Topic: Study

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

My Journey from Lutheranism to the Eucharist (part one)

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The history of the church is filled with examples of great heretics turned orthodox faithful, and great intellectuals who, after pouring over the profoundest questions, discover the timeless truths of the Catholic faith. I wish that mine were one more of those stories. However, my journey to the Catholic Church is much less heroic than my hubris would like to flaunt and, although my imagination and memory can weave back into my own story a theological depth and insight that I have only subsequently acquired, my story lacked the sophistication that my current pride would like to boast. Far from proceeding through these lofty heights, my journey to embracing the Catholic teaching regarding the Eucharist is no more than one of a sincere believing Christian: trying to come to terms with his own beliefs, trying to take the tradition of Christianity that was handed on to him and distill out of its many tenants and beliefs the core of God’s message to him, trying to struggle with the God who he loves so much in order to grow closer to this God. Indeed (if there even is one) this is my only boast. All I wanted or desired, from the beginning of my path until the present day, was to understand God more deeply, to understand Him more so that I could love Him more, to love Him more in order to grow in union with Him.

I was raised as a Missouri Synod Lutheran in suburban Ohio and, like most Lutheran children, was very well educated in the faith. Perhaps it is a hangover from their Prussian and Teutonic roots that Lutherans take so seriously the catechizing of their young in the faith, but I did receive this blessing and, now as an adult, I am very grateful for it. I enjoyed a very thorough and systematic education in the scriptures and the propositions of Luther’s Small Catechism (the primary text that was studied second to scripture). When I was growing up, we had a strong identity as Lutherans. We were proud of being Lutheran. We were convinced that we knew precisely why we were Lutheran and why we were not anything else. Due to these strong convictions, the Missouri Synod Lutheranism within which I was raised was truly “Protestant” in the real sense of the word; that is, they had a strong sense of what they were NOT, of what they were pushing against and protesting. First, I learned that we were absolutely NOT Catholic; the Roman Church was the first enemy that needed avoiding. Second, I learned that we were not like the other non-sacramental reformed churches. We differed fundamentally from both of these groups and held a sort of golden mean between two radically different and erroneous extremes.

With regards to the first protest, that we were not Catholics, there were two pillars of our faith that identified us: sola fide, that salvation is by “faith alone” and not by righteous works; and sola scriptura, that all divine revelation is contained in the 66 books of sacred scripture (opposed to the Catholic 73 books) without deference to any magisterial hierarchical authority and only partial deference to church tradition which we saw as functioning merely as an interpretive aid for understanding scripture. For me, the more important of these two pillars, by far, was the belief in faith alone as the means of justification. Although Sola Scriptura was essential, sola fide was the core of my Christianity, as I will explain below.

With regards to the second protest, that we were not like the other non-sacramental churches springing from the protestant reformation, we rooted our identity in a great Lutheran teaching drilled into my head like the great “hear, O Israel” of the old testament, a truth that Martin Luther himself fought long and hard to preserve, the truth of the “real presence” of Christ in the bread and wine of Holy Communion. It might come as a surprise to many Catholics, but orthodox Lutherans place great stress on this point; there is emphasis placed upon Christ’s literal words at the last supper, “this is my body” and “this is my blood.” I was taught that, when I receive the bread and wine of Holy Communion (for this is what we called it; the word Eucharist was unknown to me until adulthood), I was truly receiving the “real” body and “real” blood of the Lord, Jesus Christ. This is what I was taught. This is what I understood.

As a child and as a teenager I did not question the word “real” in the phrase “real presence”; I just accepted it. I did not demand theological nuances like I later would; I did not demand an ontological explanation for how Christ’s presence could be “real” and yet the taste, smell, sight, and texture of bread and wine remain, as if they also endured as “real” as well. Luther’s Small Catechism expresses this reality by saying that Christ’s presence is “with, in, and under the bread.”[1]

Such a statement might seem simplistically metaphorical now, but at that time, it seemed good enough for me. I questioned no further. It is indeed true, as I would subsequently learn, that there are profound differences between the Catholic understanding of what takes place at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass designated by the word “transubstantiation” and what Lutheran and Anglican theologians understand as “consubstantiation,” but this is beyond the scope of this short essay. The point is this… I believed it. As a Lutheran, I believed that, in Holy Communion, the true body and blood of Jesus Christ came to me.

