You are reading this letter on the weekend of the New York Marathon, when those who run endure to their limits, and the rest of us stand back in amazement at endurance embodied. The runner gains more than the finish line, for the ability to run stems from a long regimen of training. So we honor the runner’s completion of the course and the discipline that allowed him or her to begin it.
Yesterday (Last Sunday for you) I undertook my own, relatively pale endurance and preached all of our Masses. I got to introduce and hear each of the presentations offered by our Finance Council on how we stand as of the conclusion of our first fiscal year as a united parish. As the 6 pm Mass ended on Sunday evening I found myself elated by the dedication of the Councilors and the attentiveness of each congregation. The whole day spoke to me of the maturity our parish has achieved by sticking with a long regimen of change, some of it in directions they would not choose.
I witnessed this process up-close as the Finance Councilors came together in April and, ably supported by Lee Ann Rubino, worked through the summer to study our financial situation and the history that led to it. They prepared the reports you heard, reviewed the budget for this new fiscal year, selected a money manager for our portfolio, and worked with that company to balance and structure it.
I would like to supplement last weekend’s presentation by mentioning one aspect of that structure. Since the 1980’s the Parish of St. Vincent Ferrer maintained a restricted fund to support maintenance of, and improvements to, the fabric of the church. Pastors drew upon it to replace the roof and to paint and clean the exterior walls. We used it most recently to replace the sidewalk outside the church. This fund remains intact in the newly structured portfolio. We have created a similar fund for the fabric of St. Catherine’s Church. Into it we have placed the portfolio of the Parish of
St. Catherine of Siena. Monies donated to this fund will be used for maintenance of, and improvements to, the fabric of St. Catherine’s Church. We hope that this honors all the effort undertaken by the Friars and people of St. Catherine’s to raise these funds in the first place.
What became palpable to me as the Councilors spoke was that a crucial aspect of our communal life was in place. With this comes relief, gratitude, and the freedom to set other things in place
Alongside the Finance Council stands a number of strong parish organizations and each of these has worked through our years of change with patience and suppleness. We need now to access the experience and insights of these core parishioners. I think we can do this by the way we structure the Pastoral Council. This consultative body serves the Pastor as his “eyes and ears,” as a sounding board, and as a disseminator of information. Through the years of our merger we were served admirably by an interim Pastoral Council which completed it work in June. I have been meeting with parishioners and assembling a new Council. I anticipate that it will be complete and begin its work in January. In addition to providing the helps I mention above, it will serve to structure our range of committees and guilds, so that the social and charitable life of the parish rests on its own firm foundation.
When the Pastoral Council begins to meet the structure of our parish governance will be in place and we can turn our gaze outward with confidence.
I have long felt that the order that emerges has more beauty and endurance than the order which is imposed, and so I have tried to accept the discipline of slow-growing each aspect of our life so that it emerges from a real basis in the life of the parish, and meet a real need in that same life. So I thank you for your patience with the lack of certainty this may entail from time to time.
A popular metaphor compares life to a journey. Phrases that capture the comparison blazon images of daring climbers scaling steep mountain peaks, or ships afloat on the vast expanse of the ocean. The saying that ‘life is a journey’ is the kind of phrase that you might see written at the bottom of posters depicting an exhilarating scene, maybe one of jet plane launching into the open sky. It’s the kind of saying found on pictures that hang in office hallways or doctor’s waiting rooms, taking up filler space on the walls.
The popularity of the metaphor – life and journey – is reinforced by its near universal resonance. Cultures around the globe have embraced the image. “Life is just a journey” was a famous quote of England’s beloved Princess Diana. The title of a popular Chinese TV sitcom translates to English as “A Journey Called Life.” The metaphor is expressed in nearly every language and spread throughout the world.
Obviously, not all journeys take the same path. Few people climb the Himalayas, and sailing is an expensive hobby. Yet, while each life is a unique journey, regardless of the path taken all roads lead to the same spot.
