Sunday, November 24, 2013

12 Years A Slave - A Theological Reflection & Preaching

The movie 12 Years A Slave was recommended by my spiritual director, a wise, learned, and deeply spiritual Dominican Sister, who suggested that I look specifically for the points of grace in the movie. I saw it with a couple of fellow novices, one a Dominican like myself, and the other a Franciscan. The setting of the movie was the time of slavery in the US. It recounts the experience of a free, educated Black man from the North who was kidnapped and sold into slavery in the South. There he endured 12 brutal and degrading years under two different masters, until finally a sympathetic White man took the risk of contacting someone from the North who could vouch for his free status and take him back home to his family.
At one point in the movie I wept so hard that I had to stifle the sound of my cries with my scarf. One of his fellow slaves, driven to complete despair, had begged him to kill her, which he refused to do. She assured him that he would not go to hell for slaying her because it was merciful, and God Himself was merciful, but he remained unconvinced. [SPOILER ALERT! Later on he was forced by the master to beat her with a whip, which he did, because he was placed in a no-win situation.] Then the most difficult moment: lying face-down at a table and screaming in pain while the wounds on her back were being treated, she gazed up at him, her eyes revealing the hideous torment that she carried in her very soul.

In my time in the novitiate, I have come to an acute awareness of something profound and true about myself: that in my heart I carry all the seeds necessary to have become any one of the people in the story, given the right circumstances - the amoral, the despicable, the victimized, the hopeless, the one paralyzed by self-interest, the sympathetic, and the courageous. I think we all do, whether or not we would like to admit it. We are made by God with a vast capacity for both good and evil. And there but for the grace of God are we not led into great temptation, for we are weak and feeble against it. And should evil have knocked at our door and we gave in to it, as it did the torturous slave masters in the story, would we even be aware of it, except to see the result of our actions or inactions looking back at us in the eyes of those we have hurt?
There is a climactic moment too in the Gospel of John, which helps me to hold both the reality of the cruelty that we are capable of and God’s immutable and immeasurable love. In John 17, Jesus prays to God out loud, right before He willingly enters into His Passion. He prays on behalf of His followers for God to protect them in the Name He had given them, to consecrate them in truth, and to protect them from the evil one, so that they may be gathered and united in the love that God has had for Jesus since before the foundation of the world. For me, Jesus’ mission and vision statements are contained in this prayer. Love is hard, but choose it anyway; the point is for everyone to grow in love.

In the story, God was paradoxically present to the slaves and protecting them in that even while they were being tortured and debased, they did not lose all hope. All of the slaves, as well as those sympathetic to the abolition of slavery, were consecrated and remained steadfast in the truth of their dignity and right to freedom. And yes, it took a long time and many were the casualties, but freedom eventually prevailed. These are the points of grace. No one but God, Who is the source of them, can take them away.
How does this apply to our lives today? Are we able to see the truth of when we oppress and when we are oppressed? Do we look carefully into the eyes of those who are marginalized, find mercy in our hearts, and have the courage to help them and those who seek to overturn the systems that put them in the margins to begin with? Do we speak the truth to our oppressors with courageous, compassionate, and steadfast hearts? Do we participate fully in an arduous love that gathers and unites us as one or do we sit in the sidelines and let injustices continue? In this beautiful world that is at times difficult to live in, can we get in touch with, and live out of, the points of grace in our own lives?...for surely, that is where love comes from.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

To contemplate and share the fruit of contemplation…

Katy touched up a bit on the study in her blog: "The Pillars of life." So, by now, you know that study is one of the Dominican four pillars (if you don’t know, I invite you to read about it to catch up.)

I would like to continue to play with the thought of study and where we go from there.

If one would need to picture a Dominican, what would one do?

If you Google "Dominican" you'll see many pictures, first maps of the Dominican Republic, but later the religious content comes up, too. Moving away from the black and white colors and the dog with the torch in its mouth, what is it that characterizes a Dominican?

How would you draw a picture that would be common in many Dominicans?
Something common about what St. Dominic did long time ago and what Dominicans do today is, that Dominicans
  • study the Word for personal relationship, knowledge of God and that it might influence the culture,
  • and study the culture of our days.

So, for many, the picture is easy: it would be a person with a Bible (studying the Word of God) in one hand and a newsletter or iPad (studying the culture of our days) in the other hand.

Why study?
The book of Proverbs says that “then you will understand what is right and just, what is fair, every good path; for wisdom will enter your heart, knowledge will be at home in your soul, discretion will watch over you, understanding will guard you…” Proverbs 2:9-11.
In the light of this, I would like to share how Dominicans study.

