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

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.

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!

Our Pastor’s Corner, November 30, 2014, First Sunday of Advent

Jesus said to his disciples: “Be watchful! Be alert! You do not know when the time will come. It is like a man traveling abroad. He leaves home and places his servants in charge, each with his own work, and orders the gatekeeper to be on the watch. Watch, therefore; you do not know when the Lord of the house is coming, whether in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or in the morning. May he not come suddenly and find you sleeping. What I say to you, I say to all, ‘Watch!’ ” (Mk 13:33-36)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWelcome to the season of great expectations. This Thanksgiving weekend, it is estimated that 141 million people will do some form of holiday shopping. From Black Friday to Cyber Monday, many stores are enticing consumers with the expectation of finding the latest gadget at discount prices. In some places, long lines are formed around retailers eagerly awaiting their opening in anticipation of finding value bargains. Last year, I recall seeing an interview with a young man who was the last one to purchase the newest technology before it sold out. The joy that radiated from his face glowed as he described his adventure to procure his treasure, and how he resisted offers to sell it at double the price. He arrived early, kept his focus and rejoiced in his success.

advent-candlesThe season of Advent is also a time of great expectation. When we think about Advent expectations, we instinctively consider the historical nativity of the Word made flesh in a cave at Bethlehem. However, the expectation of Advent is twofold.  First, we anticipate the parousia (Greek for “advent”), the second coming of Christ in glory to judge the world. In the Gospel, Jesus says, “Be watchful! Be alert! You do not know when the time will come.” (Mk 13:33-36) Jesus’ admonition to be alert to his second coming is the basis of our belief in Him as our King and the foundation of our Advent joy.

Second, between the historical and future comings, there is the preparing for the coming of Christ in our minds and hearts in a personal way. In the first reading, Isaiah prophesies the advent of the promised Messiah. This promise shaped (and continues to shape) the core of the Jewish faith: God’s promise of a Redeemer directs and focuses all Jewish worship, ritual and covenant. This is why the Old Testament (or Hebrew Scriptures) is still relevant for us as Catholics. Just as Moses and the prophets yearned to see the day of the Messiah, so too, we eagerly wait for the coming of Christ both now and in the future. By looking to the heroes and saints of the past, we learn how to live in the present and prepare for the future. This expectation opens our hearts to receive the gifts God has for us. For this reason, Isaiah says, “No ear has ever heard, no eye ever seen, any God but you doing such deeds for those who wait for him.” (Is 64:3)

Open-HandsAs we begin our Advent journey together, we are invited to consider our expectations. If we’re not expecting Christ to come to us this season, chances are we’ll miss out on His presence in the midst of the hustle and bustle of these holidays. One practical way to cultivate a sense of Advent expectation is to make use of the Advent booklets that we offer here at St. Dominic’s. By taking six minutes a day in prayerful reflection, our hearts and minds are open and ready to receive the gift of Christ’s presence in our lives. May this Advent season be a time of great expectation as Christ comes to birth in our lives.


~ Fr. Michael Hurley, O.P.


How to keep a Good Advent

simonberryFrom Simon Berry


How to keep a Good Advent

Try to put the brakes on the commercial Christmas Machine without being The Grinch.

Keep an Advent Wreath at home, lighting at meals during the season.

Start decorating with a Crèche.  Keep the manger empty;  put the figures in various places in your home and gradually move advent-candlesthem closer.  The Shepherds and sheep first, followed by Mary and Joseph on December 24 and finally the Wise Men (not before The Epiphany!

If you have a Christmas tree early in the season, try to hold off on decorations.  Then add Advent colors first (purple and blue); add other colors after December 20 and the lights on December 24.

Allow each member of the family some time for quiet reflection.

Surreptitious gift buying is a great way to acknowledge that Christmas is coming;  especially if the gifts are hidden away till as late as possible.

Giving to those in need is the perfect way of remembering the humble birth of Our Lord.  Donate food to a food pantry or to those in need.  Remember our Giving Tree which helps so many families.

By slowing down our celebrations we allow time for them to have real meaning.

Lessons & Carols, Sunday November 30, 7:30 pm



Guest post: Simon C. Berry


Dear Friends:

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

burning_candles_in_church_209033This service begins with a candlelight procession.

The Schola Cantorum will sing motets by the living composers James MacMillan, and former Music Director, David Schofield (Creator of the Stars of Light) by Praetorius and Mendelssohn.   Also included for meditation and prayer are organ chorale preludes by Bach and Brahms.

The great Advent hymns – O Come O Come Emmanuel; Let all Mortal flesh Keep Silence; On Jordan’s Bemmauelank; Savior of the Nations, Come, are also included for everyone to sing.

