Br. Bradley Thomas Elliott, O.P.'s picture

A Cheerful Giver

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Brothers and sisters: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each must do as already determined, without sadness or compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. Moreover, God is able to make every grace abundant for you, so that in all things, always having all you need, you may have an abundance for every good work. As it is written: He scatters abroad, he gives to the poor; his righteousness endures forever. The one who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed and increase the harvest of your righteousness. You are being enriched in every way for all generosity, which through us produces thanksgiving to God. (2 Cor. 9:6-11)

Imagine this scenario: A father of four small children loses his job in an economic down-turn. In that same down-turn, an elderly widow on a fixed income loses her savings when the stock market plummets – savings that those she trusted promised would remain safe. A single mother is told that her only daughter is terminally ill, and the treatment is beyond what she could ever afford. These three individuals meet at Mass on Sunday morning only to hear St. Paul tell them how much “God loves a cheerful giver” and exhorts them to give generously of their recourses.

Our modern world is riddled with uncertainty. Simply no one, no matter how rich or resourceful, is immune from it. Even devout Christians, those who claim that “God is in control,” may find themselves haunted by doubt in their future security. This doubt leads to distrust; distrust leads to fear; fear leads us to spiritual isolation; and spiritual isolation tempts - even Christians - to a posture of protective competition with others, the world, and even with God. In such a world, is it truly possible for a Christian to be generous with joy? Yet this is exactly what St. Paul tells us to be. 

In the Gospels, we find one shining example of a giver whose generosity is praised by our Lord, yet it is a generosity that remained invisible to many. The story of the Woman in the Temple presents a poor woman among the rich elite. She is uncertain and afraid yet, out of her poverty, she still gives all that she has, a mere two coins. Jesus, knowing her gift and her intentions pronounces that she has given more than all the rest.

How can this be?

Jesus is illustrating that Christian generosity is not a matter of quantity, but quality. God in himself is pure gift. He gives out of the overabundance of His being, goodness, and mercy. Although He understands our human condition intimately and intensely, He labors under no economic problem of scarcity and lack. Thus the giving that is most akin to the heart of God is that giving and generosity which emerges from the human heart, not human physical abundance. Although the woman gave until it hurt, she could still be called a “joyful giver” since her giving was likened to the generosity of Christ, who also gave all that He had.

Let us recall what St. Paul teaches us: “God is able to make every grace abundant for you, so that in all things, always having all you need, you may have an abundance for every good work.” The giving that most pleases God is not one of great quantity, as if He somehow benefits from the gift, but rather one of great quality, where our hearts are conformed to His heart, and it is us, not Him, that change through the giving.

Thus, the remedy for worldly fear and uncertainty is also the very mark of Christian giving. This is a quality of loving self-surrender to God that characterizes the “cheerfulness” of joyful generosity. Let us remember that “the one who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will multiply your seed and increase the harvest of your righteousness.

In spite of the unavoidable uncertainties of life, we can always find joy in generosity. We can do this with full confidence that God can supply all of our physical needs.

This is not a call to imprudence, but rather a call to plant our lives in the seedbed of a supernatural hope in God. This hope is the true source of cheerful joy.

Br. Bradley Thomas Elliott, O.P.'s picture

Seek the Lord While He May Be Found

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The prophet Isaiah tells us to "seek the Lord while He may br found; call upon Him while He is near." It is through a life of repentance and turning from sin that the Lord is sought. St. John Chrysostom teaches us that "it is our lack of penance, not our sins, that offends God the most." The saint understood that the fingerprint of true Christian spirituality is not perfection, but repentance. 

Br. Clement Lepak, OP's picture


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The Fall semester of studies at the DSPT has begun. As the readings, assignments and liturgical duties begin to fill our schedule it is not surprising that the atmosphere of the priory has turned more to silence, contemplative reflection and regular observance. "Go to thy cell, brother, and study. Do not emerge until you have memorized Aquinas' Commentary on the Metaphysics." Little surprise there.

What may surprise some, are the shouts of victory, defeat, and laughter -- the heckling is not so surprising -- emerging from the badminton court, ping pong table or lawn games during recreation. Dominicans, known for our commitment to preaching, study and prayer, also hold common life up as one of the four pillars of the Order. In the Summa Theologiae, II-II Q.168, art. 2, St. Thomas Aquinas, O.P., answers the question, "Whether there can be a virtue about games?" He replies to the objections by reminding us of the limits of the human mind and body to labor; and of the need for rest and refreshment: "Now just as weariness of the body is dispelled by resting the body, so weariness of the soul must needs be remedied by resting the soul; and the soul's rest is pleasure." He is speaking specifically of words and deeds that give pleasure to the soul, which are playful or humorous.

