Topic: Preaching

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

Surrender and Bend Low

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"Humility is one of the most difficult of virtues both to attain and to ascertain," Bl. Cardinal Newman reminds us in The Idea of a University. So how how does one grow in humility? Hear one answer in my reflection from 1st Vespers on the 22nd Sunday of Ordinary Time.

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

Ignite Your Torch

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Ignite Your Torch…Conquer for Christ! This was the rallying cry of those attending Ignite Your Torch (IYT), a youth conference which made its way to the Pacific Northwest earlier this month in order to evangelize and inspire 200 teens from Oregon and the state of Washington. IYT offers something unique in the way of youth conferences.  Frequently the accent at youth ministry events is on fun, games, and music, with a dash of catechesis and preaching that goes only so deep.  IYT also allows teen to participate in beautiful and reverent liturgies, and learn about the Catholic faith and how to put it into practice. In addition to being Eucharistic-centered, Marian, and pro-life, IYT invites priests, religious brothers (Br. Peter, myself, and Fr. Stephen Maria represented the Western Province of Dominicans) and sisters, and many others to come together and offer catechetical presentations and workshops on a number of topics.

Some of the highlights from the conference, in my opinion, included Br. Peter’s talk on natural law, and a presentation by Sister Angela Marie, O.P., who spoke about the human person and love, referring to St. Thomas Aquinas as she distinguished between the emotion of love and love as an act of the will. I had the wonderful opportunity to speak on a vocation panel for young men discerning the priesthood and/or religious life, and to talk about the Angelic Warfare Confraternity. Below are some excerpts from my presentation:

Even if we are vigilant and have the best intentions, resisting the devil is not an easy task. Satan is tricky. He appears as an angel of light, but is really the father of lies. His purpose is to thwart God’s plan, and to consume as many souls as he can, by any means necessary. He tried to do this 800 years ago with a young man named Thomas Aquinas, but thanks be to God, he failed. 

At the age of eighteen, Thomas had decided to join the Dominican Order. But his family was fervently against it. Because the Order of Preachers was new in the early 13th century, it had no prestige. Thus in order to keep him away from the Dominicans, Thomas’ family held him captive in one of their castles. After a time, his brothers came up with a plan that they were sure would cause Thomas to abandon his religious vocation. They hired a prostitute to seduce Thomas, but the plan backfired. When the prostitute entered the room and began to undress, Thomas grabbed a searing hot poker from the fireplace and drove her out, chasing her from the room! He then slammed the door and fell to his knees, praying to be preserved in chastity and in his intention to live the vocation of religious life. His prayer was answered in a vision. Two angels came to him and tied a cord around his waist, saying “On God’s behalf, we gird you with the cincture of chastity, which no attack will every destroy.”

This event, which was made public after Thomas Aquinas’s death, is the foundation of one of the oldest groups associated with the Dominican Order, that of the Angelic Warfare Confraternity—a fellowship of men and women, bound to one another in charity and prayer, dedicated to pursuing chastity under the patronage of St. Thomas Aquinas and the Blessed Virgin Mary. Members throughout history have included: Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati, St. Aloysius Gonzaga, and many others.

As I’m sure you all know, the pursuit of chastity is often a battle with the world. It is a battle against the devil, who prowls like a roaring lion, who works to devour and destroy the true beauty of our sexuality. Because he cannot create anything himself, the devil mimics God’s power by trying to corrupt everything the Lord has made. Thus the beauty of the human body and the gift of our sexuality is misrepresented in art, television, film, advertisement, etc. People are turned into objects, and love is replaced by lust. What’s sad is that this has occurred so gradually over time, many people don’t even notice it any more. They’ve become desensitized to the hyper-sexualization of our culture. Now, immodesty and promiscuity are practically deemed normal.

As human beings, affected by original sin and concupiscence, we are weak; tempted to act on sexual desires outside of the proper time and place. But we do not have to be controlled by our sexual impulses. God wants us to be free, and to pursue true happiness in a way that avoids the false and counterfeit loves the devil sets before us. Pursuing a life of chastity helps us to do this, for when we practice self-discipline in our thoughts and actions, this in turn leads to self-control, which ultimately leads to self-possession. And it is only when we truly possess ourselves that we can give our whole being back to God and find the happiness we seek.