This was the Lutheran position, as I knew it; we were engaged in a two front battle for self-identity, perched, as the sole bearers of true Christianity, between two errors. On one side, we maintained a belief in the real presence of Christ in the sacrament, in opposition to the bulk of reformed Protestantism, and on the other we maintained that our salvation was by “faith alone” and not works in opposition to the ancient Church of Rome. As I mentioned above, it was on this latter front, the protest against the Catholic Church’s understanding of salvation as being a matter of faith and works, that our first and primary identity as Protestants rested. To understand this, let me focus on what the sola fide aspect of my faith truly meant.

To be continued in "My Journey from Lutheranism to the Eucharist (part two)"

 [1]"For the reason why, in addition to the expressions of Christ and St. Paul (the bread in the Supper is the body of Christ or the communion of the body of Christ), also the forms: under the bread, with the bread, in the bread [the body of Christ is present and offered], are employed, is that by means of them the papistical transubstantiation may be rejected and the sacramental union of the unchanged essence of the bread and of the body of Christ indicated." The Book of Concord: The Solid Declaration of the Formula of Concord, (VII:35)., (referenced January 27th 2013).

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

Ahh ... the Brothers

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Common life is awesome. The other day I felt compelled to address the new policy for Catholic Hospitals in Germany on the use of emergency contraceptives for rape victims who have not yet conceived a child. As is my custom, I had a strong reaction to the German Bishops' policy. I thought it was a great example of poor moral reasoning. So, I started to write a critique of the policy.

When my masterpiece of solo-synchronous scholarship was completed I made a decision. I chose to share my thoughts with some of my Dominican brothers. The conversations I had with them about this topic quickly turned into invigorating intellectual wrestling matches. With each conversation I was able to get a clearer picture of the proper principles that needed to be applied to the argument. Some of my thoughts were confirmed, others weren't. With their help I was able to consider aspects of the issue that I hadn't properly considered. I think they were also enriched by it.

Finally, after a few days of these conversations, I was ready. I opened up nvALT on the Mac I have the use of, found the document, deleted it, and started from scratch. After reworking the argument I passed it on to yet another brother for final editing before I committed it to the web. In this communal process, the brothers were able to show me where my reasoning was erroneous on a few  small but crucial points. If I didn't have them to bounce my thoughts against I would have written a piece that was both rash and inaccurate. Instead you can read a good and accessible work on this issue titled "A Bitter Pill To Swallow" at The Eighth Way in support of the German Bishops' moral reasoning.

This is one of the great things about living in this community. We are constantly bouncing ideas off of each other. We study, we think, we contemplate. But, we also share these essential parts of our Dominican intellectual life with one another. We correct and affirm each other. We do all this with our eyes corporately fixed on holiness and fidelity to the truth. This really is a beautiful life.

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

The Living Soul of Reform

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We live in exciting times. They are times of great change and great drama; of great controversy and great polarization; of great trial and great suffering. And they demand a vigorous response. We live in an era of cultural decay coming in the wake of the great upheavals of the 20th century, the most recent of which was the sexual revolution of the 1960s. Traditional forms of social cohesion like religious commitment, love of country, and familial stability, have been in decline for some years now. Crises have rocked the Catholic Church seemingly uninterruptedly Crepuscular Rays in St. Peter's Basilica, Vatican City  - Uploaded by Jraytramfor the last 40 years—whether confusion and dissolution in liturgical discipline, near-catastrophic failures in catechesis, a dearth of religious and priestly vocations, or (more recently) immoral and scandalous behavior of clergy. The question arises, “What do we do?” To begin, I propose a way of rethinking our use and understanding of a particular word. This word is summoned by diverse and sundry individuals and groups to defend changes in the Church, whether great or small, good or bad, wise or foolish. And the word is...“reform.” But first, a few words about using words.[1]

Sometimes when a word begins to be used in a variety of contexts, and by different people with differing intentions, it gradually loses its original specificity and can act as a kind of bully club, delivering a punchy and often emotionally-charged swipe at the expense of clarity and reasoned engagement. Such, I suppose, is the fate of words like “liberal” and “conservative” in popular discourse, or “open-minded” and “fundamentalist” in popular religious discourse. The words indeed mean something, but that meaning has gone through the wash so many times, and been worn again and soiled by so many different people, that they are often hurled forth irresponsibly, casting, as it were, a dirty and undignified garment on the adversary in the place of reasoned and patient engagement. Thus, in one fell swoop, a proponent of same-sex unions can brand his opponents “bigots” and the defender of traditional marriage has of a sudden been verbally clothed in a white suit with a pointy-hat, bigotry ready at hand. Or, in a similarly fellish swoop, a Catholic who believes the Magisterium ought to be adhered to in all matters of faith and doctrine can be called, with a tinge of visceral disdain, “narrow” or “rigid,” after which jaws clench, voices hush, and the argument has apparently been ended.

