St. Dominic Priory Retreat

Author: Damian Fandal, O.P.

St. Dominic Priory Retreat

Washington D.C. October 20-26, 1991

by Damian Fandal, O.P.

I. Opening Conference: Semper Reformanda

Why have we spun into decline -- almost into meaninglessness --since the Second Vatican Council? Simply put, it is because we have not taken our vows seriously, or worked sufficiently hard, or prayed with sufficient fervor. And, as well, because we have abandoned the systematic study of theology. Those of us who are older have been dispirited because some of the human traditions which drew us to the Order have disappeared to be replaced by practices which leave us uninspired.

How often do I think of the observances which filled out my days as a simple novice at River Forest (I received the habit in June of 1947), as a student brother at River Forest for three years, and as a solemnly professed student at Dubuque for four! I was a reasonably good student in academic matters (as perhaps Fr. Tom Donlan will agree) during the seven years of my academic formation. I fell in love with theology, thanks to St. Thomas and thanks to my teachers; and so, after the "young dad" year, I went off to Rome to pursue further studies at the Angelicum. All of this ended in 1957, and after serving for one year with Fr. Gilbert Graham as a vocation director, I went to the University of Dallas. Teaching there was a very great joy.

But in 1967, I was transferred to Chicago to work on the Provincial staff. In the Fall of that year, I went with a classmate and a very close friend to South Bend for a Notre Dame game. Driving there, we conversed on many matters. One stands out in memory. "Forget St. Thomas!" he said to me. "We must find new ways to convey the truths of Faith." I was stunned. And the more I reflected on what he said, the more dispirited I became. Altogether too meekly, I told him that he was surely wrong. Even if we had been presented with Aquinas' Summa articulatim with perhaps too great a stress on the article-by-article approach, his theology remains sound, his schema peerless, his balance an eternal wonder. In a later conversation, I told him that if the Dominicans abandon Thomism, their days as an Order of consequence are numbered. He disagreed.

There can be no doubt that many changes which we have wrought in our Order since the General Chapter of 1968 have been wholesome. And there can be no doubt that some changes have been harmful. As with the other great religious orders, of men in the Church -- the Jesuits, especially, but also the Franciscans -- some of our brothers have been doing more harm than good to the faith of religious and of the laity.

Today, I look around at so many congregations of religious women which are rapidly disappearing and I say to myself: "This is taking too long; the quicker they disappear, the quicker will be the Church's strengthening." Well, that's too cavalier, I know, and I need to struggle to overcome that merely human attitude. I have the most profound sympathy for many, many elderly religious women who have seen their tireless, patient efforts over so many years of dedicated service nullified by younger women who first radically altered their congregations and then departed. I know, as many of you must, religious women who no longer have the Faith, who do not practice the simple life to which every religious is called, and who engage in every kind of professional undertaking, often secular works, leaving aside the work to which their congregations were committed. One example suffices. The School Sisters of Notre Dame in their Dallas Province have by design given up as school teachers. A few remain here and there in the schools, but the province has abandoned the Congregation's basic commitment. And so they fade from view, and now ever more rapidly. Most of the congregations of Dominican Sisters are as bad or worse. As these congregations die, the Church loses one of its greatest assets.

Renewal means "another beginning." I do not say a second beginning because the Church has had many renewals. And so has our Order. All of you know as much about that as I, and probably most of you know more. When the majority of you were in the prime of life, the Church broke from many staid attitudes in the sincere dedication to Christ. At first things went badly. To a certain extent, they still do. Why? Frankly, I believe it was because of short-sightedness born of the contemporary insistence on immediate results and personal gratification. Careful reflection was largely absent. Too many intelligent people, abetted by the secular press, leapt on the bandwagon. Every new possibility had to be tried, no matter how silly or how mundane. The voices calling for patience, for obedience to the Holy See, for a profound respect for the sacred and a love of the mysteries of the Faith, were too few. And they were drowned out by the thunder of a hostile, almost pagan press. Well, they say, things must sometimes grow worse before they can become better. You and I have lived through a period of botched attempts at renewal which may prove the truth of that observation.

When I was a kid, a two-reel special was shown at the movies one Sunday afternoon. It was a study of the Holy See. Mind you, this was long before the Age of Ecumenism. And this was in Houston where Catholics were a small, sometimes an oppressed, minority. Pius XII was the recently-elected Pontiff. On long segment of this two-reeler featured the Dominicans. In those years, quite a few of our priests labored in the Vatican, though much of the footage was taken at Santa Sabina. I had already made up my mind that I would try to enter the Dominicans; and so I was thrilled with the footage. I have always known that the Holy See looked to the Dominicans for sanity, balance, sound judgment in matters of Catholic dogma and morals. Our leading thinkers were formed by St. Thomas. In the degree that they pursued a spiritual, prayerful life, and practiced a reverent obedience, our Order needed no other credential. We held the trust of the Holy See.

But in incredible numbers, we succumbed to the contemporary trends; and many of our brothers in the United States, Canada, and Western Europe gave up the priesthood (perhaps in greater number, relatively speaking, than any other Order) and many who have remained have become irrelevant. I haven't looked at the data for a few years, but at the General Chapter of 1983 it was evident that provinces in (England, the Low Countries, Lyons, Germany,. S. Albert's in Bavaria- Austria, Sicily) were all in dire straits. In the United States, we have been slowly declining. And the reason for this decline, while newer religious orders are flourishing, is so obvious. We have given up our stout commitment to the preaching of the doctrine of the Faith; and we have done this because we have ceased to study and to be formed by the theology of Aquinas. In the First World, the mold has been broken, or at least severely fractured. And so our Order holds on, but just barely, sliding ever more into irrelevance.