God's Dogs At Play

I remember visiting the Western Dominican Province as a vocation candidate a few years ago, and during recreation one of the friars told me that the Dominicans in our province were known for their eutrapalia. "Eutrapalia?" I repeated, "Have you called a psychiatrist?" But after reading the above article in the Summa, I now know that he meant the brothers here have a good sense of humor, a sparkling wit and potential cheerfulness about them.

So laugh out loud all you like, within reason. Rapidly shout the word "eutrapalia" 10 times. Whisper it to your friends; teach it to your enemies.  

Laughed enough? Good, now it's study time. St. Thomas Aquinas, in the same question 168, goes on to address "excess in play" and "a lack of mirth." Read the full Question here: Study this then call our Vocation Director

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Congratulations to our newest DSPT Professor, Fr. Justin Gable, O.P.:

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Reflections on the Feast of the Triumph of the Cross

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We proclaim Christ crucified,
a stumbling-block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles,
but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks,
Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.
     -1 Cor. 1:23-24

Adoration of the Cross

Modern cinematic technology is pretty amazing. The sense of being present in the midst of the story is so powerful that the viewing public pays billions of dollars each year for the experience. Why are superhero movies like Iron Man or Batman so popular? Because, in experiencing the events in the lives of powerful and clever characters like Tony Stark or Bruce Wayne, we feel powerful and clever, too.  

But not all movies do this. Consider Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ. It is a hard film to watch. We see the suffering of Christ in graphic detail. It is one thing to read in the Gospel of John, “Then Pilate took Jesus and had him scourged.” It is something else to watch a solder brutally and mercilessly beat Jesus with a scourge, to see the gashes being cut into his back, his side, his legs and his face. We see the blood flying and pouring off his body, we see the skin being ripped off, we see and hear Jesus twisting and screaming in pain. This is a whole different kind of cinematic experience. You don’t feel powerful or clever while you watch; you feel nauseated and betrayed. And so, many people hated The Passion of the Christ because it’s realistic depiction of crucifixion was too violent, too unpleasant, too ugly. Whatever its merits as a film, it certainly depicts the suffering entailed in the crucifixion.

St. Paul, then, is right to say that Christ crucified is “a stumbling-block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles.” How could this suffering man be the God of the Jews or the Wisdom of the Greeks? Today the situation is almost worse. To the modern man, Christ crucified is repulsive and offensive: I want to look away, I don’t want to deal with this. That Christ suffered 2000 years ago is fine, but today in the 21st century, such suffering offends our aesthetic sense; and the notion that we should imitate Christ crucified is positively an assault on our liberty and our right to the pursuit of happiness. How dare Jesus mar my tidy, orderly life with the messiness of crucifixion! The health and wealth gospel looks like a better way to go. So what are we doing today exalting the cross? Are we masochists? Who wants to uphold the Mel Gibson image of Jesus? Well, St. Paul, for one.

In this section of 1st Corinthians, St. Paul is worried that the Corinthians are aligning themselves with particular human preachers in different factions, according to the attractiveness of their message or who it was that baptized them. But for Paul, these are not important. He says, “Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with the wisdom of human eloquence, so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its meaning.” Whenever we turn away from the cross and instead seek signs, or wisdom, or power, or smooth words, we empty the cross --and thus our faith-- of its meaning, because without the cross there is no resurrection. When we feel powerful or wise, we know that we have fallen short of our target, for “the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.” In other words, we exalt the cross because it is only through the cross that we can participate in the divine power and wisdom that is necessary for our happiness and salvation. 

Without the cross we are doomed to grasp impotently and foolishly at the things of this world, things that will only bring us misery. Our consumerist culture besieges us on every side, tempting and beguiling us with the idea that we can fill our emptiness with goods and services. It lies to us, telling us that, there’s just one more thing; that if we buy just one more product, then we will be content and satisfied. If only the food were better, if only my health were better, if only I had a few dollars more, if only this injustice in my life were corrected, then happiness would be mine!

In Philippians, Paul tells us that, “though he was in the form of God, Jesus did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross.” Mammon can never fill our emptiness, but, paradoxically, detachment can. We can only truly be filled when we let go of everything else. Yes, absolutely everything else, except God himself. The wisdom of the cross, the power of the cross, is that God’s love is always present to us, will always triumph over evil, and is the only way to be happy. Do you believe this? 

