Topic: Prayer

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

Fireworks, Freedom, and Frassati

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A month after his 21st birthday -- a time when most young people are trying to find themselves -- Pier Giorgio Frassati became a member of the Dominican family. Kneeling down in the gothic church of San Domenico, with the soft glow of candlelight reflecting off the vaulted ceilings, and the sweet aroma of incense filling the air, he received the white scapular of the Third Order of St. Dominic. Taking the name Gerolamo, after the Dominican friar whom he so admired for his religious zeal and fervor, Pier Giorgio had no doubts about his purpose in life. He was to be a man of the beatitudes: merciful, pure of heart, a peacemaker.

Like many Catholics in the modern age, Pier Giorgio was no stranger to political unrest. He understood, perfectly well, the struggle for peace and religious freedom. As a young man he participated in a number of religious processions that often led to his being “detained” by the police. They were afraid that he might be trying to stir up trouble as a member of the Popular-Socialist Party, who along with the Fascists, were vying for control of the Italian government in the early 1900s.

In spite of his distaste for the Fascist Party, the affairs of state were not Pier Giorgio’s chief concern. He simply believed that violence was never the answer and that “true peace is more a fruit of Christian neighborly love than of justice” (A Man of the Beatitudes, 99). So he used his brief periods in jail, not to promote some political agenda, but to encourage his fellow prisoners – to pray the rosary with them, to counsel them, and to ease their pain. For Pier Giorgio, this is what it meant to be a Christian, to be blessed. As a man with a hunger and thirst for righteousness, he had discovered that freedom is not merely something political. True liberty is spiritual – freedom from the power of Satan and slavery to sin.  

We find an example of this type of freedom in the Gospel of Matthew (8:28-34), when Jesus heals two men who have been possessed by evil spirits; men who had been held captive in Satan’s grasp for many years. By sending these demons into a herd of pigs, Jesus reveals that his miraculous work is not limited to feeding the hungry crowds. He also has the power to free us from the bonds of sin. Like the demoniacs who are freed from their spiritual imprisonment, we too can experience the power that frees us from spiritual death and raises us to new life in Christ. It is made available to us in the Sacraments, especially in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, when we are absolved of our sins, when grace is poured upon us, and we are given the strength to resist future temptation.

These least two weeks, during the Fortnight for Freedom, have been a wonderful time to reflect on our belief as Americans that everyone has a right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” While I will gladly admit that religious liberty and freedom of conscience are essential aspects of our way of life, we must not forget that spiritual freedom – freedom from the power of sin – is just as important. For Christ’s reign extends over all creation and the proclamation of his kingdom includes a declaration of liberty to captives – those under the thumb of human oppressors, as well as those who find themselves oppressed by spiritual forces.

Pier Giorgio knew this well. He believed that “faith enables us to bear the thorns with which our life is woven,” whether they be political or spiritual. This is why he went to Mass daily and once told a group of young people, “Feed on this Bread of Angels and from it you will gain the strength to fight your inner battle, the battle against passion and all adversities, because Jesus Christ has promised to those who feed on the Holy Eucharist eternal life and the graces necessary to obtain it…you will enjoy the peace that those who are happy in accordance with this world have never experienced, because true happiness does not consist in the pleasures of the world or in earthly things, but in peace of conscience, which we only have if we are pure in heart and mind” (A Man of the Beatitudes, 97-8).

Pure in heart; these words were often used to describe Pier Giorgio, by those who knew him best. When he died of polio on the 4th of July, 1925, it seemed as if the entire city of Turin turned up to pay their respects: Ester, the housekeeper whom he had brought to the faith; Signora Converso, the poor woman to whom he had sent medication while on his own deathbed. These and many others poured into the house, lined the streets during the procession, and crowded into the Church during the funeral. In Pier Giorgio they had been witness to a life touched by grace, a man of blessedness, who had experienced spiritual freedom in Christ and wanted to share it with the world.

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Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1990, and is a patron of World Youth Day. 

