January 2015

Dear Friends of Saint Albert’s,

The squirrels and I apologize sincerely for neglecting to deliver this newsletter last week. Life on Birch Court was a bit hectic at the time, and The Squirrel Report, regrettably, was one of the casualties. Members of the Western Province gathered here on January 2nd so we might begin our 25th Provincial Chapter; I did not realize until bedtime on Saturday I’d abandoned the latest account of my furry friends.

Most of you, I’m sure, know our Chapters are legislative assemblies that take place every four years. Those attending choose the Prior Provincial and either re-appoint the Province’s directors and officials or select new men from among our brotherhood to fill these positions. Chapter members then study the Province’s legislation and suggest any necessary changes.

But first, let me describe the wonders of our recent, splendid Christmas celebrations. Advent seemed to speed by, punctuated by another magnificent evening of Lessons and Carols, in which a select group of our students joined voice with the Women’s Antique Vocal Ensemble. Ron Cheatham, who contributes his services as organist at our Sunday liturgies, played the organ, and Cindy Beitman directed the singers  I had completely forgotten we host a reception after the concert, so I was quite busy arranging cookies as the singers and cellist were tuning up, and I was adding the last of the confections to the trays as our guests were coming into the refectory! A day or so later the sanctuary of our chapel was filled with evergreens and I found myself asking, “Where am I going to find time to prepare my Christmas homilies?” 

Many of you have had the good fortune to accompany Fr. Augustine Thompson on his journeys to celebrate Mass for the cloistered Carmelite nuns who now reside in Kensington, in quarters vastly superior to their former home in Canyon. Fr. Augustine asked me to preach the sisters’ Mass on Christmas Day, so I had a chance to see their new chapel – and they to hear a homily I peached in our chapel last year.

Half my family is, or was, Protestant, so I am the Ultimate Capitalist, and “delayed gratification” is one of my favorite pastimes when Christmas comes around. As a result, I am the despair of one of my friends, who cannot understand how (or why) I can put off opening Christmas gifts until March. I’ve tried to explain I have lots of gifts to occupy me in December, and relatively few in March, but the logic escapes him. We always give one another the same things at Christmas, so when his package arrived, I knew I was in for my annual marzipan treat.

Perhaps I should explain that when I was a child, I was violently allergic to chocolate. As a result, I grew up without any dental cavities, but that may be beside the point. See’s Candies, in those days, included pumpkins at Hallowe'en and Easter eggs that were not chocolate, but were composed of something I was convinced must be the stuff angels eat in heaven. I never knew what it was, and my efforts to learn were altogether unsuccessful – not helped in any way by my mother who, whenever the word “marzipan” was mentioned, would say, “Ugh! Bah! Humbug!”

I’d outgrown my allergy by the time I entered the novitiate, in 1968, when someone gave us a box of See’s candy. One of my classmates said, “I wonder if there’s any marzipan?” Dutiful child that I was, I said, “Ugh! Bah! Humbug!” And then Victor said, “I don’t think you know what you’re talking about,” and handed me half a piece of candy. You can fill in the blanks. 

Fast forward to the associate who sends me marzipan for Christmas. We became good friends when I was made pastor in Eugene, in 1983. Tom was on the German faculty at the University of Oregon, and campus ministers had faculty privileges and could take classes for free. I had studied German as an undergraduate, so I signed on. Eventually, the two of us paid a visit to Germany, where I embarrassed him by stopping every fifty feet on every street to try the newest variety of marzipan. 

For several years Tom experimented with various makers’ wares, but he finally hit upon the one I said I liked best of all.  And when I opened the box this year, I (albeit reluctantly) decided to share some with my Dominican brothers – on New Year’s Eve, after the students left for their Christmas vacation. Two or three pieces were left, so they greeted delegates to the Chapter when they arrived on January 2nd.

Now, back to the Provincial Chapter. Mark Padrez, who served as the Province’s leader since 2011, left office at midnight on January 2. Our law said directing the Province’s affairs should fall to Your Humble Servant until this past Thursday, when we held the election for a new Prior Provincial. The squirrels were quite helpful during the days I served as “Vice President of the Universe,” and, in any case, I had only a few papers to sign, so the time was (blessedly) uneventful – unlike this same time four years ago, when I faced the sad task of sending one of our elderly brothers to a nursing home, much against his will. “The state has laws against this,” said he, somewhat threateningly. “Oh great,” I thought. “As if I don’t have enough to worry about!”

The first two days of the Chapter were dedicated to a retreat, and then we retired to consider reports from the more visible members of our Province’s leadership. Fr. Joseph Sergott described his work as Socius (assistant) to the Provincial, and Fr. Dominic de Domenico, who has loyally served us for many years, led us through a discussion of the Province’s complex finances. Fr. Michael Fones, our Student Master, described his work to form the spiritual and ministerial life of the young men whom you see when you join us for prayers at St. Albert’s, and Fr. Antony Rosevear described life in the novitiate community at St. Dominic Priory, in San Francisco. 

