immaculate heart


Posted By on Jun 24, 2017

(cyprian) Today is our titular feast. Even though our official name is New Camaldoli Hermitage, we were consecrated under the Immaculate Heart of Mary. So this is a solemnity for us. Liturgically it bumps even the Birth of John the Baptist. The Scriptures that we have for this feast give us an image that is obviously very appropriate for us, one that resonates especially with our relationship to the Word of God, our lectio divina, and makes of Mary the image of the monk, how she treasures all these things in her heart. I think it’s notable that Mary’s heart is referred to twice in the Gospel of Luke, and both times it’s in the infancy narratives. (Three times if you count Simeon telling her that her soul would be pierced.) There is the gospel reading that we heard today: after Mary and Joseph have found the child Jesus in the Temple and returned to Nazareth, his mother kept all these things in her heart. The other time this image occurs is earlier in the infancy narrative, right after the shepherds come and make known all that they had been told about this child… and Mary kept all these things reflecting on them in her heart.[1] (Liturgical nerd moment: That, by the way, is the scripture verse that the Church offers as the communion antiphon today. I went back and looked it up in the old Liber Usualis, because I thought that it would be a beautiful antiphon to sing, but there actually is no setting for this verse in the old chant books. Before the reform of the liturgy there was a different verse used, from the gospel of John about Jesus entrusting Mary to John as his mother­––Ecce filius tuus… In little things like that you can see how the Church sometimes shifts ever so slightly to put a different emphasis on certain feasts, wanting us to accent now more Mary’s contemplative stance, reflecting on these things in her heart.) This is where prayer comes in and one of the strongest images spoken of in the Eastern Christian tradition. Here we are again at the specifically monastic-contemplative theme for this feast. I go back again to that image of Theophane the Recluse, that prayer is “standing before God with the mind in the heart.” And so the Church offers us this second reading from Galatians,[2] chosen perhaps because it makes a brief mention of Jesus being born of a woman, but even more to the point, because it mentions that as proof that we are children [of God], God sent the Spirit of his Son into our...

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breathing together fiercely


Posted By on May 28, 2017

(cyprian) We’ve been hearing from the “Book of Glory” (from chapter 13 on in the Gospel of John) for weeks now, from the washing of the feet through Jesus’ last discourse, until chapter 17, the beginning of which we heard today. Up to this point it’s almost a kind of Upanishad-ic moment; Jesus is summarizing his teaching in its most mystical, esoteric, subtle points, things that can almost only be conveyed directly from master to disciple, the soft parts, the meaning of his relationship with God, who he calls “Father,” and how his disciples share in this relationship. You’ve heard all these marvelous things, so I won’t repeat them again. But now here in chapter 17, after all that, the tone changes a little. John has Jesus looking up to heaven and praying, no longer addressing his disciples but addressing God in the presence of his disciples. Today we are hearing just the beginning of that prayer.[i] It’s sometimes called Jesus’ “Priestly Prayer.” This is eternal life, he says, to know you God and to know me, the Christ. In some way Jesus has introduced––or re-introduced––God to us. As he said earlier to Philip, ‘If you have seen me you have seen the Father.’ But what’s odd and a little disappointing to me in this particular passage in our lectionary is that it ends halfway through verse 11. In my humble uneducated opinion, I respectfully submit that if you leave the second part of that verse out, you miss the point, so I am going to add it in. The other name for this prayer is “The Prayer for the Unity of Christians,” because the rest of verse 11 says, ‘Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one as we are one.’ A prayer for unity among themselves… What automatically happens is that when we meet God as Jesus introduces––or re-introduces––God to us, it has a double effect, not unlike the two fold greatest commandment. The union that we experience with God manifests itself as our unity with one another and––I always want to add in––with all creation. Why? Because God is the ground of our being… No, that’s not enough: God is being itself and so to know this God is to know the ultimate unity in whom all things live and move and have their being. But it’s not enough to say God is the ground of being either. Too philosophical! Too metaphysical! God is love––that’s what the apostle John, who laid his head on the chest of Jesus at the Last Supper, comes away from this...

