Topic: Common Life

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

Obedience, Social Justice, and the Mother of God

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What’s wrong with the world?  When this question was sent out by a British newspaper in the early 20th century to noted authors of the time, intending to elicit essay responses, G.K. Chesterton famously gave the most concise response: “Dear Sirs, I am. Sincerely Yours, GKC.”  The remark hits upon a profound truth. <--break-> Take your pick from among the laundry-list of social ills that plague our world: abortion, crime, war, poverty, sexual scandal, political corruption, domestic violence, alcoholism, drug abuse.  Every social ill ultimately has its root in the individual human heart, and without seeking a remedy to this first of all, we are like sailors on a sinking ship continually heaving water off the boat while ignoring the leak.

This is not to say, of course, we should ignore social problems, or neglect putting our energies into shaping a social order that respects justice, human dignity, and the common good.  It is, however, to point out what Chesterton realized, and indeed what recent Popes have pointed out in their social encyclicals: a just social order  necessarily depends on a fundamental conversion of the human heart, both to initiate worthwhile change, and to maintain and preserve it.

 It is most interesting, in this light, that Aquinas reckons the virtue of obedience as part of the cardinal virtue of Justice (ST II.II.104.2).  In our contemporary American culture, we are perhaps not used to thinking of “obedience” as a virtue.  We more naturally, I think, imagine it a necessary but annoying part of certain very limited segments of life: a worker obeying his manager’s wishes on the job; a soldier bound to obey his higher officer; even a pet properly trained to follow the dictates of its owner (it is telling that two out of the four automatically generated Google suggestions for “obedience” pertain to doggy-training!).  Yet Aquinas, articulating a longstanding Christian (and biblical) tradition, sees obedience not only as a virtue necessary to the just maintenance of human society, but pervading all aspects of human interaction.  Why?

 The first part of the answer is fairly straightforward.  Insofar as obedience indicates a certain way of yielding our immediate desires and inclinations to the common good, the obedience we give to civil law ensures that society can function on a day-to-day basis.  Society demands order, and if I thwart that order by stealing something not rightfully mine, the state can justly punish me and demand I recompense the aggrieved party.  So too the “obedience” I give to my employer is a choice I make in full knowledge that if I neglect my duties, the employer can relieve me of my employed status.  Aquinas, though, will say that something more than external conformity to the law is needed to make obedience meritorious.  Charity must inform the practice of obedience, such that we obey “not through fear of punishment, but through love of justice” (ST II.II.104.3).  Justice, moreover, extends beyond the legal and civil order with which we generally associate it.  It extends to obeying religious superiors (“observance”), to obeying parents (“piety”) and above all to obeying God (“religion”).

 As a religious, I can testify (with virtually every other religious I’ve met) that among the three vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, the last is the most difficult.  Poverty can offer challenges, such as not being able to travel as readily or obtain the worldly comforts many people today enjoy.  But in our consumerist world this sort of life is somewhat refreshing and attractive.  Chastity has its demands as well, though my experience is that fidelity to one’s prayer life and closeness to the sacraments protects and sustains the heart and mind in this regard.  Obedience, though, cuts to the heart of what it means to be a human being, or more specifically what it means to be a son of Adam.

 Each of us clings desperately to our own will, and not without reason.  Our free will, among all the goods we possess, is perhaps the most cherished and intimate part of ourselves.  It is the center of our moral action and all our behavior.  It is the faculty we have, as a gift from God, to carry out day-to-day tasks, from the minutest to the greatest.  It is where thought, memory, experience and desire all unite into concrete decisions about how we are to live.  As we know, though, the more valuable and sacred a thing is, the more drastic and destructive can be its effects when misused.  Scripture and history eloquently and relentlessly narrate the abuses that arise from a disordered human heart that is bent on “having its way.”  So, too, in our own personal lives each of us experiences the weakness of our human will with its faults and inclinations to sin, even in spite of our best intentions.

 The vow of obedience in religious life, therefore, is partially meant as a kind of school of discipline to remedy this natural inclination to selfishness and pride.  All Christians in virtue of our baptism are called to self-renunciation for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven (Mt 16:24).  But in making the vow of obedience in religious life, one is in essence saying, “My life is not my own. I put it entirely at the service of God and His Church as God reveals His will to me through my superiors.”  The rub comes when we are called to do things for God and His Church at the command of his sometimes very weak and fallible human instruments.  Thus charity enters in.  Unless a superior demands something that is contrary to God’s law and thus violates conscience (in which case one is actually bound to disobey), the practice of obedience hones us in charity.  I happened to have been blessed with very good superiors thus far in my Dominican life, but whether one enjoys this situation or not, in either case obedience impels the religious to put aside his own will, put himself at the disposal of another, and (above all) trust that “in everything God works for good”(Rom 8:28).  In doing so, we imitate in some small way the One who became “obedient, even unto death, death on a Cross”(Philip 2:4).