Today we exalt the cross, we raise it up, as the sign that we can conquer the Evil one, by the grace of God. Today, we freely chose to begin the monastic fast. Not as some archaic masochistic ritual, but as a free response in love to the love of Christ crucified. As for an athlete that has won the race, we exalt, we lift up the cross of Christ on our shoulders as a celebration of his victory over sin. “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” O Christ crucified, may we empty ourselves in imitation of you, who are, for those who are the called, the power of God and the wisdom of God. Amen.

Br. Bradley Thomas Elliott, O.P.'s picture

First Vows

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This past week, the Western Dominican Province was privledged to hear the first vows of two of our newest brothers. It was an occasion for me to reflect, first upon the awesome privledge of living this life of prayer, study, and contemplation, but moreover, upon the very meaning of making a religious vow.

In the Summa Theologiae, St. Thomas Aquinas asks whether or not it is actually fitting or expedient to take a religious vow. The first objection goes as follows: "It would seem that it is not expedient to take vows. It is not expedient to anyone to deprive himself of the good that God has given him. Now one of the greatest goods that God has given man is liberty whereof he seems to be deprived by the necessity implicated in a vow. Therefore it would seem inexpedient for man to take vows" (ST, IIaIIae, Q88, a4, Obj 1).

Simply put, is not the binding of oneself through religious vows an inhibition to one's freedom? If so, would it not be better to perform acts of prayer, preaching, and devotion to God out of pure human freedom rather than performing these acts through the bonds of a vow?

St. Thomas answers: Even as one’s liberty is not lessened by one being unable to sin, so, too, the necessity resulting from a will firmly fixed to good does not lessen the liberty, as instanced in God and the blessed. Such is the necessity implied by a vow, bearing a certain resemblance to the confirmation of the blessed. Hence, Augustine says that “happy is the necessity that compels us to do the better things" (ST, IIaIIae, Q88, a4, Reply ObJ 1).

Being vowed to God, the highest good and the end of human life, could never be a corruption of freedom. It is, on the contrary, the full flowering of human freedom, the highest expression of a mature human being acting as a true self-director of his own actions and fixing his will on that which is good. St. Thomas distinguishes between a mere "act of a human being" and a true "human action." True "human action" is always free and self-directed. Good human action is that which brings us closer to our final end, that is, union with God.

St. Thomas explains:" makes a promise to a man under one aspect, and to God under another. Because we promise something to a man for his own profit; since it profits him that we should be of service to him, and that we should at first assure him of the future fulfillment of that service: whereas we make promises to God not for His but for our own profit. Hence Augustine says: “He is a kind and not a needy exactor, for he does not grow rich on our payments, but makes those who pay Him grow rich in Him.” And just as what we give God is useful not to Him but to us, since “what is given Him is added to the giver,” as Augustine says, so also a promise whereby we vow something to God, does not conduce to His profit, nor does He need to be assured by us, but it conduces to our profit, in so far as by vowing we fix our wills immovably on that which it is expedient to do. Hence it is expedient to take vows" (ST, IIaIIae, Q88, a4).

Praise God for the witness of these two brothers, who have so firmly fixed their wills on God. May they continue to inspire us with their fidelity and may we all continue to pray for them.

Br. Clement Lepak, OP's picture

Knights and Dames of Malta

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The Sovereign Order of Malta joined our Dominican community for a Sunday evening of prayer, recreation, dinner and adoration. The Knights and Dames of Malta continue to support our community of student brothers with their prayers and generosity. Our sincere gratitude to all who joined us for such a solemn and festive evening. The Dominican community of St. Albert's sends you peace through Our Lord Jesus Christ.

Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit

Br. Bradley Thomas Elliott, O.P.'s picture

Vestition 2014

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On Thursday, August 28, 2014, the Feast of Blessed Augustine, the author of our rule of life, we received into the novitiate eight new brothers. We celebrated the Vestition ceremony of the Dominican Order at St. Dominic's Catholic Church in San Francisco. In the midst of the community joined in Compline, that is, night prayer of the Divine Office, eight men from all parts of the world received the habit of the order of preachers and began their journeys as Dominican brothers living the evangelical counsels according to our constitutions. It was truly a joyous occasion.

As I am now experiencing this ceremony after four years of Dominican life, the words carry all the more meaning as I hear them, not through the fresh ears of our eight new brothers, but through ears seasoned by four joyful years of prayer, study, and contemplation that our rule of life has afforded me. Let me take this opportunity to share one prayer that I found particularly powerful.

