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Here we are again at St. Dominic’s feast day, one of my favorite days of the year!  I hope it has been a blessed and joyful one for everybody–especially my fellow Dominicans!

I had the good fortune to attend a very pleasant and educational celebration at the University of Dallas sponsored by the UD Alumni.  Several of my fellow Lay Dominicans were in attendance, and we enjoyed a talk and Q&A with Dr. John Sommerfeldt, Professor Emeritus of History, about St. Dominic and his world and his Order of Preachers.

One thing Dr. Sommerfeldt spoke about was the fact that we really know very little about St. Dominic.  There are some writings and testimonies about him, but they are more hagiographical than biographical.  We have even less that is from and by the saint himself.  It’s rather strange, isn’t it–that the man who founded the Order of Preachers should be such a quiet figure!

And yet, by the fruits of his labor, we know him.  The Order he founded not only outlived the Albigensian heresy it was founded to confront–it has outlived everything since, right up to the present moment.  It is approaching its 800th year!  800 years and an unbroken succession of Christian men and women who joyfully and lovingly call ourselves Dominicans, after our spiritual father.  Many of them have become saints themselves: Albert the Great and Thomas Aquinas… Catherine of Siena and Rose of Lima… Martin de Porres and John Macias… Pope Pius V and Louis de Montfort… these are just a small selection of Dominican saints.

Prayer and preaching were the two foundations of St. Dominic’s life.  Contemporaries said that he always spoke with God or of God.  St. Dominic must also have been a very practical man.  He knew that in order to preach effectively, one must be dedicated to study.  In order to study, one must have things like access to books and a roof over one’s head.  And so, he sent his friars into all the cities of Europe and had them establish Dominican houses close to the newly-flourishing universities, where they studied and not long after began teaching.  These intellectual friars also attracted students and teachers to join the fledgling Order.

But of course, the growth and flourishing and survival of the Order was, and is, and ever will be largely a result of its founder’s prayers and sacrifices–all of the great works he did in secret, during the night.  His life and his mission and his Order were never about him.  He cared more about ensuring the future of the Order.  He wanted it to live long after he was gone.

Even in death, he probably would have been content to work behind the scenes, in ways fully known only to God and himself.  He died on 6 August–the Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord.  He would have been content to have his own feast day eclipsed by a feast of the Lord.  But the Church treasures her quiet light, and so we commemorate him on 8 August.

Pope Benedict spoke of St. Dominic and his deep prayer life in his Wednesday Audience today.  Read about it here.

(Photo: statue of St. Dominic at the priory of Santa Sabina, Rome – by Flickr user Lawrence OP)


Happy feast day to my dear father, St. Dominic!

A blessed day to all my Dominican family and to all.

May the light of Truth, which was his guiding star,

illumine our souls and lead us to our heavenly home.

Many thanks to Jennifer Bitler of Doxology Design for creating my beautiful new custom blog header!  She has been a joy to work with, and her creativity and skill are plain to see.  She really listened to what I wanted, and also gave helpful expert advice.  She was very patient too, and provided many different options and possibilities to choose from.

SO–I highly recommend contacting her if you need a new blog header or any other Web or print design work!  :D

The lady saint in the image is St. Rose of Lima, one of my Lay Dominican sisters.  I was thinking about what kind of image could sum up the essence of being a practicing Catholic, and what came into my head was the very common holy card image of a saint adoring a Crucifix.  Adoring–not shunning–the Crucifix is something at the very heart of authentic Catholicism, and something that sets Catholics apart from many other Christians.  This image of St. Rose captured perfectly the love and devotion of a soul in worship and adoration of our Lord Crucified.

The splendid, majestic background image of St. Peter’s rotunda represents the “overarching” Church to which we each belong.  I wanted to have these images blended together as a way of making the point that there is no division or opposition between the individual’s private worship and personal relationship with Christ, on the one hand, and on the other, what some refer to as the “institutionalized Church.”  They are both part of the Catholic experience.

I threw all these ideas out there, and Jennifer took them and captured them in one beautiful image!  I never could have come up with it on my own.  So again, my gratitude goes to her!

I’ve added links to a couple of new Dominican sites.

The first is Dallas Lay Dominicans, a brand new site for my local Lay Dominican group.  We will hopefully have more content in the future, but it’s off to a good start.  I hope that it may help our group to grow even more!  If you have prayer requests, please feel free to post them to our prayer request page.  The entire community will pray for you!

