Topic: Prayer

Br. Cody Jorgensen, O.P.'s picture

Instructions for Novices

Last Winter I discovered an absolute gem of a book. Thanks to the diligent work of two translators, Instructions for Novices by Bl. Hyacinth-Marie Cormier, O.P., was made available in English.

Now this book, much like black coffee,1 is a highly acquired taste, and this in two ways. First, the audience that would profit from this book is probably rather particularized. The Master General, Fr. Emmanuel Suarez, O.P., wrote in 1950 that this book would appeal to every member of the Dominican Order, and possibly be profitable for members of other Religious Institutes. Bl. Cormier himself foresaw many persons, whether Dominicans, other religious, or lay, all benefiting in some way from this work. My gut, however, tells me that Dominicans and other religious would stand to gain the most from it.

Secondly, Cormier published the work in 1880, which places it within a distinct cultural context. In the introduction written for this edition, Dominican friars Basil Cole and Ezra Sullivan make the point well: "Much of Part Two contains practical recommendations in which tradition, virtue, legislation, custom, and nineteenth-century French manners and circumstances are intimately intertwined.""Part Two" spans 179 pages of the 492 page book--not a small section. The point is important to make since, even if you are a Dominican, without a reading of all three introductions, Bl. Cormier's work is difficult to contextualize and so be profitable for the modern reader. Not all spiritual writers, from the novice to master, appeal to the same audience. We all, I imagine, pick and choose.

In all honesty, I haven't been devoted to reading this work since day one; only recently have I made it a part of my early morning spiritual reading. It should also be noted that while there are assuredly many passages that come from the pen of Bl. Cormier himself, the work is "Assembled from ancient manuscripts" from the Toulouse Province during the 17th Century. The translators themselves are probably in the best position to differentiate the sections directly from Cormier from the others. Many passages resonate in a special way with someone, like myself, who has some years in profession under his belt. I find myself laughing out loud occasionally when I encounter a passage so rich with the lived experience of the cloister. When cautioning against visits with women, treated in the section on living the vow of chastity, Bl. Cormier lists the objections brothers might give, and then responds in a way that only a wizened Novice Master could: "One [who seeks the conversation of women] equally finds around himself men of wittiness and knowledge, but he does not seek frequent and extended conversations with them, nor with as much satisfaction."4 True; funny; and piercingly on target!

I lament that this short article cannot do justice to the work's richness, wisdom, and innumerable keen insights. What I can point out, however, is how rewarding this work can be alongside other historical Dominican texts dedicated to articulating our life and spirituality5; and this especially if you yourself are a Dominican struggling to find a relatively recent voice to inform your spiritual life, vows, and understanding of the Rule and our Constitutions. One might think of Pope Paul VI's decree Perfectae Caritatis, and how the Dominican Order specifically has adapted and renewed itself since 1965. Cole and Sullivan make the point well:

"Every age in the Church is confronted with the question of what practices from the past should be 'brought out of one's treasure' and what should be left behind. Not all practices should be followed to the letter merely because they are old; but neither should they be neglected solely because they are unpopular at the moment. Often what is most up-to-date is a return to a time-honored tradition."6

The book is much more than the detailing of strict and apparently dated "practices." It contains very worthwhile sections on a variety of topics pertaining to the Christian life in general, as well as specifically to vowed religious. Cole and Sullivan note that this was not an unpopular work at a certain time. The fact that in 1950 the Master General had the book republished,7 attests to its applicability beyond the Toulouse Province where it originated. I would propose it retains its relevance for the Order as a whole and, for those with ears to hear, can yield much spiritual fruit.

I chose the photo for this article purposefully. Of the many portraits of former Masters that we brothers have in our Studentate, this one is in my opinion the most impressive black and white portrait.8 There's something in the look of Cormier's eyes that reminds me of photos of recent Saints; maybe a resemblance to the gaze of Mother Teresa. When I sit down to read this text, I prepare myself to be challenged. I imagine I'm having a conference by this holy and beloved brother of the Order. When something in my life needs renewal (or even if I don't think it does), I often find myself consulting this work first. Last year I was having difficulties in how I was approaching Confession. I was able to greatly deepen my understanding and disposition towards Confession by reading Bl. Cormier's treatment of the matter. I also found beneficial his soberingly simple discourse on what it means to live the vow of celibate chastity. In the post-Vatican II landscape--filled with so many voices, some helpful, some not—this text retains a remarkable significance for any number of issues vital for living, and renewing, religious life today.

I unhesitatingly recommend the work, while at the same time urging a careful read of the introductions for context. Frs. Cole and Sullivan do a great and thorough job of setting the stage in this respect. In the end, Cormier's work is about forming Dominicans to get to Heaven, in other words, to save our souls. Many of the passages are arresting, even upsetting and eliciting cringes, but they all have challenged me to live my vows more intentionally and faithfully. Blessed Hyacinth Cormier, ora pro nobis!

