Summer brings the joy of the young. Our two Priories of St. Vincent Ferrer and St. Catherine of Siena have together received ten young Friars this season. Their presence encourages us on several levels.
First, they share with us the bright excitement of learners. Their seminary summers figure as part of their training, and ideally they feature a progression of experiences leading up to the final deacon summer before ordination. A typical first summer will mean “direct service.” Some of the Brothers assigned to New York have worked with Mother Theresa’s Sisters, the Missionaries of Charity, in the Bronx. Their second summer might find them working in a hospital. This year three of the Brothers took part in the internship program sponsored by the Dominican Friars Health Care Ministry of New York. Two of the seminarians from St. Joseph’s Seminary in Dunwoodie joined them in this work. Work in hospitals ranks high among formation experiences because it demands that the minister enter into situations that carry emotional significance and defy pat answers. Other summers might be more intellectual in nature. One of the Brothers usually has an internship with the journal, First Things, another works with our Dominican Foundation, and yet another studies Spanish. We hope that these assignments work together to foster well rounded priests or solemnly professed Brothers. Of course the man himself has to put all these pieces together, and that takes time.
The younger Brothers also share our life. Their company enlivens our routine for two months each year, and their singing enhances our worship. We, meanwhile share with them our pattern of Dominican life. I write “our pattern” rather than “the pattern” because each of our houses has the responsibility of structuring a life according to our Rule and Constitutions, but also congruent with its size and circumstances. Each group lives Dominican life. But when 80 men are living it in a seminary setting, it looks and feels quite different from the way seven men live it in a setting with multiple ministerial demands, as is the case at St. Catherine of Siena Priory, where I live. How important it is for the young to have a concrete perception of this truth, so that they can prepare for a lifetime of adaptation.
During these summer months our communities are entrusted with the formation of the young. Such a charge serves to renew our own focus, and our commitment to sustaining a coherent and credible way of life in the situation Providence has handed us.
In a quiet moment I can also perceive a deeper gift of the young Friars to me. Their commitment shows me God at work leading us into a future, and this allows me comfortably to take my own place in the procession of life. When I sit at dinner at St. Catherine’s, at the table with me are Fr. John Farren, and Fr. Joseph Allen who were both part of my training. Also with me is Fr. Jonah Pollack whose formation I oversaw during the year of his Novitiate. There also are Br. Timothy Danaher and Br. Joseph Hagan, whom Fr. Jonah supervises for the summer in the hospitals. Here are four generations of fraternal care that make the Order a living thing. Such continuity manifests to me God’s fidelity in time to the gifts He inaugurated in a founder like St. Dominic. To look at life in this way puts a whole new spin on middle age.
By the time you read this, most of these Friars will have left to visit their families and then to resume the round of their academic life. I will have sent them off with thanks for their great preaching at the Wednesday evening Holy Hour. Passages from the Book of Revelation challenge the most seasoned preacher and they met the task with alacrity. They have also served and read at Mass with serene generosity.
It has been a pleasure indeed to have the diaconal ministry of Br. Edmund McCullough this summer. He has served both in the hospitals and in our two pulpits, and has brought to this process a real confidence and ease.
Remaining with us through August is Fr. John Sica. Newly ordained, Fr. Sica serves in the hospitals and in the parish so that the regulars can get a summer break. His generous and talented presence comes as a blessing in an extraordinary time. Please make Father welcome among us.
Now for us, life gets very quiet. May these weeks give all of us the recollection that is summer’s special offering.
Thinking of becoming Catholic?
Learn more the Catholic faith by participating in the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) at the Parish of St. Vincent Ferrer and St. Catherine of Siena.
Wednesday Evenings from 6:45–7:45
September 7 — Introduction to RCIA
September 21 — Who is God?
September 28 — Who are we?
October 5 — The Holy Trinity
October 12 — The Incarnation of Jesus Christ
(Continues on Wednesdays through Spring 2017)
Email firstname.lastname@example.org or call (212) 744-2080 to set up an appointment with a parish priest, or come to the introductory sessions.
