The Ancient New

I have this ritual on preaching weekends.

St Catherine of Siena, ambulatory

St Catherine of Siena, ambulatory

St Dominic’s has the practice of having one preacher for the entire English Sunday Mass rotation.  Though we gather weekly to have lectio divina to share our thoughts on the upcoming texts, there is one guy deigned to preach the weekend.

On Sundays in which I have the preaching gauntlet, I usually dress in my cappa (the black cloak that goes over my white habit) and a stole as I await for the Gospel to arrive.  I find myself near the St. Catherine of Siena statue on the ambo side of the sanctuary.  There, I usually pray in front of Catherine.

(Ever since Lent, I’ve been becoming a fan of hers…funny things happen when you learn the Called the Gifted Workshop, a product of the Catherine of Siena Institute.)



And I would usually look up at Catherine, seeing her expressionless eyes, holding a book and a lily in her hands, symbolizing her virginity and her wisdom (and her classic Dominican work, The Dialogue).

But the other Sunday, the last time I preached, I looked up at Catherine, and I noticed something new.  There are these funky hashmarks up the statue’s main body.  Up-up-up they go, as though an eraser roughly rapped up the statue, taking out minor chunks of stone.  Further—and honestly, this ticked me off—you’ll notice that Catherine is missing a finger.  You can barely see it, because of the contour of her hand, but the lady is a nine-fingered-jack-Frodo-looking-person!

Dude!  I mean, like, dude!  Someone roughed out her finger?  Who does that?


See the hashmarks? …maybe not…

Turns out that most of the statues in this part of the Church—the ambulatory—is like that.  All of these weird hashmarks going up the statue like the remnants of a race.

(Pope St. Pius V, OP, is missing two fingers too, which too is annoying, but….ugh.)

It’s weird, right?  I mean, I’ve been praying to Catherine, through this statue, for the better part of four months, and it’s now that I’m noticing that there is a series of funky contours.  It’s not as if I live in this building, or anything—I ought to have noticed this eons ago.


Yet…I don’t know—it makes me think about how we look at the Mass or anything else that feels like a routine.

I mean, Mass is Mass is Mass, right?  The relaxed atmosphere of the 5:30 Vigil, simplicity of the 7:30, the joyful messiness of the 9:30, the solemnity of the 11:30, the vivaciousness of the 1:30, the hospitality of the 5:30, the contemplative atmosphere of the 9:00.  Yet, it’s easy for us to just…take it for granted.  At the 11:30, we are always gonna have incense, at the 5:30 we are gonna get something lively Matt Maher-y.  We expect things, and we are comfortable with the predictable.

But that’s the thing with Mass.  Mass—the Eucharist—is a Mystery.  There is always something new here.  Jesus is always the same-and-never-the-same.  God is the onion which will never run out of layers.  There is always something new to discover and see and touch and smell.

I’m reminded of CS Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia.  With our need to be content, and comfortable, and predictable, we forget that Jesus is the Lion that is never safe but always good.  A playful kitten at one moment, a stern judge the next, and a lethal protector the moment after.

Another Dominican priest oftentimes teaches a simple morning prayer: “Surprise me, Lord.”


Since that Sunday, I’ve found myself glancing around the Church to see something new.  An angel here or a Dominican shield there or a saint that I don’t recognize over here.  As old as our little church is, there is always something that I have never seen before.

And just imagine how it is—not how it was, or will be, but is—with God, right now.


Holy Father Dominic, pray for us!



The Ancient New — 2 Comments

  1. A nice reflection. I’m reminded of someone who told me the following:

    The weavers of oriental carpets, which are noted for their intricate symmetry and designs, always miss a stitch, or leave some pattern unfinished, since it would be unworthy of them (the weavers) to make a design that is perfect — only God can do that.

  2. Thank you for the reflection.

    “A person can fail many times, but they aren’t a failure until they begin to blame someone else.”

    John Burroughs

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