Bishop Soto performing the ancient ritual of laying his hands on the deacon-elect, Br. Bonifiace:
Bishop Soto handing the Book of the Gospels to Br. Mark Francis:
And the new Deacons with Bishop Soto:
"Table reading" is a traditional monastic practice of taking meals in silence while some book of spiritual significance is read for the duration. This Lent, our community at St. Albert's has undertaken to begin nightly dinners with ten minutes of table reading from Church Father and desert ascetic, St. John Cassian, who is a kind of spiritual father of the Dominican Order. It is said St. Dominic kept with him and would read a little from two books every day: the Gospel of Matthew (his favorite of the gospels) and the Conferences of Cassian. The conferences afford useful insights into the Christian life which are particularly appropriate to Lent.
In the first conference, Cassian speaks of two "ends" or "aims" of the spiritual life. The final end (telos) of the spiritual life is the Kingdom of God. But the "immediate" or "closer" aim is its skopos (Greek for something to "fix the eye on," as an archer his target). This skopos is purity of heart, as in "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God"(Mt. 5:8). Lent is a special time to purify our hearts so our spiritual vision may be sharpened.
We all have the experience of giving something up to get something better. Doctors, athletes, teachers, mothers; any worthwhile life requires moral, physical, and mental discipline to be lived well. During Lent, the Christian refocuses his spiritual energies by giving certain things up so he can live the Gospel more deeply. Food is taken in smaller portions; perhaps we resolve to rise a half-hour earlier in the morning for extra Scripture meditation; or resolve to visit infirm friends and relatives who otherwise lack companionship.
As a Dominican, I've found Lenten disciplines extremely helpful: abstinence from certain foods and full portions of meals trains a certain inner-temperance and self control which – I've found – can make me more alive and alert to my neighbor, even at times more perceptive in prayer and so with a deeper thanksgiving for God's many gifts, and greater insight into His desires for my life. Underneath the outward discipline, a kind of hidden and secret exultation in God is discovered, a way of perceiving and "seeing" Him more clearly.
It is a bit like backpacking in a great national park like Yosemite or Kings Canyon. On such trips – especially the ones of several days – food is spare, sleep is uncomfortable, and fatigue is constant. But precisely by giving up normal conveniences, we receive marvelous visions of pristine wilderness, and often a deeper companionship with the comrades we journey with. Somehow we often come back more energized and appreciative of our everyday life. Every Christian undertakes such a journey in Lent, but in a spiritual way. I myself rejoice to do it as a Dominican: every ounce of my energy given to studying, contemplating, and rejoicing in the Lord, so that he may use me to bring his gospel to the world.
My father died during my third year in the Order. As a memorial, my mother donated two magnolia trees--my father's favorite--to the gardens of Saint Albert Priory. The one featured here is our Magnolia Solangiana Rubra Rustica, located west of the chapel.
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word "Lent" comes from lengthen, meaning "spring" or "Springtime." Spiritually speaking, then, Lent is a season in which we revive our devotion to the Lord Jesus and His Passion.
I took these photos the Thursday after Ash Wednesday. It's interesting and profound, I think, to see the Solangiana blossoming at the beginning of Lent, especially against the morning fog. In a sense, too, our spiritual lives are called to blossom as Lent moves on.
For all of us, may this Lenten season be a time of revival, penance and conversion, as we await the Springtime of the Ressurection.
Wednesday, February 10th, the friars of our house of studies, St. Albert Priory, in Oakland, California, submitted votes for a new superior. Our new prior, chosen from Dominicans throughout the province and beyond, will provide leadership and guidance to over 35 fellow brothers. Of these, almost half are students of philosophy and theology, learning and growing to become future leaders themselves. The voting is done by solemnly vowed brothers, each providing his voice during discussions that are followed by a secret ballot to elect the brother they feel would serve the community best.
After Christmas, I arrived in Albuquerque, New Mexico, for my yearly home visit to find both my grandmother and great grandmother in the hospital. Immediately, I went to see my grandmother released and then we both went to see her mother. I then spent the next two weeks sleeping on the floor of the hospital next to my great grandmother's bed until her death--for which I was present. This was not the first family death I had experienced, but it was the first death of a family member since I became a Dominican friar. Being a consecrated religious radically changed this joyful tragedy for me. I was given the opportunity, by Christ, to be a witness to His promises simply by being present as a religious, leading prayer with and for my family.
