O Antiphon 3 — A Matter of Prestige

“O Flower of Jesse’s stem,
You have been raised up as a sign for all peoples;
Kings stand silent in your presence;
The nations bow down in worship before you.
Come, let nothing keep you from coming to our aid.”

Do you ever feel insignificant in comparison to those whose worldly status is higher than your own? Today’s O Antiphon, which puts focus on Jesus as the flower of Jesse’s stem, should give you encouragement. Jesse was the father of King David through whose lineage God promised to send a Messiah who would reestablish the Kingdom of God in an eternal way. Notice how the antiphon says kings stand silent in His presence and nations bow before Him. If you feel intimidated by those with more prestige than you in this life, it helps to remember that we are all headed hopefully toward a life that does not run by the secular rules of prestige in this one. Outside of this life is where the Kingdom of God will reach its fulfillment for those who persevere in Christ, that flower of Jesse’s stem. The lowly in this life are the greatest in the Kingdom of God, as Jesus says in the Gospel of Matthew. Our job in this life, regardless of status, is to worship God and use the gifts He gave us to make this world the best it can be for the human race as a whole. Today’s O Antiphon indicates whose authority – which kingdom – we should esteem the most when doing all we do in the world. Let us spend these last days of Advent being mindful of what we esteem the most as we prepare to celebrate the birth of the one before whom nations must bow.

O Antiphon 2

“O sacred Lord of ancient Israel, who showed yourself to Moses in the Burning bush, who gave him the holy law on Sinai mountain: come, stretch out your mighty hand to set us free.”

Today’s O Antiphon emphasizes God’s lordship, His supreme power over everything in creation. The antiphon reminds us of God’s consistent track record of manifesting Himself to His people, and the promise that His mighty hand will indeed set us free. That freedom has already been initiated by God for every person who has died and risen spiritually with Christ through baptism. It will reach its fulfillment at the point when Christ comes again in the full majesty of his lordship to judge humanity. That event is the primary thing we anticipate during the Advent Season, and the reward it will usher in for Christians who persevere is the ultimate aim of Christian existence in this life. As these last busy days of Advent pass, let us not forget that ultimate aim so that we can celebrate the Nativity of Christ with our eyes fixed on the ultimate prize.

Today begins the O Antiphons at Vespers

antipwnedHave you ever heard of the “O Antiphons”? There are seven of them, and each one corresponds to one of the last seven days of the Advent Season. Catholics and some Protestant denominations recite them before praying the Magnificat at Vespers. They are called “O Antiphons” because each one uses the interjection “O” before referring to the Messiah under one of His attributes mentioned in Isaiah. For the final seven days of Advent, I will be posting on each of these O Antiphons, starting with the one we will pray this evening. Below is the first post.

O Antiphon 1

“Wisdom, O holy Word of God,
You govern all creation with your strong, yet tender care.
Come and show your people the way to salvation.”

In today’s O Antiphon, the “Wisdom” and the “Word” of God are ways of referring to the Son of God. In reciting the antiphon, we ask the Word of God to show us the way to salvation. How are we Christians able to receive this guidance toward salvation from the Word of God? One answer is that Jesus provides it via the Holy Spirit. But what does it actually mean in practice to follow that guidance? It’s not like each of us has a personally assigned burning bush from which to hear it. How do we discern the difference between following the Word of God through the Holy Spirit versus simply following words we put into God’s mouth? The best way I know to follow Christ’s guidance authentically is to focus on growing in the Seven Heavenly Virtues and learning about the teachings of the Church He established on Earth. Virtues are essential muscles in this overall endeavor because the more those muscles grow the easier it becomes for us to master the Seven Deadly Vices. The less dominated by vice we are the freer we are to submit to the Word of God via the Holy Spirit through faith. It is a faith-driven submission to what our consciences indicate we should do in light of what we honestly understand Christ to be saying through the teachings of His Church. This process requires a willingness to submit even when doing so is inconvenient. Also, any level of understanding of what Christ is saying through His teachings to a believer, no matter how honest on the part of that believer, will always have its limits in this life. This is because the truth that comes from Christ surpasses our mortal abilities to understand it. Understanding the guidance that comes from the Word of God is a process that unfolds gradually, and we will not understand it fully until we see God face-to-face. In the meantime, our faithful submission to the Word of God in the Holy Spirit through His Church’s teachings is the mechanism by which Jesus speaks to us in order to guide us. It is a relationship with Jesus that becomes more complexly and richly personal the less reservedly we give ourselves to Him through it. As we approach celebration of the birth of Christ, let us have an attitude of gratitude for this relationship with Jesus. It was made possible by His birth, death, and Resurrection for the sake of guiding us toward salvation.

