December 2011

From the Prior’s Window

I am, by most standards, a very cheerful person.  However, I really dislike the dark days we are forced to endure in November and December.  For that reason, today is one of my favorite days of the year.  I suspect we are all familiar with the 12 Days of Christmas that end – or should end – on January 6th.  Less well-known are the 12 Days of Christmas that begin today. 

Those other days of Christmas mark the day the sun begins to rise earlier in the morning; today we rejoice that it will begin to set later.  If you consulted the almanac for Oakland today, you saw that the sun set at 4:50.  Tomorrow it will set at 4:51.  Our feast of Christmas, when we welcome the birth of the Light of the World, comes just between these other two days, when we welcome the return of light into our world. 

November drew to a sad close, with the deaths of Br. Raymond Bertheaux and Fr. Bede Wilks.  We were privileged to host the funerals for both of our brothers, and the numbers of their friends who attended the services was a great tribute to their lives and ministries.  Br. Raymond was a magician: everyone he touched he turned into a friend.  He worked in the Dominicn missions in South America, as well as the Order’s world headquarters in Rome.  Wherever he was assigned he made friends.

Fr. Wilks was among the first Dominicans to accept the call to go to Anchorage, when the Western Province was offered care of the cathedral there, in 1974.  I was assigned to the community shortly afterward, and I have often thought that the time I spent with him was absolutely charmed.  Someone told me in confession, “I came down here because a friend said you Dominicans do things differently.”  I wasn’t and am still not altogether certain what the person meant, but Holy Family Cathedral has been something of a downtown magnet for thirty-six years, and part of that appeal is undoubtedly the foundation Fr. Bede laid when he arrived.  The current pastor is a good friend of mine, and he has asked me to come to Anchorage next month, to preach at a special Mass that will pay tribute to Fr. Bede.

If you join us for prayers at St. Albert’s, you have seen that life seems to be going on very much as usual.  Vestments have changed color, of course, and we are making our way – fairly gracefully, I think – through the new and improved translation of the Sacramentary.  But beneath this calm surface, our students are busily gearing up for the end of the Fall semester, and looking forward to papers and final examinations. 

I realize this is always a dangerous way to begin a sentence, but “when I was a student,” the end of an academic term was a fairly tidy affair: we had the last week of class, and then we had a week of examinations.  If our teachers assigned papers, those deadlines did not compete with our classes or examinations unless we put off writing the papers until the last minute.  Things are different these days, and some students must attend classes at the same time they prepare for examinations and complete papers! 

This is one of those times I’m very happy to be as old as I am; I would find these competing demands very difficult to juggle.  I suspect most of the older members of the community at St. Albert’s will agree with me: to be a student these days is not the gentlemen’s occupation we enjoyed, when the feasts of St. Albert and Thomas Aquinas we academic holidays, and we had the time to pursue independent study in areas that interested us.  I have no doubt the next generation of Dominican preachers is far better prepared for ministry than we, but at a far higher personal cost.

Lest these reflections seem like nothing more than a series of cranky meanderings, let me return to the light with which I began them – the light that our Advent season prepares us to welcome, and the light our Baptism challenges us to share with the world.  St. Lucy’s association with our liturgical calendar is no more than the happy accident of her name, which means “light.” More seriously, these days of Advent, when our half of the inanimate world is turning toward the sun, we have a powerful incentive to do the same, and to turn our hearts to the light of Christ.   

With every prayer and good wish for these final days of Advent,

Fr. Reginald Martin, O.P.



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