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

Freedom for Witness

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We recently celebrated the final Sunday of the liturgical year, the Solemnity of Christ the King. On this day the readings focus on the freedom that we have been given in Christ. I examine this freedom as it is expressed in the second reading (Revelation 1:5-8), and what this freedom means for us today.

Br. Cody Jorgensen, O.P.'s picture

Open to God

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A few weeks ago sixteen men visited our community here at St. Albert’s in Oakland. They were on a "Come & See" weekend, spending a few days with us to see if they might have a vocation to our Dominican way of life. I got the chance to speak with them for a few moments about my own journey of discernment. I didn’t speak with an outline, nor was I very prepared. While I probably rambled on for a good while, I know that the central theme was being open to God, because that single theme has greatly formed me in my own journey.

What does it mean to be open to God? Does God actually have an influence in my life, and do I even try to recognize this influence? Maybe I’m quick to look for God when things approach a crisis, but I know that often God isn’t the first thing on my mind when things are going very well. This, I believe, is the first stage of being open to God: a reprioritizing of our lives to become aware of God’s actions. How can we be open to God if we aren’t struggling to listen to him, or seeking after him at all times? 

These concepts, of listening and being open to God, sound pretty vague to my practical ears. What does this all this mean, on a day-to-day level? Even now, being in vows for a few months, just out of the Novitiate, it’s easier for me to articulate what this means by contrasting where I was to where I am now, with all of the experiences inbetween. 

All things considered (as best they can be) it seems that my vocation is to the Dominican life. This is the place where I can grow in holiness: engaging in the daily struggle to become a more holy individual who seeks after God with my whole heart and loving my neighbors. If I hadn’t been open to follow God where he was calling me, making the plunge to enter this life, I can easily say that my life would be less. Fundamental to this vocational discernment is God calling us to move beyond ourselves. If I wasn’t in religious life now, I would most likely be a bachelor content with working a decent job, spending time with friends, and playing a lot of online games. My heart would be broken, because I would know that for my personal growth in holiness I needed God to be placed as the highest priority in my life, not merely a God that I was conscious of only at Mass once a week; living in that trap of knowing what to do, even yearning to do it, but somehow being unable to make it actually happen.

I can now see how much God has called me to grow beyond myself by looking at where I was, as well as looking at the present moment and recognizing that I am still in the process. You don’t put on the habit and just become holy: it’s a process. While I may live in a religious community now, with a common life and regular observances, those are all helps to urge me on to becoming less self-centered, and more focused and attentive to the people that God has me cross paths with each day.

This then, is the core of being open to God: a willingness to deny yourself, pick up your cross, and follow him. When we willingly pick up our cross and follow after the Lord, we are truly open to changing and reforming our lives, of growing beyond ourselves and our self-centered desires. Our way of the cross is the path to holiness, and our vocation is that which we can willingly embrace through the grace of God that enables us to become holy as our God is holy. Testing out my emotional states and looking for affective signs from God definitely played a part in my decision to enter into this life. However, those emotions and seeking after affective signs from God have not been the reasons that have kept me here. 

In being open to God, what keeps me here, living this vocation, struggling to deny myself every day and take up my cross, is simply the knowledge that this vocation makes me holy.   

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

Thanksgiving

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William George Jordan, the editor of The Saturday Evening Post, wrote in 1902, "Ingratitude is a crime more despicable than revenge, which is only returning evil for evil, while ingratitude returns evil for good." St. Thomas Aquinas, commenting on St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians, writes, "A person who is ungrateful for past benefits does not deserve to receive new ones." But why do these thinkers denigrate a lack of thankfulness? In a time when we are raised to believe that it is our right to have food, clothes, a college education, a car, information, and a well-paying job; that it is our right to express ourselves, to choose what to do, to believe whatever we want, and to seek our own meaning in life; then being thankful does not seem to have any place in our lives. Why should we be grateful for the things that are simply due to us? What place does thankfulness have in life, if any place at all?

If we consider thankfulness, we find that it is essentially recognizing a good thing that has been given to us freely. We are grateful to the friend who goes out of her way to give us a compliment or bake us cookies. We are not grateful, however, to the employer who gives us extra work for the weekend, or to a roommate who gives us a cold. Being thankful simply means seeing something as good, and seeing that good as coming from a person who is not obliged to give it. To give thanks is merely to express this recognition. To be ungrateful, then, is to receive a freely-given good, without recognizing it as such.