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1While we all may be wonderfully caffeine addicted, we don't seem to be born so. I, and I'm assuming you other coffee drinkers can as well, remember when you first started drinking coffee. It's not something you instantly enshrine as an everyday habit in teenage years.

210, emphasis mine

325

4339

5The concept of a "Dominican Spirituality" is famously controverted. Some actually hold that Dominicans have no unique spirituality; some that it's simply co-extensive with the spirituality of the Church; and again, some that it's a combination of select aspects of the Church's spirituality, in other words, a middle position between the first two. I don't propose Cormier's work as somehow providing the definitive "Dominican Spirituality."

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7Interestingly, in his introduction to the 1950 text, Suarez himself notes that this text may seem strange to the brothers. It's interesting that having been published in 1880, it was seen as being historical only seventy years later.

8Bl. Hyacinth died in 1916. I'm guessing this photo was taken sometime during or after his term as Master General (elected 1904).

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

Heart of Mercy

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            What's the point of being a Christian? This is a question that applies to many groups: those outside the Church; those who are estranged from the Church or are living on the cusp of faith; and even those fully within the Church who practice their faith. Indeed, while it is a simple question, it is an essential one that we should ask. Knowing why, knowing the point or goal, is as essential as knowing how: the two must go together. So, what is the point of being a Christian?

            Unfortunately, how some have answered this question has either caused people to lose interest in becoming a Christian, or has caused division and polarization within the Church that has driven some away from the faith. Some who have been seduced by contemporary secularism might reduce the point of being a Christian to a vague moral system concerned, first of all, with justice and being nice to others: deifying any and every element of human life and proudly casting off any belief or practice that interferes with the latest political fad. Others who have the ossified faith of Pharisees can codify the point of being a Christian to following rules, maintaining traditions, preserving customs, and being staunch signs of stolid contradiction to a world gone to hell: humanizing the divine and turning religion into a quaint museum of antiquarian oddities. It is not that justice, morality, tradition, or rules are bad in themselves, but that some confuse the part with the whole.

            Authentic, orthodox Christianity, subsisting in the Roman Catholic Church (cf. Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Dominus Iesus) however, reveres tradition, advocates for justice and morality, establishes sound laws and rules, and, in addition to these things, offers something beyond what mere human institutions can: satisfaction of the infinite longing of the human heart. As the Catechism puts so well, "The desire for God is written in the human heart, because man is created by God and for God; and God never ceases to draw man to himself. Only in God will he find the truth and happiness he never stops searching for..." (CCC #27). The Church, by joining humanity with God through the Sacraments, Doctrine, Scripture, and Tradition, offers to every man and woman of good will the One answer to the deepest desires of their hearts.

            So often in our world the hearts of men and women are filled with fear, shame, and pain. They fear loneliness as they draw closer through communication devices but father apart through a disturbing ignorance of the experience of true, lasting love. They experience shame through the haunting memories of using others or of being used themselves. They feel a deep, silent pain as they secretly call out to the others surrounding them, their neighbors, their co-workers, and those whom they call their friends, "Here I am! Love me! Know who I am!", but are met with the superficial niceties of bourgeois civility: they are left empty by the empty words and empty gestures and empty "love" of those who, themselves, are empty. 

            Recently I was out in the Berkeley area doing some street evangelization, when I came across a woman, who I will call Alice. Alice was sitting down on the driveway in front of her house with her knees pulled up to her chest, smoking a cigarette, listening to her MP3 device, and generally looking miserable. I came up to her and asked her if she wanted a rosary. She looked up at me with a mien of a person who has been taken advantage of too many times to distinguish goodwill and deceit. After several moments of pensive silence she responded, "O.K". As I gave her the simple plastic rosary, tears began to fill her eyes. I asked her if she was all right. Alice replied, "I am just a little heartbroken."

            The point of being a Christian is that we have found the answer to the fear, shame, and pain within our hearts. We have found the answer, we know the answer, we have come to love the answer, and we are called to give that answer to the aching hearts in our own time and place: the mercy of God, misericordia Dei. To have mercy means to have our hearts ache (in Latin Miser, "unhappy" Cor, "heart") at another's sorrow or distress. To be a Christian means to realize that, in the person of Jesus Christ, God is merciful: He is not an aloof universal force, nor a pathetic projection of the human psyche, nor a bearded entity enfeebled with senescence. No! In Jesus God is moved with mercy for us! For me! For my heart! And he came to heal our hearts, so that we may no longer "sit in darkness and in the shadow of death" (Lk 1:79), but may "have life, and have it abundantly." (Jn 10:10). All the evil and garbage that we have done to others that weighs upon our heart, all the evil and garbage that has been done to us and that scars our heart, is met, embraced, forgiven, and healed through entering into the love of Jesus. Our hearts are restless until they find this merciful love: "Behold, the ears of my heart are before Thee, O Lord, open them, and say unto my soul, 'I am thy salvation'. I will run after that voice, and take hold of Thee." (Augustine, Conf. I.v)

            But how do we run after that voice of mercy and love? How do we take hold of it? Through conversion. Conversion to Jesus "always consists in discovering his mercy, that is, in discovering that love which is patient and kind" (Bl. John Paul II, Dives in Misericordia, 13) By entering the hospital of the Church, where Jesus has called sinners, that is, those in need of a physician of hearts and souls (cf. Lk 5:31-32), the new convert is given divine medicine to remove the scars of the heart: "He healed many who were sick" (Mk 1:34). By remaining in the hospital of the Church, where "the heart is strengthened by grace" (Heb 13:9), the faithful continually grow in love, and are invited to seek out new patients for the heavenly physician.