Benjamin Franklin once wrote that “despite appearances that promise permanency, in this world nothing can be certain except death and taxes.” There are loopholes that allow for some avoidance of the latter, but no one escapes the former. Regardless of who you are, your journey comes to an end at the same place.
The early part of November is a time when the Church devotes particular attention to those whose journey has taken them into the next life. The month begins with the Solemnity of All Saints on Wednesday, a holy day of obligation in which we celebrate the lives of the saints, especially those unknown to us and those without a particular feast day on the Church’s calendar. This year, as something of a liturgical prelude to the solemnity, St. Vincent Ferrer will host an All Saints’ Vigil beginning at 7 pm on Tuesday, October 31st. The vigil is not a Mass (and so participation does not satisfy the obligation), but will be an opportunity to hear some of the songs and writings of the saints. The relics of several saints will also be available for veneration.
All Saints’ Day is followed by the Commemoration of All Souls on Thursday, November 2nd. Christian prayer for the souls of the dead has its roots in early Jewish practices recorded in the Old Testament. One of the ways in which the early Church continued the custom was by setting aside a particular day for the purpose of offering prayers for those whose life on this earth has ended, while the journey to heaven goes on.
Our pastor, Fr. Walter, invited me to write the bulletin letter this week in order to highlight a special program that I will be offering immediately after the conclusion of the Commemoration of All Souls’ Day liturgy that begins at 6:30 pm at St. Catherine of Siena on Tuesday, November 2nd. This program, titled “Into the Light,” is designed to be a kind of informational workshop that sheds light on end-of-life planning from a theological, but practical, point of view. The presentation will discuss topics such as funeral planning, advance care directives, senior care and asset management, etc. The discussion will aim to highlight the Church’s guidance in end-of-life care and offer some practical steps toward preparing for the passage from this life to the next. Joining me for parts of the presentation will be an elder and estates law specialist Michael N. Connors from Connors and Sullivan PLLC and Tommy Kritl from John Kritl Funeral Home. The program will begin at 7:30 pm in St. Dominic Hall at St. Catherine of Siena Priory.
The metaphor of life and journey makes little sense without heaven because without heaven, life would lack a destination worthy of our striving in this life. With the prospect of heaven though, death need not be the end; in fact it becomes what we have been aiming for all along. Join us this month as we turn special attention toward preparing ourselves and our loved ones for reaching that heavenly destination.
May we one day, together with our loved ones, be merry together in heaven.
Wishing you all the blessings that I can give,
Fr. Thomas More Garrett, o.p.
I write you these words about ten days before you read them, but from your vantage point surely will remember September’s horrendous parade of natural disasters. As you read this, millions of people across the Caribbean (3.5 million in Puerto Rico) and the Southern United States are starting all over again. Years ago they built homes and businesses from scratch now, with greater effort, they reconstruct them from out of a colossal mess.
Imagine too those impacted directly or indirectly by the shooting in Las Vegas. They too must build again, even though they can never build back what was.
Many of us sense a regression in our domestic and international political conversation. How do we recover the patterns of civility in affairs we once took for granted?
We have three hospitals in our parish and in each of these patients start over all the time: trying to recover capacities like walking, to which they once gave no thought.
Starting over is always harder, and demands an extra discipline and determination. Consider a domestic, personal example. We decide to get ourselves into shape and then illness or work breaks our new patterns of health. Then ours is the drudgery of making up lost ground. First, progress thrills us and gives rise to a hearty, “Hey, look at me.” Recovering carries the weight of disappointment, even embarrassment, at repeated effort. Stealthy temptations circle those who have lost ground and entice them away from the grunt work of regaining it. How many are the ways we can check out at such a point. Lost ground is despair’s fertile soil.
