September 2014

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

Vestition 2014

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On Thursday, August 28, 2014, the Feast of Blessed Augustine, the author of our rule of life, we received into the novitiate eight new brothers. We celebrated the Vestition ceremony of the Dominican Order at St. Dominic's Catholic Church in San Francisco. In the midst of the community joined in Compline, that is, night prayer of the Divine Office, eight men from all parts of the world received the habit of the order of preachers and began their journeys as Dominican brothers living the evangelical counsels according to our constitutions. It was truly a joyous occasion.

As I am now experiencing this ceremony after four years of Dominican life, the words carry all the more meaning as I hear them, not through the fresh ears of our eight new brothers, but through ears seasoned by four joyful years of prayer, study, and contemplation that our rule of life has afforded me. Let me take this opportunity to share one prayer that I found particularly powerful.

"Brought here by the mercy of God, we have come to undertake your way of life; teach us, we ask you, evangelical perfection according to the rule and constitutions of the Friars Preachers, so that through this following of Christ we may grow in the love of God and neighbor as men who desire to obtain their own salvation and that of others, as evangelical men following in the footsteps of their Savior."

As they begin their new life at St. Dominic's Catholic Church, all of us student brothers here at St. Albert's priory will be keeping them in prayer.

Br. Clement Lepak, OP's picture

Knights and Dames of Malta

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The Sovereign Order of Malta joined our Dominican community for a Sunday evening of prayer, recreation, dinner and adoration. The Knights and Dames of Malta continue to support our community of student brothers with their prayers and generosity. Our sincere gratitude to all who joined us for such a solemn and festive evening. The Dominican community of St. Albert's sends you peace through Our Lord Jesus Christ.

Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit

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

First Vows

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This past week, the Western Dominican Province was privledged to hear the first vows of two of our newest brothers. It was an occasion for me to reflect, first upon the awesome privledge of living this life of prayer, study, and contemplation, but moreover, upon the very meaning of making a religious vow.

In the Summa Theologiae, St. Thomas Aquinas asks whether or not it is actually fitting or expedient to take a religious vow. The first objection goes as follows: "It would seem that it is not expedient to take vows. It is not expedient to anyone to deprive himself of the good that God has given him. Now one of the greatest goods that God has given man is liberty whereof he seems to be deprived by the necessity implicated in a vow. Therefore it would seem inexpedient for man to take vows" (ST, IIaIIae, Q88, a4, Obj 1).

Simply put, is not the binding of oneself through religious vows an inhibition to one's freedom? If so, would it not be better to perform acts of prayer, preaching, and devotion to God out of pure human freedom rather than performing these acts through the bonds of a vow?

St. Thomas answers: Even as one’s liberty is not lessened by one being unable to sin, so, too, the necessity resulting from a will firmly fixed to good does not lessen the liberty, as instanced in God and the blessed. Such is the necessity implied by a vow, bearing a certain resemblance to the confirmation of the blessed. Hence, Augustine says that “happy is the necessity that compels us to do the better things" (ST, IIaIIae, Q88, a4, Reply ObJ 1).

Being vowed to God, the highest good and the end of human life, could never be a corruption of freedom. It is, on the contrary, the full flowering of human freedom, the highest expression of a mature human being acting as a true self-director of his own actions and fixing his will on that which is good. St. Thomas distinguishes between a mere "act of a human being" and a true "human action." True "human action" is always free and self-directed. Good human action is that which brings us closer to our final end, that is, union with God.

St. Thomas explains:" makes a promise to a man under one aspect, and to God under another. Because we promise something to a man for his own profit; since it profits him that we should be of service to him, and that we should at first assure him of the future fulfillment of that service: whereas we make promises to God not for His but for our own profit. Hence Augustine says: “He is a kind and not a needy exactor, for he does not grow rich on our payments, but makes those who pay Him grow rich in Him.” And just as what we give God is useful not to Him but to us, since “what is given Him is added to the giver,” as Augustine says, so also a promise whereby we vow something to God, does not conduce to His profit, nor does He need to be assured by us, but it conduces to our profit, in so far as by vowing we fix our wills immovably on that which it is expedient to do. Hence it is expedient to take vows" (ST, IIaIIae, Q88, a4).