I am sixty-two years old and I know that the best years of my life are over. Looking back, I remember many things about which I used to argue with other Dominicans because I thought the issues were important (and, alas, too often, because I wanted to be proven correct!). Today, many of those matters are of no concern to me. They are relatively speaking, trivial. But I look to the rock whence I was hewn. I thank Almighty God that I was privileged to study carefully, and to be formed intellectually and spiritually by Dominicans who loved the study of St. Thomas and who were, as a result, outstanding preachers of the Faith. (As an aside, answer this question for yourself: How many Dominicans have you known in years past who were in the Order because of the preachers they heard who were formed in the Thomistic tradition? They were many.) I am sixty-two. But old men dream dreams. I dream -- and I should pray more fervently - that it is not too late for us to return to the careful study of Aquinas and to reclaim within the Church the reputation which should be ours; the reputation, that is to say, of men committed to Truth, acquired through the patient, careful, systematic study of St. Thomas, together with all of the supporting studies, including modern approaches, that can remake us into Defenders of the Faith and True Lights of the World.

Each of us should pray fervently for this gift of God to his Church. If we do, God our Loving Father will answer our prayers.

To St. Dominic, we must address our appeal. To St. Thomas we must humbly pray. And then we shall see the renewal that the Church has called for and that the contemporary Catholic so desperately needs.

II. The Spirit of Obedience

At Providence College, there is a marvelous statue of St. Dominic which was crafted by Thomas McGlynn. Dominic holds a book in his left hand, probably the Gospel of Matthew and certain Epistles of St. Paul. St. Dominic is moving forward and, as Leonard Cochran said in one of his finer poems, Dominic is "poised out of balance with the world. In his beautiful words to St. Dominic, Leonard adds: "You lunge forward, forever falling, never fallen." We do no work in the United States that is more important or more successful than our efforts at Providence College. Which may be why one of the finest images of St. Dominic is beautifully situated on that lovely campus.

I am certain that the reception of Thomas Aquinas into our Order was Dominic's gift -- or God's gift to the Church and to us because of St. Dominic. While it is proper and fitting for us to promote the example of Thomas, our spirit should arise from the example of St. Dominic. In what does that consist?

Nothing stands out in my awareness of St. Dominic more than his reverence for the Holy See. How many trips did he make to Rome to obtain approval of his ideas for the Order which he was founding? He wanted the Order to be a work of the Church, not his work. He wanted his brothers to preach what the Church wanted preached, not merely what and, mostly, he wanted a well-educated group of obedient men, obedient to the Holy See and obedient to their superiors. I have noted with considerable discouragement the decline of these elements in the Dominican psyche. You can name the Dominicans who are, in considerable numbers hostile to the Holy See. You can cite instances of our brothers who proclaim their views with vigor, even though their ideas are in opposition to what the Church teaches. And how many of us are there -- I fear the numbers are uncountable -- who want our superiors to do what we want to do and in the time, place, and manner in which we want.

Once when I was a superior, I made a trip to visit three of my older brothers. At each stop, I intended to ask the Brother to change assignments, even though I know that it is more difficult for an older man to be transferred. In each of those three instances, I was met with an instantaneous, humble obedience. Is this what you want me to do? Yes, it is. Okay, when do you want me to make the change? But on most occasions, I had to deal with men who were disinclined to move, even given a superior's request. Twice, I was able to obtain a priest's agreement to transfer only after a threat to issue a formal precept!

When I was a young priest, I noted that there were members of my Province who were forever being transferred. Some were just too wrapped up in themselves to be of much utility. Some were afflicted with alcoholism in the years before adequate treatment for that illness was available. Some lacked the spirit of that true obedience about which I have been speaking. Some were trying to fulfil assignments which they considered demeaning. All were suffering from human weaknesses, the most glaring of which is in our Order the weakness of -- not to say, the absence of -- sincere obedience.

There can be no doubt that prompt, unhesitating obedience is the tie that binds us. All of your talents, your opportunities, your efforts on behalf of others are of little utility unless you are a man of spontaneous, prompt, positive, even joyful obedience. This is the fundamental value in Dominican Life. Other great, indispensable elements come into play in our lives, without which we are going to be disappointing to others and to ourselves. But none of those indispensable elements will save our Order until each of us recommits himself to obedience.

You know so well that obedience is the only vow which we publicly profess. When many of you took first the simple vow and then the solemn vow of obedience, the ceremonies were austere, puritanically simple. Since the late 1960's, rites have been developed that enhance the ceremonies, especially for solemn vows. But I remember so well the ritual of my solemn profession. Bunny Marr was the Prior at River Forest (for both my simple and my solemn profession). My class attended solemn high mass, at he conclusion of which we donned the cappa and entered the sanctuary. We made the venia, responded to the question, "What do you seek?" with the response, "God s mercy and yours, listened to Bunny's admonition that we were to be "sticks and stones," one by one professed the vow of obedience, received the kiss of peace, and departed. Yes, the rite was austere. And altogether fittingly so!

Through most of my adult life, I have judged that there is a difficult conflict in the fundamentals of Dominican Life. The conflict is easy to resolve for those who are holy. It is most difficult to resolve for those of us who stopped advancing in holiness years ago. But even for us sinners, the conflict is resolved by the proper answer to one question: At whose disposal do I place myself? At my own? Or at the disposition of my superiors? My brothers this is so fundamental that I must emphasize -- never fearing that I will exaggerate the point -- that you and I are solemnly committed to total obedience. And our obedience should be spontaneous, joyful, confident, and undertaken as the most fundamental issue in the following of Christ. "I have not come to do my own will but the will of Him who sent me." "Not my will but your will be done. Father, into your hands I commend my spirit."

The renewal of the Dominican Order begins and ends right here. Can we resurrect the simple, yet profound spirit of obedience which alone binds us together?. Ask yourself now, and ask yourself throughout the remainder of this retreat: Do I place myself without qualification at the disposal -- please note the word carefully -- of my superiors, urging them to do with me what they judge suitable? or have I laid out a plan for my life which I shall pursue, regardless of my superior's judgments or preferences? If in sufficient numbers we answer "yes, I do place myself unreservedly at my superior's direction," then there is hope for our Order and its apostolic mission. If but a few of our brothers respond in the affirmative, we shall continue to dissolve and perhaps to disappear early in the twenty-first century.

