(Fr. Cyprian) I find that there are three themes that I keep harping on to the point that I’m almost sick of hearing myself harp on them. But, for better of for worse, all three of them are present in this feast again today. The first is that we can learn a lot about what the Church is trying to convey in a feast by studying the readings, prayers and antiphons of the Liturgy itself, and it may not be what it looks like on the surface. I’ve chosen to use and preach on the readings that the Church chooses for the Vigil Mass for this feast of the Assumption which I would hazard to say rarely anyone gets to hear proclaimed because so few places celebrate a Vigil Mass for the Solemnity of the Annunciation. The first reading was from 1 Chronicles[1] from which we get this marvelous image of the Ark of the Covenant. (Hence, the beautiful antiphon in our own Liturgy of the Hours, “Come, let us worship and bow down before the Ark of the Lord.) I am sure that I have already told you about the time I was standing in front of a plaque dedicated to Mary as the Ark of the Covenant at the Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth trying to explain this to my friend the Jewish rabbi, why we would dare borrow that sacred image. The second reading, though, is a strange one: suddenly we’re not talking about Mary at all––we’re listening to Paul talk about death.[2] Death is swallowed up in victory. Where, O death is your sting? But the most surprising choice of all, for this Mass or for any Mass for a Marian feast (and yet the Church offers it regularly) is that gospel, the startling passage from Luke[3]: No, blessed is not just my mother; blessed is anyone who hears the word of God and keeps it! Mary is first disciple, then mother. This doesn’t diminish Mary; but it does elevate and challenge us. And now we look back and realize that we, too, are and are meant to be Arks of the Covenant, by the word planted in our hearts, and that we too are meant to share in Jesus and Mary’s victory over death. That leads right to the second theme that I keep chewing on until it sinks into my own stony heart: it’s not enough for this to be about Jesus or about Mary; we have got to realize that this is all a promise about us. And if I need further corroboration of that, I need not look any farther...

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the still small voice of calm


Posted By on Aug 11, 2014

(Fr. Cyprian) On my last trip to India I wound up getting almost crippled from an injury to my hip, so much so that my brothers and sisters at Shantivanam sent me away for a week in an Ayurvedic hospital in the nearby city of Trichy. My anecdotes about my stay there are another story, but aside from the discomfort of the treatments themselves, it wound up being a wonderful solitary silent retreat since I had a private room, barely anyone spoke English and I rarely saw the few that did. I didn’t bring much with me to read, just a novel I was reading, my Bible and the Upanishads. The Upanishads, for those of you who don’t know, are some of the sacred writings of India. Briefly put, they are esoteric writings that are attached to the end of the larger scriptures known as the Vedas. The distinctive feature of them is that they don’t deal with calling out to gods and goddesses “out there” or with hymns or sacrifice or ritual––they are devoted to the interior way, the way of meditation, finding the Divine in the guha–the cave of the heart. It’s not that this interior way is not explicated in many of our own Christian mystical texts, but there is something special about the way the Upanishads speak about it that is very dear to me. What was interesting about having just them and the Bible (mainly to read the psalms and the Gospels) was to juxtapose the two––the inner and the outer—, because, all things being equal, our own Scriptures don’t necessarily speak of the interior way in the an explicit fashion, it’s more hidden, perhaps just under the surface. What we generally identify Christianity with is the extraverted way of ministry, of service, of our God in heaven. What I came to by the end of that week, in a way that it had never occurred to me before, is wondering if what was described in the Upanishads was similar to what Jesus himself experienced in the solitary days and nights that he spent in the desert and on the mountains when he slipped away to commune with his Abba in silence and solitude as we so often hear about in the Gospels, as in the first part of today’s Gospel passage. We don’t know much about Jesus’ way of praying except what he reveals in the Gospel when he is teaching his disciples how to pray, for example: ‘…whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees...

