Browse by Topic: Vows

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


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Speak to any religious and they will consistently tell you that obedience is the most difficult of all of the vows. I know that every time I've said this the questioner has always been dumbfounded. They always expect me to say that celibacy is the most difficult of all the vows. But, it just isn't true. Don't get me wrong, celibacy is hard. Poverty is hard. They can be a daily struggle. However, obedience is a struggle every moment of the day.
Why is this? I think it's because obedience goes against the fundamental "virtue" of the modern era: radical self-autonomy. It's completely understandable that this sort of autonomy is thought of as the most prized virtue of human life. We are the sort of creatures that can freely choose. This freedom is bound up with the very dignity that we posses as human persons. The ability to assert our will is what allows us to love. But, obedience is the free choice to lay aside that autonomy. It is not, however, a choice against love.
From the very moment we profess our first vows, we make a radical choice to place our wills in the hands of another. These others are our superiors, our constitutions, the Church, and the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. Even the practice of deferring to the preference of a brother is a sort of obedience. This is no easy task for a group of men who come from a culture that values autonomy above other virtues. Professing the vow of obedience is subversive to our cultural and, to some degree, the American ethos.
Obedience isn't simply doing what you're told. That's too legalistic. The truly obedient person seeks to be obedient. He desires to be obedient. Contrary to this is the old saying, "it's easier to ask forgiveness then to ask permission." This is the opposite of obedience. In its place, the obedient person says, "it's good to ask permission so I don't have to ask forgiveness."
What's good is not often the same as what is easy.
Why would anyone do this? Why choose obedience? The reality is, everybody has to be obedient to somebody. You might be obedienct to your boss, your wife or husband, the government, whomever. Often times these can be begrudging forms of obedience. Obedience in some of these situations only exists because the other person or institution has great power and authority over you. They can compel your obedience. This isn't the case with Religious Life. Every single one of us has freely chosen to vow obedience. This choice is a great act of love. Likewise, when a superior receives the obedience of the brothers, that reception of obedience is also a great act of love. Both the superior and the subordinate are taking a great risk. Vowing obedience and receiving obedience risk the possibility of setting up a battle of wills.
There is nothing in our modern form of Religious Life that compels the individual brother to obey his superior. The brother must want to be obedient. In this way, obedience becomes an act of charity toward the superior. This concept is nothing new. The Rule of St. Augustine says pretty much the same thing. The difference is the contemporary concerns, the contemporary culture. Simply put, we must learn to ask before we act. We must trust our superiors with our hearts.
Perhaps coming from a society where there is an over 50% divorce rate contributes to the difficulty of being obedient. The younger generation of Religious is accustomed to those entrusted with our care violating trust. As a result they've built coping methods that are contradictory to the practice of obedience. When you grow up in a society where you can't trust people to be faithful, it's very difficult to build that disposition of trust when you're an adult. You are forced, by circumstance, to become independent and radically self-reliant.
Yet the fact remains the same. Those of us who've entered into religious life have freely vowed obedience. We saw something compelling in such a way of life. And it's a beautiful life. To be able to trust another with determining what is good for you is awesome. You discover that there are people who have your greatest good in mind when they make decisions. You wake up each day realizing that you are loved. It empowers you to act with love every moment of every day. The only answer to the lack of fidelity we experience in our culture is obedience. It is both our privilege and pleasure to break the cycle of mistrust and venture forward into a better society where love abounds in real concrete ways.
Br. Peter Junipero Hannah, O.P.'s picture

The Will of the Father

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Baptism of ChristLast weekend was our vocations weekend at St. Albert's Priory.  15 men joined us to discern, and I gave the evening Vespers reflection/preaching on Saturday night.  In the context of God's Divine Fatherhood, the theme I broach here is vocational discernment, especially certain tendencies today towards making it overly introspective.  (This book written by a Dominican a number of years ago covers the subject in more depth.)  Prayer, self-examination and reflection, spiritual direction, and seeking God's promptings on your heart, are all necessary and good parts of discernment.  At the end of the day, though, God has already given each of us the grace to decide to follow him completely, whether with another in married life, or according to a particular charism in religious life.  Contact Fr. Steve Maekawa, O.P., our vocation director, for more information on the Dominican charism and the Western Province.

