Topic: Preaching

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

Penance and Hope

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This is a reflection given at vespers at St. Albert's Priory. It is for the second week of Lent, a time when our practices of penance begin to wane. Although the virtue that is typically associated with lenten penances is temperance, this is a meditation on the connection between our acts of penance and the virtue of hope. When we practice penance for the sake of the kingdom of God, we do not merely grow in the virtue of temperance, which orders our desires for bodily pleasures according to right reason. We also practice the virtue of hope, hope for a world to come, and hope for the life of glory that surpasses what we could ever enjoy in this life through our bodily senses. The hidden secret to this season of mortification is the hope that springs from the promise of Jesus Christ.

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

Today I Have Removed ...

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The following is a transcript of a reflection given at Saturday Vespers. It is based on the First Reading from the Fourth Sunday of Lent (Joshua 5:9a, 10-12).

When Easter comes around, there's one thing that I immediately think about: Charlton Heston and The Ten Commandments. Growing up in a “culturally Christian” home, we did very few religious things in the house, going to church typically on Christmas and Easter…however, there was one thing that I looked forward to a great deal, and that was watching The Ten Commandments. Now, at the time, I don't know if I genuinely liked the movie. All I knew was that it was about four hours long on TV and that meant I got to stay up far past my normal bedtime. Around the age of seven, that's a big plus.

So when this reading from Joshua came up, it wasn't my Evangelical upbringing that instantly placed this passage in context, reminding me of the Exodus. It was, for better or worse, the reference to Egypt, which instantly reminds me of Charlton Heston proclaiming to Pharaoh: “Let my people go!”

It always seems to me like a stretch to see relevance in the Old Testament stories, and it wasn't until my first year as a baptized Catholic going through Lent that I had the epiphany that this entire recounting of the Israelites in the desert is most powerfully seen as an example for us in our spiritual lives. It's the example of leaving our sinful selves behind in Egypt, wandering through the purifying desert of Sinai and finally having the hope of entering into the Promised Land.

As we now approach the fourth Sunday of Lent, we hear from the Lord: “Today I have removed the reproach of Egypt from you.” This single verse provides much that we can learn from as we wander through the desert of life, and in particular as we live out our religious vocation as Dominicans.

First, notice that the Lord is the one “doing”: “Today, I have removed.” How easy is it for pride to enter into our lives, and so very hard for us to recall that it is God who has called us into this life, it is God who has called us to offer our lives to Him through our vows. While we may very much feel the effects of the slavery to sin, and desire greatly to leave the bondage of Egypt, it is the Lord who acts in the beginning. It is he who provides us the grace, giving us the strength through the power of the Spirit, to leave behind our sinful lives and pursue Him in a freedom and love no longer chained by sin.

In the second part of this verse, the Lord tells us what he has removed from us: the reproach of Egypt. What is this reproach of Egypt? Maybe in our life, the reproach is two-fold, and stems from our fallen selves and those parts of our lives that are still unredeemed either because we are unaware of them, or are unwilling to bring them to the Lord in repentance.

First, this reproach can be the material things that we still cling to with an inappropriate attachment. Egypt is behind us and we're walking in the desert, but what nice gold trinkets, what idols do we still cling to in the packs over our shoulders. Secondly, the reproach can be our fallen behavior towards one another, that lacking of perfection within ourselves that keeps us apart, and divided. We wander together through the wilderness, but do we grumble amongst ourselves and bicker with one another?

Finally, there is one thing that strikes me as incredibly applicable to our life here in community. God doesn't send the lone Israelite into the desert. He doesn't send Moses by himself to inherit the Promised Land: God sends a people, a community. We aren't just one lone set of footprints in the sand. No one is alone in this journey. It's not even just “God and me.” God has given us each other. If you lift up your heads and open your eyes to look across these choir stalls, you will see the people that God has brought into your life. These are the people that are here for you, and who you are here for. You cannot make it to the Promised Land by yourself, we need each other.

Instead of only making use of this image of the wandering Israelites once a year, it is something that we must keep within ourselves every day. Every day God gives us the grace to leave Egypt behind. Every day God pours out his graces upon us, to strengthen us, to bind our broken limbs and to make us whole. Every day we put to death those former selves that left Egypt, when we deny ourselves and seek after God with our whole heart. And every day God creates in us a new creation, like the children born in the desert, freed from the reproach of Egypt and finally prepared to enter into the Promised Land.

