Topic: Preaching

Stay Alert

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A reflection on the Lord's warning to the complacent in the Book of the Prophet Amos, most fitting as we approach the end of the liturgical year and are called upon to think about our standing before the Lord.

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

Strange Grandeur: Embracing Catholic Distinctives in Today's World

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The Scriptures, and the God who inspired them, invariably disturb and surprise us. In the readings for my recent preaching, the prophet Joel describes a Day not of Light, but of Darkness; and our Lord Himself is accused by his adversaries of exorcising demons in the name of Satan. What, pray, could such contrasts have to say to us today? Much if we are willing to embrace what St. Paul calls the "foolishness of the Cross."

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!


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



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."


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

Cut to the Heart

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The Gospel of Matthew tells us that as soon as the Pharisees hear of the Sadducees’ defeat at the hands of Jesus, the Pharisees gather together in order to try their own luck in dealing with this new, upstart rabbi. One Pharisee in particular, a lawyer, comes up with the seemingly foolproof question – “Teacher, which commandment in the Law is the greatest?” [1]  

Of course, what the Pharisee does not realize is that the one he questions is the very author of life (and Law) itself.  

Jesus answers him, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.” [2]  

The Gospel does not record the manner in which the Pharisee responded to these words, but to me, the evangelist’s choice to omit them speaks volumes. I happen to have a few lawyer friends myself, and rarely have I found them to be at a loss for words. One can imagine that Jesus’ perfect reply astounded the Pharisee to the point where he is “cut to the heart.”  

But the Pharisees' silence should not surprise us, for Jesus has not come to make us feel comfortable, or to condone our rebellious behavior. In order for Him to shake us from our doldrums, we must be disturbed. In order for Him to exorcise our tendency to desire mediocrity, we must be bothered. For Him to dispel our inner, self-righteous Pharisee, we must be silenced. Otherwise, we will not change.  

Whenever we hear the Word of God preached, and by grace, are able to receive it with openness, we also find ourselves “cut to the heart,” much like the first hearers of the Gospel message in the Acts of the Apostles. This holy preaching– this kerygma–so explosive in power, facilitates an encounter with Christ that convicts us to live better; a life that is ultimately conformed to the life of Christ. For it is only after the Word is preached that we turn with open hands to Peter and the apostles asking, “What are we to do, my brothers?” [3]

Unfortunately, the human condition is such that we must be constantly exposed to this Word, for it is all too easy for us to slip back into our old ways. We who are self-content require Christ’s liberation and encouragement to “Be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.” [4]

One of our problems today is that this kerygma is taking place exclusively in the Sunday pulpit. Instead, it should also be on our lips wherever we are: in our streets, in our workplace, and most importantly, in our homes. The reading from the Office of Compline after Evening Prayer I on Sunday exhorts us to “Take to heart these words…[and] drill them into your children. Speak of them at home and abroad, whether you are busy or at rest.” [5]

The Dominican Order has taken these words to heart, and in its great wisdom, has required each Priory to read the Rule of St. Augustine on a regular basis. The Rule, a true spiritual masterpiece, serves as the Order’s founding document and reminds us of how we should conduct ourselves in the monastery. When read aloud in common, it becomes our own internal kerygma. The Rule’s message, however, is by no means exclusive to monks, nuns, or friars. It can serve as a reminder to all that the demands of the Gospel orient us towards true love of God and neighbor, so that we may achieve the perfection we seek. 

Each time the Rule is read, I am “cut to the heart” by its words. I recognize my many failings, petty behavior, and selfish desires. As this kerygma burrows its way into my soul, a new fault of mine bubbles to the surface. And I am grateful for it, because there are many faults I may otherwise be unaware of. But even after hearing the Rule read aloud dozens of times, I feel no closer to having accomplished its prescriptions. It is here where I realize that I have lots of work to do.