Our lectors will read the seven traditional Lessons from scriptures of the Prophets, St. Paul and Mark.

We hope to see you at this beautiful service that helps usher us in to the seasons of Advent and Christmas.

Our Pastor’s Corner, November 23, 2014, Jesus Christ, King of the Universe

 Jesus said to his disciples: “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit upon his glorious throne, and all the nations will be assembled before him. And he will separate them one from another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will place the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. Then the king will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him and say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?’ And the king will say to them in reply, ‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of the least brothers of mine, you did for me.’ (Matt 25:31-41)

Christ_in_GloryThe Christ in Glory window is one of the signature features of St. Dominic’s Church. On a bright sunny day, the window radiates with rich red and yellow hues announcing the belief that we profess every Sunday: “he will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead.” Our magnificent window shines in continuity with the early Church tradition that sees the prospect of Christ’s return in glory as the decisive moment of our life. In fact, it became customary to depict the Lord returning as a king at the east end of the Church so that, as the faithful left the Church, they might carry this image with them as they went out to resume their daily routine. From the writings of St. Peter and St. Paul, the anticipation of Christ’s return as King has influenced Christians in their daily living as a criterion by which to order their present life, as a summons to their conscience, and at the same time as hope in God’s justice. On this last Sunday of the liturgical year, we celebrate Christ as King in order to remind ourselves that, in the end, we will all come face to face with Christ to give an account of our lives.

Reflecting on the end of the world, particularly the idea of the Final Judgment, often evokes frightening images of terror and fear. Yet, the Gospel we hear this weekend offers us a heartening, if challenging, perspective of Judgment. Christ the King will judge our lives not based simply on our good or bad intentions, but upon what we did for the least among us. By identifying himself with the poor and needy, Christ the King gives us clear direction for our lives. To the extent that we live lives simply for ourselves and to meet our needs, our hearts will be closed to God’s love and Judgment will be a fearful moment. On the other hand, to the extent that we open our hearts to give to those in need, Judgment is the ultimate moment of hope, for this is the moment we inherit the eternal kingdom prepared for us.

Here at St. Dominic’s, I am edified by all the ways that we reach out to Christ in the least among us. This year through our Community Services, lead by our beloved Sister Anne, we will provide a Thanksgiving meal and groceries for 260 families. Many thanks to all who helped this become a reality. From the grocery bags donated by Trader Joes, Cal Mart and Mollie Stone to the food donations given by Safeway Marina and La Boulange, we are grateful for the local business which extend a helping hand. Also, a great big thank you to David Joy and Thanksgiving Once-a-Month. Finally, to all those parishioners who donated food during our Food Drive, to those who helped organize and gave their time so that those in need might have a brighter Thanksgiving, may Christ our King dwell in our hearts and give us the joy of his presence!

~ Fr. Michael Hurley, O.P.

A Preacher’s Life – Priory Room Blessings

photoOn November 8th, the Commemoration of All Souls of the Order of Preachers, the Priory of Saint Dominic held a room blessing ceremony for the entire house.  Thanks to the Novitiate, every year, the house is a new community.  Thus, this year, we held a room blessings for each of our rooms.

It was a beautiful event.  We started with Adoration, a bit of preaching, and then the blessings, then Night Prayer.

Fr Steve, our prior, gave a beautiful homily about our common life and the history of the house.  The one point that rang true to me was the fact that good, holy men have inhabited this house since 1873.  “One of your rooms was my room when I was first assigned here as a parochial vicar here at St Dominic’s,” he said.  “One of your rooms was Fr Isaiah’s, Fr Emmanuel’s, those guys who are at the House of Studies right now.  Imagine the men who prayed and studied and discerned the vocation in which you are discerning.”

I remember being a novice.  Staring down at the “Jesus is Lord” Church across the street from the Priory.  So many times that year, I would be brushing my teeth, overlooking that little Church, wondering, “How in the world am I going to do this Dominican thing?”  How am I going to last the novitiate year?  Fulfill this calling?  Be a Dominican?  Dream the grand dream?

Am I ready for this?  I am the youngest of the class, I would say to myself.  What am I doing here?  Can’t I just get a job, and, y’know…live a life before I give my life away?

Yet here we have eight young yahoos wearing the habit of the Order of Preachers, these men who, like me (not too long ago) wondering and praying the same things that I have.


