the affective dynamism

Posted By on Oct 31, 2017

Yesterday (Oct. 30) we had a kind of midterm All-Camaldolese gathering. Fr. Arthur had already been here for his annual retreat, and then Andrew, Bede and Ivan came down Sunday night, as well as Daniel, Stephen and David up from SLO Monday for a chapter meeting and a celebration of the transfer of Br. Ivan’s stability to New Camaldoli. We took the occasion to also clothe Bryan Lei as a postulant. This was my homily for Mass. The great psychoanalyst Karl Jung once wrote that he thought life seemed to have gone out of the churches in the West, and as its next dwelling place the Holy Spirit appears to have selected the human individual. When I read that, I thought it was kind of funny. What the great psychotherapist had stumbled upon, of course, was Christianity, as evidenced in the first reading today, a theme that appears so often in Paul’s Letter to the Romans: The Spirit of God dwells in you… We received a spirit of adoption… the Holy Spirit bears witness with our spirit. Jesus’ own prayer––Abba, Father!––has been implanted in us.[1] This was never about buildings and institutions; it has always been about human beings. The line, by the way, that is the entrance antiphon for the Solemnity of Pentecost, the birthday of the Church, is not singing about the flames resting on top of our heads like tongues, or pouring over us, but from earlier in this same Letter to the Romans, the love of God is poured into our hearts by the Spirit living in us,[2] and then we become living stones. This was not the central message that I heard about the gospel growing up. It was the ground shifting revelation that came upon me when I discovered contemplative prayer, meditation, and monasticism in general, and now it seems so obvious to me. It’s one of those things that when you know what to look for you start to see it and hear it everywhere. And every time I hear it I get excited all over again. We just heard this quote the other day from Hillary of Poitiers at Vigils, in his commentary about the rebuilding of the Temple under Cyrus: So where is the Lord’s seat and eternal dwelling place now? What precisely is that temple which is fit for [God’s] habitation? It is the one of which it is said [then he quotes Paul’s letter to the Corinthians]: You are the temple of God and the Spirit of God dwells in you. This is God’s house and temple; it is full of the teaching and the power of God,...

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cyrus and caesar

Posted By on Oct 22, 2017

The monastic impulse has historically been to fuga mundi–flee the world and leave all the wranglings of politics and economics behind. But we are Christians first; my missal has a quotation from the Catechism for today’s liturgy that states that it’s the “duty of citizens to contribute along with civil authorities to the good of society in a spirit of truth, justice, solidarity and freedom.” This man Cyrus who we heard about in the first reading today (Is 45:1, 4-6) is a fascinating figure in the history of the Middle East. He was the king of a small kingdom named Anzan, but first he started gathering clans together and established the Persian nation. Then he conquered the Medes and won a war against the Lydians to become the master of all of Asia Minor. But his crowning victory was when he marched against Nabonidus, the King of Babylon, establishing at that point the Persian Empire, that included modern day Turkey, Syria, Iraq, Iran, all the way to Afghanistan and Pakistan, the largest empire the world had ever seen. Of course through the prophet Isaiah, the Lord God takes credit for all that: ‘I go before you, I arm you, though you did not know me.’ Cyrus’ name comes up not only in Deutero-Isaiah, but also in the books of Ezra, Nehemiah and the prophets Haggai and Zechariah. (Serendipitously, we are about to launch into a series of readings at Vigils from all those same books.) The reason he plays such a prominent role in Old Testament history, besides his geographical proximity to the Holy Land, was that he is the one who proclaimed the edict that ended the deportation of the Jews to Babylon––the Babylonian Captivity, and even promoted the reconstruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, which had been destroyed, as well as the return of all their sacred articles and vessels. He was known as a wise and benevolent ruler who practiced what today we would call “religious liberty,” allowing conquered peoples to practice their own religion, even promoting and encouraging them. His Persian name was actually Koresh, which means, “shepherd.” The Persian name Koresh becomes “Cyrus,” but he is still referred to in the Hebrew Scriptures as a shepherd. Not only that: the Bible also calls him “messiah” and “anointed”––in Greek christos. In some way I suppose you could see him as a Christ figure. The Church does; the very next verse in this reading from the Prophet Isaiah, referring to Cyrus, is Shower, O heavens, from above, and let the skies rain down righteousness; let the earth open, that salvation may spring up…, which you might recognize as...

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last dispatch from General Chapter