But there is hope, for the kerygma is never meant to lead us to despair. While each new day may bring the inevitability of sin, the story does not end with this. Christ's victory on the cross has won for us the great gift to repent, and to believe anew. For this, we are in constant need of the grace of the Word, and I find myself consoled by the concluding sentences of the Rule: “If any one of you realizes that he has failed on a specific point, let him be sorry for the past, safeguard the future, and continue to pray for his offences to be forgiven, that he not be led into temptation.” [6]

[1] Matthew 22:36

[2] Matthew 22:37-40

[3] Acts 2:37

[4] Matthew 5:48

[5] Deuteronomy 6:4-7

[6] Rule of St. Augustine, Chapter 8

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

Connecting Threads

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It’s always been fascinating to me how many people we never get a chance to meet in our lifetime. Hint: It’s a really large number! Today, however, this number is significantly augmented by the phenomenon of Internet based communications (like this one!). Recently I was interviewed about my own work and interactions both online and offline by Benjamin Alexander on his new podcast Pulling the String.

You can also find the interview on iTunes. It's titled Kefitzat Haderech With A Contentious Monk.

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

Holy to the Core

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We're not bad people, right? Compared with the people described by the prophet Amos, we're veritable angels! But what really lurks within the depths of our hearts? Are we really the people that we think we are?

Br. Christopher Wetzel, O.P.'s picture

The Mercy of God

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In this preaching from Sunday Vespers on September 15, 2013, I ask what made St. Paul such a great preacher, as part of a reflection on 1 Timothy 1:12-17.

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

When Nature Goes Gaga

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Official Logo of Haus of Gaga,, Author-Haus of Gaga (available to public through Wikipedia Commons)

I don’t dip into popular culture too often, but one can hardly exist today without having some knowledge of the inimitably freakish Lady Gaga.  (I don’t call her so out of bad manners! This is how she self-identifies, considering herself a—direct quote—"champion of freaks."1)  I have only read the Wikipedia article on her popular song “Born This Way,” but find the title exquisitely and uproariously ironic. Given Gaga’s penchant for wearing all manner of outlandish, shock-and-awe attire, one could hardly think of starker examples of how a person is not born! To my knowledge, babies don’t often emerge from the nine-month seclusion of the womb—unless they’ve been remarkably industrious during their stay—with bodies clad in bubble-outfits, telephones, and meat-get-ups, or donning elaborate and expensive doll houses on their freshly-formed heads.

I bring up Stefani Germanotta (Gaga’s real name) since she seems to me the perfect embodiment of a philosophical point on which our whole culture is going increasingly mad. And that is the status of "nature," especially as applied to the human person.

Classically there are two senses in which the word "nature" can be taken. One is "what tends to happen." This is the sense contemporary culture has almost exclusively adopted. Look round the habitable world and you see all manner of phenomena: people grow up and grow old; flowers bloom and then wither; sunshine and rain may happen within a 24-hour period. And then there are worse things that happen: earthquakes destroy towns and villages; hurricanes put lives in danger; diseases cause terrible pain and affliction to individuals and families. It is legitimate to call all these things "natural" in the sense that "they happen in the world we live in"—though some be delightful and edifying, and others terrible, difficult, and even tragic.

The other sense of natural is not "what happens to happen," but "what ought to happen." This is the sense contemporary culture more often rejects. But even the rejection is inconsistent. In certain areas, for example, no one has a problem admitting that things "ought to grow and behave" in a certain way. We all know, for example, the difference between a sick dog and a healthy dog; we know the difference between a flower that is wilting before its time and one that has, in the way it ought, come into full bloom. We know, to take a ridiculous and rudimentary example, that when dandelion seeds scatter, they don't pop up as roses, or geraniums, or puppies, or crocodiles. We know that nature, or Nature, has certain laws which structure and guide and shape the way things are "supposed" to be. Daffodils don't scatter tulip seeds; hamsters don't emerge by breeding goldfish; and there is a desirable difference between healthy, vigorous, and mature plant and animal life, versus the same that becomes enfeebled or dies before its time.

The rub comes at the species homo sapiens. We're fine with plants and animals "needing to behave and grow" in certain ways. When it comes to us, we're not so clear-headed. Sexuality and gender are the clearest current examples. When Gaga says in the song mentioned above, "No matter gay, straight, or bi, lesbian, transgendered life, I'm on the right track baby..." she is presuming the first definition of nature to the exclusion of the second; or rather taking the first definition and projecting it into the second. She is taking the fact that "this is what people do and how people act and how they are increasingly choosing to self-identify," as establishing without debate the moral rectitude of the claimed identities; as establishing beyond the possibility of challenge that same-sex attraction is unavoidable, inevitable, right, good, and fine, and all the bigots who think differently need to be shamed (and legally coerced) into thinking differently.