Study as towel for foot-washing
I heard it once from Sr. Carla Mae Streeter OP, when she was teaching about Dominican spirituality, that study is the towel for foot-washing, so that after studying the intelligence can be used to serve others. Something that really impresses me about Dominicans is that Dominicans don’t just study for earning degrees, or just for personal achievement, but Dominicans study so that the knowledge can be internalized and the intelligence can be used to serve others.

Study isn’t just finding and learning stuff… Study is an on-going formation and bridging God’s Word with the world: studying, then bringing it into prayer, discovering what God has to say about that, then following the movement of the Spirit responding to what’s happening in the world on behalf of God.

Something cool about the novitiate is that we are in St. Louis, where Aquinas Institute ( is. Aquinas is one of the few schools in the U.S. that offer preaching, and it's the only place that offers Doctorate degree in preaching. Even better, it is offered not only to men (seminarians or brothers) but to everyone, including women and lay people as well, so we, Dominican novices, are taking it. We have been learning about the different skills of preaching and also learned how we can best communicate that Word to this culture, how we can bring the Good News to everyone on behalf of God.

The challenge nowadays…
We are auditing classes; therefore, really the grade is only determined by God, so getting good grades at Aquinas is not a challenge… I think the challenge is that generations have changed a lot. We live in the world of technology. In class, we have been learning about different styles of preaching, these two weeks, our focus was on preaching online.

The Internet is used for so many purposes… In terms of preaching, there are many great websites for helping us study and deepen our relationship with God ( ; ; and of course, However, I think there aren’t as many people who have heard about these websites as many know about Facebook. Facebook is a great way to share what’s going on in our life… Part of preaching is giving personal witness. However, Facebook is mainly used for social media in which people stay in contact with each other, share photos and daily happenings, and to get updates from the pages they like. But, what if people would use Facebook to share their faith? Well, religion is a touchy question, and Jesus doesn’t want us to just follow him on Twitter or on Facebook, he literally wants us to follow him…

But still, what if each time we go on Facebook and read an update (on family or happenings on our liked pages) we would face it and study it as a Dominican?
- What catches our attention?
- What is God saying to us with that?
- How can we internalize that information and use that it to serve others?

I think our world would be a better world, if we would study and use every opportunity to serve: offering God’s love to others in everything.

Friday, November 15, 2013

St. Albert the Great

Today we celebrate St. Albert the Great, scientist, theologian, philosopher, Dominican and brother extraordinaire.  He was definitely one of the early founders who helped make the Order of Preachers the force that it is today.

As we reflected on Albert today, we considered what were the qualities that made him the Great and who do we know in our lives today that we would call Great. Greatness is certainly not something that one strives for but rather something that is bestowed because of who one is and who one allows themselves to become. 

So I would invite you this week to look at those in your life today. Who would you name the Great? and why? When you look in the mirror do you see someone great? If not, why not? Aren't we all made in the image and likeness of God who is the greatest of all? This week, let's celebrate our greatness!!

Friday, November 8, 2013

The Pillars of Life...

DLS Panel on Prayer, 9/12/2013.
One of the gifts we receive from participating in the CDN is getting to know the wider Dominican family.  We have ample opportunities to practice hospitality as Dominicans pass through the house, staying for dinner, stopping overnight for a respite, or discussing order values during our Dominican Life Seminar (DLS).

Once a month, our DLS consists of an evening panel on a Dominican topic.  We invite four Dominicans for dinner, evening prayer, and a dessert panel discussion.  Discussions are topical and focused on questions surfaced by the novices.  This semester our topics are the Four Dominican Pillars: Prayer, Community, Study, and Preaching.  I have found these panels a fantastic way to form a relationships with the larger Dominican family and become more familiar with our pillars.

DLS Panel on Study, 11/7/2013

This past Thursday the CDN was graced with the presence of Colleen Mallon, Mary Ann Nelson, Jose Santiago and Martin Taylor for a discussion on Study.  Our conversation helped me think about study in a new way.  One important point that was made focused on the nature of Dominican study.  The Order generally tends to attract a more academic bunch, yet our call is not to gain knowledge for ourselves to build up our ego.  The Order has a rich tradition of “disputatio,” formalized public debates with a structure intended to examine a particular issue.  St. Dominic and his immediate successors were known for this and early Dominican were schooled in the process.  However, study cannot, and should not, be reduced to academic degrees.  Rather, we are called to search out truth (“veritas”) and give to others the fruits of our contemplation (“contemplata aliis tradere").  The foundation of these pursuits is study.  We study the world together: through life, through discussion, as well as through academia. Our call is to be curious, to ask questions, to discuss varying points of view and to learn about new ways of thinking.  I am always thankful for the wisdom and experience Colleen, Mary Ann, Jose and Martin brought to the panel.
DLS Panel on Community, 10/17/2013

And so, as Dominican novices, we continue to study Dominican life.  We strive to deepen our discernment and better understand the commitment we will be making with our vows.

“Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect.”   ~ Romans 12:2