Now I know that superiors require practical knowledge if they are to perform their services to us with any success. Accordingly, it is proper for you to tell your superior what your principal interests are and what you believe you are sufficiently talented to achieve. We are not, in fact, "sticks and stones." Of all religious, we should be the most reasonable, as should our superiors. But it surely one thing to inform your superior of your interests and of your inclinations. It is another to presume that you can use your superior to give you what you want. My superior is reasonable, but he is not all-knowing. I tell him what my concerns are, wherein my preferences lie, and what my abilities seem to be. I have never had a superior who wasn't glad to hear from me about such matters. Yet, I know that he has more obligations than he can fulfil, more difficulties in assigning the brethren than in any other area of his responsibilities. I must be quite prompt -- quick, even -- to accept the assignment which he offers me, even if -- especially when -- it seems less trivial to me than some other possibility that I know of.

The Fundamental Constitution of our Order states that "we are incorporated into our Order by profession and consecrated totally to God." Our solemn profession of obedience is, to be sure, a consecration. One who is properly disposed receives at his solemn profession the absolution of every sin and of every penalty owing to sin. It is a moment of second baptism and why? Because our solemn profession a total consecration to God. Ask yourself then: Do I do what my superior wants me to do? or do I do what I prefer? Is my commitment to the Order a full commitment? or is it partial? Does my spirit of obedience sparkle? or is it dull? Am I one who strives to have my superiors approve, even grudgingly what I want to do? or do I place myself humbly, fully at their command?

Maintaining a true spirit of obedience requires a life of prayer. If I do not pray, if I do not attempt to observe a routine of mediation, then I become too committed to this world. So committed, it is not possible for me fully to be committed to God, lacking which commitment, obedience becomes an onus and not a liberation.

At the end of this retreat, with the permission of the Prior, I shall invite each of you to renew your solemn vow of obedience. To do that with any meaning, you must prepare for the moment by prayer and meditation. love of God, the Father. Do it as an attempt to impersonate Jesus Christ in your own time and place. Do it as a humble response to the urging of God the Holy Spirit. Do it as you picture in your imagination that stunning statue of St. Dominic at Providence, "poised," as Leonard Cochran suggests, "out of balance with the world."

III. The Spirit of Chastity

Over many years, I have suffered annoyance with those who describe the virtue of chastity in the priesthood as "celibacy." Some who substitute that term for "chastity" do so without understanding that it expresses a significant change in the virtuous life. Some - a few at least - do so with deliberation. The life of celibacy is the state of being unmarried. And yes, we are all celibates. Chastity is another matter. Now, there is surely such a state as "marital chastity," practiced by more people than one might think possible in this post-Christian age. And there is that state of life which is commonly termed "religious chastity," which means not only the priest or religious will not marry, but that he will abstain from deliberate sexual activity of every kind. This being an inordinately difficult way of life, as we all know too well, the religious binds himself by vow to refrain from the urgings of the flesh. All priests, however and, indeed all human being, are bound by the virtue of chastity.

The virtue is most helpful ... in the lives of those who continually recommit themselves to be Jesus Christ for others. Unfortunately, too many of us fail to dwell on this virtue as often as we should. Ask yourself: When is the last time that you spoke to God about the life of chastity? When was the last time that you carefully recommitted yourself to the chaste life? And how often have you renewed your promise to yourself to take the careful steps that are necessary to live the life of chastity? I must emphasize the adjective in that last question; the careful steps!

Perhaps I should say, the careful "step." it is surely most difficult. Bodily mortification. Physical self- denial. I hear lots of daily confessions at St. Dominic's in New Orleans. I try to be kind and helpful, failing in that occasionally, to be sure. But routinely, I tell those who commit sins of masturbation, fornication, adultery, and homosexuality that they will never have any success in overcoming the urgings of the flesh until they chastise the body and attempt to bring it into subjection. In earlier years, our Church instructed us to practice various forms of fasting and self-denial. Alas! Those practices are now in the memory only. And while I do not suggest that their abrogation is the principal reason for the sexual misconduct of so many of our number, their absence from our lives is surely a contributing factor.

During my years in the seminary, sexual misconduct was a very rare occurrence. Very rare. In part, that was owing to the strict schedule which we were required to observer Many of you remember: rising at 5:40, Prime, Pretiosa, the Martyrology, Tierce, morning Mass, part of the Office of the Dead, breakfast around 7:10, first class at 8:00, second class at 9:00, third at 1 0:00, fourth at 1 1:00. Then mid-day prayers at noon followed by lunch, followed by recreation or manual labor, frequently an afternoon class, study for an hour and a half to two hours, then evening prayer, dinner (such as it was), Rosary, a halfhour mediation, 45 minutes of recreation, study for two hours, lights out at 10:30 (except for Neal McDermott) and others who spent late evening in the john!). Perhaps we didn't have time to think about chastity or to be bothered much by temptations to unchastity.

And for half the year, we were undergoing the monastic fast. Frankly, I didn't like the fast. But, then, when I resigned myself to it, it proved a massive antidote to the temptations of the flesh! For what have we substituted the monastic observances? In fact, for nothing. So we see, especially among younger priests, but also in our own lives, that we are more given to the comforts and ease of the American life and with it to the temptations of the flesh.

Many, many years ago, I made a retreat in Chicago. Also making the retreat was one of the oldest priest I knew, Father Dominic Noon. After a conference on chastity, at which the retreat master remarked that temptations of the flesh subside only after one reaches advanced years, I asked Father Noon whether he enjoyed the conference. "He's a marvelous speaker," was the reply, "but he doesn't know what the s--t he's talking about!"

