July 2013

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

The Apostle of California

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You shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, even to the ends of the earth.”(Acts 1.8)


Among the many aspects of the much-touted “New Evangelization,” one of its primary thrusts is a kind of “re-evangelization” of countries and peoples historically Christian but who have faltered or weakened in respect to the faith.  Of all regions in the Western World one might point to as an example, California would seem to be in the top running.  Hollywood and its television, movie, and media industries, exert a powerful influence not only on American but on world culture.  The billion-dollar pornography industry—it is well-known—cultivates its poisonous seed-bed in the San Fernando Valley, the “City of Angels.”  Violence seems to be a perennial Achilles’ heel of the state, from the rough-and-tumble cowboy and saloon days (which ended not too long ago—up until the 1940s, my hometown of Monterey was still quite a rough spot: read Steinbeck’s Tortilla Flat or Cannery Row to get an idea), to the modern street gangs which have so troubled her cities and even public schools.  Up north the City of St. Francis has been home to an assertive homosexual culture since the 1980s, and its legal circuit has been busy in the last ten years bullying the California and American court systems into legalizing same-sex unions, culminating in a significant victory in the Supreme Court just last week.

It may not be coincidental that we celebrate today, in the wake of last week’s happenings, the feast of the patron of California, Blessed Junipero Serra.  As all native Californians recall from state history in 4th grade, Father Serra initiated the founding of the chain of missions that dot our coast.  Serra is a known figure for most Californians, evoking generally kindly images of a generous friar in a brown habit, whose name adorns various streets, highways and schools throughout the state, and whose missions retain a certain rugged mystique evoking California’s Spanish and Native American past.  These are all good things.

Christians, however, can look to Serra for far greater and deeper inspiration.  He was, above all, a Champion of the Gospel with an indomitable zeal for souls, and perseverance in carrying out the Lord’s Great Commission.  Born in Petra, Mallorca, off the Eastern coast of Spain in 1713, he became a Franciscan at the age of 17.  Due to a particularly sharp intellect, he rose quickly through his philosophical and theological studies, becoming “lector” of philosophy before ordination, and eventually a Doctor of Sacred Theology at the age of 29.

Though an admired and respected teacher, he was a more revered preacher, able to stir crowds to tears and joy with his fiery sermons, and often dramatic penitential practices.1

From the early days of his Franciscan vocation, he felt a strong desire to offer himself to the missionary efforts of Spain in the New World.  This “dream” of his was delayed for a number years then finally granted by his superiors.  He arrived at the Mexican Port of Vera Cruz in 1749 and proceeded to walk 200 miles to Mexico City, a journey in which his leg became infected from insect bites, crippling him enough to render walking difficult the rest of his life.  After teaching at the College of San Fernando in Mexico City, and then some initial mission work among the Pame Indians of the Sierra Gorda mountains, Serra eventually got himself assigned to missionize the then untouched land of Alta (modern-day) California.

His contingent disembarked in San Diego Bay and founded Mission San Diego de Alcala on July 1st, 1769 (his now feast day).  California acquired its first martyr at this mission on November 5, 1775, as Padre Luis Jaime was killed in an Indian attack.  Serra was not present at the mission at the time, but on hearing of his compadre’s death, exclaimed, “Thanks be to God; now that the terrain has been watered by blood, the conversion of the San Diego Indians will take place.”2

He also set a standard for treatment of the native population of California in response to this incident.  Instead of seeking retribution, Serra demanded (and had codified into the laws governing the mission) that Franciscans could never seek legal retribution from the natives for any violence perpetrated.  Instead, it should be forgiven and their spiritual conversion and nourishment peacefully sought.

San Carlos Borromeo del Rio Carmelo (“Carmel Mission”) was founded one year after San Diego, in 1770.  When Serra’s ship arrived on the shores of Monterey Bay, the crew made a remarkable discovery.  The Spanish conquistador Sebastián Vizcaíno had been the first European to explore these shores in 1602.  A priest in Vizcaíno’s retinue had offered mass under an oak tree just up from the shore, and planted a cross to commemorate the event, the first mass said in Alta California.  To the amazement of Serra’s men, the cross was still standing in 1770, 168 years later.  Not only this, but the native population had venerated it with abalone shells and other decorative arrangements.  Serra dutifully said mass on the spot to commemorate the original landing, and in hopes of future missionary success.