But faith teaches that this barren place of loss also harbors the seed of new life, waiting to be watered by prayer. After loss, what will give us the incentive to live again, or to pray that those we love will choose to live again? Perhaps it is the realization that rebuilding life means more than just gluing the old pieces back together. What we get back will not be the same: either it will be the battered shell of what was lost, or it will be the familiar transformed by new wisdom, new gratitude, and new humility.
Those who have come back from loss through faith tell us the story of grace. They realize in new ways the value of each day, each relationship, and each opportunity.
Tradition assigns to the Apostle, St. Jude Thaddeus patronage of those who find themselves at the bottom of life and who face the temptation not to start over. Our Dominican Shrine of St. Jude annually organizes nine days of common prayer for those seeking a renewal of hope. Such prayers ask for more than the restoration of the past, they seek the new thriving that actually derives profit from the experience of loss.
In these days when so many look to come fully alive again, the Shrine invites you to share your petitions for yourself or others who need to challenge a dead end with God’s gift of hope. Cards for these intentions will be placed at the statues of St. Jude in each church. You can return them to the church offices, or by leaving them in a basket at the shrines or the collection basket, or giving them to a Friar.
We will pray for your intentions during the days of our Novena from October 20 to October 28. The Novena prayers will be said at each of the Masses celebrated in our parish during these days. At two Masses each day there will be sermon preached for those making the Novena. The preached Masses will be at 1 pm at St. Catherine’s and at 6 pm at St. Vincent’s. On Sunday the preached Mass will be at 10 am at St. Catherine’s and 6 pm at St. Vincent’s. Several Friars will be assisting in the preaching of this novena, and each of them will address the of loss and recovery in the life of faith.
Please consider joining this work of prayer.
An Italian cookbook gave me a crucial insight into ministry. The author pointed out that a successful meal features a harmonious succession of flavors and avoids either a discordant multiplicity of tastes or the dominance of one. That insight gets up from the dining table as wisdom for making people comfortable and keeping them engaged.
I have come to see the life of the parish, and each Mass, as a meal at which we would like people to sit down, be comfortable, and engage. What makes for a good diner makes for a true worshipper, delighted in receiving, responsive in thanks and praise, undefended in conversation (with God and with neighbor). Each parish event, and the whole life of the parish community, demands to be crafted as an experience for people, and someone needs to be tasked with viewing it as a whole and keeping its balance, and hence its flavor.
I feel that charge falls to me and I take it very seriously. When I perceive that a Mass has a proper balance of elements nothing rivals my serenity, and when an element breaks the equilibrium I feel like a cook who must serve a dish, knowing there is too much salt in it. At such a moment I taste frustration, even if the guests overlook what lands maladroitly on their palates.
If every dish needs salt and pepper, every liturgy needs information. Since the Parish gathers at Mass, Mass becomes a moment to inform the parish about its life. So we use the bulletin, the announcements, posters, and signs to grab and hold the attention of congregants. But if too much salt ruins a dish, too much information drowns out the other flavors of worship. When we over-tell people about everything, they remember nothing. In my years of pastoring I have erred in both directions. Important events were undersubscribed because people were not told of them, and sometimes people did not come because they had been told too often, in too many media.
So this Sunday we offer a new strategy for conveying information about ourselves, geared to getting the word out and to minimizing verbiage at Mass.
This Sunday we are presenting our first Parish Handbook. We hope it successfully welcomes newcomers to our midst, helps regulars plan their parish year, and invites others into our community. To have an overview of a parish like ours adds a level of understanding and makes for informed participation.
The Handbook pulls a great deal of introductory information out of the Weekly Parish Bulletin. So this will now come to you in a new format that allows more presentation of current happenings. It will also include prayer intentions for the week that will keep you connected to the feasts and concerns of the moment and prepare you for the Sunday ahead.
Because of the comprehensive invitation to prayer in the bulletin, we hope to shorten the petitions we use at Mass.
We think parishioners and regular visitors have become used to taking a worship leaflet as they arrive for Mass. These will now feature on the front cover the information you need for that Mass, such as second collections, Food Sunday, guest preachers, etc. We hope this will shorten pulpit announcements.
