Br. Chris Brannan, O.P.'s picture

The Bible in Jerusalem

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Basilica of St. StephenCan you imagine a better place to study Scripture than in the Holy City of Jerusalem? Earlier this January I had the chance to spend a few days there, at St. Stephen Priory (located on the site where tradition says St. Stephen was martyred), attending "The Bible in Jerusalem," a conference for new and upcoming Dominican Scripture scholars. St. Stephen's is the Dominican priory associated with the École Biblique et Archeologique Francaise de Jerusalem, a Dominican school of scripture and archaeology founded by Fr. Marie-Joseph Lagrange, O.P. in 1890. This gathering was the first of what we plan to make an annual event, the purpose being to promote and foster collaboration and fraternity among young Dominicans pursuing Scripture scholarship, all for the sake of the Order's mission of preaching the gospel for the salvation of souls.

Between January 3rd-5th, more than 15 friars participated from around the world (e.g., France, Poland, Ireland, England, Ukraine, Croatia, Mexico, the United States, and the Phillipines), most of whom have begun or recently completed doctoral work related to Scripture; I hope to begin doing so in a few years. We handled this first meeting with a two-pronged approach: (1) to provide individual friars with an opportunity to present their current research topics and interests; and (2) to have some focused exegetical discussions about the relation between intra-biblical and patristic exegesis. This second part focused on Luke 4:19-30.

Our sense of fraternity and devotion to studying, exploring, and proclaiming the written Word of God was very tangible. I presented a synopsis of my MA Philosophy thesis on "Truth and Hermeneutics," and all the presentations led to some very lively discussions. We spoke of how to collaborate with each other and with the École in our work of Scripture study, and how our way of life as Dominicans makes us uniquely suited to study, mediate upon, and preach from the Scriptures. The tradition of the Order of Preachers, and the work of the Ecole and its founder, offers us the opportunity to pursue a Thomistic approach to biblical exegesis, one that is both scientifically and academically rigorous, yet inspired by faith and thus theological.

I also found our exegetical discussions about Luke 4 to be very engaging and stimulating. We all agreed that such collective work and dialogue is something we would like to continue; and we proposed a theme of "The Word," and the text of Sirach 24, for our next meeting in January of 2016.

Fr. Olivier-Thomas Venard, O.P., the director of "The Bible in its Traditions" project, presented some of the purpose and structure of this ambitious, and decades-long project of the École to produce a wide-ranging exegetical tool and commentary on all of Scripture, to be made available online (examples can be found here). You can also read more about it on its blog here. He hoped we would be able to collaborate in this project, and we thought that we should use the "BEST" website (the French acronym for the project) as part of our annual meetings and preparation.

In spite of spending about 60 hours of travel time in 5 days, the visit was very worthwhile, and left me, and I believe the other friars who participated, hopeful for the future of biblical scholarship in the Order. This being my second trip to Jerusalem, it was no less poignant to visit the Church of the Holy Sepulcher again and to pray there, as well as at the Cenacle (the site of our Lord's Last Supper). Being physically present at "Mt. Zion, true pole of the earth," (Ps. 48:3) and in the very places in which our Redeemer lived and won for us a share in the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4), gives a whole new dimension and meaning to praying the Psalms everyday and reading the Scriptures! I look forward to further visits and time spent in Jerusalem and at the École Biblique.

Many thanks to the friars of the École Biblique and St. Etienne, especially Fr. Marcel Sigrist, O.P., the director of the school, and Fr. Guy Tardivy, O.P., the prior of St. Stephen's, for welcoming us and encouraging us in our collaboration for the renewal of Scripture studies in the Order. And to our own New Testament scholar, Fr. Gregory Tatum, O.P., who lives, studies, and teaches at the Ecole Biblique; he was kind enough to take me to the aiport early in the morning on my last day. Thank you, Fr. Gregory! May God bless the work of the École Biblique and all those pursuing Scripture studies, that by their work, the Word of God Himself might more fully illumine not only our Order, but the world with His Wisdom, His Truth, and His Grace!

Br. Kevin Andrew, O.P.'s picture

The New Jerusalem

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According to the Book of Revelation, nothing profane shall enter the kingdom of Heaven. If so, how can we ever hope to enter? By the grace of Jesus.

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

Fit for a True Calling from God

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The word of the LORD came to me: Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I dedicated you, a prophet to the nations I appointed you. But you, prepare yourself; stand up and tell them all that I command you. Do not be terrified on account of them, or I will terrify you before them; for I am the one who today makes you a fortified city, a pillar of iron, a wall of bronze, against the whole land: Against Judah’s kings and princes, its priests and the people of the land. They will fight against you, but not prevail over you, for I am with you to deliver you. -- Oracle of the LORD.

Jeremiah 1: 4-5, 17-19

As a candidate for the Catholic priesthood, I have had the opportunity to speak with many priests and seminarians about their own unique vocations. Over the years, I have begun to detect a common theme -- a sense of unworthiness. They all tell of a moment of doubt, fear, and even paralysis at the beginning of the journey, due to a looming suspicion that “they can’t do it” or “God’s got the wrong guy,” because “I am not enough.” One seminarian even told me that he delayed the pursuit of Orders for over ten years out of fear of inadequacy.

This is not unique to priests. Married men often speak of the same phenomenon that strikes them soon before the birth of their children; and mothers, when they become awestruck at the task of motherhood, often feel the same. I believe that one of the most common human experiences is the feeling of unworthiness. In the face of responsibility, duty, and even honors, how often do we feel like we are not enough?