Aquinas notes, interestingly, that it is characteristic of a good person to see good more than to see evil (cf. ST II-II.106.3 ad 2). Aquinas therefore equates our moral life with how we see the world. The good person, i.e., the moral person, actually sees the world differently than a wicked person does. The moral person who is a Christian, moreover, sees that all the good things in the world have been created, sustained, and given to us by God. The Christian, therefore, ought to be defined by gratitude! As St. Paul exhorts us, “give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thess. 5:18, RSV).

To be ungrateful is to lack moral character. When we believe everything is owed to us, then there is something fundamentally wrong with our relationship to God, to our neighbors, and even to ourselves. Ingratitude is the product of the solipsism that is born from materialism and practical atheism. Ingratitude is the characteristic of people who live merely for themselves, and whose hearts, like the Grinch, are closed to the good of another.

As Christians we must strive to see God’s goodness in the world, and we must strive to be thankful for it. We must realize that salvation, grace, the sacraments, and the Church are not things that God owes us; they are gifts given to sinners who do not deserve them, by a God who so loved the world that he gave his only Son (cf. John 3:16). We must also remember that the Eucharist literally means “thanksgiving” -- and so we who share in the Body and Blood of Christ, who have union with God and with our brothers and sisters in the Church, must never fail to recognize that all we have, and all we are, comes to us as a gift from God the Father. And for this, we must always celebrate thanksgiving. 

 

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

The God of the Lowly

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This is a recording of my preaching during Sunday Vespers.

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

The Will of the Father

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Baptism of ChristLast weekend was our vocations weekend at St. Albert's Priory.  15 men joined us to discern, and I gave the evening Vespers reflection/preaching on Saturday night.  In the context of God's Divine Fatherhood, the theme I broach here is vocational discernment, especially certain tendencies today towards making it overly introspective.  (This book written by a Dominican a number of years ago covers the subject in more depth.)  Prayer, self-examination and reflection, spiritual direction, and seeking God's promptings on your heart, are all necessary and good parts of discernment.  At the end of the day, though, God has already given each of us the grace to decide to follow him completely, whether with another in married life, or according to a particular charism in religious life.  Contact Fr. Steve Maekawa, O.P., our vocation director, for more information on the Dominican charism and the Western Province.

Br. Michael James Rivera, O.P.'s picture

Brothers Meet to Discuss the New Evangelization

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“Go into all the world and preach the Gospel to the whole creation.” (Mark 16:15)

In the past, I was happy to leave the work of evangelization to missionaries serving in foreign lands, or to those who make it a habit of going door-to-door to share their faith. Today, that is no longer the case. As a Dominican I feel compelled to preach the Gospel, to those who have never heard of Jesus, but also to those who have. Since we typically think of evangelization as being directed towards those who do not know Christ, this might seem a bit strange. However, in the last 30 years a different concept of evangelization has come to the foreground. In a number of countries we are now seeing “a weakening of faith in Christian communities, a diminished regard for the authority of the magisterium, an individualistic approach to belonging to the Church, a decline in religious practice and a disengagement in transmitting the faith to new generations.”1 This phenomenon has resulted in what many in the Church refer to as the “new evangelization,” i.e., outreach to those who identify themselves as Christian, but are no longer practicing their faith.

Not surprisingly, this “new evangelization” was the main concern of Dominican brothers from the provinces of the United States, Canada, Poland, and the Vietnamese Vicariate, who met at St. Albert’s this past weekend to discuss the Instrumentum Laboris, the working document now under review by the Synod of Bishops currently meeting in Rome.

In my small group we focused on chapter two of the text, which looks at some of the influences that shape modern society, and their effect on the faithful. These influences fall into seven general areas: society, culture, civic life, the economy, science, communications, and religion. Each area, or “sector” as they are referred to in the document, has its pros and cons, elements which can lead to a deepening of faith, and those which can lead to “silent apostasy”2 – which isn’t so much a hostility to the faith, as it is a general sense of apathy towards Christianity. For example, a positive component in the sector of communications would be our ability to converse with individuals on the other side of the globe, even if we don’t speak the same language. Sadly, there is a downside to the advances made in communications technology in recent years. Because there is now so much information available on the Internet, and so many other voices competing for the attention of the faithful, it becomes more and more difficult to share the truth of our faith.