This is just one of the benefits of joining the Angelic Warfare Confraternity, but there are many others. In addition to having Saint Thomas Aquinas as a personal patron, one is also strengthened in their resolve to resist temptation, especially as the prayers of hundreds of thousands of other Confraternity members, both on earth and in heaven, come to our aid each day. And on certain days, one may receive a plenary indulgence if the usual conditions are met…

As you begin to discern if you want to make this commitment, I offer one final thought. The Angelic Warfare Confraternity is not a magic wand. Members promise to strive for chastity, but you still might fall into sin. We are not perfect. The point is to grow in chastity, and to pray for others as they do so. God granted to St. Thomas Aquinas a purity that infused all his thoughts and actions for the rest of his life. As we pursue chastity, let us seek his intercession and remember that our Lord Jesus Christ calls each of us to be happy and holy saints-in-the-making.

For more information on the Angelic Warfare Confraternity, and how to enroll, please visit angelicwarfare.org

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

The Apostle of California

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You shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, even to the ends of the earth.”(Acts 1.8)

Serra

Among the many aspects of the much-touted “New Evangelization,” one of its primary thrusts is a kind of “re-evangelization” of countries and peoples historically Christian but who have faltered or weakened in respect to the faith.  Of all regions in the Western World one might point to as an example, California would seem to be in the top running.  Hollywood and its television, movie, and media industries, exert a powerful influence not only on American but on world culture.  The billion-dollar pornography industry—it is well-known—cultivates its poisonous seed-bed in the San Fernando Valley, the “City of Angels.”  Violence seems to be a perennial Achilles’ heel of the state, from the rough-and-tumble cowboy and saloon days (which ended not too long ago—up until the 1940s, my hometown of Monterey was still quite a rough spot: read Steinbeck’s Tortilla Flat or Cannery Row to get an idea), to the modern street gangs which have so troubled her cities and even public schools.  Up north the City of St. Francis has been home to an assertive homosexual culture since the 1980s, and its legal circuit has been busy in the last ten years bullying the California and American court systems into legalizing same-sex unions, culminating in a significant victory in the Supreme Court just last week.

It may not be coincidental that we celebrate today, in the wake of last week’s happenings, the feast of the patron of California, Blessed Junipero Serra.  As all native Californians recall from state history in 4th grade, Father Serra initiated the founding of the chain of missions that dot our coast.  Serra is a known figure for most Californians, evoking generally kindly images of a generous friar in a brown habit, whose name adorns various streets, highways and schools throughout the state, and whose missions retain a certain rugged mystique evoking California’s Spanish and Native American past.  These are all good things.

Christians, however, can look to Serra for far greater and deeper inspiration.  He was, above all, a Champion of the Gospel with an indomitable zeal for souls, and perseverance in carrying out the Lord’s Great Commission.  Born in Petra, Mallorca, off the Eastern coast of Spain in 1713, he became a Franciscan at the age of 17.  Due to a particularly sharp intellect, he rose quickly through his philosophical and theological studies, becoming “lector” of philosophy before ordination, and eventually a Doctor of Sacred Theology at the age of 29.

Though an admired and respected teacher, he was a more revered preacher, able to stir crowds to tears and joy with his fiery sermons, and often dramatic penitential practices.1

From the early days of his Franciscan vocation, he felt a strong desire to offer himself to the missionary efforts of Spain in the New World.  This “dream” of his was delayed for a number years then finally granted by his superiors.  He arrived at the Mexican Port of Vera Cruz in 1749 and proceeded to walk 200 miles to Mexico City, a journey in which his leg became infected from insect bites, crippling him enough to render walking difficult the rest of his life.  After teaching at the College of San Fernando in Mexico City, and then some initial mission work among the Pame Indians of the Sierra Gorda mountains, Serra eventually got himself assigned to missionize the then untouched land of Alta (modern-day) California.