There and back again, a Dominican’s Tale (part II)

The_Lonely_Mountain-The_Desolation_of_Smaug_WallpaperWhen you left the intrepid adventurers, Brother Daniel the Wise, Brother Andrew the Excellent, and I, Father Isaiah Mary of Hogsmeade, were off on our journey towards the retreat house to join the Holy Preaching of St. Dominic’s Priory.  After a blessed journey to Costco, gazing at Trees Christmas of Plastic, wine, and meats aplenty, we left to join our brethren with Elder Van of New Tires, her vannish eyes determined and sound.  After highway and byway, we climbed the Lonely Mountain.  Up Petaluma north we went with engines roaring and travelers fair.  Up the terrible mount we went in our Elder Van of New Tires.  Up, up, up we went, through rabid vines and branches, roads more narrow than heresy, the skies black as sin.

“We’re only an hour or two behind,” Brother Andy mentioned, his driving sure.

“I don’t remember any of this,” Holy Brother Daniel confessed, shaking his head.  But brow high, he asked, “Was I asleep during last time I had taken this trip?”

“I remember this windy road,” Holy Brother Andrew said, voice grave as gravel, his hands sure and tight upon the steering wheel, he guided us with care and devotion.

forestWinding as snakes with turns cunning and clever, up the adventurers went, searching for our brethren.  I stared at notes given us by Holy Father Prior, Steven by name; I was grimacing.  Announcing the number of the house, I looked up, gazing at the menacing trees.  “This is penance,” I thought to myself. “I’m sure we haven’t passed it up yet,” I said.

“I’m not sure that we are lost, yet,” another rephrased.

Soon, we saw a road that turned from asphalt to dust.  Shacks with rough gardens in front with greenery dying, or so we thought.  In front of us lay a long yellow tape that bore Gandalf the Grey’s final words (which weren’t really): “You. Shalt. Not. Pass.”

I pronounced in a dark tone, “We’re going to die.”

Brother Andrew replied, “I….I am really sure that we made a wrong turn.”  Quickly then, he reversed Elder Van of New Tires back onto the road, with asphalt black and sure.

“We’re going to be human sacrificed to a pagan god,” I sighed. “I hope it’s Pan.”

moon-in-the-cloudsThe turns came and went, the skies darkening above us, the trees and mountains awakening with evil in its heart.  Scared, terrified, yet brave, the adventures sat, confident in young Brother Andrew the Excellent, guiding us with a sure hand.

Lo!  A car blue and fast drove towards the Elder Van.  Ah yes!  Prior so holy, he who is driving, Father Sub-prior, Emmanuel by name, in the seat next sitting.  Calling us to stop, we do, happily and obediently, remembering our vows.

“Dudes,” Father Steven announced, “I think we passed it.”

Father Emmanuel asked, always with joy in his heart, “Are you out here for a Northern California deliverance?”

“I was wondering if we were driving towards some sort of pagan sacrificial ritual,” I admitted, tone dark as sin.

After a turn of twenty points and many more, Elder Van of New Tires turned south.  Down, down the mount we went, peering always for our turn.  Finding it behind us yet again, the travelers turned faces brave towards their adversity.  After one more turn of twenty points, we drove through a gate ragged and old, pointing us towards our brethren.  Soon we saw cars familiar and faces sweet.  Holy Father Prior awaiting for us with smile grand and broad, fists upon his hips.  The Holy Novices were making the main meal and setting table. Come towards the fire warm!  Bring forth the wine and cheese!  Such succulent treats, have they!

Brother Andrew the Excellent placed the Elder Van on its brake and turned towards his brother adventurers.  “I did say that this was going to be an adventure.  Was I right?”

I smiled, shaking my head.

“I just knew, I just knew,” he continued, “we were just going to get into car trouble.  I just knew it.”  He shook his head, opening all of the doors.

Soon, we spilled out of Elder Van of New Tires, our hearts light, seeing our holy brethren.  Laden with supplies, we entered the retreat house with joy. divine office

After a raised glass, Holy Brother Daniel was prodded to tell the tale of the adventuring brethren.  Laughter and cries rang out for an hour or more.  Then Father Prior, knowing their vows, called the Holy Preaching of St Dominic Priory to pray the Office of Vespers.

Holy Father Dominic, pray for us!

This evening’s Christmas Concert

Guest Post: Simon C Berry

 

Dear Friends:

St. Dominic’s Catholic Church, San Francisco, CA invites you to its annual Christmas Concert,Monday, December 15, 7:30 p.m.simonberry

A (mostly) Baroque Christmas.

The Schola Cantorum will sing motets by the Baroque composers Vivaldi (his famous Gloria); Eccard & Praetorius, together with music by romantic composers Pietro a Yon; James MacMillan, John Rutter and Healey Willan.  They are joined by The Festival Orchestra and famed Bay Area organist Jonathan Dimmock.