This is why each of us must heed our baptismal calling. Every Christian has been commissioned to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and has a responsibility to share our faith, and to provide a reason for our hope.3 At times we might be tempted to leave this work to those who are more qualified, those with a charism of missionary service, or a degree in theology. While those things are helpful, they are not absolutely necessary. All that the Lord asks is that we talk about how he has changed our life, our experience of mercy, forgiveness, and grace. This is what the first apostles did, and what each of us can do to bring our neighbors back to the faith.

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1Instrumentum Laboris of the Synod on "The New Evangelization for the Transmission of the Christian Faith," #48.

2Ibid, #69.

3 cf. 1 Peter 3:15

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

Our Prophetic Mission

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Br. Gabriel’s preaching on 2 Peter 1:19-21, for Vespers on September 15th, 2012

“We scrub the floors for each other for the sake of our preaching”

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

"Brother, can you spare a dime?"

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St. Dominic founded in the 13th century the itinerant and mendicant Order of Preachers. Now at the start of the 21st century, we are still attempting to be both itinerant and mendicant – though in different ways. Earlier this month, two of the student brothers from St Albert’s Priory traveled (itinerancy) to help our ministries fundraise (modern-day mendicancy).

Br. Justin flew up to Anchorage, where he spent last year as a resident student, to help the Holy Family Cathedral as the friars thank their current donors and kick off the next phase of the Mission West Campaign. I flew to Las Vegas – my home for about six weeks this summer – to participate in the St Therese Center’s Circle of Roses event. The St Therese Center is a food pantry serving the HIV & AIDS community in Las Vegas. Fr Joseph O’Brien, OP founded it in 1998 and has seen it grow exponentially since then.

The Circle of Roses is a dinner and auction to support the center, but also an opportunity to recognize those people who have in some way gone above and beyond in their service to the center and its clients. I’m sure Dominic did not predict a dinner & auction in a casino ballroom, with over 600 people present, when he envisioned the mendicancy of his future brothers. The Circle of Roses is not a simple event, but quite an effective fundraiser for Fr Joseph, Br Frederick and all the staff, volunteers and clients of the St Therese Center. As David, Fr. Joseph’s most-capable assistant attests, “every cent we are able to spend was fundraised”.

In many ways, mendicancy has a different face than it did 8 centuries ago. But it still requires us to say that we need help. And not just “we need help” but “we need your help,” through funding, service, and prayers. Such a request requires humility, that virtue most out of place in 21st century America. So thank you for your support of all of our ministries, for allowing us to continue to preach the Gospel in many and various ways. May God bless all of our ministries, and most especially all of you who help us continue to be God’s witnesses in the world, and God’s witnesses to the world.

Br. Michael James Rivera, O.P.'s picture

First Profession

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Brothers Andrew Opsahl, OP, Cody Jorgensen, OP, Andrew Dominic Yang, OP, and Thomas Aquinas Pickett, OP (left to right)

On September 1, four brothers of the Western Dominican Province finished their novitiate and professed simple vows, thus beginning their years of formation as student brothers at St. Albert's Priory. During the Mass, Fr. Mark Padrez, OP, Prior Provinical of the Most Holy Name of Jesus, focused his remarks on the Parable of the Talents, found in the Gospel of Matthew (25:14-30). His homily is included here...

Brothers Thomas, Cody, Andy and Andrew:

Last year before you received the habit I asked you if you were afraid. Some of you nodded yes. In return I said "good." I want to go back to that theme of fear as you prepare to make profession, because it is good to be fearful, but perhaps not as you or others may think.

We must begin today with the parable of the talents in the Gospel. At the time of Jesus a talent was a very valuable unit of money. Today’s equivalent in value would be somewhere around $100,000. You see now that in today’s Gospel Christ was talking about considerable investments. The third servant, out of fear, was unwilling to invest what his master had put into his charge.

Fear is a significant force in our lives. Many of us make decisions on the basis of fear, most of which turn out to be bad decisions, bringing bad results; but we must realize that there are different kinds of fear. In the Church we speak of “fear of the Lord” and in the Old Testament we find that, "The beginning of wisdom is fear of the Lord" (Proverbs 9:10).