And success did come.  Serra’s efforts in California were by any scale heroic, and the fruits quite remarkable.  He traversed thousands of miles by foot during the course of his life in spite of his leg injury, founding nine missions; he was well-known as a keen administrator and forceful leader (often intervening on behalf of the native populations against the Spanish military presence, with whom he frequently came into conflict for mistreating the Indians); was a gentle and generous pastor of souls; confirmed over 5,000 natives in the missions by special permission of the bishop in Mexico City; and oversaw a mission system which baptized and converted even more to the Christian faith.3

I have been told that to this day at Mission San Antonio, Native Americans gather to celebrate the Feast of St. Anthony, many of whom are descended from the original converts.

It is, then, with fervor and joy that we should celebrate the feast of Blessed Junipero Serra, at a time when California’s Catholic and Christian identity is in a rather bad way.  Countless of its cities are named after saints.  We need saints like them to arise even now.  California has always had a reputation for being  a rough-and-tumble place, as beautiful in its natural diversity as it tends to be lawless in its behavior.  Such, indeed, makes up a good part of the state’s lure and lore.  We can, then, seek Blessed Junipero Serra’s intercession even today for the renewal of the Christian faith in California and the West.  For nothing is ultimately more alluring than the beauty and goodness of God’s Son.  Serra’s penitential spirit, zeal for souls, and shrewd practical wisdom, are all needed if the faith he once planted in California over two centuries ago is to come alive again.  It may just do so if we take up the mission of the New Evangelization, inspired and under the patronage of the so-called Apostle of California.


Serra was known to, during sermons, beat his chest with a rock or hold a flame to his hand to stir repentance in his hearers. Though these practices may seem odd or repellant to many today, they were not uncommon in the Spanish piety of the time, a reflection of which one can glimpse even now in the modern day “Peniténtes” of Colorado and New Mexico.


Serra was appropriating here the famous phrase of Tertullian, “The blood of martyrs is the seed of the Church.”


As an interesting sidenote, there is even evidence that Serra, whose missionary efforts historically coincided with the American Revolution on the opposite American coast, sent out orders in the 1770s for all the missions to pray for the victory of George Washington over the British.  Serra’s interests in this were in part nationalistic, since Spain was at war with England. It is nevertheless an intriguing historical fact that Franciscan prayers, masses, and penance were being offered for the victory of the country which would one day span the North American continent along this latitude.

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

A Good Habit to Have

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Over the course on my summer ministry the occasion to reflect on the meaning of the religious habit has dawned; after three years of religious life I must, once again, ask myself what the wearing of the habit means to me. Why do I like the symbol? Why do I feel compelled to wear it? Am I morally obligated to wear it as a sign of my religious consecration?

The common denominator between all these questions is that the habit is, before anything else, a “sign.” Like any sacramental, it is a visible material symbol that points to a reality beyond it and, in a mysterious way, makes that reality present. Yet the sign value of the habit is interpreted differently by different people. Many people, certainly most religious people, place great emphasis on this sign value, accenting the fact that the habit is a constant reminder of the consecrated life, that it speaks loudly to a world drowning in secularism. Yet many others, usually those of a secular bent, stress the fact that the sign value, as strong as it might be for some, is a subjective value: the symbol is only meaningful to one who understands it, that it only speaks to those prepared to hear it and only possesses value if one is already familiar with what it is supposed to “mean.” These are valid concerns and they all color how I approach these questions.

Amidst all of these factors, variables, philosophical reflections, and personal musings, recent events have pushed me beyond these abstractions into the realm of personal conviction. Why do I, Br. Brad Elliot, wear the Dominican habit? Do I feel morally obligated to wear it? What does the habit mean for me? After some prayer and reflection, there was only one word that came to my mind: Integrity. For me, the wearing of the habit is about integrity. But why this particular word?

The word is used often in modern English and, as is customary for oft-used words, has acquired multiple and vague meanings, most of which are contextual – in one context it means something different than in another. Most people are probably familiar with its use in a strictly moral context: we often speak of “moral integrity” and describe virtuous people as “acting with integrity”. Indeed, this does help in fleshing out why the Dominican habit is important for me, but it only helps to a degree and falls short of a real answer. In truth, I do not explicitly feel “morally obligated” to wear the habit, at least not entirely; framing this personal question in a moral frame seems to miss the mark of my experience. For me, wearing the habit is much more than merely a moral act. After all, even in common English the word integrity itself is never used to describe a moral act but is used to express a quality of a moral person. It is not actions that have integrity, it is people who have integrity; integrity describes people. Before a person carries out a moral act, before he ever sets his mind to a particular path, he is first a person who either has the quality of integrity or not. It is only after a man sets his mind to committing a moral action and carries it out that he is said to act with integrity.

