Topic: Preaching

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

Touching the Untouchables

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Br. Michael James' preaching for Vespers on Saturday, February 11, based on the first reading from Mass on Sunday: Leviticus 13:1-2, 44-46.

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

West Coast Walk for Life 2012

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Last Saturday, January 21, we participated in the 8th annual West Coast Walk for Life in San Francisco. In the morning, over two thousand Catholics gathered at the Cathedral for mass presided by Archbishop Niederauer at 9:30am. Around ten other bishops, dozens of priests and religious, and hundreds of lay people participated. After mass, we made our way to City Hall, in front of which about 50,000 people from around the state and country gathered for the pre-walk rally.

This was a change from previous years, in which the walk normally began at Justin Herman Plaza, and ended on Marina green. Apparently, an abortion-rights group held an event on Justin Herman Plaza at the same time as our rally began; they had about 100 people show up. All for the better: the City Hall area was much more conducive to our large gathering, and the walk down Market Street (which was blocked off for our use) gave the entire group a more prominent presence and unity, and a new sort of energy, than in previous years. 

Friars walking to CathedralAll in all, this year's Walk for Life was an important way to make a stand for the dignity of human life, and served as reminder -- to the city and the media -- that the Pro-Life movement is not some small fringe, radical phenomena that will perish in irrelevance. DSPT Sign and Friars on WalkEvery year the numbers seem to grow, and the media, more so than in years past, paid attention this year. We pray that such an event, and other aspects of the pro-life movement, may indeed help foster a genuine culture of life in our country, and that all of those who believe in the Gospel of Life may give faithful witness to it by word and deed.

More info, photos, and media coverage updates on the Walk for Life West Coast 2012 can be found at the Walk for Life Media Blog.

Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us.

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

Comfort my People

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Vespers preaching by Br. Christopher on December 4, 2011 at St. Albert's.

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

Cooperators in the Mission

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This past Wednesday, November 30, our community buried our beloved brother Raymond Charles Bertheaux, OP.  Br. Raymond was born in 1936 and grew up in San Francisco. He professed first vows in 1954 and served the Order and the Church throughout the world ever since.  Almost 20 years of his life were spent as a missionary in Chiapas, where he traveled from village to village by horseback. Prior to his recent years of service at St. Albert’s as our archivist, Br. Raymond lived in Guatemala, ministering to the poor and the sick. This was after he spent 12 years at Santa Sabina, our headquarters in Rome, where he worked in the bookstore, archives, and on Analecta, a journal dedicated to Dominican history.

 In the old days, Br. Raymond would have been referred to as a frater conversus, or lay brother. Today, friars like myself who are not on the track to ordination, are called cooperator brothers. Although the Dominican Order is primarily a clerical one, forming young men as priests to celebrate Mass, preach, and hear confessions, cooperator brothers have been an important part of our mission since the beginning.

One of the first cooperator brothers of the Dominican Order was Oderic of Normandy. Counted among the 16 original disciples of St. Dominic, Br. Oderic helped Blessed Mannes (Dominic’s brother) to found our community at Saint Jacques in Paris. Since then a number of cooperator brothers have faithfully served the Order in whatever capacity they were called to do so. In the 1400s, Blessed James of Ulm was a designer of stained-glass windows, one of which can still be found at the Basilica di San Patronio, a 10-minute walk from the tomb of St. Dominic in Bologna. Probably one of the most famous cooperator brothers of the Order is St. Martin de Porres, whose feast we celebrate on November 3. In artistic renderings, St. Martin is often shown holding a broom or a basket of bread and wearing a black scapular and capuce/hood (once distinctive to cooperator brothers). These depictions speak to St. Martin’s humility and willingness to serve, especially the poor, but sadly do not portray the fact that he was quite gifted in medicine, using his knowledge of herbs and other remedies to cure the sick.