            However, not all patients in the hospital of the Church take their medicine. Like Ananias and Sapphira (cf. Acts 5:1-11), they hold on to their old ways and refuse to turn over their hearts to the new life in store for them. Like the crowds at Athens who dismissed the message of St. Paul (cf. Acts 17:16-33), they are unwilling to let their hearts be changed by the Gospel. These patients require great attention, because the medicine of God's loving mercy works with only those who are willing.

            The point of being a Christian is that, in entering the hospital of the Church, where we are gathered with others suffering similar symptoms, our hearts are healed and strengthened by the infinite love and mercy of Jesus, and we, in turn, proceed to seek out other patients whose hearts are longing for the fullness of life that we have embraced.

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

What's in a Name?

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Saint Michael, icon at Prince of Peace Monastery"War broke out in heaven; Michael and his angels battled against the dragon. The dragon and its angels fought back, but they did not prevail and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. The huge dragon, the ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, who deceived the whole world, was thrown down to earth, and its angels were thrown down with it." --Revelation 12:7-9

Any brother who visits my room will find images of Saint Michael throughout: on the door, next to my bed, on the bookshelf, above my desk, and so on. Although most of these prayer cards and icons have been gifts that I’ve received since entering the Order and receiving Michael as my religious name, the fact is that I have had a great devotion to the captain of the heavenly hosts for many years.

My affinity for Saint Michael began in college, when I began to learn more about our Catholic faith and discovered that Saint Michael’s feast day -- which he now shares which the other archangels -- is on September 29, just a few days after my birthday.  Tradition teaches us that on this date, during the pontificate of Saint Gregory the Great, Saint Michael appeared to the pope in a vision. Saint Gregory was leading a penitential procession and praying for the end of a plague that was decimating the population of Rome. As he and the other pilgrims made their way across the Tiber River, suddenly the sound of an angel chorus could be heard. Saint Michael appeared above what is now known as the Castel San’Angelo, and sheathed his sword -- which was dripping with blood -- a sign that the plague was finished.

A lesser-known story says that it was on this date that Saint Michael defeated Satan, as described in the reading from the Book of Revelation above. After being cast out of heaven, the devil was hurled towards earth and finally crashed, landing on a thorny bush. The bush’s berries took on the color of the vanquished dragon’s blood, a dark violet that, at first glance, appears black. Seething and outraged, Satan cursed the bush and its blackberries. As a result, tradition holds that one should only eat blackberries harvested before this day, otherwise they will be too bitter.

Now as much as I love these stories and traditions associated with Sept. 29th, they are not my primary reason for venerating Saint Michael. The real reason I honor this archangel is because of what his name signifies. Despite the fact that “Michael” is often translated as a statement, it as actually a question – the question asked by this noble prince of heaven when Satan refused to serve and worship God. Michael means: “who is like unto God?” It is a rallying cry for the faithful, that causes the devil to tremble in fear, reminding him of that fateful day when he, in his pride, rebelled against God and lost his place among the heavenly host. At the same time, it is a reminder to all us that we must practice humility, for the answer to the question “who is like unto God?” is no one.

Let us pray, then, that Saint Michael, by the divine power of God, will help us to grow in virtue, and in humility, so that we may turn from sin and overcome the evil spirits who prowl this world seeking for the ruin of souls.

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Br. Pius Youn, O.P.'s picture

Shifting Gears

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A new chapter has begun. What seemed like a chapter of blurry words, with stains of bitter coffee, has come to an end. Yes, the novitiate year. I cannot quite comprehend how I persevered through it. Even a couple of weeks after making simple profession, I catch myself pondering whether I should ask Fr. Anthony, our novice master, for permission to grab a cup of coffee at a nearby coffee shop. With a few giggles, I walk out of the priory with a sense of relief. One thing is clear: the life as a novice and the life as a simply professed brother are radically different. 

The novitiate was not the most "feel-good" year, subjectively speaking, but it was the most contemplative year. There were moments of bumpy trials, but consoling moments along the way. I cherished these moments of consolations. It surely is edifying to be consoled, yet if our faith and our discernment are solely dependent on consolations, we are only left with what "feels right." People, nowadays, especially in prosperous nations, stubbornly hold on to comfort, and prefer what "feels good." Reason itself is losing its pure meaning as many compulsively give into their passions. I sense a certain fallacy here. Has reason lost its strength to guide emotions? Has faith been stripped down to mere feelings?

