Topic: Common Life

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

A Summer of Dispersion: On Wandering and Resting

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St. Dominic's dispersion of the brethren.It is often reported how St. Dominic, in the early days of the Order, dispersed his small group of newly-formed friars from the house in Prouille, France, sending them to university centers throughout Europe, in view of the missionary and universal vision which he had for the Order. This summer, all of the student brothers of our province have experienced something analogous, with the student master having sent us all out of St. Albert's to live in various Dominican communities throughout our province. This “summer of dispersion,” if we can call it that, is providing each of us with a chance to live for a few months in one of our smaller communities and experience life away from St. Albert's in a more ministerial setting.

Some of the brothers, in fact, are spending the summer enrolled in Clinical Pastoral Education – a hospital chaplaincy training program. Hopefully some of them will share a bit about their experience of this on the blog soon. And there are four brothers – Br. Richard, Br. Christopher, myself (Br. Chris), and Br. Tuan (with the Canadian Vietnamese vicariate) – who have begun or will soon begin a year-long “residency year” in which we live in one of our smaller communities for an entire year to gain more ministerial experience and to aid in our formation and discernment with the Province.

For my part, I have recently moved into Holy Rosary Priory in Portland, OR, for my residency year. Last Monday, after having completely moved out of my room at St. Albert's and shipping a number of my books to Portland, I drove straight from Oakland to Portland (which took about ten hours). I spent a bit of the week's remainder unpacking and settling in to my new, temporary home. Fr. Gregory Tatum, who is staying here at Holy Rosary for the month of July, was kind enough to give me a brief tour of a few parts of the city later that week – but as this is only the second time I have ever been to Portland, I'm still a bit unfamiliar with it and need to explore it a bit more.

In any case, this whole experience of moving out of one place and traveling to a new location is one that can feel both jarring and exhilarating – and is something Dominican friars must learn to accept; our Order began, after all, as a group of itinerant preachers. Thus this life requires a sort of detachment from any particular location, a willingness to uproot oneself and travel for sake of the Order's mission, for the sake of the Gospel.

I am reminded by this of a short conversation between a scribe and Jesus in the gospels: “And one scribe, approaching, said to him, 'Teacher, I will follow you wherever you will go.' And Jesus said to him, 'Foxes have dens, and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of man has nowhere to rest his head'” (Matt 8:19-20). There is a sense, indeed, in which every Christian, like Jesus himself, is “homeless” on this side of heaven, and must not remain too attached to particular possessions or places. This may seem, at first, a bit too “unearthly”, or aloof from a genuine human existence. After all, who does not long for a stable home, a safe place in which one can consistently retire each day, a haven and refuge from the busyness and stress of the outside world? Who does not value a home to which one is attached? What can it mean to be constantly “detached” from such genuine goods of this world, if not simply to be perpetually disoriented and unstable? How is such a life, in any meaningful sense, “healthy”?

To make sense of this, we should keep in mind a general truth which is essential to the Christian life: we are all pilgrimspilgrims who have not yet arrived at our true and final home. While this world was created good, it is but a foretaste and preparation of that for which we were created and redeemed – dwelling in glorious communion with the Triune God. Thus any attachment to the things of earth which hinders our approach to the Heavenly Jerusalem will not do us any good; we must be willing to “let go,” to “move on” as God draws us onward and upward toward our celestial home. It is not that we should not have any affection or love for the good things of this earth; quite the contrary: to despise what is good, in so far as it is good, is to despise Goodness himself. But our love, much like our homes, must be “in order,” and properly arranged: we must love most only what is best, and love the lesser in view of the greater. Our love for God must be first; our love for the lesser things for country; for home, family, and friends; for career and leisure; for food and for sex – must all be subordinate to divine charity, the love of God which has been poured out into our hearts by the Holy Spirit (Rom 5:5).

And this is what this “summer of dispersion” causes me to remember: God's love for us is greater than any other good or pleasure we can experience or imagine on earth, and we must, therefore, let our love for Him – itself a divine gift – transcend all other loves that move our hearts. The alternative is the restlessness which we all fear. So the choices are simply these: abiding in divine love, or drifting in perpetual restlessness. And, paradoxically, unless we see ourselves as wanderers on earth, we will not be able to rest in the bosom of the Father. For that is the only place the Son rests his head (cf. Jn 1:18), and the only place in which we, his Body, can find our true home.

Fr. Emmanuel's Ordination & First Mass - May 2012

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This past Saturday, May 26, we celebrated the ordination our Dominican brother, Fr. Emmanuel Francis Taylor, OP, to the priesthood at St. Dominic's Church, San Francisco. On Sunday morning, he celebrated his first mass here at St. Albert's. It was a very joyful weekend for all of us to witness this important event in the life and vocation of Fr. Emmanuel, whose priesthood, no doubt, will be a valuable gift to the life and ministry of our province. Later this summer he will begin his first priestly assignment just across the Bay at St. Dominic's Church. Please join us in congratulating Fr. Emmanuel and in praying for a fruitful life of ministry for the sake of God's kingdom!

