Browse by Topic: Prayer

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

The Fight Between Carnival and Lent

Filed under: 

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

Hearing the Lord in Silence

Filed under: 

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

Fit for a True Calling from God

Filed under: 

The word of the LORD came to me: Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I dedicated you, a prophet to the nations I appointed you. But you, prepare yourself; stand up and tell them all that I command you. Do not be terrified on account of them, or I will terrify you before them; for I am the one who today makes you a fortified city, a pillar of iron, a wall of bronze, against the whole land: Against Judah’s kings and princes, its priests and the people of the land. They will fight against you, but not prevail over you, for I am with you to deliver you. -- Oracle of the LORD.

Jeremiah 1: 4-5, 17-19

As a candidate for the Catholic priesthood, I have had the opportunity to speak with many priests and seminarians about their own unique vocations. Over the years, I have begun to detect a common theme -- a sense of unworthiness. They all tell of a moment of doubt, fear, and even paralysis at the beginning of the journey, due to a looming suspicion that “they can’t do it” or “God’s got the wrong guy,” because “I am not enough.” One seminarian even told me that he delayed the pursuit of Orders for over ten years out of fear of inadequacy.

This is not unique to priests. Married men often speak of the same phenomenon that strikes them soon before the birth of their children; and mothers, when they become awestruck at the task of motherhood, often feel the same. I believe that one of the most common human experiences is the feeling of unworthiness. In the face of responsibility, duty, and even honors, how often do we feel like we are not enough?

I think it probable that this very same all-to-familiar doubt was also churning in the soul of the soon-to-be prophet Jeremiah. The Lord tells the prophet that before he was ever formed in the womb, God knew him, formed him, dedicated him according to a plan known before all creation. It is only after assuring Jeremiah of this fact that the Lord then commands him to “prepare himself.”

The awareness that God has perfectly designed him for the task to which he was called is the only backdrop, the only frame, within which Jeremiah could ever muster the courage he needed to realize his calling. The Lord pleads with Jeremiah to “not be terrified” on account of His commands and tells him: “For I am the one who today makes you a fortified city, a pillar of iron, a wall of bronze.”

Through the prophet Jeremiah, the Lord teaches us an important lesson: when God calls us, it is He, not we, that first provides the necessities. It is God who qualifies us, not we that provide the qualifications. In fact, this providence is the very beginning of God’s call.

The wise artist, craftsman, or architect, before ever setting out to build a structure, first knows the structure’s purpose. Only then, in light of that purpose and with that purpose in clear focus, does he collect materials needed for the task. The craftsman would be a fool if, in aiming to build a firm load-bearing structure, he chose brittle clay or weak straw. The craftsman would be a fool if, in aiming to lay a stable foundation, he chose sand instead of solid rock. Instead, the wise craftsman always chooses the right material for his purpose. Yet even this human craftsman, as wise and skilled as he may be, is always laboring with materials that are not of his own making.

If even these human craftsmen can be trusted with their skill and the materials that they have, how much more can we trust the Divine craftsman who, not only chooses and calls us according to His purpose, but even creates us and provides for us according to His master plan set from all eternity? Does the Divine craftsman not know His material? Is God unaware of the task to which He sets out? If a calling is from God, it is He, and only He, who possesses the power to work out the calling through us.

The Lord is the only solid foundation upon which we may live our unique callings. Only upon Him can we become, like Jeremiah, a pillar of iron, and a wall of bronze. The mystery of our vocations as Christians is buried deep in the mystery of God, and we can never possess the strength needed unless we first possess Him. Brothers and sisters, let us not be afraid but let us take courage…for we are the creation of God.

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

A Cheerful Giver

Filed under: 

Brothers and sisters: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each must do as already determined, without sadness or compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. Moreover, God is able to make every grace abundant for you, so that in all things, always having all you need, you may have an abundance for every good work. As it is written: He scatters abroad, he gives to the poor; his righteousness endures forever. The one who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed and increase the harvest of your righteousness. You are being enriched in every way for all generosity, which through us produces thanksgiving to God. (2 Cor. 9:6-11)

Imagine this scenario: A father of four small children loses his job in an economic down-turn. In that same down-turn, an elderly widow on a fixed income loses her savings when the stock market plummets – savings that those she trusted promised would remain safe. A single mother is told that her only daughter is terminally ill, and the treatment is beyond what she could ever afford. These three individuals meet at Mass on Sunday morning only to hear St. Paul tell them how much “God loves a cheerful giver” and exhorts them to give generously of their recourses.

Our modern world is riddled with uncertainty. Simply no one, no matter how rich or resourceful, is immune from it. Even devout Christians, those who claim that “God is in control,” may find themselves haunted by doubt in their future security. This doubt leads to distrust; distrust leads to fear; fear leads us to spiritual isolation; and spiritual isolation tempts - even Christians - to a posture of protective competition with others, the world, and even with God. In such a world, is it truly possible for a Christian to be generous with joy? Yet this is exactly what St. Paul tells us to be. 