These changes come to you courtesy of a sustained collaboration by many parishioners and parish staff. As I say in my introduction to the Handbook, I think this is the most lovely feature of the book and the strategy. I hope you will share my gratitude at the dedication and talent that supports this life we share.
I hope that the handbook and bulletin can become means of evangelization; allowing us to make a healthful and balanced presentation of ourselves. When people read these pages may they recognize that the Gospel is where we get our flavor.
It has been said that we begin to worship when we realize that we have received as gifts what we could never buy, earn, take, or make. Once begun, the life of worship intensifies this very awareness. We begin to recognize the gifts of the elements, then the nurture and beauty that flow from them. I am quick to recognize sun, air, and water as gifts, then I realize that even though I paid for my bread, that loaf has origins in what has been freely bestowed. Next, I realize that you are a gift, for you supply what lacks in me. Most slowly I perceive the gift of my life, not only in general but in particular.
Christian worship, as established by Jesus in his own humanity, has at its roots an intense gratitude for the works of God, and this comes from souls who have received themselves as one of those works. When I accept how the divine artisanship has molded my individuality, then I can be free from the spirit of comparison that stifles so much of our real thriving. Grateful for myself, I come to the Mass as a response of thanksgiving to God’s initiatives and so fulfill the commission given to me in my baptism. This, more than hearing a sermon, or singing a hymn, comprises the essential work of those who attend Mass. This posture is more than prayerful. Grateful people live differently.
If I receive myself as a gift, I give myself as a gift. If I recognize the gift of God in me then I perceive myself as a living surplus. This outlook marks the People of God. If the Eucharist is the food of the Church then self-donation is the strength it nourishes. Christian women and men have cheerfully given their lives away as martyrs, missionaries, and as every kind of religious. They have done the same as Christian spouses, and this same spirit impels many professionals to take less pay and work for the Church. Self-reception and self-donation sets in motion the phalanx of volunteers, without which the life of the Church cannot be imagined, and without which the life of our parish simply is not possible.
In coming days, the parish will present you with opportunities to make a donation of your time, your talent, and your energy. God invites each of us to fulfillment through self-donation, but His call comes to each of us in His time and in His way. The parish needs you to help, but even more it needs you to discern the ways in which you are called to help.
Any self-giving brings us full circle. Having recognized abundance we become part of abundance. I perceive that I live because of gifts more than because of earnings and makings, and that perception impels me to become part of the giftedness of others. As I survey our parish I perceive that it thrives on an array of services it could never pay for, and by that it testifies to the God who has gathered it.
Next Sunday, September 24th, please come with open ears and an open heart to consider what growth God has readied you for.
As summer fades to fall and your children are beginning their new school year, we are finalizing preparations for another exciting year of religious education in St. Vincent Ferrer and St. Catherine of Siena Parish. I have spent the summer participating in additional training for Catechesis of the Good Shepherd (CGS), creating new materials, and planning for our Ignite Middle School Program and new High School Youth group. I’m looking forward to welcoming your children back for another year of learning and growing in our relationships with Christ.
For the upcoming school year, we will once again offer CGS Levels 1, 2, and 3 for children from 3-years-old to 6th grade. Level 1 serves children from 3-years-old through Kindergarten. Level 2 serves 1st through 3rd grades. Level 3 serves 4th through 6th grades. In addition to CGS, we’ll also continue to offer our Graded Program at St. Vincent Ferrer for 4th, 5th, and 6th graders. I will facilitate our CGS sessions, while our familiar and dedicated team of catechists will lead our Graded Program. I will also facilitate the Ignite Middle School Youth Ministry program for 7th and 8th graders and our new High School Youth group. Sessions will begin the week of September 17th and run through the first week of June. The fee for religious education at any level is $250 per child. The Graded Program will be held at St. Vincent Ferrer. CGS, Ignite, and the High School Program will be held at St. Catherine of Siena.