His observation underscores the problem which each of us experiences. Through our young years, we had to fight the good fight to be chaste. Perhaps for many the fight becomes less urgent through the middle and later years. Perhaps. But we must continue to press ourselves -- especially through bodily mortification and self- denial -- or we shall submit to the flesh. What could be more obvious, more certain? Surely in the matter of chastity, we must continue to become more virtuous or we shall slip into vice. Surely it is true in this matter, more than in almost any other, that one cannot stand still!

At St. Dominic's in New Orleans, we hear many priests' confessions, there being a special confessional for the clergy near the front door of the Priory. The physical arrangement allows for anonymity. On the one hand, it is always moving and a very great privilege to hear a priest's confession. On the other hand, it is manifest, that the chastity of the diocesan and religious clergy is a matter of common failure. To be sure, these are sins of weakness and not sins of malice. I am confident that God, who knows our weaknesses, will be sparing, forgiving of those who acknowledge their failures and humbly ask for forgiveness. I know that the mercy of God will be offered to those who struggle, even through their failures, to practice chastity. "I chastise my body and bring it into subjection." Can any one doubt that Paul the Apostle is here referring to the bodily mortification, the bodily chastisement that is essential for those of us who hope to save our souls? To what else can he be referring when he talks of "the thorn of the flesh?"

Think of any of the great saints to whom you are devoted and you will find a man or a woman who beat the flesh into subjection, by rigorous fasting, by abstaining from meat and other more palatable foods, by keeping sleep to a minimum, by less comfortable clothes, by a less comfortable bed, by various devices to make the flesh penitential, usually through inflicting pain. Bodily chastisement is far and away the most important of the mission elements in the lives of contemporary Catholics, especially of contemporary priests and religious.

As I keep saying, I abhor puritanism, especially the Catholic from usually called "Jansenism," which is not only excessive because prideful, but which also deprives one of the joy of life. Now, to this you must carefully attend. The Catholic code of morals by no means subjects those who live by that code to a loss of joy, of happiness, of the beauty of human life. I have never resolved a problem in my life, in this regard, concerning the Irish. Perhaps through the suffering and oppression which they have experienced through so much of the history, much of it owing to their stout Catholicism, the Irish have always been charmed by human life, while observing the need to repress the unwholesome desires of the flesh. Witty, delightful to be around (though there are always exceptions, to be sure) the Irish have never submerged themselves in the love of riches or to an undue commitment to this life. True, a certain form of Jansenism afflicted some of the Irish Catholic leaders in this country, especially during the last century. But most Irish tolerated that attitude, at best, and many ignored it altogether. In any event, the lesson here which is inherently, indispensably part of priestly spirituality, is that we are not to practice bodily mortification with a humorlessness, with a glumness, that cuts us off from the way of living the life of a priest. Bodily chastisements are intended to free us from captivity. And joy belongs only to those who are truly free.

Therefore, my brothers, be quick to confess sins of the flesh. Remember that fleshly sins are objectively grievous and usually are subjectively grievous as well. And be constant in bodily mortification, avoiding the puritanical. Do these observances rigorously not only for yourselves but especially for those to whom you minister, knowing that by your penance and self-denial you can overcome the world, the devil, and, to be sure, the flesh.

IV. The Spirit of Poverty

"How blest are the poor in spirit. The kingdom of heaven is theirs."

It is fatuous for me to attempt a conference on the virtue of Poverty? I don't know why, but I have little respect for money, yet I care too much for material possessions. In every moral virtue, two vices are in opposition, the virtue standing somewhere in between them. Father Gerald Vann loved to cite the phrase of T.S. Eliot: "Teach us to care and not to care, teach us to sit still." Vann thought the expression almost perfectly summed up the correct Christian attitude toward material possessions. Of course, the poetic reference is clear: we should reverence material things of value as God's gifts to us, and so should "care" for them and use them with appropriate delight. Yet we shouldn't "care" for them as though they were unduly important possessions which clearly express the degree of God's love for us. I know quite a few Fundamentalist Protestants -- the Southern Baptists especially, and the 7th Day Adventists, -- for whom human wealth is a measure of the degree of God's love. The greater your wealth, the greater is the degree of God's love for you!

When I was a student in philosophy, my class was given an assignment by Father Sebastian Carlson, God rest him, who was teaching us a course in the moral virtues. Each of us had to select a minor virtue and write an essay about it. Cagily, I chose "Liberality." Now, Liberality is a moral virtue that deals with the use of unnecessary funds. Its opposing virtues are, on the one hand, Prodigality, the wanton wastefulness of money and other valuables, and on the other, Miserliness, the too cautious saving of extra funds at one's disposal. In the priesthood I have known misers and I have known prodigals. To be honest, I have also known many truly liberal priests.

I have a brother-in-law who lives in Gettysburg who was enormously successful in the business world, so that he and my sister entered their retirement years very comfortably fixed. Not bad for a couple that raised thirteen children, put each of them through sixteen years of Catholic schools -- four graduated from Providence College (the best four, though don't quote me!) -- and without the benefit of scholarships. My brother-in-law is a liberal man, in that he is very generous where generosity is called for, but quite pecuniary. He does a lot for those who have less than he, but don't ever try to cheat him because he will never be generous to you again! Liberality is something that is rather clearly understood by that old German (German-American, I should say).

Liberality is a marvelous virtue for all of us. But it is only the beginning of the life of simplicity to which we have offered ourselves. We have to be more than liberal. We have to relish a life in which, as St. Augustine teaches in his- Rule, "it is better to need little than to have much." One of my favorite priests lived an exacting life of simplicity. Funny, I didn't know a happier priest. As with the practice of positive Chastity, true poverty of spirit is liberating, freeing one "naked to follow the naked Christ."