Novices leading the procession into the Novitiate Wing for the room blessings

Chanting the Salve Regina, we processed from the main Church and into the Priory, with Fr Steve at the end, hoisting the Savior in the Monstrance.   Starting on the third floor, we entered the Novitiate wing.  Each novice wrote a prayer for their room, calling to mind God’s mercy and love for them.  Each invoked their patron saints and asked God to give clarity to their vocation and discernment through the Novice Year.  Then we would have a common prayer, then the Prior would bless the room with the Monstrance.  We did this for all of the bedrooms.  We did this for the offices and refectory as well, but with a lot less panache.

Room blessings

Room blessings

Now, think of this.  We did this nineteen times.  The room blessing lasted a really long time.  But we weren’t even done yet.

After the refectory, we gently processed upstairs and back into the Church, where we held Compline in common…a natural thing for Dominicans.  Praying the simplest and most elegant prayer that we can, ending a night overflowing with blessings.

Days later, I’m still thinking of my Prior preached.  Who were the men that had lived, prayed, and slept in my room.  Who were the men that clashed spiritual swords with the Lord of Lies?  Who else sat in my cell, praying about homilies, about couples that they are preparing for marriage, thinking about recent confessions and people whom they have anointed and sent to our Heavenly Paradise?  …what of them?

November is the month in which we remember who have gone before us, those men and women of Christian example.  Those brothers and sisters still in need of our prayers.  Let us remember those before us, so that we can, one day, see them face to face.

Holy Father Dominic, pray for us!

Our Pastor’s Corner, November 16, 2014, Thirty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time

Jesus told his disciples this parable: “A man going on a journey called in his stewards and 110914_FrMichael_pastors_corner_adjustentrusted his possessions to them. To one he gave five talents; to another, two; to a third, one–to each according to his ability. Then he went away. After a long time the master of those stewards came back and settled accounts with them. The one who had received five talents came forward bringing the additional five. He said, ‘Master, you gave me five talents. See, I have made five more.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, my good and faithful servant. Since you were faithful in small matters, I will give you great responsibilities. Come, share your master’s joy.’” (Matthew 25:14-15, 19-21)

Stewardship is an idea we instinctively associate with financial giving. Growing up Catholic, whenever the pastor would bring up stewardship, it was in reference to some financial appeal or project that needed monetary support. Yet, if we examine the Scriptures, we see that stewardship is more than just a principle for financial giving. In fact, in our Gospel this weekend, Jesus’ parable of the talents reveals the spiritual foundation of stewardship. In reflecting on this passage, three aspects of stewardship emerge.

First, stewardship reminds us that everything we have is a gift. A man going on a journey called in his servants and entrusted his possessions to them. Cultivating the virtue of stewardship means that we recognize and appreciate that God has gifted us generously. Sometimes, we do not consider the ways that God has blessed us, or do not fully appreciate the gifts and talents we’ve been given. When I was in Catholic school, I remember being taught, “Don’t let a day go by without counting your blessings.” This simple advice has been very helpful as a healthy spiritual practice. Naming our talents and blessings opens our heart to the power of God who gifts us. Appreciating the gift connects us to the giver.

giftSecond, we have a responsibility to cultivate and develop the gifts we’ve been given. Consider that in the parable, the master does not micromanage his stewards, but simple gives them the freedom to invest their talents wisely. When God gifts us, He does not compel or force us to use them responsibly. Rather, he entrusts them to us in the hope that we develop them for the good of others. Notice also that the Master in the parable is patient; he does not demand an accounting right away, but gives ample time to his stewards. After a long time the master of those stewards came back and settled accounts with them. God’s patience is one of the primary gifts we’ve been given. Though we can often fail to use the gifts we been given or are focused on the five talents of our neighbor instead of the two we’ve been given, God never fails to give us ample opportunity to grow in virtue and charity. The unfaithful steward fails not because he loses the talent, but because he buries it. God doesn’t give up on us if we fail, but we fail if we stop striving to use and share the gifts we’ve been given.

Third, stewardship activates the joy of generosity. When the faithful stewards offer their increased talents back to the Master, they are eager to give back what they’ve been given. We too are called not simply to grow in virtue as if we’re engaged in a private spiritual exercise, but to share what we’ve been given with others. If we are growing in virtue, it should be a blessing to others as well. A sign of this is joy. Upon receiving the steward’s talents the Master invites them to come, share your master’s joy. If we are in any doubt as to how or where we are called to use our gifts, we might ask “where do we find joy?” For wherever there is joy, we can be sure that God’s gifts are alive. We are called this weekend to be faithful stewards, to receive God’s gifts, to develop them patiently, and to share them with joy!

~ Fr. Michael Hurley, O.P.