CATECHESIS OF THE GOOD SHEPHERD
CGS was developed by two Catholic laywomen in the 1950’s in Rome, guided by the principles of Dr. Maria
Montessori. CGS religious education materials are based on the Bible, Catholic Liturgy and Sacraments, Tradition, and Church teachings. The program fosters a hands-on, experiential learning environment in which children can grow in their relationship with Christ and His Church. CGS sessions are limited to twelve children each and are held in the Atrium, a sacred space designated for catechetical sessions intended to help children fully engage in their religious
education, to develop their religious potential, and to facilitate their participation in the life of the Church. Preparation for First Confession and First Holy Communion occurs within Level 2. If you’d like more information about CGS, please visit cgsusa.org. If you’d like to visit the Atrium and see a demonstration presentation of CGS materials, please contact me. All are welcome!
4th, 5th, and 6th Graded Program
The graded program is a more traditional religious education program than CGS. This program utilizes textbooks rather than hands-on materials. It is ideal for children who thrive in a more structured learning environment.
Ignite Middle School Youth and High School Youth
Our Ignite Middle School Youth Ministry program serves as continuing religious education, as well as formation for youth who have not yet been confirmed. We cover the Old Testament, the New Testament and Life of Jesus, the Human Person, the Sacraments, Morality, Prayer, Church History and other relevant topics. Students also have social and service opportunities. Our newly formed High School Program will meet every other week and will be centered on fellowship, service, and Bible study.
RELIGIOUS EDUCATION SCHEDULE FOR 2017 – 2018
CGS Level 1 (3-years-old – Kindergarten) – Sundays at 10:00 – 11:15 am (During the 10:00 am Mass),
Thursdays at 3:00 – 4:00 pm
CGS Level 2 (1st grade – 3rd grade) – Sundays at 11:15 AM – 12:45 pm (Following the 10:00 am Mass),
Sundays at 3:30 – 5:00 pm (Preceding the 5:00 pm Mass), Wednesdays at 3:30 – 5:00 pm, Thursdays at 4:00 – 5:30 pm
CGS Level 3 (4th grade – 6th grade) – Sundays at 11:15 AM – 12:45 pm (Following the 10:00 am Mass),
Mondays at 3:30 – 5:00 pm, Wednesdays at 5:00 – 6:30 pm
4th/5th/6th Graded Program (at St. Vincent Ferrer) – Tuesdays at 3:30 – 5:00 pm
Ignite Youth (7th and 8th grades) – Sundays at 5:00 – 6:30 pm, Mondays at 5:00 – 6:30 pm
High School Youth – Every other Tuesday at 5:30 – 7:00 pm
I will be at each one of the Sunday Masses at both of our churches this weekend, September 10th, to say hello and register your children for religious education. Please stop by! If you have any questions or need additional information, please contact me at 212-988-8300, x186 or email@example.com. I’m looking forward to a wonderful year!
Yours in Christ,
Coordinator of Religious Education
On Labor Day we honor laborers everywhere, but we also contemplate our own labor as we resume the ordinary rhythms of life. “Labor” here refers not only to the job we do but to the range of commitments that structure life.Hopefully summer’s reprieve shows us how much “ordinary time” fulfills us, even as it directs our life within a channel of discipline.
Of course, everyone else will be picking up the thread of their routine, and they will be in our face. Up-close living and dealing have returned to elicit a whole range of virtues from us. People make up a huge portion of our labor. Consider that UN week now hovers on the horizon, and naturally we will want to be the face of tolerance amid the traffic congestion and security tension. That week reveals New York City on steroids, and highlights the challenges that make the city very great and very difficult. What a crush of cultures and politics, events and anxieties. These elements combine to disclose a global city, which will provide a fruitful, very timely object of contemplation.
What makes such an assembly possible?
What makes such a city possible?
What makes our routine of life in this city possible?
