September 2, 2012
Dear Friends of St. Albert’s,
You have, no doubt, recently noticed a very pleasant change when you join us for prayers. Instead of the ten or so members of the “senior” community, valiantly chanting the daily Office, we now have – with the addition of the four students who professed vows this morning, and two Dominican student brothers from Poland – seventeen more voices to swell our ranks. I had become quite used to entering the darkened chapel before morning prayers to find but one or two others; the other day I came into a flood-lit space and saw a dozen or more. For a moment I wondered, “Who turned on the lights, and who are these intruders?”
Two of our student brothers are away from St. Albert’s this year, enjoying what we call a “residence” year, an opportunity to live in one of the Western Province’s smaller houses, and take part in whatever Dominican ministry their gifts recommend them for. But when added together, our students number one of the larger groups we’ve been blessed with in recent years. This is a sign of God’s grace, and a real tribute to our friends’ prayers and generous support. Next month, when we celebrate Rosary Sunday, I’ll give you some idea of the true cost of educating and otherwise equipping these young men for Dominican apostleship. In the meantime, let me thank you once again for being so committed a part of our lives.
When I was in college, Judy Collins plaintively sang, “Who Knows Where the Time Goes?” In those days I don’t think I particularly cared, or noticed, but as I’ve grown older – and especially now that I’ve become a certified senior citizen – I find myself echoing Ms. Collins’ lament more and more often. Didn’t we just observe Memorial Day? Tomorrow is Labor Day, and the day after will be – Thanksgiving! I began the summer whining about my struggles with the user-hostile computer program I had to use in my capacity as the Priory’s “guest master.” As luck would have it, the day before yesterday I discovered (altogether by accident) how to make the accursed thing do precisely what I want – just in time to print the very last report before I heave a sigh of relief and relinquish the job to Br. Justin, who will perform the task for the next year!
Even more rewarding, though, was lending a hand in the students’ annual work days this past Tuesday and Wednesday, something that enabled me to accomplish a number of long-desired house-cleaning projects. Perhaps someone tidier than I inhabits the universe, but I’ll put myself “up there” with the tidiest of the tidy. So you can imagine my annoyance to run across – as I seem continually to do – odd-sized pieces of Styrofoam someone has stuffed into a corner for no apparent reason. St. Albert’s has two immense attic spaces that have become absolute dumping grounds for things no one wants. We know, because we’ve advertised some of them on Craig’s List and gotten no takers.
You can imagine my delight, then, when the student master, Fr. Michael Fones, asked whether I had any tasks I’d like the students to help with. I replied, “For starts,” I replied, “we have the two pottery kilns, that haven’t been used for forty years. I don’t care if it takes explosives to demolish them; I’ll buy the pizza at Zachary’s for whomever can dismantle them.” In the event, explosives weren’t necessary (although they certainly would have been entertaining!) and the students proved so efficient I was able to haul out more and more junk from more and more hiding places, so the fourth-floor attic in the West wing is no longer the depressing eyesore I’ve found it for so long. One of the objects I delighted in tossing out was a large, unfinished piece of wood – I think a contemporary of mine had used it for an easel. On the back he’d written, “This belongs to Br. X. Please do not throw it away.” Obedient to his wish, we allowed the board to remain untouched, notwithstanding Brother X’s death in 1995!
Reclaiming the fourth floor from the Demons of Clutter, however, was just the tip of the “work days” iceberg. The students also washed cars, waxed floors, polished the metal in the sacristy and chapel, and devoted themselves to getting the house in shape for the coming year. Much of their effort will go unnoticed, simply because it will be taken for granted. And that, I believe, is a high compliment; if it looks like we’ve worked hard to accomplish something, perhaps we haven’t worked hard enough.
Once we had the chance to clean up after the work days, we began to look forward to the events that truly mark the beginning of a new academic year. The beginning of classes, of course, and the attendant return to earlier rising for morning prayers, but also the clothing of our new novices in the Dominican habit, and our present novices’ professing their simple vows.