 There is even a freeing aspect to such a vow.  The central Dominican mission is to preach for the salvation of souls.  We cultivate a life of prayer, study, and contemplation precisely for this end.  Taking a vow of obedience in a sense frees one of the burden of always thinking and wondering and planning where he is going to be in the next year, the next month, even the next week.  If the Order calls, we go.  If there are souls in a particular place, then, well, the gospel needs to be preached there, whether I in my own cleverness had thought of the possibility or not.  One must be ready, of course, for bearing a certain burden, and for facing up to and enduring perhaps very demanding ministries and missions.  But in all things, God’s is the glory and we put ourselves entirely at the service of His desires as they come to us through the Order to which we are vowed.

 With the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, upon us at the outset of this new calendar year, we may look to Mary as an icon of that perfect obedience to the Father’s will which we are all called to imitate.  Unhesitating, total, undaunted, willing even to endure misunderstanding and suffering, Mary’s obedience to the Father’s will is the model for all religious.  Mary could have had no idea what she was getting into when she uttered her Fiat, but she trusted that her Father would provide, whatever circumstances arose.  It is this kind of loving obedience to the Father that is the cure for our fallen nature’s more destructive tendencies, tendencies that will last as long as we dwell within this mortal coil.  We do well to continue heaving as much water out of the ship of human affairs as we can, though each of us must be especially attentive to that primordial leak which only grace informing our will by charity can plug.  Mary, Mother of God, Ora pro nobis!

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

Cooperators in the Mission

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This past Wednesday, November 30, our community buried our beloved brother Raymond Charles Bertheaux, OP.  Br. Raymond was born in 1936 and grew up in San Francisco. He professed first vows in 1954 and served the Order and the Church throughout the world ever since.  Almost 20 years of his life were spent as a missionary in Chiapas, where he traveled from village to village by horseback. Prior to his recent years of service at St. Albert’s as our archivist, Br. Raymond lived in Guatemala, ministering to the poor and the sick. This was after he spent 12 years at Santa Sabina, our headquarters in Rome, where he worked in the bookstore, archives, and on Analecta, a journal dedicated to Dominican history.

 In the old days, Br. Raymond would have been referred to as a frater conversus, or lay brother. Today, friars like myself who are not on the track to ordination, are called cooperator brothers. Although the Dominican Order is primarily a clerical one, forming young men as priests to celebrate Mass, preach, and hear confessions, cooperator brothers have been an important part of our mission since the beginning.

One of the first cooperator brothers of the Dominican Order was Oderic of Normandy. Counted among the 16 original disciples of St. Dominic, Br. Oderic helped Blessed Mannes (Dominic’s brother) to found our community at Saint Jacques in Paris. Since then a number of cooperator brothers have faithfully served the Order in whatever capacity they were called to do so. In the 1400s, Blessed James of Ulm was a designer of stained-glass windows, one of which can still be found at the Basilica di San Patronio, a 10-minute walk from the tomb of St. Dominic in Bologna. Probably one of the most famous cooperator brothers of the Order is St. Martin de Porres, whose feast we celebrate on November 3. In artistic renderings, St. Martin is often shown holding a broom or a basket of bread and wearing a black scapular and capuce/hood (once distinctive to cooperator brothers). These depictions speak to St. Martin’s humility and willingness to serve, especially the poor, but sadly do not portray the fact that he was quite gifted in medicine, using his knowledge of herbs and other remedies to cure the sick.

Obviously the ministerial work of a cooperator brother is different from that of a priest, but other than that we have a lot in common. We all profess the same vows and embrace the four pillars of Dominican life. Our prayer is centered upon the Eucharist, the Liturgy of the Hours/Divine Office, and the recitation of the rosary. Our study is for the sake of preaching, whether it be in word (teaching and giving lectures, presentations, and retreats) or deed (the very witness of our lives as consecrated religious). Finally we all share a commitment to the common life, to growing together in virtue and caring for one another in fraternal charity.

Not only did Br. Raymond know this, he also lived it, and it’s one of the reasons he was such a wonderful example of what it means to be a Dominican.

Br. Ambrose Sigman, O.P.'s picture

Feast of our Holy Father Dominic

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On the evening of August 6th, 1221, the founder of the Order of Preachers, Dominic de Guzman, lay dying. Surrounded by the brothers of the priory of Saint Nicholas in Bologna, Dominic ordered them to begin the prayers for the commendation of his soul. As the brethren were singing the words “Come to his aid, saints of God. Hasten, angels of the Lord. Receive his soul and offer it before the face of the Most High,” Saint Dominic breathed his last. Today, August 8th, the Universal Church celebrates the feast of our Holy Father Dominic.<--break->

The Dominican Order has never had the same cult of personality surrounding its founder as has some other religious orders, such as the Franciscans, a fact made painfully aware to anyone who knows the story of the canonization process of our founder. Instead, Saint Dominic left something much more valuable than his personal example, as noble and fitting as that example was. Saint Dominic left to his children a dream, a vision of a way of life dedicated to a simple purpose, to preach and to defend the Truth, who is Jesus Christ. For 800 years this need, this desire, has continued to inspire generation after generation.