Obviously the ministerial work of a cooperator brother is different from that of a priest, but other than that we have a lot in common. We all profess the same vows and embrace the four pillars of Dominican life. Our prayer is centered upon the Eucharist, the Liturgy of the Hours/Divine Office, and the recitation of the rosary. Our study is for the sake of preaching, whether it be in word (teaching and giving lectures, presentations, and retreats) or deed (the very witness of our lives as consecrated religious). Finally we all share a commitment to the common life, to growing together in virtue and caring for one another in fraternal charity.

Not only did Br. Raymond know this, he also lived it, and it’s one of the reasons he was such a wonderful example of what it means to be a Dominican.


Things That Remain

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"Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away."  Luke 21:33.

Rev. Br. Gian Matteo Serra, OPClose to the village where I was born, in northern Sardinia, in the open countryside, there is a small and ancient Romanesque church dedicated to St. Catherine of Alexandria. Each year about a thousand people gather to celebrate the holy woman, and, of course after Mass, lunch is offered to all present. It’s a big feast. I remember that every year I used to blow off school for St. Catherine’s feast. My parents belong to the group of people who have organized that feast for many years. <--break->

When I was eighteen I moved to Rome to study economics. It was a big surprise for me to discover there the body of St. Catherine in a church in the city center. My family was very happy, and we planned to organize a pilgrimage. <--break->

I often went to pray in this church. It was a familiar place where I could find a piece of my home.  The day I discovered that the body in that church, Santa Maria Sopra Minerva, was that of St. Catherine of Siena, and not that of the martyr of Alexandria, I became really sad. However, I continued to pray there, thinking that the two saints in heaven would come to an agreement in sharing my prayers.

After a couple of years I met the Dominicans. The friar who helped me with my discernment suggested that I choose St. Catherine of Siena as my patron saint.  He did not know that I already had  a friendship with her, or more precisely, with her namesake.

When, after some time, I found out that Catherine of Alexandria was a patron of the Dominican Order, I no longer had any doubt that the two saints had been planning a meeting about my vocation. 

I don’t think I’m making a mistake if I consider this "planned meeting", a beautiful expression of the communion of saints. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, referring to the communion of saints, outlines two aspects that make it up: "communion in holy things" (sancta) and "among holy persons" (sancti).  The two are closely knit. The first aspect refers in particular to our walking as a church on earth sharing the same faith in Christ, and whose expression are the sacraments and especially the Eucharist.  The second aspect, the communion among holy persons, refers to the relationship between us and the saints. They, who already contemplate the face of God, intercede for us and help us on our life’s pilgrimage.

The two aspects of the communion of saints are ordered to the same purpose, which is the vision of The Face of the Creator Father for eternity. To enter into the communion of saints who see, praise, and worship God face to face is our true calling.  The “today”, the present moment, should be lived as the waiting of this fullness of praise and contemplation to which we are called. With our life we should prepare ourselves every day, through the practice of charity. In during so, we begin, here and now, to contemplate God in faith, with the hope of seeing Him on the last day. 

The Saints, sometimes with a sense of humor, come into our lives.  They are not just an example to follow, but they are a presence that touches our hearts to increase in us the desire to be part of the family of those who praise God for eternity.

I think that today’s Gospel can help us understand how each of us is responding to our given vocation. The contrast between the things that pass and the things that remain can be the criterion of discerning to which direction we orient our lives.

Are we growing in our communion of holiness? Everything we do: our work, our apostolate, our study, our liturgy, our daily life - as important and indispensable as they are - belongs to the things that pass. All these things are a way and an instrument that must bring us to what truly remains: his Word, his presence. At every moment, we have to judge whether what we are doing in response to our vocation, is really bringing us close to God.

But we should be mindful that the call to the communion of saints is universal. That’s why we are sent to evangelize.  We must be witnesses of the beauty of this loving plan of God, so as to increase in the people we meet, their desire to find the source of our joy .... provided that we are joyful!

Of course, as a Dominican I can tirelessly preach.

But sometimes I ask myself: Does my life on earth preach that I choose to belong, first of all, to the communion of love and holiness in heaven?