In the Gospels, we find one shining example of a giver whose generosity is praised by our Lord, yet it is a generosity that remained invisible to many. The story of the Woman in the Temple presents a poor woman among the rich elite. She is uncertain and afraid yet, out of her poverty, she still gives all that she has, a mere two coins. Jesus, knowing her gift and her intentions pronounces that she has given more than all the rest.

How can this be?

Jesus is illustrating that Christian generosity is not a matter of quantity, but quality. God in himself is pure gift. He gives out of the overabundance of His being, goodness, and mercy. Although He understands our human condition intimately and intensely, He labors under no economic problem of scarcity and lack. Thus the giving that is most akin to the heart of God is that giving and generosity which emerges from the human heart, not human physical abundance. Although the woman gave until it hurt, she could still be called a “joyful giver” since her giving was likened to the generosity of Christ, who also gave all that He had.

Let us recall what St. Paul teaches us: “God is able to make every grace abundant for you, so that in all things, always having all you need, you may have an abundance for every good work.” The giving that most pleases God is not one of great quantity, as if He somehow benefits from the gift, but rather one of great quality, where our hearts are conformed to His heart, and it is us, not Him, that change through the giving.

Thus, the remedy for worldly fear and uncertainty is also the very mark of Christian giving. This is a quality of loving self-surrender to God that characterizes the “cheerfulness” of joyful generosity. Let us remember that “the one who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will multiply your seed and increase the harvest of your righteousness.

In spite of the unavoidable uncertainties of life, we can always find joy in generosity. We can do this with full confidence that God can supply all of our physical needs.

This is not a call to imprudence, but rather a call to plant our lives in the seedbed of a supernatural hope in God. This hope is the true source of cheerful joy.

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

Seek the Lord While He May Be Found

Filed under: 

The prophet Isaiah tells us to "seek the Lord while He may br found; call upon Him while He is near." It is through a life of repentance and turning from sin that the Lord is sought. St. John Chrysostom teaches us that "it is our lack of penance, not our sins, that offends God the most." The saint understood that the fingerprint of true Christian spirituality is not perfection, but repentance. 

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

First Vows

Filed under: 

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. Clement Lepak, OP's picture

Knights and Dames of Malta

Filed under: 

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

Vestition 2014

Filed under: 

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

Resting for God

Filed under: 

We live in a workaholic culture. Production. Efficiency. Success. Go. And Keep Going. These are the watchwords of our busy society. Jewish and Christian tradition, however, places a high value--as in, it's a commandment--on the centrality of rest, leisure, and worship, for human life. For an observant Jew, to work on the Sabbath Day is equivalent to choosing to go back to slavery in Egypt! The Lord calls Christians too (indeed, he calls all) to rest in Him every Lord's Day. It is a commandment, yes, but one essential for offering worship to God and renewing the vital energies of our soul, mind, and body.  I've given this talk on many occasions--this one was recorded at a Theology on Tap event in Monterey, CA, in February of this year. Enjoy. And REST!

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

Christian Selfies

Filed under: 

During a recent conversation, a fellow Dominican who has spent many years as a preacher and teacher, revealed that he had just learned within the last few days what a “selfie” was. The result? He was horrified! That it was the “Word of the Year” for 2013 only makes it worse.

Being a younger Dominican who has a Facebook account, I, too, have slowly become repulsed by the use of selfies, especially among Christians. With increasing frequency, I see Christians from all walks and states of life (even priests and religious!) use their cameras or smartphones to take and post pictures of themselves. Often these can be taken in good fun simply with the intent of sharing something of their lives with others. However, as the world moves deeper into the information age, we should be ready to ask critical questions about our behavior on the internet. Is this a good thing? How does this affect me? What impact will this have on others?

Part of the normal, ascetic life of a Christian is to be aware of, and reflect upon, the thoughts and motives that prompt our actions. Saint Catherine of Siena writes that we must dwell “in the cell of self-knowledge in order to know better know God’s goodness” (Dialogue, Prologue). Am I angry today because my pride was hurt? Am I praying out loud in order to be noticed by others? Did I say those words out of true charity? Am I friends with these persons merely for pleasure or impure motives?

The Christian begins to live the life of grace when he becomes aware of the inclinations and attachments that lead him to sin and vice, or, at least hinder him in the practice of virtue. The Christian advances in the life of grace when he applies the remedy of spiritual warfare (prayer, fasting, abstinence, almsgiving, the practice of the virtues) and the Sacraments to counter those inclinations and attachments. The Christian perfects the life of grace when he is then free to love God. But when he clings to earthly attachments, such as status, wealth, pleasure, or comfort, the Christian prevents himself from running the race of faith, like a runner whose legs are tied together by a thick and heavy rope, or like a swimmer carrying 50 lb. dumbbells. If we don’t cast off our earthly attachments, then we have not taken the first step of trusting in God, and making him the sole object of all our actions: “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness” (Matthew 6:33).