As Christians, we believe that God initiates his call to us and we respond with humility. God consoles those who follow him, but what are we to do when God seems to be absent? Of course, if you have been living a life with "feel-good" luxury, following the call of God may be a stepping stone. As a religious and as a Dominican, community life is not always a "feel good" experience, for what "I want" is secondary to the common life--even though many of us have strong opinions about every bit of everything. What is it we must do when we are desolate, when a certain idealism that we were looking for is stripped away?

If we look to the Scriptures--as we should always, for it is the Word of God--those who lose the sight of God look for fulfillment elsewhere. In Exodus 32, while Moses is absent from the Israelites for forty days and forty nights on Mount Sinai, the Israelites, by persuading Aaron, create a false god--the golden calf. This "golden calf" is looked at not as a "false deity" but as the "god" who brought them out of Egypt. Michael D. Coogan, in his book, The Old Testament, states that this act of using an animal to represent the deity is following the Egyptian tradition, whereas elsewhere in the Near East at this time, the custom was to use the human form to represent gods or goddesses. Fashioning the golden calf violated the second commandment for the Israelites: "You shall have no other gods before me." But why were the Israelites looking elsewhere to find other gods?     

The Israelites created the golden calf because they lost sight of God. One reason for this was the absence of a prophet to counter the desire; but more importantly, the Israelites were not patient enough to continue with their journey of faith. They gave into their feelings of inadequacy and ended up worshipping the golden calf. Just as the Israelites were "stiff-necked" and lost sight of God, we may find other ways to fulfill our passions and desires when we feel the absence of God. If feelings are what give credibility of God, then no wonder God seems to be absent when we are not feeling so well.

The life of a student brother is filled with activities. Being a student brother is fun, but busy. As I write, I am thinking of many other activities in my mind: demands for classes, unwanted chores in the house, consistent liturgical duties, and so on. I am constantly out of breath and I have deadlines coming up. In our busy schedules, it is easy to lose sight of God. While living a busy life may bring immediate joys, we must always strive for an authentic contemplative life. If we lose a sense of contemplation, then all that we do is simply "doing for the sake of doing." St. Thomas Aquinas speaks of contemplation as “delightful by reason of its object...insofar as you are contemplating what you love; just as with ordinary physical seeing, which is delightful not only because the act of seeing itself is pleasurable but because you are looking at someone you love.” If this "someone" you love is God, then everything we do starts from contemplation of the Creator. What other mission do we have, other than to "see" the one we love, to be a creature geared towards the Creator? Or better yet, all of our mission and activities per se start from contemplation.

If we are not rooted in contemplation, then managing time will be stressful, because our "study" or "work" is geared towards personal status and ambition, rather than giving the glory to God. It is through contemplation that kairos (God's time) becomes geared towards chronos (human time), and our actions begin to arise from contemplation. In our busy schedules, despite our demands and deadlines, let us first ask ourselves whether what we "do" is flowing from contemplation. Let us be reminded in moments of difficulties to contemplate God: by contemplating, reason will guide emotions. Let us not build a golden calf for ourselves as the Israelites did, but root ourselves in contemplating the Creator before we act like "busy-bodies" (2 Thess. 3:11).  

                   

 

   

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Br. Cody Jorgensen, O.P.'s picture

Eucharist: Tribalism or Communion?

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Dodger, Yankee, Mariner. Patriot, Eagle, Raider.

In some parts of the country, your favorite sports team defines a certain part of you. Does a Colts fan talk to a Patriots fan? But what about in the Church?

English, Spanish, Vietnamese, Latin.

Contemporary Mass, Praise & Worship Mass, Polyphany Mass.

Family Mass, College Mass, Youth Mass.

Vigil. 7am, 10:30am, Noon, 5pm, 9pm.

St. Mary's, St. John's, Holy Family.

Franciscan, Jesuit, Dominican.

Do these people talk to each other? Or are they like a rival sports team? In my trip in Poland, it was interesting to note that in Krakow the gangs are actually socceer team fans. Things can get fairly violent, and your affiliation with a particular team could mean trouble if you encounter your rivals. There's graffiti in Krakow, but it's soccer team signs, not Los Angeles gang signs.

Tribalism seems to be an ingrained element of human nature. We all have our opinions, preferences, maybe even conveniences, and habits. They all come together in making the decisions about what sports games we watch, brand of goods we buy, and what Church we attend. I don't think I need to multiply examples: the point is clear. We love our own tribes, and we fight for our own tribes. We want our tribe to be the best, the strongest, the one with the biggest numbers, something to boast about over all the others.

"The Eucharist creates communion and fosters communion," Pope John Paul II writes in his last encyclical, Ecclesia de Eucharistia. (40) In current American Catholicism there seem to be strong currents devoted, not unlike a sports team, over what particular "tribe" you belong to. I've seen communities (of all types) who look upon others with disdain. "Ours is the best," one might boast. I have to ask, what does this look like to our secular contemporaries? What kind of witness is this? Someone entering the Church, or considering converting, could easily be turned off by the factionalism and sometimes loathful disdain that one group may have for another ... even within the same parish!

