Posts Tagged ‘Holy Trinity Monastery Japan’

imageContext is Everything

For years one of my confreres at Saint John’s had on his office wall a framed piece of embroidery.  It was plain and homespun, and the dark blue thread on white cloth suggested that it had once hung by the hearth in a colonial New England farmhouse.  It was no great piece of art, and certainly it was not the child-like quality of the stitching that stopped people in their tracks.  No, that honor went to the message, which was a one-word quotation from the Gospels.  “Sin. (John 8:11)”  That was it.  No gospel passage could speak more eloquently — not least because it had an unfamiliar ring to it.

It didn’t take a rocket scientist to realize that there was more to this message than met the eye.  Even the novice scripture scholars knew instinctively that this passage had been taken out of context.  And if they were industrious enough to look it up, they quickly discovered that John the Evangelist did not intend to encourage more sinning.  Neither then nor now do people need any encouragement in the sinning department.  And for his part John was encouraging quite the opposite.

imageThis may seem an odd lead-in to a reflection on Pope Francis, but perhaps it’s not so inappropriate after all.  We recently observed the first anniversary of his election as pope, and that day yielded a flood of words from pundits all over the place.  Not a few comments were especially cogent, while much of the rest ranged from blatantly self-serving to wildly speculative.  But the one element common to much of this was the eagerness to take the pope’s words out of context.

Despite first impressions, the pope’s off-the-cuff remarks are not mere blathering and unscripted asides.  Rather, they derive from a rich intellectual and pastoral underpinning, and most commentators have neither the time to research it nor the space to include it in their columns.

Remarkably, the honeymoon period for Pope Francis has yet to dry up, and he remains one  of the most fascinating persons on the planet.  Despite that popularity, however, there are not a few who’ve begun to entertain their doubts about him, perhaps because he has yet to deliver on the wish lists that they’d sent in the day after his election.  As far as I can tell, Francis has yet to become the puppet of any one pundit, and that has to be a little disconcerting for the talking heads.

imageThat brings me to the main point as I reflect on the pope’s first year in his no-longer-new job.  If there’s one sure way to understand Pope Francis just a bit better, then I would recommend that you go and read his work directly, rather than read what someone else says he said.  Gleaning snippets of his thought from secondary sources really is no substitute.  From them you will get phrases taken out of context, as well as ideas that are untethered from the principles that have guided the pope through much of his life.

So as the confetti settles after the party, I’ve recommitted myself to two courses of action.  First off, if I’m going to take Pope Francis seriously, then I may as well go straight to the horse’s mouth.  His sermons and talks are readily accessible on the web site of the Vatican Information Service, and that’s the best place to start.  And should I choose to read someone else’s reflection on Pope Francis, it’s always important to consider the source.

imageSecond, as important a figure as Pope Francis may be, knowing about him is no substitute for actually going out and living my own life as a Christian.  I’m indebted for that insight to Cardinal Francis George, who has lamented the fascination with all things Roman as sometimes a little unhealthy.  To that I would add that not a few people seem to hang on every word that emanates from the halls of the Vatican.  Scholars have written about the “creeping infallibility” that has caused some ecclesiastics to doubt the pope’s infallibilty but not their own.  To that I would add that in some minds even the Vatican janitors speak with apostolic authority.  But if the pope is the “servant of the servants of God,” then who might these other people be in the larger scheme of things?

What Cardinal George cautions against is a steady disengagement from parish life, as creative minds wander the Vatican halls, at least in their imaginations.  At the end of the day, this is just another case of fascination with celebrities, but it’s a fascination with an unintended byproduct.   It detaches us from the parish and religious communities where we are most likely to encounter the face of Christ.

imageNow that I think about it, I’ve never found Christ on the internet, nor in the pages of a journal, nor on the radio.  In fact, when I’ve been privileged to see the face of Christ I’ve always been standing next to ordinary flesh-and-blood people.  When I’ve seen Christ in my fellow monks and in my neighbors, I once again realize how important those relationships really are in building the kingdom of God.  That’s where I and all of us show the love and mercy and support and all those other things that Pope Francis speaks about so regularly.  That I suppose, is the real context of our lives.

So I may be citing Pope Francis out of context, and if I’m putting words into his mouth I apologize.  But on his first anniversary as pope, I suspect that Pope Francis might borrow freely from the words uttered by the angel to the apostles, as they scanned the heavens for the ascended Lord.  “Why are you standing around looking up to heaven, or to anywhere else for that matter?  Go out and do the Lord’s work, and get a life while  you’re at it.”


+On March 24th I delivered a lecture on The Saint John’s Bible at Flagler College in Saint Augustine, FL.

+On March 29th I gave a day of reflection for area members of the Order of Malta in Seattle, WA.  The event took place at the Newman Center at the University of Washington, which is staffed by the Dominicans.  They kindly offered me gracious hospitality while I was in Seattle, and the day allowed me to reconnect with many local friends from the Order of Malta.

+On March 19th we were delighted by the announcement that our confrere, Fr. Matthew Luft, had successfully defended his doctoral dissertation in liturgical studies at The Catholic University of America.

+On March 21st our confrere, Brother Liting John Chrysostom Long, pronounced his solemn vows at our priory in Japan, Holy Trinity Monastery.  Abbot John was there to receive his vows.

image+On March 26th Bishop Denis Madden, auxiliary bishop of Baltimore and chair of the US Bishops Committee on Ecumenism & Interreligious Affairs, spoke at Saint John’s University. His presentation dealt with the anniversary of Vatican II and the document Lumen Gentium.

+On March 29th we were saddened by the passing of our confrere, Fr. Daniel Durken.  Fr. Daniel taught scripture to generations of students at Saint John’s University, and also served for several years as director of the Liturgical Press.  We will miss his wit and wisdom.

+The first five pictures in today’s post come from Monte Cassino, Saint Benedict’s monastery outside of Rome.  During World War II it was completely destroyed, and on March 21st, the feast of Saint Benedict, the monks and friends of Monte Cassino celebrated the anniversary of its restoration.  The next two photos show Brother John Chrysostom pronouncing his vows before Abbot John, and the community following profession.  No doubt Saint Benedict would be more than amazed at the thought that monks would be following his Rule in Japan in the 21st century.


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