hosts and guests


Posted By on Jul 29, 2015

July 29, Feast of Martha, Mary and Lazarus (fr Cyprian) We have a choice as to which gospel reading we can use for the memorial of Martha, Mary, and Lazarus. One is the reading from John (11:19-27) about when Jesus comes to Bethany two days after he has heard the news that Lazarus has died, and Martha makes her confession of faith: ‘Yes, Lord, I have come to believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God…’ But I chose to go with this option instead, from the Gospel of Luke (10:38-42) with that infamous line, ‘Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things… Mary has chosen the better part…’ The one common thread that runs through these two stories is that in both of them Martha is the active one. Just as in the Luke reading Mary is sitting at the feet of Jesus while Martha is scurrying about serving, in the John narrative Martha goes out to meet Jesus when she hears he is coming, while Mary sat at home. We are also quietly remembering and celebrating this date as the day when we officially opened as a monastery in 1958. It’s quite significant that New Camaldoli was founded on this feast. Our founders were so insistent on the strictly eremitical life, and yet Holy Mother the Church, in her divine sense of playfulness, has the place founded on the feast of the hosts and friends of Jesus. not as much ironic as complementary in a Camaldolese sort of way. I’m sure I have spoken about this in the past but it comes to my mind again in the context of this story. Fr. Bede Griffiths taught often about what in India is called the sahaja samadhi, which means something like “spontaneous” or “natural contemplation.” On the one hand there are those who have no part in contemplative prayer. And Bede says that they remain at a lower level of faith and activity; and that’s how we usually interpret Martha, busy about these many things––which Bede says “is very good in its way, but is far from perfect.” We usually make this division in our tradition between the active life and those who have reached the higher state of contemplation; that’s what we usually think of Mary who has chosen the better part. But Bede says that there is a higher state still, which goes beyond both and fulfills both. “One can be a contemplative, in perfect stillness, and at the same time fully active.” That’s the sahaja samadhi. And he says that Jesus was the perfect example of that. What this has to...

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it shall not be so among you!


Posted By on Jul 26, 2015

July 25, James the Greater (fr Cyprian) Like all the Twelve James is probably a Galilean, a simple man with little education who lived by the work of his hands. His and his brother’s family seems to belong to a relatively prominent social group. Their father Zebedee owned a boat and employed day workers, and maybe had some connections with families in the salt fish industry. Whereas some of the Twelve left their families behind, we also know that James and John brought their mother Salome with them. When Israel failed to respond to the call of Jesus, the Twelve apostles, the group he intended to restore Israel lost its symbolic meaning for the gentiles, abandoned Israel, and only Peter, James and John remained in and around Jerusalem, until the year 43/44 when James was beheaded by Herod Agrippa. This is part of his legacy: he was the first to “drink from the chalice from which Jesus drank,” mentioned already in the Acts of the Apostles (12:1-3). Of course he is also beloved for the camino to Santiago di Compostela, a famous pilgrim spot since the 9th century. This apostle saint is known as “James the Greater,” which is of course sort of ironic, because he is infamous for getting caught lusting after greatness, power and glory. That’s the gospel reading the Church chooses to remember him by today (Mt 20:20-28), he and his brother getting busted by Jesus for their inner motives. I heard our Sr. Mary Louise in India say on more than one occasion that the upward mobility of religious life, and especially the priesthood, was “the scourge of the Church in India,” but I am sure that is not restricted to India. It may be a special temptation in poorer countries where having a career in the Church assures you food and lodging and a certain amount of respect that you might never get in your village otherwise, but in my experience the same thing abides in religious life at every socio-economic stratum. And it obviously goes all the way back to James and John. I was thinking the old saying, “Never go into a gunfight with a knife.” I think there is something analogous in Jesus’ teaching. It is the basic human tendency (is it especially men?) to want power, status, to be the boss, to tell other people what to do and have them do our bidding. But it’s as clear as a bell: if power can be considered a weapon of sorts Jesus is asking us to go into a gunfight with no weapons at all, totally vulnerable, as slaves and servants,...