There will be carols for you to sing as well; Joy to the World, Once in Royal David’s City, Ding Dong! Merrily on High, Silent Night and the Twelve Days of Christmas.

We’ve listened closely to your feedback from previous years and have designed a shorter program for 2014

Come and join us in this festive celebration of seasonal music.

Our Pastor’s Corner, December 14, 2014, Third Sunday of Advent

The spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me; he has sent me to bring glad tidings to the poor, to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and release to the prisoners, to announce a year of favor from the LORD and a day of vindication by our God. I rejoice heartily in the LORD, in my God is the joy of my soul; for he has clothed me with a robe of salvation and wrapped me in a mantle of justice, like a bridegroom adorned with a diadem, like a bride bedecked with her jewels. As the earth brings forth its plants, and a garden makes its growth spring up, so will the Lord GOD make justice and praise spring up before all the nations. (Isaiah 61:1-2, 10-11)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERARecently, a parishioner shared a delightful story about their family and our Giving Tree. As you know, for many years, St. Dominic’s has sponsored a Christmas Giving Tree that is adorned with angelic ornaments with gift ideas for children and other needs for folks helped by our Lima Center. Inspired to make it a family event, one parent invited their children to choose an ornament from the tree and go shopping together for the suggested toy. But there was this twist. Each child was given $50 and told that they could spend as much as they wanted on the gift, but whatever remained they could spend on themselves. The result? The children so vigorously plunged themselves into the project of purchasing the perfect gift that, in the end, they were left with just a small smattering of change. They were so focused on buying the best possible present that they gave little thought to anything else. The delight they experienced in buying their gifts for others overshadowed every other consideration.

This image ofdownload childlike zeal to buy a precious and unique gift shapes the heart of Advent. The first reading reminds us that we are called to give the gift of ourselves. Often we mistakenly imagine that our happiness depends on the honor we receive, the pleasure we experience, or the wealth we acquire. During Advent, we are reminded that our happiness is rooted in the ways in which we go beyond fulfilling our own needs and desires. Like the prophet Isaiah, we have been chosen to bring glad tidings to the poor, to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and release to the prisoners, to announce a year of favor from the LORD. The extent to which we are successful in extending mercy and compassion to others shapes our ability to be joyful.

gaudeteThis is why we celebrate “Gaudete” Sunday. In Latin, the word Gaudete means “to rejoice” and this is the first word of the Mass Introit for this Sunday. Solemnized by lighting the rose colored candle on our wreath, we exult in the anticipation that Christmas is little more than 10 days away: the celebration of Christ’s birth is within sight. Moreover, Gaudete Sunday invites us to consider where we discover the joy of Christmas. If this Advent has been about nothing more than going about our business, we might miss the joy of the season. But if we, like the children who were given $50 and a choice, endeavor to give of ourselves to others, we will experience the joy of Christ coming to birth in our lives.

~ Fr. Michael Hurley, O.P.

There and back again, a Dominican’s Tale (part I)

The Priory has retreat days twice a year, in Fall and Spring.  A beautiful experience, a time when the novices and senior community can be a community, not simply run into each other in the hallway and at dinner.  This Fall, we found ourselves north of Petaluma.

Brothers Daniel and Andy and I carpooled.  When some others left, they had asked us to take some of the supply boxes of food, games and movies for our recreation times.

boxThe pile of boxes was larger than a small triceratops.  It took us three seconds to figure out that we needed a van.

You should have seen the look on our faces.  You should have heard what we said.  (Actually, you shouldn’t—it would make the ratings of the blog from “G” to ….not “G”.)  So I called up Fr. Anthony, “Hey, can we take one of the vans up to the retreat place?”

“Um, I don’t see why not,” he said in his saintly voice, “Now remember, it’s an older van, so just be gentle.”

Warning number one.

It didn’t take us that long to pack.  I hopped into the driver’s seat, Brother Andy in shotgun and Brother Daniel behind me.  Soon, we drove north and crossed the Golden Gate Bridge.

Brother Andy said, “Okay, so we’re in a new car, this is going to be a great adventure.”

Warning number two.

Within moments, Brother Daniel fell asleep in the back seat, while Brother Andy and I spoke about our community life and our ministry at St. Dominic’s.  While on the 101 North, we both heard a POP and Brother Daniel woke up, startled.  I looked into the rear window mirror and saw smoke streaming out of the passenger side of the car.  Cars behind us slowed down.

Sigh.

Brother Daniel suggested, in a very saintly voice, “Move over to the side, Isaiah, there we go.”

Once we had stopped, Brother Andy got out of the car to check out the vehicle.

Meanwhile, Brother Daniel asked, “Do we have Triple ‘A’?”