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

Spiritual Journey

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Last Friday I gave a talk to the Korean Catholic Fellowship group at UC Berkeley on some aspects of the spiritual life according to St. Thomas Aquinas. This was a rather daunting task, since so much of what Aquinas says in his theological works can be applied to the prayer, worship, life, and belief of everyday Christians. I settled, then, on giving a broad picture of the spiritual life and then focused on several aspects in particular. In general it is important to recall God as the creator. For Aquinas, God is not the "Enlightenment" era watchmaker-god who wound the universe up, and now sits in aloof ennui as we mortals are left to our own devices and desires. Rather, all creation is being sustained by God, at every moment in time. If God were to remove his presence, the universe would simply be brought to nothing (ad nihilo, annihilation). Every moment we are being spoken into being by the Word. As rational creatures who may know the Word, we are meant to journey to God by His grace and our will. In particular, we find that the various elements of our journey to God are oriented towards charity. Love, Aquinas points out, begins by knowing, and so through discursive reasoning about God (meditation) and the resting intellectual vision of divine truths (contemplation) we begin to know God, which, in turn, allows us to love God. Love, however, is not complete until the lover and beloved are united, so our entire journey is not complete until, at last, we are united with God to the greatest extent possible on earth, and to the fullest extent ordained in heaven.

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

Filet O'Fish

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Let me kick things off by being the first to admit that I’ve always been terrible at Lenten penances; as in, the whole process. My idea of a Lenten Friday usually consisted of drowning myself in Starbucks and McDonald’s Filet O’Fish Sandwiches for dinner. (Yes, I realize these sandwiches are mashed-up mystery fish parts from who-knows-where, but they're tasty!)

I mean, will God really love me any less just because I ate an extra sandwich, and a fish one at that? (“Hey no meat right?” and “They’re so small!”)

Filet O'Fish

Thankfully, the answer is "No, he won’t." Actually, He can't. It’s impossible for God to love us any less because He loves us infinitely. It is possible, however, for us not to love God. But I never really “got” that. But through God’s merciful providence and no real merit of my own, the virtues of religious life have forced me to see Lent in a whole new way.

Penance has seemingly been abolished from the everyday Catholic’s vocabulary, having been reduced often times to three Hail Mary’s after Confession. Similarly, I find that many Catholics now treat Lenten penances as some sort of Church-sanctioned New Year’s Resolutions event. Lent is now simply a time to lose weight, quit smoking, or eat Filet O’Fish sandwiches for cheap. Where is God supposed to be in all this?

Because our thoughts tend to dwell on the surface, we often fail to see the deeper spiritual journey that God has willed us to live through the Church. The Book of Exodus tells us how the Ancient Israelites went through this same process in the Desert as they departed Egypt for Sinai. The reality is that God was not simply bringing them out of a physical slavery in Egypt; rather, the Israelites were being brought out of slavery to sin and death and into a true freedom as a people consecrated to the Lord. As we know, this is never an easy process for us.

What is easy for me is to have little sympathy for the Israelites in the Book of Exodus. Many people today often claim that they would have faith if only they could see some proof of God’s existence. Now that’s a completely different problem altogether, but not only did the Israelites in the desert actually possess this luxury, they possessed it in a fantastic way. For “the Lord preceded them, in the daytime by means of a column of cloud to show them the way, and at night by means of a column of fire to give them light…Neither the column of cloud by day nor the column of fire by night ever left its place in front of the people” (Ex 14:21-22). And if that wasn’t good enough for them, there’s that whole tidbit about the Lord dividing the Red Sea in two. Now, the Israelites must have trained in the art of complaining during their time of slavery in Egypt, because in spite of the glory of God practically hitting them in the face, they were like you and me, Certified Professional Whiners®. “Were there no burial places in Egypt that you had to bring us out here to die in the desert? Why did you bring us out of Egypt? Did we not tell you this in Egypt, when we said, ‘Leave us alone. Let us serve the Egyptians?.’” (Ex 14:12) Talk about ungrateful. But isn’t this the chronic human condition? Left to our own devices, we always prefer slavery to freedom, darkness to light, earthly things to heavenly gifts. We would rather live as miserable squatters on this planet than in our true, eternal home in Heaven. And even after we experience firsthand the glory of God in our lives, as the Israelites did when Lord crushed the Egyptians in the Red Sea, we still continue to hand God our Certified Professional Whiners® business card. Behold Exhibits A, B, and C:

