Dear Friends of Saint Albert’s,
A friend from Seattle paid a visit last weekend and asked, “What’s become of the squirrels? I’ve gone to my office every day this month and looked for news of them on-line, but I’ve found nothing.” I replied I wanted to set out this month’s reflection as close as possible to Thanksgiving Day, so I might take the opportunity to express public thanks for all you do to support our life at St. Albert’s.
This support comes in a variety of ways. The past Wednesday I came through the door on Birch Court and found a box of persimmons and another of avocadoes, fresh from an anonymous someone’s yard. The friend who paid last week’s visit gave the house a vellum page from an old manuscript, a memorial to my Student Master, who died this past February.
Your financial support, of course, is essential to our life here, and your gifts to last month’s Rosary Sunday collection were even more generous than last year’s record donations: slightly more than $6,800.00. This is a phenomenal sum from a “congregation” the size of ours!
You will, I’m sure, be amused to learn that – notwithstanding your astounding generosity – our Rosary Sunday was not an altogether without incident. We invited a number of students from our Dominican School to join us for the Rosary Sunday Mass, and one (who is not a student at our School) gave an inaccurate précis of my homily to one of our School’s non-Dominican faculty members. This resulted in a small flurry of emails, some ruffled feathers, and my observing that the squirrels and I will be a great deal happier if a certain student worships elsewhere in the future. I am, needless to say, very happy my words on Rosary Sunday seem not to have offended you!
Avocadoes, manuscripts, and cash gifts aside, what really keep us going are your prayers, and you may be certain they will be at the top of the list of things for which we offer thanks on Thursday. We saw one answer to your prayers the weekend of November 2, when twenty young men joined us for a “Come and See” vocation weekend. New members are vital if Dominicans are to continue our preaching ministry in the West, so we were deeply touched to have so many potential candidates give us a weekend. I beg you to pray that many of these men will be moved to apply for our novitiate.
I was honored to preach that weekend, and I had prepared what I considered to be a homily that was both thought-provoking and witty. I’d helped to give a retreat the week before, and we used different readings for the retreat’s Sunday Mass, so it wasn’t until the middle of the week I was to preach here that I realized I’d prepared my homily on the previous Sunday’s readings!
This past Thursday was the feast of our patron, St. Albert the Great. As I was leaving the chapel after our morning prayers, one of the students came to me and said someone wished to see me in the chapel. I recognized the man at once, Ezio, one of the friends we greet each Sunday. His elderly mother, Adalgisa (a hundred and one years!) used to accompany him, but she has not felt up to the exercise recently. Ezio told me that she had died at bedtime Wednesday night. We will gather for her funeral in our chapel tomorrow morning, and her gentle company for so many years is one more thing for which we may offer thanks on Thursday. I know that she and her family will be grateful for your prayers as she begins her journey home.
The feast of St. Albert is a great occasion for the Dominicans who serve you here, and last Thursday provided an opportunity for us to welcome brothers from other Bay Area Dominican communities, as well as a couple of Dominicans whose ministries force them to live by themselves, which means we see them only seldom. The Mass was a grand celebration, with all the candles lighted, and the very best cloths on the altar. I was honored to celebrate the Mass, and to preach.
I can imagine that you – like my friend from Seattle – are longing to know what’s up with the squirrels, so you’ll be happy to learn I’ve seen a great deal more of them recently. The oak trees outside my window don’t lose their leaves, of course, but the recent rains and gusty winds have removed some of the old leaves, so I have a clearer view of the trees’ branches, and the four-footed pedestrians who use them. Some of the latter prefer to take their chances on Birch Court, so I always have quite a show to enjoy when I look up from whatever I happen to be writing at my desk.
I hope you won’t report me to whatever is the present day equivalent of the House Un-American Activities Committee if I admit that although I eagerly look forward to Thanksgiving Day, turkey is one of my least favorite flavors. One of my favorite Thanksgivings was the first I spent when I was assigned to the Dominican community in Seattle, in 1978. Everyone else was going out to dinner, but I’d turned down every invitation because I didn’t want to face an afternoon with strangers and a turkey dinner.
A magazine article I’d read said planning ahead was crucial if one were to enjoy a successful solitary holiday, so I gave some thought to a meal I could be truly grateful for and took two rib-eye steaks out of the freezer. When dinnertime came, I broiled them and garnished them with some Tater-Tots. Eating alone in our large dining room seemed a little creepy, so I armed myself with a book and a glass of wine and ate in the kitchen.
As my princely meal drew to a close, one of my Dominican brothers returned from his dinner and offered me the left-over pumpkin pie his hosts had sent back with him. As I dug into it, another brother returned and announced he planned to walk down the street to a movie house that showed classic films. Did I want to join him for “Sunset Boulevard”? he asked. A couple of hours later, as we made our way home, in the fog, I decided this was as close to a perfect Thanksgiving Day as I’d ever enjoyed. I’ve come closer since, but that day still stands out – if only for the splendid dinner! This year our cook is coming in, but Fr. LaSalle and I are lending a hand. He will prepare the cranberry sauce, and I the dressing for the turkey.
When I was prior at our community in San Francisco the task of preparing the day’s dinner, for some reason, fell to me. I’ll admit it is a daunting task, but I came up with a plan, and to prove myself master of the situation, I used to go to a movie on Thanksgiving afternoon. The key to getting everything done, of course, is to begin ahead of time, and I remember the year I called my mother and said, “I’ve cooked so much of the dinner already, I feel as if I’m serving left-overs!”
On behalf of the Dominican community, I wish you every blessing at Thanksgiving. We pray for you every day, but you may be sure we will offer special prayers for the many kindnesses you show us. In the meantime, the squirrels and I send this with our best wishes and fond regards.
--Fr. Reginald Martin, O.P.