November 2011

From the Prior's Window
Feast of St. Albert the Great

In May, when I wrote my first installment of this personal newsletter, I promised I would offer regular comments on our life on Birch Court, as part of the Priory’s new and improved Web-page.  Various delays held up the Website, and I nearly convinced myself I was “off the hook.”  But then our new and technically-dedicated Student Master took over the Web-page project, and I suddenly found myself on the hook once again. 

So, what have I watched from my window in the past five and a half months?  Before I begin my answer, perhaps I ought to explain where my window is located, why I value it so highly, and why I consider it an appropriate title for these reflections.  I have the immense good fortune to inhabit the room directly above the Birch Court entrance to the Priory.  I am reluctant to say – or, at least, to admit – that I spy on what takes place on Birch Court, but the banner on the shield beneath my window says it all, or at least a great deal: “Vigilat, nec fatiscit” – “He watches and does not grow weary.” 

I regret I cannot live up to the latter half of this motto, but I do have a remarkable view of the squirrels, our neighbors, visitors to the Provincial Office, and those frustrated drivers who missed the “Dead End” sign at the College Avenue entry to our street.  Of these, the squirrels are usually the most entertaining; they are certainly among the more fit and better-groomed.

When I wrote in May, I said we looked forward, happily, to Frs. Vincent Benoit and Michael Fones joining the Priory community.  Fr. Vincent is responsible for the Western Province’s Website, and Fr. Michael has the rather daunting task of Student Master – watching over the spiritual and academic progress of our student brothers. 

They have been joined by Fr. John Flannery, our former Provincial, and Br. Lupe Gonzalez.  Fr. John is enjoying a busy retirement, and Br. Lupe takes exquisite care of our brothers who are less able-bodied and in need of extra assistance in their daily activities.  We’ve also had the immense good fortune to host Fr. Mariusz Tabaczek, a Dominican from Poland, who is pursuing doctoral studies at our Dominican School in Berkeley, and Br. Gian Matteo Serra, a deacon from Sardinia, who is perfecting his English.  The other night at dinner we had great fun trying to explain the concept of “Brand X” to him.

In the months since my first newsletter, our brothers Mark Francis and Boniface have been ordained and assigned to ministries at almost the opposite ends of our Province: Seattle and Mexicali.  Brs. Kevin Andrew, Bradley Elliott, and Dennis Klein have professed simple vows and begun the studies that will lead to their priestly ordination.  (Br. Dennis is the invisible member of the class, as he is studying in Washington, DC.)  Br. Emmanuel Taylor has been ordained a deacon, and looks forward to being ordained a priest next Spring.

The progress of these young men is a tribute to their daily willingness to renew the “yes” they answered to God when they approached the novitiate.  But it is also a tribute to you, your prayers and your support, for which we daily offer our prayers of gratitude.   

Last month, you may remember, we celebrated Rosary Sunday and took up the special collection that helps underwrite the cost of our students’ education, as well as their basic needs.  To my delight (I preached that day, and begged your support), I learned that you contributed more than $5,000.00 to our appeal.  I am not certain whether this sum sets a record for St. Albert’s – I’m sure it must – but it is certainly undeniable proof of your belief in us, your trust in our work, and your love for our students.  Those countless individuals who will hear the next generation of Dominican preachers join me in thanking you for investment in the future of Dominican ministry!

November is a special – and especially prayerful – month for the Dominicans at St. Albert’s.  All Souls Day, The Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed, on November 2, invites us to pray for the dead, and throughout this month we remember and pray for the happy repose of the souls of your loved ones who have died.

Today, of course, is the feast of our patron, St. Albert the Great.  The title “the Great” is not to be taken lightly.  If my memory is correct, the Western Church acknowledges no more than six of its countless saints as “Great,” and Albert certainly deserves the distinction.  He has been outshone by his student, Thomas Aquinas, but in the 13th Century, St. Albert wrote and taught on every branch of human science, and his philosophical insights introduced the West to the world-view we know as Western Civilization.

St. Albert’s contemporaries took refuge in Plato and discounted the world as a corrupt reflection of God’s kingdom.  Albert found his inspiration in Aristotle, and with Albert human knowledge turned such a corner that we have found ourselves on a different street ever since.  What we know, Albert said, is not what we remember, but what we touch, for there is nothing in the intellect that is not first in the senses. 

For Albert, the world was not something to be avoided, it was a vast textbook, and he explored every page of it he could.  When Pius XI canonized him, in 1931, he said St. Albert possessed “that rare and divine gift, scientific instinct, in the highest degree…he is exactly the saint whose example ought to inspire the present age.”  Eighty years later, as we find ourselves daily bombarded by the latest scientific revelations, we may find St. Albert and even “Great-er” model, example, and guide.

As November draws to a close, we pause for our country’s day of National Thanksgiving, an opportunity to thank God for the many blessings we have received, not least the friends who are a part of our life at St. Albert’s.  The last Sunday of the month will be the First Sunday of Advent, and you who join us for prayers and Mass will be part of our liturgical adventure as we embrace the new translation of the Sacramentary.  I have the honor to be celebrant and preacher that day, so I have been practicing the new forms of the texts, and my homily will contain a few comments on the translations.

I was a novice at St. Albert’s the last time the Sacramentary was translated, in 1968.  In the meantime we’ve walked on the moon, abandoned the Gold Standard, watched the downfall of Communism, and elected two non-Italian popes.  Closer to home, we’ve also done some repairs to the masonry surrounding my widows overlooking Birch Court.  My term as prior will expire in 2013, but for the next year and a half, my aerie is secure.  And now that we have the Priory’s Website up and running, you can look forward to more views from my window.  Thank you for sharing this one!

With prayers and sincere regards,

In Christ,

Fr. Reginald Martin, O.P

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