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

Enter into My Joy

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The following is a transcript of Br. Peter's Vespers preaching on Nov. 12, 2011:

When I was finishing graduate school at St. John’s College in Annapolis, Maryland, in 2003, my whole life was ahead of me.  I was getting ready to become Catholic; I had a network of good friends who, like me, were planning on beefing up on languages after graduation to apply to Ph.D. programs – I wanted to do classics; I was very comfortably tucked away in the charming little colonial port town of Annapolis, Maryland.  It was true, I had a fair amount of academic debt – but whatever, I was a graduate student and supposed to be poor and I’d worry about that later. 

It came as a surpise, then, when I received a call that Spring from the high school I had attended in Monterey, that the Latin teacher there – and my former teacher and mentor in my high school days – had died, and had told the school to hire me to replace him.  The school said if I wanted the job, they wouldn’t ask anybody else, and I could start in the Fall.  Now it was a great honor for my mentor to recommend me to replace him; and the job would help me pay off academic debt; and it also would help me beef up on my Latin as I prepared for a Ph.D. program  But I really didn’t want to go back to California.  I was so comfortable where I was!  I liked the East Coast.  Couldn’t I just stay here and live a nice little Catholic academic life for the rest of my years?  In other words: I liked being accountable to no one but myself.(!)

As I prayed about it, though, it became increasingly clear that the opportunity was too good to turn down; and even seemed to have a touch of providence in it.  So I reluctantly went back to California.  I labored exceedingly that year as a first-year teacher with four different levels of Latin to teach; I made money to go toward paying off my debt; my parents were happy I was home;...but the most important thing, of course, was that after becoming Catholic that summer, I visited the Western Dominicans in February and, well, here I am.       

Our vocations, brothers, are supreme mysteries; “God’s ways are not our ways, nor are his thoughts our thoughts”; they involve in a very great way risk, which is precisely what the third servant in the parable of the talents was not willing to take.  Why not?

The third servant’s attitude seems to be linked to a very mysterious aspect of revelation, namely God’s justice.  The servant knows – or thinks he knows – that his master is a “hard man, reaping where he does not sow, and gathering where he does not scatter.”  We are tempted to say when we hear the servant’s excuse, “No, he’s not the hard man you thought he’re misunderstanding him; you should have used your talent wisely like the others.”  But the master himself does not exactly act – at least to our way of thinking – with greatest generosity to the servant.

The master first of all had not distributed the talents in a very even, or politely democratic way – each servant simply gets an amount matching his ability; then, in response to the third servant’s rather pathetic and cowardly response to “be afraid” and “hide” his talent safely underground, the master strips him of the talent, gives it to the one who has made the most of the three, and casts the poor wretch into a howling, teeth-gnashing region of darkness.

When we think on it, hardly any of the parables our Lord speaks fit nicely into our human ways of thinking – that is their precise point.  God is represented in them as, on the one hand, someone willing to cast into darkness someone who doesn’t show up to a banquet with the right garment on, consign to the same fate virgins who can’t get extra oil because the others who do have it will not share, and here, reward the most financially successful servant and cut down the most inept.  On the other hand, we know that other parables portray God as almost foolishly generous: paying a full-days wage to laborers who have only worked an hour, or being zealous to forgive and lavish gifts on a son who has totally renounced him and wasted his inheritance.

God’s justice and mercy, the parables seem to say, are realities that utterly transcend our own finite minds.  And how do we get an idea of his justice and mercy, but by the ways he has acted in history, and even acts towards us – the providential guidance he gives our lives, the tasks and trials and rewards he calls us to?

