Dear Friends of Saint Albert’s,
The squirrels had decidedly guilty looks on their faces when I arrived home, shortly after noon, last Friday. I imagine they were planning some mischief and were not expecting me so soon. They apparently do not realize that while I can delay my departures endlessly, I will do all in my power to return home as soon as possible.
In fact, I would have been home earlier, had I not found myself “locked in” at our Dominican community in Eagle Rock, where I had spent a few days to catch up on some writing, after visiting my father and his wife. Like the virtuous wife in the Book of Proverbs, I rose while it was yet night, and would have been on the road by half-past four, but I had neglected to learn how to open the electric gates surrounding the Priory and church. I returned to my room, took a nap, and then came back to the car, which I moved to the driveway. I figured Fr. Michael Carey, chaplain to the Dominican nuns in Hollywood, would soon leave for their early Mass, or a lackey would come to attend to the gates, and I would be on my way.
I had no more than five or so minutes to ponder these options when, at six, the gates opened on their own, evidently powered by an interior clock of some sort. The sun had not yet risen, so I spent the first hour or so of my journey in the dark, rather grateful I had availed myself of the nap, which spared me the need to drive through the gloom.
For the first part of the trek I listened to Dvorak, and then – strengthened at dawn with some ghastly “Five Hour Energy Drink” and an ice cream bar – I solaced myself with Philip Glass, whose haunting arpeggios were an appropriate accompaniment for the rest of the voyage. Drivers on I-5 seem heedless of speed limits, and 85mph appears to be the new 70, so Glass’ string quartets were just the thing to while away the endless drive. When I reached Highway 13, a ten-minute jog on the freeway leading to St. Albert’s, I returned Glass to his case and restored Albinoni’s Adagios to the CD player. I was, thus, appropriately calm and restored when I arrived home, about a quarter-past noon.
I do not expect my friends to keep track of my whereabouts, but in case anyone wonders what prompted the journey south, I paid a visit to my father, who celebrated his 93rd birthday on September 30th. I must apologize for leading my readers astray in my last reflection, when I reported my dad’s age as 94; my stepmother sent a note to correct my error, for which I beg my father’s – and your – pardon!
As I’d not enjoyed all of this year’s vacation, I decided to spend a few extra days before and after the birthday festivities, and this gave me the opportunity to complete four of the six reflections I will share at a retreat for members of the Order of Malta later this month. The book we are considering for the retreat provides a look at our new Pontiff, Pope Francis: Why He Leads the Way He Leads. The author, Chris Lowney, makes the point that because the Holy Father is a Jesuit, he is influenced by the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius. The resulting deep interior life has provided unique qualities that enable him to lead others quite effectively.
Wiley’s case is compelling, and I found the book quite interesting. I also felt the need to observe that St. Ignatius was something of a late-comer in matters spiritual, and St. Thomas Aquinas had offered some interesting insights on leadership three centuries earlier, when he wrote, “For even as it is better to enlighten than merely to shine, so it is better to give to others the fruits of one’s contemplation than merely to contemplate.”
Last Sunday provided me the immense pleasure of presiding at St. Albert’s celebration of Rosary Sunday. I love celebrating Catholic triumphs, so this is one of my favorite days of our liturgical year – the anniversary of the 1571 Battle of Lepanto, when Christian forces defeated their Turkish foes and saved Western Christendom in a naval engagement that seems drawn from today’s newspapers. Some of the issues 443 years ago appear to have been commercial, and, sadly, some suggest economic interests fuel today’s hostilities. Whatever the case, Roman Catholics had no doubt that the Rosary played a major role in the Christian victory, and the Feast of the Holy Rosary is dear to Dominicans because a Dominican Pope, Pius V (later Saint Pius V), helped organize the multi-national naval fleet that won the day.
When I last wrote, the squirrels had been tossing acorns at me as I celebrated Mass at the Dominican sisters’ infirmary in San Rafael. I have not been back, so I have no idea whether they have ceased their hostilities, but I can say the elegant livestock here at St. Albert’s have been quite peaceful. The other day, as I walked down the sidewalk by the chapel, one even allowed me to play with his tail as he made a rather ceremonial progress through the bushes, toward the tennis court.
