February 2015

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

The Nature of Freedom

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Recently the brothers and I were engaged in a conversation about the nature of human liberty. We were reflecting on the stark difference between freedom as the modern world would present it, and the true freedom to which our Catholic faith teaches that all men are called.

When most people consider the concept of human freedom or liberty, they generally consider, not the presence of a positive reality within the soul rendering it capable of free action, but rather the absence of realities outside the soul that serve as limits or boundaries to choice. Freedom is said to exist when all the various impediments to external movement or choice are removed; this is the notion of “freedom as license” that is so very common today. Given this understanding, a ball rolling down a hill -- where the mere pull of gravity rules its motion -- would be dubbed “free” if it simply has no obstacles in its path. Yet in this scenario, the ball’s fall is not something that it is “doing,” as much as it is something “being done to it.” The ball is not self-directed, not moved from within. The ball is not dominus sui (Lord of itself), but rather is lorded over by external forces outside of its control. This is not freedom.

True human freedom consists not in the absence of external impediments to action, but rather in the internal principle by which self-directed action towards an intended good is taken. This inner strength or virtus, by which one intentionally chooses the good and thus moves himself to a greater fulfillment of his human nature, is where human freedom lies.

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

Hearing the Lord in Silence

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One of the great blessings of St. Albert's Priory is the silence -- periods of great quiet where one is able to reflect, recollect, and be with God. This time of “still” is a great spiritual luxury, a time of prayer and solitude. In the hustle and bustle of a modern and urban setting, we are bombarded with sounds: traffic, car horns, sirens, cell phones, alarm clocks, and all the machines that make our world possible. Modern life is just plain noisy. Sonically speaking, the world is a very different place than it was for the early Dominicans, even for those religious men and women a century ago. Truly if there is one respect in which modernity has altered life, it is by stealing away the silence.


Last week, during one of these periods of quiet, the Lord brought me to a deeper understanding of the beauty of silence, and its importance in the life of prayer. If I am to unite myself with the mission and work of the great saints of old, it must begin right here, stocking the fire of the interior life in the silence of prayer.


I recall a prayer that a retreat master once offered to open a day of silence and, though I cannot remember every word, the finale certainly left an impression: “...that our hearts and minds might be open to the Lord,who speaks in silence.”


Why is silence so important for hearing the voice of God? Now that I am more adapted to the rhythm of Dominican life, the answer has begun to dawn on me. Silence is a powerful icon of God, perhaps the greatest icon we have. It is utterly simple, like one long “now” without division of parts, yet large enough to contain all measure of diversity and plurality.


I am reminded of the Prophet Elijah who, upon being told to stand on the mountain before the Lord, was engulfed by violent winds, fires and earthquakes. None of these, as powerful and as distracting as they must have been, brought the voice of God. However, in the silence that followed, when he heard a “still small voice” speaking in the calm of his heart, he covered his face with his mantle, for then he knew he was in the presence of the Almighty. It was in the school of silence that Elijah learned to recognize the voice of the Lord.


When we allow ourselves to enter into silence, when we make room for it, we then realize that it was there all along, not imposing itself like a tyrant, but waiting for us like a patient friend. It never left us; we left it; or rather forgot to notice it. Where had we gone? 


We cannot create silence or manufacture it; we can only get out of its way and simply let it be. Unlike human artifacts, it can never be rendered “secular” or “timely.” It can never be out-of-date or old-fashioned. Only human creations get old. But this is exactly what we should expect. Our creations were made by us and for us, to suit us and entertain us. Just as every cause is contained in its effect, so do our own artifacts resemble their makers each in its own way, like various reflections in a mirror. When they no longer arrest our attention, we simply get bored with them and create new ones: a new pop song, a new movie star, a new fashion trend, a new gadget to play with.


But silence will forever lie just beyond the reach of human touch. It reminds us that there is something in our souls that will never be satisfied by a mere reflection of our finite selves. In fact, if we manage to sit in silence for long enough, that seemingly bottomless ache will begin to rumble in that even more bottomless resonance-chamber of the human soul, and thus remind us that we will only be satisfied by the infinite God. Pascal wrote, “I have discovered that the unhappiness of men comes from just one thing, not knowing how to remain quietly in a room.”