I write these lines from the Archabbey of St. Meinrad in Indiana. The tranquility and solidity of this place anoint tired souls with a singular balm, equal parts heavenly singing and abundant scrambled eggs and bacon. Last evening, I sat on the porch swing in a red roofed gazebo and read a history of Rome as the crickets sang and the sun set, nice and late. Who could ask for more?
An eponymous town flanks the Archabbey, and it has a parish church, also dedicated to Meinrad. On a walk, I happened by and read the Mass and Confession schedule posted outside, and then the distance of miles and culture fell away and I felt right at home. St. Meinrad Parish in St. Meinrad, Indiana had merged with St. Boniface Parish, in Fulda, Indiana, and there I was, reading the combined schedule of their services. Sound familiar? Here, in the German Catholic heartland two groups of clergy and laity had been summoned together. We do not know the details of their story, but we can imagine.
Up the hill, in the Archabbey Church, the monks process to the image of Our Lady of Einsiedeln (their mother house is the millennium-old Swiss Abbey of Maria Einsiedeln), and before her they sing a litany, asking for vocations to their monastic community. St. Meinrad runs a seminary, a retreat house, has charge of parishes, produces art work in several media, and has a casket making enterprise. In my time here I watched the place turn over twice with new groups coming to live the Gospel and escape the ravages of Pokemon Go. No lack of work here! Jesus promises that the harvest is great but that we must beg for laborers to bring it in.
Until harvest time arrives, the Church in the West continues to contract in its visible aspect. Fewer people are coming to Mass, scarcer resources support church activities, and society listens less readily to church pronouncements. As a matter of observable fact, we are losing ground.
So, we can place ourselves on the long list of groups in our nation and in the world who also perceive that they are losing ground. Sit back now and tally up that list, then ask yourself how do people respond to losing their position? The local and international news provides abundant answers to this query. My question to us as members of the Body of Christ is: shall we go and do likewise? What alternative do we have to letting resentment and suspicion shape our view of the world? Will we let violence be our reaction to the secularization of the world? Will we seek out a scape goat upon whose head we can unload our anxieties?
Christ is in fact the Way, the Truth, the Life, and the Alternative. By dying faithfully, he destroyed death. By losing all his ground with integrity, he opened the way to the new ground God was giving. We can testify to him by making shrinkage an occasion for real growth. The God of the Resurrection will not fail to bring forth new and abundant life in the Body of His Son.
The monastic life has always communicated this teaching of Christ in the most eloquent way by placing itself at the social and cultural frontier. The monks of St. Meinrad came to Indiana in 1854 to plant their life and to let it foster the Christian culture of the whole region. They made this journey because the Abbey of Einsiedeln seemed at risk of suppression in the wake of the revolutions of 1848. The Trappists at Gethsemane, not very far away from here, could tell a similar story. Here is the paradox. Monks and nuns labor to build places that endure. Land use, architecture, music and the other arts, and all kinds of industry anchor monastic communities into concrete locales like the Swiss Alps or the Indiana Knobs. Yet all these visible things serve a spiritual life woven of prayer, work, and communal living. It is the life of Christ present in and among real people in real time. Throughout the centuries persecution and war have caused monastic men and women to walk away from the work of generations, carrying with them a life that is not bound by centuries.
The life is what matters, and no despot or mob can take it away, even if they confiscate or destroy its splendid appurtenances.
People visit monasteries like this one not just to admire the art or groove on the chant, they come to hear what monks and nuns have always proclaimed to the wider world, generally without any sermon. Rather, the hospitality of the monastery evangelizes. It says, “This beautiful life you see here, visitor, is also in you. You are drawn to it as to a mirror. ” Monastic life is powerful for its residents and its visitors because it does not talk to them, it forms them, shaping every aspect of their lives.
The world, as it now is, places a demand on our Christianity, that is also an opportunity. Perhaps we can stand before God singing a litany of places: Orlando, St. Paul, Baton Rouge, Dallas, Nice, Istanbul, Yerevan. As we lift up to the Lord these moments where life has been squandered may we ask for the grace to be shaped by faith rather than by the rage bubbling up all around us. Each of us has a choice: to be formed by these images of violence, expressing fear and frustration, or to be formed by the Image of God within. Ultimately the news is showing us the face of despair: we can invite it in and make it ours, or we can become more Christian because Jesus is alive.
