An old friend in Seattle recently accused me of trying to sound older than I am. “What do you mean?” I asked him.
“Your last few newsletters have mentioned nothing but funerals,” he replied.
I promised him I would have better news this month and, indeed, I do. This morning Fr. Bryan Kromholtz will baptize John Thomas Ikegami at our community Mass. We congratulate his proud parents, Brad and Cindy, and we offer a special prayer for his older sister, Theresa Grace, who awaited John Thomas’ birth with eager joy, and looks forward to serving as an additional guardian angel in her brother’s life.
Allow me to apologize for my repeated absences from our Sunday liturgies during March. At the beginning of the month I accepted an invitation from the Dominican sisters at San Rafael, and celebrated Mass at their Motherhouse. The San Rafael Dominicans introduced me to the Dominican Order when my parents and I lived in Reno, in 1959, and I attended Our Lady of the Snows School. The middle of March found me in Anchorage, begging parishioners’ support for the Western Province’s Mission West Campaign.
Between these events my friends could have found me at Santa Cruz, attending the annual meeting of the superiors of the Western Province. This meeting was established by Fr. Paul Scanlon when he was our Provincial, and I remember attending my first in the late 1970s. In those days the meetings had a semi-educational tone, and the early gathering I attended was directed by professionals engaged to help us discern our leadership “styles.”
Toward this end, we answered a series of questions, then plotted our answers on a grid, which revealed us to be something between Tireless Caregivers and Autocratic Tyrants. Most of us, to no one’s surprise, landed near the former (we were paying for this, after all), but one of our brotherhood fell squarely in the latter category. He was rather pleased to find his leadership skills thus described, and amazed anyone would think this an unfavorable report.
A major change I’ve noticed in the Superiors’ Meetings I’ve attended throughout the past three and a half decades is the eagerness with which the Province’s present superiors attend the meetings – and their willingness to stay until the meetings close. At one point, the Provincial would schedule some vitally important point of discussion for the last morning, simply to insure no one’s leaving early! This is no longer necessary; today’s younger superiors, many of whom entered the Order from backgrounds in business, see no reason they should not clear time on their ministry calendars for Province affairs.
And they devote themselves wholeheartedly to the time. One evening is kept free so classmates and friends can gather for dinner together. One of my Dominican brothers, a few years older than I, invited me to dinner, and we enjoyed a splendid meal. When we returned to the retreat house, we found a dozen of our younger confreres, who had returned before us, playing a game with their Smart Phones. One would announce a theme, and each would choose a song from those “loaded” onto the instrument. Someone would cry, “Lay down” (I believe that’s the term they used) and set his phone of the table, whereupon others in the group would launch a guess at the name of the song and the singer. Needless to say – even when the category was “Social Justice from the Late ‘60s” – I was completely out of the running. Apparently none of the youngsters had heard Joan Baez sing “Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around.”
The last dinner of the gathering contains a tribute to superiors celebrating ordination jubilees. This year Your Humble Scrivener will celebrate his 40th, so I was given a very flattering honorific by our Provincial, Fr. Mark Padrez. His words included quotes on “eloquence” from Heinreich Heine and William Jennings Bryant, as well as a reflection on “age” from Phyllis Diller.
While we’re on the subject of my anniversary, allow me to let slip that I will celebrate the Priory’s Sunday Mass, at 9:30am on June 22. Fr. Brian Mullady, one of the Western Province’s renowned preachers, will offer the homily that day. Fr. Vincent Benoit, who this year celebrates the 30th anniversary of his ordination, will be part of the festivities. A friend has already contributed both the champagne and the glasses for the occasion, so please plan to join the Dominican community for Mass – and afterward – to celebrate with Fr. Vincent and me.
The Superiors’ Meeting closed on Thursday, March 20th, so I returned home for an evening, and then flew to Holy Family Cathedral, our Dominican parish in Anchorage, to preach the weekend Masses. My close Dominican friend, Fr. Anthony Patalano, is pastor at Holy Family, and he some time ago invited me to beg parishioners’ assistance to close the parish’s participation in the Western Province’s Mission West Campaign, which supports our Dominican students, our ill and infirm friars, and will retire the remaining debt on the Dominican School in Berkeley. When Fr. Anthony extended his invitation, the parish needed something like a quarter of a million dollars to achieve its goal. In the meantime, the parish’s development efforts, as well as a very successful visit from Fr. Mark Padrez, reduced the sum to the point that if the parish had cancelled my visit, the money saved on my plane fare would probably have made up the “balance due.” Fr. Anthony, however, is nothing if not a gracious host, so I was able to spend a very pleasant weekend in Anchorage, and do my best to preach for a cause I (as you know) wholeheartedly support.
I suppose I ought to add that our parish in Anchorage was my first “real” assignment after I was ordained. But even before I moved up there to live, I had the immense good fortune to help out at Christmas, 1974, the year I was ordained – and the year Dominicans came to Anchorage to assume care of the cathedral parish. Thus, the cathedral and I will celebrate four decades of Dominican ministry this June.