The noun integrity is related to the verb to integrate and the adjective integrated. This helps. A thing is integrated if it has many parts that are harmoniously working together, many parts that each act towards the thing’s one common end, and together express a unified whole. A human person is integrated if all of his “parts” - the features, characteristics, and qualities that make up his whole being if all these work together in the expression of his one person. Judging from this perspective, a man can be said to have integrity if what he is, what he claims to be, how he acts, how he speaks, how he treats others, and what he wears, all work together and express one and the same person. If a man were to claim to be one thing yet act like another, he would not be acting with integrity. If what a man speaks, how he acts, and what he wears does not express who he fundamentally is as a person, he can not be said to have integrity. Such a man is not an integrated person; he becomes, rather, alienated from himself; the many parts of his personality are not coherently ordered into a harmonious synthesis: in the place of unity there is disunity, in the place of integration, disintegration. Again, integrity itself is not a moral act; it is more like a pre-moral quality, a prerequisite condition of the soul from which true moral acts can flow.

All this in mind, it becomes clear why the wearing of the habit is more than a mere requirement of the constitutions of the Dominican Order. It is a matter of integrity: it is a matter of my words, actions, gestures, and dress all expressing the same thing. Indeed, the habit is merely a sign, and the value of that sign means quite different things to different people. But for me as a Dominican friar, the habit is not important merely for its external sign value, nor only for what it means to others: it is important for what it means to me. Wearing the Dominican habit is important as a feature of an integrated life, a life of honesty, a life of wholeness, a life where my actions, gestures, words, and appearance all speak in unison with what I have already claimed and vowed myself to be.

There can be occasions where wearing the habit is neither practical nor appropriate: say, playing basketball, swimming, or walking about in downtown Cairo about this time (on the other hand, there is such a thing as a willingness to be martyred!).  In any case, as I have reflected on the meaning of my vows, and how some of the common observances embedded in the nature of our life are lived out, I have come to love the habit, both in its sign value to others, and in the way it expresses a certain unity and integrity of Dominican identity for myself, in union with my brothers, living and deceased.

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

Intellectual Compassion

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Stephen of Salanhac, O.P. (d. 1290) composed an apt description of the nascent Order of Preachers when he wrote that a Dominican was "a canon by profession, a monk in austerity of his life, and an apostle by his office of preacher." Indeed, as Dominicans we are bound to careful and prayerful execution of the choral office in its full, public, sung ceremony; we are bound (under Saint Dominic's own last will and testament) to poverty and a life of penance, mortifying the flesh like St. Paul, lest after preaching to others we should be disqualified (cf. 1 Cor 9:27); we are bound to preach the Gospel, to proselytize, to combat heresy and error, and to embrace the spiritual works of mercy. Stephen of Salanhac's characterization of the Dominican, however, overlooks an indispensible element of the life: the assiduous study of Truth. A Dominican is indeed called to be a canon, monk, and apostle, but he is also called to be a contemplative, i.e., one whose life is ordered to the consideration and pursuit of truth (cf. St. Thomas ST II-II.179.1). The Dominican in meditation (i.e., rational investigation for the purpose of contemplation, cf. II-II.180.3. ad 1) seeks the Truth in Scriptures first, then in theology, philosophy, and other sciences so that, filled and overwhelmed with the Truth, he may pass it on to others for the salvation and edification of their souls. Instead of being an active religious, the Dominican is in primis a contemplative who, having grown an abundant harvest in the prayerful field of his mind and heart, hands on the fruits of his contemplation to others out of intellectual compassion. Bl. Humbert of Romans, the fifth master of the Order, devoted a considerable part of his work on the formation of preachers to study and contemplation in the preacher's life. These are not ends in themselves, but are means of ensuring the edification and benefit of the listeners: "A good preacher's concern is rather to study what is useful" (83); "the most important thing of all for a preacher is that he should have recourse to prayer, asking God to grant him speech that will be effective in bringing salvation to his hearers." (96, Emphasis added).

