Learning to Study – Pastor’s Reflection (August 30, 2015)
I write to you this week from my family home in Louisville, Kentucky. We are just an hour east from Southern Indiana’s Archabbey of St. Meinrad where I wrote you last week while giving a retreat. I had the privilege of preaching to a group of Student Friars (studying for the Priesthood and Cooperator Brotherhood) and their “Formators” as they began a new academic year. When I give a retreat I go on retreat, because preparing the talks elicits an examination of my own life.
This time I spoke, and listened to myself speak, about Dominican Study, a topic immediate to those in a seminary, but significant at all times to members of the Order of Preachers. Dominican Friars accept study as their principal strenuous endeavor: St. Dominic gave it to us in place of the agricultural labor of the monks. In this he certainly included academic pursuits for those among his followers so inclined and equipped, but at the same time, he meant for all of us to assume study as a part of the “observance” of each day, along with community prayers, meals, and meetings.
Perhaps a discussion of Dominican study will help you understand the Friars assigned to the parish and how we plan to address our current situation.
Study’s high place in Dominic’s plan for our life tells you that Dominican Study demands more than acquiring information for projects and includes more that wrestling with thorny questions of theology and philosophy. The Dominican student approaches a text, most especially a text of Sacred Scripture, with reverence born of faith, for he expects the God who called him to the work of study to meet him there on the page.
Dominican Study demands both intellectual work and spiritual activity. We apply native talents and contribute the work of investigation and rumination, but God supplies the enlightenment that comes from the Holy Spirit. For instance, I can do an exhaustive study of the Birth of Jesus as presented in the Gospels of St. Luke and St. Matthew, and yet when I return to the “page” each Christmas I find something new. My studies are a seed, but God continues to bring in the fruit. While we begin with the Scriptures, we extend our outlook to the whole living theological tradition of the Church, and then to whatever body of knowledge our assignments place in our path. Study of this kind lends transcendent energy to doctoral programs, Sunday sermons, and daily prayer.
Perhaps this makes the Friars of the Order of Preachers a unique haven for bookish men, but God does not let it stop there. He makes our inclination a platform for growth and uses the care we take over texts to teach us how to approach people and situations. This happens first in the intensity of community life, where we realize God has assigned our Brothers to us as a text in flesh and blood. Read them we must; they are utterly familiar and yet they continue to amaze and perplex. Preaching and pastoral work demand that we extend our sacred study of people along an ever-widening radius.
Now we have been given the assignment to form a new parish community and we will respond with study. We will observe and ponder you, your needs for worship and formation, your expectations for preaching and music, your understanding of what it means to be gathered by Christ with this group of people. We will also ask you to study with us; to take up for a time, the pattern of contemplative observation and considered response that will give our parish a true community life. We will read each other and God will give surprising answers.
Look for descriptions of Parish Study to come.
Here are some important changes to study:
We need to name here a man from whose sacred study many people have derived so much prayerful encouragement and comfort. This Sunday Daniel Sañez will play his last round of Masses at St Catherine’s. In his playing, technical proficiency and devotion have come together to nourish a congregation and inform its perception of the Sacred Liturgy. Daniel is a model for all of us who minister in Christ’s name. What a consolation to think that a whole diocese will now relish the beauty we have had all to ourselves.
We also are losing someone who for many years now has been the voice and face of St. Vincent Ferrer’s for many people. Yvonne Scally has been able to take advantage of an early retirement package offered by the Archdiocese. The security Yvonne will gain makes it easier to take the loss of joyful and supportive presence to all of us.
Please pray for Yvonne and Daniel at this time of great change in their lives. Please pray for all our employees who have been going through a very long transition.