Praise God for the witness of these two brothers, who have so firmly fixed their wills on God. May they continue to inspire us with their fidelity and may we all continue to pray for them.

Br. Christopher Wetzel, O.P.'s picture

Reflections on the Feast of the Triumph of the Cross

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We proclaim Christ crucified,
a stumbling-block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles,
but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks,
Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.
     -1 Cor. 1:23-24

Adoration of the Cross

Modern cinematic technology is pretty amazing. The sense of being present in the midst of the story is so powerful that the viewing public pays billions of dollars each year for the experience. Why are superhero movies like Iron Man or Batman so popular? Because, in experiencing the events in the lives of powerful and clever characters like Tony Stark or Bruce Wayne, we feel powerful and clever, too.  

But not all movies do this. Consider Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ. It is a hard film to watch. We see the suffering of Christ in graphic detail. It is one thing to read in the Gospel of John, “Then Pilate took Jesus and had him scourged.” It is something else to watch a solder brutally and mercilessly beat Jesus with a scourge, to see the gashes being cut into his back, his side, his legs and his face. We see the blood flying and pouring off his body, we see the skin being ripped off, we see and hear Jesus twisting and screaming in pain. This is a whole different kind of cinematic experience. You don’t feel powerful or clever while you watch; you feel nauseated and betrayed. And so, many people hated The Passion of the Christ because it’s realistic depiction of crucifixion was too violent, too unpleasant, too ugly. Whatever its merits as a film, it certainly depicts the suffering entailed in the crucifixion.

St. Paul, then, is right to say that Christ crucified is “a stumbling-block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles.” How could this suffering man be the God of the Jews or the Wisdom of the Greeks? Today the situation is almost worse. To the modern man, Christ crucified is repulsive and offensive: I want to look away, I don’t want to deal with this. That Christ suffered 2000 years ago is fine, but today in the 21st century, such suffering offends our aesthetic sense; and the notion that we should imitate Christ crucified is positively an assault on our liberty and our right to the pursuit of happiness. How dare Jesus mar my tidy, orderly life with the messiness of crucifixion! The health and wealth gospel looks like a better way to go. So what are we doing today exalting the cross? Are we masochists? Who wants to uphold the Mel Gibson image of Jesus? Well, St. Paul, for one.

In this section of 1st Corinthians, St. Paul is worried that the Corinthians are aligning themselves with particular human preachers in different factions, according to the attractiveness of their message or who it was that baptized them. But for Paul, these are not important. He says, “Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with the wisdom of human eloquence, so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its meaning.” Whenever we turn away from the cross and instead seek signs, or wisdom, or power, or smooth words, we empty the cross --and thus our faith-- of its meaning, because without the cross there is no resurrection. When we feel powerful or wise, we know that we have fallen short of our target, for “the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.” In other words, we exalt the cross because it is only through the cross that we can participate in the divine power and wisdom that is necessary for our happiness and salvation. 

Without the cross we are doomed to grasp impotently and foolishly at the things of this world, things that will only bring us misery. Our consumerist culture besieges us on every side, tempting and beguiling us with the idea that we can fill our emptiness with goods and services. It lies to us, telling us that, there’s just one more thing; that if we buy just one more product, then we will be content and satisfied. If only the food were better, if only my health were better, if only I had a few dollars more, if only this injustice in my life were corrected, then happiness would be mine!

In Philippians, Paul tells us that, “though he was in the form of God, Jesus did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross.” Mammon can never fill our emptiness, but, paradoxically, detachment can. We can only truly be filled when we let go of everything else. Yes, absolutely everything else, except God himself. The wisdom of the cross, the power of the cross, is that God’s love is always present to us, will always triumph over evil, and is the only way to be happy. Do you believe this? 

Today we exalt the cross, we raise it up, as the sign that we can conquer the Evil one, by the grace of God. Today, we freely chose to begin the monastic fast. Not as some archaic masochistic ritual, but as a free response in love to the love of Christ crucified. As for an athlete that has won the race, we exalt, we lift up the cross of Christ on our shoulders as a celebration of his victory over sin. “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” O Christ crucified, may we empty ourselves in imitation of you, who are, for those who are the called, the power of God and the wisdom of God. Amen.

Br. Clement Lepak, OP's picture


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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

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