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the prophet


Posted By on Aug 9, 2014

(Fr. Robert) There was a cartoon in the New Yorker a while back, two evidently well-to-do ladies walking down a splendid N.Y. sidewalk, and one of them is saying to the other: “I’m doing so much better, now that I’ve gone back to living in denial!”There is the popular saying of AA: “Denial isn’t just a river in Egypt!” T.S. Eliot noted more soberly: “Humankind cannot bear too much reality.” The prophets of the Old Testament constitute a major current and heritage of the Scriptures, at least as important as the kings and the priestly currents. Amos, Hosea, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and others, giant figures that challenge us even today, resonating in the voices of recent prophetic men and women. And of course the prophetic charism is not primarily about foreseeing the future, but rather about uttering a judgment on the present that cuts through collective denials, often institutionalized and defended by people in power, and thus opening the possibility of a very different future. But because they threaten the injustices of the status quo, prophets have been and are regularly threatened, even put to death. Christ is for us Christians the fulfillment of the prophets’ words, and also of the prophetic vocation. He is for us The Prophet, as he is The Messiah, The Lord, The Friend, The Spouse. And so he was denied, and put to death. But then he prophetically rose from the dead! And during his eathly life he prophetically called into question the central absoluteness of the Temple, prophesying that one stone would not remain on another. He criticised the heavy regulations tied to the Sabbath, insisting that the Sabbath is for humans, not humans for the Sabbath. He questioned the food and fasting regulations, stating that it is not what goes into the mouth that condemns a person, but what comes out. He turned upside down the various social hierarchies of the time (and of every time), teaching that often the last will be first and the first will be last. He confounded the idea of holiness of the self righteous Pharisees and high priests, insisting that his mission was (and is)to the sinners, not the “just”. His word is revolutionary even today. He stated as the Second Great Commandment: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” He took that from the Old Testament books of Leviticus and Deuteronomy, but there “neighbor” was specified as a fellow Israelite, or at most a “resident alien.” But Jesus radically expanded that by the Parable of the Good Samaritan, in which “neighbor” comes to include any human being, especially anyone in need. Jesus radically insists early on that we...

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(Fr. Cyprian) I’m working on the final edits of a new book, currently having skirmishes with an outside editor. In the section where I talk about the transfiguration I added in my favorite story from the desert tradition: Abba Lot went to see Abba Joseph and said to him, “Abba as far as I can I say my little office, I fast a little, I pray and meditate, I live in peace and as far as I can, I purify my thoughts. What else can I do?” Then the old man stood up and stretched his hands towards heaven. His fingers became like ten lamps of fire and he said to him, “If you will, you can become all flame.” And the editor suggested that it didn’t fit the chapter and I should consider deleting it. I answered politely and yet firmly… “Not on your life!” If we don’t get this piece of it­­––that we can be all fire––we don’t understand what the Church is trying to convey to us in this feast through the readings and the prayers. This year I was most attracted to the last line of the second reading that is offered to us for this feast, from the second Letter of Peter: You will do well to be attentive to this, as to a lamp shining in a dark place… Remember that the story of the Transfiguration is also told on the second Sunday of Lent and in that case it is introduced and contextualized by a reading from Saint Paul’s letter to the Philippians, a reading that contains a promise that is almost too powerful to be believed: He will transform the body of our humiliation that it may be conformed to the body of his glory (Phil 3:21). Other translations say he will transfigure our lowly bodies into glorious copies of his own, just in case we miss the tie in with the transfiguration of Jesus. We’re supposed to share in this glory, not unlike the resurrection. The proper communion antiphon for today from the Roman Missal is from 1 John: When Christ appears we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. Somehow it is to this promise––that we shall be like him––that we should be attentive to as well, as if to a lamp shining in a dark place, the promise that we can experience this transfiguration. We are supposed to keep our eye on the transfigured Jesus, on the Christ event, because that is the source of our hope. And that’s what all this leads me to today––a sense of hope, the seed of our...

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