Simplicity of life, as you understand, is not an end to be achieved but a means. We must, then, be careful not to be judgmental of other priests. We have different needs, different weaknesses -- certainly different opportunities. I live with Father Val McInnes, whom some of you may know. Val travels in high circles. One week, he's off to Taiwan, another to the Mediterranean, still another to Latin America. I exaggerate. But Val does travel a lot and he has to. He raises funds both for the Religious Center at Tulane University and for the Southern Province, a difficult obligation and one for which few of his brother in the priesthood appreciate. Yet Val leads a simple life, as I know, because one cannot belong to a rather small community and have no recognition of other members' basic attitudes. Val is forever asking me to take him to the airport or to meet him there on his return. And I don't mind. I'm glad that he has the fundraiser's job and talent, delighted that I do not, and happy to help him save the cost of repeated cab fares.

With Neal McDermott, another Dominican with whom I live (he's the pastor of St. Dominic's, New Orleans), I once engaged in a verbal contest about the number of famous people whom we have met. Together with Ed Conley, who until recently was pastor at St. Anthony's in New Orleans, we made a trip to Italy. Sitting one afternoon in the glorious Piazza San Marco at Venice, we wondered whether anyone famous would stroll by. Neal remarked that he had met so many of the rich and famous that it really didn't matter to him. Discussion turned into a contest between him and me concerning the famous we had met, until Ed Conley, who was sitting between us, had enough of our nonsense and yelled, "Bull ---- !"

Not to play that game with you, but I did have dinner one evening the Dorothy Day. She was a close friend of Caroline Gordon, the novelist and former wife of Allen Tate, the well-known American poet and essayist. Coming through Dallas to stay with Caroline for a few days, she suffered my driving abilities or lack thereof, and so I was invited to join the two of them and the President of the university and his wife for dinner. We went to the Las Colinas Country Club. I though that Dorothy Day would be ill as ease in such a ritzy place, yet she accompanied the four of us, engaged animatedly in conversation, ate quite simply, and did not complain. Fortunately, none of the high-rollin' Texans there knew who she was, and ignored her, probably because she was dressed in homespun clothing. She lives as she thought she should and was the least judgmental of anyone I have ever known.

On another occasion -- really, I am not playing the, Neal McDermott game with you -- I was invited to dinner at one of Dallas' finest restaurants, The Old Warsaw. The host for the evening was Bishop Thomas Gorman of Dallas; the principal guest was his classmate from Louvain days, Archbishop Fulton ("Full Tone" as some called him) Sheen. Three other priests and I were in attendance. We were given a corner table, unfortunately one in which Archbishop Sheen was placed in angled corner so that all the patrons could see him. The poor man had little peace and almost no time to eat, as patron after patron approached him to shake his hand, solicit an autograph, or simply visit. Living as he did in a small apartment in New York City, where he cooked his own meals and lived an ascetical life, I could feel his discomfort. But he did not criticize those who had brought him there. Poverty of spirit, as I have said, is relative -- relative to one's state, one's obligations, one's opportunity for the Lord. Jesus dined with rich men, yet no one ever practiced the virtue of poverty to which we are committed better than He. For this virtue is a relative value, not an absolute one.

Until we embrace a simplicity of life, our priesthood is less productive if not deceitful. The next time you go to your quarters, then, take a quick inventory of the clothes, the books, and the other accoutrements which you have acquired (should I say "amassed?"). Then sit down and ask yourself: How much of this do I need? Books are an exception, as I believe, yet some of us carry the matter to extremes. I know a priest who goes off to various bookstores on his day off. Always he returns with purchases that are almost certainly excessive, an unnecessary spending of money. But, to be sure, given my own excesses in the matter of simplicity, I really have no grounds to criticize him.

We have to be detached in order to do what God has asked us to do. So, we must worry about material possessions all through our lives. We should promise to move from the necessity of having the security of certain possessions, to become ever more simple in our style of life, ever more free of material cares. So you must ask yourself: Does the worry continue? Am I, that is to say, careless about material values? Am I selfish? Do I save money in order to entertain myself, more lavishly than is in keeping with a man committed to the apostolic life? Sadly, quite sadly, some of us must answer yes to most of those questions, though the positive answers may vary in degree, that is to say, in the width of our failures.

Today, we should recommit ourselves to the constant teachings of the Church, which urges priests to be simple in their possessions in order to be effective as witnesses to Christ. When you hear the Lord say: "Go sell what you have and give to the poor, and come follow me" (Mt. 9:21), you must be attentive, urging yourself to conquer greed so as to be more in conformity with Christ: "Who for our sakes became poor, that by his poverty we might become rich."

V. Priestly Consecration

"Something which has existed since the beginning, that we have heard, and we have seen with our own eyes; that we have watched and touched with our hands: the Word who is life -- this is our subject. . . What we have seen and heard we are telling you so that you too may be in union with us, as we are in union with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ" (I John, 1 and 3).


How many of the contemporary arguments among Catholics revolve around the sacrament of Holy Orders! I offer a partial list:

1. The Ministry of the Laity, especially those who are asked to be special ministers of the Eucharist. 2. The ministry of women, notably the question of why women cannot be ordained. 3. Catholic relations with the Anglican Church, especially the validity of Anglican orders. 4. Priestly celibacy. 5. Authority of the Presbyterate versus Episcopal authority. 6. The dispensation of priests from the obligations of the priesthood. 7. Communion by Protestants in Catholic churches, and vice-versa.