The word “reform” has not quite the same emotional baggage as those just mentioned, but ever since the Vatican Council II, it has been at least as bandied about by diverse and sundry groups, dressed up in one ideological agenda or another. On one side of the spectrum it is used to justify sweeping liturgical changes or to dismantle the concept of “hierarchical structures” or to advance women’s ordination. On the other side it is used as a dirty word in the midst of a wholesale critique of everything that has happened since Vatican II, sometimes even rejecting the Council itself and longing for a return to the perceived-to-be-pristine 1950s. And yet, the Vatican Council II itself spoke of the need for “reform” in the Church: “Christ summons the Church, as she goes her pilgrim way, to that continual reformation of which she is always in need insofar as she is an institution of men here on earth.” (Unitatis Redintegratio 6). The Council is careful in its phrasing. In her human aspects, the Church has many deficiencies, and we should not be afraid to recognize them and “reform” them. But in her essence the Church, united to Christ her Head, is perfect, an eternal font of creative energy, holiness, and life flowing through her.  This distinction is vital for any notion of “reform.” 

In common speech today the term “reform” drums up associations with political and social movements that seek to recraft social structures or advance political agendas. It is often bound up with a notion of democratic participatory decision-making and grassroots “movements” that seek to challenge existing structures. This is not what the Church means by “reform,” and to project this meaning onto ecclesial realities can lead to grave errors. The reason is that the Catholic Church is not merely a human or social or political institution. These realities are an inevitable part of the way she is structured here on earth, but they do not constitute her core, her heart, her “soul,” as it were. Properly speaking, the “Church” is not so much a structure, as a living organism with its own inner vital principles all afire with life and energy, principles that need to be respected and properly developed. It is more like a living and breathing human being than a machine. In this case that “being” is nothing less than the Mystical Body of Christ, the second Person of the Trinity in unity with his pilgrim people on earth.

Avery Dulles—in an article more detailed and theologically nuanced than I can be here—has admirably laid out the principles for “true and false” types of reform, principles that should be presupposed for any thinking about what “reform” is.[2] He points out that the Second Vatican Council used the word “reform” very sparingly, more often opting for the terms “renewal” (renovatio) and “purification” (purificatio). These seem more adequate terms since they point not so much to molding and shaping and bashing a thing into order from without, as to an encouraging-from-within, a support and nourishment that catalyzes the inner-forces of a thing so it can grow and develop properly.[3] 

Dulles’ distinction is a very Thomistic one. All living things have their own proper laws placed within them. A flower will only grow in a healthy way through a combination of nutrients in the soil, an amenable external environment, sufficient light from the sun, and water. A flower cannot be slashed at and bent about from the outside in order to conform with an idea that we have of what it should be. We cannot make a rose into a violet by painting it and cutting and pasting its petals this way and that, any more than we can feed a turtle steroids and turn it into a crocodile, or work very hard to train our pet cat to beat a cheetah in a race. What we can do is feed and nourish the rose, the violet, the turtle, or the cat, so that each grows and develops into the thing that it—and only it—is supposed to be.[4] 

If things like cats and turtles and flowers have these inner-principles, these “forms,” that need to be respected if we are to enjoy their company or their beauty, the Church has an inner-constitution which is infinitely more alive, vital, creative, and deserving of respect. This inner-principle of the Church is all afire with the divinity and the creative energy of God, flowing from an eternal source that will never cease. This “energy” is nothing less than the Holy Spirit Himself, often spoken of as the “soul” of the Body of Christ, that is, the Church.

Popes John Paul II and Benedict have continually called for a “new evangelization” to spark an age of renewal and yes, even “reform” in the Church. But this reform can never be achieved through a clumsy application of political and social models, or a purely secularized morality where truth is relative, irresponsible or even perverse behavior is condoned, and the only social rule is that one should never “offend” another. But neither will the new evangelization happen by simply retreating into a previous era as if the last 50 years never happened.