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i am the vine


Posted By on May 18, 2017

(cyprian) I can never hear Jesus’ words ‘I am the vine, you are the branches’ (Jn 15:1-8) without thinking of Bede Griffiths. He was responding to a warning concerning Christian meditation, especially Christians using so-called eastern techniques, that we should always maintain the distance between the Creator and the creature. “As if,” he wrote, “God hadn’t already overcome that distance in Christ! ‘I am the vine,’ Jesus said, ‘you are the branches.’ How could the vine be distant from the branch?” When we hear this reading during the Easter season (and really all throughout these post-Easter weeks) we need to––more and more––keep in mind Pentecost and the coming of the Holy Spirit. It’s as if we too, with the disciples, are reflecting back on what Jesus said at the Last Supper. The only difference is, unlike the disciples, we already know what’s coming ahead––Pentecost and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. The reason I bring that up in this context is because of this subtle little point about the Spirit of God, the difference between what John Scotus Erigena called the datum and the donum, which I think we could translate the “given” and the “gift.” Meaning, in this context, the Spirit who is already there before the Christian dispensation and then that new portion of the Spirit that we claim is poured out on humankind due to the Christ event. With that in the background, it’s all the more interesting that Jesus says ‘I am the vine and you are the branches.’ It’s already a present reality between Jesus and his disciples, even before his death and resurrection and the outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost. Already the same sap that runs through Jesus runs through his disciples. It’s that ––the “given,” the natural Spirit––who is the source of our being as the source of Jesus’ being, and they are already united with him in that. I am reminded of the teaching about the guru in India: that first of all you venerate the outer image of the guru, but then you realize that you are venerating the divine spirit within the guru––what India calls the shakti. But that is supposed to lead to that same shakti being awakened in you. You venerate the guru, you recognize the spirit within him or her, and that awakens the spirit within you. This is so easy to apply to Jesus. We gaze at Jesus and realize that he is the Spirit-bearer, the pneuma-tokos, but that leads to awakening the Spirit in me. I use this paragraph of Fr. Bruno’s from Second Simplicity often: [Jesus] awakens that which lies at the...

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“i am truth!”


Posted By on May 15, 2017

(cyprian) There was a renowned 9th century Sufi master from Bhagdad named Husayn ibn Mansur al-Hallaj. One of the things he was famous for was his teaching of the need to make what he called the inner hajj. The hajj of course is the pilgrimage to Mecca that a devout Muslim is to make once in a lifetime, to the Ka‘bah, the building at the center of the great mosque, which is considered to be the house of Allah. And so, we must find the inner house of Allah, the inner house of God. He was also, you might say, a devotee of Jesus: he called Jesus the “inner Sufi.” Two things about him reminded me of today’s gospel story.[i] The first was Jesus’ saying to Philip, ‘If you have seen me you have seen the Father.’ As many Sufi masters did, so al-Hallaj wrote a lot of ecstatic love poems to God. Here’s one: “I am the One whom I love, / and the One whom I love is me. / We are two souls in one body. / When you see me, you see Him, / And when you see Him, you see us both.” And the other thing that reminded me of today’s gospel was, as the story goes, one day this raggedy old man ran into the market place yelling ana l’haq–– “I am Truth.” Al-haqq is one of the 99 Beautiful Names of God as found in the Qur‘an, so this was as much as saying “I am God.” For such a heinous offense, al-Hallaj was brought before the ulama (the religious scholars), but refused to recant. And so was tortured in the most horrendous way, including being crucified (in imitation of Jesus?) and his body burned with the remains scattered in the Tigris. Orthodox religion––at least among Jews, Christians and Muslims––has always been suspicious about this boundary line being crossed, claiming any kind of identity with God. (We don’t have time here to go into the different mystics and their poetry in this regard who get so awfully close.) But make no mistake about it: this is at least one of the main reasons that Jesus gets in trouble with his fellow Jews. And if we had heard Jesus saying some of the things we read about, we might have been just as suspicious. (The verbs Jesus uses in the Bread of Life discourse in John chapter 6, for instance––which mean something really visceral and literal like “I am the bread of life: gnaw on me” or “chew on me”––I think I might have been one of the people to just walk away.)...

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a playground of liberty


Posted By on May 2, 2017

(cyprian, for st. joseph the worker) I’ve been kind of fixated on the feast of Saint Joseph the Worker this year. I kept thinking it was actually, liturgically, a full-on feast, but I was disappointed to find out it’s only an optional memorial. (Actually, in a kind of Orwellian moment, I was thinking, “All optional memorials are optional but some are more optional than others.” This one not only has its own prayer and its own readings; it even has its own preface!) I think the reason it’s only optional is because it is relatively new. There was a secondary feast day established in 1870 by Pope Pius IX, but then it was re-established by Pope Pius XII in 1955 as the Feast of St. Joseph the Worker to be celebrated on 1 May. This made it coincide with two things: International Workers’ Day, also known as Labor Day in some countries, which is a celebration of laborers and the working classes, and very popular with socialists, communists and anarchists; and it also coincides with May Day, which is an ancient pagan European spring festival. I like to think of it not so much as a reaction against socialists, communists and anarchists––and pagans!––as it is a response to them, in dialogue with them. One of the reasons that I’m so interested in this celebration this year is that in this day and age, and particularly in America, it seems more important than ever to emphasize Catholic social teaching as our highest common denominator, especially that going back to Leo XIII’s Rerum Novarum, which is often marked as the beginning of the modern era of contemporary Catholic social teaching, all the way through to the contemporary teaching of Pope Francis. In a sense rising above partisan politics and ideologies, the teaching authority of the Church gives us an “at least this” for a common vocabulary. As in our dialogue with the environmental movement, we have a kind of “Yes, but…” or maybe a “Yes, and…” which may lead us to different conclusions and means, different telos and praxis­­––or may not! We have both much to offer as well as much to learn. But to take it one step further, and closer to home, I was thinking of the monastic voice in all this too, even the Camaldolese monastic voice: what wisdom do we have to offer, what prophetic stance do we have to take, what model do we provide for others to look at in terms of our understanding of work? I thought of five things. First of all, Benedict seems to want his monks to work for subsistence, a...

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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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