And then there are the extreme practices. I know a priest who allowed an Episcopalian "priestess" to concelebrate the Eucharist with him. One of his friends allowed an Episcopalian "deaconess" to preach at a Catholic funeral liturgy. I also remember well the occasion -- this is far less egregious, but still objectionable -- when, I was supplying for a vacationing pastor. The permanent deacon at the liturgy shoved me to the side, allowing me (I exaggerate, but not by much) to recite the Eucharistic Prayer but little else. He gave the opening greeting and lead the faithful in the penitential rite, he read the gospel, preached, and baptized two infants, he said the Prayer of the Faithful including the final prayer. He told me to be seated while he received the gifts and prepared them at the altar. At the exchange of peace, he paraded through the Church in a flurry of gestures, leaving me standing at the altar. When, at communion, he told me to be seated while he and lay ministers distributed communion, I strenuously objected! With regrettable meanness, I allowed him to say no further word, including the "Go in Peace" which, in common practice the deacon offers.

As you know so well, there is a strong movement in American Catholicism to eliminate, insofar as possible, the distinction between the ordained ministry and the laity. People whom I do not know well frequently call me by my first name, a practice that was foreign to Catholics a quarter of a century ago. When I was a newly ordained priest, I remember asking Father Eugene Klueg (now dead, God rest him!) how I should address older priests. "Call them by their first names when they tell you to," was his answer. And I observed that. Those were the days, though, when Catholics, as well as some Protestants and Jews, retained a special reverence for the priesthood -- when Catholic sense still reverenced the sacred.

All of us are consecrated, made sacred, set apart. What does this mean? First, it means that we are "other Christs." But it is far better to speak of this mystery in the singular: each of us is "another Christ." In the singular, I say, because there is but one Christ; we have each of us to be and to do in our time and place what Jesus would be and do there. We are, therefore, set apart: "You shall be witnesses to me." And we are set apart to show forth the love of Christ: "Let this heart be in you which was in Christ Jesus . . ."

In examining your conscience during these days, there are few areas where you should be more exacting with yourself. You have been given God's incredible gift of the priesthood, of priestly consecration. Routine takes a special toll on you, though, and you neglect to meditate on the sacred character which you have been given. Too many of us forget that we have been set apart, consecrated! Yes, how often we fail! Far from being "Christ" to others, we too often are mean, impatient, intolerant, unduly critical, self -seeking ...

The power which was given us at our ordination is the power of Jesus Christ. Why do we shy away from reflecting on that incredible fact? We possess Christ's very power. We have the power to dedicate material things to God -- as though God himself took these elements and held them as a special possession, offering his personal protection, making his choice of them.

When you administer the sacraments, you do so in Jesus' stead. You are Jesus at the altar. So often, this is not obvious to anyone, least of all to the priest himself. My sister's first husband was a convert to Catholicism. He became a Catholic, I believe, because of the priests whom he knew. Of one of them, though, he once remarked to me that he is a "floater." What is a floater, I wondered. "Well," my brother-in-law said, "just watch him say Mass! His main concern is the impression he makes rather than what he is supposed to be doing."

This is surely a point which requires careful self- evaluation. Now, all self-criticism by an observant Catholic must begin with the question: How do I become more and more self-obliterating? How do I erase myself from consideration so that I can lead others to reflection on matters of the sacred? That is so terribly hard to achieve, impossible to achieve perfectly. But we must carefully enter that struggle, constantly examine our consciences about the matter, continually make good resolutions with the reminder that I am, not "a" priest, but "The" priest, that is, I am to be in my time and place what Jesus Christ would be in the same circumstances.

You are a priest not merely as a surrogate of Pope John Paul II or of Archbishop Schulte. You are one who functions in persona Christi, especially when you preside at the Eucharist. Saying Mass, you are Jesus Christ! What frightful errors ensue from the misconstructions of contemporary "Theology!" So many of our brothers refuse to wear clerical dress because they do not want to be set apart. How many there are who refuse to concelebrate because they do not want to offend religious women, or, even worse, because they want to emphasize their unity with the laity!! To concelebrate the Eucharist is to exercise one's consecration in persona Christi. But that is so sadly misunderstood.

The celebrations of the sacraments are the moments when we need to be most conscious of the sacred -- of our own sacredness, first of all -- and of the sacredness of certain times and places; for it is then especially that we can be caught up into the Trinitarian Life. God is always with us, ever present, omnipresent. But when we enter into sacramental rites, we are invaded by God in a perceptible manner (depending on the degree of our faith). These are the times when we know God's glory, yes even in a sensible manner.

Of course that is true for all participants, the ordained and the non-ordained. But the minister -- all the ministers -- especially must be cognizant when sacraments are celebrated of the sacredness which is theirs and of the sacredness into which they enter. The loss of the sense of the sacred has wrought havoc in our Church. There are too many of us who preside at sacramental rituals in a routine manner, without awe, hurriedly, without preparation, offhandedly. And there is so much that is foolish in the efforts of some to make the Church's celebrations "meaningful."

The awareness of the sacred should be predominant when we approach the sacraments. Vere iste locus sanctus est. Coming to the celebration of our sacred rites, we should often recall the words of the Psalmist: I have loved, O Lord, the beauty of your house and the place where your glory dwells." This is where priestly character and temperament must be at its finest. Great saints spent long hours before the Blessed Sacrament because they were devoted to God's sacred gifts, especially to the most sacred gift, to the most outlandish gift, the gift of himself! And holy priests rarely miss the daily celebration of the Eucharist, even when that is humanly speaking, very inconvenient.

But permit me to insist that our love of God's house begins with our deep perception that we, ourselves, are sacred because of our baptism, and -- this bearing on our primary task -- because of our priestly consecration.

Having been consecrated by the Sacrament of Holy Orders, we are to proclaim the Gospel and to preach. Others who are qualified are allowed to "preach," that is, to address the body of the faithful, though at the Eucharist they may do so only at the conclusion of the rite. Men who preach in the Christian assembly exercise a function on behalf of Christ's body; the Church; and, indeed, on behalf of Jesus Himself. "He who hears you [whom I have sent], hears me." When we preach, we preach in the place of Jesus. And this you know! How often, how very often, have your words struck others in ways that you could never have foreseen? People tell you of their reactions to your sermons and you are left wondering. He who hears you, hears me.