What the Body of Christ needs today is reinvigoration. It needs—or rather Christ now urgently calls—religious and lay people, priests and bishops, the whole Body of Christ, to a fearless and audacious confidence in the goodness of God and the power of the gospel to convert the world. We need, in a word, to become holy, to avail ourselves of the living waters flowing eternally from the Temple of God and the Heart of Christ pierced on the Cross. This can be the only true source of authentic renewal. How do we go about this? Ultimately, the responsibility devolves on each individual Catholic. But in a special way it devolves on: (1) religious to be faithful to their vows and the charisms of their founders; (2) clergy to order and lead and inspire their flocks with true knowledge and firm faith in Christ and his Church; (3) bishops to sound the call and be “examples for the flock” (1 Pet 5.3).

But getting more practical, Dulles gives a number of criteria to distinguish signs of true and false reform. True reform will: (1) not be an abandoning but a “return to the founding principles of Catholicism”; (2) respect the Church’s spiritual and devotional heritage, including Marian piety, the cult of saints, high regard for monastic life and religious vows, penitential practices, and eucharistic worship: (3) be committed to the “fullness of Catholic doctrine” as authoritatively proposed by the Magisterium; (4) respect the “divinely given structures of the Church, including the differences in states of life and vocations”; (5) sustain unity and communion, avoiding schism and factionalism; (6) be marked by a spirit of patient perseverance, not feverish demand for sweeping change; (7) not yield to our fallen nature’s tendency to prideful self-assertion; and (8) guard against reforms too closely associated with fads and ephemeral ideologies in the secular sphere.

Dulles sketches out in practical terms what he quotes one of the 20th century’s theological giants as affirming in more concise terms. Henri de Lubac said that he did “not believe that structural reforms...are ever the main part of a program that must aim at the only true renewal, spiritual renewal.” John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and—indeed—the Lord himself calls with intense urgency every Catholic to take up this call to the spiritual renewal and vigorous revitalization of the Church’s life. Such a renewal will come—can only come—from respecting and drawing off of the Church's interior vitality imbued and poured out by the Holy Spirit. God alone gives the growth, of course, but we are messengers and ambassadors of his work on earth, and he urgently, very urgently, exhorts us to the task.

[1] The inspiration and much of the substance of this article I draw from the late Avery Cardinal Dulles’ excellent article, “True and False Reform,” First Things Aug/Sep 2003. (Read it here.)

[2] see ibid.

[3] We do not have time to go into it here, but Dulles names a number of areas the Council pointed to for authentic renewal: biblical and patristic studies; liturgy; kerygmatic (i.e.preaching) theology; catechesis; lay apostolates; ecumenism; social teaching.

[4] I avoid the technical terminology here, but in Thomistic terms, this “inner-principle” is called the “form,” and the elements of change and particularity—all that goes into its color, shape, change through time—are its “matter.”


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

Why We Study

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As is well known, St. Dominic was unique in his time in that he incorporated study into the spiritual life of the friars; study, not seen as an ancillary activity done as a means to a utilitarian end, but as a means of contemplation and prayer. In this presentation, the student Brothers of the Western Province of the Most Holy Name of Jesus expound upon the meaning of study in their own spiritual lives and explain how study of truth, far from being extraineous to their lives or prayer, is actually the main pillar in their walk with God.

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

Truth and Love

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Truth and Love

Would you rather have truth or love?

It's a rather interesting question, but take a moment to think it over...would you rather have truth or love?

On the surface this seems like the age-old debate between the head and the heart, between the nobility of reason and the power of human affection. But, if we take our cues from Saint Thomas Aquinas, we see that truth and love need not be regarded as opposite from one another. Truth involves the knower being conformed and joined to what is known. Love involves the lover being united and joined to the beloved. Truth resides in the intellect, and love resides in the appetite of the intellect (i.e., the will). When we say heart, then, we really mean, not the organ in our torso, but the power of our intellect to seek what we perceive to be good, and true, and beautiful. In both cases, of love and truth, there is a sense of union and relationship. When our ideas are not related and united to what is real, then there is no truth. When our love does not unite us to another through the relation of the other's mutual love, then there is no true love. And what is true love but a love that unites us to the reality and truth of another? If we want true love, we must know an other, because you can't love what you don't know. With this understanding of truth and love, a whole new dimension of life opens to us, especially with regards to God. Jesus' commandments of loving God and loving our neighbor are connected with His revelation, "I am the way, the truth, and the life." We are called to a union with God that begins with our minds being opened to His truth by faith, and is completed by a love that lasts through all eternity in Paradise. Truth and love, for the Christian, are the sine qua non of eternal life, and true, lasting, perfect happiness.