With the arrival of Labor Day, on September 1st, our students began gearing up for their classes, and we members of the Senior Community had to take a deep breath and resign ourselves to the inevitable return to the Priory’s “Ordinary Time.” I will confess I occasionally lament having to rise for prayers at 6:30 in the morning, but I welcome the “extra” hour in the morning, and I am delighted to finish breakfast – and the newspaper – by 7:30.
Whether our students share my enthusiasm remains something of a riddle. The other morning at breakfast, I sat across from one of our young brothers and said, “Wake up!” lest he fall asleep and splash into his coffee cup. But then, I must judge carefully. I it was who fell asleep over the computer last Saturday night, interrupting this reflection and delaying its publication.
Whenever I ask, the brothers report great satisfaction with their studies. Fr. Sergius’ preaching classes get particularly high marks, as does Fr. Justin Gable’s logic class. Fr. Augustine Thompson, who usually presents an even calmer demeanor than I, is a very energetic and engaging teacher, something I had the pleasure to observe a couple of years ago when the both of us were in Anchorage together (I no longer remember why) and I attended a class he offered on St. Francis to parishioners at Holy Family Cathedral.
This year’s feast of St. Francis fell on the First Saturday of October, so Fr. Augustine celebrated the month’s Dominican Rite Mass, ably assisted by a number of our students. If you are unfamiliar with the Dominican Rite, I encourage you to pay a visit to one of these first Saturday liturgies; you will find the celebration altogether entrancing. I served the Dominican Rite when I was a student in high school, some years before the liturgical reforms of the Vatican Council, and whenever I observe the “old” rite I am struck anew by its incomparable dignity.
Congratulations are due to Br. Bradley Elliott, who this month defended his Master’s thesis – with honors. The thesis’ title is “Art and Moral Virtue: Finding the Metaphysical Connection Between Art and Morals in the Philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas.” Br. Bradley provides the following synopsis: “Examining St. Thomas's understanding of the nature of the arts and the nature of man as the creator of art, I will demonstrate the effect of the arts on the passions, habits, and virtues of man and argue that a training in the appreciation of the arts is essential for the overall development of the human person.” I think you will agree, our Dominican students are no slouches!
And they are able to investigate the subjects that captivate them because you are willing to support our life here at St. Albert’s. I hope you do not get tired of my saying “thanks” for all you do for us; I will never get tired of saying it. Wherever we turn, whenever we open a book we see a sign of your generosity. And when we kneel at prayer in the chapel, your prayers for us are a source of immense strength and consolation.
In my homily last Sunday I remarked the humanity that lies at the heart of nearly everything we profess when we pray the Rosary. It was the weakness of our humanity that necessitated God’s elevating it in the Incarnation, and sacrificing it on Calvary. If we are to enjoy the salvation Christ won for us, it will be because we are willing to make a similar surrender. I concluded my homily by saying if we seek a tool that will form our humanity according to the example of Christ’s, we need look no further than the Rosary.
You show us Christ’s face every day, and your prayers and generosity enable us to train the young Dominicans who will be Jesus’ face and voice for the Church of the 21st Century. During this month of the Rosary, I assure you of our grateful prayers, and I beg your prayers for us and for all we strive to do – with your help!
--Fr. Reginald Martin, O.P.
Let me add two postscripts: Last Sunday we took up our annual collection for the support of the Western Province’s students. Your gifts amounted to nearly $3,000, for which we are very grateful. If you have not yet made your gift to this year’s Rosary Sunday Appeal, you may do so whenever you wish. Take home one of the envelopes, which are located in the vestibule of the chapel, and bring it with you the next time you come to Mass – or simply indicate on your check that your gift is intended for “Rosary Sunday” and drop the gift in the box at the rear doors of the chapel. You can also visit opwest.org and make your contribution online.
Last Sunday, too, I asked your prayers for my dad, who was to undergo surgery on Monday. The procedure (to remove a skin cancer from his head) called for a general anesthetic, which worried his doctors, but everything seems to have gone quite well. When my step-mom went into the recovery room, my father was sitting up and nibbling on an ice cube. “I’m starving,” he said, “when can we go home so I can have something to eat?” My folks and I are very grateful for your prayers. I regret I forgot to ask what they had for dinner that evening! My step-mother, an eminently practical (and devout) woman, told me she celebrated their return from the hospital by preparing herself a gin and tonic, which she drank as she said her prayers.