The other is Preaching Friars, a fairly new site by the student friars of the Central and Southern Provinces of the U.S.  As you can see, we’ve been blessed with a great crop of young friars, and have a promising future.  Among other things, they offer daily Lenten reflections.

Please check them out!

It always delights me when Pope Benedict talks about Dominicans.  This week, he spoke of St. Albert the Great, the Doctor Universalis.  Among other things, he was the professor of St. Thomas Aquinas, and is the Patron Saint of the natural sciences and of scientists… as well as of philosophers and theology students.

This article summarizes the speech: “Albert the Great: No Contrast Between Faith and Science”.  Here is an excerpt:

“Above all, St. Albert shows that there is no opposition between faith and science. … He reminds us that there is friendship between science and faith, and that scientists can, through their vocation to study nature, follow an authentic and absorbing path of sanctity”, said the Holy Father.

“St. Albert the Great opened the door to the complete acceptance of the thought of Aristotle into the philosophy and theology of the Middle Ages, an acceptance that was later definitively elaborated by St. Thomas Aquinas. This acceptance of what we may call pagan or pre-Christian philosophy was an authentic cultural revolution for the time. Yet many Christian thinkers feared Aristotle’s philosophy”, especially as it had been interpreted in such a was as to appear “entire irreconcilable with Christian faith. Thus a dilemma arose: are faith and reason in contrast with one another or not?

“Here lies one of the great merits of St. Albert: he rigorously studied the works of Aristotle, convinced that anything that is truly reasonable is compatible with faith as revealed in Sacred Scripture”, the Pope added.

I wonder how many people realize that we have a Patron Saint of natural sciences and scientists?  Remember this the next time you hear or read somebody claim that the Church is ignorant of and/or hostile toward science.

As I prepare to get back to my religion classes, I find this a powerful reminder from the great St. Vincent Ferrer, OP (1350-1419):

Do you wish to study to your advantage?
Let devotion accompany all your studies.
Consult God more than your books.
Ask Him to make you understand what you read.
Never begin or end your study except by prayer.
Science is a gift of God.
Do not consider it merely the work of your own mind and effort.

“Science is a gift from God”–you wouldn’t hear many people say that today. I, of course, agree completely.

I found this quotation via a little “Prayer of the Day” Vista gadget that I have on my work computer. Every morning, I look forward to seeing what prayer or Saint quotation I will find there. :)

Today we remember a great Dominican Saint, St. Raymond de Peñafort!  St. Raymond was one of the earliest Dominicans, joining the Order in 1222.

He was of great renown as a canon lawyer.  He was enlisted by the pope to codify canon law, and as Master of the Order, he revised the Dominican rule and constitutions.  Not surprisingly, he is a Patron Saint of canon lawyers.

One of his greatest passions, however, was preaching to Jews and Muslims in his native Spain.  He set up schools to teach Christians how to speak Hebrew and Arabic so that they could better communicate with the Jews and Muslims.

Read more about St. Raymond at Godzdogz–including the story behind why he is often pictured standing upon his cloak on top of water!  (Photo by Flickr user Lawrence OP)

Incidentally, earlier today, I was trying to decide which classes I want to take this semester in our diocese’s adult faith formation program.  There are four classes, and they all sound really good: Sacraments, Ecclesiology, Apocalyptic Literature, and Canon Law.  But I must limit myself to taking two classes at a time.  I knew I wanted to take Sacraments, but was very torn when trying to choose among the other three.  Well… when I glanced up at my calendar and saw that today was St. Raymond’s day… I sort of took it as a sign.  So, I’m taking Canon Law!  :D

One of my Lay Dominican sisters gave me this wonderful little bitty book called The Three Conversions in the Spiritual Life by Father Réginald Garrigou-Lagrange, OP.  It’s basically a brief outline of his larger works on the spiritual life.  I highly recommend it!  I find it very easy to read and to understand, but also challenging and inspiring.

I thought I would share a couple of excerpts that have stood out to me and pertain to things I have been pondering lately.

Such are the inexhaustible riches of the spirit that they can be the property of all and yet satisfy the desires of each.  Indeed, only then do we possess a truth completely when we teach it to others, when we make others share our contemplation; only then do we truly love a virtue when we wish others to love it also; only then do we wholly love God when we desire to make him loved by all.  Give money away, or spend it, and it is no longer yours.  But give God to others, and you possess Him more fully for yourself. (pg. 2)

I find this passage to be an excellent reminder of how important it is to evangelize.  To not keep God and our faith hidden away, but to proclaim them joyfully, passionately, and unabashedly.  I know how difficult it can be.  Being an evangelist is not a popular thing in our society.  We don’t want to offend anybody or hurt anybody’s feelings.  We don’t want to be unpopular.  But if we truly love and believe in our Lord and our faith–how can we hide it away and deny it?  How does that make us better people?  How does it serve our fellow man?  How does it testify to the enlightenment and civility of our culture?  How does it give God the honor He deserves?