In your mercy remember the soul of Mary Agnes Alarid in your prayers. She had 93 earthly years. She was a wife for 78 years, an auxiliary of the Legion of Mary for 69 years, a mother of 4, grandmother, great grandmother, and great great grandmother. She died a faithful daughter of Holy Mother Church on 5 January 2010, the anniversary of the death of her first daughter, after receiving the Last Rites and the Apostolic Pardon.
Two Dominican friars from our Province of the Most Holy Name of Jesus will be ordained to the diaconate on 27 February 2010 at St. Dominic’s Church in Benicia, California. Brothers Boniface and Mark Francis will enter into the apostolic ministry of deacons by their reception of the sacrament of Holy Orders, through which the mission entrusted by Christ to his apostles continues to be exercised in the Catholic Church. As deacons, these Dominicans will share in Christ's mission and grace in a special way. The sacrament of Holy Orders marks them with a character that cannot be removed and which configures them to Christ, who made himself the “deacon,” or servant of all.
As the ordination of my brothers approaches, I cannot help but reflect upon my own ordination to the diaconate over a year ago in January 2009 and the great and surprising joy I have experienced in my ministry as a deacon. I say “surprising,” because I had a tendency to think of my ordination to the diaconate as a mere step towards priesthood. Many times over I have been chided and corrected in this inadequate view by my own experience of diaconal ministry, which experience has been unfathomably rewarding. Perhaps of greatest significance to me as a friar of the Order of Preachers has been the gift of proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ and preaching the Word in the celebration of the Eucharist. After all, this proclamation and preaching are especially fitting for the sons of St. Dominic, whose conception of the vita apostolica means men on mission, proclaiming and preaching the Good News of salvation.
But there are so many moments and images I will not forget. There is nothing quite like the happiness of sharing in the bliss of a young couple as you stand before them to witness their marriage. Imagine the awe as you assist the priest in the Elevation for the first time, or lift the weighty monstrance to offer Benediction. Even helping with the dishes after a meal seems to take on a particular significance!
It has also been an immense privilege for me, as a Byzantine Ukrainian Catholic, to serve Divine Liturgy at Our Lady of Fatima in San Francisco. Indeed, I am not the only deacon who has expressed just the slightest regret that priesthood will mean the end of fulfilling the awesome and wonderful duties of the diakonos in the great Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom!
God willing, my classmates and I will be ordained to the presbyterate in June 2010, and I can only thank the Lord for such a gift. I pray I will remain grateful, too, for the magnificent gift of my diaconate, and that I will always have a heart for diakonia—service. Finally, I entreat our Lord to abundantly bless the ministries of my brothers Boniface and Mark Francis as they enter into his humble labor.
Every year, shortly before the Spring semester begins, the student Brothers and Dominicans from throughout our province come together for the annual West Coast Walk for Life. Now in its sixth year, the Walk is a witness to our world and a reminder for all of us that we are called to respect the dignity of the human person. Here's a short video that I put together from this year's event.
The fifth annual Walk for Life was this past Saturday on a foggy San Francisco morning. The first event of the day was the celebration of Holy Mass at the Cathedral where the celebrant was the Auxiliary Bishop, His Excellency William Justice. The homily was reminding us that no matter what those opposed to life said it was our call to witness to the beauty and dignity of Human Life as a most excellent gift from God. Something that struck me deeply about those attending the Mass is that the vast majority of them were young people in their teens and twenties. To me this was a symbol of great hope in our time - youth carrying the banner of the love of Human Life in their hearts.
If you've never been to the Walk for Life in SF or the March for Life in DC it is well worth the trip. I had commented to some friends and Brothers that I still remember the images given by the popular media in the 1980's of Pro-Life protesters. They were always shown as angry mobs that were quick to condemn and short on charity. This walk reinforced in my mind and heart that nothing could be further from the truth when it comes to the Pro-Life movement. Thousands and in some places Hundreds of Thousands of people witnessing for life, praying and singing hymns. In my own experience as with this Walk for Life the only shouting, anger and lack of charity that was at the event was from the counter-protesters. Our Novice Master, Fr. Anthony Rosevear, OP lead the recetation of the Rosary during the whole of the Walk. It is a reminder that not everything that we see on T.V. is "the Gospel Truth." Though there were not many counter-protesters it was evident that we have a long way to go in converting the hearts and minds of the public and it is my prayer that with every step we took on the Walk for Life the distance to that conversion of our culture was drawn closer to the heart of and authentic manifistation of Life, Liberty and true Happiness.