“The people grumbled against Moses saying, ‘What are we to drink?’” (Ex 15:24)

“Would that we had died at the Lord’s hand in the land of Egypt, as we sat by our fleshpots and ate our fill of bread! But you had to lead us into this desert to make the whole community die of famine!” (Ex 16:1)

“Why did you ever make us leave Egypt? Was it just to have us die here of thirst with our children and our livestock?” (Ex 17:2)

Of course, God never abandoned them, as He never abandons us, and He provided the Israelites with quail, manna from Heaven, and water from the rock. But we’ve heard the rest of this story, and we know that, slowly but surely, Certified Professional Whiners® are always promoted to Certified Professional Idolaters.® We end up worshipping the very things (____ ß your sins here) that we are supposed to sacrifice on the altar of God. The Israelites actually did this literally. God had commanded them to sacrifice a bullock on the altar, but as soon as Moses is gone, what do they do? Out of all the things they could have selected, they choose to fashion a golden calf to worship as the image of God. “Come, make us a god who will be our leader; as for the man Moses who brought us out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has happened to him” (Ex 32:1).

Given our horrible track record as humans, I guess we could always sit here in despair, clutching our now worn-out Certified Professional Whiners® business card. But God loves us too much to allow that, for He “proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8). So what are we to do? St. Paul instructs us to “put on the armor of light… the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the desires of the flesh” (Rom 13:12-14). In putting on Jesus, we are to imitate the life of our Lord in order to become alter Christus, other Christs, to the world. But if we are to do that – if we are to reverse our course of slavery to sin during this Lenten season – we must closely examine the actions of Jesus as He was tempted in the desert. Contemplation on Christ in the desert must be an essential part of our own journey of faith. Christ teaches us how to put aside our idols that keep us in slavery – the pursuit of physical pleasures, power, and glory – that prevent us from living in true freedom. Penance – prayer, fasting, and almsgiving – serves as our weapon against these idols, reminding us that God alone is the path to happiness and meaning in our life.

Unlike Christ, we know that we will inevitably stumble in our Lenten journeys. We may forget that we gave up red meat, or that we shouldn’t have beer on Friday. We may pull out that old business card of ours, and make something other than God the center of our lives. The purification process will surely be difficult. But as we nervously venture into the desert, we should have immense hope: for we will surely find that God, just as He led the Israelites from Egypt, has already preceded us there through his Son Jesus Christ. So as we journey together through Lent, it is my prayer that we put our trust firmly in Christ, and walk boldly with our eyes fixed on Him who enlightens the way before us. 

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

True Grit

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Latin CrossDuring my two-week home visit following Christmas this year, I had occasion to witness the Body of Christ active in a very gritty, grubby, and difficult way. As a celibate religious, I have undertaken a path of discipline in prayer, study, and common life which is built to aid the Christian in being “perfect” (Matthew 5:48). It involves many trials and difficulties, from the often toilsome nature of study, to the unpredictable itinerancy of new pastoral assignments, from the daily perseverance required to seek out silence and contemplation, to the head-spinning and body-draining activity of parish work. But the week following Christmas, I visited my sister and her husband, proud parents of two little ones, an adorable two-year old girl and a goggle-eyed (and boisterous) six-month-old boy. Difficult, grinding, and gritty work is parenting. And holy.