It is true, some groups may have very valid points, reasons for doing things a certain way. A zeal for faithfulness to rubrics is a good thing. In the cited encyclical the Pope exhorts all Priests to be faithful in their celebration of the Mass: "Priests who faithfully celebrate Mass according to the liturgical norms, and communities which conform to these norms, quietly but eloquently demonstrate their love for the Church." (52) Powerful words. But oftentimes it seems as if we have an uncanny ability to live outside of a mean, on the edge of an extreme.

Do we want to give a powerful witness of unity, of the love of the Lord to our neighbors? Isn't it our goal to spread the Gospel in a fallen world, a world that needs the same healing balm that we ourselves have received and continue to receive? We shouldn't wholesale set aside our differences; some differences are important. But even within the differences of our communities, we must, underneath it all, provide a powerful witness to the love of Jesus, and the communion that is built between us in our sharing in the one bread.

The Pope had pretty much "seen it all." I'm sure he'd witnessed his fair share of interesting and questionable liturgies. Factoring out true liturgical abuse (for I do not mean to say that this is inconsequential; the Pope strongly exhorts us to have a reverence for norms, to thereby faithfully adore and worship the Lord, with the respect and dignity proper to the Eucharist), we must look beyond our preferential tribalism, and emphasize our unity within the Church. "...[T]he Eucharistic Sacrifice, while always offered in a particular community, is never a celebration of that community alone. In fact, the community, in receiving the Eucharistic presence of the Lord, receives the entire gift of salvation and shows, even in its lasting visible particular form, that is is the image and true presence of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church." (39)

The faithful, both lay, religious, and clerical, should all strive to preserve and foster the bond of unity within their particular communities, by reflecting on and respecting the greatest of all mysteries: the Eucharist. The celebration of Mass is not a weapon that we wield to break communion within the Church. "From this it follows that a truly Eucharistic community cannot be closed in upon itself, as though it were somehow self-sufficient; rather it must persevere in harmony with every other Catholic community." (39) We must strive, in love, to look beyond our particular tribe to those others whom we may see as outsiders, and see ourselves as part of a much larger communion. The world should not be able to look at our communities and see us acting amongst one another as rivalrous sports fans. We must have mercy on one another in our failings, encourage each other in the faith, and look to what unites us most strongly, rather than overemphasizing the truly accidental.

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

On Silence and Schizophrenia, or, How to Use the Internet Without Losing Your Soul

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Pascal famously remarked that “the sole cause of man’s unhappiness is that he does not know how to stay quietly in his room.” There is much in this, and it is difficult to think of a simpler, more practical and pertinent recommendation for our contemporary world.

Mary & MarthWhen I was growing up in the 1980s, my parents were firm that I and my sister would not have televisions (or, by extension, video game apparati) in our rooms—too much distraction and too many other worthy things to occupy time, like, say, organizing a baseball card collection.  My parents—I thank them now!—went so far as to regulate the amount of television we did watch by a “marble system” invented by none other than my mom.  A double-sided tupperware container was assigned to each of us, and six marbles were placed in one side of the container at the beginning of the week, each marble standing for half an hour.  When I or my sister watched television for half an hour (or, for myself, when I played those very primitive video games like Super Mario Brothers, Metroid, and R.C. Pro-Am!), we would transfer one marble over to the other side.  Three hours a week of television or video games, and my sister and I had to apportion the time according to our tastes and prudential judgment.

 

By this simple system, my parents effectively trained me and my sister to acquire the habits of mental and emotional self-discipline in the area of media use.  How times have changed!  The internet and the multitudinous clever devices that can activate it, any time, any place, has introduced a kind of Copernican Revolution in such media availability.  The conditions my parents’ system worked in have multiplied, mutated, and expanded outward (inward? upward? where is the Internet?!) in an almost impossible-to-contain complexity.  One generally must have an e-mail account to get along in the contemporary world.  Cell phones—save for very select groups like Dominican students in formation—are generally expected for normal participants in human society.  The entire gaping abyss of the world-wide-web, filled with infinite amounts of useful and edifying material, alongside much foolish and even dangerous content, lies at most people’s finger-tips 24-7.

 

Much has been and continues to be said on how this new media milieu has radically altered the way our society is structured and how human interaction and relationships are conducted.  Here I point to one simple way it challenges our spiritual—and with it our psychological and emotional—health.  Put simply, “sitting quietly in our room” is the foundation for knowing God and thus for being happy.  Insofar as our media use engenders in us a restless and agitated spirit that is incapable of this, it is compromising our spiritual life, as well as our psychological and emotional health.

