(Eph 6:10-20; Lk 13:31-35) There is a thread of something that runs between the two readings last Thursday. In the gospel Jesus is lamenting over Jerusalem that ‘kills the prophets and stones those sent to you’; and in the reading from the Letter to the Ephesians, here at the end of this cycle, Paul has a sense of his present age. But first I would like to make one comment about the other readings from Ephesians we’ve heard in the last two days. There’s a sentence which we actually left out when it was read at Mass on Tuesday of this week, Paul’s advice to women: wives be submissive to your husbands, which in these days would seem quite misogynistic; and then his advice to slaves, which we heard yesterday, sounds so unenlightened to our modern ears, simply obey your masters! As I understand it, Paul thought that the end times, the second coming of Christ, was imminent, that it was going to happen in his lifetime, any day now. He had no interest in changing or overturning social structures or cultural norms. He wanted everyone to stay in the state they were in (witness his advice even to married people also in 1 Corinthians 7) and to make the best of it, live uprightly in the midst of their current situation, just avoid sin. He didn’t really address institutional sin or social evils. As he said in the Letter to the Philippians, he wanted his readers to be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, in which they would shine like stars in the world.[1] It is only later when Christianity in general starts to realize that it is going to be around for a while and so is going to be an intrinsic part of the culture that it has to figure out how to do social critique and make bigger declarations about things like war and peace. How many centuries will it take before we say something about slavery or about the rights of workers or about economic justice? It will take 20 centuries for the church to say something about women’s rights, and to finally say something about the environment, let alone things undreamed-of in the 1st century like medical ethics in an era of cloning and genetic manipulation. But my ears always perk up when I hear St. Paul say things like our struggle is not with flesh and blood but with the principalities, with the powers, with the world rulers of this present darkness. Alongside our own personal struggles there is also a...

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prayer and the bondage of self


Posted By on Oct 23, 2016

(cyprian) Back in the 1980s, then-Cardinal Ratzinger (later Pope Benedict XVI), when he was still the prefect for the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, was a little suspicious of Eastern spirituality. One of the things that he was warning Western Christians about, especially in his cautions about Eastern-style meditation, was actually very valid, though it is not clear that Hindus or Buddhists were actually guilty of it. He was warning about people being too focused on themselves. And that leads us right into today’s gospel, the story of the Pharisee and the tax collector (Lk 18:9-14). Everyone notes the delicious irony of the fact that the Pharisee ‘spoke this prayer to himself.’ I was trying to get the meaning of the original Greek (pros eauton tauta), and it could be rendered that he spoke this prayer in himself, but most English translations render it to himself; it’s like a reflexive verb. He’s praying, but he’s talking to himself. Even worse than––or at least just as bad as––this Pharisee being judgmental and arrogant is the fact that he was praying to himself. I think we often have a tendency to do this though––God becomes our own ego deified. Contrast the body language of the two men. As all Jews did in those days, the proper position for prayer is standing (Gk. statheis). So the Pharisee is standing, ostensibly with his eyes raised to heaven–– eyes raised to heaven, that is, but totally wrapped up in himself. He was admiring himself in a mirror, preening before God. This is a moment worthy of Flannery O’Connor (although at this point she probably would have had him gored by a stray ox or having a vision of hordes of the blind and the lame marching through the Holy of Holies). And then there is the publican, who does not dare to raise his eyes to heaven. Could it be that he too is looking within, but even deeper within, deeper than his shame, deeper than his sin, deeper than his weakness, to God’s mercy which he somehow knows flows like a river at the core of his being. And he is beating his breast, breaking his heart open to receive that mercy. And we all know, as we hear in Ps. 51, that God can never resist a broken humbled heart. So the one with his eyes to heaven is wrapped up in himself. The one who is gazing within––at his own brokenness––is wrapped in the mercy of God. This is the key, I think: Prayer is allowing ourselves to be emptied completely, as Master Romuald says––or as a Sufi friend...

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paedagogos: humble in love


Posted By on Oct 11, 2016

Just before I was elected prior, when it seemed very likely, as my friend Paul used to say, that the community was going to be foolish enough to elect me, I read through the very comprehensive 55-page essay in the appendix of the RB 1980 on the abbot. As some of you may know, according to the Rule of Benedict the prior of the monastery is actually the second in command under the abbot. But, as I understand it, many of the reform traditions, especially the hermit traditions, took off the top level during the medieval times, because abbots in those days were so often involved in economic and political intrigue. And they wanted their leader to be more humble, prima intra pares–the first among equals. (I like to say, all the responsibility without the jewelry…)

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the bitter scroll


Posted By on Oct 11, 2016

Such an evocative image we heard in the reading from the prophet Ezekiel today (Ez 2:8-3:4). He is asked to eat a scroll with lamentation, mourning and woe written on it! And yet it tastes as sweet as honey. This is such a powerful liturgical, Eucharistic image. We read the Word (we hear the Word) and then we are asked to eat that Word, because not only is Jesus Word made flesh, but the Eucharist too is Word made flesh, Word made bread, Word made wine. There’s a telling choreography in a church designed such as ours is: our response to the Word is to go to the altar and consume that same Word. But then there is one more step, too, as Ezekiel is told: ‘Go speak my words.’ Listen, eat, go! That’s a nice summary of liturgical spirituality.