A Preacher’s Life – Entrance Day

entrance-picOn All Saints Day, I was part of an entourage of friends and Dominicans witnessing something a long time coming.  My good friend, Tara Clemens, fulfilled her 4-year goal of paying back her student loans so that she can finally answer Jesus’ call to be his bride.  At the time of this writing, she is a postulant at the Dominican Monastery of Corpus Christi in Menlo Park, CA.  I was so joyful and proud to be part of her life at that moment.

(You can read about Tara’s excitement about her last day outside the cloister by reading her blog.)

What annoys me sometimes about the friars is that we are so guyish about things.  Now, when we enter the friars, we simply ring the doorbell, and Fr. Anthony, our novice master, greets us tells us where our novice cell is.  And that’s basically it.  No trumpets of grandeur.  No incense.  No letters from the Holy See or from our International Headquarters at Santa Sabina.  No, just a “Hey, what’s up?” and a “Your room’s over there.”  And most likely, a cup of coffee or tea for mom…I think.

But no, with the sisters, our dearest contemplative nuns, they know how to welcome the newest into the community.

And it’s for a good reason.  With the friars, the world will see us again, granting, in a very different context.  (And besides, our big entrance hoopla is Vestition.)  But Corpus Christi is a monastery—cloistered. Dying to the world.  Disappearing from Facebook and Twitter and blogs and television and radio. A life exclusively devoted to adoring God and praying for poor shmucks like me and you.  Spending their lives in fasting, praying, studying the Word of God, contemplating Him in the Blessed Sacrament, kneeling while praying the rosary, living in a community of fellow sisters, all focused on the contemplation and the salvation of the world.  Praying for us friars and our preaching, and devoting their lives as a holocaust to the Father.

In comparison, my life is rather dull.

So what is entrance like?  What did Tara experience when she actually, and physically, entered the Cloister?

Tara (right) in the parlor with some of the Dominican Nuns (Waaaay before her entrance day)

Tara (right) in the parlor with some of the Dominican Nuns (Waaaay before her entrance day)

There is a large parlor in the monastery where we friends gathered on one side, and the nuns on the other.  Tara was dressed in a white button up shirt, a black belt, long skirt, and simple black shoes.  We sing a hymn, then a short prayer over Tara.  Then we follow Tara over to the cloister door, a large wooden door that has a Gondorian feel, heavy and ancient.  The door opens and the prioress says to Tara, “Welcome, Tara, to your new life.”

Tara enters and she embraces the prioress, novice mistress and some other nuns.

Then she is given a black vest and a short, white veil.  As the door closes we hear the nuns chanting Psalm 122,

I rejoiced when I heard them say
’let us go to God’s house’
and now our feet are standing
within your gates, O Jerusalem.

Indeed, for Tara, we do rejoice because we enter into the heart of the heart of the Church, into that New Jerusalem, a place where we are called to contemplate the face of God and be glad that He has called her His own.

Her entourage then arrive to the chapel and meet the nuns.

The prioress says, “Dear Sister, today in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament as you enter the cloister, we present you with the Rosary of Our Lady.  May Jesus in the Eucharist, Mary our Mother, and Dominic our Father, be your present companions and guides in the life journey you now begun.”

With Tara in front of her friends and sisters, she is called Sister Tara, and given the 15-decade rosary of the Order.

The final prayer of blessings is thus.  I invite you all to pray this with me:

Lord God,
we ask you blessing on Sister Tara as she begins a new way of life in your service in this monastery.  Give her peace and courage and joy in her vocation.
We also ask you abundant blessings on her dear family.
Lord, prosper them with all the graces they need for a full and happy life on this earth and eternal union with you in Heaven.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
One God, forever and ever.

After this prayer, Sister Tara gives the sign of peace to the nuns, and then, to us.  I and another Dominican priest bestowed a blessing upon her after a quick “Welcome home” and hug.

As I blessed her, these words escaped my mouth,
“May the Spirit of Blessing and Wisdom come down upon you.
May you be an instrument of God’s love, compassion and peace.
May Almighty God bless you, Father, Son and Holy Spirit..”

Now, I’ve known Sister Tara since 2009 when I was a deacon in Anchorage.  I was privileged to be with her as she worked hard at defeating her student loans, the one obstacle towards her entrance.  Working with the Labore Society, they helped her raise money and offer development tips in order to allow her to fulfill her vocation.

She is in a new beginning.  There won’t be any random text messages or a Facebook ping.  But a confidence that there is one more nun in the middle of Silicon Valley praying for the sorry soul that writes these words.

Compared to hers, my life is so amazingly boring.

Pray with me for her perseverance and deepening love of God.

(If you would like to like Corpus Christi Monastery on Facebook, go ahead and click here.)

Holy Father Dominic, pray for us!