Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Cluny’

366C857B-0760-4702-A14A-617E0AAE8DEE

Saints:  Too Many or Not Enough?

For those not in the know or who never gave it a thought, there are too many great saints to squeeze into 365 days.  To give everyone a turn, some have been rotated out of the liturgical calendar after a few centuries.  Still others have been doubled, tripled or even quadrupled up.  The latter is a nice gesture, but if I were a saint I would object to this practice.  I’d hate to share a day with some other saint, for one simple reason.  It would smack of pride to go toe to toe with someone else in a saintly popularity contest.

All the same, when two good saints fall on the same day, one or the other is going to come out a winner.  May 15th is a case in point.  It is the feast of Isidore the Farmer, a saintly laborer who lived in the area of Madrid and who died around 1130.  I have an affection for him because a drawing of him has hung for decades in a shed beside the abbey vegetable garden.  I have also visited his shrine in Madrid, where he is a local patron.  Since we all rely on farmers for survival, Isidore is a person worth recalling.

A918725A-2077-41C7-8B6E-B96CA395555AAs far as I know, Isidore is the only farmer in the liturgical calendar, and for this rather practical reason he may deserve to overshadow the monk Pachomius, with whom he shares May 15th.  Pachomius was born in Egypt and became an abbot who helped to shape the communal life that Saint Benedict outlines in his Rule.  He died in 348, but his relevance endures, and not just because he was a monk.  Today the Coptic Church celebrates his feast on May 9th, while the Orthodox and Catholic Churches remember him on May 15th.  In an era of local, political, religious and all sorts of other divisions, it is refreshing to run across somebody who can reach across ecclesial boundaries.  That ecumenical dimension alone should qualify Pachomius for sainthood.

However, there is another bit in his life that speaks to Christians throughout the centuries.  Pachomius grew up pagan, and as a young man he was conscripted into the Roman army.  Incentives offered to draftees back then were not as generous as today, which explains the practice of locking up new recruits every night, lest they run away.  While in lock-down in Thebes Pachomius was surprised by some of the locals who brought food and encouragement each day.  Puzzled, Pachomius asked a fellow soldier who these people might be.  “They are Christians,” was the response.  “They do this on account of their god.”  Astounded by their generosity to total strangers, Pachomius resolved to look into Christianity further.  Eventually he asked for baptism, and the rest of his story is history.

D0D5539F-EF63-4A58-A40F-EF7B212325D5For years I have savored this story, and eventually I paired it with a comment made by Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua of Philadelphia.  Asked to explain the importance of charity in the Christian tradition, his answer was clear and succinct.  “We help others, not because they are Catholic, but because we are Catholic.“

Jesus said that “what we do for the least of people we do for him.”  Three hundred years later Pachomius experienced those words in the deeds of the Christians of Thebes.  Centuries later they still ring true in the words of Cardinal Bevilacqua.

It is true that the experience of Christian charity can be so astounding that people will choose to follow Jesus Christ.  But in the 4th century and now in the 21st century that’s still not the primary reason to help others.  We help others not to make them Christian.  Instead, we help others so that we might make ourselves Christian.  It’s what Christians do.

98B990E8-4E59-43DD-B0FE-F241511CEE00NOTES

+On May 11th my mother was buried next to my father in a simple service in Oklahoma City.  In attendance was the pastor of our parish as well as my brothers and sisters.  Because of the challenge of travel these days I was unable to attend.  Our family will schedule a memorial service for her sometime in the summer.

+On May 11th I taught a class in monastic history to Novice Felix.  Quite by accident I had planned to speak that day on the abbey of Cluny, whose influence reached across Europe in the 10th-12th centuries.  By coincidence that was the feast day of five of my favorite medieval saints — Odo, Odilo, Maiulus, Hugh and Peter the Venerable — the five great abbots of Cluny.

+I had no meetings or events on the schedule for last week, but I did continue with my turn at some household chores.  That included cleaning the choir stalls with my confrere Fr. Nathaniel after prayer on Friday, Saturday and Sunday evenings.  I was also the reader at morning prayer during the entire work.

+Spring continues to bud out, as the photos in this post suggest.  I took the photos in and around the Quadrangle.

