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Posts Tagged ‘Boston College’

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What’s Your Favorite Law?

The other day I asked my confrere Fr. Lew what his favorite Church law was.  I’d never asked anyone that before, and as soon as I shut my mouth I thought better of it.  Where in the world did that question come from?  What was I thinking?

Lew was nice about it, and his answer came without hesitation.  “That’s easy.  The one-hour fast before communion.”

It’s not what I had expected from him; but on the other hand I really didn’t know what to expect, for one good reason.  We monks don’t spend a lot of time sitting around discussing Church law.  It’s not because life is too short.  Rather it’s because the days are too short.

As anyone who’s read the Gospels knows, issues of law cropped up regularly in the ministry of Jesus.  Certainly Jesus was no lawyer; but any time people push the envelope when it comes to religious practice then they better be ready for a heavy dose of push-back.  And Jesus most assuredly pushed the envelope.

FE3E7B69-008F-4751-9BAA-63AA45A7021EThere’s no denying that Jesus had to walk a fine line when it came to his teaching on the law.  Time and again he denied that he had come to abolish the law.  After all, he’d be the first to say that lawlessness tends to bring out the worst in people.  In the same breath, however, Jesus didn’t want to inflate the value of law in religious life.  Correct observance of the law does not give people the upper hand in their relationship with God.  Upright behavior is nice enough, but it never puts God between a rock and a hard place.  When all is said and done, salvation remains a gift.  It’s not a reward earned by those who have been good at least 51% of the time.

If the law is not an end in itself, then what’s the point of it?  I would submit that it’s a covenant that binds us together in a common way of life.  It’s a shared ethical standard.  It points out ways of acting that offer support to one another.

Not surprisingly, Jesus was not about to dodge the question when people tried to pin him down.  And he answered by resorting to a supreme irony: he actually maximized the importance of the law.  Certainly the Ten Commandments had normative value, but were they the be-all and end-all of God’s law?  Perhaps not.  And so, in as many words, Jesus responded with his own trick question:  “Which of the commandments is greater than the command to love God and your neighbor as yourself?”  From my vantage any answer but “none” should get you in a lot of trouble.

3DDFEE6B-B6E8-4918-A2FB-E1B8E3BB61B3So what about the business of fasting for one hour before communion?  Is this another instance in which a secondary law assumes an importance all out of proportion to its real value?  It depends.  On the one hand there’s something positive to be said for this law.  After all, it’s important for all of us to fast for several hours each day.  If we didn’t then we’d all put on weight like crazy.

But there’s an even better reason for fasting before communion.  Fasting for an hour serves as a time-out in the business of life.  That one hour is a reminder that we all need to get a grip on ourselves.  It reminds us that we each have purpose in our lives, and in the Eucharist we celebrate that transcendent conviction.  In the Eucharist, then, we affirm our love for God and for our neighbor as ourselves.

So Jesus chose not to evade questions about the law, because he wanted to make a larger point.  The law does not exist for itself.  Rather, it exists to shore us up in our daily pilgrimage with the Lord and with one another.

NOTES

+On March 26th I presided at the Abbey Mass, and today’s post is an expansion of what was a much shorter homily on the subject of the law in the teaching of Jesus.  At that Mass I prayed for my friend and colleague from the Order of Malta, Sheila Carmassi, who  passed away recently after a long illness.  No doubt the Lord has already welcomed her into the gates of paradise.

9FF23F12-BE05-4075-B71A-F36ABB6D387C+This last week we received word that our confrere Father Michael-Leonard Hahn successfully defended his Pd.D. dissertation.  This fall he will return from his studies at Boston College to teach at Saint John’s University.

+Recently Abbot John appointed Brother Simon-Hoa Phan to a term as subprior of the monastery.  Brother Simon-Hoa is a member of the art department in the University and has served for several years as a faculty resident in one of the residence halls.  This July he will move back into the monastery, where no doubt he will catch up on several years of sleep deprivation.