Br. Michael James Rivera, O.P.'s picture

First Profession

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Brothers Andrew Opsahl, OP, Cody Jorgensen, OP, Andrew Dominic Yang, OP, and Thomas Aquinas Pickett, OP (left to right)

On September 1, four brothers of the Western Dominican Province finished their novitiate and professed simple vows, thus beginning their years of formation as student brothers at St. Albert's Priory. During the Mass, Fr. Mark Padrez, OP, Prior Provinical of the Most Holy Name of Jesus, focused his remarks on the Parable of the Talents, found in the Gospel of Matthew (25:14-30). His homily is included here...

Brothers Thomas, Cody, Andy and Andrew:

Last year before you received the habit I asked you if you were afraid. Some of you nodded yes. In return I said "good." I want to go back to that theme of fear as you prepare to make profession, because it is good to be fearful, but perhaps not as you or others may think.

We must begin today with the parable of the talents in the Gospel. At the time of Jesus a talent was a very valuable unit of money. Today’s equivalent in value would be somewhere around $100,000. You see now that in today’s Gospel Christ was talking about considerable investments. The third servant, out of fear, was unwilling to invest what his master had put into his charge.

Fear is a significant force in our lives. Many of us make decisions on the basis of fear, most of which turn out to be bad decisions, bringing bad results; but we must realize that there are different kinds of fear. In the Church we speak of “fear of the Lord” and in the Old Testament we find that, "The beginning of wisdom is fear of the Lord" (Proverbs 9:10).

So what is the difference between the fear found in the third servant, and “the fear of the Lord” found in the Book of Proverbs? The difference, according to Saint Thomas Aquinas, is that fear of the Lord is reverential. The phrase “fear of the Lord” speaks of the awe and reverence that we should have when we think of ourselves in relationship to God the Father. Awe and reverence lead us to make decisions that are courageous, filled with goodness, and that are life enhancing. Awe and reverence of God encourages us to be risk takers, to make risk investments by sharing what we have with others.

God gives us talents and has invested Himself in us, in order that we, along with Him, can build up and enhance the lives of those around us. This is a major theme that runs throughout the Old Testament, which over and over again calls on God’s people to care for the widow, the orphan, the alien, the oppressed, the poor, and to tell the good news of God's holy presence among and with His people.

Christ repeatedly brings that call from God to us, putting His very own life on the line, calling on us to be likewise: self-sacrificing, self-giving, and to employ our gifts and talents to benefit others; even to sacrifice our lives for the sake of others. God our Father, He reminds us, has given us what we have, not just for our own sakes but also for the sake of other.

The phrase “fear of the Lord” brings us to the realization that God has expectations of us, and to acknowledge and respect those expectations. That is healthy fear, and this fear is essential as you begin your professed life with us.

Doesn’t it strike you that the parables of Jesus, which center on farming, fishing and business activities, all involve risk–taking? Remember the man who found the pearl of great price and then risked all of his net worth to acquire it? Remember the fishing episodes when Jesus asked Peter to throw out his nets yet again, even though he had gone through the whole night without catching a single fish?

The problem we face is that our hearts and souls are too often filled with an emotional fear, a negative fear that causes us not to act, that leads us into a selfish gathering of things that we keep only for ourselves. It is a paralyzing fear that leads us to be like turtles hiding inside a thick outer shell that prevents us from loving others, that keeps others at a distance, and that isolates in a self-imposed hell of loneliness. 

Do we want to find love in our lives? Then we must take risks and make risk capital investments in others. As Dominicans we do this by preaching. Do we want to find happiness in our lives? Then we must take risks and make risk capital investments in others. As Dominicans we do this by teaching. Do we want to find meaning in our lives? Then we must take risks and make risk capital investments in others. As Dominicans we do this by living out the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity, and obedience in community.

