A Preview to the Ceremony of Carols Christmas Concert

Guest Post: Simon Berry

Our Christmas Concert (Monday, December 16, 7:30 pm – see you there) includes a wonderful piece of music In Terra Pax (Peace on Earth) by Gerald Finzi.  Here are some notes to guide your listening and the text for you to enjoy:

christmas-wallpaper-10Finzi’s musical inspiration sprang primarily from his love of literature and the English countryside – the same sources that inspired Elgar and Vaughan Williams. In Terra Pax was composed in 1954 and was almost the last piece that Finzi wrote, though its genesis can be traced to an event some thirty years previously, when one Christmas Eve he had climbed up to the church at the top of his beloved Chosen Hill, between Gloucester and Cheltenham. The sound of the midnight bells ringing out across the frosty Gloucestershire valleys evidently made a lasting impression on him, retrospectively providing the idea for In Terra Pax, as he told Vaughan Williams.

The work is a setting of two verses from Robert Bridges’ fine poem, ‘Noel: Christmas Eve, 1913’, subtitled Pax hominibus bonae voluntatis (Peace and goodwill to all men), which Finzi imaginatively and skilfully uses to frame St Luke’s account of the angels’ appearance to the shepherds. In Terra Pax is subtitled ‘Christmas Scene’, and Finzi explained that ‘the Nativity becomes a vision seen by a wanderer on a dark and frosty Christmas Eve in our own familiar landscape’. This placing of the Biblical story into an English pastoral context is entirely consistent with Finzi’s close affinity with the English Romantic tradition, and his lifelong dedication to the creation of his own rural paradise at his home in Ashmansworth, near Newbury.

The two soloists and the chorus have clearly defined musical roles; the baritone soloist takes the voice of the poet, the soprano is cast as the angel, whilst the chorus narrates the familiar biblical text. In the opening section the poet is standing on a hill contemplating the events of the very first Christmas, the sound of the distant church bells becoming for him the sound of an angel choir. This image is expressed in a pealing-bells motif which, together with the refrain from ‘The First Nowell’, provides the musical fabric of the piece.

A frosty Christmas eve
When the stars were shining
Fared I forth alone,
Where westward falls the hill
And from many a village
In the water’d valley,
Distant music reached me
Peals of bells a-ringing:
The constellated sounds,
Ran sprinkling on earth’s floor
As the dark vault above,
With stars was spangled o’er.

 

Then sped my thoughts to keep,
That first Christmas of all
When the shepherds watching
By their folds ere the dawn
Heard music in the fields
And marveling could not tell
Whether it were angels
Or the bright stars singing.

And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field,
keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of
the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round
about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them:

“Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy,
which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in
the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this
shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in
swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.”

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the
heavenly host praising God, and saying:

“Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace, good willxmas concert
toward men
But to me heard afar
It was starry music.
Angels’ song, comforting
As the comfort of Christ
When He spake tenderly,
To His sorrowful flock:

The old words came to me,
By the riches of time
Mellow’d and transfigured,
As I stood on the hill
Heark’ning in the aspect
Of th’ eternal silence.

And on earth peace, Good will toward men.

 

All are invited to our Christmas concert on Monday, December 16, 7:30 pm in the Main Nave.

Immaculate Conception Window

When Constable was designing Saint Dominic’s, he worked under the rubic that the Church is a homily made of stone.  Well, today, we watch him preach.

2013-12-09 09.12.23On the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary, we take note of a window left of the sanctuary.  It is the Immaculate Conception window.  Of course, taking good pictures of the windows is almost impossible, but perhaps these sorry pictures may inspire you to take a visit and mediate on these windows in real life.

I would also like to point out that to the right of the Immaculate Conception window is a statue from a previous version of Saint Dominic’s…namely, a statue of the Crucifixion of the Lord, with Jesus’ Mother standing next to her Son.

2013-12-09 09.12.55Without her yes, there could not have been His yes.  Without her fiat, His Death would never have happened.

Immaculate Mother, pray for us.

Yes, Virginia, there is a Saint Nicholas

Today is the Memorial of Saint Nicholas, Bishop.

Many think of Saint Nick—Santa Nicolaos of Myra—as someone’s figment of imagination that somehow ended up on Coca-Cola bottles and tins of popcorn.  Actually, this Saint was a real man.  He actually existed.  Yes, Virginia, there really is a Santa Claus.