His contingent disembarked in San Diego Bay and founded Mission San Diego de Alcala on July 1st, 1769 (his now feast day).  California acquired its first martyr at this mission on November 5, 1775, as Padre Luis Jaime was killed in an Indian attack.  Serra was not present at the mission at the time, but on hearing of his compadre’s death, exclaimed, “Thanks be to God; now that the terrain has been watered by blood, the conversion of the San Diego Indians will take place.”2

He also set a standard for treatment of the native population of California in response to this incident.  Instead of seeking retribution, Serra demanded (and had codified into the laws governing the mission) that Franciscans could never seek legal retribution from the natives for any violence perpetrated.  Instead, it should be forgiven and their spiritual conversion and nourishment peacefully sought.

San Carlos Borromeo del Rio Carmelo (“Carmel Mission”) was founded one year after San Diego, in 1770.  When Serra’s ship arrived on the shores of Monterey Bay, the crew made a remarkable discovery.  The Spanish conquistador Sebastián Vizcaíno had been the first European to explore these shores in 1602.  A priest in Vizcaíno’s retinue had offered mass under an oak tree just up from the shore, and planted a cross to commemorate the event, the first mass said in Alta California.  To the amazement of Serra’s men, the cross was still standing in 1770, 168 years later.  Not only this, but the native population had venerated it with abalone shells and other decorative arrangements.  Serra dutifully said mass on the spot to commemorate the original landing, and in hopes of future missionary success.

And success did come.  Serra’s efforts in California were by any scale heroic, and the fruits quite remarkable.  He traversed thousands of miles by foot during the course of his life in spite of his leg injury, founding nine missions; he was well-known as a keen administrator and forceful leader (often intervening on behalf of the native populations against the Spanish military presence, with whom he frequently came into conflict for mistreating the Indians); was a gentle and generous pastor of souls; confirmed over 5,000 natives in the missions by special permission of the bishop in Mexico City; and oversaw a mission system which baptized and converted even more to the Christian faith.3

I have been told that to this day at Mission San Antonio, Native Americans gather to celebrate the Feast of St. Anthony, many of whom are descended from the original converts.

It is, then, with fervor and joy that we should celebrate the feast of Blessed Junipero Serra, at a time when California’s Catholic and Christian identity is in a rather bad way.  Countless of its cities are named after saints.  We need saints like them to arise even now.  California has always had a reputation for being  a rough-and-tumble place, as beautiful in its natural diversity as it tends to be lawless in its behavior.  Such, indeed, makes up a good part of the state’s lure and lore.  We can, then, seek Blessed Junipero Serra’s intercession even today for the renewal of the Christian faith in California and the West.  For nothing is ultimately more alluring than the beauty and goodness of God’s Son.  Serra’s penitential spirit, zeal for souls, and shrewd practical wisdom, are all needed if the faith he once planted in California over two centuries ago is to come alive again.  It may just do so if we take up the mission of the New Evangelization, inspired and under the patronage of the so-called Apostle of California.


[1]

Serra was known to, during sermons, beat his chest with a rock or hold a flame to his hand to stir repentance in his hearers. Though these practices may seem odd or repellant to many today, they were not uncommon in the Spanish piety of the time, a reflection of which one can glimpse even now in the modern day “Peniténtes” of Colorado and New Mexico.

[2]

Serra was appropriating here the famous phrase of Tertullian, “The blood of martyrs is the seed of the Church.”

[3]

As an interesting sidenote, there is even evidence that Serra, whose missionary efforts historically coincided with the American Revolution on the opposite American coast, sent out orders in the 1770s for all the missions to pray for the victory of George Washington over the British.  Serra’s interests in this were in part nationalistic, since Spain was at war with England. It is nevertheless an intriguing historical fact that Franciscan prayers, masses, and penance were being offered for the victory of the country which would one day span the North American continent along this latitude.

