Posted By on Aug 25, 2015

(fr Cyprian) On August 24th we celebrate the apostle Nathaniel. There are various lists of the apostles that do not agree with each other; Nathaniel is associated with Bartholomew, a patronym (named after his father––bar-tolomei, “son of Tolomei” in Aramaic). After the ascension according to legend he preached the gospel in Armenia, of which he is the patron saint; and also in India where he is said to have been martyred, a horrible death––being flayed alive. His iconography often pictures him with the knife. (Perhaps you will recall the famous image of Nathaniel’s flayed skin at the bottom of Michelangelo’s Last Judgment in the Sistine Chapel––with his own face! I’ve chosen not to use that as an image here below…)     There are so many details in the little story of the call of Nathaniel (Jn 1:43-51) that we just can’t catch in the translation and out of its cultural context. First of all, the famous line that Nathaniel says to Jesus––‘Can anything good come out of Nazareth?’––seems to be an old folk saying that Nathaniel is using, a kind of an inside joke. And then there is the fig tree under which Jesus has seen Nathaniel. There was a tradition that the tree of knowledge of good and evil in Genesis 2 and 3 was a fig tree. So the expression “gathering figs” in some Jewish sources came to mean “studying,” and so traditionally this is the place where the rabbis studied the law––under the fig tree, under the tree of knowledge of good and evil. So there is Nathaniel sitting under the tree of knowledge, as if he was studying the Law. The fig tree is also a symbol of the eschaton––the end of times or the fullness of time. Add that to the fact that Nathaniel calls Jesus the “Son of Man,” the bar-enosh in Aramaic; this is the cosmic messianic figure again associated with apocalyptic eschatology as in the Book of Daniel, so again an eschatological allusion. So right at the beginning of his gospel John seems to be suggesting that Jesus is inaugurating the new age, the final days, the fullness of time, the fulfillment of the Law. Nathaniel is an exemplary Israelite because he does not reject the new covenant, the new teaching of Jesus, as other Israelites will. (Remember this is early in the Gospel of John; no one has really heard Jesus’ gospel yet.) Jesus says of him ‘Truly here is an Israelite in whom there is no deceit.’ But the big thing of course is the comparison and allusion to Jacob who, remember, in spite of being a great...

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buckthorn: the leaders we deserve

Posted By on Aug 20, 2015

(fr. Cyprian, Wednesday of the 20th Week in Ordinary Time) We’re following the Book of Judges this week, which is really the story of these mighty men (and one woman, Deborah, let’s not forget, who is associated with the judge Barak) who were great warlords during the time of Israel’s conquest and occupation of Palestine. It was because of their reputation for brave exploits that they were given authority in legal disputes and political squabbles between the different tribes. They’re usually numbered as twelve, and listed as major judges, such as Samson and Gideon, and the minor judges. Abhimelech, who we hear about today in chapter 9, comes right in the middle. But he is not listed as a judge; he is listed as a usurper and a tyrant. Abhimilech is the son of Gideon (or Jerubaal, as he is called here), but he’s not a son of one of Gideon’s many wives; he’s the issue of Gideon’s concubine. We also have to remember that there is a general mistrust of monarchy in ancient Israel before the time of Saul and David, a hesitation at having a king like the pagan nations did. As a matter of fact, Gideon himself had all the authority of a king, which he then passes on to his 70 sons, but he refused to be called a king. Abhimelech then goes and kills all of Gideon’s other sons, except for Jotham, who escaped, and then has himself declared king over Shechem. It is that same Jotham who is telling this fable today. You’ll notice of course how the trees and the plants get humbler as they go: first there is the olive tree, a noble tree that gives shade and fruit, and has strong wood, who refuses to be king; then the fig tree, not such good wood but still some shade and good fruit; and then the vine, no shade at all, but still a useful cheering fruit. But instead now they are stuck with a useless buckthorn. This is one of the central morals of the Book of Judges, a warning to Israel: the one who claims to be king is a usurper and a tyrant. I had to look buckthorn up to understand how bad it was. Buckthorn is of the genus Rhamnus cathartica (see picture below), and it’s usually referred to as an invasive shrub––sometimes it’s even called a “fruitless noxious weed”––that degrades all other habitats because it can out-compete native plants for nutrients, light and moisture. It also forms an impenetrable layer––it’s used for hedging in modern times––but it shades out the other plants that grow on the...

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bread for the journey

Posted By on Aug 9, 2015

(fr Cyprian) Once Hasan al-Basri, accompanied by several people, was on the way to Mecca. They came to a well. They were all thirsty but had no rope to pull a bucket of water. Hasan said, “I am going to pray. While I am praying you will see the water rise. Drink freely and quench your thirst.”   So it happened. But when one man, after drinking, filled his water bag for future use, the water sank to its original level. When asked the reason for the strange occurrence, Hasan replied, “It was due to your lack of faith to depend solely on God.”         (Attar, in “The Essential Sufi”) This is the third Sunday in a row that we hear from the Bread of Life discourse from the sixth chapter of the Gospel of John. This week the Church invites us to meditate specifically on the connection between Eucharist and eternal life. Jesus says that the bread he gives is that which one may eat and never die, and whoever eats this bread will live forever. What makes the Eucharist the bread of eternal life? What is the connection between this bread and eternal life? First of all, we always have to remember that obviously this Eucharist that we share is not just bread and wine; it becomes body and blood. And it’s not just body and blood, either, but broken body and spilled blood: there’s a direct connection between the Eucharistic table and the cross, between Holy Thursday and Good Friday. But it doesn’t stop there either: it’s not just broken body and spilled blood; it’s the resurrected, glorified body of the Risen Lord. We could make the connection so strong with Jesus’ sacrifice on Calvary that we could easily forget that this is not the body of the dead Jesus; this is resurrection bread! In this bread that we eat is the power of resurrection, the Spirit of the Risen Christ. Of course, however, following on that, we also need to remember the challenge in Paul’s famous words in second Timothy: it is only if we have died with Christ that we shall live with him; it is only if we hold out ‘til the end that we will reign with him. There is a certain whole lot of dying we must do to fully access this power of resurrection that is present in the Eucharist. Even more than the gospel reading, I’m fascinated by the image that the church gives us in regards to the Eucharist in the first reading today, from 1 Kings chapter 19. Last week we heard from the book of Exodus about those...

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For those who have been asking, we’ve added a “body care products” page to our shopping website at   Here you will find our fine body and hand creams and bar soap from our Mother house in Camaldoli, Italy. For more than 5 centuries our Italian Camaldolese monastery in Tuscany has been making healing remedies using herbs and plants from their monastery gardens. The monks were the first pharmacists of the old world, and we believe they have developed the most divine products. Enjoy an incredible and nourishing experience for your skin. You will only find these products by visiting our monastery in Camaldoli, Tuscany or here on this website. Go to the website at and click on “Body Care...

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