The beauty of this vision, whose relevance never fades (the world always needs the Truth), has sustained Saint Dominic’s order for eight centuries. We have endured much, suffered much, for the sake of that vision. We have seen ourselves grow at tremendous rates and found great success in our work, yet we have also come face to face with the possibility of our own extinction on more than one occasion. We stand on the shoulders of giants who have forged paths for us through the wildernesses of our mind, our soul, and our world (how many still remember the Unifying Friars of Saint Gregory the Illuminator from Armenia, the Fratres Unitores?). Even though his current sons and daughters may, on occasion, seem like a lesser breed than those who came before, yet we continue to work just as tirelessly, and pray that, by the grace of God, Saint Dominic’s vision may become a reality.

As Saint Dominic lay dying, surrounded by the brethren, he turned to them and said, “Do not weep. I shall be more use to you and bear more fruit for you after death than I ever did in life.” The past 800 years have proven the truth of these words.

V. Ora pro nobis, beate Pater Dominice.

R. Ut digni efficiamur promissionibus Christi.

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

Upcoming Ordinations

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It has been about a month since our last post, so let me start by apologizing for the delay. As many of you know, the month of May is a very busy one for the brothers. Spending countless hours in the library, studying for exams, and writing research papers keeps everyone quite busy. In addition to preparing for the end of the academic year, some brothers must also begin preparing for ministry over the summer and moving out of the house of studies. Such is the case for two of our brothers who have completed their initial formation: Br. Mark Francis and Br. Boniface.


The Dominican Friars of the Province of the Most Holy Name of Jesus
joyfully announce to you the
Ordination to the Holy Priesthood
of their Brothers
Mark Francis Manzano, OP and Boniface Robert Willard, OP
by His Excellency the Most Reverend Anthony Fisher, OP, DPhil,
Bishop of Parramatta, Australia.

Please join us for this wonderful celebration on:
Saturday, the 28th of May at 1:00pm
at St. Theresa Catholic Church
30 Mandalay Rd., Oakland, CA 94618

Br. Boniface Willard, O.P.'s picture

Holy Week at St. Albert's

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Today, with Palm Sunday, Holy Week begins. It is especially at times like this that the more monastic side of our life comes to the fore and all our energy is given to the preparation and celebration of these beautiful liturgies, the high point of the liturgical year and a foretaste of what is to come. For us the brothers, it is a time of intense focus on the liturgy, and it is an exhausting week. But it is also a great joy for us to prepare and participate in the liturgies of Holy Week. It has also been a great pleasure for us in the last few years to have with us in these days the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist, who live in Loomis, CA, and who are laying the groundwork for a new foundation one day. And we also invite any who live in the Bay Area and who so desire to join us for the various liturgies of this week. Below is the liturgical schedule for the Triduum and Easter Sunday. May you have a blessed Holy Week and an Easter full of joy and grace.

Holy Thursday:

Tenebrae - 6.30am
Mass of the Lord's Supper - 7.30pm

Good Friday:

Tenebrae - 7.30am
Verneration of the Cross and Liturgy of the Presanctified - 7.30pm

Holy Saturday:

Tenebrae - 7.30am
Vigil Mass - 8.30pm

Easter Sunday:

Lauds - 8.30am
Mass - 9.30am

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.

Br. Ambrose Sigman, O.P.'s picture

Blessed Anthony Neyrot

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Very soon now, April 10th in fact, we Dominicans will celebrate one of the more unusual blesseds on our calendar, Blessed Anthony Neyrot (d. 1460). Bl. Anthony was the only Dominican blessed ever to renounce his faith, and yet in the end return to the faith and die a martyr’s death. Bl. Anthony is a reminder to us that nothing is lost which cannot be found again, and no one can stray so far that the Good Shepherd cannot bring him or her home.

Not much is known about the youth of Bl. Anthony, only that he was from Rivoli in Italy. He was received into the Order by the great Dominican, Saint Antoninus. After his studies and ordination, Anthony was assigned to the convent of San Marco in Florence. Being somewhat wayward and impatient, Anthony quickly grew tired of this and asked for a change of scenery. He was sent first to Sicily, about which he was not thrilled, and then to Naples. While sailing to Naples, Anthony’s ship was captured by pirates, and he and the other passengers were taken to the city of Tunis in North Africa.