In my January reflection I remarked that Christmas visit, and the penance service I was delegated to help at. To place this in context I need to say that although I was ordained, I had not yet completed my studies, so I needed the Bishop’s permission to hear confessions. This Bishop Ryan readily granted, so I found myself in the sanctuary, where someone approached me and said their last confession had been thirty-odd years ago. I had just celebrated my twenty-eighth birthday and had no idea what to say, so I uttered a short prayer and was inspired to ask, “What has brought you back after all these years?”
The person replied, “A friend told me you Dominicans do things differently downtown.”
Forty years later, that question is one I still ask when someone has been away from the Sacrament of Reconciliation for a long time; it seems to set folks at ease, and it has proven a non-threatening key that opens all sorts of spiritual doors. And the penitent’s response that evening in Anchorage is one of the greatest compliments to our ministry I can imagine.
As I look back, confessions in Anchorage were always interesting. One Saturday afternoon I came home late from running some errands. I looked in the church and saw no one in line for Reconciliation, so I decided to slip into the confessional without going to the house to change from my blue jeans. After confessions, I ran across the way, donned my habit, and came downstairs to celebrate the evening Mass. I heard a man berating the receptionist. When I walked into the office the irate fellow said, “Father, do you allow teen-agers to hear confessions here?” I was working on a Master’s Degree in English literature at the time, and that summer I took a class in 18th Century drama. When we read Sheridan’s “She Stoops to Conquer,” one of my classmates took exception to the notion that the hero of the play could be tongue-tied when the well-born heroine of the piece appeared as herself, but had no trouble paying court to the same young woman when she dressed as a maid. “Well,” said I, “Let me tell you an interesting story….”
I’ve not heard how my preaching was received that weekend. Hmmm, let me rephrase that. My preaching was very well-received, but I’ve not yet heard whether I was able to move the hearts of my hearers to contribute the $28,000.00 the parish needed to complete its Campaign goal. Especially generous parishioners were invited to dinners on both Saturday and Sunday, after the evening Mass, and they treated us to wonderful stories of heroic deeds undertaken by their favorite Dominicans. Two wrote checks for five hundred dollars, so Holy Family’s Mission West goal has been reduced by at least that much.
And while we’re on the subject of the Mission West Campaign, let me once again thank the many friends of Saint Albert’s, whose kindness has been so very consoling. Your generosity is not surprising, and it is a very welcome gift to this important effort to support those who have served God’s People so faithfully in the past, as well as the young Dominicans whom we are training to be the hands and voices of Christ in the future. (If you haven’t yet made your gift to the Mission West effort, you’ll find envelopes in the vestibule of the chapel.)
I’m approaching the last page of “The Squirrel Report” without mentioning my furry friends, a lapse occasioned by not having seen much of them of late. My absences, coupled with the heavy rains we’ve enjoyed recently, have conspired to make the view from the Prior’s Window somewhat squirrel-free. A friend from Bakersfield wrote a chiding letter the other day, in which she observed,
"…I am puzzled by your affection for big rats with fluffy tails. Our metro area and surrounding farmlands are overrun with the little -----s, whose ancestors were imported from Sacramento in the 1950s by a demented city official who thought they would be cute in our courthouse square…they eat my figs and persimmons, vandalize wood feeders and raid all others. When the girls were little they would get sentimental over a dead squirrel on our street, but I would cheerfully respond, “No, no, only five more and we can make a pie!”
Demented city officials? Who’d have thought? I once came home from a camping trip and discovered some small tooth holes in my back-pack, evidence that my furry friends are less innocent than they appear from my secluded perch. The nice thing about Birch Court (and the Priory’s back yard) is the lack of anything of value the squirrels can damage. I have the privilege of seeing them only at play, or feeding on the acorns for which no one wants to contest them.
When you came into the chapel this morning, you found the crucifix and all the statues draped in violet, a sign that the Fifth Sunday of Lent is another milestone on the pilgrimage we began a month ago. Beginning today, the readings and prayers at Mass will assume an even more serious tone, helping focus our attention more closely on the all-important events in Jesus’ life, and inviting us to join him on his journey to Calvary.
If we accept the invitation seriously, this journey is the most compelling we will ever take, for at the end of it we will find ourselves transformed, and being transformed — or at least being open to the possibility of transformation — is what sets travelers apart from tourists. It doesn’t make any difference how long a journey is, tourists will take their comfortable little world and all their prejudices with them, and although they may come home with a pile of pictures, they will come home exactly the same individuals they were when they set out.
It’s not that way with travelers. Travelers come home — if they come home — different. Abraham, Moses, Ruth, Elijah, Mary, Jesus, and St. Paul all took journeys that transformed them, and in each case their lives ended quite differently than they began. They set an example for us. We set out on a journey a month ago, and throughout these forty days the Scriptures remind us that we cannot be mere tourists; we must be travelers, and we must be open to the possibility of being changed by the process of getting from here to Easter.
Thank you for being a part of our lives at St. Albert’s. Each of us is deeply grateful for your willingness to embark on this Lenten journey with us, and we pray the remaining days of this holy season will be grace-filled.
Sincerely, in Christ,
-Fr. Reginald Martin, O.P.