One of the great beauties of the Catholic faith is the way it honors difference, diversity, and complementarity.  And one place I have seen this most vividly is in the complementarity of the celibate and married vocations. As a celibate I live a life not many people do, and which is also easy to idealize: those white-robed holy men who spend all their days in the perfect peace of contemplative prayer, dipping down now and then to bring Christ to the world. There is truth in the fact of the alternating rhythms of prayer and activity in a Dominican’s life; it is a rhythm I love, exult in, and live out day-by-day. But illusions of “perfect peace”-perpetually-maintained vanish quickly upon entry as a novice. Numerous and eccentric personalities in close quarters for extended periods do not for perfect peace make. The friar has to learn constantly to readjust his personality to the eccentricities (sometimes delightful, often unnerving) of those around him. It is partially for this reason that religious life is called a “school of charity.” Prayer, too, has its vicissitudes of sensible consolation and peace, alternating with stale and flat periods where the Lord withdraws from the soul to teach perseverance amidst feelings of desolation and abandonment. The ideal of religious life remains an ideal; but perfect charity is only acquired by constant effort in cooperation and made possible with God's grace, self-abnegation, patience, and conformity to the Lord’s Cross. The free gift of God in Christ Jesus is anything but a lawn chair with a Dos Equis on the beach; it is rough, untidy, exacting, toilsome, dramatic. It is God’s sanctifying action upon hearts gone astray and needing purification to see God face-to-face in eternity.

So too parenting.  It is easy, on the one hand, to idealize “domestic tranquility” (especially if one is familiar with 19th century British literature or, for that matter, 1950s sitcoms).  It is refreshing, soothing, and sometimes even inspiring to picture home life as a congenial and happy arrangement where father and mother love each other and their children, have only minor disagreements swept away with a quick resolution and a smile, and are adept at managing children who are—if not angels—kindly, docile, and amiable souls.  At its best moments perhaps something like this shines forth.  But day-to-day reality is messier.  As my sister and brother-in-law demonstrated to me over this Christmas break, parenting involves constant attention to needy creatures who are simultaneously adorable and attention-consuming, endearing and unnerving, too cute to imagine and exasperating to the point of exhaustion.  Sleepless nights.  Medical anxieties.  Endless demands.  Non-stop needs arising from an infinity of unpredictable situations.  My sister has told me two things which capture the essence of her situation: as a stay-at-home mom (for now when they are very young), she has never been happier or more fulfilled in her life; at the same time, she has never experienced this degree of mental and physical exhaustion, combined even with periods of certain loneliness, her husband being a hard-working and dedicated father, but whose schedule as a physician’s assistant can be so demanding that meals and time at home become irregular.

St. Paul tells us that marriage is a holy vocation which images the relationship of Christ to his Church (Eph 5.32).  Both are beautiful.  And both are messy.  The Church as mother gives her children new spiritual life in baptism, nourishes them with spiritual food in the Eucharist, and continually calls new members into her fold, making the earth a home of God’s true peace.  But she does this by her union with Christ the Head, who for love of his Bride, the Church, underwent torture, the shedding of blood, and death.  As Christ lays down his life for the Church, so a husband lays down his own life, all he is, for love of his wife and the provision, protection, and nourishing of his family.  The wife in union with her husband then becomes, as the Church, a “home” for the wonderful, inspiring, difficult, and exasperating task of having and raising new little human creatures.

I rejoice in the gift of my vocation, though at points it has led to exhaustion, loneliness, and an attention to external demands so unrelenting that one wonders where new fuel comes from. But I know, too, that this sacrificial kind of love is both more real to the demands of life, and more closely approximates the way our Lord loved his Church even through trial. Real and lasting joy can only come at such a price. For this reason I marvel all the more at the beauty of God’s design for the human family. I have found myself frequently in a position of bringing to married couples a certain witness to the primacy of spiritual values in life. The time I devote to prayer and “things spiritual” puts me in a good position to share with married couples the beauty, challenge, and importance of our relationship with God; both its joys and its trials. On the other hand, I am constantly blessed to see up close in marriages a living picture of the marvelous gift of family, married life, and new children—full of joy and its trial.

My sister and brother-in-law are living out their vocation to marriage in a way that, to me, is beautiful and inspiring, witnessing as it does to the very way Christ relates to his Church. Its beauty shines forth all the more when I see my brother-in-law exhausted from work, yet coming home to treat his wife with kindness and dignity; my sister stretched to the point of exhaustion, yet still giving herself to her husband and children; and of course my niece and nephew--too cute to imagine, yet growing by fits and starts through the travails and joys of childhood. Love that proves itself in the midst of suffering is more authentic. For this reason I am thankful every time I witness to the beauty and drama of married life. The love demanded is inspiring because it is real, because it is gritty, and because it requires real courage. In other words, it is like Christ’s.