Church of St. Vincent Ferrer
869 Lexington Ave
New York, NY 10065
Small things matter. A host is a small thing, but consider what it delivers! Those attending Mass at St. Catherine’s may notice that the host they receive in Holy Communion has become smaller and whiter. We hope that this diminutive host will achieve greater connection, an increase of the spiritual communion of the Church. St. Catherine’s has for decades hosted a singular “unity of the mystical Body of Christ” as its parochial community of clergy, religious and laity has out to the sick and elderly and welcomes to Mass their families, friends, and attending clinicians.
In the year since our merger we have striven through our practice to facilitate God’s work of achieving this communion among souls, of which the Mass stands as the pre-eminent means. The shared liturgical life of our parish, and our neighborhood collaboration with St. John Nepomucene have provided means of becoming more truly the church of Christ, and of allowing the Eucharist to do its work of overcoming barriers.
To serve this mission more completely we are taking a practical step that we hope has mystical consequences. We will foster communion by giving communion at Mass with the same hosts we use for the communion of the patients in our hospitals.
Further, we will establish a link between each Mass at St. Catherine’s and the hospital ministry. At each Mass we will consecrate a fixed amount of hosts exceeding the size of the congregation. The hosts remaining will be placed in the ciborium out of which the priests and ministers take the communion of the sick. Thus every communion call will have a direct link to the worship in the church, and the parishioners receiving communion can perceive their own mission to pray for the sick.
This practice furthers another principle of liturgical worship, namely that at Mass it is preferable that those present receive communion from the bread offered at that Mass. At Mass “sacrifice” and “communion” should be perceptible as two parts of the same action. This enables us to perceive concretely that whatever we offer to God, He gives back to us transformed. As Christ Crucified made His life entirely available to the Father, He returned that magnified in the Resurrection. Here we discover the completely energizing principle of the Christian life. Whatever resource we place at God’s service He uses them to promote the common good and our own good, in ways that surprise and surpass expectations.
The value of this practice leads us to implement it at St. Vincent Ferrer as well. On weekdays we will consecrate a fixed number of hosts, and then work to figure out a plan for consecration at Sunday Mass. More to follow on that.
This letter comes with Kentucky greetings. I am enjoying an overdue visit with my parents.
5–6 pm: Hour of Mercy with Confessions
5 pm: Reflection on St. Mary Magdalene by Sr. Maria Teresa, CFR
5:30 pm: Solemn Vespers
6 pm: Sung Mass with Cantor and Organ
The Church of St. Vincent Ferrer
869 Lexington Ave (at 66th St)
New York, NY 10065
This past weekend brought me a quiet joy that I had not known in a year. I was able, comfortably, to be present at the end of each Mass to greet the people. From my decade of residence in our parish in Cincinnati I observed this to be a fruitful practice, and when I came to St. Vincent’s in 2010, I was happy to embrace it as a discipline that truly grows the Community of the Parish. On Sunday my various journeys between St. Catherine’s and St. Vincent’s netted me three miles of walking, which comes as a welcome side effect.
Our Mass schedule gets the credit for facilitating a higher level of pastoral presence, but the Community of the Parish made implementing this new routine the most gracious of transitions. The Friars, Sisters, staff, and parishioners contributed invaluable insights to this unified structure of our Masses and Confessions. Innumerable parishioners changed their patterns of volunteering to make it work. Finally, many Mass goers accepted, with great patience and generosity, a shift in decades old rhythms of life. I would like to extend to all of you my deepest gratitude.
A community’s patterns of gathering manifest its spiritual life and give expression to its organic unity. To change such things asks a great deal of the group. I know this from my own membership in a religious community. That knowledge helps me realize how generously I have been treated by so many in recent weeks. Again, thank you.