“They don’t do corporate,” I responded in a not-saintly voice.  “We would have to get individual plans if we wanna go that route…and well, we just didn’t.”

...yup.  Shredded.

…yup. Shredded.

Brother Andy returned with a look on his face.  “Shredded.  The back passenger tire…simply shredded.”  He shook his head.  He looked at me in the eye, and in a saintly voice, asked, “So do we have Triple ‘A’?”

Groan.

So just imagine three Dominicans (though not in habit) on the 101 North, just south of Cotati, bustling about, trying to change a tire.  Well, actually, the guys were changing the tire; meanwhile, I’m texting the rest of the community of our “minor snag.”

As the brothers got the donut out of its space, a CHP Officer shows up in his motorcycle.  “Y’guys all right?”

Brother Daniel laughed a saintly laugh.  “Well, we just got out the spare,” he said, waving the instruction manual.  “We just need to put the thing on.”

Not our officer...which would have been hilarious.

Not our officer…which would have been hilarious.

The Officer nodded with his strong, masculine chin.  “If you can, try to get the spare on as quickly as possible.”

“Okay,” we responded.

The other brothers proceeded to change the tire.  I looked at the Officer, asking, “Is there anything else we can do in the meantime, sir?”  (Using the word ‘sir’ with a man with a gun seems to be the right thing to do in the middle of the highway.)

Despite that he had on aviator sunglasses, I could tell that he were weighing options in his mind.  He turned to me and asked, “”Do they know what they are doing?”

I grinned a not-saintly grin.  “You’re dealing with a brother, a seminarian, and a priest.  We’re a bad joke you tell at a bar.”

The strong masculine officer shook his head ever so slightly, getting off his bike.  He proceeded to the van and asked for the jack.  He said, “You three.  Over there.  Give me more light.”

And so he proceeded to change the tire for us.

To protect and serve.

“I hate feeling useless,” Brother Andy muttered.

“I can navigate the jungles of Guatamala and El Salvador, I’ve lead countless formation programs and retreats…and I can’t even change a tire,” I commiserated.  “Did I mention that my father was an engineer?” No, it was not a saintly voice.

A saintly friend texted me the address to the closest Costco, so after the Officer changed our tire, he dismissed us.  God bless him and his family.

Taking off at thirty miles an hour, we got off the highway as quickly as we could.  The officer was just behind us.  “I’m sure he is making sure we actually get off the road safely,” one of the saintly brothers mentioned.  Soon, the officer passed us and proceeded to pull over a car for running a red light.

“I’m sure he is happy to get some real cop work done,” another mentioned.

The_Lonely_Mountain-The_Desolation_of_Smaug_Wallpaper

Lo! The Adventure continues!

Our unintended Costco trip was quick enough.  All things counting, an hour at Costco for a changed pair of tires?  Not bad.

But lo…our trip into the Lonely Mountain north of Petaluma still loomed dark as black in front of us.  And Brother Sun was shying into sleep.

We blog onto next week for part two.

 

Holy Father Dominic, pray for us!

Our Pastor’s Corner, December 7, 2014, Second Sunday of Advent

 Jesus said to his disciples: “Be watchful!” Consider how much of the day is simply waiting. We wait in a daily snarl of traffic, we linger at queue for the restroom, and we take a number at the deli. In many offices there are rooms dedicated to waiting. Whether we go to the doctor’s, to the DMV, or to our favorite restaurant, we often find our lives on pause. In fact, researchers say we spend years of our lives doing nothing more than waiting. By one estimate, Americans collectively spend 37 billion hours a year waiting in some sort of line. Over a lifetime, the average person will spend three full years waiting. Waiting is the story of our lives.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt’s no wonder that our response to all this hanging around is to look for creative ways to avoid it. We make reservations, make use of the carpool lane, and shop online. Speeding up the process, employing a more efficient way, discovering a shortcut: such are the virtues of a good business practice. No one enjoys waiting, and when we find a way around it, we jump at it.

This weekend we celebrate the 2nd Sunday of Advent, the season of waiting. As a culture, we don’t easily recognize the virtue of Advent is waiting. Culturally, it is already Christmas. Trees have been trimmed, eggnog stocks the shelves and 24-hour radio stations churn out old familiar Christmas tunes. For many, beginning from Thanksgiving (or even Halloween), we’re now in the midst of the “holiday” season, a time for celebration and festivity.

As wonderful as early Christmas cheer can be, we risk losing out on the power of Advent if we jump too quickly to Christmas celebrations. This can happen in two ways. First, we risk burnout. With all the busyness that accompanies celebration, feasting and song, by the time Christmas actually comes, we are ready to move on and return to the comfort of our normal routine. Last year, while I was taking a walk around the block on December 26, I noticed that the sidewalk was littered with discarded trees. Just as we begin the 12 days of celebrating Christmas, most decorations are ready for the trash heap. When we jump too quickly to celebrate, we can lose the joy of the celebration when it arrives.