Recently I was able to see first hand the Order's devotion to the rigorous pursuit of truth through study and prayer. During the first week of July, I was greatly priviledged by the generosity of my Province to attend a conference at the Dominican House of Studies in Washington D.C..  This conference was titled "Dominicans and the Renewal of Thomism," and it attracted over 100 preeminent Dominican scholars. Being a student I was intimidated and awed to see and hear lectures by Giles Emery, Serge-Thomas Bonino, Richard Schenk, Romanus Cessario, and many others. I was also greatly inspired by seeing the zeal possessed by Dominicans, young and old, for the attainment of wisdom and holiness. But this conference was far from being stuffy; rather, it was a gathering of brothers committed to the contemplative pursuit of Truth guided by the wisdom of St. Thomas Aquinas. We indeed were brothers in the Lord. We sung the office together, relying on our great patrimony of Latin hymns and canticles. We shared meals with one another, discussing our shared experiences in Dominican life. We listened to one another share the fruits of study and research, testing all and retaining what was good (1 Thess. 5:21). I was amazed that world-renowned friars, whose books I often read for my theological studies, had the genuine humility to talk with me as a brother. The entire conference impressed upon me the beautiful community that the Order of Preachers has established throughout the world. We indeed were all brothers, teaching and learning the wisdom of our brother Saint Thomas Aquinas. We were all brothers unreservedly committed to the truth and beauty of the Catholic faith that has been handed down to us.

As the Western World grows more secular, however, what role does the beauty and truth of the faith play? What place is there for a theologian like St. Thomas Aquinas, who died more than half a millenium ago? How do Dominicans figure into the mission and life of the Church in the contemporary world? These are the questions that were brought forward throughout the conference. The challenge for us Dominicans, as for Christians in every era, is to fearlessly and unreservedly promote the Kingdom of Heaven despite the evils that beset us. In the face of rising indifference to God, legislation that turns away from natural law and human dignity, and the rabid pullulation of agnosticism, atheism, relativism, and secularism, the Dominicans, following the orthodox and comprehensive vision of St. Thomas Aquinas, must act with pious aggression to check the work of the Deceiver. Dominicans genuinely committed to the Truth can help spread the light of Christ through teaching and preaching, nourished by prayer and study. It is our challenge to rise to this occasion, and to find in our minds and hearts the courage of Christ's grace and the undying power of the Holy Spirit. By genuine, bold Catholic dialogue and preaching, aimed at the strengthening of our own faith and the conversion of others to the True Faith, Dominicans, armed with St. Thomas, strive to advance the light of Christ into a darkening world.

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

Eucharist: Tribalism or Communion?

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Dodger, Yankee, Mariner. Patriot, Eagle, Raider.

In some parts of the country, your favorite sports team defines a certain part of you. Does a Colts fan talk to a Patriots fan? But what about in the Church?

English, Spanish, Vietnamese, Latin.

Contemporary Mass, Praise & Worship Mass, Polyphany Mass.

Family Mass, College Mass, Youth Mass.

Vigil. 7am, 10:30am, Noon, 5pm, 9pm.

St. Mary's, St. John's, Holy Family.

Franciscan, Jesuit, Dominican.

Do these people talk to each other? Or are they like a rival sports team? In my trip in Poland, it was interesting to note that in Krakow the gangs are actually socceer team fans. Things can get fairly violent, and your affiliation with a particular team could mean trouble if you encounter your rivals. There's graffiti in Krakow, but it's soccer team signs, not Los Angeles gang signs.

Tribalism seems to be an ingrained element of human nature. We all have our opinions, preferences, maybe even conveniences, and habits. They all come together in making the decisions about what sports games we watch, brand of goods we buy, and what Church we attend. I don't think I need to multiply examples: the point is clear. We love our own tribes, and we fight for our own tribes. We want our tribe to be the best, the strongest, the one with the biggest numbers, something to boast about over all the others.

"The Eucharist creates communion and fosters communion," Pope John Paul II writes in his last encyclical, Ecclesia de Eucharistia. (40) In current American Catholicism there seem to be strong currents devoted, not unlike a sports team, over what particular "tribe" you belong to. I've seen communities (of all types) who look upon others with disdain. "Ours is the best," one might boast. I have to ask, what does this look like to our secular contemporaries? What kind of witness is this? Someone entering the Church, or considering converting, could easily be turned off by the factionalism and sometimes loathful disdain that one group may have for another ... even within the same parish!