 At first, Anthony was well-liked by the emir in Tunis and was allowed a measure of freedom. His continuing arrogance, though, quickly brought the wrath of his captors and Anthony was put in prison and given only bread and water. Anthony eventually gave in, denying his faith in order to obtain his freedom. Anthony quickly embraced his new faith, even going so far as to attempt a translation of the Qur’an. Soon, he was adopted by the emir and married a high-born Turkish lady.

 Anthony’s newfound complacency, though, was quickly shattered. Into his life came the news that his beloved teacher and mentor, Saint Antoninus, had died. Love for his old master stirred in Anthony’s heart a desire for the Truth which he had abandoned. He resolved very quickly to return to the Christian faith. Anthony decided to make his return publicly. In private, he confessed and was reconciled to God. Then, during one of the emir’s public processions, Anthony appeared on the palace steps wearing again his Dominican habit, and proclaiming his faith in a loud voice, and his sorrow at ever having abandoned it. Failing to change Anthony’s mind, the emir ordered his death. Anthony died under a shower of stones, proclaiming his faith and his sorrow on Holy Thursday, 1460. His body was eventually returned to Rivoli, where it still rests.

 Holy Mary, Searcher for the Lost, pray for us.

 Blessed Anthony Neyrot, pray for us.

Br. Richard Maher, O.P.'s picture


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On February 25th, the community of St. Albert Priory voted on the petitions for vows of five student friars. During the process of post-novitiate initial formation in the Dominican Order, student friars profess vows for a specified number of years before making their final vow commitment (solemn vows). While each profession of temporary vows implies a lifetime commitment, in that the student friar is to have a focus on solemn vows , these years of simple profession also have a strong element of discernment as the student friar and the Order, through the individual formation communities, are both expected to consider more deeply if each man is suited for Dominican life. Every time a formation community (specifically the solemnly professed Dominicans assigned to that priory) votes on a student friar’s petitions for vows, the Order makes an intentional judgment, discerning on their part if a man is to proceed in this way of life. Additionally, in soliciting and professing vows, each student friar takes another affirmative step toward solidifying the vocation he has chosen.

Br. Richard at first profession in 2009.


All five student friars were approved for vows. Brs. Dominic David and Ambrose were approved for solemn vows and Brs. Justin, Chris, and I were approved for a renewal of temporary vows. Please pray for us as we deepen our vocational commitment, continuing on this path toward Priesthood in the Order of Preachers.
Br. Peter Junipero Hannah, O.P.'s picture

Seeing God In Lent

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"Table reading" is a traditional monastic practice of taking meals in silence while some book of spiritual significance is read for the duration. This Lent, our community at St. Albert's has undertaken to begin nightly dinners with ten minutes of table reading from Church Father and desert ascetic, St. John Cassian, who is a kind of spiritual father of the Dominican Order. It is said St. Dominic kept with him and would read a little from two books every day: the Gospel of Matthew (his favorite of the gospels) and the Conferences of Cassian. The conferences afford useful insights into the Christian life which are particularly appropriate to Lent.

In the first conference, Cassian speaks of two "ends" or "aims" of the spiritual life. The final end (telos) of the spiritual life is the Kingdom of God. But the "immediate" or "closer" aim is its skopos (Greek for something to "fix the eye on," as an archer his target). This skopos is purity of heart, as in "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God"(Mt. 5:8). Lent is a special time to purify our hearts so our spiritual vision may be sharpened.

We all have the experience of giving something up to get something better. Doctors, athletes, teachers, mothers; any worthwhile life requires moral, physical, and mental discipline to be lived well. During Lent, the Christian refocuses his spiritual energies by giving certain things up so he can live the Gospel more deeply. Food is taken in smaller portions; perhaps we resolve to rise a half-hour earlier in the morning for extra Scripture meditation; or resolve to visit infirm friends and relatives who otherwise lack companionship.

As a Dominican, I've found Lenten disciplines extremely helpful: abstinence from certain foods and full portions of meals trains a certain inner-temperance and self control which – I've found – can make me more alive and alert to my neighbor, even at times more perceptive in prayer and so with a deeper thanksgiving for God's many gifts, and greater insight into His desires for my life. Underneath the outward discipline, a kind of hidden and secret exultation in God is discovered, a way of perceiving and "seeing" Him more clearly.

It is a bit like backpacking in a great national park like Yosemite or Kings Canyon. On such trips – especially the ones of several days – food is spare, sleep is uncomfortable, and fatigue is constant. But precisely by giving up normal conveniences, we receive marvelous visions of pristine wilderness, and often a deeper companionship with the comrades we journey with. Somehow we often come back more energized and appreciative of our everyday life. Every Christian undertakes such a journey in Lent, but in a spiritual way. I myself rejoice to do it as a Dominican: every ounce of my energy given to studying, contemplating, and rejoicing in the Lord, so that he may use me to bring his gospel to the world.