Pastorally, of course, these are very sensitive issues. Many are the noble and good souls who experience same-sex attraction and valiantly seek to live chaste lives. These souls know that chastity is ultimately freeing; and the fact that they experience SSA, though it can be a tremendous cross, has no bearing whatever on their intrinsic worth as a human being, or on their spiritual call to be holy, blameless, and happy saints in the kingdom of God.2 But this popular and widespread rebellion against the notion that women are made for men and men for women, or—from another but related area—little boys and little girls should use bathrooms and play on sports teams according to their biological makeup; all this popular confusion over gender is rooted, in one way, in a very simple philosophical mistake. And that is to equate human nature with whatever the current human beings walking around—especially those in large coastal California cities—happen to want and do.

Nave W window, William Wailes of Newcastle, 1866-detail; Uploaded to Twitter by Dave, Leicester, UK

But we live in a fallen world. "Nature" is therefore broken and there will always, within this mortal coil, be a gap between what "ought" to happen and what does happen. In one sense, Lady Gaga is perfectly right. Crazy, unpredictable, and disordered things happen all the time. Nature has been a bit Gaga ever since Adam. But Nature's Gaga-ness under the reign of sin does not justify baptizing, leaving as they are, and exalting these gaga-features. The "New Normal" promoted by television sitcoms and the new Queen of Pop, is really not new at all. It is quite old, as anyone familiar with ancient Rome in its decadence can attest.

The real fallacy is in believing that this melting together of gender difference into an undifferentiated social vat, is exciting, bold, fresh, and joy-bringing. But Nature is more exciting than that. Man's authentically natural state is what is really new, is ever-ancient and ever-new, is full of life and joy and communion with the Creator. It is a paradisical garden with magical fruit, marvelous flowers, and a man and a woman who become one flesh. Within that natural primeval duality between man and woman lie drama, romance, and the mystery of sacrificial love: a mystery crafted by the handiwork of God and inscribed into the bodies and souls of men and women even today.

It is true that all of us here below are "born this or that way," full of desires and inclinations running hither and thither (sexual or otherwise). But only by respecting and honoring the Natural Design woven into our souls by the Creator will we be happy. Our truly natural desires, thoughts, and personality then emerge, and begin to partake of that harmony and beauty we are called to reflect before the Face of God forever. Our gaga-nature bows to the light of Nature within, which flows from the supernal creative wisdom of the Divine Artist. By harmonizing our thoughts and actions with this inward illumination, we are made glad by the Radiant Light at the back of all things, beckoning and shaping and transforming us to be glorious creatures of our God and King unto eternity.

1 The quote comes from an interview with Larry King in 2010, which is quite interesting. As is often the case with celebrities, her off-stage persona is much more unassuming, even fragile, than her onstage rip-roaring, shock-oriented bravura.


2 For the record, the Catholic Church takes no position on whether SSA may be genetic or not, admitting that its "psychological genesis remains largely unexplained" (see Catechism of the Catholic Church, #2357). In this sense SSA may, especially from a subjective standpoint, be as close to something not chosen as one can get—which is why to merely experience the attraction (as with any lustful desire, homosexual or heterosexual) is not sinful, but only becomes so when consented to and acted upon.

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

We Preach Christ Crucified

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Below is a recording of Br. Chris' preaching for Vespers on Saturday, September 14, 2013, the Feast of the Exultation of the Cross. The preaching is on the reading from 1 Corinthians 1:23-24, on the theme of the "scandal" of the Cross, and its apparent "foolishness."

