a peg in a sure spot

Posted By on Aug 27, 2017

‘You are Peter and upon this rock I will build my church.’ I want to start and pretty much stay with the narrowest interpretation of today’s gospel (Mt 16:13-20), the one that the Catholic Church leans on, that is, that this gospel is mainly about the primacy of Peter, and therefore the primacy of the office that Peter’s successors enjoy. I have heard the interpretation that it is actually Peter’s faith that is the rock, not Peter himself, and maybe there is something to that too. But instead of either defending or deconstructing Peter’s primacy, I’m just going to assume it, but hopefully contextualize it a little bit. I was really attracted by the phrase used in the reading from Isaiah coupled with this text (Is 22:19-23)[i]: through the mouth of the prophet the Lord God says of Eliakim son of Hilkiah (in a rather complicated diatribe against some guy named Shebna, the master of the palace) that he will dismiss him (Shebna) from his office, and instead make Eliakim ‘like a peg in a sure spot.’ What a marvelous description this is of someone. It made me think of my Dad. He was always like a peg in a sure spot. No matter what was going on in the world around us, my Dad was always steady. What has so impressed me about the last few popes is not how they have exalted themselves, but the ways in which they diminished themselves. This is true especially in terms of our relationship with the other communions that are closest to ours, that have a sense of apostolic succession and are liturgical sacramental traditions––the Orthodox Communion and the Anglican Communion––but with whom we have some serious contention about the primacy of Peter. There are several stories told at San Gregorio. Having been the place from which Saint Gregory the Great sent Augustine off to evangelize the Angles, it’s also a place for many Anglican-Roman encounters. And of course our Don Innocenzo, who has been there for decades, has had a long history of involvement with the Orthodox church. I was told that when Pope Paul VI met the Archbishop of Canterbury there, the pope gave the archbishop his episcopal ring. Now, popes (like presidents and other heads of state, like Jesus and other great teachers) know that every little nod or wink carries great significance. For a pope to give an episcopal ring to an Anglican archbishop––this was no small gesture. Most people took this as a public recognition of the apostolic succession of his episcopacy. And when John Paul II met the Archbishop of Canterbury at San Gregorio, he...

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gaining eternal life

Posted By on Aug 22, 2017

The saint that we celebrate today, Pope Saint Pius X, gets kind of mixed reviews, to say the least. He is known for his stubbornness and stiffness, and especially for his anti-modernist stance and draconian tactics. (He had a league of secret informants!) The Society of St. Pius X, named after him, seems to appeal to this darker side. They are the traditionalist group founded by Marcel Lefebvre in opposition to Vatican II. They’ve been separated from Rome for decades now and have just recently released a statement that makes it appear as if they’ve abandoned all efforts to reunite with Rome. (I think it’s safe to say they abhor Pope Francis’ pontificate. But––we are all such mixed bags!––in his lifetime, Pope Pius X was also known for his pastoral sense. He was the only pope in the 20th century to give a Sunday homily every week. He brought about great liturgical reforms, he encouraged frequent communion. The thing I found most endearing about him was that in his lifetime he was also known for a strong sense of compassion and his love for the poor. After an earthquake in Messina in 1908 he filled the Apostolic Palace with refugees, something you could imagine Pope Francis doing. He often referred to his own humble origins, and is quoted as saying, “I was born poor, I have lived poor, and I wish to die poor.” That serendipitously ties in with the gospel reading we heard today, Matthew’s telling of the story of the rich young man.[i] There were two things that struck me reflecting on it this time. The first is something that I just read in Fr. Bruno’s essay on “Monastic Wisdom” from The Privilege of Love, how St. Athanasius, in his famous Life of Antony (of the Desert), recounts how Antony’s vocation to the monastic life was catalyzed by the successive hearing of two gospel texts at the Sunday liturgy. And the first one was this one, the story of the rich young man: ‘If you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.’ And the second was like it, from Matthew 6:34, ‘So do not worry about tomorrow…’ Hearing these two scripture texts—just hearing them!––was enough to cause this great conversion. Later in his life when Antony himself was pressed by some other monks for guidance, he said, based on his own experience, simply, “The Scriptures are really sufficient for our instruction…” (Mind you, later on he would also say, “My book, O philosophers, is the book of nature,” but those are kindly sisters, aren’t they,...