The ill-fated servant who hides the talent tries to wrap his mind around – or rather presumes he has – the “hardness” of his master’s ways, his “reaping where he has not sown”; and the effort paralyzes him into fear and selfishness.  He wants to keep his talent – he wants to keep his vocation, if you will – to himself.  He has received less than the others, which, gosh, seems kind of unfair; and he is perhaps unsure of what will happen if he goes out and uses the talent.  What will the people say to whom he goes?  What if they criticize or attack him? What if he’s led into situations where he has to work with people he doesn’t get along with?  What if he’s asked to do things he doesn’t have complete control over and which don’t fall out in a predictable, orderly manner?  And besides, we may hear him murmuring to himself, “Why doesn’t the master himself come back and help me with this! He should have been clearer as to what he wanted me to do – it’s not my fault he didn’t show me the steps to take on this.”

Each of our vocations, brethren, has an inestimable value before God – and with that inestimable value comes a tremendous and grave responsibility to use it all, to spend ourselves and wear ourselves out in prayer, study, and preaching for the salvation of souls.  And this takes a willingness to risk and to step out boldly in faith.  I can’t think of one biblical figure who was blessed by God and not asked simultaneously to do things audacious, risky, and even foolish in the world’s eyes: Abraham left his fatherland; Moses challenged the Pharoah; Elijah engaged in prophetic contest alone against an host of self-mutilating pagan priests; and we need hardly mention the trials and sufferings of the apostles.  Our vocations are, after all, not our own; and we are called to give total and perfect sacrifice even in the ordinary, day-to-day affairs of our lives.

Now, leaving Annapolis, Maryland to teach Latin in Monterey, in contrast to the figures of scripture and the saints, appears scarcely a hardship.  But I hope that in each of our lives – especially as we meditate on the glory our Lord calls us to as we near the end of the liturgical year in the next two weeks – I hope that each of us remains vigilantly aware of the unspeakable blessings we have received in our own vocations, and fearlessly willing to spend our talents for the salvation of souls, in full faith and courage, so that when our time comes, we may hear Our Blessed Lord say to us: “Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of your Lord.”

Br. Ambrose Sigman, O.P.'s picture

Homily from the Feast of Saint Dominic

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Yesterday, for the feast of Saint Dominic, the prior and superior of Saint Albert's, Fr. Reginald Martin, OP, said and preached the mass. The following is the homily he gave. While this is not from a student brother, it might be considered one of the examples of preaching to which we aspire:

In the last couple of weeks, Fr. Augustine Thompson and I had the chance to visit a number of fabled cities built on hills. I confess, to my embarrassment, that I had hitherto, appreciated them for their scenic beauty, but this go-round Fr. Augustine’s scholarship helped me realize the immense responsibility citizens must be willing to embrace when they undertake to build their city on a hill.

The strategic advantages are obvious, of course, but once your life cannot be hidden, you must make all sorts of provisions and take all sorts of precautions that your more secluded neighbors don’t have to worry about. Noblesse oblige, after all, or – as we learned when we were growing up, beauty is, as beauty does.

Which is why no one lights a lamp to hide it. We may take light for granted, but it was extremely valuable – and costly – for Jesus and his contemporaries. It’s no wonder the ancients should have considered light an ordering principle, or that God should have created it first.

Physicists can tell us what light is, but we don’t need to be scientists to know what light does; it makes things safe and it makes them warm. But it does so by making them bright. When the Albigensians let their ears be tickled by a dualist fable that denied the Incarnation, St. Dominic countered with the light of his study. He got the Albigensians’ attention by studying their doctrine to understand it well enough to point out its errors.

The dictionary defines “study” as “the application of the mind to the acquisition of knowledge…by reading, investigation, or reflection….” St. Dominic didn’t invent study, but he invested it with a purpose that was wholly his own. Benedictines study a great deal. They may become smart along the way, but Benedictines study to become holy.

The Franciscans have produced great scholars, but legends say that St. Francis himself was suspicious of school. Fr. Augustine’s book will probably deny this, so let’s repeat it one last time. St. Francis is reported to have said,

The Lord told me that He would have me poor and foolish in this world and that He willed not to lead us by any way other than that.

A Dominican’s study is an act of piety ordered to an end outside of us. It may not make us holy, but it ought to make us smart – at least smart enough to cause the people we preach to, to think – and to call them to God. Study is our obligation, and everyone we preach to has the right to expect it of us.