The Christian who does not scrutinize his thoughts and actions, and fails to purify them in the light of God’s commands, gradually becomes more and more insensitive (unfeeling) towards the life of the soul. Saint John Climacus aptly describes such a Christian in The Ladder of Divine Ascent:

“The insensitive man is a foolish philosopher, an exegete condemned by his own words, a scholar who contradicts himself, a blind man teaching sight to others.

He talks about healing a wound and does not stop making it worse.

He complains about what has happened and does not stop eating what is harmful.

He prays against it but carries on as before, doing it and being angry with himself.

And the wretched man is in no way shamed by his own words. 'I am doing wrong,' he cries, and zealously continues to do so.

His lips pray against it and his body struggles for it.

He talks profoundly about death and acts as if he will never die.

He groans over the separation of soul and body, and yet lives in a state of somnolence as if he were eternal.

He has plenty to say about self-control and fights for a gourmet life.

He reads about the judgment and begins to smile, about vainglory and is vainglorious while he is reading.

He recites what he has learnt about keeping vigil, and at once drops off to sleep.

Prayer he extols, and runs from it as if from a plague.

Blessings he showers on obedience, and is the first to disobey” (XVIII)

So what about selfies? If we consider the action of taking a picture of oneself, and posting it online for others to see, we can recognize rather quickly that serious spiritual risks are involved. The first and greatest risk is vanity or vainglory. Vainglory seeks pleasure in considering what others think about us, or in our own self-estimation. This pernicious vice has been long considered one of the most difficult to combat. Cassian writes, "The other vices and disturbances are known to be uniform and simple, but this one [vainglory] is multifarious, multiform, and varied, and it engages the one fighting it on all sides and its conqueror from every angle. It seeks to wound the solider of Christ in dress and in appearance, in bearing, in speech, in work, in vigils, in fasts, in prayer, in reclusion, in reading, in knowledge, in silences, in obedience, in humility and in long-suffering. Like a very dangerous rock submerged under swelling waves, it threatens with unforeseen and miserable shipwreck those who sail with a favorable wind, so long as no care is taken and no foresight is exercised” (Institutes, XI).

But what is the danger in having a good self-image, or self-esteem? What is wrong with receiving affirmation? The spiritual danger is that vainglory leads, inevitably, to pride. By trusting in ourselves, in our appearances, talents, gifts, or opinions, we push God aside and, like Lucifer, we learn to say “I will not serve”, since we are sufficient of ourselves for happiness: “Though, while he lives, he counts himself happy, and though a man gets praise when he does well for himself, he will go to the generation of his fathers, who will never more see the light. Man cannot abide in his pomp, he is like the beasts that perish” (Psalm 49:18-20). If our trust and delight is in our selfies, then it is not in the God who has the power to ransom our life from death (cf. Psalm 49:7-9). As Bishop Ignatius Brianchaninov notes in the classic Arena, “the desire to convey to the bystanders one’s own feelings is a sign of vanity and pride” (Rule 20).

Another spiritual danger that can be both a cause and a result of selfies is despair. Despair is the lack of hope in God’s justice and mercy, his power and love. If we have fallen into vanity or pride, then ultimately our hope rests in our self. If our hope is in our self, then ultimately we are without hope. If we define ourselves by how we look, what others think of us, or what our abilities are, then we are standing on the thin, rapidly melting, ice of despair; for appearances fade, opinions change, talents diminish. Like gasping fish out of water, those with vanity-turned-to-despair gasp for any affirmation of their existence, any glimmer of recognition that reassures them of their existence, no matter how futile it has become. Selfies can be such a gasp, such a futile reaching out. However, with the way that despair works, such acts of despair only allow despair to grow all the more, in a circle of self-defeating misery.

So where does the Christian stand on selfies? We must look at our intentions, we must enter the cell of self-knowledge and purify our hearts of worldly attachments. If they are taken out of vanity, pride, or despair, then they are obviously evil, and can only hinder our progress in the spiritual life. A quick sign to see whether or not we are taking selfies for good motives is the freedom to stop. If we feel that it would be difficult to stop taking such photos, then it is a sign that we have grown attached to them, and have fallen under the sway of vanity. Again, Climacus notes that, “if a man thinks himself immune to the allurement of something and yet grieves over its loss, he is only fooling himself” (Ladder, II). The Christian making progress as a son of God is marked by increasing freedom to do good, to pray, to be in the presence of God, and to reject temptations. If we are not free, if we are attached to selfies and would find it difficult to stop posting them, then it is a sign that we are still in spiritual infancy. And if we do not recognize the harm in vanity, pride, or despair, then, even worse, our spiritual birth has become stillborn.