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

To know Mary is to know Jesus

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            I once read an interesting story about Non-Catholics attempting to live out their anti-Marian biases. The story illustrates the misunderstandings of Marian devotion.

            There was a group of Protestant Christians in England, where GK Chesterton lived, who took over and occupied an abandoned building once owned by a community of Catholic monks. The building, being a pre-nineteenth century ecclesial structure, had an architectural style that was overtly religious. There was no doubt at all that the building once belonged to Christians practicing the Catholic religion. The structure was replete with vertical lines shooting to the heavens, archways for every door and window. Every nook-and-cranny of the building had some figure or religious image or statue of a saint.

            Given that this was a Protestant group that took over the property, they were somewhat trepidatious about the images and icons; idolatry as they called it. Nevertheless, they gladly moved in to the building with the hopes that they could remove from the structure all the imagery and iconography that was distinctly Catholic. They, being Christians, did not necessarily mind the fact that there were images of Jesus and Angels.  After all, many main-stream Protestants still believe in these, but the icons of the Catholic saints and, most especially, of the Blessed Virgin Mary, had to go.

            So they went on and began the work of covering up or removing the uniquely Catholic imagery. In the paintings they covered over the saints and left most of the walls white-washed. They left the images of Jesus untouched; after all, they were devoted to Jesus and wanted to keep the images of Him as a constant reminder of their faith. When it came to the statues, since most of the statues were of Catholic Saints, they were thrown out all together. There were some statues that contained imagery that were favorable to them. Wanting to do the least damage to the structure, they did not throw these statues out all-together, but brought in sculptors and stone workers to chip away only those elements they did not like, only what reminded them of Catholicism. St. Joseph was chipped away and the child Jesus was left standing; St. Catherine was chipped away and they left a solitary image of Jesus handing a crown of thorns to any hypothetical believer. The Sacred Heart was chipped away and a very shallow bust of a man who looked like Jesus was left.

            The most prominent statue of the entire complex was the one that stood at the entrance. It was a statue of the blessed Virgin Mary holding her infant Child Jesus. The stone workers had orders to keep the images of Jesus but take away all that was added on around Jesus that smacked of Catholic devotion. But they couldn’t do it. There was no way that they could chip away Mary and not chip away Jesus. If they chipped away all that reminded the viewer of the Mother of Jesus, they would chip away so much of her child that there would be virtually nothing left to refashion into anything edifying or inspiring to religious devotion at all. There would be nothing left that looked like Jesus

            What did they do? They did what they had to… they simply threw out both Mother and Child.

            This story provides an illustration for the Christian life. Many Christians have a sincere desire to hold on to Jesus, and Jesus alone, to the exclusion of any other character that the Catholic Church might slide in. But there is a deep misunderstanding behind this.

            As Christians, we  cannot take Jesus alone because Jesus did not come alone. God, when he became man to walk among us, live among us, and die for us, did not come down in a vacuum. He came down as a human baby with a Mother. He was born in history, born in time once for all time. Sacred Scripture never tires of outlining for us his genealogy, showing us quite clearly that he was truly one of us, truly a human being born in the line of history shared by every of other human being. And, just as in the natural order, where children to not drop out of heaven by themselves, but come from mothers and fathers, so in the spiritual order our savior comes to us in a family.

            The recognition that our Lord is a sharer of our common human nature (Emmanuel, God with us) is lived out in the Catholic religion in many forms of devotion. Most especially, this is played out in the devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary without whom there would be no Jesus. We cannot chip away the mother without chipping away the child. For a Christian, cultivating a devotion to the Mother of God is not optional, it is not something tacked on from the outside. No… it is an obligation of all who call themselves followers of Her Son. If we as Christians begin to chip out of our lives a devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, we will soon find that remains may barely resemble authentic Christianity at all. 

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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.

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

Return to the Lord your God

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"Return to the Lord" is the call in morning prayer for the next three days. On Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday the Scripture for the Morning Office comes from Lamentations. The poetic text lends itself well to liturgical use. The liturgy proclaims Lamentations with a hauntingly powerful call to repentance. The refrain is repeated: “Return to the Lord your God.” 