"Brought here by the mercy of God, we have come to undertake your way of life; teach us, we ask you, evangelical perfection according to the rule and constitutions of the Friars Preachers, so that through this following of Christ we may grow in the love of God and neighbor as men who desire to obtain their own salvation and that of others, as evangelical men following in the footsteps of their Savior."

As they begin their new life at St. Dominic's Catholic Church, all of us student brothers here at St. Albert's priory will be keeping them in prayer.

Four Men

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On May 31st of this year, four Western Dominican Province brothers were ordained to sacred orders by his Excellency, Bishop Michael Barber, S.J.Prostration Two, Fathers Peter Junípero Hannah and Justin Gable, were raised to the order of the priesthood; two more, Brs. Corwin Low and Gabriel Thomas Mosher, to the order of the diaconate. These men have spent seven years plus in formation as Western Dominicans, receiving rigorous training in philosophy and theology, along with the essential formation that goes into Dominican life—training as preachers, adapting to the disciplines of common observance, developing lives of prayer. And now they will be sent into the wider ministries of the Western Province and Church.

Please pray that they will be faithful and gentle servants of the Lord and His Church—that they will be zealous for the salvation of souls, devoted to the reverent celebration of the Eucharist, and ministers of God's mercy to the whole people of God!

L-R, Br. Corwin Low, Fr. Justin Gable, Bishop Barber, Fr. Peter Hannah, Br. Gabriel Mosher

Br. Peter Junipero Hannah, O.P.'s picture

Resting for God

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We live in a workaholic culture. Production. Efficiency. Success. Go. And Keep Going. These are the watchwords of our busy society. Jewish and Christian tradition, however, places a high value--as in, it's a commandment--on the centrality of rest, leisure, and worship, for human life. For an observant Jew, to work on the Sabbath Day is equivalent to choosing to go back to slavery in Egypt! The Lord calls Christians too (indeed, he calls all) to rest in Him every Lord's Day. It is a commandment, yes, but one essential for offering worship to God and renewing the vital energies of our soul, mind, and body.  I've given this talk on many occasions--this one was recorded at a Theology on Tap event in Monterey, CA, in February of this year. Enjoy. And REST!

Br. Thomas Aquinas Pickett, O.P.'s picture

Christian Selfies

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During a recent conversation, a fellow Dominican who has spent many years as a preacher and teacher, revealed that he had just learned within the last few days what a “selfie” was. The result? He was horrified! That it was the “Word of the Year” for 2013 only makes it worse.

Being a younger Dominican who has a Facebook account, I, too, have slowly become repulsed by the use of selfies, especially among Christians. With increasing frequency, I see Christians from all walks and states of life (even priests and religious!) use their cameras or smartphones to take and post pictures of themselves. Often these can be taken in good fun simply with the intent of sharing something of their lives with others. However, as the world moves deeper into the information age, we should be ready to ask critical questions about our behavior on the internet. Is this a good thing? How does this affect me? What impact will this have on others?

Part of the normal, ascetic life of a Christian is to be aware of, and reflect upon, the thoughts and motives that prompt our actions. Saint Catherine of Siena writes that we must dwell “in the cell of self-knowledge in order to know better know God’s goodness” (Dialogue, Prologue). Am I angry today because my pride was hurt? Am I praying out loud in order to be noticed by others? Did I say those words out of true charity? Am I friends with these persons merely for pleasure or impure motives?

The Christian begins to live the life of grace when he becomes aware of the inclinations and attachments that lead him to sin and vice, or, at least hinder him in the practice of virtue. The Christian advances in the life of grace when he applies the remedy of spiritual warfare (prayer, fasting, abstinence, almsgiving, the practice of the virtues) and the Sacraments to counter those inclinations and attachments. The Christian perfects the life of grace when he is then free to love God. But when he clings to earthly attachments, such as status, wealth, pleasure, or comfort, the Christian prevents himself from running the race of faith, like a runner whose legs are tied together by a thick and heavy rope, or like a swimmer carrying 50 lb. dumbbells. If we don’t cast off our earthly attachments, then we have not taken the first step of trusting in God, and making him the sole object of all our actions: “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness” (Matthew 6:33).