But what does "the world" offer us with regards to truth and love? "The world" (i.e., not the physical earth, but the existence and reign of sin among humanity) tells us that love is a feeling, and that truth is an opinion. Love is what makes you feel good and is what is useful to your own desires. Truth is an antiquated word used by fools which must be replaced by utility, popularity, sensitivty, or opinion. Whereas the truth and love of a Christian requires change on our own part, and a relationship with an other person or reality, the truth and love of "the world" requires that others change for us, and that reality fit our prejudices and ambitions. Hence, "the world" offers us an existece where we become more and more isolated, as we progressively regard others as mere objects, and reality becomes a continual eruption of inconvenience to our plots and sensitivites. To these concepts of truth and love, Jesus stands as a monolithic paradox. Jesus' love was expressed, not with pleasure, but with blood and nails. Jesus' truth wasn't expressed by blind tolerance, but by hard sayings that provoked both fury and outrage, joy and praise, sorrow and conversion. Jesus presented His truth with love, so that those open to listening, may find His true love. In a like manner, we today who speak Christ's unalterable truth must do so with the strength of love so as to lead others to conversion.

At a time when so many people long for relationships that are deeper than facebook, and so many people want to find the truth that underlies the fabric of matter and time, perhaps a good place to begin is by asking ourselves if we really have love in our lives, and if we really want to to know the truth. Are we willing to love in the way that Jesus loved? Are we willing to know the truth that Jesus lived?

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

Penance and Happiness

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I once heard a priest ask his congregation, "What are you doing this Lent to make your self miserable?" He was half-joking, but I think that he said this because he really did dread Lent. And certainly I can identify somewhat with his sentiment. After all, the penitential aspect of Lent is not entirely "fun." On the other hand, is it really supposed to make us feel "miserable"? Should we measure the value of a penance by how much we hate it, by how terrible it makes us feel? Is that what Lent is truly about?

Hardly. Rather, Lent is—in the end—really all about happiness, not misery and sadness. But—you may be wondering—how can this be? Isn't penance, which we are especially supposed to focus on during Lent, all about self-denial, giving up things we enjoy, and doing those good things—like giving to the poor—that can feel so unnatural and are just down-right difficult to do? How can this be all about happiness?

Well, it all depends upon what we mean by "happiness," and, consequently, how we are supposed to attain it. Thus, the million-dollar question is....what is happiness anyway? And how can we become happy? Of course, these are not new questions, and certainly not trivial ones. In fact, our whole life depends upon them, precisely because happiness is the one thing that we all seek, in every single thing that we do, in every choice and act that we make. We all want to be happy.

The ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle recognized this when he posed the same questions in his well-known work, Nichomachean Ethics, in the 4th century B.C. He reasoned that the one thing sought in every human act is happiness. He first describes happiness rather generally as that ultimate goal "for the sake of which" all things are done. It is the ultimate "telos" (τέλος), the end, the goal, the purpose of human life and activity. And, in fact, he goes on to define happiness as a type of activity itself: "happiness is an activity of the soul in accordance with perfect virtue" (Nich. Eth. I, 13). Contrary to many modern notions of happiness, he dismissed the idea that happiness could be merely a feeling; nor did he think that happiness is simply a passive state or condition of the human being. Instead, it is the perfection of the human being, a perfection fulfilled in the excellent activity of the highest powers of man. To be happy, then, we must act virtuously, we must live well: for that is what happiness is.

Now, it may seem odd, at first glance, to dwell much on what a pagan Greek philosopher had to say long before Christianity even existed, when discussing the true meaning of the Christian season of Lent. However, I point out Aristotle because I think he was onto something in his view of happiness which is relevant not only to the season of Lent, but also to the whole gamut of moral questions and problems that are discussed today. But not only for this reason is Aristotle worth noting here. He is also noteworthy because what sacred Scripture and Christian tradition have to say about happiness elevates what he had already discovered about it using the natural light of human reason. Faith and reason are in harmony here, and point in the same direction, although faith surpasses and transcends what reason can only begin to discover on its own.