AC5EA1AE-D7D3-49B1-95FB-F855CB870D49

Read Full Post »

BFB5A6EC-684E-451B-822F-05AF690CFB8E

We Are God’s Building

I have to admit that I find it easier to get worked up about some feasts more than others. Christmas and Easter obviously attract.  On the other hand, lesser saints challenge my interest, though I’m always intrigued by some of the more arcane monastic saints.  Who doesn’t find the feast day of Saints Odo, Odilo, Maiulus, Hugh and Peter the Venerable not exciting?  Well maybe not a lot of people do, but I for one feel like I know them like old friends.  They were the five long-lived medieval abbots of Cluny in France.

Still, testing the limits of my enthusiasm are feasts that celebrate furniture — like the Chair of Saint Peter — and the dedication of buildings.  That said, I do make exceptions, and my favorite is the dedication of Saint John Lateran, which we celebrated on November 9th.  It’s a building, of course, and it’s in Rome.  But beyond that I have always felt a bit sorry for it, simply because it does not get the respect it deserves.

15A0A072-524B-4372-8506-5735992A2F90Why does it deserve better?  Well, for one thing it is the seat of the bishop of Rome, someone who also carries the title of pope.  Most people believe that Saint Peter’s is the presiding church in Rome, but in this case most people would be wrong.  Saint John Lateran heads the diocese of Rome, and all of its administrative offices have been there for centuries, and they still are.

Hands down Saint Peters draws more visitors than Saint John, but those who do visit Saint John are rewarded with a glimpse of a complex filled with history.  Originally an imperial palace, Emperor Constantine in the 330’s gave a boost to the local Christian community by building a massive basilica on the site.  It had the look and feel and size of an imperial basilica, as was fitting for a space meant to be the home of the Christian community of Rome.  It was not intended to be a place for a parish community, however, so modesty was not one of the goals in its construction.  It was meant to impress an entire city.  It asserted that after nearly three hundred years of persecution the Church was there to stay.

8F787189-70BA-4DF7-8D7C-EA4F6347D971Saint John Lateran has hosted five church councils (three more than the Vatican) and it’s seen fires and all kinds of change through the centuries.  But the interior still has the feel of an ancient basilica, and it has one surprise that Saint Peter’s lacks, a wonderful medieval cloister.

Sadly, most visitors are in too much of a hurry to venture through an unobtrusive door into the cloister, but those who do discover a stunningly beautiful and serene space.  Those precincts housed the community of Benedictine monks who served pilgrims for centuries.  The monks are long gone, but thankfully the cloister has survived generations of modernizers.  Not so fortunate was the old Saint Peter’s, which Pope Julius II had the temerity to pull down in the early 1500s.

A visit to Saint John Lateran conjures up an extraordinary history, but what it does best is remind tourists of the people who have entered its doors as pilgrims and as participants in grand liturgies through the centuries.  It is precisely for this reason that we should recall the second reading from the feast of the dedication of Saint John Lateran when we enter these monuments to faith.  In I Corinthians 3:9 Paul reminds us that we always have to maintain a proper perspective when we behold such stunning edifices.  “Brothers and sisters, you are God’s building.”

0CD325CD-28A9-4B9F-A1DA-09E86B147018NOTES

+This was an exceptionally busy week for me, and one which I will not repeat any time soon.  It began with a talk on The Saint John’s Bible that I delivered on November 5th at Marian University in Indianapolis, IN.

+On November 7th I spoke at Baylor University in Waco, TX.  This visit had special significance for me, since my father was born a few miles to the south in the village of Westphalia, TX.  My grandparents and great-grandparents are buried in that area, and our twice-yearly visits meant that we drove by Baylor on the way to see them.  I have absolutely no doubt that my grandparents would be stunned to know that I had spoken there.

+On November 8-10 I gave a retreat to members of the Lancaster PA area of the Federal Association of the Order of Malta.  I had given their retreat last year as well, and I enjoyed the return.  But it capped a busy week, and the last of my major commitments of the fall semester.

+The photos in today’s post show the apse of the basilica of Saint John Lateran and perspectives from the cloister where the monastic community lived in the Middle Ages.

165A4EA6-6654-48D8-B561-47299A657BB4

 

Read Full Post »