It is true, some groups may have very valid points, reasons for doing things a certain way. A zeal for faithfulness to rubrics is a good thing. In the cited encyclical the Pope exhorts all Priests to be faithful in their celebration of the Mass: "Priests who faithfully celebrate Mass according to the liturgical norms, and communities which conform to these norms, quietly but eloquently demonstrate their love for the Church." (52) Powerful words. But oftentimes it seems as if we have an uncanny ability to live outside of a mean, on the edge of an extreme.

Do we want to give a powerful witness of unity, of the love of the Lord to our neighbors? Isn't it our goal to spread the Gospel in a fallen world, a world that needs the same healing balm that we ourselves have received and continue to receive? We shouldn't wholesale set aside our differences; some differences are important. But even within the differences of our communities, we must, underneath it all, provide a powerful witness to the love of Jesus, and the communion that is built between us in our sharing in the one bread.

The Pope had pretty much "seen it all." I'm sure he'd witnessed his fair share of interesting and questionable liturgies. Factoring out true liturgical abuse (for I do not mean to say that this is inconsequential; the Pope strongly exhorts us to have a reverence for norms, to thereby faithfully adore and worship the Lord, with the respect and dignity proper to the Eucharist), we must look beyond our preferential tribalism, and emphasize our unity within the Church. "...[T]he Eucharistic Sacrifice, while always offered in a particular community, is never a celebration of that community alone. In fact, the community, in receiving the Eucharistic presence of the Lord, receives the entire gift of salvation and shows, even in its lasting visible particular form, that is is the image and true presence of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church." (39)

The faithful, both lay, religious, and clerical, should all strive to preserve and foster the bond of unity within their particular communities, by reflecting on and respecting the greatest of all mysteries: the Eucharist. The celebration of Mass is not a weapon that we wield to break communion within the Church. "From this it follows that a truly Eucharistic community cannot be closed in upon itself, as though it were somehow self-sufficient; rather it must persevere in harmony with every other Catholic community." (39) We must strive, in love, to look beyond our particular tribe to those others whom we may see as outsiders, and see ourselves as part of a much larger communion. The world should not be able to look at our communities and see us acting amongst one another as rivalrous sports fans. We must have mercy on one another in our failings, encourage each other in the faith, and look to what unites us most strongly, rather than overemphasizing the truly accidental.

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

Vacate et Videte

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I've come across a fantastic author. John Senior was a professor at Kansas University. From all accounts, he was a truly inspiring educator. The monuments to his deep commitment to academic integrity are two Bishops, Wyoming Catholic College, and Clear Creek Monastery. He has inspired an entire sector of the Catholic Church in America to greatness; the greatness that only comes from a deep reservoir of love. His fierce commitment to God, the Church, the idea that is America, and all humanity radiates from his well crafted prose. It is as if a certain Catholic journalist from England were to have taken up flesh a second time, and as an American.

I've completed his first work, The Death of Christian Culture, and I've begun it's companion, The Restoration of Christian Culture. But, let me be clear: both works are more serious than even their titles suggest. They are not light fare. These slim books posses a surprising weight. Yet, the pages nearly turns themselves.

Essentially, these books are a clear minded critique of the state of Christian culture, i.e., western civilization. Dr. Senior clearly and accurately diagnoses the ailment with which we all unwittingly suffer. Then, critique concluded, he offers real solutions. He does not provide simple solutions; the complaints themselves are far from simple. Yet, working as a master diagnostician he discovers the illness and proscribes the treatment.

Here is a prime example:

First, negatively, smash the television set. The Catholic Church is not opposed to violence; only unjust violence; so smash the television set. And, positively, put the time and money you now spend on such entertainment into a piano so that music is restored to your home, common, ordinary, Christian music, much of which is very simple to play. Anybody can learn the songs of Steven Foster, Robert Burns, the Irish and Italian airs, after even a few hours of instruction and practice. And families will be together at home of an evening and love will grow again without thinking about it, because they are moving in harmony together. There is nothing more disinteresting of love than artificial attempts to foster it in encounter groups and the like: Love only grows; it cannot be manufactured or forced; and it grows on the sweet sounds of music." (The Restoration of Christian Culture)

Ignore him at your peril. Read him to your delight. Regardless, read him you must.