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the raging fire


Posted By on Jul 26, 2015

July 15, Bonaventure: “The raging fire of intense fervor and glowing love” There are two themes from the legacy of Saint Bonaventure that I want to explore briefly, and both of them are somehow able to hold the tension between seemingly disparate strains of thought––a kind of “both/and.” The first one was Bonaventure’s argument against the so-called “spiritual Franciscans.” These are the friars who thought that Saint Francis had issued in a new totally period of history with a new monasticism that went beyond the revelation of the New Testament. Bonaventure of course argued both that there was no gospel loftier than the gospel of Jesus, and that the Franciscan order belonged to the Church. But at the same time his famous phrase was opera Christi non deficient sed proficient––“the work of Christ does not go backward but progresses.” There can be and was a tendency to think that Christ is the end of history, and one could get that impression even from the Fathers of the Church. But for Bonaventure Christ is instead the center of history, not the end; the Christ event has indeed begun a new period of history but it is still in continuity with what has gone before. This also implied that there could be growth in doctrine and growth in understanding the faith beyond the patristic era, as perennial as the teaching that comes out of that era will always be. Even though there is no gospel loftier than the gospel of Jesus, and the Franciscan order still belonged to the Church, Bonaventure saw how Saint Francis made it especially evident that there could be newness and renewal, both continuity and renewal. This is an exciting and salient idea for many reasons in our own day and age. First there is the “new monasticism” that is being spoken about and experimented with all around the globe. We have been in good dialogue with folks from this movement. They bring us a marvelous excitement and zeal; perhaps our job is to remind them of the continuity. Then there is the call for a new evangelization that started with Pope Saint John Paul and continued with Benedict and Francis, calling for the gospel to be proclaimed with “a new ardor, new methods, and new expressions.” And especially call to mind the “new cosmology” that so many are talking about, looking back to Bonaventure as a kind of patron saint. And overall, this implies that there is a forward movement to history in general. No wonder that Franciscan theologians like Ilia Delio are so entranced with Teilhard and a kind of what detractors call an “evolutionary...

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levelling down


Posted By on Jul 5, 2015

(fr Cyprian) (Ezekiel’s first vision) I see the same tension running through all three of our scripture readings today. First of all we get just this little snippet of the prophet Ezekiel.[1] It’s from Chapter 2, and it’s very tame. But just before it, in the very first chapter, we have already had Ezekiel’s vision of the four creatures, and then the wheels made out of beryl, and the wheels within the wheels; and the dome made out of crystal and the sapphire throne; and something like a human form with amber and fire and splendor all around. It’s at that point the prophet Ezekiel throws himself to the ground in awe. That’s the authentic “fear of the Lord” that the Bible speaks of––that kind of take-your-breath-away awe that happens when we come up close and personal with incomprehensible grandeur and splendor and power. The Jewish tradition had such a feeling of awe regarding these strange visions of Ezekiel that they thought laypeople shouldn’t read or study this text before they were thirty years old. And yet we approach it and read it rather fearlessly, casually, sometimes with something approaching apathy. The tension that I think runs through all three of these readings is something like this: on the one hand, in this reading from Ezekiel, there are these great heavenly visions; on the other hand there is plain old humanity in all its fragility. (Ezekiel uses the phrase “Son of Man”­­—in the NRSV translated as “O mortal,” like saying, “And you, mere human…”—99 times.) So on the one hand, there is this ordinary mortal who has thrown himself on the ground in fear and trembling; but on the other hand there is the Spirit of God who fills him and tells him to “stand on your feet!” And then we have this section from Paul’s Second to the Corinthians,[2] which coincidentally comes right after Paul has spoken about his own visions, about being caught up into the third heaven, and hearing things that must not and cannot be put into human language. He says he can boast about a man like that he says (most scholars think it’s Paul talking about himself), but not about anything of his own except his weakness. I do not exalt myself, he says. Instead he was given this skolpos in his flesh, the Greek word which is usually translated a “thorn,” but could also be like a stake, an angel of Satan to beat me. For centuries people have speculated what this thorn was. Was it lust? Was it some kind of physical ailment? Whatever it was, the purpose it served was...

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