This is why I have found silence so powerful in the spiritual life; it is the sound of the sacred. Truly the rising of the heart and mind to God -- the essence of prayer -- is what the human soul does naturally if not troubled. If not distracted or held back by other concerns, the soul in the state of grace will fall to God like gravity to its true center. Perhaps this is the reason why so many of the great saints, even those not cloistered in religious life, hungered for hours and hours of silence spent with God. It is here that the soul can truly be itself.


It is in prayer that I am united with the Dominicans of the past and all the saints who have died in friendship with Jesus; united in our Lord who is the end towards which we all tend. I am united with them in the great liturgical prayers of the Church, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, and the chanting of the Divine office. As a member of the Order of Preachers I long to unite with them in the cause of saving souls through the preaching of the Word, and the living of the three vows. 


I know that I am still a sinner; religious life has made that uncomfortably clear. There is still much of that random noise echoing in my own soul from the original fault of man. The senior friars have jokingly warned that, once the white habit is worn, all the stains show, literally and figuratively! But I am growing. Slowly but surely, little by little, I am growing, and walking the same path that hundreds of Dominicans have walked before me.


I pray, if it is the Lord’s will, that one day I may also cross the same passover and sleep the same sleep, resting in that same silence that can only come from the life of sanctifying grace. This is where all the prayers, psalms and hymns will cease and reach their goal. They will all be realized in that perfect silence of heaven. Then and there will that perfect stillness be, and that one perfect and infinite WORD uttered from all eternity will be the only sound we hear.

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

Hope and the Fifty Shades of Misery

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In its misery and pessimism, the world offers us, on Valentine's Day, "Fifty Shades of Grey"−more misery and pessimism. Br. Chris Brannan, preaching on Colossians 1:2-6, says that the Church, on the other hand, has divine medicine to offer: the gift of hope in Christ. 

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

The Fight Between Carnival and Lent

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Fr. Michael Morris, professor of Religion and the Arts at the Dominican School of Philosophy & Theology, has narrated lenten reflections through the medium of sacred art. This is the first reflection in the series called, "The Fight Between Carnival and Lent." Check it out and have a blessed lent.

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

Abandoning our nets

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As he passed by the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting their nets into the sea; they were fishermen. Jesus said to them, “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Then they abandoned their nets and followed him. He walked along a little farther and saw James, the son of Zebedee, and his brother John. They too were in a boat mending their nets. Then he called them. So they left their father Zebedee in the boat along with the hired men and followed him.
(Mark 1:16-20, from the Gospel for the 3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time)

Brs. Kevin and Dennis in San Diego

Recently, my classmate Br. Dennis and I flew down to the UC San Diego Newman Center at the invitation of our brother, Fr. John Paul Forte. Our novices visit them every year on the “southern tour” (as they are doing now) and offer reflections on their discernment journeys at the Masses. Fr. John Paul felt it would be beneficial for the Newman Center community to hear from some of us who have already been in the Order for a few years to describe our lives now (Br. Dennis & I entered the Order in the summer of 2010, and are now students at St. Albert's). What is our life like, now that we have abandoned our nets? What has changed over the years? What supports do we have?

For myself -- and I feel for many of my brother Dominicans --  that first moment of abandoning our nets to follow Jesus turns out -- in hindsight -- to have been rather easy. We really don’t know what we’re in for when we receive the habit. The image, the idea, the fantasy of religious life is one thing, the reality is often much more complicated. We give up much of our autonomy, we are thrust into a community of men that we don't personally choose, and we have to adapt suddenly to an entirely new daily schedule. After the first year, we begin studies in earnest and take on more ministry duties, as well as chores around the house. The ongoing challenge is to persevere in following Him our Lord after the initial excitement wears off, after we lose the emotional high we feel when we first receive the habit. We must base our vocation on prayer and God’s active grace in our lives. Our energies fade, our willpower at time fades, but God’s grace will continue to support us all unfailingly. When we forget that, we no longer live up to our call as friars preachers and simply become a community of men.

All four of the men that Jesus called that day at the shoreline went back to fishing after Jesus’ death. Unsure of what to do, all of them pick up their abandoned nets once again and headed back out to sea. Only by God’s grace did they recognize the risen Christ, and abandon their nets to once again become fishers of men. We must always remember to do the same.


Saints Peter, Andrew, James & John, pray for us!