0e1407027_waiting-series-graphicSecond, if we skip the waiting of Advent, we miss the spiritual power of the season. Because the waiting of Advent is not simply the sort of waiting one does in traffic or the supermarket. Rather, the waiting of Advent is a time of joyful preparation. I was reflecting on this sense of preparation on Thanksgiving, as we celebrated a meal here in the Priory. There was lots of activity for the meal: we set the table, folded the napkins (some more successfully than others!) and pitched in to help with food preparation. Though we were busy with activity, there was a delight in being together, enjoying each other’s company and engaging in brotherly banter. After all the hustle and bustle, once dinnertime arrived, we were ready to eat. The joy of the Thanksgiving celebration was not simply the meal, but all the preparation that went into the meal. The meal was the culmination of all that had gone before. In other words, the journey is part of the destination itself.

Two practical resources are helping me prepare for Christmas: blue Advent books and daily reflections published by Fr. Robert Barron. First, I appreciated the first reflection in the blue book which invited us to make an Advent plan that is both personal and practical. Since many parishioners are using the book, perhaps we might share our Advent plan with someone who can encourage us in our spiritual goals for this season. When we spend six-minutes a day with the Lord, we open ourselves us to His direction in our lives. If you didn’t get an Advent book, drop by the office and pick one up. Second, I have been enjoying the reflections of Robert Barron. I appreciate getting a short, but often memorable, daily Advent reflection sent to my email box each morning. It’s a good way to start the day before I launch into the busyness of the day. (You can sign up at www.adventreflections.com.) May this season of waiting truly be a time of joyful preparation for Christ’s coming alive in our lives!

~ Fr. Michael Hurley, O.P.

Notes from Advent Spiritual Reboot with Br. Andy

Hello,
You may or may not have heard about the Advent Day of Recollection that is happening today in San Francisco at St. Dominic’s Parish in the Lady Chapel from 9:30am to 12pm. I am leading the day, which I call an Advent Spiritual Reboot. It is meant for people who find their interior lives overwhelmed during Advent and want to refocus on the ultimate aim of Christian existence in this life. If either you were not able to attend today or did attend but to refresh your memory of any of the three talks, below are my notes from all three talks. I hope these help you have a grace-filled Advent Season.
God bless,
Br. Andy Opsahl, O.P.
Residency Student Brother at St. Dominic’s Parish