 

Reginald Garrigou LaGrange masterfully formulates the basic human need for quiet in his magisterial Three Ages of the Spiritual Life.  Contemplation and an “interior life” begins, LaGrange says, when a person is alone and begins to talk to himself.  If amidst this inward self-reflectiveness, which opens itself only in silence, one begins to seek truth and goodness, “this intimate conversation with himself tends to become conversation with God.”  An interior depth opens up in the person where important matters rise to the surface, unimportant matters fade, and we begin to gaze on the “whole” pattern of life, its meaning, origin, and end.  The “one necessary thing”—knowing God and sitting at the Lord’s feet—becomes for us a salve for our personal wounds, a strength for our weakness, and the life-breath and due nourishment of our soul (see Luke 10.39-42).  We begin to see more clearly the contours of our lives and their ultimate foundation in God, thus welling up with an inward thankfulness to the Almighty for His blessings and ever-present help.

 

The challenge is not to let our media use snuff out this inner-reflective depth.  A noted psychologist once actually connected the way modern technology affects us with a tendency to produce schizoid-like mental habits.  In the 1960s, Rollo May identified the constant barrage of television, media, and other modern technological forms as inducing a kind of social fragmentation where the individual becomes easily disconnected from others, losing the capacity to empathize and preserve inwardly a vital center of self-awareness (the excellent book is Love and Will).  The phenomena is counter-intuitive: though technology has connected human society in myriad ways previously unthinkable, it can simultaneously disconnect individuals and uproot the interior life precisely because external stimuli are so relentless.  Such overstimulation indulged in for long periods actually begins to scramble our brains, acting virtually as a narcotic drug in its attraction and potentially addictive qualities.

 

I am accused by my Dominican brethren of being  “Luddite”—one who spurns the use of technology on principle.  There is truth in the accusation (insert me smiling), but when it comes down to it I realize that social media, like all technology, is a tool that can be used well or ill.  Perpetually available internet access is in some ways the culmination of an increasingly dominant place technology has come to play in modern life since the Industrial Revolution began in the 19th century.  Amidst this milieu, the Christian today must develop a discipline respecting the internet and media use.  If the “marble system” is not effective anymore, since the internet is a repository not only for entertainment but many necessary things, we can still establish set times within our daily and weekly routine to devote to the Lord, to “contemplation,” to reflection on the good and important things of life.

 

I myself have taken to “internet fasts” on Friday—“abstaining,” as it were from all internet use save in instances where charity demands it (like, say, a lunch meeting I had e-mailed someone on and must check again that day).  The rest of the week I try to limit myself to one morning check and one evening check of no more than half an hour; and “sign off” by 9pm every evening from even non-business use.  The classic virtue that applies here is studiositas (“studiousness”), a disposition of healthy and vigorous intellectual inquiry, versus curiositas (“curiosity”), an unmitigated and arbitrary seeking after anything that stimulates.  The latter is the beginning of a soul-sapping road to psychological agitation and spiritual death, the former a healthy and ordered summoning of our natural human desire to know to worthy ends.  (See here for a short and insightful account of studiositas and curiositas by one of my Eastern Province confreres.)

 

Beyond the healthy ways to use media, nothing can take the place of the portion of our lives that each of us needs to carve out for the deeper contemplation in which God comes to us as a friend, “makes his dwelling within us,” whereby we become more aware of his Presence in our souls and the exceeding mercy and grace by which he would lead us to eternal life.  To sit quietly in one’s room is the beginning, an idea Pascal probably learned from one far greater: “Go into your room, shut the door and pray to your Father in heaven...”  This is a different task and graver obligation, I daresay, than seeing what one of my 500 friends on Facebook has happened to have thought worthy to post within the last five minutes.

 

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In this spirit, see here for a quick and informational video on how internet use affects our intellectual capability.  For a longer but thought-provoking recent interview of a Stanford psychologist on similar issues and the "myth of multi-tasking," see here.

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Br. Andrew Dominic Yang, O.P.'s picture

Me, the Prodigal Son

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The parable of the Prodigal Son features a character I can identify with. Saint Maximus the Confessor writes, “Again, he told of how that Father, who is goodness itself, was moved with pity for his profligate son who returned and made amends by repentance; how he embraced him, dressed him once more in the fine garments that befitted his own dignity, and did not reproach him for any of his sins.”

In Luke 15, Christ reminds us of the life-changing love the Father has for us. Reflecting upon my own life, I realize how easy it is to lose sight of this love, especially when we don’t keep vigilant on Christ’s desert path. At times this path appears lined with enormous billboards of temptation. Whereas my journey forward seems lonely and narrow, these temptations can practically seem lit up with the neon of the Las Vegas Strip. Sometimes, I can lose track of how far I’ve already walked –  how much progress I’ve already made. Like Lot’s wife in the Book of Genesis, I feel like turning around to catch a glimpse of the life I’ve left behind.