What is the assiduous practice of tolerance?
But as we come back together over coffee or cocktails, on the corner, at intermission or after mass, we will speak of recent intolerance and we will rehearse that words and actions of hate that have shocked us. Yet if I chronicle the bigotry of another I do not get very far because I lack the ability to make another person become tolerant. What I can do is refuse to let the sights and sounds of intolerance form me. If I become intolerant of those I deem intolerant, then what has happened to me? I face rather the difficult paradox of virtue. As the climate of tolerance weakens I must pledge to become more tolerant, just as my only successful response to the secular age can be to become more Christian.
In my life as a confessor, as a brother in community, as a pastor in a parish, I have discerned that there is a “how” to tolerance. Some lives are not ruled by prejudice, and that freedom has roots in a clear spiritual practice.
First, tolerant people have appropriate self-esteem. The tolerant person accepts his or her own makeup as a coming together of gifts and deficits and so enters freely into the interdependence natural to human living. This positive self-regard means that competition and comparison no longer need be the source of validation. When tolerant people also possess the gift of faith they may also perceive themselves as a work of God, so that their validation lies in the fact of His creative artistry. If I may delight to be myself in all my incompleteness, then I have room in my life to be delighted by your gifts and recognize the ways in which they complete me.
The second prerequisite of tolerance flows from the first. Tolerant people recognize that they live in a personal and collective history, in which time is experienced as a movement. Culture, technology, taste, and social patterns develop with great blessings, but also at great cost. Persons of Faith recognize that in the mystery of the Lord’s Incarnation, God incorporated this aspect of human life into His plan, so that the Church herself develops in history, both happily and painfully. Thus, tolerant people recognize that they live within the movement of time, which belongs to God and is moving toward Him.
Where people grasp this they can transcend the instinct to blame. If I realize that things are in movement I can stop looking for someone to hold responsible when my history, or our history, causes me pain. The gifts of technology amaze me, but they also take me aback with the disruption they cause. I look at all the empty storefronts in our neighborhood and I am saddened by the unfurnished environment they create and I am more saddened by the loss of jobs they betoken. I am seeing the evidence of technological and market forces far beyond us, and yet I would like to find a person or group of persons to blame for changing so much of my world. If change has scrambled the local patterns of life, the political scene shows the same effect writ large.
I see individuals and groups trying to assign personal blame for systemic dislocation. The economic loss and sense of exclusion caused by swift change bring understandable anxiety and frustration. Nevertheless, people searching for a scapegoat are ugly, whether they are a crowd, or an individual manipulating that crowd. My own danger lies in making the scapegoaters, my scapegoats. If all I do is place my anxieties on their heads, I get nowhere. I become ugly, suspicious, and coarse.
Think of the Lord’s Passion. Christ placed himself on the receiving end of scapegoating and refused to look for someone to blame, “Father, forgive them…” He made Himself the scapegoat, so that in the light of His victory, His followers would no longer resort to scapegoating. You and I are equipped by His constant gift of sacraments to pass through great tension and frustration and not take it out on anyone. The Cross of Jesus broke the cycle of human violence because of his fidelity to His God and Himself. He positions us in the world as breakers of the same cycle. The power of the Crucified and Risen Lord now lodges in us so that we might face human complexity in light of our
destination in God.
If our end is real to us, then it will be real to others as we welcome them on the same blessed path.
In early August, the Frassati Fellowship of Young Adults organized a ten-day mission trip to Peru. Fr. Dominic Bump and I served as chaplains for the trip, along with two Franciscan friars and a diocesan priest from New York. Fr. Walter asked me to share with you some of the experiences of the trip.