I’m sorry if my love of God and Church upsets anybody–sorry not because it’s my problem, but because it’s such a shame that there is such immaturity and inability to live harmoniously in this pluralistic society of ours.  Oddly enough, I manage to get by just fine, without throwing any hissy fits, whenever I find myself bombarded by the evangelization efforts of the many different belief systems that exist in this country.  I’m cool with it.  I may argue against some of the ideas, but I have no problem with people expressing them.  I expect the same courtesy in return.

But whether I get that courtesy or not, I must evangelize.  Not only because I’m a Dominican with a special charism of preaching and the motto about sharing with others the fruit of my contemplation.  No, I must evangelize above all because I love God and the faith, because they enrich my entire life and being, and because I have no right not to share them freely with others.  We mustn’t hoard nor waste these riches of the spirit.  We must share them generously and gratuitously, just as God shares Himself with us.  It is the duty of every Catholic, no matter what their state or walk of life.

Here’s another excerpt, from the introduction of the book:

… [We] are apt to forget that the most sublime and most vital truths are precisely elementary truths, deeply studied, prayerfully considered and made the object of supernatural contemplation.

[The footnote here reads:]  The Dialogue of St. Catherine of Siena, which we shall quote often in thesepages, is a case in point.  Read at the age of twenty or twenty-five, it may fail to bring home the doctrine which it expounds, seeming, as it does, to emphasize only elementary truths and making little appeal to the sensibility and the imagination.  But when it is read at a later age, and with a maturer judgment, it is seen that the elementary truths which it contains are expounded in a manner which is very profound and sublime, and at the same time with great sobriety.  (pg. x-xi)

This struck me in the context of a discussion I had with my theologian friend, Mark Armitage, about what theology is all about and what it really means to be a theologian.  (Mark shares some thoughts on the topic here and here.)  I was complaining that today people think that all there is to being a theologian is earning a degree from a school, and that theology is just another academic discipline.  All too often, these paper-based theologians are quick to dismiss all previous theologians–including the Fathers of the Church, the Doctors of the Church, and all the many canonized theologians–because we know so much more now than they did then.  Which I guess you would think if you only regard theology as an academic thing.  But what of the intense spiritual lives of those Saint-theologians?  What about the prayer, the devotion, the meditation, the contemplation, the discipline and obedience, the striving for Truth and personal sanctity?  What about these sources of knowledge and understanding?  If the aim of theology is knowledge of God, how can theology be merely academic?  How can one be a true theologian without a strong interior life?

Mark shared with me Hans Urs Von Balthasar’s distinction between “theology on the knees” and “theology at the desk.”  I think that is a great way of summarizing the difference between many of today’s theologians and those whom they dismiss.  This dismissive attitude also has to do with the academic milieu, in which careers are built upon novelty and innovation.  And it has to do with the general “hermeneutic of rupture” we find almost everywhere these days–it’s simply fashionable to break with the past and with tradition.  Whereas we used to think it good to stand on the shoulders of giants, today it is considered better to slay the giants and be some sort of rebel hero.

Getting back to that little excerpt from Father G-L, I think he makes the point that in order to really grasp the truths of God and our faith, we have to be willing to dwell upon them, to patiently ponder them, and to pray over them, to ask for supernatural guidance and understanding.  We must not look upon even the most elementary truths with arrogance–we must never imagine that we have already exhausted them, or that they are boring and out-dated, or that we are too sophisticated for them.  To do so indicates intellectual and spiritual immaturity, and we will never arrive at those “most sublime and most vital truths.”  Instead, we will go running around with sledgehammers, tearing down those truths in desperate search of the Next Big Thing… which, in reality, will usually be merely the latest re-hashing of some very ancient error.

Instead of going broader in our pursuit of Truth, we need to go deeper.  And we do that by living out our faith and growing more intimate in our relationship with God.  Theology is not just something to study, it is something to live out.