Now, anyone reading this blog can look up Saint Nicolaos’ biography on their own.  However, I would like to “read” the attached icon and allow us to see how we got from this icon to the American counterfeit.st nicholas

Now, with a Catholic Liturgical lens, you would think that Saint Nicolaos was a martyr.  In reality, Saint Nicolaos lived in modern-day Turkey.  He was Orthodox.  The color palette of the East is much different than in the West.  Whereas the West delineates colors for a particular purpose—green symbolizes hope, white for resurrection,  red for martyrs and the Holy Spirit—the East has two color schemes, light and dark.  Dark is for the darker seasons, like fall and winter, and light for spring and summer.  (Needless to say, this is a gross simplification.  My apologies.)  Saint Nicolaos died on December 6, 343, during the darker months.  Hence, a darker color, like red.

Now, notice the pallium over Nicolaos’ shoulders.  (The pallium is a woolen stripe recognizing an archbishop’s authority over his region.) Now notice its color.  Now think of Santa Claus, particularly of that furry stripe going down his chest.  Interesting, hunh?

7572142-santa-claus-waving-a-bellOkay, now what about the hat?  Santa Claus as a funny triangular hat.  Well, so do bishops.  What is now deemed a “Santa hat” is really an adaptation of a Bishop’s Mitre.

I find it fascinating that many of our American Christmas customs are deeply rooted into our Christian tradition.  I hope you found this as fascinating as I do.  More importantly, I pray that you find time today to venerate this very special and holy man, asking him to sanctify this day, this season and your life.

“Catching Fire” & the Kingdom of God

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, the second movie of The Hunger Games trilogy, is the hottest movie out there right now.  Reading the books a number of times, I can say that I was quite satisfied with the adaptation.  In fact, I thought that the movie adaptations of The Hunger Games and Catching Fire were both rather effective.  Nicely done.

cf imageRecently, I overheard a conversation in which people were talking down the movies, saying that they are instruments of gratuitous violence.  The argument stemmed that the world is a cold, awful enough place as it is, and really, why should we watch and promote films that bring our spirits, down, down, down?

And to a point, I agree with the conversation.  Christians—at our best—are a hope-filled people, children of the Resurrection.  We are people with our hearts and minds focused on the face of our God.  We trust in a God who will never let us down, a Father who will always keep his promises, and a God who knows us so intimately that he provides us with what he need at the perfect moment.  So yes—why ought we focus on downtrodden movies?  They have a point.

Admittedly, though, when I heard the aforesaid conversation, I rolled my eyes (I never said cf image 2that I am a nice person) I thought, You fools.  You fell right into the trap.  Right.  Into.  The. Trap.  In fact, if you have read the books, the first thing you would notice that author Suzanne Collins is doing is rallying against reality television, child violence, media manipulation, and propaganda.  The purpose of the books was to elucidate and project onto a wide screen the very thing that makes our society weak—the objectification of the young, propagandistic manipulation, entertainment for entertainment’s sake, a squandering of resources, and the list goes on and on.  The Hunger Games trilogy is a story about a normal girl trying to protect her family—the whole gratuitous violence thing is exactly what Collins is rallying against.

Now, I’m not writing this simply because it stirred my pot.

Sermon-on-the-Mount-Fra-Angelico-c1440Whereas the Kingdom of The Hunger Games is founded on manipulation and intimidation, the Kingdom of God is not.  The Kingdom of God is founded on Charity, Peace and the Love of God and Neighbor.  Unlike President Snow, who rules by treachery and forceful, robotic Peacekeepers, Lord Jesus rules through urgent invitations, loving concern and joyful spirits.

It may be easier to be feared, but it is much better to be loved.

Thankfully, the Kingdom of God is not Panem.  Christians at our best are a people responding to the invitations of Jesus Christ to dwell deeper in faith, hope and love.  Children of the Resurrection, we are formed by the radical example of the Son of God, loving desperately and passionately to the point of dying to our selfish ways.   We are not ruled by a sadist, but by a The Crucified.  He invites us to love and to love in the most extreme of ways.

Collins does not give into a world of gratuitous violence, manipulation and media fanaticism.  Rather, she forces us to look into the mirror, and forces us to answer for the manipulations we make of our own selves.  How do we use each other for our own selfish gain?  How are we killing our society and our own children?  How are we murdering the innocent youth of our times?

I say that we ought look into our own world and propose the Gospel message of compassion and innocence and the awe of God.  A beautiful sunset or a late-night conversation resonates much easier than the murder of a child.  If I were to choose my Kingdom, I think it would be God’s…

Advent Waiting and Harry Potter

Advent is a season of waiting. It is a time of spiritual preparation in which we look forward to Christmastide. It is a time in which we mediate on Salvation History and take a long, hard gaze in our past, seeing how God the Father prepares us for the coming of the Son.