UPDATE: Many more pictures and a copy of the bishop's homily from the ordination are available at this page on our province website.

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

Give Thanks and Rejoice

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Rejoice always.

Pray without ceasing.

In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for

you in Christ Jesus. (1 Corinthians)

As human beings we must desire our own happiness, we cannot NOT desire our own human flourishing. But there is a connection between achieving happiness and knowing the truth about ourselves. We cannot have one without the other. If we do not embrace the truth about ourselves, and act according to that truth, human flourishing will be impossible. Likewise, if we do not embrace the truth of the world around us, and act according to that truth, our happiness will be spurious at best. The simplest truths about reality that every human person must learn: Who made me?... God made me. Why did God make me? To know, love, and serve Him in this life and be eternally happy with Him in the next. These are the fundamental truths about our existence. Human happiness cannot be achieved without embracing these truths. We have been given the gift of existence, called out of the backdrop of nothingness, out of the sheer gratuity of God. Everything we have is first a gift. Everything. 


But do we live as if we know this truth? What would it look like if we were to live in and from this reality?


I believe that St. Paul has a clue. He tells us to rejoice always. To pray without ceasing. And in all circumstances give thanks. 


What could ever be a more reasonable response to the fundamental truth of our being than this... Giving Thanks for all things in all circumstances? This attitude of thanksgiving is the only reasonable response to the truth that all we have is a gift. This means that showing gratitude in all things is living in reality; it is the only right way to live. The contemporary spiritual writer Henri Nouwen remarked:


"In the past I always thought of gratitude as a spontaneous response to the awareness of gifts received, but now I realize that gratitude can also be lived as a discipline. The discipline of gratitude is the explicit effort to acknowledge that all I am and have is given to me as a gift of love, a gift to be celebrated with joy."


Gratitude consists in being more aware of all those things that we DO have, ingratitude is more aware of what we do not have. Gratitude is conscious of things as they are; ingratitude is conscious of things the way they are not. In this sense, gratitude is always an embracing of the truth of our reality, it is stepping out of the fog of our minds projection of the world the way we want it to be and a stepping into the light of the way things are.


G.K. Chesterton famously said, in his very Chestertonian way, "I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought; and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder."


I think Chesterton is on to something here. There is a deep connection between our fundamental desire for happiness, our mind's desire to see the truth and the attitude of thanksgiving for all things. 


As we approach the celebration of Easter, and as we work through the final week of the academic term, let us strive to cultivate a deeper awareness of the sheer gratuity and love of God as it is reflected in even the smallest things in our lives. Let us especially strive to recognize this gratuity and love as it is reflected in the people around us. In other words, let us enter into reality. For it is precisely in this recognition that a secret to happiness may be found.

The Sounds of Lent

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Lent musicIf you regularly attend our prayers at St. Albert's, then you probably have noticed some musical changes each time we enter a new liturgical season. Each season has its own "flavor", so to speak, and this is true especially of Lent. Below are recent recordings of some of our prayers whose music or text is unique to the season of Lent.

"O God, Come to my assistance...":

Media Vita:

O Rex & Nunc Dimittis:
I Peter Canticle:
In Pace:

Ave Regina Caelorum:




Br. Emmanuel Taylor, O.P.'s picture

To Dust You Shall Return

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"Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return."

These are, of course, the words proclaimed during the reception of ashes at the beginning of Lent. To remind myself of this fact I am going to visit the cemetery of the deceased Dominicans. 

The Western Dominican Province has a common place of burial at St. Dominic's Cemetery in Benicia, California. Not only do we have a holy resting ground, but we have a Dominican Friar who keeps it well maintained and is very interested in necrology. Through this effort we have a record of the deceased friars. This necrology allows young Friars to stay in contact with the history of our Western Province in the Order of Preachers. 

This Satuday I served as deacon for a monthly Liturgy of the Eucharist praying for all our deceased Friars. After the Mass we visited the grave a particular Dominican, Fr. Lawrence Jagoe. I picked this Friar because my grandfather remembered him from the days of the "Wild West" in California. From the stories, it seems like Fr. Jagoe was a great Friar Preacher, an entertaining man, and was a hero (see his necrology). Despite that he flourished in this life, the humbing fact remains: he too died and returned to dust. In the end, since everything else return to dust, the only thing that matters is that we repent and draw close to the Lord; Jesus is the one who will make us everlasting. 

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

What's in a Name?