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

On The Road

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In the Introduction to “Early Dominicans,” a compilation book of early Dominican writings, Simon Tugwell, O.P tells us that St. Dominic had a vision of his brethren going out, two by two, into the whole world to preach the Gospel. In the Middle Ages, this was actually quite the scandal –religious men wandering around in public without the safety and stability of the monastery enclosure. Furthermore, the obligation of preaching and teaching belonged solely to the Bishop of each diocese. So it is not surprising that upon hearing St. Dominic’s plan to form an entire Order of Preachers, Pope Innocent III would wonder “Who is this man, who wants to found an Order consisting entirely of bishops?”

Yet, here we are nearly 800 years later, and the Dominican Order has spread throughout the world for the purpose of proclaiming the Gospel in every time and every place.

This summer, with the blessing of our superiors, my classmate Br. Thomas Aquinas Pickett and I have engaged in a humble itinerant preaching mission of our own. Our travels will nearly take us to the borders of the Western Dominican Province – from an ocean view in Palos Verdes, CA to the desert heat of the Mexican border in Holtville, CA. We will be presenting our workshops on Dominican spirituality and prayer in parishes across the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and the Diocese of Orange. We will also accompany a group of High School youth to encounter God at the Steubenville Conference in San Diego. Finally, we will travel to Spokane, WA before reuniting with our brothers again at St. Benedict’s Lodge, our retreat facility on the Mckenzie River.

During this summer apostolate, it is certainly not our message that we seek to spread. St. Paul says that “we do not preach ourselves but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your slaves for the sake of Jesus.” (2 Cor 4:5) Yet, it is hard not to feel the crushing weight of our own inadequacies and shortcomings. I have found solace in the words of the great Dominican preacher Humbert of Romans: “Who ever learned to speak Latin without often speaking bad Latin? Who ever learned to write without frequently writing incorrectly? And the same applies to every art. It is by frequently making mistakes in this way that we eventually master it.” I am constantly trying to remember that we are not the ones who convert hearts to God – it is Christ Himself who does that. If we can simply facilitate an encounter for one person to come closer to God, in spite of the mistakes we will surely make, we will have fulfilled our job.

Please pray that Br. Thomas Aquinas and I receive God’s blessing on our summer ministry, and that God in His infinite mercy might accompany us with his protecting help, working through our efforts to bring many souls into communion with Him.

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

The Kraken

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I’ve always feared deep waters. It doesn’t matter if it’s a lake, or an ocean. I don’t like how you can’t see the bottom. Regardless, I’ve ventured out. I’ve fished the rivers and lakes of New Mexico. I’ve swum in backyard ponds in the Midwest. I’ve even treaded water in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. But no matter how many times I drown my fear of some slimy, creepy, crawly aquatic animal nibbling on my toes or making a lunch of my limbs I remain terrified. Just the thought of tipping one little toe in murky water makes me cringe. My breathing becomes labored. My skin gets clammy. I squint my eyes at the crazy person who’s asking me to put (literally!) my life and limbs in danger. I cautiously dismiss the thought that my friend, family, or fellow religious brother is trying to feed me to the Kraken.

I have a lot of these irrational fears. And, make no mistake, they are irrational (well many of them). But, unlike some people I rarely allow my fears to paralyze me. I’m always willing to try something new. Why? Well, unless my suspicions about being fed to the Kraken are correct, nothing, i.e., nobody, is going to eat me.[1] While this may be true, I still experience fear. I think it’s because there’s always the one rational fear that keeps me shaking. Sometimes, I’m really good at sabotaging myself.

As I get closer to professing Solemn Vows I’ve been thinking more and more about this shortcoming.[2] As I get closer to completing my Master’s studies, as I get closer to the reception of Holy Orders, I fear that I’ll continue to perpetuate this recurring pattern. I’m afraid that I’ll gnaw off my own limbs.

I’ve never experienced fear quite like this. But I know what’s likely at its root. I’m afraid of sabotaging myself because I really care a lot about my life as a Dominican. I don’t want to muck it all up. I want to get this right! I want to call this fear the result of love combined with enough self-knowledge to know how bad I can mess something up. But the reality is: this fear is the unruly child of pride.