Posted By on Oct 14, 2017

Tuesday, 10 October 2017 Carissimi, One of the things I find entertaining about the Italian language is the double negative, as we would call it in English. For example, Non c’è nessuno is translated as “There is no one” but it literally means, “There is not no one,” which kind of means to me that there is someone. Just like Non c’è niente literally means “There isn’t nothing.” You could get held back in 3rd Grade for that. And then there is the specifically Tuscan style of voting. There are little black balls and little white ones. Black means Yes and white means No. So today the Prior General officially resigned at the end of his six-year term, and Don Emaneule, the most senior member of the Chapter (and a former Prior General himself) took up the post of presiding for the election. We heard Alessandro’s review again of his job thus far, then we had a good sharing with him, and then a scrutinium, during which he left the room, and then brought him back him and shared with him, all before the vote itself. All this took almost two hours during which time (we Americans wishing we had been informed of this earlier) we did not take a break. Then we voted on whether or not to accept his resignation. So a Yes vote (a black ball) this time meant that we accepted his resignation, meaning we did not want him to be Prior General anymore. And vice versa, a white ball meant No, we did not accept his resignation, meaning we did want him to continue as Prior General. I can’t tell you the exact outcome, but I can tell you we voted that we did not not want him. In other words, Alessandro was easily re-confirmed as Prior General today. May God continue to bless our little sainted congregation of monks. In the afternoon after the election we had a presentation on the possible new foundation in China. This has been a project dear to the heart of our Fr. Joseph Wong, who entered the Camaldolese with us in America before moving here to Italy to serve on the General Council, for as long as I have known him. He still goes to China each year to teach in the seminary there, and it is form these sojourns that he has attracted several candidates. Out of the ten or so that have explored a Camaldolese vocation here in Italy, at present only two remain, Elia and Antonio, though there is at least one other exploring the option still. We were offered a PowerPoint slideshow of...

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Week II, General Chapter, Camaldoli

Posted By on Oct 7, 2017

Ciao tutti! It has been a very intense week, very good, but very intense. Alberto and I usually leave from here at the Eremo first thing in the morning and don’t really return until just before Vespers and dinner at 7:00. Though I have been walking the 3 km up the mountain each day after pranzo just to get a little air and exercise, having to turn around immediately and head back down for the afternoon sessions. (The Italians, by the way, are just mystified by this, the stuff of legends.) We’re actually a little ahead of schedule, believe it or not, thanks to Alessandro being very firm about keeping us on schedule (responding a little to the gentle recommendations of the Americans). Monday we began with the opening conferences, another one by Alessandro himself, a review of the last six years, newness and losses: “We are at a point of maturity in our communal and congregational journey. There are two possibilities: decline or regeneration.” And then he listed seven Christian monastic postures that are necessary for the future, and they were all titled “desires,” so you could easily say seven desires necessary for the future of Christian monasticism: the desire to stop––personal and communal stability; the desire for solitude and silence; the desire for communion; the desire for conversion, conversion of quality and continual conversion––the art of living before God and in front of our sisters and brothers; the desire for vigilance––“on the border between ritual and life”; the desire for waiting for (a phrase of Pope Francis that came up often) il domani di Dio-“the tomorrow of God”; and finally the desire for Easter––“to stay under the Cross, the justice of God, the wisdom of God.” Alessandro ended with a phrase that he borrowed from someone else that I just loved, which of course touches on one of my favorite topics: Uscire dalla gabbia antropologica–“to get out of our anthropological cage”! Actually the phrase “monastic anthropology has come up quite often: what understanding of what it means to be human comes out of the monastic tradition. And when it doesn’t come up, I bring it up, adding that I am not sure that we all agree on that anthropology; I’m not sure we all agree on what it means to be a human being, and what are our goals, our scopos and telos. Then there were two more, much shorter conferences offered, that were actually meant to be, and were, conversation starters. Alberto, vice-prior of the community at the Eremo and certainly one of my models for what it means to be a Camaldolese monk and a...

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It was my turn to preach and preside at Mass yesterday morning here at Camaldoli at General Chapter. It’s the first time I’ve presided at Camaldoli and I was trying to do it bi-lingual, so I had a lot of prep work. It was October 5th, so I started out by saying that liturgically we find ourselves between the feast of St. Francis (October 4) and the feast of St. Bruno, the founding father of the Carthusians (October 6), something I had never noticed before. And that seems to me to be a pretty good place for a Camaldolese. In our history we have experienced both the longing for solitude like St. Bruno, as well as missionary zeal, evangelical zeal, even the zeal for martyrdom like il Poverello. For the most part we find ourselves in the middle of these tw poles, a place of tension, but a tension that gives great creativity. The Gospel was Jesus sending the seventy-two out to proclaim the good news, but what really struck my attention was the first reading for the Book of Nehemiah. It seemed perfect for the occasion and made it seem all the more necessary to translate the homily into Italian, as you shall see in a moment. This little story captures not only an integral moment in the history of the Jewish people; it also points to the very heart of our liturgical approach to Scripture. This scene takes place shortly after the return from exile, when they are rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem. This is a people that has only faint knowledge of the actual covenant, and has probably never read nor even heard the Law of Moses. Ezra the scribe brings forth the Book of the Law that has been re-discovered, and he reads it to the assembled people. The problem is, it is written in a language that they no longer speak! So first of all he has to translate it into their vernacular. And then Nehemiah and the Levites need to explain to them what it means. And the people are overcome with emotion at hearing these words explained to them for the first time. At first they weep, but the Levites tell them, No, this is a day to rejoice, to eat rich foods and drink sweet drinks (and allot portions for those who have nothing). And they did so––because they understood the words, the Scripture says. But they could not have understood the words unless Ezra had both read it and translated it, and they could not have understood the words unless Nehemiah and the Levites had explained it. There is an...

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