So what is the difference between the fear found in the third servant, and “the fear of the Lord” found in the Book of Proverbs? The difference, according to Saint Thomas Aquinas, is that fear of the Lord is reverential. The phrase “fear of the Lord” speaks of the awe and reverence that we should have when we think of ourselves in relationship to God the Father. Awe and reverence lead us to make decisions that are courageous, filled with goodness, and that are life enhancing. Awe and reverence of God encourages us to be risk takers, to make risk investments by sharing what we have with others.

God gives us talents and has invested Himself in us, in order that we, along with Him, can build up and enhance the lives of those around us. This is a major theme that runs throughout the Old Testament, which over and over again calls on God’s people to care for the widow, the orphan, the alien, the oppressed, the poor, and to tell the good news of God's holy presence among and with His people.

Christ repeatedly brings that call from God to us, putting His very own life on the line, calling on us to be likewise: self-sacrificing, self-giving, and to employ our gifts and talents to benefit others; even to sacrifice our lives for the sake of others. God our Father, He reminds us, has given us what we have, not just for our own sakes but also for the sake of other.

The phrase “fear of the Lord” brings us to the realization that God has expectations of us, and to acknowledge and respect those expectations. That is healthy fear, and this fear is essential as you begin your professed life with us.

Doesn’t it strike you that the parables of Jesus, which center on farming, fishing and business activities, all involve risk–taking? Remember the man who found the pearl of great price and then risked all of his net worth to acquire it? Remember the fishing episodes when Jesus asked Peter to throw out his nets yet again, even though he had gone through the whole night without catching a single fish?

The problem we face is that our hearts and souls are too often filled with an emotional fear, a negative fear that causes us not to act, that leads us into a selfish gathering of things that we keep only for ourselves. It is a paralyzing fear that leads us to be like turtles hiding inside a thick outer shell that prevents us from loving others, that keeps others at a distance, and that isolates in a self-imposed hell of loneliness. 

Do we want to find love in our lives? Then we must take risks and make risk capital investments in others. As Dominicans we do this by preaching. Do we want to find happiness in our lives? Then we must take risks and make risk capital investments in others. As Dominicans we do this by teaching. Do we want to find meaning in our lives? Then we must take risks and make risk capital investments in others. As Dominicans we do this by living out the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity, and obedience in community.

The profession you make today is to be made with “fear of the Lord." Through your profession you are placing yourselves in the hands of the Lord, and He will use your talents to make known not only His love for you, but also His love for others through your preaching and teaching. Thus you are taking a risk today, but not a risk in which you measure the probability of gain, something that becomes an end in itself. No, by your profession you are taking a risk in allowing the Lord to lead and guide you to a place you do not know, where you will use your gifts to bring His love, His Mercy, His wisdom, and His compassion to those most in need.

Through Jesus Christ, God our Father has given you enormous treasures and talents.

Brother Thomas, the good Lord has blessed you with an intellectual curiosity. Take the risk and bring the truth of God’s love to those who desire to learn of His love, but do not know where to begin.

Brother Cody, you have the gift in which you easily engage others. Use that gift and welcome into the Church those who may feel unwelcomed. Show them God’s mercy.

Brother Andy, you have been blessed with an artistic eye. Take a risk by sharing the presence and beauty of the Father’s love reflected in the visual arts, music, and yes, even in the dramatic arts.

Brother Andrew, you have the gift of practical wisdom. Take the risk to lead in building up the Kingdom of God, with those who despair and wonder if God is present in our world.

All four of you have powerful currency, the powers that God has given you. We need to understand that Christ is interested in your productivity, in doing God’s will and risking what He has given you, to love as He loves. He isn’t looking for passive, dependent persons to follow Him as His stewards here on earth. He wants, rather, risk-takers who are willing to be His followers, people of courage and daring -- who will enliven His Church.

Christianity without courage is Christianity without blood and spirit. God encourages us to jump into life and to run the risk of growing, by relating to and caring for others. It doesn't take courage to hide out in fear, but it does take courage to risk something new, and today you embark on taking that risk.

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

McKenzie Bridge 2012 Photos

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Here are some photos from our time at St. Benedict's Lodge in  McKenzie Bridge, OR, where the student brothers gather every August for our annual vacation. Some of these photos were taken at St. Benedict's itself, and others are from our various hikes or adventures in the beautiful outdoors in the surrounding area.
 

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