Talk One:
Back to the Basics of Christian Existence

This first talk is about getting back to the basics of Christian existence in this life. That way everything we do can be done in a state of watchfulness, which is important because Christ could come at any time. The problem is Advent is often not a time of year people experience in a state of watchfulness. During Advent it is common to find ourselves overwhelmed, overstimulated – ultimately dominated by worldly distractions.
What kinds of distractions do we face during Advent? Shopping, driving the kids to special functions or attending them ourselves, planning for parties, baking – you name it. Some of those things may be necessary and some may not, but they’re pretty much all good things, not bad things. What is bad is when we allow them to dominate us. Because when they dominate us, they blur our focus on the ultimate aim of our existence in this life. The more that focus becomes blurred, the more misdirected toward material things of creation our intentionality becomes, rather than what it was made to be directed toward, which was the creator.
The goal of today is to pull the plug on that misdirection in our interior lives. Advent is the beginning of our liturgical year, so it is a time to regain our spiritual bearings and prepare ourselves to approach the rest of the year with our vision nice a clear.
Our tendency to be dominated by worldly distractions has been at the heart of what has been causing humanity so much trouble since the first human sin – the reason we needed Christ to come in the first place.
During the Season of Advent we bring to memory the anticipation of the first coming of Christ experienced by the Israelites as a way of revitalizing our own joyful anticipation of the Second Coming of Christ.
Why is it so important to that we anticipate the second coming of Christ during the lead-up to Christmas?
To get a sense of that, we need to remember why it was so important for the Israelites to anticipate the first coming of Christ.
And to have a sense of that ultimately means remembering how we human beings got on this whole trajectory at the beginning of human history.
In the beginning human beings lived in a state of the perfection of what God created them to be at that point.
They were not deities like God, but they enjoyed the union with God they were made to have in this world while in a state of human perfection, meaning without sin.
Being without sin meant we did everything with an eye genuinely AIMED at placing GOD’S Will above our own.
Glorifying God over ourselves.
Human beings cut themselves off from that perfect union with God by preferring to obey themselves, who were part of creation, rather than obeying God who created them.
Thus began humanity’s tendency to be dominated by worldly distractions from God as the ultimate aim of everything human beings did.
We no longer lived in the perfection of what we had been created to be on this earth. That perfection had been corrupted, and that corruption led to human pain, lust, toil, and ultimately death.
We could not reestablish our union with God under our own power because our once perfect nature had been corrupted. We had blinded ourselves.
We needed God to bring us back into union with him, to reconcile us back to himself. We needed him to do the work for us. Something we got a lesson in repeatedly over the centuries under the Covenant with Moses. The Covenant with Moses was contingent on the Israelites’ ability to keep the law, which they failed to do time and time again. They could not stop turning back toward worldly concerns, worldly distractions as their ultimate aim.
Finally, after centuries of that failure, in the new Covenant God established with King David, God promised to send a Messiah through the line of King David and the Tribe of Judah to reestablish a Godly Kingdom, to reestablish a unity between human beings and God that would last eternally. Unlike the covenant with Moses, this covenant’s ability to last would not be contingent on humanity’s ability to keep it. It would be rooted in God’s ability to keep it.
That covenant is the reason expectation of the first coming of Christ was such a big deal to the Israelites. They were waiting for that unconditional covenant with God to be reestablished by the Messiah that God promised to send them.
When that Messiah arrived, however, many of the Jews he preached to could not recognize him as the Messiah because he preached a kingdom that was not based on worldly things – not based on things like worldly wealth and prestige. For many of those Jews, their eyes were so darkened by that worldly mentality, by an approach to the law that, in practice, was so dominated by exalting creation over the creator, that they were not able to recognize Christ as the Messiah their people had been anticipating. With their darkened, earthly mentalities, the only kind of Messiah that made sense to them was an earthly king who would reestablish the Kingdom of God in a worldly way.
Jesus preached the opposite. Jesus said people must pick up their crosses and die to this world like he did in order to rise with him to the new life of that everlasting kingdom, that renewed everlasting union with God.
That kingdom is something that reaches its fulfillment after we die, at the end of time when Christ comes again to make his final judgment of who will reign with him and who will not.
Scripture tells us that right now Jesus is sitting at the Father’s right hand where all things have been put under his feet. We hold as an article of our faith that he will come again. In the meantime, those of us who have spiritually died and risen with Christ through our baptisms, but remain here in the realm of time – before physical death – are left in a state of what should be joyful anticipation as we await the redemption of our physical bodies.
This time of joyful anticipation does continue amidst challenges. While we wait here in this life, our flesh is still able to lust against the spirit within us, against that renewed union with God that has begun but is awaiting its fulfillment at the end of time. We are left in this waiting period to groan inwardly and work out our salvation with fear and trembling, as Saint Paul teaches.
All of that is why anticipation of the Second Coming of Christ is such a big deal. It is the ultimate aim of Christian existence in this life. And that second coming could not happen without the first coming of Christ, which is why during Advent we also recall anticipation of the first coming and then during Christmas celebrate the fact that it actually happened.
Since the ultimate aim of Christian existence in this life will reach its fulfillment after death, the best way I know of not being dominated by worldly distractions in this life is to spend time contemplating the end of this life. Nothing gives my interior life a nice, clean reboot like meditating on the fact that I am going to die at some point. With every passing moment, I am moving closer and closer to that unavoidable event.
Contemplating death is not easy, and I imagine it becomes more complex, emotionally, the closer we perceive ourselves being to death.
The fact that I am going to die is something for most of my life I have had a mental block to contemplating. I could not think about it for longer than a passing moment.
Why? It was too profound a reality for me to handle, and there was always some nearby distraction to relieve me from thinking about death.
If I went to a funeral or visited someone who was dying in the hospital, afterwards I always needed to watch a funny TV show or turn to some other worldly distraction.
I needed something to blur my perception of that reality that was not going to stop staring me in the face.
Many of us do reach a point where we are more willing to contemplate death. Different factors can lead to that willingness.
For me, it was being in religious life.
Religious life is meant to pull away many of the distractions the world offers. Religious life is also difficult emotionally because you have to live with people who push your buttons – who cross your boundaries, irritate your sensibilities, and enflame your insecurities.
I had to face a lot of those human struggles we all face as a result of sin, of human beings preferring creation to the creator.
If you want to be a healthy religious you need to deal with those issues.
I had to ask, why am I here in the first place? Where is my life headed?
The unavoidable answer to that question in terms of this life was that it was headed toward death.
What is it I believe about what happens after death in terms of what I believe about the source of my existence?
I had to get back to basics.
The more I did that, I started to see contemplation of death as something that freed me from those difficulties.
They didn’t seem like such a big deal when I remembered that the end-game of my existence was after death and those things that were bothering me wouldn’t matter after death.
And so I want to give you some time now to think about death.
It is the key to living a life aimed at the end-game of your existence because death is the closest a person gets to that end-game in this life.

