli, the Hermitage was concentrated under the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Our titular solemnity was June 28th. I have to admit I have had a hard time with this feast because I have no love for the art that is usually associated with this devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. But I had to get past my aesthetical snobbery and look at the iconography of it from a kind of cultural anthropology point of view. The most common image of the Immaculate Heart is of Mary’s heart being pierced with a sword, which of course is the scriptural image from Simeon in the Gospel of Luke; then the heart is surrounded by roses, often seven of them for the Seven Sorrows, that thorny branch out of which a beautiful flower blooms. Then there is a flame shooting out the top, the flame of pure love that has become pure prayer. And finally often she is holding a lily, a symbol of the resurrection that causes just the hint of a smile on her face. That’s a pretty intense complicated image, and when I was meditating on it, it drew me to my own heart, I could feel the piercing of sorrow, but I also got a sensation of the warmth, the heat, and even hint of the tranquility of hope. What does this feast mean for the monk? It’s helpful to go back to the patristic era, in a sense before the devotion to Mary grew as a kind of parallel to liturgical spirituality. Fr. Deiss, for instance, of whom I speak so often, had a great love for Mary, the Mother of Jesus, but wanted to re-root the devotion in Scripture, in the liturgy and in the patristics. Whereas in devotional spirituality Mary tends to be praised, I think in liturgical, scriptural and patristic spirituality Mary is more to be imitated. Pope Saint Leo, for instance, wrote of Mary conceiving Jesus spiritually even before receiving him into her womb; and Augustine taught that it was more important that Mary was a disciple of Jesus than his mother, that Mary was more blessed in having borne Christ in her heart than in having conceived him in the flesh. Hence that second reading from Ephesians, chosen for this feast, brings it back to us. This feast is all about us too being chosen to be holy and blameless, and us being destined for adoption. And the reading for this day from the Roman Office from Saint Lawrence Justinian says, “Imitate her, O faithful soul! Enter into the deep recesses of...

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(Fr. Cyprian) I want to start out making a couple of distinctions. A lot of what we understand about the Trinity we get from the three 4th century fathers of the Church we call the Cappadocians: Basil the Great, Gregory Nazianzen and Gregory of Nyssa. Someone suggested the other day that in order to understand the doctrine of the Trinity we had to stop trying to think like a 4th century Cappadocian, but I was already thinking the opposite. For instance, Saint Basil makes a distinction between kerygma, a word we seldom use anymore, and dogma, a word that we do use, but in a slightly different way then he did. Kerygma for Basil meant the public teaching of the Church based on Scriptures, you might say all the things you can write down and put in a catechism or a creed. Now the word “dogma” has kind of a ponderous and heavy meaning for us; at least to me it means something more like kerygma, very weighty and authoritative. But for Basil dogma meant “the deeper meaning of biblical truth” that could only be grasped and conveyed through symbol, especially through ritual like liturgy, and could only be understood through––and this is important­­––experience. And that leads right into Gregory of Nyssa. Gregory taught that every concept of God can wind up being a false idol. In his Life of Moses Gregory suggested that we cannot “see” God, meaning we cannot grasp God intellectually, but if we let ourselves be enveloped by the cloud as Moses was on Mount Sinai, we can feel God’s presence; we can have an experience of the mystery. In other words, not in kerygma but in dogma in the ancient sense of the word. The other distinction that was important to these writers was between God’s essence and God’s energy, meaning that we can’t really know God’s essence; we can’t even begin to grasp God’s essence. But we can and do know God by God’s energies. In other words, not in kerygma but in dogma in that ancient sense of the word––in experience.[1] Now these Cappadocians applied all this to their teaching about the Trinity. We cannot begin to grasp the incomprehensible fathomless abyss of the Godhead––God’s essence––but we can at least begin to know God by the expressions of God’s energies, and those expressions are what we call “persons,” and there are three of them made known to us in the Scriptures: the 1st person, commonly known as the Father, whom Jesus called Abba; the 2nd person or expression is the Word, who we believe was made flesh in Jesus, and so the...

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saint parisio


Posted By on Jun 12, 2014

(Fr Thomas) 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...

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(Fr. Cyprian) I have a special affection for Saint Norbert, partially because I was ordained on his feast day (June 6th), but also because he is a fascinating figure born in a fascinating era in Church and monastic history. In my favorite book on monastic history (Medieval Monasticism by C. H. Lawrence), Norbert is written about in the same chapter as our Saint Romuald, entitled “The Quest for the Primitive.” This was an era in the Church, the first centuries of the 2nd millennium, when a great many reforms and experiments were happening in monasticism. The Church’s liturgy only recognizes Norbert as a bishop, but he was a hermit, a preacher, a wanderer as well as a canon, to prove yet again that there are all kinds of monks! For many years now I’ve been particularly fascinated with the dynamic between the active and the contemplative life, the opposition and even the false dilemma that we often place between the two in Christianity. I’ve been reading a series of articles from the 1950s by our Fr. Benedetto Calati entitled simply “Vita attiva e vita contemplativa”—“The Active Life and the Contemplative Life,” in which he is trying to show that from the beginning of our own Camaldolese tradition it was assumed that there was really no opposition between the two, as long as we always return to the source, to the contemplative. And he traces the lineage of Blessed Rudolph, the first prior of Camaldoli who wrote the early Constitutions, and Saint Peter Damian of Fonte Avellana back to their sources in Saint Augustine and Saint Gregory the Great. This is not to say that there is no place for the purely contemplative life, but to say that even we contemplative hermit monks still need to be reminded from time to time, as do all Christians, that no follower of Jesus is exempt from following both of the two great commandments, to love God and to love neighbor. And we hear it again in the Gospel reading that we had on the feast of Norbert (Jn 21:15-19), which this year fell on Friday of the 7th Week of Easter: If you love me, feed my sheep. If we love God, then we must manifest that in charity. We had been hearing for days and days from the final discourse of Jesus in the Gospel of John; then suddenly we switched and were listening in on Jesus’ conversation with Peter on the shore of the Sea of Galilee after his resurrection. It’s as if two days before the end of the Easter season we get our marching orders. No follower of...

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