It is good to learn repentance through the liturgical proclamation of the Lamentations. When I first heard the Lamentations sung while in graduate school at the University of Washington at the Dominican Church in Seattle, Blessed Sacrament, I was moved to conversion. I mourned my sins and I wanted to cling to the Lord. This is conversion: return to the Lord. There is power in conversion. It moves us from mourning our own sins to clinging to Christ. St. Gregory of Nyssa says in the midst of our mourning Christ becomes our intercessor. We want to cling to Jesus.

We want to seek this conversion not only for ourself, but for our church. The church, St. Ambrose says, commenting on this Scripture, should not forget repentance. However, we must be confident that Christ offers compassion to the Church. St. Gregory the Great points out that leaders in the Church who have fallen also need compassion, but there is often little to be found. We need to mourn for the sins of the Church, but also trust Christ intercedes for Her, offering compassion and, ultimately, salvation. It is time to return to Jesus, our Lord and God.

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:


 

 

 

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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.

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

Reflecting on the Virgin Mary during Advent

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This season we celebrated the solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, when we as Christians remember and extoll the great mercy of our Lord who, in creating His own mother in the womb of St. Anne, bestowed upon her the singular gift of being preserved from the stain of original sin from the moment of her conception. As we approach the Solemnity of the Nativity, the Motherhood of the Blessed Virgin Mary becomes a prominent highlight of our devotional lives. Although many Catholics have been familiar with these devotions from childhood, I, having come to the Church in adulthood, have not always found it inspiring or even agreeable. When I was a new Catholic and devotion to the Virgin Mary was first introduced to me, I was told that she is celebrated as the “model Christian”, the perfect example of a holy and obedient life. How could a virginal young woman living two thousand years ago serve as a model? This seemed like nothing more than mere sentimentality. Over the last few weeks I have been, once again, through the Church’s liturgical cycles, pushed to reflect on why the Blessed Virgin Mary is now so important to my spirituality. 

At the Annunciation, through the angel Gabriel as His messenger, the God of Israel came to the Virgin Mary and proposed that she be the mother of the Messiah. At her “yes”, her “fiat”, the second person of God, God the Son, became incarnate in her womb. From that moment on the Virgin Mary was a temple of God, a walking tabernacle within which the God of Israel dwelt with His people. The Eternal word of God who was with God from the beginning, God from God and light from light, took flesh in her womb and became one of us. Through the “yes” of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Eternal God would now take up a human nature and, from that moment on, be united with mankind in a union beyond the imagination of even the prophets. The Son of God would work with a human nature, act with a human nature, speak with a human nature, and ultimately redeem humanity through that same human nature. It was the “yes” of the Virgin Mary that opened the door and became the gate through which God Himself would enter the world. She submitted her entire being to the will of God to such a degree that, through her very body, God would now be one with His people.

The Virgin Mary was so docile to the Holy Spirit that she became, as the tradition of the Christian East claims, the “God Bearer”, or “Theotokos”. It is in this way that she becomes the ideal model of every Christian. What else could be meant by being a Christian than this, to be so open and united to the will of God that that very will is expressed in everything we do; to be so united with Jesus that we also become like walking tabernacles of Him, carrying His love to all that we meet? Like the Virgin Mary, through our “yes” to God, we ought to become so docile before His will that our own human natures become new vehicles by which He carries out His saving plan on earth. Like a pencil in the hand of a master poet that becomes the instrument by which he writes, our Master Poet ought to be God the Father, and our very lives be His instruments by which He continues to write the great epic of Salvation History.

It was St. Dominic’s great hope that the Order of Preachers be always under the patronage of the Blessed Virgin Mary. By entering into the true spirituality of his season of Advent, I am becoming increasingly more aware our need to imitate the Blessed Virgin Mary in her complete “yes” to God the Father. My prayer is that all of my Brother Dominicans and I will become more and more a symbol and reflection of that imitation to the World. By being imitators of Mary we will be imitators of Christ.

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