We look at our first parents were guaranteed a savior. We look at Abraham and Jacob, men who were promised God’s presence in a singular way. We look towards Judah, the father of a tribe who would sprout the Son of God. We look to Moses, the bringer of the New Covenant. We look to David, of which Jesus’ Royal Dignity comes forth. We look to Isaiah, the coronet of the great title, “Emmanuel”. We look to Joseph of Nazareth, the just, quiet man. And of course, we look to the daughter of Ann, Mary, the lowly handmaid.

Further, we are called to wait in a particular way. We don’t wait as if we are in Safeway, or at the bank. It’s not as if we are waiting to pay our bill at the restaurant. We don’t wait as though we were at AT&T Park, going to the restroom between innings. No—we wait as though…we’re going to see a movie. A really good one.

Ootp_coverI remember when Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix came out to the theatres. I was in Arizona at the time, serving at All Saints Catholic Newman Center. It was known that I was a fan of Harry Potter and all things related. (Little did they know how much a fan I was and am, but that’s for another post.) When some of my students found out, they invited me to a midnight showing. And there we were, at eleven o’clock in the evening on a Friday night, with about 400 other people, waiting for the gates to open so that we can trample inside and see the summer’s greatest film. (Okay, that year, it wasn’t the greatest greatest, but you get the point.) And some of my fellow movie go-ers were dressed up. Of course. I distinctly remember seeing two generic wizards, three Dumbledores, a flock of Gryffindors, four house elves, two Death Eaters and a slew of random Hogwartians waiting for the show to start.
At half past eleven, we were allowed into our theatre. Once we settled into our seats—high and center, thank you very much—the noisy electricity revved throughout the room. Someone got a beach ball and it bounced back and forth. Others started singing songs from the Potter fandom. Still others screamed the beginnings of quotations from the fifth book, expecting others to finish the line—which we loyally and joyously did.
Then finally. Finally. Finally. The lights began to darken, the curtains rolled out…and all hushed in a frenetic, reverential joy.

advent 1
This, my friends, is Advent waiting. This is the waiting that Advent brings. Knowing that the Lord will come because he always fulfills his promises. The waiting in which we don’t know exactly what kind of wondrous, delicious, delirious idea God has come up with, knowing that we will love it. Knowing that God will give us something needed yet unexpected. Advent waiting.
…and so we wait…

Advent Lessons & Carols

St. Dominic’s Catholic Church, San Francisco, CA invites you to its annual service of Advent Lessons and Carols, Sunday, December 1, 7:30 p.m.

The music includes motets by Lauridsen (O Nata Lux), Praetorius (A Great and Mighty Wonder arr Richard advent 1Marlow) and Gregorian chants.  Also Nico Muhly’s O Antiphon Preludes for organ.

The Great O Antiphons of Advent form the antiphons to the Magnificat, sung at Evening Prayer on the seven evenings before Christmas.  The initial letter of each antiphon (S-A-R-C-O-R-E) forms a reverse acrostic – Ero Cras, which translates as Tomorrow I Come.  Nico Muhly’s O Antiphon Preludes for Organ were written in 2010 for an evening meditation service at Westminster Abbey.

 

 

Saint of the Day: Saint Catherine of Alexandria

caravaggio_stcatherineofalexandriaSt. Catherine is believed to have been born in Alexandria of a noble family. Converted to Christianity through a vision, she denounced Maxentius for persecuting Christians. Fifty of her converts were then burned to death by Maxentius.

Maxentius offered Catherine a royal marriage if she would deny the Faith. Her refusal landed her in prison. While in prison, and while Maxentius was away, Catherine converted Maxentius’ wife and two hundred of his soldiers. He had them all put to death.

Catherine was likewise condemned to death. She was put on a spiked wheel, and when the wheel broke, she was beheaded. She is venerated as the patroness of philosophers and preachers. St. Catherine’s was one of the voices heard by St. Joan of Arc.

Maxentius’ blind fury against St. Catherine is symbolic of the anger of the world in the face of truth and justice. When we live a life of truth and justice, we can expect the forces of evil to oppose us. Our perseverance in good, however, will be everlasting.

Saint Catherine is a secondary patron of the Dominican Order because of her devotion to philosophy.