The new schedule also allowed James Wetzel to begin directing the music in both churches. When we reassemble after Labor Day, I will ask James to introduce himself to the parish. In the meantime, I trust that the skill he brings to his work of playing and directing will become evident very quickly. Let me add that in making our new plan of worship a reality, collaborating with him has proven to be a real pleasure. James now faces a daunting task as we prepare for a new choir season in altered circumstances. I hope you will encourage him should you have the chance.
To James we owe fine singing of Michael Maliakel, who has come aboard as our principal cantor. Our expanded emphasis upon the sung “propers” of the Mass showcases his skill at joining clarity to beauty in the rendering of a text. I hope that Michael’s gifts will lift your spirit and nourish your prayer.
With the Liturgy and schedule taking shape it will be time now to look toward other aspects of completing our merger. Updates will follow through the summer.
Today at Sung Mass, the Cantor will begin the Liturgy with these verses from Psalm 47:
Your merciful love, O God, we have received in the midst of your temple. Your praise, O God, like your name, reaches the ends of the earth; your right hand is filled with saving justice.
While he sings it, the priest (and servers) will go to the altar. The text accompanies and comments on the movement. That the Church has paired specific words with a simple gesture discloses the spiritual significance of these few steps.
The Celebrant sums up ritually what everyone has already done factually. Physically and spiritually each of us has gone out of our way, gathered for Eucharist, and thereby approached Christ, whom the altar represents. We may ask our ourselves why we continue to do this. Respectability no longer demands churchgoing, nor is the fear of Hell an incentive that compels most people. What causes me to bring my faith out of the privacy of my room and into the social realm of the Church? Why do I not only pray, but seek out corporate worship?
The Entrance Antiphon (in Latin, Introit) responds to just these questions. As in a mirror the text points out that we come to Mass because we have recognized something and someone. What we have found in the midst of the temple is acceptance, and the One who accepts. Most of us carry a load of mistakes, fears, and perceived inadequacies. It is the sacramental Christ who receives us and un-shoulders us of these things for which we would reject ourselves. We praise God whose love does not reward goodness, but causes it. So often we accuse ourselves, and each other, on the basis of what we do, or fail to do, at the surface. Life’s epidermis provides the shallow roots of our resentments and detractions, it gives the junk-nourishment to our violent deeds and thoughts.
When we draw near to God we come to the one who knows, better than we ourselves, why we do what what we do. He sees through to the muddled heart of things and recognizes as one of His own the Soul who struggles there. God’s “saving justice” consists in His unrelenting acknowledgement of His own handiwork. God’s knowledge never fails to be effective. God knows my soul as it is and as it can be, and His power will not fail to move me from point A toward point B. God’s justice does not overlook my frailty in kindness, but heals it by grace.
To be comprehended so completely incites our response of amazement and gratitude. In the completeness of His love, Christ gives us the Mass as the vehicle for that response. Its readings, prayers, and songs set before us the array of God’s works and help us to see our own lives within that panorama of blessings. Here is the opportunity to perceive ever more deeply that we are valued in a way that economics, romance, and aging do not limit.
From this realization flows the praise that marks the worship of the Church. Essentially, the Scriptures sing the song of God’s free giving and we put these words on our lips more and more as we recognize that our life has its origin in gift and derives its sustenance from gift. In the three “propers” of the Mass, the Entrance, Offertory, and Communion Antiphons, the Scriptures bring their vocabulary of praise into the Mass. The hymns drawn from later sources show how the Church has absorbed the perspective of grace.
Perceiving that already we are recipients of “merciful love” and “saving justice” amounts to a wealth beyond value in a world increasingly short of this kind of security. We rest in the reliability of God’s justice and we have hope in its liberating effect.
Perhaps in this weekend we can apply the teaching of God’s giving ways to the marvelous fact of being Americans. The grace of living at this time, in this place, gives freedom to name in the insecurity that drives this election season and to say how the election season deepens insecurity. The United States gives us the freedom to proclaim that we have a wealth within us that the United States in its best, cannot give.
The same wealth will be ours to share with our fellow Americans as an invitation to see beyond the volatility of markets and governments to the security within the temple of people that Christ is still building.
A Blessed Fourth of July,