Talk Two:
Making Christ’s Paths Straight

This talk will be about refocusing on Jesus as our path to perfect happiness.
John the Sunday Gospel reading for the second week of Advent, John the Baptist tells us to prepare the way of the Lord, to make straight his paths.
What does it mean to make the Lord’s path straight?
I would say it means to clear the sins we put in Christ’s path as obstacles.
But what is sin?
For the purposes of this talk, I will call sin straying from God’s will, preferring instead our own will.
Ultimately, it is that tendency of human beings to turn away from their creator and redirect their focus on things in creation as their life’s ultimate aim.
The more we do that, the more we blur our sense of focus on the ultimate aim of our lives, which is eternal union with our creator.
How does John the Baptist recommend we remove those obstacles that cloud our vision?
The first steps John the Baptist recommends are to repent and believe in the Gospel.
Repenting is certainly the first step, but keep in mind Advent is about starting out the year in a way that will help us be better so that hopefully we have less to repent of next year.
We Christians know that we tend to turn our focus away from our creator and toward things in creation.
It is easy to do because things in creation are enticing. Many things in creation bring us various types of pleasure. Understandably, many of us associate pleasure with happiness.
Happiness often involves pleasure as a side-product, but happiness for a person in the Catholic tradition comes from that person moving closer and closer to the full actualization of what God made that person to be.
When we reach eternal union with God, the ultimate aim of Christian existence in this life, we will be the full actualization of what God made us to be.
That will be our greatest source of happiness because Heaven is a reality in which our every longing is fully engaged.
In this life, a Christian’s every action should be ordered toward that goal.
Given that the Kingdom of God has been initiated for every person who has died and risen spiritually with Christ through baptism, why do we still sin? As stated in the previous talk, the Kingdom of God will reach its fulfillment at the end of time when we have all left the realm of time.
Scripture tells us that right now Christ is at the right hand of the Father where all things have been put under his feat. He will come, but in the meantime, for those of us who remain here in the realm of time – before physical death – the flesh is still able to lust against the spirit. We still must battle that tendency to prefer things in creation to our creator as the ultimate aim of our lives.
As I have stated in several different ways, when we allow things in creation to drive our focus off of eternal union with God as our ultimate aim in this life, we fall into sin.
Why do we sin when we lose that focus? The answer is that we are walking around with blurry vision. The more blurry that vision becomes, the more sinful our lives become.
We fall into vice.
Let’s look at what the Christian tradition calls the Seven Deadly Vices.
Lust – Allowing sexual passions to stay from how God ordered them.
Gluttony – Over-consumption
Greed – Excessive pursuit of material possessions
Sloth – Slacking off from what we should be
Wrath – Inordinate and uncontrolled feelings of anger
Envy – Sorrow at someone else’s good – wanting it for ourselves and not that person
Pride – Admiring ourselves in a way that leads us to disdain others.
A good moral life, a life consistent with moving toward the full actualization of what God made us to be can involve enjoying many of the good things in creation, but enjoying them well.
What does it mean to enjoy them well?
Enjoying the good things in creation well means not being dominated by them. If they dominate us, they can obstruct us from doing the things we should – the various things we need to do to take care of ourselves and others.
Below is a list of the Seven Heavenly Virtues that the Church sees as corresponding with the Seven Deadly Vices.
Lust – Chastity – Practicing self-control sexually according to our state in life. Keeping custody of our eyes.
Gluttony – Temperance – being able to go without things we enjoy, like food and entertainment media.
Greed – Charity – Love, self-sacrifice.
Sloth – Diligence – Putting in effort to be the best we can be.
Wrath – Patience – Forbearance – being able to endure discomfort inflicted by others so that we are in a place to treat them with mercy.
Envy – Kindness – Learning to delight in someone’s good, not being threatened by it.
Pride – Humility – Nothing thinking less of yourself, thinking of yourself less.
Again, enjoying things in the world well means enjoying them in a way that does not drive us into vice.
The good news about virtue is that it is like a muscle we can develop through exercise. The more we practice virtue, the easier it becomes to act well.
The easier it becomes to act well, the easier it becomes to keep our focus on that ultimate aim of Christian existence in this life.
To be free of the obstacles we put in Christ’s path.
Are you honestly aiming your life at eternal union with God as your greatest source of happiness?
How are you putting obstacles in Christ’s paths?