The main part of the trip was spent in Laderas, a poor suburb outside of Lima, where thousands of people live in makeshift houses. The purpose of our visit was two-fold: to help with the material needs of the people of Laderas by building new homes for families without adequate housing, and to see to their spiritual needs by visiting families, offering house blessings, and giving the opportunity for people to go to confession and receive the sacrament of the anointing of the sick. Each day, most of the thirty young adults worked on the houses under the direction of a local contractor, while the priests were led from house to house under the direction of women from the parish of Laderas. During these visits, the young adults rotated so as to get the experience of visiting the families, while at the same time not overwhelming those we visited with too many people! While several of the priests spoke Spanish fluently, Fr. Dominic and I were able to receive the assistance of members of our group who served as translators, even assisting (under the seal!) with the sacrament of reconciliation.
For me, the visit afforded many opportunities to see the grace of God at work in our chance encounters. At one point, my group climbed to the top of one of the tall hills surrounding the main part of the village to visit a woman who was very sick. For some reason we weren’t able to see her, but on the way up we met a man walking his bicycle up the hill, and he invited us to bless his home. This led to us then being invited to bless a series of other homes on the ridge. It was a reminder that sometimes failing at what we set out to do can lead to other opportunities to do God’s will. On another occasion, I noticed two beautiful cats on a door step, so I stopped to take a picture. While I was doing this, a woman opened the door, either by chance or to see what was going on. This led to us being invited in to do a house blessing. A reminder of the apostolic efficacy of a love of cats!
Some of our home visits revealed a distressing aspect of life in this community. It is characteristic for homes to have at least three generations living together, but unfortunately this is often because the men of the second generation have abandoned their wives or partners. There’s a tragic cycle of infidelity and
abandonment that seems to keep repeating itself. And yet at the same time one could sense joy and faith in the midst of the pain and suffering. It was a reminder for me of the importance of working to encourage growth in the virtues that make healthy and happy families possible.
The trip was also a chance to encounter anew my own Dominican heritage. On August 8, the feast of
St. Dominic, we celebrated Mass in a makeshift chapel on the top of one of the tall hills of Laderas in an open air area illuminated by a few flashlights. I preached, assisted by a translator, about how St. Dominic would climb the mountain of Fanjeaux during the ten years he spent at the first Dominican nuns’ monastery of Prouille in southern France, a mountain of similar dimensions to that which we were on. At the end of the trip, our group had the chance to spend a day in Lima, visiting the shrines of St. Rose of Lima, St. Martin de Porres, and St. Juan Macias, three great 16th century Dominican saints from Lima. Encountering these saints was a wonderful chance to be renewed in the spirit of St. Dominic – now I’ll have a new sense of connection with them when I look at their icons in our Guadalupe triptych at St. Vincent Ferrer!
Yours in Christ,
Fr. Innocent Smith, o.p.
The Holy Preaching: Pondering 150 Years of Dominican Parish Life – Pastor’s Reflection (August 20, 2017)
The Dominican Friars have exercised parish ministry in this area since 1867. We were joined by our Sisters in 1880s and since then primary and secondary education have formed part of the ministry here. As the hospital complex emerged along York Avenue, tending the sick came to be a signature work of the Dominicans. Today, our parish holds two Dominican churches, two communities of Friars, two communities of Sisters, two high schools, and a hospital chaplaincy. It also contains an administrative center for the Order. But what has shaped the whole enterprise over these generations is the common life the Brothers and Sisters share at home.
Today, if you walk into the Church of St. Vincent Ferrer or the Church of St. Catherine of Siena you will find outstanding architecture, and you will find paintings, carvings, and stained glass deployed in beautiful and evangelical ways. But these elements serve a purpose beyond pleasing the eye and informing the mind. The agenda of our churches, and hence of our parish, comes clear in a paradox you can see played out all day long. On the one hand St. Catherine’s and St. Vincent’s are places of great grandeur and they accommodate crowds gathered for solemn worship. On the other hand, someone can walk off the street into either church, for the first time, stand alone in it, and feel instantly at home.
Put simply, the churches preach. They proclaim to you the all-powerful and all-knowing God, and they make you at home with Him. Neither part of this paradox compromises the other. God is awesome, and close enough to sit with for a good cry. Our buildings convey this perception of God to you, because the life of our Order conveys it to us.
