From the Prior’s Window
Presently the view is quite dramatic, as we are in the middle of one of Oakland’s rare thunder storms. Birch Court is completely dark, until a flash of lightening momentarily illumines the scene. An instant later, thunder growls and I wait for everything in my room to rattle. I seem to recall a legend that Martin Luther found himself in such a storm, and was so frightened he made a vow to enter a monastery if God would bring him through the storm safely. Let’s hope for a happier end to this storm!
I spent 1973, the year before I was ordained, at our campus ministry in Eugene, Oregon, a place quite familiar with rain. The book to read that year was Watership Down, a novel about rabbits. The author notes that no animal welcomes bad weather, but observes
Many human beings say that they enjoy the winter, but what they really mean is feeling proof against it…the winter cannot hurt them and therefore increases their sense of cleverness and security.
I have been reading this evening, and while I have not been feeling particularly clever during this storm, I have certainly been reveling in the security that shelters me from it – and wondering what the skunks, birds, squirrels, and other livestock that make their home at St. Albert’s are doing to shelter against what promises to be a very unpleasant night.
It is certainly a night different than those we enjoyed a week ago, when we celebrated our Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Vigil liturgies. We could not have asked for better weather, which offered our friends additional encouragement to join us for the evenings’ solemn liturgies. As usual, our students outdid themselves, and the liturgies were magnificently sung and beautifully executed.
St. Thomas Aquinas defines joy as the satisfaction that comes from possessing some good or from accomplishing some good act. To preside at these complicated liturgies is a true joy – so long as someone knows what comes next! Our students had done their homework, so those of us who had the honor of a presider’s role always knew where we were supposed to be and what we were supposed to say or sing. We all owe our young Dominican brothers our sincere thanks.
And we Dominicans owe you, our friends, our sincere thanks for your generous contributions to St. Albert’s during the days of our Easter liturgies. Your kindness is a humbling tribute to your belief in us, and your willingness to invest in the future of the men we are preparing for the next generation of ministry in the Western Province.
In our tradition a Dominican superior is called servus servorum – servant of the servants. This year I had a rare opportunity to serve our community on the Palm Sunday and Easter weekends. Our weekend cook quit suddenly, so I closed my eyes and thought back to my days as a student, when we used to take turns cooking. Back then a book – Food for Fifty – fell into my hands, and I realized that cooking for seventy-five or so (we were a larger community then) was considerably more fun than cooking for six or eight, as one no longer has to deal with quarter-teaspoons and other miniscule and unforgiving measurements.
I’ve not cooked for fifty for forty years, but we seem to have survived the experiment. One of our students has decided he wants to experiment with baking, a time-consuming sport I’ve never had patience with, so he volunteered to prepare our Easter desserts – six, if I counted correctly. On Easter afternoon I was able to leave him sweating over meringues while I took a nap!
By the time our friends read this the eldest member of the Western Province will have celebrated his 97th birthday. Fr. Paul Aquinas Duffner is one of the few of us who has served at the northern and southern limits of the Western Province’s ministries. I spoke to him the other day and he said it would be hard to imagine a greater contrast between the snow that greeted him at Holy Family Parish, in Anchorage, Alaska, and the tropical jungles that were his home for the eight years he served as a missionary in Chiapas, the southernmost state of Mexico.
I had the honor to work with Fr. Duffner when I lived in Portland, Oregon, before I was elected Prior at St. Albert’s. Fr. Duffner had come to Portland in 1975, to serve as pastor at Holy Rosary Parish. He also established the Rosary Center and resumed leadership of the Rosary Confraternity, which he had directed in San Francisco, shortly after his ordination, in 1940. He joined forces with Fr. Thomas Feucht, who had begun publishing Light and Life: Theology for the Laity. The result is a newsletter sent around the globe, and whose readers make a significant contribution to the Western Province’s students and retired members. (I am the newsletter’s present editor, and feel I have very large shoes to fill.)
Among his Dominican brothers Fr. Duffner is probably best remembered for the serving sixteen years (1945 – 56, 1960 – 66) he served as the Western Province’s novice master, but this achievement is one that he, himself, shrugs off. “I think I enjoyed working with the natives in Mexico more,” he says, “but there were some real similarities. The young men who come to us are looking for something, and it is a real honor to be with them at the beginning of their search, and to share what one’s learned through prayer and one’s own experience in the religious life.”
The days of our Easter Octave are drawing to a close, but the flame of the Paschal candle reminds us that the Light of Christ continues to brighten the darkness of our world and warm our lives. I pray it will also remind you of your Dominican brothers’ deep regard for you, and our sincere thanks for your prayers and financial support that are so vital to everything we do. We remember you every day in the prayers we offer for our friends; I beg you to remember us, our students, and those whom their lives of ministry will serve, touch, and heal.
Sincerely in the Risen Christ!
Fr. Reginald Martin, O.P.