Talk Three:
Practical Steps to a Vibrant Advent and Christmas

Make this a time of new year’s resolutions for your soul.
Start by looking at those obstacles you tend to put in Christ’s paths
Go to the sacraments – Mass and confession.
Attend Adoration.
Look for opportunities to be generous. Don’t wait for some formally organized charity activity. Ask God to send you someone to help if you don’t see any opportunities immediately in front of you.
Read scripture to learn more about God as part of your pursuit of loving God.
Saint Thomas Aquinas says you cannot love what you do not know.
One day a week, give up something you will miss.
This can function effectively as a reminder not to be dominated by world.
Reminder of that ultimate aim of Christian existence in this life.
Make it a goal to reach the end of the Christmas season not feeling glutted
The entire Christmas Season should feel celebratory.
At the end of Christmas should have a sense of being empowered spiritually to take on the year.
Every time you consume something, especially food, during Advent, ask, “How is this going to affect my goal?”

A Giving Opportunity for Advent

A few weeks ago, Fr. Michael told us of our upcoming retrofit of the main entrance of the Church.  You can review his Pastor’s Corner here. Thank you for helping us make St. Dominic’s a generous and amazing home for so many.

In this Advent Season, I would like to invite you to another opportunity to give to the Church that has given us so much.

st-francis-xavier-iconOne of my favorite causes is the St. Francis Xavier Lay Missionary Society (XLMS for short).  (By the way, December 3rd, today, is Xavier’s feast day – so happy feast!) This society is a group of lay men and women dedicated to promote the Gospel in greater Asia.  So far, they have ministered in parts of China, Hong Kong, and India, with long term goals to serve in Japan and other parts of the Pacific Rim.

What makes XLMS unique is within its very name.  This is a lay organization.  Simply and only.  Stereotypically, when Catholics think of missionaries, we think of priest, sisters, or Protestants. Yet this Society is composed of Catholic lay men and women who promote the Gospel to others through the lens of the lay vocation.  Currently, they focus on forming the Catholic faith of young adults in Asia.

President and founder Tricia Bølle, will visit our community on Sunday, December 7th.  She will visit us at the 9:30, 11:30 and 5:30 Sunday Masses, Coffee Minute and Practical Faith.

According to her, XLMS needs about $180,000 a year to operate at its optimal capacity for the next three years.  As of November 1st, they have around $20,000.  Being a member of the board, I would like to invite you to be a part this mission.  I invite you to give to this cause through your time, treasure and talent.

 

What can you do?

In terms of treasure, beyond the high cost of airfare, the majority of the costs of XLMS are the training of the lay missionaries.  This includes, but is not exclusive to, theological training, spiritual enrichment, housing, transportation, and learning counseling skills, approaches to social justice issues and Asian culture and language.  Within a year, the Society has developed a sophisticated curriculum teaching the theology of mission, spiritual counseling and evangelical skills, thanks to the efforts of the Western Dominican Province. You are invited to give in these ways:

  • India-villageYou can give financially via Paypal on the XLMS site, giving a monthly or one-time gift of $50 or more
  • Donate gas cards for domestic travels, which aids in promoting the Society within the United States
  • Donate frequent flyer miles for international travel for our missionaries
  • Donate Amazon or similar gift cards to purchase books and other materials used for ministry

015 (1)In terms of time, XLMS is in need of an Administrative Assistant. Such a position is very much needed; whether it’s one person who can commit to 10-15 hours/week or 2-3 reliable persons who are willing to give at least 5 hours a week for at least one month to handle administrative tasks of the Society. This enables our missionaries to promote the work of the Society without the hassle of mundane, yet necessary, tasks.

In terms of talent, I invite you to invite Tricia’s talents to parishes here and throughout the country.  When not serving in Asia, Tricia spends much of her time in the United States spreading the news of her initiative and the universal call to mission to Young Adults throughout the West Coast and in other major faith communities, simultaneously inspiring them to live their Catholic faith more intentionally and authentically.  You are encouraged to contact parishes and groups that may aid Tricia to book speaking engagements all over the country.  She has already spoken to our Young Adults twice, and she has been invited to give presentations on a regular basis from now on.  It is beautiful that we have this relationship with Tricia, and we pray for many more of these types of relationships in the near future.

And of course…

…you can always, always, always, pray for vocations.  Surely, we can pray for vocations to the religious life and the Dominicans, and I hope you do.  But join me in this prayer for XLMS:

Lord of All Nations,
We thank you for giving us this opportunity
to proclaim your message of compassion and love to all people.
Bless all missionaries,
called to this unique work of proclaiming your name to foreign lands.
May your Spirit of Providence be with the St. Francis Xavier Lay Missionary Society.
Bring them holy men and women dedicated to spreading your new good news,
the opportunity to do your work and the fortitude and grace to bring your Name to all.
Through Christ our Lord.
Amen. 

For any information about the St. Francis Xavier Lay Missionary Society, you are invited to contact Tricia directly at: tricia@laymissionary.org and “like” of Society on Facebook here.

St. Francis Xavier, pray for us!

Holy Father Dominic, pray for us!