I’ve been looking at this whole problem the wrong way. I have the audacity to think that my success in these things is a function of my own genius. On the contrary, success will only be attained when my heart and mind cling firmly and exclusively to God’s will. I need a stronger, more radical trust in God.

It’s become my prayer that God grant me (and each of us) this gift. I desperately need God’s help to trust in him. But, as you know, sometimes it’s hard to believe that he actually cares. My hope is that this little gift of trust will result in nothing less than a stronger love and a deeper capacity to love. I’m confident that as my trust in God increases, and as my love for God increases, my pride and fear will slink away into the depth. They’ll lose their parking space in my heart.

God will it be so! I’m just so tired of being afraid.


  1. Thank’s to Merlin Mann for this turn of phrase.  ↩

  2. As of the writing of this post there is less than one week till I profess my vows usque ad mortem.  ↩

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

Secularization and Catholic Universities

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As a 2011 graduate from Gonzaga University, I was quite dismayed to hear the news that Dr. Sue Weitz, the Vice President for Student Life at Gonzaga, ruled that the student Knights of Columbus council would no longer be recognized as an official student organization. This was done, as Weitz writes because, “The Knights of Columbus, by their very nature, is a men’s organization in which only Catholics may participate via membership... These criteria are inconsistent with the policy and practice of student organization recognition at Gonzaga University, as well as the University’s commitment to non-discrimination based on certain characteristics, one of which is religion.” Effectively this move bans the Knights of Columbus at Gonzaga. This ban has ben adamantly opposed by Dr. Eric Cunningham of the history department, who points out (see here and here) that the Jesuits, who founded and reside at the school, likewise should be banned since they are also a Catholic men’s organization.

What this recent event exemplifies, for me, is the growing secularization of Catholics and Catholic academic institutions in the United States. Secularism, fundamentally, is a confusion of what is important in life. Instead of having Christ and His Body, the Church, as the heart, meaning, and guide of life, political, economic, and social ideologies take precedence. The Word of God becomes secondary to the word of opinion. The revelation and teaching of God in human history becomes subordinate to human machinations and desires. This is not only antithetical to Christ’s Gospel (cf. Mt 10:33), but also to the vision of Vatican II. Part of the vision of the Council was that Christians would change the world from within in order to configure it more perfectly to Christ (Cf. Lumen Gentium 5; Gaudium et Spes, 10, 21, 22, 40; Apostolicam Actuositatem, 2, 5-8) Rather than Christians configuring the world to Christ, secularism configures Christians to the world and to the forces of evil (cf. Rom. 12:2).

In few other places is this Christian mission to configure the world as important as it is in Catholic universities. As Pope John Paul II writes in his document Ex Corde Ecclesiae, Catholic universities are “born from the heart of the Church.” (Intro.) Besides merely imparting intellectual knowledge, Catholic universities are meant to help form men and women specifically for this mission of evangelization and transformation. In order to authentically help young men and women live up to their Christian vocations, John Paul II definitively lists four “essential characteristics” of a Catholic University:


1. A Christian inspiration not only of individuals but of the university community as such

2. A continuing reflection in the light of the Catholic faith upon the growing treasury of human knowledge, to which it seeks to contribute by its own research;

3. Fidelity to the Christian message as it comes to us through the Church;

4. An institutional commitment to the service of the people of God and of the human family in their pilgrimage to the transcendent goal which gives meaning to life. (Ex Corde, 13)


When a Catholic university openly broadcasts or foments dissent, suppresses organizations meant to foster Christian living, or endorses practices contrary to the Church’s moral teaching, it is not only not living up to its sacred vocation, but it is working in league with the forces of secularization. This is seen not only at Gonzaga University, my beloved alma mater, but also at many universities and colleges throughout the country. Until administrators and professors regain an appreciation of their Christian vocation, it will be up to devoted individuals such as Dr. Cunningham and faithful Catholic students to challenge the structures of secularism in their universities. Mary, Seat of Wisdom, pray for us!