7 October, one of the most significant days in history.

On this day in 1571, near the Greek town of Lepanto, a joint navy of Christian states dealt a crushing defeat to the Turkish navy, preventing an invasion of Europe.  The defeat was so crushing that it was considered miraculous.

The victory was attributed to the intercession of the Virgin Mary, Our Lady of the Rosary, Pope St. Pius V having urged all the Catholics in Europe to pray the Rosary for victory.  Pope St. Pius V was a Dominican, and the Dominicans had long been the special custodians and propagators of the Rosary.  Tradition says that the Rosary was given to St. Dominic by the Blessed Virgin herself, as a special weapon against heresy and other dangers.  The victory at Lepanto reaffirmed the Rosary’s power.  This feast day has also been known as the Feast of the Most Holy Rosary.

Pope St. Pius V also gave Mary the title, Our Lady of Victory, and this is one of the titles under which she is Patroness of the United States, my beloved patria!

So, as a Catholic, as a Dominican, and as an American, this feast day is very special to me!

Our Lady of the Rosary, pray for us!

A kind reader and correspondent of mine, Mark at Joe versus the Volcano, has encouraged me to read the work of the great 19th-20th century Dominican theologian, Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, OP. I’ve slowly and gradually begun to read his The Three Ages of the Interior Life, which is available online.

Well, actually, I’ve only just begun reading the introduction–but have already have found lots to think about! Below is an excerpt from the 2nd section of the intro, called: “The Question of the One Thing Necessary at the Present Time.” (The “one thing necessary”–a phrase Christ uses with Martha and Mary in Luke 10:42–is the interior life, which Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange says “consists in hearing the word of God and living by it”; “the life of the soul with God”).

The “present time” for Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange when he was writing this work was the late 1930s. As we know, Europe was approaching what was to be a horrific catastrophe. However, as I read, I kept thinking to myself, “My goodness, this could have been written this morning!”

This section caught my attention by its talk of “the seriousness of life.”  I’m a pretty serious person.  I think one thing that defines a mature adult human being is a certain awareness and observance of the gravitas of life–and certainly the gravitas of religion and the spiritual life.  I would consider being serious a virtue.  Of course, I’ve also been accused of being a dour, joyless, uptight, crotchety hag.  I’m not sure when that became the definition of “serious.” Is it really so awful to ponder what is most important and deserving of devotion?

Without further ado, here is Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange, with some reflections of mine interspersed.

Without God, the seriousness of life gets out of focus. If religion is no longer a grave matter but something to smile at, then the serious element in life must be sought elsewhere. Some place it, or pretend to place it, in science or in social activity; they devote themselves religiously to the search for scientific truth or to the establishment of justice between classes or peoples. After a while they are forced to perceive that they have ended in fearful disorder and that the relations between individuals and nations become more and more difficult, if not impossible. As St. Augustine and St. Thomas have said, it is evident that the same material goods, as opposed to those of the spirit, cannot at one and the same time belong integrally to several persons. The same house, the same land, cannot simultaneously belong wholly to several men, nor the same territory to several nations. As a result, interests conflict when man feverishly makes these lesser goods his last end.

I think of the modern Church as I’ve found it so often today: entertaining liturgy, no reverence at all, no talk of the Cross of Christ nor of the need for us to carry our own crosses, no talk of sin and repentance, no Confession lines, no whole-hearted devotion.  Replacing all of that tends to be so-called “social justice” activism that is divorced in some way (or in many ways) from Catholic moral teaching and obedience to the Church Magisterium–most often at the expense of unborn children… because what are they going to do, fight back?

I think also of the dreadful insistence on “tolerance” which actually means, “Hey, Catholic Church, you have to tolerate me no matter what I say or do or think or believe or how I define ‘Catholic,’ and if you don’t then I get to scream at you for being a bunch of backward, intolerant bigots.  I mean, how dare you stand up for absolute truth and for your own sense of identity!  And if you even think the word ‘excommunication,’ you’ll only prove yourselves to be medieval fossils.”

Related to the insistence on tolerance are the insistence on relativism and an indifferentism that favors just about everything and everybody except the Church.

The Church is discriminated against in the name of non-discrimination.  The Church is wronged in the name of justice.  And it’s done most often by people within the Church–it is what they have chosen as their serious mission in place of a serious Catholic faith.  Like the material things Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange mentions, the Church as a human, earthly institution, cannot belong to more than one group of persons at the same time.  It either belongs to Catholics, or it belongs to non-Catholics (even if they call themselves Catholics).  Until it belongs either to one or the other, interior strife and chaos run rampant.  There is nothing but division.