For Aristotle, happiness consisted in an activity of the soul in accord with perfect virtue; and the perfect, or highest virtue, was that of contemplation (Greek "theoria", θεωρία), to know deeply and penetratively the highest, most divine truths about reality. Aristotle, of course, did not believe in the Christian God, nor did he have any concept of a personal God at all. But Aristotle's idea takes on new dimensions when seen in light of the Christian faith, such as Jesus' prayer to the Father in John 17: "This is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent." The goal of human life, for Jesus, was knowing God. This "knowing" of God doesn't simply mean having God as an acquaintance, much less a mere understanding of great truths about God. Rather, it is a "knowing" which consists in intimate union with God; what Scripture often describes as "seeing" the "face" of God (1 Jn 3:2; Rev 22:4; cf. Ex. 33:11-23).1 The Catholic Tradition has called this the "Beatific Vision", or simply "Beatitude": the direct vision of God-in-Himself, knowing Him as he truly is, a union made possible by love or charity.

"That's great," you may be thinking, "but what does all of this have to do with Lenten penance?" The answer is: everything. Lenten penance is about happiness because it is all about preparing us to engage in that highest activity of the human soul which alone can make us happy: seeing God. How? By removing obstacles that obscure our spiritual vision, and by exercising the "ocular muscles" of our soul. Of course, this process is not always fun, much like going on a diet or exercising are not always fun. But we do penance and physical exercising for analogous reasons: because we know that the outcome will lead us to spiritual or physical health, respectively.

That physical exercise leads to physical health is obvious. But how does penance lead to spiritual health, namely, the vision of God? In three ways: (1) Almsgiving helps us see God in our neighbor, by loving those in need who are created in His image and likeness. (2) Fasting helps us to pay attention to our spiritual vision and hunger rather than their mere physical counterparts. By giving up certain attractive foods or other goods, we admit that there are even greater goods that we ought to seek, and train our souls to put the first things first. And (3) prayer puts us into direct communication with God Himself, the knowledge of whom is our happiness. Put another way, each of the traditional forms of penance attempts to respond to God's grace and overcome sin by restoring harmony in three different relations—with our neighbor, within ourselves, and with God.

So if Aristotle was indeed onto something when he thought of happiness as a perfect and perfecting activity of the human being—and if the Christian Tradition goes even further and says that the greatest "activity" is that of knowing God face-to-face, then Christian penance is all about training us to respond to God's grace, restore harmony within ourselves, with others, and with God, all of which prepare us to see God. It may, indeed, make us feel "miserable" for a short while; but that's not the point, nor should we measure the value of our penance by how awful we feel. Rather, we should endeavor to pursue those forms of penance which help us attune our spiritual vision toward God, rather than the fleeting pleasures of this life. For our happiness, our eternal life, is in knowing Him, and his Son, Jesus Christ, by the power and presence of the Holy Spirit. This Lent, then, may we keep our "eyes" on this goal, this purpose, this "telos" of our works of penance, that we might do them with genuine love and devotion, fueled by that divine hope that one day, indeed, we may see God face-to-face, and know Him as he truly is.


  1. It should be noted that both the Hebrew and Greek words meaning "to know", yada (יָדַע) and oida (οἰδα), have as their most basic and primitive meaning, "to see." The greek term οἰδα, in fact, is technically the perfect form of εἰδον (I saw) and thus literally meant, "I have seen," but came to used for the present form, "I know," since to have seen something is to know it. Thus "seeing" and "knowing", even in the Bible, are almost interchangeable. To "know" God is to have "seen" Him as he is, "face-to-face," which of course does not happen for us until heaven.
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

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

Who is Jesus?

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On 13 June 2012, I gave the Dominican Forum presentation at St. Dominic's Parish in Eagle Rock California. The topic of the talk entitled, "Who is Jesus?" was on the nature of Jesus Christ as true God and true man and the importance and centrality of this teaching for the Christian faith. 

Starting from Scripture and moving through the Catechism of the Catholic Church, I attempted to illustrate in a straight-forward and easy to digest fashion what the Church understands about the nature of Jesus Christ and how she has articulated that understanding throughout the centuries.