The profession you make today is to be made with “fear of the Lord." Through your profession you are placing yourselves in the hands of the Lord, and He will use your talents to make known not only His love for you, but also His love for others through your preaching and teaching. Thus you are taking a risk today, but not a risk in which you measure the probability of gain, something that becomes an end in itself. No, by your profession you are taking a risk in allowing the Lord to lead and guide you to a place you do not know, where you will use your gifts to bring His love, His Mercy, His wisdom, and His compassion to those most in need.

Through Jesus Christ, God our Father has given you enormous treasures and talents.

Brother Thomas, the good Lord has blessed you with an intellectual curiosity. Take the risk and bring the truth of God’s love to those who desire to learn of His love, but do not know where to begin.

Brother Cody, you have the gift in which you easily engage others. Use that gift and welcome into the Church those who may feel unwelcomed. Show them God’s mercy.

Brother Andy, you have been blessed with an artistic eye. Take a risk by sharing the presence and beauty of the Father’s love reflected in the visual arts, music, and yes, even in the dramatic arts.

Brother Andrew, you have the gift of practical wisdom. Take the risk to lead in building up the Kingdom of God, with those who despair and wonder if God is present in our world.

All four of you have powerful currency, the powers that God has given you. We need to understand that Christ is interested in your productivity, in doing God’s will and risking what He has given you, to love as He loves. He isn’t looking for passive, dependent persons to follow Him as His stewards here on earth. He wants, rather, risk-takers who are willing to be His followers, people of courage and daring -- who will enliven His Church.

Christianity without courage is Christianity without blood and spirit. God encourages us to jump into life and to run the risk of growing, by relating to and caring for others. It doesn't take courage to hide out in fear, but it does take courage to risk something new, and today you embark on taking that risk.

Br. Michael James Rivera, O.P.'s picture

A Letter from the Studentate

Dear Friends and Loyal Readers,

On behalf of the studentate, I must apologize for our lack of posts over the last few weeks. The month of May is typically very busy at St. Albert's, as we begin writing papers and studying extra hard for our final exams. Now that the semester is over, we should get back to our usual schedule of one or two posts a week.

In the meantime, let me give you a little update as to what has happened in the last month...

1) Towards the end of April we celebrated the Solemn Profession of Br. Corwin Saxon Low, O.P., and Br. Peter Junipero Hannah, O.P. In the beautful liturgy on April 28 at St. Dominic's in San Francisco, our brothers made a vow obedience until death into the hands of Fr. Mark Padrez, O.P., Prior Provincial of the Province of the Most Holy Name of Jesus.

2) A few weeks later, on May 7, I had the privilege of helping to light the consecration candles in our chapel as we commemorated the dedication of the chapel by Archbishop Mitty many years ago. The readings and prayers for the day are some of my favorites, since they remind us that the churches in which we pray should be beautiful signs of the presensce of God in our midst.

3) On Mother's Day a number of us traveled to Corpus Christ Monastery in Menlo Park, to be present at the simple profession of Sister Mary Isabel of the Angels, O.P., one of our cloistered nuns. During the Mass Sister Mary Isabel received a black veil, in place of the white one she wore as a novice, and was honored for her willingness to give her life in prayer to the Lord. Sister Mary Isabel is a prayer partner to many of the brothers in formation, and constantly offers spiritual bouquets on their behalf.

Sister Mary Isabel receives her new veil from Fr. Mark Padrez, O.P.

4) The Vigil of Pentecost was especially exciting for all of this year, since it was on this day that our brother Emmanuel Francis Taylor, O.P., was ordained to the priesthood. Fr. Emmanuel has been preparing for this day for many years, and it was a blessing to see the joy on his face as he was vested in his chasuble and his hands were anointed with sacred chrism. Hopefully we'll have some pictures up soon, so be sure to visit our site again.

And when you do, you'll also find some posts from our brothers regarding their summer assignments. A few of us will be in Clinical Pastoral Education programs, while others will be living and working with our communities in Portland and McKenzie Bridge, OR, Seattle, Antioch and Eagle Rock, CA, and Las Vegas.


