Many of you, like me, grew up looking forward to celebrating today’s feast on January 6, the Twelfth Day of Christmas. Did you, like me, ever wonder why the Church chose this day to commemorate the Three Kings’ visit to the child Christ? I had been ordained several years before one of our former Dominican Provincials, Fr. Joseph Fulton, explained the significance of the date.
To begin, I ought to say Fr. Fulton hated the dark days of Winter. Around September he would say, “we’re going into the tunnel.” One year I reminded him the days would begin to lengthen on December 21st. “No,” he said, they begin to lengthen on December 13th.”
“What?” I asked.
“The sun begins to set later on December 13th,” he replied. “And it begins to come up earlier on January 6th.”
“January 6th is Epiphany,” I mused. “But what’s December 13th?”
“The feast of St. Lucy!” he cried. “Don’t you see: the Light of the World is born between two feasts of light!”
I confess I share Fr. Fulton’s dislike of the Winter darkness, so as far as I’m concerned, Winter is over on December 13th, and last night, as we were leaving the chapel after Vespers, I was delighted to look up and detect just a glimmer of light still decorating the sky. We’re enjoying afternoons almost half an hour longer since St. Lucy’s Day.
I celebrated St. Lucy’s Day in Portland this year, meeting with the Rosary Center’s auditors, and learning we’d done another superb job accounting for our friends’ generosity. This news was no surprise – the folks who work at the Rosary Center have loyally served the apostolate for many years – but the official Seal of Approval is always welcome. I also learned that the Rosary Center’s is among the 500,000 most-visited websites on the Internet!
Let me do a bit of shameless promotion here. If you regularly pray the Rosary, you really ought to join the Rosary Confraternity. The sole obligation is to pray fifteen decades of the Rosary each week. The benefits are immense, chief among them is remembrance in the prayers of the countless other Confraternity members throughout the world. Members in this neighborhood also receive a subscription to "Light & Life," the newsletter we publish six times a year, which features a theological reflection by none other than “The Squirrel’s Friend,” Fr. Reginald Martin. If you’re interested, visit the Rosary Center on-line at www.rosary-center.org
My next-morning’s flight to Oakland was canceled, so I spent an extra day reading, and returned home on Sunday. Unfortunately, I also lost a hearing aid along the way, so sent a note to the airline and spent a week saying “What?” even more often than usual. I finally paid a visit to the ear clinic and replaced the instrument, which arrived a day before the airline returned the hearing aid I’d lost! Or so I thought. When I opened the envelope, I realized it held someone else’s device. I had no idea we hearing-aid users are so prone to losses on airline flights. Airlines and hearing-aid manufacturers must offer special prayers to one of the saints. It’s a pity the airlines don’t offer discounts to the hearing impaired!
Shortly after that crisis, the Dominican community welcomed friends and neighbors to our annual Festival of Lessons and Carols. Once again the Bay Area’s WAVE (Women’s Antique Vocal Ensemble) joined our Dominican brothers to provide an evening of remarkable music, accompanied on the oboe by Fr. Michael Fones, and on our new organ by our old friend and generous volunteer, Ron Cheatham.
Earlier that day, Br. Cody Jorgensen set up the community’s Christmas tree and, when no one was looking, did a superb job arranging its lights. I complimented him on his success, and he said he’d had a good teacher. When I inquired further, I expected him to pay tribute to his parents, but instead he gave kudos to his novice master, Fr. Anthony Rosevear! Fr. Anthony and I were students together, and I don’t recall his exhibiting this talent in those days. We also had the same novice master, and I know he didn’t learn the skill at those hands! Fr. Feucht was a magnificent man, in many ways a giant – a serious candidate for Provincial in 1969 – but decorating Christmas trees was altogether outside his ken.
Fr. Feucht began writing "Light & Life" in 1968. In 1969, when my classmates and I were preparing for our summer enterprises (I went to USF, to take a class in “Methods of Research and Bibliography”) I encountered our novice master in the cloister, and he had a look of absolute rapture on his face. He said, “I’ve just succeeded in publishing the first economically successful periodical in the Western Province.”