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

“He shall be called a Nazarene”

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Mosaic of NazarethIn the Gospel of Matthew, we read about Joseph taking Mary and Jesus and fleeing Judea for Egypt because of Herod’s plan to kill all infant boys in the area. On their return after Herod’s death, Joseph is warned in a dream about Herod’s successor, and so they flee to Nazareth – where Jesus subsequently grows up. Matthew then writes that this happened “in order to fulfill what was spoken through the prophets: ‘For he shall be called a Nazarene’” (Matt. 2:23).

What Old Testament passage(s) did Matthew have in mind when he wrote this? This question has puzzled biblical commentators for centuries, because the apparent quotation does not precisely match any known text of the Old Testament.1  One possible explanation is that offered by the research of Maarten J. J. Menken, who argues that Matthew has in mind the Greek translations of Judges 13:5,7, and 16:7.2

Judges 13-16 describes the life of Samson, a “Nazirite” known for his rather supernatural strength. His mother was originally “barren,” a rather shameful state for a woman, but was told by an angel, “You shall conceive and bear a son, whose head no razor shall touch. For he shall be a Nazirite of God, from his infancy and from his mother’s womb. And he shall begin to free Israel from the hand of the Philistines” (Judg 13:5).  The Hebrew term “Nazirite” is נָזִר or נָזִיר (pronounced “Naw-ZEER”), and meant “consecrated” or “holy.” It relates to those consecrated by a vow as prescribed in Numbers 6, in which those so consecrated must not shave their heads nor consume anything from the vine.

Interestingly, in some versions of a Greek translation of the Old Testament known as the Septuagint (LXX), the Hebrew term נָזִיר (naziyr, or Nazirite in English) in Judges 13:5, 7 was transliterated into Greek as ναζιραῖος (naziraios). The same Hebrew word was treated similarly in Lam 4:7 LXX.  In various other Greek translations of the Old Testament, including those done by Jewish scholars of the early Christian era, in several places in the Scriptures this same Hebrew word was variously translated as ναζιρ, ναζαραιος, ναζηραιος, or ναζιραιος (nazir, nazaraios, nazeraios, and naziraios; notice that the only difference between these last few is that of one vowel).3 Matthew’s Ναζωραῖος also differs only by one vowel – the same vowel position (he uses the Greek ω where others used ι, α, or η). If we keep in mind that the Hebrew text originally did not have any vowels – these were only marked by later scribes for the sake of pronunciation –, there may be enough "wiggle room" to allow Matthew to see a linguistic connection between "Nazarene" (Ναζωραῖος) and "Nazirite" (Ναζιραῖος). It may be that Matthew was familiar with such Greek renderings of the Judges 13 passages, and he made precisely such a connection.

If Menken is right—and there is more to his argument than that briefly mentioned above4—, then it means that Matthew sees in the story of Samson a “type” of Christ. If we compare these two figures, we notice many parallels: Samson’s mother was promised by an angel that she would conceive and bear a son, that he would be a Nazirite (i.e., “holy”); her son was given a supernatural strength so as to bring (brief) respite for the Israelites from the Philistines. Similarly, in Matthew Jesus’ birth was announced by an angel who said that he will be conceived by the Holy Spirit and who promised that Jesus would save God’s people from their sins (Mt. 2:20-21).  Jesus himself is the “strong man,” overcoming the strength of Satan (cf. Mt. 21:29).

SamsonIf we continue with the comparison, we notice that, like all Old Testament foreshadowings of Christ, there are differences among the similarities: Samson falls for the ploys of the Philistines via the woman he loves, and as a result loses his strength, his freedom, his sight, and – eventually – his life. Jesus is confronted with the deceptions of Satan, but does not succumb. But Jesus’ ultimate act of triumph over his “enemies” – Satan, sin, and Bronzino's "Christ on the Cross" (1545)death – also involves the giving of his own life, on the cross. After Samson was captured, he stretched out his hands to dislodge the pillars of the Philistine house in which he was imprisoned, taking down numerous Philistines with him. Jesus, in turn, stretched out his own hands on the cross, and destroyed the powers of sin and death that reigned over the human race: a victorious strength exercised in weakness.

If Menken is correct, then, Matthew has drawn a typological comparison between Jesus and Samson, and we can see in Jesus the one who is truly “consecrated” to God (ναζιραῖος), the “strong” one who overcomes the enemies of God and brings freedom to His people.