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

"Vocation Boom" Interview

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I was interviewed recently by Jerry Usher, host of the radio program “VocationBoom!,” which airs on various Catholic radio stations throughout the country.  As a Dominican friar now in my fifth year of student formation, I have begun to lose track of the number of times I have “told my vocation story.”  Yet if someone asks, I never tire of it.  I have given longer talks of half-hour or more.  I have given shorter ten minute versions.  And then of course there is the person you meet at a party or reception of some sort who wants to know “how you became a Dominican,” and you need to come up with something to capture your vocation in about 2 or 3 minutes!


The truth is no amount of time is enough, since God’s ways are infinitely mysterious and intricately woven into the very details of our lives – each one of our lives is more than we can possibly begin to understand; but, on the other hand, any amount of time works since the only explanation for any vocation is grace, and that grace can become apparent even in the most humble and simple events in our lives.  I ran out of time on the show here to share more of my journey into the Catholic Church specifically, which was a simultaneous intellectual and spiritual journey while in graduate school.  Intellectually I came more and more to be persuaded by the depth, beauty, coherence, and truth of Catholic theology; spiritually I was drawn more and more deeply into the mystery of the Mass, and the way Jesus Christ is truly present in his sacred body, blood, soul, and divinity, in the Eucharist.  In any case, I was glad to give some time to Jerry Usher and his show, and hope what I did have time to share can in some small way give encouragement to all interested souls.

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

The Foolish Necessity of the Gospel

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Preached at Vespers, Feb 2nd, 2012, St. Albert's Priory

For if I preach the gospel, that gives me no ground for boasting.  For necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!  For if I do this of my own will, I have a reward; but if not of my own will, I am entrusted with a commission.  What then is my reward? Just this: that in my preaching I may make the gospel free of charge, not making full use of my right in the gospel.  For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all, that I might win the more.  To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak.  I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.  I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.”

With less than three months to go until I make solemn profession in the Order of Preachers, I have a confession to make.  I have no idea what I am doing.  I do not know and cannot explain the paths my life took which led me to enter the novitiate of the Western Province in 2006.  I do not know and cannot explain why I, among pretty much all my friends and companions in the world, was given a particular experience of Our Lord that led me to abandon otherwise normal pursuits, and desire to renounce marriage, property, and that self-determining path which the vow of obedience undercuts.  I do not know and cannot explain why I, after joining the Western Province, have been given the grace to pesevere until now.  And yet, here I am.  And it is worth it.

We are all by now familiar with the famous Via Negativa of St. Thomas Aquinas, which he appropriates from Pseudo-Dionysius.  The Mystery of God’s Character is so far-reaching and beyond anything we could come up with in our finite little heads, that even our accurate and true ideas of Him fall infinitely short of the full reality.  As with God, similarly with God’s wise Providence, which has overseen and guided and fashioned the course of history, and each of our very lives, up until this day.  We can, as it were, observe the effects of Providence, but its inner-workings remain a sublime mystery. 

Each of us in our own vocations may have encountered great difficulties: difficulties in our prayer life, difficulties in our life of study, difficulties in learning the art of preaching or in doggedly sticking to some ministry while it stretches us so thin we begin to run on fumes; difficulties too in common life, where our personal temperaments and habits mix together in the cauldron of every other man called to this life, sometimes with various boiling and steaming effects.  Yet for all this, here we are.  Why?

To ordinary human eyes – I confess, to myself, apart from faith – this way of life contains a good deal of absurdity: we give up marriage, property, and ordinary human pursuits to dress in white robes, sing together several times a day, study abstract philosophy and theology from centuries past, and have as our mission telling the world about a Divine Human Being who walked on earth a long time ago but wants to be in relationship with us today.  He is invisible but we claim to be able to speak to him, even on a daily basis; he is still around today but he looks like bread, which we all eat in a daily ritual service.  This picture, to eyes without faith, is absurd;  it is also what St. Paul calls the foolishness of the Cross; and each of our vocations shares to some extent in this foolishness; the vital thread is that underneath the appearance of this foolishness lies the very power and mystery of God; for which it is worth sacrificing everything.