(taken from Catholic Online)

The Gravity of “Gravity”

So I feel a little pressure, here.  A little gravity, if you will.  Fr. Michael wrote about his thoughts about Gravity in “Our Pastor’s Corner”.  Fr. Emmanuel preached about it on the 33rd Sunday of Ordinary Time.  And now, it’s my turn.

gravity-alfonso-cuaron1

Director Alfonso Cauron

Gravity is a Catholic movie.  Director Alfonso Cuarón (who directed Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Akaban) did a wonderful job in proposing many Catholic themes in a surprising, integrative, and subtle way.  Cuarón, a highly visual artist, he doesn’t rely on snappy dialogue or technical swipe cuts to get his points across—he uses the camera and what the camera sees.  He manipulates his screen images to add depth of an already deep movie.  I will do my best to offer some thoughts with trying to refrain from as many spoilers as possible.  So here are a coupla thoughts….

 

Baptismal Imagery.  It basically comes in three parts.  Part one is right after Sandra Bullock’s character (Dr. Ryan Stone) reenters a safe haven.  She gets into the station, and whips off her space suit, and assumes a fetal position.  Moreover, tubes are in the background and start to play behind her, parallel to where her bellybutton is.  Now, one might think that this just happens and the movie moves on.  But the camera stays there.  We are forced to watch Bullock’s character lay in space, in his fetal position.  Cuarón tells us, “Look at this!  This is important!”  Thus, I say, the character had been reborn into a new experience.  At the beginning the second act of the movie, she is born into a new character and a new adventure.

gravity bullockPart two is the fire incident.  She deals with the fire, and it brings her into a new way of being, forcing her to adapt and live in a new environment. Fire, of course, is a favored image of the Holy Spirit.  Unpredictable and forceful, the Holy Spirit invites us to new environments, new ways of looking and things, new ways of living.  The Doctor is thrown into a new living environment, into a new suit, and a situation.  The fact that she bleeds is no a hidden symbol here—her life is being given into a new adventure.

Moreover, she also learns new virtues (gifts of the Holy Spirit), bravery, prudence and faith.  Bravery for persevering in a very tight situation, prudence for knowing how to adapt with the next crisis and faith in knowing that she will return home. (In fact, by this time, we want her to come back to the planet—but really, who here really thought that that ending would actually happen?)

Part three is the water incident.  It’s really difficult, by the way, to refer to this without suggesting spoilers.  To put it mildy, she almost dies.  In fact, when I watched it in the theatre, a woman yelled out, “She’s been through too much already!”  She has to take that last gulp of air and kick off the pod and come to the surface. And once she arrives to clean air, she gasps a giant breath, as though she were drowning.

And of course…we remember the kind environment she falls into, right?  …must I be more explicit?  Well, you have my email.

 

Patron saints. This was actually really fun to see.  I saw it in two places.  For one, with the George Clooney GRAVITY(Matt Kowalsky) character.  What a great foil!  Coming into the ship, telling her to not worry.  We kinda know that his character is floating out there and breaking space-walking records.  But we suspend our belief, wondering—maybe, just maybe that he is really present.

Aren’t out patron saints like this?  Don’t we ask them to be present with us when we are in a bind?  When we are in trouble?  Don’t we ask for their help?  Wonder if they are really with us?  Answering our petitions?  Interceding for us to God?

 

Prayer.  Upon the third ship—and must I remind you what “3” symbolizes?—when Ryan is to talking to Matt and describes her daughter, telling her comb her hair and take care of herself and that mommy misses her?  …sounds like a spontaneous prayer to me.  I mean, she may be oxygen deprived, but perhaps she may be learning how to pray.  Or better, she may be praying, and she doesn’t even know it.

In my opinion, spontaneous prayers from our hearts may hold God’s attention more effectively than a thousand rosaries.

 

Cuarón designed a Catholic movie.  He did it the best possible way.  He wasn’t preachy.  He didn’t blare the Catholicism up the audiences’ eyes—it wasn’t heavy handed at all, to his credit and his artistic skill.  Yet he was unapologetic.  He fronted Catholic ideas on a secular stage and he came out a success. God bless him.

Catholic artists, take note.  This is how you preach in an artistic way.

A Preacher’s Life: Spirituality of the Order of Preachers – Contemplation

There are many mottos of the Order.  “Truth”.  “To Praise, to Bless, to Preach”.  But the motto that most exemplifies Dominican Spirituality is contemplare et contemplata aliis tradere (“To contemplate and to share with others the fruit of one’s contemplation”).

