Dear Friends of Saint Albert’s,
My squirrel friends have shaken me awake from another heroic nap, reminding me this reflection is already a week late, and jet lag is no excuse for further delay. They, obviously, have never made a transatlantic air flight, nor do they care that I, who once fell asleep standing up in the chapel, cannot sleep for more than fifteen or twenty minutes on an airplane. “You’re right,” their unsympathetic nods seem to say. “Get to work!”
Palm Sunday dawned somewhat cloudy on Birch Court, but I found myself in bright sunshine in Palo Alto, where I took Fr. Augustine’s place and celebrated the Latin Mass at St. Thomas Aquinas Parish. I do not know how to celebrate the traditional form, so the Mass itself followed the New Rite, but all the music was taken from the old ritual. This meant we were in for a very long liturgy. A friend from Palo Alto had accompanied me, but as he had already attended the day’s Mass elsewhere, he grew weary after half an hour or so, and went home to do some chores and returned an hour later to fetch me to lunch. I arrived back at St. Albert’s in time for dinner!
Thanks to the care of our students, Holy Week progressed very smoothly here. I rose early on Holy Saturday morning, to open the chapel for the florist, who delivered hundreds of Easter lilies, which Br. Chris Brannan and his companions arranged in majestic order to greet our celebrations. Br. Christopher Wetzel not only had the discipline to read all the fine rubrical print, but the patience to shepherd the various celebrants through the paces of those elaborate liturgical services we do only once a year. One would imagine I, who have been pastor or superior and, thus, presided at these for most of my ordained life, would remember something of how the liturgies unfold – or how the presider is supposed to help unfold them – but I have always depended on others to point me in the proper direction, and would be altogether lost without a guide. I am extremely grateful to our deacons, Peter Hannah and Tomasz Mikolajski, for their leading me – fortiter suaviterque – along the treacherous liturgical paths.
If you visit the Priory’s website, or the Dominican Vocation Facebook page, you can see photographs of many of these services. One friend (rather ungraciously, I thought) observed she’d located me in the choir of one early-morning liturgy by the reflection of the sun on my bald spot! Far more dramatic are the shots of the Easter fire built by the Supreme Pyrotechnician, Br. Tuan Ngo. As we gathered before the chapel to begin the Easter Vigil, the branches for the fire-to-be were banked into a tall pyramid. From somewhere, Br. Tuan handed me a torch that looked like something from one of my childhood fairy tales. He directed me to the proper spot on the pyre and the assembled crowd watched in true awe as the fire slowly – dramatically – grew.
One of my favorite parts of the Easter Sunday liturgy comes after the renewal of our Baptismal promises, when the celebrant sprinkles those attending the Mass with water blessed the night before. Children never expect what’s coming – nor do those wearing glasses! – so Fr. Reginald, who seldom bends as a presider, absolutely stoops to conquer.
The Sunday after Easter found your humble correspondent on a flight to France, to join members of the Order of Malta on their annual Pilgrimage to Lourdes. I have been a chaplain to the Order of Malta for six or seven years, and this was my fifth Pilgrimage. Once again, I arrived at Lourdes a day early so I could help a few other early-arrivals set things up for our three hundred or so confreres, who came on Wednesday.
This Pilgrimage is an immensely moving experience. To see the exquisite care members of the Order of Malta give the forty or so malades who make the journey – who are the reason for it – is breathtaking, and a reminder to me of the care and service I owe my elderly, ill and infirm Dominican brothers here at St. Albert’s. When I come home I am always asked whether I witnessed any miraculous healings. I once asked one of my Dominican brothers – an older man, but a couple of years behind me in the novitiate – the same question, when he said he had taken a severely-ill nephew to Lourdes. He replied, “Yes, my own.” I can say the same.
I decided not to endure the icy baths this year, but I did embrace the opportunity, once again, to go to confession, and unless I’m mistaken, my confessor was the priest I encountered the first time I approached Reconciliation at Lourdes. I always find serving as confessor a rewarding experience, but the thought of doing nothing else day after day sounds more than a little daunting. Nonetheless, this man has the amazing capacity to listen for hours, and offer the most apt words of guidance – no more than a sentence or two, but twenty-five words or less that make even Reginald the Lethargic sit up and take notice.
Each of these annual journeys has its own challenges, and corresponding rewards. One of my closest friends is now in charge of the Summer Pilgrimage the Order of Malta undertakes with high-school students; this year Fr. LaSalle will accompany the group as chaplain. In the past, I, the shyest being on the planet, have always been able to turn to this friend to “escape” from the crowd that surrounds me at meals and other events throughout the Pilgrimage. For the last couple of years, however, I’ve not had this refuge, so I’ve been “on my own” and forced to be a little more assertive. As usual, I was taken aback by the gracious responses I received whenever I asked, “May I join you?” or “Is this seat taken?”
Necessity forced me to make this journey somewhat more spiritual than these enterprises have been in the past. I am one of the world’s most efficient suitcase packers, and this gift extends to the backpack I carry on to the airplane with me. I recently invested in one of those hand-held devices I can download books onto, so I no longer need to lug about heavy volumes with which to while away my spare time. What I neglected to pack, however, was the element that recharges the implement’s battery, so I was no sooner ensconced in my hotel room in Lourdes than I realized I had a library that would soon run out of power, and a hard-copy detective thriller I had nearly completed – in Lourdes, which boasts an English-language bookstore, but not one that stocks best-sellers!
I decided I’d better not waste what reading material I had, so I closed the detective thriller, finished my ham and cheese sandwich and bemoaned my outcast fate until some Good Spirit reminded me I was in Lourdes, after all, so why not take advantage of the opportunity to pray? Pray? I do think my novice-master is rubbing his hands in celestial glee as he watches my late-blooming spirituality. As is the fellow, now dead, who used to work with us at the Rosary Center, in Portland. He had been away from the Church for a number of years, but – for some reason – decided to start praying the Rosary. “You know,” he told me, “once Mary gets ahold of you, she doesn’t let go.”
The Rosary is part of our Dominican life, but now I had the opportunity to add something to it, namely, a different context for my prayer. Although we had a great deal of rain on this trip, we seemed to have plenty of fair evenings, nights I would have spent reading before going to bed. This year I used the time to walk down to the Grotto where Mary appeared to Bernadette, and I prayed my Rosary there.
Before I left home, I prepared a list of individuals and groups to pray for. I hope you will not be surprised to learn you were among those for whom I offered special prayers. You enable us to accomplish everything we do at St. Albert’s, and without your prayers and support we could not possibly provide our students the education and training they need to be Christ’s voice and hands in the 21st Century. Thank you for believing in us, and thank you for being so important a part of my Pilgrimage!
I pray these Easter days will be blessed, and on this Mother’s Day, I pray God’s Mother will be especially present to all the mothers in our midst.
thanks and sincere regards,
--Fr. Reginald Martin, O.P.