the God of the living

Posted By on Nov 19, 2016

(Lk 20:27-40) God is the God not of the dead but of the living. I have a missal in my cell that I use for liturgy planning and it has a little homiletic blurb at the beginning of each day’s Mass readings. I usually don’t read them but for some reason today’s caught my eye: “Reflecting on the next life can help me live better now.” That’s okay as far as it goes but my immediate response to that was, “But this is not the God of the dead, this is the God of the living!” Not even “the God of the deceased, but the God of the living.” We should be struck by the fact that Jesus is recalling God’s self-introduction in the burning bush in Exodus 3, “I am Who I am.” Christian philosophers and theologians, at least since the time of Thomas Aquinas all the way up to Paul Tillich and Etienne Gilson, interpret this to mean that God is not a being but that God is Being Itself, and so the ground, the font of all being. And we can assume that, just like Moses and even more so, Jesus is speaking with the authority of experience––his interlocutors certainly recognize this and dare not ask him anything else––the authority of someone who has himself encountered the ground of being. There’s both a negative and a positive side to encountering being-itself, the living God. The negative side you might say is the mystical side and the experience of the mystic. It’s the neti neti of the Upanishads, “the not this, not that” of Meister Eckhart, the apophatic depth of God which is experienced as an abyss, the abyss of the godhead, the dark night of the soul, which is a kind of death in and of itself, the seed falling into the ground and dying before it yields a rich harvest. On the other hand, the positive side of this mysterious ground is the resurrection experience that follows the experience of the abyss and that follows on not only physical death, but psychological death and even spiritual death, the dark nights. Here that mysterious abyss also becomes the power of being, the power of conquering non-being, which is our ultimate concern as human beings[1]––the power of being over non-being, Bergson’s elan vital which meant so much to Teilhard, the God of the living and not of the dead. And if God is Being Itself that means that God is opposed to non-being and anything that is non-being. Folks like Teilhard or Paul Tillich had mistrust of what they understood of Asian mysticism, and Teilhard had a...

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perseverance and hope

Posted By on Nov 13, 2016

(cyprian) I read something interesting about the virtue of faith recently, and I wonder if it couldn’t apply to all the virtues. The author was distinguishing between faith and belief, and he wrote that faith doesn’t really have an object; that would be belief. When we’re speaking of the virtue of faith, he says you don’t really have faith in something; you just have faith. You can have belief in something, a belief that can either be rational or religious, but faith is more or less an energy, and in our tradition we think of it as infused, it is given to us by God, a sort of power. I was wondering if we couldn’t say that about love too: at first the virtue of love or charity is just a blind force for the good, for creativity. It’s only later that we can choose to what and to whom we can attach our love so that it has an object. This makes sense of Augustine’s notion of sin being disordered love, as in loving popularity more than integrity, or loving possessions more than relationships. But what I was really thinking about in regards to today’s gospel was the virtue of hope. I’ve spoken about this before, how it’s instructive to remember that the virtue of hope is not wishing for something––“I hope the Cubs win the World Series!” Hope too at its inception is kind of this objectless energy. As Vaclev Havel wrote, Hope is “a dimension of the soul… an orientation of the spirit.” Hope is what propels us forward not just for survival, but for growth and the evolution of our consciousness. One of the reasons that I am thinking of that is because I heard one commentator say that our current president-elect “gave a certain group of people hope.” But I think that’s wrong; only God can give us hope. It may have looked as if that candidate could fulfill their wishes for what they wanted the country to be like, but only God gives us hope. Our current president wrote a book called The Audacity of Hope, but neither can he give hope. Only God can give hope. It is up to us however to decide for what and to whom we turn that hope into a wish––and we also have to be careful for what we wish for, who we attach that hope to. Our aim might not be high enough. And the other aspect of hope I am recalling is that phrase also from Vaclev Havel, that “Hope is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that...