Indeed, Christ’s words in the Gospel are confirmed by the wealth of my personal experience with sin. First, we learn that disobedience to the will of God inevitably leads to sin and death. This is precisely what the Prodigal Son encounters in the Parable. Departing his true home for the world’s deceptive promises of happiness, and seemingly emboldened by his father’s mercy, the disobedient son enjoys the “good life” for probably quite some time. But where does that lead him? He has to face the consequences sooner or later, and he finds his soul just as sullied as his body is by mud. Confronted by his own misery, he starts the long “walk of shame” all the way home.

However, he does not yet know the depth of the Father’s mercy; he believes his Father would never accept him after all he’s done. If he’s anything like me, the son prefers anything else to having to face his father. But he’s short on cash, and out of options. After a sound beating, perhaps his father will allow him to work as a servant.

But what is the Father’s response? Since his son’s departure, he has not slept well. He has sent emissaries to search for him. He has scoured the horizon daily, waiting for the shadow of his son to appear. While he was still a long way off, his father caught sight of him, and was filled with compassion. He ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him. The shame of the son is covered by the overwhelming love of the Father.

In “The Problem of Pain,” C.S. Lewis says that “if God were proud He would hardly have us on such terms: but He is not proud, He stoops to conquer, He will have us even though we have shown that we prefer everything else to Him, and come to Him because there is 'nothing better' now to be had.” Jesus did not give us this parable to tell us about those sinners over there, yonder. This is a story about you and me — that Our Heavenly Father will accept us even when we’ve hit rock bottom. He waits for us in the confessional. All we can do is repent; meanwhile, God supplies the grace to cover our sins and inject life into the soul.

Now, having come face to face with the Father’s mercy, we surely feel that deep desire to return something to the Lord. What could possibly suffice? In Psalm 101, the Psalmist finds himself in a similar position of inadequacy.

“We have in our day no prince, prophet, or leader, no holocaust, sacrifice, oblation, or incense, no place to offer first fruits, to find favor with you. But with contrite heart and humble spirit, let us be received; as though it were holocausts of rams and bullocks, or thousands of fat lambs, so let our sacrifice be in your presence today as we follow you unreservedly; for those who trust in you cannot be put to shame.”

What could I possibly offer to the Lord to repay Him? After going through the possibilities among my material possessions, I am struck once again by the realization that I must daily offer Him my life, inadequate as it might be. It’s not a fair trade for Him, but it’s an exchange that Christ makes perfect.  

I pray for the Lord’s mercy as we approach the final days of Lent. Through the intercession of our Holy Father Dominic, may the Lord continue to mold us into holy preachers, intent only on the salvation of souls.

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

Sing to the Lord!

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An anonymous early Renaissance-era English poet once wrote,

Where griping griefs the heart would wound

And doleful dumps the mind oppress,

There music with her silver sound

With speed is wont to send redress.

One would be hard-pressed to find a time, place, or people in history that did not make music. Music, indeed, seems to be a fundamentally human activity where sound and silence work together to form a language that expresses more than is possible in ordinary speech. It is no wonder, really, that most religions make use of music, precisely for its ability to suggest something beyond the ordinary. Far from being seen merely as a recreational device or a commercial commodity, ancient and medieval musicians and philosophers saw music as something pertaining to the harmony (from the Greek word for “joint”) of the universe and of man. By following the design of the Creator, nature made music; by living lives of virtue, man’s life was music; by making sounds through instruments, man expressed and imitated the music of life and nature. When several people join together to sing songs of virtue and truth, a true, just and good community is formed. Due to the power of music, it is no wonder, then, that, in the West, music was carefully prepared for the source and summit of Christian life: the Mass.

Many contemporary Catholics might be surprised to know that the dominant use of hymns at Mass is a relatively recent innovation, and is actually not the preferred mode of singing according to the General Instruction of the Roman Missal. While hymns have their rightful place in the Divine Office, what characterized the Mass throughout the centuries was the use of antiphons found already in the text of the Mass itself. Antiphons are so named because they were done to sound (Greek phone “sound”) back and forth (Greek anti “in return”), between people in the form of a musical dialogue. These antiphons, typically taken from the Psalms and Sacred Scripture, were not randomly chosen by music directors or clergy members, but were fundamentally linked to the spirituality, the understanding, and the praying of every individual Mass. Instead of singing human poems like the pagans, Christians sang the song of the Holy Spirit, i.e., Scripture. And by singing Scripture, the People of God became harmonized together in the Spirit, and thus they themselves became a Holy Song to God. Throughout their singing, they unlocked for themselves the divine mysteries of the Lord’s Supper.

In today’s Ordinary Form of the Mass, we still have three antiphons (or four, depending on whether the Gradual replaces the Responsorial Psalm). The first is the Introit, or Entrance Chant, which accompanies the entrance procession. Historically the Introit was so important to the people that they would often name masses after its proper Introit. We see this still today with Laetare and Gaudete Sunday. The psalms of the Introit not only named the Mass, but they set the entire tone of the Mass by pointing to the profound spiritual meaning of all the texts and prayers that would be said in light of salvation history. Hence, the 13th century liturgist Guiliemus Durandus writes,

“The Mass is begun with the Introit. The Holy Fathers and the Prophets, long before the advent of Christ, hungered after these times and predicted them. Long before His coming, they offered Him their desires, their works, their praises and their prayers, all of which things are figured in the Mass. With regard to the Introit, it is the antiphon that provides us with the title of the Mass and which provides us with their poetical and prophetical predictions, the desires of their holy prayers as they patiently await the coming of the Son of God and the incarnation of God Himself.”