The mystery of Christian vocation, and perhaps in a special way a vocation to the Order of Preachers, indeed finds its archetype in the the Great Apostle Paul’s vocation.  We may have come into the Order for any number of various reasons, some more or less exciting, some more or less noble: yet each of us somehow has felt in the depths of his conscience and life with God the urgency and necessity of preaching: “Necessity is laid upon me,” says St. Paul, “Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel.”  The first and greatest missionary of the Church felt himself to be simultaneously a slave to Christ Jesus and slave to all men: the one giving him his commission to preach after encountering him on the road to Damascus and rooting him in the Christian community, the others, those to whom Paul is sent, Paul feels an obligation of debt so strong he is willing to throw off and renounce anything and everything that gets in the way of bringing the truth and power of the Gospel to them.  “To the Jews I became as  a Jew, in order to win Jews...To those outside the law (i.e. Gentiles) I became as one outside the law to win them. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak.  I became all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.”

Paul’s language in our reading today is charged with his characteristic emotional intensity.  The grammar of the passage actually breaks up at points in the Greek, revealing his hard-to-control enthusiasm for spreading the gospel.  “Necessity” is laid upon him.  He is a “slave”; he works “free of charge”; he “renounces his ordinary rights” to comfort and pay.  And what is his reward?  Simply, he tells us, that he is able to preach, since he knows God the Lord saves souls through him.

My Domican brothers, whatever precise path the Lord has paved to see each of us here at this moment, we too share in the foolishness and the glory of the Cross of Christ which St. Paul knew so well.  I personally have no ultimate explanation for why I am here other than the mystery of the grace of God in my life; I could point to any number of books I read, people I met, experiences I had, but somehow they would all be insufficient.  In the end, the only sufficient answer is the grace, the sheer grace, of our God.  And maybe it’s a good thing that that is the only explanation I, or we, can ultimately give.  In any case, like St. Paul, we friars preachers are also “charged with a commission”: the reward of this commission is not that we live comfortable and easy lives, not that we are accepted and praised by the world and by people, not even – dare I say to the student brothers, including myself – that we get a class and formation schedule exactly to our liking; our only ultimate reward for the commission, the only ultimate consolation we’ve been given is, of course, that we have served and labored well for the Father, who desires to save souls through us.  For that, it is worth sacrificing everything.

Pope Honorius III’s letter to St. Dominic in 1221 at the founding of the order rings as true down the centuries for us here now as it did in the 13th century to St. Dominic and his band of early preachers.  We may envision afresh our fundamental identity in the picture Honorius paints, a picture St. Paul would have been quite pleased with:

“He who never ceases to make his church fruitful through new offspring wishes to make these modern times the equal of former days and to spread the Catholic faith. So he inspired you with a holy desire to embrace poverty, profess the regular life and commit yourselves to the proclamation of the word of God, preaching everywhere the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

In God’s ineffable and wonderful Providence we too have been called to do just this; I, none of us, at a certain point, can fully grasp why God has chosen us for this task; yet he has, and here we are: “Necessity is,” as it were, “laid upon us,” in our hearts and in our minds by the power of the Holy Spirit: “Woe to us if we do not preach the Gospel!” Countless blessings in God our Father and his Son Jesus Christ as together we do.

Br. Michael James Rivera, O.P.'s picture

Celebrating the World Day for Consecrated Life

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Shortly after I began my discernment with the Dominicans, I found a prayer for vocations that I started using everyday. It begins,

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, in whom the fullness of divinity dwells: You call all the baptized to put out into the deep, taking that path that leads to holiness. Awaken in the hearts of young people the desire to be witnesses in the world, to the power of your love…

In the last eight years I’ve shared this prayer with many people: those discerning their own vocation, and those praying for vocations to the priesthood and religious life. This past weekend, while celebrating the World Day for Consecrated Life (February 5), I began to reflect on how this prayer has affected me.

You call all the baptized to put out into the deep, taking the path that leads to holiness.