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mater et magistra

Posted By on Nov 9, 2016

(cyprian) I try so hard to be non-partisan from the pulpit or when speaking in the name of New Camaldoli, but I’ve gotten so many traumatized emails about the election that I feel impelled to respond. I am not preaching today, but let me address the situation as I see it from our Catholic tradition and the Word of God today. Today in the Catholic communion we celebrate the Feast of the Lateran Cathedral, the cathedral of Rome, in honor of the basilica which is called omnium urbis et orbis ecclesiarum mater et caput––‘the mother and mistress of all churches of Rome and the world,’ and a “sign of love for and union with the See of Peter.” As our friend Barry Huddock, now an editor at Liturgical Press, wrote on his blog three years ago: It’s been over 50 years since the conservative American magazine National Review, under the leadership of Catholic William Buckley, published its now famous “Mater si, Magistra no” in response to Pope John XXIII’s just-published encyclical, Mater et Magistra. Good Pope John had, for the first time in that 1961 encyclical, moved the Church a few steps away from the socially-politically conservative institutions and ideas with which it had generally aligned itself until then and placed it more clearly on the side of policies and reforms that favored the poor. He voiced strong support for government involvement in issues like unemployment, and he called for respect for the right of workers to just wages and to a share in the wealth generated by the corporations that employed them. Today as we celebrate his See, I feel confident that we can and ought to fall back on the authority of Pope Francis, hopefully with our own bishops here in the US following his line, in regards to Catholic social teaching, and regard the Church as both our mother and our teacher. It was almost eerily prescient that this should have been the reading that I chose for us to hear at Vigils this morning. Imagine this coming from the Word of God at 5:30 AM the morning after Election Day: Rid yourselves, therefore, of all malice, and all guile, insincerity. Envy, and all slander. … For the Lord’s sake accept the authority of every human institution, whether of the emperor as supreme, or of governors, as sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to praise those who do right. For it is God’s will that by doing right you should silence the ignorance of the foolish. As servants, live as free people, yet do not use your freedom as a pretext for evil. Honor everyone. Love the family of believers. Fear God....

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(cyprian) A long time ago I learned to be cautious about dividing the world into black and white, saints and sinners, sheep and goats according to my standards and prejudices. Jesus of course can do that all he wants (and he does for example in Mt 25,[1] the parable of the sheep and goats). But I am going to assume that Jesus has a right that I do not have. And it is Jesus himself who is always overturning the cart of my preconceived notions of who is good and bad: many of the self-styled righteous wind up being the sinners whereas those who are regarded as sinners walk away righteous, as in the story of the Pharisee and the tax collector.[2] There’s something of that going on today too. I notice that Paul is sometimes a little narrower than Jesus himself, a little stricter, a little more willing to cast people out and exclude them. At any rate both of the readings today present us with two kinds of people: Paul describes those whose end is destruction, whose god is the belly; whose glory is in their shame; whose minds are set on earthly things; as opposed to his readers whose citizenship is in heaven (Phil 3:17-4:1). Jesus instead refers to the two groups as children of this age as opposed to children of light (Lk 16:1-8). But the odd thing is, Jesus is offering a kind of backhanded compliment to the children of this age, almost praising them for being shrewd, and so urging his listeners to ‘make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth.’ This may go along with being as wise as serpents and as innocent as doves.[3] I believe it was G. K. Chesterton, writing about St. Louis the King, who said that a saint would never want to be a king; but a king could want to be a saint. What are those so-called “worldly” virtues that have a seed of good in them––industriousness, discipline, creativity, inventiveness––that can be admired and put to good use in the spiritual life? Just as grace builds on but does not destroy nature, so grace can use these natural attributes of ours or, better to say, we can put these tools to work in the spiritual life, in the life of charity. And a good example of that is the saint we celebrate today. St. Charles Borromeo was a towering figure in the church around the time of the Council of Trent and the Reformation, and his credentials go on and on. He was a relative of the Medicis, as a matter of fact his uncle...

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