The other antiphons at Mass, the Offertory and the one for Communion, also use Sacred Scripture to clearly show the spiritual meaning of what is happening at Mass. The Offertory was meant to accompany the presentation of the gifts by the lay people, and it shows that this dignified action of the lay people has been foreshadowed by the great prophets, and, indeed, is now being fulfilled in the midst of the worshipping community. The Communion antiphon likewise reveals that in Eucharist, the People of God are completing what has been foreshadowed in ages past. It, therefore, is meant to move the people, emotionally and intellectually, to a greater understanding of the mystery of Christ’s Body and Blood.

To briefly illustrate how antiphons illuminate the meaning of the Mass, celebrate the participation of the lay people, and move our minds and hearts to contemplate God’s gifts, here are the antiphons from the Solemnity of The Body and Blood of Christ (Corpus Christi), and the listing of the readings for year A. Take some time to see how well they all fit together to form a united gift of prayer.

INTROIT: (Ps 80:17,2,3,11) He fed them with the finest of wheat, alleluia; and with honey from the rock he satisfied them, alleluia, alleluia. V. Rejoice in the honor of God our helper; shout for joy to the God of Jacob.

1st READING: Deuteronomy 8:2-3, 14b-16a

2nd READING: 1 Corinthians 10:16-17

GOSPEL: John 6:51-59

OFFERTORY: The Lord opened the doors of heaven and rained down manna upon them to eat; he gave them bread from heaven; man ate the bread of angels, alleluia. (Psalm 77:23-25) 

COMMUNION: He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him, says the Lord. (John 6:57) 

By singing together people form a community; they become harmonized with one another. By singing the antiphons at Mass, Christians form a community that is united, in Christ, to all the men and women throughout history who have anticipated, rejoiced in, and look forward again to the coming of the Lord. In an era marked so much by individualism, perhaps a way to recover and nourish our identity as the People of God, is to rediscover the immense treasure of antiphons. In an era where disputes often occur between peoples of differing tastes in liturgical music, perhaps a way to come together as a single body of worship is to join our voices together in the songs of the Mass: the antiphons.

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

Where is Your Heart?

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The Lord said to Moses, "Go down at once to your people whom you brought out of the land of Egypt, for they have become depraved. They have soon turned aside from the way I pointed out to them, making for themselves a molten calf and worshiping it, sacrificing to it and crying out..." (Exodus 32:7-14)

This past week I was struck in a particular way by Fr. Augustine's reflection on the above passage. In his homily he spoke of two ways in which we as human beings fall into the sin of idolatry. The first way is rooted in our failure to recognize God's presence in our lives. More than a simple lack of thankfulness for God's mercy, this act often results in our forgetting the fact that our very existence is a gift from God. When we do so, we can become proud and supplant God's image with our own.

Admittedly this is not what we usually think of when we hear the word idolatry. Golden calves and graven images are what usually come to mind. Yet we must remember that making ourselves into gods is just as dangerous as worshiping idols made of silver and gold.

This, of course, is the other way in which we can practice idolatry. It is based on our tendency to turn all of our attention to worldly things. Nowadays these things are not usually molten calves that we bow down before in worship. They are often the trivial things we give all our free time and energy to, like television or surfing the web. Instead of focusing our minds and hearts on the Lord, we turn away from the path God has set before us. 

As I reflected on all these things at adoration that evening, it sparked a question: Where is my heart?

I am a little embarrassed to admit it, but at this point during Lent I would have to say that my heart is in my stomach. I'm hungry all the time, and constantly snacking between meals. My cravings have become almost insatiable, so much so that even foods I don't like call out to me, tempting me to indulge. Unfortunately this seems to be a perennial problem. Throughout my life I have struggled with the discipline of fasting, especially during Lent.

While I used to get upset about this, I'm starting to see it as a helpful thing. My obsession with food and eating is a reminder that my heart is not yet in the right place. My greater concern needs to be the kingdom of God, not my next meal. I have no doubt that the remaining weeks of Lent will be difficult. Self-control often is, especially when you are anxious about other things. But at least now I recognize the problem, and can turn to God and ask for help.

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

Why We Study

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As is well known, St. Dominic was unique in his time in that he incorporated study into the spiritual life of the friars; study, not seen as an ancillary activity done as a means to a utilitarian end, but as a means of contemplation and prayer. In this presentation, the student Brothers of the Western Province of the Most Holy Name of Jesus expound upon the meaning of study in their own spiritual lives and explain how study of truth, far from being extraineous to their lives or prayer, is actually the main pillar in their walk with God.

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