It is very ironic that dissenters scoff at the notion of the “institutional Church” (for them, a code phrase for the real, faithful, orthodox Church they despise).  In reality, they are seeking to steal the institution for themselves, to ensconce themselves as the institution, as the face and the voice of the Church on earth.  To once and for all have their definition of “Catholic” win out and be universally accepted.  “God?  Bishops?  Ordained priests?  Pious laypeople?  Who needs them?  We are church. [sic]  Like it or leave.”

One often feels that they have very nearly succeeded today.  “Oh, yes, there are still a few people who blubber over crucifixion, obey the pope, consider abortion the greatest evil ever, hate sex, think only men can be priests, and pray the Rosary.  But they’re just crazy extremists.  Pay them no mind.”

St. Augustine, on the other hand, insists on the fact that the same spiritual goods can belong simultaneously and integrally to all and to each individual in particular. Without doing harm to another, we can fully possess the same truth, the same virtue, the same God. This is why our Lord says to us: “Seek ye therefore first the kingdom of God and His justice; and all these things shall be added unto you.”  Failure to hearken to this lesson, is to work at one’s destruction and to verify once more the words of the Psalmist: “Unless the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it. Unless the Lord keep the city, he watcheth in vain that keepeth it.”

True unity, true justice, true tolerance can only exist where there are shared spiritual goods.  In contrast to the false tolerance mentioned above, the Church embraces a true tolerance based on shared beliefs and absolute truth.  There is a genuine diversity within the Church.  In addition to the various liturgical traditions, there are individual people of all races, nationalities, ages, states in life, political viewpoints, socio-economic status, sexual orientation.  What binds us together as one Church is our belief in and devotion to “the same truth, the same virtue, the same God.”  What unifies us is our common goal of worshiping, knowing, loving, and serving God and seeking the kingdom of God.

This common ground is built into the Catholic Church via Scripture and Sacred Tradition, the Magisterium, and of course the Holy Spirit’s rule and the discipline of infallibility He exerts over our human leaders where the faith and morals of the Church are concerned.  When this spiritual common ground is abandoned and Catholicism is put up for grabs and torn to shreds like a piece of meat by various contenders… when the spiritual common ground ceases to be the most important, most serious part… then we get the chaos described above.

We conclude logically that religion can give an efficacious and truly realistic answer to the great modern problems only if it is a religion that is profoundly lived, not simply a superficial and cheap religion made up of some vocal prayers and some ceremonies in which religious art has more place than true piety. As a matter of fact, no religion that is profoundly lived is without an interior life, without that intimate and frequent conversation which we have not only with ourselves but with God.

What comes to mind here is the sometimes hotly-debated notion of “active participation” in the Mass by the laity.  Some claim that the Ordinary Form of the Latin Rite by its nature engenders active participation, as opposed to the Extraordinary Form, which by its nature stifles active participation.  This claim is only true if “active participation” means exterior actions, such as speaking words and singing songs and shaking hands with your pew-mates.  Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange is saying that such exterior actions by themselves are meaningless, “superficial and cheap.”  They do not by themselves constitute “a religion profoundly lived.”  They may or may not be an indication of a religion profoundly lived.  What constitutes a religion profoundly lived is the interior life.

In my experience, both forms of the Latin Rite can inspire, foster, and deepen the interior life.  Both forms can also stifle it.  The difference lies not so much in the liturgies themselves.  The difference lies chiefly within each and every one of us.  How willing are we to dedicate ourselves body and soul, exteriorly and interiorly, to worshiping God?  That is, how serious are we about worshiping God?  If we worship half-heartedly, lazily, and without seriousness, which liturgy is used at the Mass isn’t going to matter one bit!

This is what it comes down to, dear ones: It comes down to each of us asking ourselves questions.  How seriously do I myself take practicing the Catholic faith?  How seriously do I take God?  How seriously do I take the Mass?  How seriously do I take orthodoxy?  How seriously do I take the institution of the Church?  How seriously do I take the tradition that has been handed down by the Holy Spirit through men?  How seriously do I take unity with my fellow Catholics?

We all take things seriously.  Our souls are driven by meaning, purpose, and importance.  We either take the truly important things seriously (which I think happens only when we take a serious attitude toward life in general), or we take lesser and even foolish things seriously.  Such as flawed notions of tolerance, for example.

Let’s get serious and make the right choices.

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(Image from a painting at St. Catherine of Siena Parish, Metairie, Louisiana)

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