The Christian who does not scrutinize his thoughts and actions, and fails to purify them in the light of God’s commands, gradually becomes more and more insensitive (unfeeling) towards the life of the soul. Saint John Climacus aptly describes such a Christian in The Ladder of Divine Ascent:

“The insensitive man is a foolish philosopher, an exegete condemned by his own words, a scholar who contradicts himself, a blind man teaching sight to others.

He talks about healing a wound and does not stop making it worse.

He complains about what has happened and does not stop eating what is harmful.

He prays against it but carries on as before, doing it and being angry with himself.

And the wretched man is in no way shamed by his own words. 'I am doing wrong,' he cries, and zealously continues to do so.

His lips pray against it and his body struggles for it.

He talks profoundly about death and acts as if he will never die.

He groans over the separation of soul and body, and yet lives in a state of somnolence as if he were eternal.

He has plenty to say about self-control and fights for a gourmet life.

He reads about the judgment and begins to smile, about vainglory and is vainglorious while he is reading.

He recites what he has learnt about keeping vigil, and at once drops off to sleep.

Prayer he extols, and runs from it as if from a plague.

Blessings he showers on obedience, and is the first to disobey” (XVIII)

So what about selfies? If we consider the action of taking a picture of oneself, and posting it online for others to see, we can recognize rather quickly that serious spiritual risks are involved. The first and greatest risk is vanity or vainglory. Vainglory seeks pleasure in considering what others think about us, or in our own self-estimation. This pernicious vice has been long considered one of the most difficult to combat. Cassian writes, "The other vices and disturbances are known to be uniform and simple, but this one [vainglory] is multifarious, multiform, and varied, and it engages the one fighting it on all sides and its conqueror from every angle. It seeks to wound the solider of Christ in dress and in appearance, in bearing, in speech, in work, in vigils, in fasts, in prayer, in reclusion, in reading, in knowledge, in silences, in obedience, in humility and in long-suffering. Like a very dangerous rock submerged under swelling waves, it threatens with unforeseen and miserable shipwreck those who sail with a favorable wind, so long as no care is taken and no foresight is exercised” (Institutes, XI).

But what is the danger in having a good self-image, or self-esteem? What is wrong with receiving affirmation? The spiritual danger is that vainglory leads, inevitably, to pride. By trusting in ourselves, in our appearances, talents, gifts, or opinions, we push God aside and, like Lucifer, we learn to say “I will not serve”, since we are sufficient of ourselves for happiness: “Though, while he lives, he counts himself happy, and though a man gets praise when he does well for himself, he will go to the generation of his fathers, who will never more see the light. Man cannot abide in his pomp, he is like the beasts that perish” (Psalm 49:18-20). If our trust and delight is in our selfies, then it is not in the God who has the power to ransom our life from death (cf. Psalm 49:7-9). As Bishop Ignatius Brianchaninov notes in the classic Arena, “the desire to convey to the bystanders one’s own feelings is a sign of vanity and pride” (Rule 20).

Another spiritual danger that can be both a cause and a result of selfies is despair. Despair is the lack of hope in God’s justice and mercy, his power and love. If we have fallen into vanity or pride, then ultimately our hope rests in our self. If our hope is in our self, then ultimately we are without hope. If we define ourselves by how we look, what others think of us, or what our abilities are, then we are standing on the thin, rapidly melting, ice of despair; for appearances fade, opinions change, talents diminish. Like gasping fish out of water, those with vanity-turned-to-despair gasp for any affirmation of their existence, any glimmer of recognition that reassures them of their existence, no matter how futile it has become. Selfies can be such a gasp, such a futile reaching out. However, with the way that despair works, such acts of despair only allow despair to grow all the more, in a circle of self-defeating misery.

So where does the Christian stand on selfies? We must look at our intentions, we must enter the cell of self-knowledge and purify our hearts of worldly attachments. If they are taken out of vanity, pride, or despair, then they are obviously evil, and can only hinder our progress in the spiritual life. A quick sign to see whether or not we are taking selfies for good motives is the freedom to stop. If we feel that it would be difficult to stop taking such photos, then it is a sign that we have grown attached to them, and have fallen under the sway of vanity. Again, Climacus notes that, “if a man thinks himself immune to the allurement of something and yet grieves over its loss, he is only fooling himself” (Ladder, II). The Christian making progress as a son of God is marked by increasing freedom to do good, to pray, to be in the presence of God, and to reject temptations. If we are not free, if we are attached to selfies and would find it difficult to stop posting them, then it is a sign that we are still in spiritual infancy. And if we do not recognize the harm in vanity, pride, or despair, then, even worse, our spiritual birth has become stillborn.