November 2012

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. 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.

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


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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. 


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.