+Because of the cold nights and bright sunny days the maple syrup season is well under way in the Abbey’s forests.  These conditions stimulate the flow of the sap up the trees during the day and down into the roots again at night.  Once the temperatures stop dipping below freezing at night, that’s the end of it.  So it’s a narrow window.

+Today is the 400th post of A Monk’s Chronicle.  Frankly, I never thought I would have that much to say, and my one fear has been that I will accidentally recycle an old post.  Hopefully that has not happened yet.  All the same, regular readers know that pet peeves have shown up in new wineskins.  Thanks for reading!

+This last Sunday was Laetare Sunday, which urges us to rejoice because Lent is half over.  I can think of no church that encourages exuberance and rejoicing more than Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, and today’s photos illustrate it.  Whether visitors are believers or not, it simply takes your breath away.  For an enlarged view, click on each photo.

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IMG_0660The Resurrection:  A Life-changer

There’s something a little chaotic about the scene in which the disciples baptized 3,000 people in one fell swoop.  They had preached to these people all morning, and when they had heard enough they literally burst out with the question “what’s next?”  Baptism, on the spot, was what came next.

Because of the rush there was no time to check birth certificates, no time to line up godparents, and no questions about whether everybody was taking a proper Christian name at their baptism.  Nor was there any thought to starting up a lengthy RCIA program.  All those things would come later, in the fulness of time.

This episode from the Acts of the Apostles describes the scene at Pentecost, but we read it at Mass on Tuesday of Easter week.  Since I was slated to preside and preach at the Abbey Mass that day, I prayed for inspiration, and this was what the Spirit sent.  I grant the absurdity of projecting back into this scene practices from later centuries; but I also contend that the Holy Spirit sometimes makes good use of such silliness to make a point.

What the rush to baptize 3,000 people may have lacked in attention to the details of ecclesiastical process, it more than made up for with the sense of urgency and excitement.  Christ is risen, and that was the key difference in the lives of these new believers.  They could not put off acting on that belief until another day.  Rather, news of the risen Lord was a life-changer, and it did not take these 3,000 people several years to figure that out.  The insight seemed to come almost in an instant.

IMG_0659Interestingly enough, this was something that the disciples picked up on fairly quickly, and it’s a point that Saint Luke makes in the Acts of the Apostles.  Most of the disciples had been with Jesus for three years, and they’d heard pretty much all he had to say.  But his death and resurrection seemed to change everything.  Now they had to tease out the implications of his teaching and integrate them into the nooks and crannies of daily life.

Peter, James, John and the others did not cease being Jewish and become Christian overnight.  It was a painful process for them, even if from hindsight it was a spiritual revolution that evolved quickly.  In fact it came with a lot of soul-searching.  After all, their lives had been rooted in the law of Moses, and it was not immediately clear where the teaching of Jesus was going to take them.  In the process some critics dismissed them as crazy subversives, but they defended themselves by saying that this was the work of the Holy Spirit.

I shudder to think what might have happened had Jesus become incarnate in the 21st century.  Had he come to our monastery we definitely would not have crucified him, because we’d bottle him up in committee instead.  We would parse his words and offer amendments both friendly and unfriendly, and we’d likely borrow the words that the Greeks on the Areopagus addressed to Paul:  “Come back and we’ll hear some more about this sometime.”

IMG_0657Of course monks are no different than church congregations and families when we try to integrate the words of Jesus into our lives.  We hear and we read what Jesus has to say.  We mull it over; and to the extent that we domesticate his words we also diminish the impact they can have on our lives.  Small wonder that the teaching of Jesus can at times seem irrelevant to us.  In those instances it comes as no surprise that his teaching neither sustains nor energizes us.

The message of Easter, however, is one of excitement.  It’s not only about the resurrection of Jesus, but it’s about our own resurrection as well.  It’s about our resurrection to a life that suddenly has a meaning and purpose that it might have lacked before.  It’s about opening our eyes to what we can and ought to do with our lives — not just on the Sabbath but on every day.

The 3,000 people “got it” as soon as they heard it.  Perhaps the contrast with their previous lives was so intense that all they could do was to ask what to do next.  Of course we’ll never understand what got those people so stirred up in the first place, unless we let the Spirit in to surprise us.  And it’s true — the Spirit can be disruptive and disturbing.  But is everything we do more important than our own resurrection?