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“After eight days had passed, it was time to circumcise the child; and he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.” --Luke 2:21

Earlier this month our province celebrated its titular feast, that of the Most Holy Name of Jesus. Since the universal church observes this day as an optional memorial on January 3, many of the student brothers (who are typically visiting their families for the Christmas break) have never celebrated this day with a Dominican community. This year, however, I had the honor of observing the feast with our community in Salt Lake City. After Mass, while meditating on the Gospel and Fr. Carl’s homily, I was briefly caught up in a memory.

As a child in CCD, I remember being taught to bow my head at the mention of the name of Jesus, the Blessed Virgin Mary, or any of my patron saints. Like memorizing the “Our Father” or the “Hail Mary” or the proper parts of the Mass, this was just another part of our weekly routine. Nowadays it seems as if this practice is no longer the norm. It’s rare to see people bow during the profession of the Nicene Creed at the words “and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary and became man,” yet alone incline their heads at the mention of the name of Jesus. In the last few weeks I’ve begun to reflect on why this might be, and my answer is William Shakespeare.

In that oh-so-famous balcony scene, we hear the following words on the lips of young Juliet as she pines for her beloved Romeo:


'Tis but thy name that is my enemy; / Thou art thyself, though not a Montague. / What's Montague? it is nor hand, nor foot, / Nor arm, nor face, nor any other part / Belonging to a man. O, be some other name!
What's in a name? that which we call a rose / By any other name would smell as sweet; / So Romeo would, were he not Romeo call'd, / Retain that dear perfection which he owes / Without that title. Romeo, doff thy name, / And for that name which is no part of thee / Take all myself.

Juliet would lead us to believe that words, especially names, aren’t important. Romeo would still be who he is, even if he were not called Romeo, and a rose would still smell as sweet, even if it was called something else. It’s rather interesting that Shakespeare, who is considered one of the greatest playwrights and a master of words, would have one of his characters say such a thing. Thus some scholars have suggested that the words are meant to be dismissed as the overly-dramatic prose of a teenager in love. Still, I cannot but help to find some truth in Juliet’s logic. A person’s name is not the very core of who they are; it does not reveal everything about them.

On the other hand, it is how we as human beings describe the whole of a person in all the ways in which we know them. And so it is with the name of Jesus. When we call upon the name of Jesus, we bring to mind, with one word, all that we understand Jesus to be; everything we have learned about him throughout the years, and every experience and encounter of his presence in our lives. With that in mind, I now realize why I was taught to bow my head in prayer at the name of Jesus, and why our province honors this name every time we preach and fulfill our mission to the world.   

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

"Ordinary" Time and the Common Life

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Ordinary Time -- Green vestmentsOn Tuesday we began returning to St. Albert's after our two-week Christmas vacation. Like most of the students, I spent much of this vacation by being with family and catching up with friends. Coincidentally, we were away from the priory for most of Christmas season proper, and have now returned at the beginning of "Ordinary" time in the liturgical calendar — a change any Catholic who has attended mass since Tuesday could not fail to notice. But what is "Ordinary time" anyway, and why is it "Ordinary"?

As it turns out, what we call "Ordinary" time is the English name given to the Latin term tempus per annum—"Time through the year"—which applies to those weeks outside of the Advent, Christmas, Lent, and Easter seasons, and which are numbered sequentially (1st week, 2nd week, etc). "Ordinary", then, means "ordered" or "numbered", and not "normal" or "dull". We have begun the first "numbered" week of the liturgical year now that Advent and Christmas are officially over, and that is what is meant by the "first week in Ordinary time."

I suppose that it is fitting that the first week in Ordinary time—for us student brothers—marks the beginning of our next semester of formation. We are, in a sense, resuming to our "ordinary" life as religious by returning to our Dominican community and resuming our common life with the rest of the friars, a life in which our day is punctuated by prayer and meals together. We might say that it is now the first week of our "ordinary" schedule in which the different intervals of the day are "ordered" by the hours of prayer: Matins and Lauds in the morning, Rosary and Midday prayer at noon, Vespers and mass in the early evening, and finally Compline.

This schedule of communal prayer, after all, is central to the Dominican life and vocation: we are united as a community by our daily prayers together, a prayer which provides the context for our own personal prayer and which sustains our spiritual life, our studies, and our preaching ministry. To have each day punctuated by such common prayer is quite "ordinary" for a Dominican, and is one of my favorite aspects of the Dominican experience. We live, pray, and worship together as a community of friars, that we might be led to God in contemplation, that from this contemplation we might be inspired to the task of holy preaching for the salvation of souls.

As we begin "Ordinary" time, then, let us commit ourselves—in whatever state in life—to let our mornings and evenings be "ordered" by our daily prayer, that together we might center each day on Christ, so that what may otherwise appear merely "ordinary" might become "extraordinary" by His grace.