 

 

 

           

           

 

 

 

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

An Antidote to Jealousy

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Who is wise and understanding among you? Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom. But if you have bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not be boastful and false to the truth. Such wisdom does not come down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, devilish. For where there is envy and selfish ambition, there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace. (James 3:13-18)

I think all of us are familiar with the story of Snow White. Towards the beginning of this classic fairytale, we discover that every day, Snow White’s stepmother, the queen, looks into her magic mirror and asks a question: “Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the fairest of them all?”

“You, my queen, are the fairest of all” is the mirror’s typical response. One day, however, when the queen asks her question, the mirror changes its answer: “Queen, you are full fair, ‘tis true, but Snow White is fairer than you.” 

From that point on jealousy consumes the queen and her sole purpose in life is to kill Snow White. When the queen learns that her huntsman has failed to do her bidding -- to bring her the still-beating heart of the young princess -- she disguises herself as an old woman and tries to kill Snow White on her own, first with a corset to crush her ribs, then with a poisoned comb for her hair, and finally with a red-delicious-poisoned apple.

Of course, we all know how the story ends. At first it seems as if the queen comes out on top. Snow White dies and is laid to rest in a glass coffin. But then a prince comes along, and we learn that Snow White isn’t really dead; she wakes up and lives happily ever after.

So in the end, all the queen’s work was for nothing. Her jealousy was a waste of time. All it did was create disorder and chaos for everyone involved: Snow White, the huntsman, the dwarves, the prince, even the queen herself. So why did she do it? Why did the queen spend so much time obsessing over Snow White? Because she was jealous, and one of the effects of jealousy is that it eats away at us from the inside out. As we read in the Book of Proverbs, “A heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones” (14:30).

In other words, adding jealousy to your life is like adding lemon juice to milk – it sours it, curdles it, and ruins it.

So what is the antidote when we are poisoned by jealousy? First off, we need to ask ourselves a very important question: “Why can’t I be happy when something good happens to someone else?” When my best friend from high school gets an expensive new car, when my brother gets straight A’s, or when my cousin is voted the most popular guy in school?

In the movie “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” Jeannie is jealous of her brother, Ferris, because he can get away with anything, including ditching school. One day Jeannie finds herself at the police station talking to someone she would rather not: a stoner with a leather jacket, ripped jeans, and wild hair. Their discussion goes something like this:

“What do you care if your brother ditches school,” he asks.

“Why should he get to ditch when everyone else has to go,” she responds.

“You could ditch.”

“Yeah, I’d get caught” she says sarcastically.

“I see. So you’re mad that he ditches and doesn’t get caught. Is that it?”

“Basically.”

“Then your problem is you…You ought to spend a little more time dealing with yourself, and a little less time worrying about what your brother does.” 

Now I’m not saying that ditching school is a good thing. But I think this conversation answers our question, “Why can’t I be happy when something good happens to someone else?” Because I spend too much time worrying about other people.

Instead of reflecting on the person God created me to be, I compare myself to others. Until we realize that each of us is unique in God’s eyes, as important to him as our friend with the fancy car, or our brother with the great report card, or our cousin -- Mr. Popularity, everything will be chaos. But when I realize that God loves me, and that I’m special, then order will be restored and God will grant me peace.

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

Behold the Cross

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Holy Week is upon us once again.  We are summoned urgently to prayer and spiritual focus, to experiencing with Our Lord his Passion, Death, and Resurrection.  My reflection on Palm Sunday gives a picture from the Mount of Olives of the drama to come, the drama of divine redemption in which we are called to participate with Jesus.

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

To Love God

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This was a reflection given during Vespers at St. Albert's Priory. It is a meditation on the love of God.

As Christians we are commanded to love God with our whole heart, soul, and mind. But what does it mean to love God? Can we ever love God the way we ought, the way He deserves to be loved? How can we, as finite human beings ever love the infinite and invisible God who the ancient israelites dared never even look upon lest they die? 

Following our Lord's words in the Gospel that "whatever you do to the least of these you do unto me," should we not conclude that the heart inflamed with true love of God will desire nothing more than to express that love through service and kindness towards neighbor?

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