We had in interesting experience Friday, around midnight. I awoke to a loud “crack,” and realized a strong windstorm was rattling windows and – I thought – had perhaps carried down a limb from one of our trees. I looked out the famous Prior’s Window, to see whether any parked cars might have been damaged, then made my way to the bathroom window, to peer out into the back yard. When the light failed to go on, I concluded the noise must have had something to do with the electrical equipment that powers the Priory.
I set a mechanical alarm clock and went back to bed. My dreams were interrupted at half-past five, when my electric alarm summoned me – if momentarily – before I heard another “crack,” and all the numbers disappeared from the clock’s face.
Undaunted, I rose, made my bed, took a shower (I don’t believe I’ve ever before bathed in the dark – an interesting experience) and even shaved. The one thing I couldn’t quite manage was parting my hair, but I figured the Fashion Police would probably forgive this oversight just once. I’ve read that something’s amiss with your wardrobe if you can’t get dressed in the dark. I’ve always kept this in mind, but never had to practice it. Thank heaven for the Dominican habit, which lends itself to dressing without benefit of artificial illumination.
Armed with a flashlight, I made my way to the chapel, where I found a few other hardy souls, similarly outfitted. As the time for Morning Prayers drew nearer, community members who do not depend on electric clocks assembled, and I began to wonder how we could manage our devotions in the dark. Should I dismiss everyone? Extend the morning period of Adoration? Suggest we pray the Rosary?
As these options churned through my still-sleepy mind, Fr. Augustine Thompson and Br. Peter Hannah began placing lighted candles at strategic places on the choir stalls, and I had a moment of (quite mortifying) insight: monks and others have prayed without electric lights for centuries; how did I imagine they’d accomplished the feat?
When the lights went out the first time I thought the black-out might have resulted from a mishap between one of the neighborhood squirrels and an electric transformer. Thirty or so years ago, our former Provincial, Fr. Emmerich Vogt (a student in those days) and I were living together at the Newman Center community in Eugene, Oregon. One Saturday morning we were baking cookies, when we heard an ominous “thud,” and the kitchen went dark.
We stepped outside and found a dead squirrel on the sidewalk. Emmerich leaned down and picked up the poor fellow and we looked at one another and discussed what to do. Just then, a neighbor came to the front door of his apartment and began to yell, “When you young thugs shoot squirrels, this is what happens!” We tried to explain, but the dead squirrel was evidence against us, and our irate neighbor would have none of our excuses. After a few more foul imprecations, he finally went back inside, slamming his door. Emmerich and I washed our hands and returned to our cookies, grateful the kitchen was equipped with a gas stove.
And speaking of squirrels…you may imagine my surprise, shortly after Labor Day, to open the front door early one morning, to find a group of my furry friends gathered around the day’s Wall Street Journal. They ordinarily scatter when someone larger than they arrives, but that morning they simply scowled at me, so I withdrew and waited until I heard them hopping down the front steps.
When I took the paper into our Common Room I wasn’t long in discovering what had caused my small friends’ annoyance: an article announcing the second annual “Squirrel Cook Off” in Bentonville, Arkansas. The event is an effort to keep the town in touch with its rural heritage, after a recent catapult to fame when the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art opened in 2011. Last year’s Cook Off delights included squirrel brains with cream cheese in pastry dough – I was beginning to see why my friends took such offense at the article – and this year’s prize was awarded for squirrel sausage.
Yesterday morning I was delighted to pay a visit to our chapel and see thirty of our friends gathered to join members of the Dominican community for the first of our First Saturday Masses celebrated according to the Dominican Rite. For several years, Fr. Augustine Thompson has offered a class for those who wish to learn to celebrate and serve this “old” rite, and his instruction, and our brothers’ interest, is paying off.
The Dominican Rite calls for real attention on the part of its acolytes. I attended the Dominicans’ high school in Los Angeles, and I can recall my endless frustration as I’d forget one prayer or gesture – and my immense pleasure and feeling of accomplishment when I finally got the whole thing right. Yesterday’s servers, Brs. Christopher, Michael James, and Peter, were in top shape. Brs. Thomas Aquinas and Pius did a masterful job leading the music for the celebration.
In his homily, Fr. Augustine remarked the First Saturday devotion is an opportunity to pay tribute to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. This, he said, is a tribute to our humanity, which is capable of a great deal of sin, but also – as we see from the picture of Jesus, Mary, and John at Calvary – a great deal of noble and selfless love.
Fr. Augustine drew a charming image from our everyday life and applied it to our devotional life. “What do mothers and grandmothers most want?” he asked. The answer, of course, is to be called or visited, so he encouraged us to pray the Rosary after Mass, say a Hail Mary on the way home, and, at bedtime, to ask Mary to be our comfort and guide, our mother, ready to present us to Jesus, our brother.
If you wish to take part in this ancient Dominican prayer, join us in the chapel on the 1st Saturday of the month, at 10a.m.
I have a couple of favorite liturgical feast days; today, Rosary Sunday, is one of them. It commemorates the naval Battle of Lepanto in 1571, celebrates the deep faith of the Catholic forces, who were greatly outnumbered in this encounter. If you’ve met a Dominican, you how the battle ended. The weather, which favored the Turks at dawn, changed, and Christian forces were able to overwhelm their enemy.
This is an anniversary dear to Dominicans because it was the Dominican pope, Pius V, who helped put together the multi-national naval force that won the battle, and who attributed the victory to his – and to the Christian sailors’ – praying the Rosary.
I’m not sure how this came about, but Rosary Sunday is now an opportunity to beg our friends’ support for our students. Without you we could not provide the education and training that will equip these men to be the voice of Jesus for the 21st Century. If you’d like to see a beautiful and truly eloquent appeal for our Rosary Sunday effort, visit the Western Province website on the Internet, www.opwest.org Go to the Home Page, and the first thing you’ll see is a picture of Br. Andrew Dominic, and the opportunity to click on a video invitation from Fr. Mark Padrez, our Provincial. The video lasts two minutes and twenty-eight seconds, and it presents a compelling picture of everything your generosity enables us to do and be.
And while you’re wandering through that great Internet playground, take a look at eighth way. This is a site manned by our own Br. Gabriel, and refers to St. Dominic’s eighth way of prayers, which was to read, study and meditate. The site contains not only Br. Gabriel’s personal reflections, but a number of fascinating contributions from our other Dominican students. For example, you’ll find three remarkable videos on the site, two by Br. Bradley Elliott.
Last week Fr. LaSalle invited you to join us for the concert that will dedicate our new organ. The concert will begin at 3'o'clock on Sunday afternoon, October 13th, and after the concert we’ll gather for a reception in the cloister. Dr. Craig Cramer, from Notre Dame University, is our guest organist, and the works he has chosen promise to provide a very, verygood time. We will bless the organ the evening before, at the community’s Vespers service, at 5:15p.m. This will be a much smaller event, and we hope the friends who make up our Dominican family here at St. Albert’s will be able to join us on this more modest occasion, in addition to the grander affair the following day.
Have I bored you enough? I just looked up and saw the squirrels lined on one of the oak branches that arches over Birch Court. They’re all nodding yes, so I suppose I’d better draw this to a close. Before I do, let me thank you for your prayers and support. They enable us to do everything we set our hands to at St. Albert’s. With you to stand by us, we look to the future with immense hope, and during this month of the Holy Rosary, you may be certain of our daily prayers for you and your intentions.
Sincere regards, in Christ and St. Dominic, --Fr. Reginald Martin, O.P.