IMG_0656Notes

+On March 29th I began the day with a class with our novice, Brother Cassian.  Later I presided at the Abbey Mass, and following that it was my turn to help in serving dinner in the Abbey refectory.

+On March 30th I went to Boston to make a few alumni visits, and while there I met up with our confrere Fr. Michael-Leonard, who is in the middle of his doctoral studies at Boston College.  I also got to spend time with two monks from Glenstal Abbey in Ireland — Brother Colman and Fr. William.  Brother Colman spent the last semester teaching at Saint John’s, and this semester he is a visiting scholar at the Center for Irish Studies at Boston College.

+While in Boston I stayed at the Jesuit residence at Boston College, and there I had the chance to reconnect with one Jesuit with whom I was in school ages ago at Yale.  Quite by accident someone had not spelled my name correctly on the sign on my guest room door, and instead of OSB they had typed SJ after my name.  When the rector apologized for these not inconsequential errors, I told him not to worry.  “I’ve been called worse things than a Jesuit.”  That brought a hearty laugh.

+The images in today’s post are sculptures in the cathedral of Toledo in Spain.  I have put them in reverse order, with the Ascension at the top of the post.  In that image all you see are the feet of Jesus as he ascends into the clouds.

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imagePilgrimage: A Metaphor for Church

She wasn’t the sort of pilgrim who shows up at shrines like Lourdes or Fatima.  For one thing, she had elected to walk to Santiago Compostela.  For another, she definitely looked like she’d walked.  I’m sure a quick rummage through her back-pack would bear this out.  Fifty miles earlier she must have run out of freshly-starched and ironed blouses; and her last visit to the day spa had to have been at least a hundred miles ago.

On the other hand, she was sturdy, determined and friendly.  Perhaps that was a reflection of the Bavarian blood that coursed through her veins.  And she was also a mavarick.  Unlike everyone else who hikes or bikes or skate-boards to Santiago, she had begun her trek in Seville, far away in the south of Spain.  Was that even legal?  I wondered.  Is there even a hiking path for pilgrims from Seville?  Probably not.  Worse still, was she even a believer?  I shuddered to think.

Eventually you have to ask whether they let just anybody come to Santiago.  And the answer is a resounding “Apparently so.”  The fact that you can walk or bike to the shrine of Saint James means that quality control for pilgrims is largely absent.  At Fatima and Lourdes most people arrive pre-selected, pre-sorted, and in neatly overpacked planes and trains;  and it shows in the streets.  In Santiago people show up when they show up, and locals  have long since ceased to stare at what the cats have just dragged in.  As a result, Santiago still has the feel of the medieval Wild West.  That makes it, in my humble opinion, the most interesting pilgrimage destination in Europe, hands down.

imageThat mix of people of all shapes and sizes and classes and ethnic groups is what has made Santiago such a fascinating place for centuries on end.  What also fascinates is the movitation that has driven people there.  They’ve come to repent of sins great and small.  They’ve come out of curiosity.  They’ve been out to seek adventure.  And perhaps they’ve come to escape.  But above all, they still come to discover something about themselves; and for that reason the hike to Santiago is as important as the arrival.  A lot happens en route.  Thoughts are thought.  Friendships are made.  And lives are discovered.  As such, it’s a destination that encourages dreamers and searchers.

imageIf that’s what makes the road to Santiago such a vibrant place, that’s also what unnerves more organized people like myself.  I admit that I like my world tidy, and I dare say that I prefer the Church to be the same way.  So it is a bit off-putting that God keeps calling such a rag-tag mixture of people on pilgrimage to Santiago.  Couldn’t it be just a little more stately and serene?  I could only hope so, and for that I have prayed on occasion.

It’s in this vein that Jesus could easily have used Santiago as a parable of what he would like his Church to be.  Time and again Jesus indicated that he intended to invite everyone to the wedding feast.  In more than one parable the lord sent servants to gather people from the byways and crossroads, and in some cases they compelled the guests to take the seats that the preferred guests had earlier refused.