In the Gospel of Luke, we first hear this phrase “put out into the deep,” when Jesus meets Simon Peter, who has been fishing all night without catching a thing. Jesus gets into his boat and, after teaching the people, tells him, “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” Surprisingly, after a night without sleep and nothing to show for it, Simon Peter doesn’t respond in anger as one might expect -- upset that a preacher was telling him how to do his job as a fisherman. Instead he says, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your words I will let down the nets.” His answer is a reminder that what Christ calls us to do is not always easy or enjoyable. Very often the path God leads us down will be filled with stumbling blocks, not to punish us, but to help us grow in holiness. Such is the case in my life as a religious. Sometimes it’s difficult to live in community, to put other people before yourself. Although challenging, the experience of finding a middle ground and truly considering a brother’s will before my own has helped me to grow in charity.  

Awaken in the hearts of young people the desire to be witnesses in the world, to the power of your love.

Many people today do not understand what consecrated life is all about. They see our profession of vows and our living out of the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity, and obedience as strange and antiquated. This is not surprising in a world that has become increasingly secularized and puts more and more value on money, sex, and power. This misconception, often held by those who are not Catholic, doesn’t bother me as much as the belief that one becomes a priest or religious simply for the sake of the Church’s apostolic work. While the Church’s mission is important, a young man or woman’s consecration as a religious is not about utility, but about being in love with God and being a witness to the power of that love. The Church teaches that “the contemplation of divine things, and an assiduous union with God is the first and principal duty of all religious” (Canon 663). It is my hope that one day people will realize that I am not a brother because of what I get to do, but because it is who I am called to be.

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

Proud to Be a Dominican

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Br. Brad's first vows.

Presently, I have completed the first semester of my first year as a student Brother at St. Albert’s priory, last year being my novitiate year. It is hard for me to believe that a year and a half has past since I entered the order. This has only recently come to the forefront of my consciousness due to the home visit that I and the other student friars just enjoyed. Every year, after the Christmas day liturgies are through and the academic term is fully at rest, the brothers are afforded two weeks to leave the nest of the studentate and visit family and maintain established relationships with friends. But this being my first year in vows, it had been over a year since I had seen my family, and the visit provided for me an opportunity for reflection that I have not had since entering the order.

I have titled this entry, “Proud to be a Dominican”, since this was precisely the blessing of the visit. I had forgotten, in the day-to-day humdrum of academics, how blessed I am to be here at St. Albert's Priory and how proud I am to be in the Dominican Order. But first, what could this sense of “pride” mean? Isn’t that somewhat oxymoronic? Isn’t the religious life supposed to be a school of humility? Isn’t saying “proud to be a Dominican” like saying “proud humility” or “humble pride”? No, I do not think it is. Once again the sword of good Thomistic training must be pulled from its sheath and the correct distinctions must be made.

A man can be proud because he is enamored with himself, focused exclusively on his own goodness and blush at the thought of his own great deeds. This pride is largely self-focused. Certainly, in the past, I have felt this way about many of my accomplishments; I would be suspicious of anyone who claimed that they had not. But this is not the good pride that I am talking about here and it is precisely because I have succumbed to this self-focused pride in the past that I now clearly see the distinction. Indeed, the two experiences, one of the self-focused pride and the other of the good pride, are wholly opposed to each other.

When a man claims to be proud of his family, proud of his alma mater, proud of his country or proud of his church, he is speaking of a pride that is not self-focused but focused on another. Indeed he feels a sense of greatness, but it is not a sense of his own greatness; it is a sense of being a part of something greater than himself; it is the greatness of the other that swells his heart. This is a pride that draws a man out of himself and towards something great. Since he is focused on an ideal, a goal, or a vision that is beyond him, he is called by this pride to do greater things, more virtuous things, and more courageous things, things that he otherwise would never be inspired to do of it was not for this pride. This is precisely the pride that I feel about being in the Dominican Order. I am part of an order that is older than I, larger than I; its mission, to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ, existed long before I was born and will continue long after I die. I am both proud and humbled to be a part of something so great.