This past Thursday evening found us at St. Dominic’s, in San Francisco, where newest members spend the first year of their Dominican life. We sang the Church’s Night Prayer, and then witnessed a turning point in the lives of six young men. They have come to the Western Province from a variety of locations and backgrounds, but – once dressed in the familiar Dominican habit – they look like any of us. And the Provincial’s eloquent homily admonished them that this moment was but the first in a life that was to resemble ours in the prayer and personal transformation that will, with God’s grace, equip them to be the effective preachers and “joyful friar” each Dominican is called to be.
Yesterday found us, and a Scriptural “cloud of witnesses,” filling our chapel to celebrate the simple profession of Brs. Cody Jorgensen, Andy Opsahl, Thomas Aquinas Pickett, and Andrew Yang. We are seldom host to such a crowd, so you can imagine the pleasure – and the immense honor – to welcome so many friends, benefactors, and Dominican sisters and brothers. Fr. Mark Padrez reminded our brothers of the homily he preached last year, when he gave them the Dominican habit. “I asked whether you were afraid, and I said you ought to be.”
Fr. Mark went on to distinguish between the common fear that is either a sign of weakness – or a prudent reaction – in the face of danger, and a Christian’s “fear of the Lord,” which, the Bible reminds us, is the “first stage of Wisdom.” In the gospel reading for this morning’s Mass, Jesus told the parable of the servants who received various sums of money, with the command to invest it for their master. Two did quite well; the third realized no gain because he buried the wealth, fearing his master’s punishment should he lose it.
Fr. Mark reminded our brothers that this “servile” fear is an unworthy sentiment; faith calls us to take risks, and true, holy “fear” compels us to act bravely, fearing only to offend God by standing idle when He so clearly wants us to be energetic preachers in a world longing to hear His Son’s Good News. On Tuesday of this week our students will begin – or resume – the studies that will provide the intellectual foundation for this preaching. We ask you to pray that this semester is a rewarding time for them, and that they will prosper at their intellectual pursuits.
When my classmates and I professed our Simple Vows, back in 1969, our Dominican School followed the quarter system, so we began classes at the end of September. I remember our profession very well; it took place on September 21, and we were allowed to spend a week at home afterward. As I look back on those days and compare them to the schedules our students follow today, I am struck by how much more leisure time we seem to have had.
I always had at least one day a week with no classes, which I was able to devote to reading. Had I invested the time like the prudent servants in today’s gospel, by studying philosophy and theology, I could probably be on the faculty at Harvard; instead, I pursued my interest in literature. Used editions of “Everyman” classics were a mere fifty cents at Moe’s in those days. And those were hard-backed books! Paper-backs were even cheaper, so I was able to read all the second-tier British writers – and a good number of the third – at very little cost. I believe I’ve read more of George Gissing and Mrs. Oliphant than anyone I know. Has anyone heard of Mrs. Humphrey Ward, the novelist-aunt of Aldous Huxley?
And then there were the Friday afternoon soccer games. One could fill a book with what I don’t know about soccer, but I still lifted weights in those days, so I was the second-largest of the students. My task was simple and unvarying: to run interference against the largest of the students, to keep him away from the ball. In all those games, I recall scoring only one point, when Br. Raymond Finerty and I came at the ball from opposite directions. Our ankles connected as we tried to kick it, and we tripped one another. I merely slipped down onto the grass, where I lay on my back with a splendid view of Raymond, turning an arc above me to land on his face. The goalie was so fascinated he didn’t see the ball slide past him to make a point for my side.
Should any of our students read these pages they will, no doubt, sneer at the ways we whiled away our time before the advent of high-end wireless technology changed the way the world reads and studies, so I shan’t mention the library of long-playing records we turned to, before we were allowed to have radios. In fact, lest this turn into too long a ramble down Memory Lane, I’ll simply close by begging you to pray for our students, the future of the Western Dominican Province. And let me assure you we remember you each day at St. Albert’s in the prayers we offer
Fr. Reginald Martin, O.P.