That meant that the unsavory and the less-than-perfectly-mannered would occupy places of honor — alongside the respectable.  That meant lots of surprises for everybody when they gathered to celebrate at the feast.  And for some it was sheer joy; while for a few others it had to be socially awkward, at best.

imageIn the current synod of bishops in Rome there has been some discussion about language, and more precisely, the appropriate words to describe a Church that includes all sorts of people at all sorts of stages in their spiritual journey.  To my mind pilgrimage is one of those words, because it describes people on the move.  They are people who may be on pilgrimage together, but as in any pilgrim group there are those who occasionally stray from the path.  Some stumble and fall.  Some get lost or sidetracked for a while.  But with minds fixed on the goal, they make progress that is unique to each.  Eventually, in God’s good time, God gathers them in, one pilgrim at a time.

If God allows people to make progress on their journey at their own pace, God also invites an infinite variety of people to take part in the journey.  Here’s where, yet again, I find myself uncomfortable with God’s approach.  I have to admit that there are more than a few times when I regret God’s indiscriminate taste in friends.  Why couldn’t God call a better sort of person to be part of the pilgrimage?  Why does God have to call people who clearly should not have been on the invitation list?

imageIf all this seems a little bit theoretical, it’s important to recall that Jesus meant his parables not just for other people, but for you and me as well.  In that light, I went back to consider the road-weary young woman who had hiked from Seville.  By a lot of people’s standards, and probably by my own as well, she did not deserve a place in the sanctuary in Santiago.  Bettter that she stand nearer the door, for a variety of reasons.

But then it recently dawned on me that perhaps God’s standards might differ rather significantly from my own.  Might God prefer the person who had walked two hundred miles to pray, versus the pilgrim who came by bus?  Might God prefer to hang out with the person who carried a backpack full of dirty clothes, instead of the monk with a bag of clean laundry?  I’m hoping God has better sense than that.  But given God’s taste in pilgrims, I think I had best prepare myself for a few surprises at the heavenly banquet.  After all, the joke would certainly be on me to meet people who were surprised to see me there.

imageNotes

+On October 8th I attended a reception for friends and alumni of Saint John’s University, held at the Museum of the Knights of Columbus in New Haven, CT.  Currently there is a wonderful exhibit of original folios from The Saint John’s Bible at the Museum.

+On the morning of October 8th I had the opportunity to visit Saint Thomas More Chapel and the Catholic Center at Yale University.  For three years during my PhD studies I was privileged to live there and work as a student-priest chaplain.  The new addition to the Center is an over-the-top facility.

+On October 10th-12th I gave a retreat to members of the American Association of the Order of Malta.  We met at the conference center at Mundelein Seminary, the archdiocesan seminary of Chicago.

+On October 8th our novice-confrere Brother Bradford successfully defended his PhD dissertation at Boston College.  In the audience was our confrere Fr. Michael Hahn, who has just begun his PhD studies in the same department at Boston College.

image+Given my frequent involvement in activities of the Order of Malta, one reader asked me to comment on the structure of the Order.  The Grand Master, Frá Matthew Festing, a Knight of Justice who takes vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, is the head of the Order.  He is both head of state, since the Order has governmental status; and he is the head of the Order of Malta as a religious order in the Catholic Church.  He is assisted in the work of administration by the Sovereign Council, which acts as a cross between a cabinet and a senate.  The Prelate of the Order oversees the work of the chaplains as well as the spiritual life of all the members of the Order.  Finally, the Cardinal Patron of the Order acts as a liaison between the Order and the Vatican.  His role is to promote the interests of the Order at the Vatican.

image+While perusing photos I’ve taken over the years, I recalled a statue of Saint James, perched on the wall of a building in Amsterdam.  That picture, along with other examples of building art in Amsterdam, are included in today’s post.  These little bits adorn the nooks and crannies of Amsterdam, and together with the canals and bridges they help to make Amsterdam one of the most charming cities in Europe.  I also like Amsterdam because it’s one city where smoked herring is available on so many street corners.

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