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Lenten Reflections from Br. Andy

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Br. Andy Opsahl, OP

As some of you may know, part of our formation as Dominicans involves spending a year at one of our ministry houses around the Province, gaining new experiences in Dominican life and service. This year we have four brothers on residency. One of them, Br. Andy Opsahl, O.P., is right across the bay at St. Dominic's Church in San Francisco. Lately he's been providing some reflections on the meaning and purpose of Lent on St. Dominic's blog, offering insightful analogies and ways of approaching this penitential season. Check out his latest posts:

You can read all of his posts here. For those in the Bay Area, he also will be giving a talk for the "Friends in Christ" group on Thursday, March 19th at 7pm in the parish hall at St. Dominic Church, on "Five Steps to Becoming a Happier Christian." You can read more about the event by clicking here.

Please keep all of our residency brothers in your prayers, that they may continue to grow as faithful servants of our Lord and preachers of the Gospel, bringing many souls closer to Christ!

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

Run so as to win!

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While all the runners in the stadium take part in the race, the award goes to one man.
In that case, run so as to win! Athletes deny themselves all sorts of things.
They do this to win a crown of leaves that withers, but we a crown that is imperishable. (1 Cor 9:24-25)

"Run so as to win..."I ran cross country and track throughout college. All four years of college we had 6am practices. We had to learn to be disciplined: watching what we ate, how late we stayed up, how much we went out. If not, we could easily get hurt, or – even worse – slow! In the end, after 10 years of races in total, I had collected a small box worth of trophies, ribbons, and plaques. Although I never won a laurel wreath, this trophy box is now sitting in some closet at my parents’ house, collecting dust.

In addition to my own running, I zealously followed the international track, cross country, and road racing circuits. At that time the Kenyans dominated the distance running world, and so I followed the Kenyans. I was amazed at how effortless they often made running look. It was art, it was beauty, it was poetry in motion. They have some natural advantages -- they tend to be very slender, and they live at altitude -- but I’d say that their true advantage lies between the ears. The “secret” of their success is their relentless single-mindedness. Here in the Unites States, runners have to make time to train before and/or after school or work. The Kenyans go to extended, isolated training camps; no family, no job, no friends to distract them. They eat a very basic diet. They train in large groups, and these groups are made up of the best runners in the world, with each runner trying to prove that he is the fastest one there. A race can break out at any time. These camps have a very high drop-out rate, as there is no room for mediocrity. Bernard Barmasai, the former world record holder in the steeplechase, would train four times per day: an easy run in the morning, then intervals before lunch, then a tempo run in the afternoon, before closing out the day with a long run in the early evening – that’s a week’s worth of workouts for most people!

They do this because their focus is not on a withering crown of leaves, but something more important. The average income in Kenya was just over $1000 per year back in the mid-90s. Elite runners can earn over 100 times that for a single race, but even second-tier runners could earn 10 times that much in a summer of European racing. They ran to make money in order to support their families, and to support their futures. They would use their winnings to buy farmland back in Kenya, or to build a house. The Boston Marathon winner a few years ago announced he was looking forward to buying some cows. Younger Kenyans have also increasingly come to the United States to compete collegiately, as their running skills have netted them scholarships. They then return home afterwards with degrees in their pockets, often in business, political science, or agriculture. When I ran, it was a hobby and so the “crown” I pursued has faded. The Kenyans tend to run to improve their lives, and their crowns last a bit longer, but are still oriented towards this life, and so, they too, will eventually fade.

The questions we Christians must ask: What is the crown we desire? What are we aiming at? Now that Lent has begun, what is the purpose of our penitential practices? What do we desire from them? Do we mortify ourselves out of pride, or humility? Or to say – to ourselves or to others – simply that we’ve done them? Or do we do them for higher purposes? Does our fasting remind us of our hunger for God? Do we give alms from our surplus, or do we give “until it hurts," until it affects our lifestyle? Do we spend a lot of time online or in front of the TV, or do we spend it in prayer and in conversation with Jesus? In the end, we each get the crown we deserve: either withering or lasting, rusty or glorious, material or spiritual, faded or eternal.

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

Theology in Paint

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In the medieval convent of San Marco in Florence lived one of the Dominican Order's greatest evangelists. He was not a master of the spoken word, an expounder of sacred scripture, nor an expert rhetorician; rather he was a simple artist. This friar was none other than Blessed Fra Angelico, who was able to craft images that both illustrated profound theological themes while also raising the mind to the sublime contemplation of God. Below is the second video in the DSPT Lenten reflection series in which Fr. Michael Morris, O.P., reflects upon one of Fra Angelico's most famous images of St. Dominic at the foot of the cross. Check it out and have a blessed Lent.

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. 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. 

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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. Kevin Andrew, O.P.'s picture

The New Jerusalem

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According to the Book of Revelation, nothing profane shall enter the kingdom of Heaven. If so, how can we ever hope to enter? By the grace of Jesus.

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

You Only Live Once

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In his letter to the Philippians, St. Paul "chooses" life over death, because he -- and we -- may be of service to others while alive.

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