How beautiful, Isaiah tells us, are the feet of the one who brings Good News. Notice, it’s the preacher’s feet that are beautiful, not the shoes. The light of Christ equips us to look beneath the surface of things, to penetrate to the truth. As St. Dominic did when the Albignesians said that matter and spirit are so opposed that God could never be united with something so fallen as this flesh, or reveal Himself in anything so corrupt as food and drink.

We are the light of the world, Our Savior tells us – a light that makes things bright, keeps them safe and makes them warm. Warmth may not be a quality we immediately associate with St. Dominic, but one of his peers wrote,

... the tranquil composure of the inner man was revealed outwardly by the kindliness and cheerfulness of his expression [which] easily won the love of everybody. Without difficulty he found his way into people’s hearts as soon as they saw him.

“As soon as they saw him.” Like that city on a hill. The life of our founder, no less than the example from the gospel, warns us, if we’re going to enjoy the prominence, we must be prepared to embrace the responsibility.

Br. Ambrose Sigman, O.P.'s picture

Feast of our Holy Father Dominic

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On the evening of August 6th, 1221, the founder of the Order of Preachers, Dominic de Guzman, lay dying. Surrounded by the brothers of the priory of Saint Nicholas in Bologna, Dominic ordered them to begin the prayers for the commendation of his soul. As the brethren were singing the words “Come to his aid, saints of God. Hasten, angels of the Lord. Receive his soul and offer it before the face of the Most High,” Saint Dominic breathed his last. Today, August 8th, the Universal Church celebrates the feast of our Holy Father Dominic.<--break->

The Dominican Order has never had the same cult of personality surrounding its founder as has some other religious orders, such as the Franciscans, a fact made painfully aware to anyone who knows the story of the canonization process of our founder. Instead, Saint Dominic left something much more valuable than his personal example, as noble and fitting as that example was. Saint Dominic left to his children a dream, a vision of a way of life dedicated to a simple purpose, to preach and to defend the Truth, who is Jesus Christ. For 800 years this need, this desire, has continued to inspire generation after generation.

The beauty of this vision, whose relevance never fades (the world always needs the Truth), has sustained Saint Dominic’s order for eight centuries. We have endured much, suffered much, for the sake of that vision. We have seen ourselves grow at tremendous rates and found great success in our work, yet we have also come face to face with the possibility of our own extinction on more than one occasion. We stand on the shoulders of giants who have forged paths for us through the wildernesses of our mind, our soul, and our world (how many still remember the Unifying Friars of Saint Gregory the Illuminator from Armenia, the Fratres Unitores?). Even though his current sons and daughters may, on occasion, seem like a lesser breed than those who came before, yet we continue to work just as tirelessly, and pray that, by the grace of God, Saint Dominic’s vision may become a reality.

As Saint Dominic lay dying, surrounded by the brethren, he turned to them and said, “Do not weep. I shall be more use to you and bear more fruit for you after death than I ever did in life.” The past 800 years have proven the truth of these words.

V. Ora pro nobis, beate Pater Dominice.

R. Ut digni efficiamur promissionibus Christi.

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

Christ is risen!

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The feast of Easter has begun, and what a glorious feast it is! Although secular society may choose to mark the occasion for one day, with chocolate bunnies and marshmallow chicks, we Christians know that the reason for our celebration is something much more than that.


It began 40 days ago, when we were marked with the sign of the cross in ashes. Lent, that solemn season of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving followed. We gave up our favorite foods. We did works of charity. We turned back to the Lord in prayer and through the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Our sins confessed and our consciences clean, we came to church on Palm Sunday and sang “Hosanna” to our king. Sadly, the allure of sin was to still too great, for after Jesus washed our feet on Holy Thursday, we betrayed him, deserted him, and denied knowing him.