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

Steubenville Youth Conference - San Diego

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It seems as though many of us student brothers had positive experiences at youth conferences this past summer. Whereas Br. Michael James and Br. Peter attended "Ignite Your Torch" in the Pacific Northwest, my classmate Br. Thomas Aquinas and I, along with 5500 teens and volunteers, were fortunate enough to participate in the Steubenville San Diego Youth Conference on the University of San Diego campus. Named after the Franciscan University at Steubenville, which organizes the conferences nationwide, these conferences (more information can be found here) are designed to bring high school youth together to experience the love of Jesus Christ found within the Catholic Church. I attended as a youth chaperone to my home parish, St. Thomas Korean Catholic Center, while Br. Thomas Aquinas and our Province Vocation Director Fr. Steve Maekawa, O.P. staffed a Dominican vocation booth for young men interested in religious life and the priesthood. 

The Steubenville Conference utilizes a certain style of “evangelical” preaching and music, but combined with a fervent devotion to the sacraments, particularly Christ in the Eucharist and Reconciliation. I’m sure that Fr. Steve, one of 30 or so priests in attendance, alone must have heard hundreds of confessions over many lengthy hours. I know this because I entered his confessional on Friday night past 11 pm to see if he might need any water, only to find a determined grin and bleary eyes. I was moved to see thousands of teens lined up to declare their sins to the priest, receive absolution from Christ Himself, and experience the powerful mercy of God in the sacrament. 

The band, which played on stage throughout the conference, could not have performed any better. Likewise, each of the conference speakers, all of whom fearlessly proclaimed the infinite love of God, exuded a “cool factor” that was undeniably attractive to the thousands of youth present. At certain points, even I found myself steadying my own emotions while blinking back tears of my own. I’m fairly familiar with the intense “praise and worship” style of the Steubenville conference, having attended it before as a layman. Though I can certainly admit, as a Dominican friar, I’m more accustomed to a solemn liturgy that fosters quiet prayer and meditation. But I don’t believe that a charismatic approach to worship, such as was employed at the conference, need be in conflict with the Church’s venerable liturgical tradition; rather, it can complement it when balanced by other elements.

Today, “praise and worship”--drums, electric guitars, and all--seems to be the dominant popular mode of devotion among teens in the United States. Steubenville’s music ministry is remarkably effective at engaging young people through these means, and stirring them to the praise and adoration of the Triune God. A truly Catholic approach, it seems to me, might use and employ such methods—as Steubenville’s ministry does—in extra-liturgical settings to great effect. But in order for faith to last, it must be grounded in a consistent prayer life, and an intellectual understanding of the truths of the faith. Both of these, but especially one’s prayer life, require silence and space for quiet reflection. I think the reason why the Mass developed over the centuries with musical forms like chant and polyphony, was precisely that the Church had a strong instinct that the ordinary and enduring way to approach the Triune God required solemnity, reverence, and a contemplative posture.  At the same time, one of the geniuses of the Catholic Church through the ages has been precisely its ability to adopt and shape dominant cultural forms into itself, purifying them and making them serve the message of Christ and his Church.  There seems to me nothing against, and much to speak for, Catholics adopting this “praise and worship” devotional mode as a means of evangelizing people; while retaining the primary liturgical posture as one of more traditional solemnity.

In all of this, the most important thing that the Steubenville conference does is that it gives teens a chance to powerfully encounter Christ in a way they might not have before. Over and over, the speakers reminded the teens that they are "chosen" by the God of the Universe who calls them by name. Profound healing and conversion happens there; I’ve seen it with my own eyes. However, the Steubenville conference is just one event, one institution that cannot supply all of the Church’s needs. The Church is still in dire need of many things, including good catechesis, a powerful witness to Christ, and the renewal of the contemplative life. That part is up to us, you and me. Archbishop Di Noia, O.P. has insightfully called this period in history a “Dominican moment.” I experienced an aspect of this firsthand, as teens peppered me with theological questions in the common room at 3:00 in the morning. 

Lastly, it’s become known that many young people receive their vocations at Steubenville Youth Conferences. It was most edifying to see hundreds of young men and women respond courageously to a “Vocations Altar Call,” with a blessing given by Bishop Cirilo Flores of San Diego. It prompted me to reflect upon my own vocation, and why I chose to enter the Dominican Order. The answer in my heart was simple: because I love God, and I want to give my life entirely to Him. In the end, I’m not sure who got more out of the Conference, me or the teens I chaperoned. I find myself already looking forward to next year’s conference. Please keep in your prayers all the young people who attended this year's event – that they might always respond generously to God's call.