The proclamation of the word of God within the formal settings of the Church -- within the sacramental liturgy, that is -- requires the consecration of Holy Orders. We who preach must be reminded that we have been consecrated to this purpose whenever we ascend the pulpit. Word and Sacrament. The two are inseparable, as constant Catholic tradition has taught and as the Second Vatican Council proclaimed anew. For it said:

"The People of God are joined together primarily by the word of the living God. And rightfully they expect this from their priests. Since no one can be saved who does not first believe, priests as co-workers with their bishops, have the primary duty of proclaiming the Gospel of God to all. In this way, they fulfill the command of the Lord: Going, therefore, into the whole world, preach the gospel to every creature, and they establish and build up the People of God" (Chap. II, sect.1).

VI. The Choral Office

In 1942, when I was an altar boy at Holy Rosary in Houston Father Philip Pendis (who had been ordained the year before) sent me to his room in the Rectory to fetch something. On the wall of bedroom was a painting that caught my eye. Later, I asked him what it was so he took me back to his room and explained that it represented Dominicans on earth and Dominicans in heaven, all bowed down before the Blessed Trinity. Our Lady was also in the picture. Underneath this whole representation were the words, Gloria Patri et Filio et Spiritui Sancto. Many years later, I gave a retreat to the cloistered Dominicans at Lufkin, during which I mentioned this painting. When I finished the retreat, one of the nuns, who was familiar with the painting, presented me with a reproduction which now hangs as a reminder to me in my room.

Nothing, of course had been more troubling to us on a day-to-day basis than choral office. Presently, I live with older men, one of whom is fairly deaf. He is habitual at daily office in our priory chapel. Since he doesn't hear well, he usually is either ahead of, or behind, the rest of us in the recitation of the psalms. Sometimes, he's reciting the wrong verse. But no one troubles him about the matter, which may be a sign that we are a fairly decent community. I have noticed, as I know each of you has, that we are each authorities on the manners and morals that are required for the choral office. Tom Cain (whom I mentioned earlier) used to say at St. Albert's in Irving, when he was prior there, that he would never say anything to a Dominican about the way in which he celebrated Mass or recited the Office. There is wisdom in his observance. Usually, if you try to correct someone in these matters, you only make matters worse. We must be placid about the imperfections of our community observances, even about our liturgical obligations, while at the same time struggling to be inoffensive to others, and struggling especially to seek to praise Almighty God.

The primary purpose of the liturgy -- it has other purposes, to be sure -- is the praise of God. Do I say too much when I suggest that this is our most important activity in life? To praise -- laudare -- and to praise corporately is a radical foundation of Dominican life and ministry. Recognizing this, it becomes easier to join the community at prayer. But we must recognize the truth in this matter. St. Paul says: "Let your hearts be on heavenly things, not on the things that are on the earth, because you have died, and now the life you have is hidden with Christ in God" (Col. 3:2-3).

Often I say to penitents who have been rather cavalier about the fulfillment of the Sunday obligation that they should not go to mass for what they can get out of it, they should go for what they can put into it: to praise God, an incredibly loving Father, a wondrous Savior, a gentle guest in our souls. "Since you have been brought back to life with Christ, you Christ look for the things that are in heaven, where Christ is . . ." (ibid., 3: 1). Those who are loyal Christians know something about God which others do not. We know that God is Triune. You can meditate on this revealed truth all of your life and never exhaust mind or your heart and never fully capture the mystery of the Trinity. But one conclusion stands out most soberly in this revelation that Jesus gave us so lovingly. Because God is Triune, the Persons of the Trinity are each outward turning. Completely each of the Divine Persons is turned away from Himself toward the other two Persons in a loving disposition that has no boundaries. And because of that, the Most Blessed Trinity is turned altogether toward God loves you without limit, and while perfectly respecting your freedom, lovingly urges you to return his love. There is, as you know so well, no benefit to God in the love that you return to Him. There is immense benefit to you -- a transforming benefit that not only brings about your salvation but ushers you into the presence of the selfless joy of the Trinity.

Bonum est diffusivum sui. Remember the old scholastic adage? Goodness, through its inherent makeup, shares itself with others. And infinite goodness shares itself without measure, without limit. Now, our liturgical life is supposed to draw us out of ourselves, just as the Persons of the Blessed Trinity, by nature are drawn out of Themselves. "Forever I will sing the praises of the Lord." "Glory be," not to me or to you or to others, not to the saints primarily, neither to the Church itself, but 'lo the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit."

The choral office has other values, though of a lesser importance. These values are, to be sure, important, but they are secondary. What are they? First, the office which we chant together should prepare us for contemplation. I do not say that the choral office is contemplative prayer. It is surely not. But for contemplation, it needs to be a preamble. St. Dominic always went apart away from the choral office to pray in silence. He would do this for hours. Those were the times of his contemplation.

Second, the choral office should foster within us a divine instinct. This means that from our community prayer, we should derive a sense of the sacred. My goodness What is more needed today within our ranks and among the faithful than this antidote to the rampant materialism that engulfs us?

Third, the choral office should prepare us for preaching. I fear that this is hardly the case any more. Too often, we recite the prayers with hardly a pause for reflection. Yet it is the moments of silent reflection that can cue us for the work which is ours. We preach what we believe, what we know, what we understand; but our faith is enlarged through our selfless meditation, and the urge to speak to others of God and of the things of God is fostered in sincere meditative prayer. The celebration of choral office is the best setting for him who is preparing to preach, as St. Dominic understood so well.