By St. Dominic’s design, dating from 1216, the men and women of the Order live an intense life in common. We pray together, and we place our income at the disposal of the Community. We share our working lives in ministry and our leisure hours at the end of the day. We all receive training in a very ancient way of life, and each community shares the task of applying that tradition in our time and place. Most religious orders could claim this list of traits, but St. Dominic added to them the work of study. Every Dominican accepts study as his or her manual labor, and so we should study assiduously even when there is nothing to prepare. Here is the intimacy of the Order; the Dominican, the book, and God. Here we learn to be in awe before Him and to befriend Him at the same time.
This common life, especially study, ordered the environment in which you pray, as it continues to order the preaching you hear on Sunday and the education our students receive on Monday. It gives shape to the way we form the faith of adults and children: it molds the way we steward resources, and collaborate with staff and volunteers.
In the ancient days of our Order, our houses were often referred to as a “Holy Preaching,” not just because the Dominicans gave sermons but because their way of life proclaimed the Gospel to their contemporaries. Our hope is that this parish will preach by what we say and sing, by how we invest our resources, by how we treat our elders and our young, members of long-standing and those who just joined.
If we take this mission seriously then we can set about deepening our own life of faith, and we can present that faith to those who have left its practice, or who know nothing of Christ and His Gospel. The key to all preaching, whether individual or communal, is recognizing that we have wealth to share.
When you think of “prayer,” what comes to mind? I think for most of us prayer consists in asking: asking for help, asking for a favor, asking for forgiveness. We tend to start praying when we reach the borders of our self-sufficiency. I ask for help when I cannot do for myself. We never admit this, but that makes prayer vaguely uncomfortable, like having to ask a relative for a loan because I am overdrawn at the bank. How much more satisfying to look upon my possessions, my body, and even my relationships, and be able to say, “Look what I did.” But the truth of our efforts always runs up against the truth of limits and we are back to prayer, and we are still sheepish in God’s presence. I am praying because I have failed, or someone else has failed, or nature has failed me.
But take a second look; human nature is designed with limits. We live within boundaries of longevity and strength, understanding and communication. So we might ask whether the One who crafted our nature intended us to be uncomfortable within its confines. That Christ assumed this nature testifies to the contrary. His Gospel represents an invitation to embrace it, with all its limitations, as our way to God, and so the Scriptures and the Sacraments intimate a deep transformation of how we see our humanity and our prayer. In the light of faith we come to see our limits not as frustrations but as openings to the personal experience of God’s goodness.
Humanly we know this truth. When I fall in love I recognize someone who supplies for what I like, who complements my own real but limited gifts. God acts in Christ to widen this realization to include the whole of life. So He invites us to befriend the deepest truth of ourselves, and to do this by recognizing how much we have received that we could never have received by toil, ingenuity, or merit. This is not putting us in our place, but helping us see how privileged is our place from the very beginning.
So I ask you: how is your own life shaped by the truth of favor, for favor tells the truth of you and me. If we have received Christ in the Eucharist, then unqualified love has entered the very heart of us as a consolation and liberation, as a summons to change and a gift of understanding. When we “taste and see that the Lord is good,” we remember that Jesus made a banquet of his blood for us in the past, and that we savor it in the present moment as a real pledge of life beyond the limits that now define me.
This perspective grows each time we make a practice of gratitude. Here is the real conscious work of remembering and recognizing. When I set my mind to it I recognize that for all the time I spend with my problems, the deepest truth of me is gift. It has been good to live, and to live as myself. It has been good to share life with those confided to me, and with those to whom I have been confided. I also wonder what my very struggles with handicap and circumstance have taught me about the reality of life.
At the height of summer there is an opportunity for gratitude for the gifts at the foundation of our lives. Its practice will give us the wherewithal to keep growing through another winter.