“Really?” I asked. “Yes,” he chortled. “I’ve been doing' Light & Life' for a year, and we have $50.00 in our bank account!”
And then the days of our Advent pilgrimage led to the celebration of Christ’s birth – wonderful, solemn liturgies made even more joyous and inspiring by your raising your voices with ours to hail the Word made flesh. What a privilege to greet you and your friends on Christmas night and Christmas day, and to count you among us as we prayed for the Church and this community, which God’s Son did not hesitate to embrace, and for which He offered Himself, in love.
The echoes of our Christmas songs had not yet ceased when our students carried your prayers and good wishes to their families, as they departed for their annual visits to their homes. In their eagerness, they left behind all the cookies and candy you gave us, so the six or seven “senior community” members who have maintained the Priory during the days of this Christmas season have enjoyed something of a caloric rout, and I have very much enjoyed showing off to the squirrels whatever candy I may be nibbling as I write thank-you notes for the many gifts you have given us. I especially enjoy taunting my furry friends with my favorite candy, marzipan; the squirrels respond by shaking their half-eaten acorns and sending the most scornful glances in my direction.
This past Friday I visited Corpus Christ Monastery, in Menlo Park, to make myself available should any of the Dominican nuns wish to go to confession. That neighborhood has its own variety of squirrel, an extremely elegant black animal. They are said to be descended from some that were a gift from the Russian Czar to Stanford University, and escaped into “the wild” when their laboratory home was destroyed in the 1906 earthquake. Whether the tale is true I cannot say, but they are exquisite animals, and as playful as their East Bay cousins. The nuns say they wreak immense havoc on the monastery’s produce, so the nuns harvest avocados and other fruit with unmistakable signs of the squirrels’ prior samplings.
Some sad news has darkened these light-filled days, and I beg your prayers for a number of our brothers, and their families. Fr. Vincent Benoit’s brother died in Seattle, early in December, and Fr. Augustine Thompson’s sister suffered a stroke at New Year’s. Fr. Augustine, who is walking up Birch Court as I write this, flew to Washington, DC, to give a paper at an historical conference, and paid a visit to his sister and brother-in-law; Martha suffered the stroke while he was with her. Fr. Augustine is happy to report that his sister has been released from the hospital, and is expected to make a full recovery.
Many of you, I know, remember Fr. Allen Duston, who was Socius (assistant) to Fr. John Flannery before me. We received the sad news that Fr. Allen’s brother died in Southern California, shortly after Christmas. Br. Gabriel Mosher, who professed his solemn vows last Spring, has been very concerned about his grandmother. At the moment, she seems to be doing all right, but Br. Gabriel spent a good part of this past Friday night in the Emergency Department of a hospital in New Mexico, suffering some difficulty with blood clots. This is expected to delay his return to St. Albert’s.
Better news came in Saturday’s mail, with the newsletter from Holy Family Parish in Anchorage, Alaska. The parish is preparing to celebrate its 40th anniversary this summer. I remember the event well, because the first pastor in Anchorage had been my superior in Eugene, Oregon, the year before I was ordained. He had to make the journey to Anchorage, so was unable to stay in Eugene for my first Mass.
At Christmas of 1974, Fr. Paul Scanlon sent me to Anchorage to lend a hand, and I recall helping with a penance service. Although I was ordained, I was completing my last year of studies, so needed the Archbishop’s permission to help with confessions. Someone came to me and said it had been thirty or so years (I had just celebrated my twenty-eighth birthday) since the last confession.
I 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.”
I will celebrate the 40th anniversary of my ordination in June, and I have never forgotten this exchange. My question is one I still ask when someone has been away from confession 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.
Then, as now, that compliment is very largely due to your prayers and support. Without them we would be able to accomplish very little. With you beside us, we look forward to a New Year with confidence, trust, and hope. You have been part of my priestly ministry for four decades, and for the six years of my Dominican life before my ordination. I have no idea how many lives I – the laziest being on the planet – have touched. But if you have enabled me to be God’s servant, imagine what you’ve enabled the Western Province to accomplish!
With sincere thanks for all you allow us to do, and with every prayer for what we can do – together – in the New Year, I send this.
Gratefully, in Christ, --Fr. Reginald Martin, O.P.