sacramentum et exemplum


Posted By on Apr 13, 2017

(cyprian, Holy Thursday) When the Church Fathers refer to the washing of the feet, they refer to it as both a sacramentum and an exemplum––as both a sacrament and an example. A sacrament in the same way that Jesus’ whole life was a sacrament, God coming to us and purifying us, making us clean, not because of anything that we have done, but by pure grace, a total gift that cannot be earned, but only received. But the washing of the feet is also an exemplum, an example, in that every sacrament comes with a moral obligation to it: if we receive a sacrament we commit ourselves to a way of life. We can’t earn it, but if we receive it we have to embody it: ‘I have given you an example so that what I have done you also must do.’ A sacrament is a commitment to a way of life, in this case, a life of self-sacrifice to the will of the Father and to each other in service. I’ve been reading The Glass Bead Game, Herman Hesse’s final novel. It’s about a man named Joseph Knecht, who is raised in a monastic type environment of an order for the intellectual elite in some remote land in a distant future. He is eventually inducted into the order and finally made the Master of the Game, the Magister Ludi. Spoiler alert: he eventually leaves the order, mainly because he thinks that true life is found not in “…taking pleasurable strolls in the garden of culture” which “tends somewhat toward smugness and self-praise”­­––but in service. Interestingly enough, their order, the Castalians, is often contrasted with the Benedictine Order, which Hesse in this novel at least, holds up as a paradigm, the opposite of the Castalian Order, because the Benedictine monks, personified by a wise old scholar named Fr. Jacobus, know their place in history. They understand “responsible action controlled by dispassionate reflection” and have “consciousness of the social responsibility.” I, however, actually thought that the hero’s critiques of his own Castalian order were good warning shots across the bow for monks of all kinds too. Even in our protected world of contemplative life, we can never forget that the way of Jesus Christ is the way of the seed falling in the ground and dying so as to yield a rich harvest, the way of the salt that dissolves into the food, the way of the yeast in the dough, and, as St. Benedict reminds over and over again, the way of humility and obedience. I thought that this one passage that Joseph hears as he is inducted into...

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There’s a detail of the story of Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem that we don’t necessarily catch, but that I find significant: the crowd that is accompanying Jesus is not made up of inhabitants of Jerusalem, that place of political intrigue and religious power. Instead this is the rag-tag band of misfits that have followed Jesus to Jerusalem, and it is they who are announcing to that place of worldly power that a new king has come, and a new kind of king, with a new kind of authority, rather than mere power. There are other details too that we don’t catch unless we read a little further into the text of Matthew, which reinforce this theme. Right after this entry into the Holy City, Jesus cleanses the temple, driving out the buyers and sellers. And then right after that the blind and the lame come to him. And then the children start crying out, echoing the song of the crowd at his entrance into Jerusalem, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David!’ So Jesus comes in in a parade that sort of mocks the Roman emperor’s entrance, he drives out the moneychangers, he skips over the religious authorities––and then replaces them all with the outsiders, the poor, and the children. This is all in keeping with Jesus’ message throughout his life, the littleness, the humility, the powerlessness and the poverty before God that is necessary to pass through the eye of the needle. This isn’t a socio-political revolution; it’s a spiritual one, a religious one. By anchoring the story in that quote from Zechariah––‘Behold, your king shall come to you humbly, riding on a donkey[i]––Matthew does away with any kind of political zealotry and draws a sharp contrast to worldly power. As Pope Benedict wrote about this event, “Jesus is not building on violence; he is not instigating a military revolt against Rome. His power is of another kind: it is in God’s poverty, God’s peace, that he identifies the only power that can redeem.” As a matter of fact Jesus “is a king who destroys the weapons of war, a king of peace and a king of simplicity, a king of the poor.”[ii] Pope Benedict ties all this in with the beatitudes: Jesus tells us through all this that “The earth ultimately belongs to the meek, to the peaceful.”[iii] We along with all those outside of the centers of power, in solidarity with the blind and the lame, along with the children––let’s proclaim this king today, and welcome him into our hearts, into our lives and our community, this king who destroys the weapons of war, the king of...

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Several of you have asked to see a copy of this and so, with don Alessandro’s permission, I am posting here his letter convoking our General Chapter at Camaldoli this September. We had several discussions of this letter in chapter here at the Hermitage, and parts of this letter will also be reprinted in our next newsletter as it is salient to its theme. This is my favorite line: “To live the highest in the deepest in communion”––which I suggested to Alessandro could be the sub-theme. THE PRIOR GENERAL The Holy Hermitage and Monastery of Camaldoli January 18th, 2017 Dear Priors, Vice-priors and Brothers, We have now begun the last year of the current six-year term (October 2011–October 2017), and so we must prepare for the next General Chapter. Such preparation includes not only the institutional events (visitations, election of delegates, etc.), but also an examination of the fraternal life within our communities and a serious reflection on the significance of our monastic life and our spiritual quest. As for the institutional acts, I have arranged for the anticipated canonical visitations to the communities of our monastic Congregation with the General Council, and we are preparing the draft program for the Chapter itself. The assembling of the General Chapter I invite you to read the articles of the Constitutions which address the nature of the General Chapter, its tasks, the convoking, the participants by right, and the election of delegates of the sui juris houses as well as the universal delegates (Const. 194-227). Above all I would like to call attention to the two principal elements that characterize the convoking of the General Chapter: it is the supreme authority and power of the Congregation, and it must preserve and cherish the common good of all communities; it must guarantee fidelity to the original spirit of the Congregation, while strengthening its spiritual vitality. Problems of recent years The problems we have confronted several times at General Chapters in the last years are not new: the decrease of vocations in our communities, monastic initiation and formation, the increasing age of many confreres, the multiplication of commitments, the accelerating pace of our personal and communal time, fraternal relations, the ministry of hospitality, the issue of the economic situation in several houses, etc., and many other issues. The bottom line: roots and significance But I sincerely believe that we must not lose sight of the basic issue. In it are interwoven two essential elements: on the one hand, the roots of our Camaldolese monastic vocation in the specific spirituality of St. Romuald, keeping in mind the thousand-year history of our Congregation; and, on the...

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