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(This is the homily I offered for the closing Mass of our Camaldolese Retreat for Oblates and Friends at St. Francis Retreat Center in San Juan Bautista.) A Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, ‘Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.’ But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, ‘Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.’ He answered, ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.’ But she came and knelt before him, saying, ‘Lord, help me.’ He answered, ‘It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.’ She said, ‘Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.’ Then Jesus answered her, ‘Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.’ And her daughter was healed instantly. (Mt 15:22-28) Following on the gospel I now want to tell you another fable, the fable of Eros and Psyche. I was introduced to this fable through the work of the great Jungian psychoanalyst James Hillman in his seminal essay “The Myth of Analysis.” Hillman suggests in that essay that this ancient fable “Eros and Psyche” would make a better foundational myth for the journey of psychoanalysis than either the Oedipus Complex of Freud or the Hero’s Journey of Carl Jung.[i] The fable of Eros and Psyche is from a 2nd century novel called Metamorphoses (or The Golden Ass) by the Roman writer Apuleius Although that’s the only extended version of the story, the figures of Eros and Psyche also appear earlier in Greek artas early as the 4th century BCE. But it was also picked up and rediscovered during the Renaissance and retold in poetry and drama, and especially widely depicted in painting and sculpture. (In modern times C. S. Lewis told his own version of this story in the book Till We Have Faces.)[ii] To recap the fable of Apuleius: Psyche is the third daughter of a king. She is so beautiful that she rivals the beauty of Aphrodite, the goddess of love. When people actually start worshipping Psyche instead of her, Aphrodite gets angry and sends her son Eros (or Cupid) to shoot Psyche with one of his arrows that will make her fall in love with the first creatureshe sees, hoping that she will fall in love with a monster. Butwhen Eros goes to her, he himself is quite taken with her beauty and so takes her in a secret marriage. It’s secret because he doesn’t want...

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the whole field!

Posted By on Aug 2, 2017

‘The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.‘ Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it. (Mt 13:44-46) I don’t think I ever preached on this gospel before I used it for my solemn vows. Our friend Steve Frantz (now happily married) was here at the time as a junior monk. I remember talking with him about this gospel, him asking me why I would pick it for monastic vows. And I told him that it was already clear to me that monastic life was not going to be just about the nice robes and the beautiful liturgies and sitting in my cell (as if in Paradise), but was also about getting along with folks with whom I might never have chosen to associate, and doing work that I might never have chosen to do, and maybe even studying things that I didn’t really have that much interest in. But what I learned from this guy in the parable is that when he finds the treasure he doesn’t take it away in stealth: he buys the whole field! So if I had found a treasure in monastic life, I knew had better be prepared to buy the whole field. For weeks afterward Steve used to come up to me and clear out of the blue he’d spread his hands out in a gesture and say to me, “He bought the whole field!” I was talking to my Mom on the phone about a month ago, telling her about our road situation and the geotechnical issues and the complicated nature of getting to and from town with cars on either side of the canyon, and she said to me, “I’ll bet you never thought you were going to have to do stuff like that as a monk, huh?” And I said, “Well, the problem is, Mom, I found the treasure hidden in the field, and I bought the whole field!” And so now every time I talk to my folks on the phone she always reminds of this. I’ll be talking to my Dad and I can hear her in the background yelling, “You bought the whole field!!” What I think is lovely about this is that not only were they so impressed by this little thought, but that they keep echoing it back to me, reminding me. And really the same thing...

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