558864_10152344536328135_2005494687_nTo contemplate.  The first act of a person striving for holiness is to communicate with God.  Contemplation is a long, loving, look at the beloved, whether that be your significant other, or the Significant Other.  To study, to ponder, and wonder about the created and uncreated order.  It is asking, “Why Lord, did you give us a leaf?” or boring into it and discovering how cytoplasm works.  Contemplation is the first step of Dominican Spirituality – to gaze lovingly into the created and uncreated order and finding yourself yearning for more knowledge.

But it does not end there.  Dominicans by our nature must share the fruits of our contemplation with others. In a manner of speaking, contemplation is not an end in itself—prayer is an instrument towards the greater good of preaching the Word made Flesh.

Indeed, the Liturgy of the Eucharist teaches us the same thing.  The last words we hear from a priest during Mass is “Go in peace” or something similar.  Go.  Go out, proclaim the Word, share with others what has been handed onto you and given to you as gift.

For the Dominican, the fruits of contemplation that we had received are useless unless we share it with the world.  Whether by liturgical preaching, teaching in the classroom, doing works of mercy and justice, or living an impassioned and flourishing life, the fruits of our contemplation must be used for the good of preaching the Word Made Flesh.

Contemplare et contemplata aliis tradere is actually made manifest in the formation of the Order.   In contemplataretrospect, Holy Father Dominic knew that the only way his preaching was going to bear fruit was if, and only if, someone was praying for its success.

The contemplative nuns—like the ones at Corpus Christi Monastery on Oak Grove Avenue in Menlo Park—were founded in 1206, ten years before the friars.  The nuns play a crucial, yet hidden, role in the preaching of the Order.  Their lives are darkly entrenched in the waters of contemplation.  They have a number of holy hours a day, they gather between 7-9 times daily for prayer.  They pray through their own work, rosaries, Eucharistic Adoration, own spiritual readings and study. Meanwhile, the friars, though we too have our own rigorous prayer life, have a number of university campuses, parishes, retreats and sacramental ministries to accomplish—sharing the fruits of our contemplation whenever we possibly can.

In short, the Contemplative nuns are the contemplative aspect of the Order.  Though entrenched with our own contemplative rigor, the friars, sisters and laity hang onto the scapulars of the nuns, actively handing on the fruits of the Order’s contemplation to those who need it most.

The Body of Christ is dynamic and alive.  Because the Order is one by our baptism and our vows, we rely on the fact that the active and contemplative elements of the Order to made manifest in the very design of the Order—the very contemplative nuns, and the active-contemplative friars, sisters and laity.

According to Dominican Saint Thomas Aquinas, one must know a thing in order to love a thing.  In knowing God, in contemplating God, you love it.  Knowing leads to loving.  Contemplare is not only spending time in silence or in Eucharistic Adoration—though that indeed is a share of what we mean.  When Dominicans talk about contemplating things, we are talking about the things we study as well.  If God is the first and final cause of all creation, then God is—by His nature—Master of all creation.  Studying leads to knowing which leads to loving.  God is the Master of Physics, Mathematics, Music, Psychology, Human Biology, Linguistics.  As long as the Dominican—or anyone—is studying something that is true, then he or she is thus studying Truth and Love.

It is easy to compare calendars and compete on how little sleep we are getting.  But if our action is not leading to contemplation, and our contemplation into action, then we must ask about the quality of our life.

dominic.gif Fran AngelicoIf the things we study are not leading us to a better understanding to the Ultimate Truth, who is God, then we ought to pause.  If the things we study are not leading us into a deeper, more profound relationship with the Great I Am, the first and final cause, then I would challenge us to discern why we are doing what we are doing.

dominic.gifAt the foundation of contemplare et contemplata is deepening our personal relationship with He Whose Name is Love.  We study in order to know.  We know in order to love.  May we contemplate our God and each other, knowing and loving as Christ calls.

The official blog of Saint Dominic’s Catholic Church of San Francisco, CA

 

Welcome to the official blog of Saint Dominic’s Catholic Church in San Francisco, CA!  There are so many events and groups here at the parish that we thought that it would be a great idea to have a platform to inform everyone about our wonderful community.

This blog is intended to be an online resource where we feature the pastor’s corners from our Pastor, Father Michael Hurley, theological reflections from members of the clergy and staff, short features on the many groups and events here at Saint Dominic’s and—hopefully—articles for your spiritual benefit.

We look forward to being part of your life in this new way.  May God always keep you and bless you.  Know that you have our prayers and support!