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Jose Pagola,[1] in his marvelous book Jesus: An Historical Approximation, wrote that what moved Jesus was “his love for those who suffer, and his will that they should experience now, in their bodies, God’s mercy which liberates from evil”; and that Jesus rebuilt sick people “from the bottom up,” first their bodies and then their souls; and that Jesus’ “power to awaken unrecognized energies in people created the conditions that made the recovery of health possible.”

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I think it’s simply a marvelous thing that the anniversary of New Camaldoli’s official establishment as a community falls on the feast of Martha, Mary and Lazarus––July 29th. Mind you, in the rest of the church this is just the memorial of Martha of Bethany, but the Benedictine order makes it a feast of all three. (Why––we’ll examine below.) I love to point out that our Camaldolese calendar from Italy lists these three saints as “ospiti del Signore.” In common language the Italian word ospite is usually translated as “guest,” but its first meaning is actually “host.” How can someone be a guest and a host at the same time? Maybe that’s what happens in the closest of relationships––the line disappears.

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eat the fish (spit out the bones)


Posted By on Oct 11, 2016

I had a philosophy professor once who used to use this expression all the time: “Eat the fish and spit out the bones.” I find myself using that phrase a lot. He of course meant it primarily about philosophy, even as regards the hallowed ancient Greek philosophy: not everything is compatible with the gospels!

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walk humbly with your God


Posted By on Oct 11, 2016

This reading from the prophet Micah today (6:1-4, 6-8) has quite a few resonances in it that point in other directions. First of all, there is a phrase here that is used in the Reproaches that are traditionally sung on Good Friday––O my people, what have I done to you, or how have I offended you?, it begins, right from this text, but then it adds something to the Michan text: I scourged Egypt for your sake with its firstborn sons / and you scourged me and handed me over.[1] Of course at first glance we seem to be getting the image of an angry God here, but if we imagine these words on the lips of Jesus being led to the cross––defenseless, bound, scourged, bloody, abandoned––we get a whole different feeling around this.

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entertaining angels


Posted By on Oct 11, 2016

I have a great fondness for the so-called Rublev icon, the one that is a portrait of the story we hear from the Book of Genesis (18:1-10) today, Abraham offering hospitality to the three visitors, who we find out are angels––actually three angels that we find out are God. I am fond of the icon and the story behind it first of all because it can apply to all three of the Abrahamic faiths, Judaism and Islam as well as us. Of course we Christians see in these three visitors an intimation of the Trinity. In our chapel at New Camaldoli we have a beautiful rendering of the icon (done by our former nun Sr. Anna) that hangs in the foyer of the guest entrance (see photo below by our friend Devin Kumar), and the thing I really love about it––and I always tell people this when I give a tour of the Hermitage––is the way that it is set up spatially, with the three angels sitting around the table.

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I probably shouldn’t say (or write) this in public, but I feel like we Camaldolese, especially we American Camaldolese, have always had a sort of ambivalent relationship with the Benedictine Confederation to which we belong now since 1964 (as one untimely born, as St. Paul might say) though we have been under the Rule since our origins. This is also in spite of the fact that we are the oldest surviving Benedictine reform and congregation. (We are, I was told, the only congregation who dared to add extra initials to the sacred OSB––OSB Cam., indeed!)

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generative freedom


Posted By on Oct 11, 2016

We started out with the beautiful canticle from the prophet Isaiah (66:10-14), one of those rare places where we find a feminine image of God in the Bible: ‘As a mother comforts her child so will I comfort you…’
I’ve been heavily influenced by the writings of the transpersonal psychologist Michael Washburn this past year, who has given me a whole new vocabulary for this. If I can do him justice… We human beings come into being as if from the Great Mother.

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What I am particularly intrigued by today is the image from the first reading, from the late prophet Zechariah: They shall look on the one whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him as one mourns for an only child.[1] In context, Zechariah is speaking about Jerusalem becoming a great conquering power––I will make of Jerusalem a cup of reeling, a heavy stone, I will make of Judah a blazing pot on a pile of wood––but it all seems to be mysteriously predicated on someone––this beloved firstborn––being pierced through. This has resonances with the Songs of the Suffering Servant in the prophet Isaiah, which we hear especially during Holy Week, and which in turn point us to Jesus. And sure enough, Saint John especially picks up this theme in his Gospel, and we hear this exact passage of scripture quoted at the crucifixion, after Jesus has died: One of the soldiers thrust a lance into his side and immediately blood and water poured out. And John says that This was to fulfill what had been spoken of in scripture: ‘They shall look on him whom they have pierced.’ [2]

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