Perhaps it was this thought in my mind that made Good Friday so especially moving for me this year. Although I sang the part of Jesus in the Passion according to John-- composed by one of our former Nemwan Center interns, Tyler Ross Boegler--I actually identified with all the other characters. I could picture myself as Judas, betraying Christ with a kiss; for this is what happens every time words of gossip or insult leave my lips, those same lips which receive the Body of Christ in Holy Communion. I could see myself in Peter’s shoes, saying, “I do not know him.” Every time I turn away from a brother or sister in need, and ignore my Christian duty, I echo these words. Every time fear and shame impede my ability to profess our faith, it is as if I am saying, “I do not know Christ.”


All the experiences of Good Friday: the pain, sorrow, anguish and confusion; they leave us in a place of desolation. After walking the Via Crucis, praying through the Passion, and venerating the wood of the cross, we are left wondering if anything good can come out of this suffering. We find ourselves in darkness and misery.


After many hours, suddenly, a light shines in the gloom. It is the light of Christ, risen from the grave, that dispels the darkness and casts out all shadows of fear and doubt. Bells ring, people sing with joy, “Alleluia” and “Resurrexit” are the words upon our lips. This is the reason for our celebration. Christ’s death has conquered sin, and his resurrection has conquered death. The gates of the netherworld are smashed to pieces, and the gates of heaven are open wide to those who believe.


Now is the time to rejoice with the holy women who came to pay their last respects, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary. Now is the time to sing God’s praises with the Blessed Virgin Mary and all the Saints. And not just for one day, but for 50 days. The season of Easter has begun, and what a glorious season it is!

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

The power of the Holy Spirit to make us new

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The following reflection is based on a talk I gave at a retreat for a group of college students and young adults, while on my pastoral year at St. Catherine of Siena Newman Center in Salt Lake City. It has been edited down from its original version.

In Sunday’s reading from the letter to the Romans, St. Paul says, “You are not in the flesh, on the contrary, you are in the spirit, if only the Spirit of God dwells in you” (Romans 8:9). In this case, when St. Paul refers to “the flesh,” he is talking about a person who still lives with the stain of original sin. As Catholics, we believe that in the Sacrament of Baptism that stain is washed away. Thus we receive a new name, a new heart open to God, and a new spirit — God’s spirit dwelling within us instead of the spirit of this world.


While reflecting on the power of the Holy Spirit to transform us and make us new, I came across a homily by St. John Chrysostom, based on a passage from 1 Kings 18:1-40, when the prophet Elijah takes on the priests of Baal. Let’s take a moment to read it now… With these holy words in mind, let’s listen to what Chrysostom says: “Imagine in your mind’s eye, if you will, Elijah and the vast crowd standing around him and the sacrifice lying upon the stone altar. All the rest are still, hushed into deep silence. The prophet alone is praying. Suddenly fire falls from the skies on to the offering. It is marvelous; it is charged with bewilderment. Turn, then, from that scene to our present rites, and you will see not only marvelous things, but things that transcend all terror. The priest stands bringing down, not fire, but the Holy Spirit. And he offers prayers at length, not that some flame lit from above may consume the offerings, but that grace may fall on the sacrifice through that prayer, set alight the souls of all, and make them appear brighter than silver refined in the fire.”


For some reason, I don’t think most people relate this awe-inspiring image to what happens when we celebrate the Sacraments. Maybe they’ve just become too accustomed to witnessing the mysteries. They don’t look beyond what they can see to the reality that is taking place — the Holy Spirit descending like fire to envelop and transform: the one being baptized, the gifts of bread and wine which become the Body and Blood of Christ, the man who is ordained a holy priest of God. Maybe if we approached all the Sacraments this way, with the eyes of faith, we would have a greater sense of reverence and wonder at what we are so privileged to take part in. But it’s not just the Sacraments that we should view in this way. The Spirit of God, which dwells in each baptized person is always at work, often in ways we don’t even recognize and thus take for granted. Take a moment to think about it: When is the last time you noticed the Holy Spirit acting in your life? When is the last time you thanked God for transforming you?