Br. Kevin Andrew, O.P.'s picture

Freedom for Witness

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We recently celebrated the final Sunday of the liturgical year, the Solemnity of Christ the King. On this day the readings focus on the freedom that we have been given in Christ. I examine this freedom as it is expressed in the second reading (Revelation 1:5-8), and what this freedom means for us today.

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

The God of the Lowly

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This is a recording of my preaching during Sunday Vespers.

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

The Will of the Father

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Baptism of ChristLast weekend was our vocations weekend at St. Albert's Priory.  15 men joined us to discern, and I gave the evening Vespers reflection/preaching on Saturday night.  In the context of God's Divine Fatherhood, the theme I broach here is vocational discernment, especially certain tendencies today towards making it overly introspective.  (This book written by a Dominican a number of years ago covers the subject in more depth.)  Prayer, self-examination and reflection, spiritual direction, and seeking God's promptings on your heart, are all necessary and good parts of discernment.  At the end of the day, though, God has already given each of us the grace to decide to follow him completely, whether with another in married life, or according to a particular charism in religious life.  Contact Fr. Steve Maekawa, O.P., our vocation director, for more information on the Dominican charism and the Western Province.

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

Brothers Meet to Discuss the New Evangelization

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“Go into all the world and preach the Gospel to the whole creation.” (Mark 16:15)

In the past, I was happy to leave the work of evangelization to missionaries serving in foreign lands, or to those who make it a habit of going door-to-door to share their faith. Today, that is no longer the case. As a Dominican I feel compelled to preach the Gospel, to those who have never heard of Jesus, but also to those who have. Since we typically think of evangelization as being directed towards those who do not know Christ, this might seem a bit strange. However, in the last 30 years a different concept of evangelization has come to the foreground. In a number of countries we are now seeing “a weakening of faith in Christian communities, a diminished regard for the authority of the magisterium, an individualistic approach to belonging to the Church, a decline in religious practice and a disengagement in transmitting the faith to new generations.”1 This phenomenon has resulted in what many in the Church refer to as the “new evangelization,” i.e., outreach to those who identify themselves as Christian, but are no longer practicing their faith.

Not surprisingly, this “new evangelization” was the main concern of Dominican brothers from the provinces of the United States, Canada, Poland, and the Vietnamese Vicariate, who met at St. Albert’s this past weekend to discuss the Instrumentum Laboris, the working document now under review by the Synod of Bishops currently meeting in Rome.

In my small group we focused on chapter two of the text, which looks at some of the influences that shape modern society, and their effect on the faithful. These influences fall into seven general areas: society, culture, civic life, the economy, science, communications, and religion. Each area, or “sector” as they are referred to in the document, has its pros and cons, elements which can lead to a deepening of faith, and those which can lead to “silent apostasy”2 – which isn’t so much a hostility to the faith, as it is a general sense of apathy towards Christianity. For example, a positive component in the sector of communications would be our ability to converse with individuals on the other side of the globe, even if we don’t speak the same language. Sadly, there is a downside to the advances made in communications technology in recent years. Because there is now so much information available on the Internet, and so many other voices competing for the attention of the faithful, it becomes more and more difficult to share the truth of our faith.

This is why each of us must heed our baptismal calling. Every Christian has been commissioned to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and has a responsibility to share our faith, and to provide a reason for our hope.3 At times we might be tempted to leave this work to those who are more qualified, those with a charism of missionary service, or a degree in theology. While those things are helpful, they are not absolutely necessary. All that the Lord asks is that we talk about how he has changed our life, our experience of mercy, forgiveness, and grace. This is what the first apostles did, and what each of us can do to bring our neighbors back to the faith.


1Instrumentum Laboris of the Synod on "The New Evangelization for the Transmission of the Christian Faith," #48.

2Ibid, #69.

3 cf. 1 Peter 3:15

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

Our Prophetic Mission

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Br. Gabriel’s preaching on 2 Peter 1:19-21, for Vespers on September 15th, 2012

“We scrub the floors for each other for the sake of our preaching”