This is what St. Thomas Aquinas calls the virtue of Magnanimity and it is indeed a long forgotten virtue in our time. I was reminded, after reflecting on this experience, of the words of Joseph Pieper describing this virtue:

“Magnanimity, a much-forgotten virtue, is the aspiration of the spirit to great things, extensio ad magna. A person is magnanimous if he has the courage to seek what is great and becomes worthy of it. This virtue has its roots in a firm confidence in the highest possibilities of that human nature that God did "marvelously ennoble and has still more marvelously renewed" (Roman Missal). Thus magnanimity incorporates into itself the aspiration of natural hope and stamps it according to the truth of man's own nature. Magnanimity, as both Thomas and Aristotle tell us, is "the jewel of all the virtues", since it always-- and particularly in ethical matters-- decides in favor of what is, at any given moment, the greater possibility of the human potentiality for being.”      Josef Pieper, On Hope (Ignatius Press, 1986 [1977]), p. 28.  

To come back to an earlier question, is saying, “I am proud to be a religious” a contradiction like saying “proud humility” or “humble pride”? No, it is not a contradiction at all. There IS indeed a type of pride that a man can feel and grow in humility at the same time, this is precisely the “humble pride” that I felt during my home visit when I was overwhelmed by gratitude in the face of the sheer awesomeness of God’s call, that He would call me, insignificant man that I am, to be part of something as great as the “holy preaching” of the Dominican order.

I pray that my brothers and I can live up to such a great call. Since we are each a part of something so much greater than ourselves, we need each other; we cannot live up to this call on our own. All Dominican Saints… pray for us.

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

Bound for Freedom

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In a world which so values freedom, the average person may find it odd, incomprehensible even, that a person would root his life in a vow of obedience. Isn’t that precisely the opposite of freedom? Doesn’t such a “binding” of the will necessarily reduce our freedom, our humanity?

I think of this having recently witnessed the solemn vows of two of our brothers, Brs. Ambrose and Dominic David. Afterward, the Master of the Order, Fr. Bruno Cadoré, who received their vows, spoke with all of the student brothers and made the comment that the most important event in the life of a Dominican Friar, even greater than his ordination, is his solemn profession: this is what unites us with the Order and makes our life possible. Thus the mission of the Order of Preachers depends upon this vow, this commitment to the Order and to one another. In order to be most free to contemplate God and share the fruits of this contemplation, a friar must first bind his will to the Order.

But this paradox runs deeper: all freedom, I would propose, depends upon a certain necessity for its very possibility. Freedom requires necessity, a certain binding of the will. St. Thomas Aquinas, in discussing the freedom of the will, notes that a certain type of necessity is required for the will: not the necessity of coercion, nor the necessity of material construction or motion, but a necessity of end: “For what befits a thing naturally and immovably must be the root and principle of all else appertaining thereto, since the nature of a thing is the first in everything, and every movement arises from something immovable” (Summa Theologica I.82.1c). And so “necessity of end is not repugnant to the will”, and “natural necessity does not take away the liberty of the will.”

Thus the goal of our lives, of our will, is fixed: we are “wired”, so to speak, for the Universal Good, or Ultimate Happiness: in a word, God. We cannot avoid seeking God in everything we do, even if we fail to realize it, and even when we do so in a disordered way (i.e., sin). Thus, there is a sense in which our will is “bound” to God by its very nature; and it is this “binding” of the will which makes our freedom possible at all. We need to be directed toward something in order to be free. Otherwise, we are mere slaves of arbitrariness and chance. So purpose, a directedness towards the ultimate goal, is what makes freedom possible.

The Dominican vow of obedience, then, is analogous to something we find in nature: a fixed orientation of the human will leading us to God. For the Dominican, we "fix" our will by an incorporation into a community which prays, studies, lives together, and preaches; it is an orientation which arises by binding our will to God, to Mary, St. Dominic, our rule, our constitutions, and our superiors – an orientation by which we, and others, might be more free to reach our true end, Ultimate Happiness, God Himself. Thus, we are bound for freedom.