  1. There are two common solutions to this problem, both of which St. Jerome noticed in his day, although he ended up favoring the one posited in this article: it could be referring to the Hebrew word for "shoot" in passages such as Isaiah 11:1; or to the Hebrew word for "Nazirite" in Judges 13:5. [Back to reading]
  2. Maarten J. J. Menken, “The Sources of the Old Testament Quotation in Matthew 2:23,” Journal of Biblical Literature 120, no. 3 (Autumn, 2001): 451-468. For those with full-text access to JSTOR, the article can be accessed here. Menken also sees the language of Isaiah 7:14 -- which Matthew has already invoked in chapter 1 -- being mixed in with the quotation, specifically, the use of the verb καλέω, "to call." [Back to reading]
  3. Additionally, the Greek text of Maccabees 3:49, which is believed to have been originally written in Hebrew, uses ναζιραῖος as the equivalent of “Nazirite.” [Back to reading]
  4. Menken also argues that Matthew's use of the Greek word ότι in Matt. 2:23 is intended to be part of the OT quotation itself, not as part of the quotation formula which precedes it (a purpose this word sometimes filfulls). In which case, the OT citation is, "For[ότι] he shall be called a Nazarene." And as it turns out, the relevant phrases in Judges 13 and 16 (in the LXX) all began with this same Greek word: ότι. Menken also notices that Matthew refers to "the prophets" (in the plural) when prefacing the quotation. He does not do this in any of his other formula citations of the OT, even when he forms a quotation by mixing two different prophets into one quote (e.g., Mt. 21:5 = Is 62:11 + Zech 9:9); in every other case, he speaks of "the prophet" (in the singular, and he often names the prophet). But if we consider that the book of Judges belonged to the so-called "former prophets," and that these books were not yet enumerated by individual authors by the 1st century like the other prophets (such a enumeration and naming was done later), this would account for Matthew's phrase, "what was spoken through the prophets" (Matt. 2:23), i.e., "through that unenumerated collection by the former prophets." These two points give further reason to suppose that Matthew is refering to Judges 13. [Back to reading]
Br. Michael James Rivera, O.P.'s picture

A Letter from the Studentate

Dear Friends and Loyal Readers,

On behalf of the studentate, I must apologize for our lack of posts over the last few weeks. The month of May is typically very busy at St. Albert's, as we begin writing papers and studying extra hard for our final exams. Now that the semester is over, we should get back to our usual schedule of one or two posts a week.

In the meantime, let me give you a little update as to what has happened in the last month...

1) Towards the end of April we celebrated the Solemn Profession of Br. Corwin Saxon Low, O.P., and Br. Peter Junipero Hannah, O.P. In the beautful liturgy on April 28 at St. Dominic's in San Francisco, our brothers made a vow obedience until death into the hands of Fr. Mark Padrez, O.P., Prior Provincial of the Province of the Most Holy Name of Jesus.

2) A few weeks later, on May 7, I had the privilege of helping to light the consecration candles in our chapel as we commemorated the dedication of the chapel by Archbishop Mitty many years ago. The readings and prayers for the day are some of my favorites, since they remind us that the churches in which we pray should be beautiful signs of the presensce of God in our midst.

3) On Mother's Day a number of us traveled to Corpus Christ Monastery in Menlo Park, to be present at the simple profession of Sister Mary Isabel of the Angels, O.P., one of our cloistered nuns. During the Mass Sister Mary Isabel received a black veil, in place of the white one she wore as a novice, and was honored for her willingness to give her life in prayer to the Lord. Sister Mary Isabel is a prayer partner to many of the brothers in formation, and constantly offers spiritual bouquets on their behalf.

Sister Mary Isabel receives her new veil from Fr. Mark Padrez, O.P.

4) The Vigil of Pentecost was especially exciting for all of this year, since it was on this day that our brother Emmanuel Francis Taylor, O.P., was ordained to the priesthood. Fr. Emmanuel has been preparing for this day for many years, and it was a blessing to see the joy on his face as he was vested in his chasuble and his hands were anointed with sacred chrism. Hopefully we'll have some pictures up soon, so be sure to visit our site again.

And when you do, you'll also find some posts from our brothers regarding their summer assignments. A few of us will be in Clinical Pastoral Education programs, while others will be living and working with our communities in Portland and McKenzie Bridge, OR, Seattle, Antioch and Eagle Rock, CA, and Las Vegas.