I beg you to accept my apologies for not sending these reflections last week. On Monday morning I came to my window and found a line of squirrels hanging from the oak that spans the driveway onto Birch Court. They were staring into my window, and certainly looked angry, but I was at a loss to determine why. On Tuesday they were back, and one of them held a large, handsomely-printed card. With some effort I managed to read the text:
You know the one. The word that turns me on, uncurling the labyrinths of lust along my limbs.
You pounce with it between the pillows, puffing out your lips with the suggestive plosive, cunningly positioned, you exhort me:
Later that morning I found the sheet on the front porch, one of fifty copies (this was no. 23) signed by the author – Carol Neufeld – printed in 1993. I frequently describe myself as, like Winnie-the-Pooh, a Bear of Very Little Brain, but even I was able to discern the reason for the squirrels’ recent annoyance (the little hams!) Lest I try their patience further, I hasten to describe the wonders that were October at St. Albert’s.
On October 3, I joined members of the Order of Malta at a dinner to welcome Oakland’s new bishop, Michael Barber, to our Diocese. Bishop Barber is a wonderful man, with a tremendous sense of humor. The day after the dinner was the feast of St. Francis, the Holy Father’s feast day, and our new ordinary remarked the Pontiff’s sense of inclusion: a Jesuit, named after a Franciscan, wearing a version of a Dominican habit! A few days later our Provincial, Fr. Mark Padrez, joined us to install as lectors our brothers who recently professed their Simple Vows. This is a small, but nonetheless significant step in our brothers’ journey toward priesthood in the Order of Preachers, and it qualifies them to proclaim the Old and New Testament readings at Mass.
On October 12th we gathered for Solemn Vespers and blessed the new organ in our chapel. I am said to be quite dignified at these celebrations, and I suppose I am – if terror can masquerade as dignity. The truth is, I nearly quake with horror when I must preside at a “new” liturgy, i.e., one I’m not familiar with. Br. Peter Hannah was deacon for the occasion, and I owe him an immense debt of thanks for keeping me on track, and for poking me when I was about to walk off in the wrong direction, as I was more than once. The following afternoon we had the great pleasure of assembling for a concert to dedicate the organ. Dr. Craig Cramer, from Notre Dame University, treated us to a wide selection of exquisite music, pieces that truly showed off the capabilities of the instrument.
As the month drew to its close I once again joined members of the Order of Malta for their annual retreat in Danville, where I was honored to offer five reflections. As the week unfolded, John Quinn, former Archbishop of San Francisco, joined our group and took over responsibility for the preaching. This gave me the opportunity to do some reading, and to make something approaching my own retreat. Archbishop Quinn is a remarkable speaker. I have several times repeated a comment he made at last year’s retreat, when he quoted the 19th-century Dominican Lacordaire, “After the Word, Silence is the most powerful force in the universe.” This year he made an additional, equally powerful observation about silence.
Silence allows us to be open. Even this is a gift. But we must embrace the gift. We have silence so we can accept what God wants to give us. We mustn’t say we don’t get anything out of it, because there is quiet, and God is working in it. Silence “is” so we can admit the presence of God. This isn’t penitential silence, but an acknowledgment, in faith, of God’s presence.
The Archbishop said that when he was a student, in Rome, Bishop Fulton Sheen would pay occasional visits. On one of these, he urged the seminarians to begin their day with an hour of prayer. Archbishop Quinn observed, "The daily hour of prayer imparts a certain calm to the day, and enables us to do whatever it is we’ve set out to do with greater ease."
I decided to give this a try when I returned from the retreat. When I get up, after I’ve showered and dressed, I read something spiritual for half an hour, then make my way to the chapel for half an hour’s prayer. Has it enabled me to do my tasks with greater ease? Absolutely. The problem is, I’ve found myself undertaking more tasks!
Archbishop Quinn also related two charming exchanges with Pope John Paul II:
"In Guam, at a Papal visit, I asked, 'Your Holiness, do you know that Guam is in the Province of San Francisco?' Two years later, in Korea, at the canonization of Korean Martyrs, the Pope asked me, 'Is this your Province, too?'"
While I was away on my retreat, our students took advantage of the Fall semester “reading week,” five days without classes, which allows them an opportunity to catch up on their studies and begin working on term papers. When I left for the retreat, everyone seemed to be taking good advantage of the time, and when I returned each of the students appeared to feel the week had been very productive.
I am not sure where the time goes, or how it manages to go so swiftly, but we now find ourselves facing the middle of November. The month began with the sad news that our long-time friend and benefactor, Anne Regan, had fallen in Rome, on the first day of a Pilgrimage with folks from EWTN, and been forced to come home. Then Fr. Mark O’Leary went to the hospital for a hip replacement. Anne has begun to join us for Mass, so the “congregation” in the chapel looks normal once again. Fr. Mark came home yesterday, and was able to join the community for a meeting this morning, so life is returning to normal.
This weekend I have had the honor to welcome among us a friend from the Order of Malta who is giving serious thought to pursing a degree at the Dominican School! Michael and his wife have four children – all of whom have grown and left home – so they are considering “next steps,” and one of them is moving from Southern California to relocate in this neighborhood. Michael has a deep and long-standing interest in Thomism, so a degree program at the DSPT seems something worth considering.
I always lament the end of Daylight Savings Time, but one thing I truly enjoy about Autumn is the reduction in leaves, which allows a less-obstructed view of our friends, the squirrels. I hope they realize how well-off they are in this neighborhood, with acorns aplenty on Birch Court and Chabot Road, and admiring viewers, like me, to chronicle their activities. I recall one of the times I was assigned to our community in Eugene, Oregon, when I mentioned to a parishioner – the premier mint farmer in the Willamette Valley – how captivating I found the squirrels that frisked about our home near the University of Oregon. He gave me a withering look and said if I were a farmer I’d have an entirely different opinion.
In any case, November is upon us, and we pray each day for those who have died. Be assured that we remember your loved ones, trusting with deep hope that they will soon be refreshed by the sight of the Redeemer. I beg you to pray for us, and especially the students at St. Albert’s, who will be the voice of Christ in the 21st century.
With deep gratitude for your prayers and support, --Fr. Reginald Martin, O.P.