I think it probable that this very same all-to-familiar doubt was also churning in the soul of the soon-to-be prophet Jeremiah. The Lord tells the prophet that before he was ever formed in the womb, God knew him, formed him, dedicated him according to a plan known before all creation. It is only after assuring Jeremiah of this fact that the Lord then commands him to “prepare himself.”

The awareness that God has perfectly designed him for the task to which he was called is the only backdrop, the only frame, within which Jeremiah could ever muster the courage he needed to realize his calling. The Lord pleads with Jeremiah to “not be terrified” on account of His commands and tells him: “For I am the one who today makes you a fortified city, a pillar of iron, a wall of bronze.”

Through the prophet Jeremiah, the Lord teaches us an important lesson: when God calls us, it is He, not we, that first provides the necessities. It is God who qualifies us, not we that provide the qualifications. In fact, this providence is the very beginning of God’s call.

The wise artist, craftsman, or architect, before ever setting out to build a structure, first knows the structure’s purpose. Only then, in light of that purpose and with that purpose in clear focus, does he collect materials needed for the task. The craftsman would be a fool if, in aiming to build a firm load-bearing structure, he chose brittle clay or weak straw. The craftsman would be a fool if, in aiming to lay a stable foundation, he chose sand instead of solid rock. Instead, the wise craftsman always chooses the right material for his purpose. Yet even this human craftsman, as wise and skilled as he may be, is always laboring with materials that are not of his own making.

If even these human craftsmen can be trusted with their skill and the materials that they have, how much more can we trust the Divine craftsman who, not only chooses and calls us according to His purpose, but even creates us and provides for us according to His master plan set from all eternity? Does the Divine craftsman not know His material? Is God unaware of the task to which He sets out? If a calling is from God, it is He, and only He, who possesses the power to work out the calling through us.

The Lord is the only solid foundation upon which we may live our unique callings. Only upon Him can we become, like Jeremiah, a pillar of iron, and a wall of bronze. The mystery of our vocations as Christians is buried deep in the mystery of God, and we can never possess the strength needed unless we first possess Him. Brothers and sisters, let us not be afraid but let us take courage…for we are the creation of God.

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Br. Gabriel Mosher, O.P.'s picture

My Soul is Thirsting for You

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What does it mean to thirst for God? This question is, I believe, at the heart of many questions surrounding what some people suggest is the chasm between doctrine and discipline. Put another way, it's suggested that the practical application of the faith differs--sometimes in kind, not just degree--from the doctrines of the faith. I suggest that this is a false dichotomy.

Anyone who has been involved, in any way, with pastoral ministry (heck, anybody who has normal human relationships) knows that none of us are perfect. We are all at different stages of moral development, based on any number of circumstances that have had an effect on us. This should, I hope, be a given. It's the role of the moral guide to assist a person in developing their conscience, so that they may grow towards moral perfection. It would be a terrible burden to expect someone on the road to perfection to already be perfect. However, to not have any expectations would be just as terrible.

When one sets off for a hike it's necessary to prepare. One must reflect on what's needed to successfully complete the hike. He must first plan, then procure, and then pack. He should place these things in his pack and strap them on his back before taking a single step on the trail. This journey (pilgrimage, if you will) is analogous to developing as a Christian. We all desire God, so the destination is easily chosen. We consult others about the journey and the journey's end. We take in all this information and then set off on the journey. But, how do you know that you've packed the right supplies and chosen the right path?

A good guide will check the hiker's pack to make sure that everything is included, so the hiker won't become stranded or die on the trail. Likewise, a good pastor of souls will make sure that a person has everything he needs at each step of his conversion towards moral perfection. On the trail, some things are less important than others. Similarly, in the moral life some things merit less grace than others. However, if you forget food or water in your pack, that's a gigantic oversight. If you don't have the requisites to start on the path in the moral life, that is also a huge problem. These impediments to successfully completing the journey must be addressed first. So, while one may truly desire to reach the destination, it's impossible to reach the goal without first addressing those primary essentials--those grave matters.

So, let's say a person suffers from habitual solitary sexual sin. This can be fixed along the journey. It's not something so grave that it disqualifies the person from growing in moral development. However, let's consider the state of cohabitation. This is far more serious. This state is always present no matter what a person is doing, thinking, not doing, or not thinking. This state is compunded by any other particular sin that may occur while in this state, such as fornication. In this case, it will become necessary for this state to end before a person (or persons, in this scenario) can continue on the journey of moral perfection.

These states that we sometimes find ourselves in are like brambles on a path. They hold us back from proper moral development. Before we advance in the moral life we must clear away the brambles. Until those brambles are cleared away, it will be impossible to proceed further down the road of moral development. Because of this, it is important that those entrusted with the care of souls not ignore the brambles. They must help the person who is tangled in them to escape from them. He must not tell the person that it's okay to be stuck in the brambles, and that desiring the end of the journey is enough. It's not enough. This is not true pastoral care. The care of souls is not about making people feel good about their sinful states. Rather, it is about comforting people, challenging people, and helping people overcome those states. Sometimes this requires telling people that they aren't ready for the journey. Sometimes it means being tough on someone who is satisfied being stuck in the brambles. It is, however, never about neglecting the doctrine of the faith to accommodate it to one's sinful state. Rather, it is about helping that person accommodate himself to the truths of the faith. It is about us converting to the faith, not the other way around.

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Br. Kevin Andrew, O.P.'s picture

You Only Live Once

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In his letter to the Philippians, St. Paul "chooses" life over death, because he -- and we -- may be of service to others while alive.

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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.

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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

Eu-tra-pa-li-a

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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

  Called to a Community of Preachers and Life of Study

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Congratulations to our newest DSPT Professor, Fr. Justin Gable, O.P.: dspt.edu/gable

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