Fr. Steven Maekawa spoke about his work as Vocation Director – you see the fruits of his labors when our choir is filled with young men attending our periodic “Come and See” weekends. Fr. Bryan Kromholtz plays a very important, if largely hidden, role in the academic life of the Western Province. He directs the progress of our students during their years at the Dominican School, and also guides the Province’s non-student members who wish to pursue sabbatical studies. I have never taken a sabbatical, so when my term as Prior ends next February, I’ve considered applying for funds so I can put into practice all I’ve learned from my little furred friends on Birch Court: renting a tree and tossing acorns at anyone with the temerity to interrupt my peace and quiet.

As Vicar of the Province, I had the great honor of preaching the homily to open our Chapter. I remarked the youth in our midst, “A third of you are attending a Chapter for the first time,” and then inserted a quote from Gregory Nazianzen, whose feast we were celebrating, “If these days ever seem long or difficult, consider what Gregory once preached: "I will say no more: we must sacrifice ourselves to God, each day and in everything we do…Worship him who was hung on the cross because of you, even if you are hanging there yourself."

A few days later I enjoyed the additional privilege of preaching at the Mass on the morning of the Provincial election. In the day’s gospel, Jesus said the Spirit has anointed him “to bring glad tidings to the poor…to proclaim liberty to captives…., and recovery of sight to the blind….”  I remarked the word “proclaim” is pivotal in this passage because to proclaim does not simply mean to say or tell or announce; a proclamation means something is happening. Right now.  And if we’re making the proclamation, we’re helping to usher in the event.

I then said, "Does anyone think of Provincial Chapters in these dramatic terms? I confess I did not, when I sat down to compose my homily for this morning’s Mass. But God’s Spirit continues to grant recovery of sight to the blind. As I was looking out my window, I saw past the frolicking squirrels that so often captivate me, and I suddenly thought: what is the purpose of this Mass, and what are we asking God’s Spirit for if not the anointing that will enable us, in an hour or so, to choose the man who will – like Jesus – send us not simply to announce, but to proclaim God’s Word, made flesh, in our midst, for the salvation of the world?"

We then adjourned for breakfast and, shortly after half-past nine, gathered for our election. We began by singing "Veni Creator Spiritus," to ask the Spirit’s blessing upon our efforts, and set about the work before us. When everyone sat down and sharpened his pencil (and his wits), the secretaries, the two brothers whose task was to count ballots, and I took an oath of secrecy. I cannot, thus, relate what next transpired. I can say, however, that at nine-fifty, we were ringing the cloister bells to summon the community into the chapel, where we sang "Te Deum" to celebrate the election of Mark Padrez to a second term as Prior Provincial. “That didn’t take long!” said Fr. Mark O’Leary.

Indeed, the election had taken almost no time at all, so we were able to progress to electing members of the next Provincial Council, which effort we accomplished before lunch. The squirrels were caught quite unaware, as, undoubtedly, were our leaders in Rome, who must have gotten the news somewhat late in the evening. The latter, at least, rallied, so Fr. Mark was able to take his oath of office Thursday evening at Vespers.

Today we enjoy a Sabbath’s rest, but tomorrow we will once again be hard at work. The students, in the meantime, have returned from visits to their parents, and will leave this afternoon for a retreat. When they return they will enjoy -- I believe that’s the word -- a couple of “work days” in which they will catch up with various tasks which always include disposing of things Fr. Reginald has identified for the trash heap. The Prior is somewhat chagrined to confess that in the four and a half years he has been scouring the nooks and crannies of St. Albert’s, he has never failed to find things for said heap. Erma Bombeck, now dead, who used to write wonderfully witty reflections on housekeeping, observed that wire coat-hangers come from the dry cleaner at the height of their sexual maturity and multiply in the closet. Fr. Reginald has come to believe the same thing about curtain rods, faulty mechanical chairs and broken-legged night stands. Why someone else (the original user, for example) hasn’t thrown these things away is one of the mysteries Fr. Reginald looks forward to asking God, if he ever has the chance. "Trotzdem," the pile of things for the dump continues to grow. And grow.

I beg you to pray for our Province’s students while they make their Winter retreat. I beg you, too, to pray for those of us who are taking part in the Provincial Chapter. What we do here may not have immediately-visible effects, but our efforts will direct and guide the life of the Western Province far beyond the next four years. Our efforts today will most definitely touch you tomorrow – or the day after – so you have a stake in what we seek to accomplish as we pore over the piles of paper before us. We’re all in this together!

Sincerely, and gratefully, in Christ,
--Fr. Reginald Martin, O.P

 5890 Birch Court   ~   Oakland, CA   ~   94618-1627  ~   510.596.1800   ~   Western Dominican Province
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