Fourth, though only from time to time, the choir can satisfy an emotional need. How often have you been thanked by your brothers, or by the laity for the beauty of the liturgies which you have performed? "I have loved, O Lord, the beauty of your house. . ." We all have a hunger for loveliness. What is more dispiriting -- and at times, more humorous -- than an awful liturgy? I have a first cousin who is a Jesuit priest in New Orleans. Recently, he was telling me about a mass at which a number of his confreres con- celebrated. Was the liturgy successful? I asked. Yes, he said. No one was critically injured. Of course, the Jesuits were never given to liturgical observances until this post-Christian age. But liturgical loveliness is inherent in a Dominican's schema, and partly because it can, at times, be an emotionally uplifting experience.

Fifth, the choral office, faithfully observed can be a discipline for us and can foster the penitential life. Humbert of Romans said: "The greater part of our penance consists in the recitation of the divine office. When I was a student at the Angelicum so many years ago, attendance at choir was truly penitential. I sat between a Dutchman and a Northern Italian. Both were decent fellows and both were "odor free." Other Americans at that time were not so fortunate; for them, the divine office in choro was a major penance. But even under the best of circumstances, choir can be a penance at times. Why? Because you must stop what you are doing to attend, and that is hard, especially if you are engrossed in your work. At times, you are just weary or otherwise indisposed -- and the choir demands energy. And, you sometimes say to yourself that I just can't cope today with the distracting individuals with whom I am supposed to pray.

On the other hand, few things are more distinctive of St. Dominic's daily life than his love for community prayer. Ventura of Verona, who testified at St. Dominic's canonization process testified:

"Almost always, when outside the priory, on hearing the first stroke of the matins bell from the monasteries [near midnight], he used to arise and arouse the friars [his travelling companions]. With great devotion he celebrated the whole night and day office at the prescribed hours so that he omitted nothing. After Compline, when traveling, he kept and had his companions keep the silence just as though he were in the priory."

If we are Dominic's sons, we will be valiant in our attendance at, and participation in, the choral office and the community Mass. We will understand that the choral office is not our inner life of prayer, though perhaps a part of it. We will more and more appreciate that the divine office is an act of worshipful praise during which we unite ourselves with Christ who came to worship the Father and who calls us to do this in union with Him. And we shall find a richness added to our lives when, with dignity and attentiveness we recite or sing: "Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit."

VII. Dominican Brotherhood Conclusion of Dominican Retreat

When I was a young dad [newly ordained priest] at Dubuque in 1954-55, I was sent across the river to Sinsinawa, Wisconsin, to say Masses for the Dominican Sisters, while the chaplain was away. Arriving there, I was surprised to find my Provincial, Father Edward L. Hughes, sitting on the porch of the chaplain's residence. He had come to seek some quiet time away from his office in Chicago.

The day before, he had received the documents that officially summoned the General Chapter of 1955, at which Father Michael Brown was to be elected General. Fr. Hughes was furious because the Vicar of the Order, the estimable Terrence Stephen McDermott, had delayed the chapter for eleven months. Eddie Hughes was convinced that the delay -- unnecessary, in his view -- was designed to offer Steve McDermott a sufficient chance to campaign for the office of General! I was amused to not that Ed Hughes never referred to Steve McDermott by name. His references were always, unexceptionably to "New York."

Months later, I made my first visit outside of the territory of St. Albert's Province. That same Father Hughes came to the room where I was staying at St. Pius in Chicago, and asked what I was doing? It was August and I was helping with daily confessions, daily masses, and the reading of mail for the Shrine of St. Jude, while awaiting the time of my departure for Rome and the Angelicum in mid-September. "Go up to Adrian [Mich.]," he said, "and replace the diocesan priest who is chaplain at the Motherhouse for four weeks."

While I was there, I met one of the best Dominicans I have known, Fr. Cyril Burke, who had come at the invitation of Mother Gerald Barry to discuss something or other. We spent time together, and I soon realized the Cy Burke was a marvelous model for any Dominican. And I began to wonder about the negative feelings toward St. Joseph Province that had seeped into my consciousness.

Later in September, I stayed at St. Vincent Ferrer's in New York with two of my classmates for a few days before boarding the ship for Italy. I was surprised to find the Dominicans there altogether hospitable, truly fraternal. Where are the ogres that I had heard so much about? (Of course, I met two of them on the ship bound for Italy, but I reasoned that there are always exceptions!)

In 1970, I participated in the first Interprovincial Council Meeting of the three American Provinces. Fr. Clem Collins was Provincial in Chicago and he engineered that first meeting, using guile and patient encouragement of Fr. Ken Sullivan and Fr. Paul Scanlon. There was a lot of blood-letting at that meeting, at the end of which it was clear that the first steps had been taken to foster a spirit of true fraternity in the American Provinces. In 1971, we held a second meeting, this one in California, and one could sense the spirit of fraternity. The six shooters were no longer worn; there was a familial atmosphere throughout that meeting. Later meetings were held annually -- in New York, in New Orleans, at Monterey, and so on. Finally, everyone realized that little more could be accomplished and so meetings were made biannual and then, more-or-less, terminated. The Provincials, I believe, still meet in the Spring.

Each of us, I suppose, is somewhat critical of other provinces, though equally most of us are critical of our own. But it is most refreshing to know that wherever there are American houses of our Order, we are always extended a very warm welcome, as I have been here, and as I know Tom Donlan and Jack O'Malley will wholeheartedly agree.

We do not live in a perfect world, so there is no such thing as a perfect religious order, or province, or priory. Always there are difficulties, disagreements, spats. One has only to reflect on St. Paul's remark that "I withstood St. Peter to his face," referring to a tense situation in which an argument erupted that, in fact, St. Paul won. One has only to recall that St. Paul and St. Mark came to a parting of the ways, Paul refusing to allow Mark to travel with him any longer. We have arguments among ourselves often enough, and that is fine so long as: (a) we avoid personal offence insofar as possible, and (b) we accept defeat and move on to the next issue.

To be honest, I became a Dominican because I loved the fraternity. That was what first attracted me to the Dominicans, long before I knew anything about the choral office, serious study, the widespread use of true election democratically, or the fact that all of my classmates would be damn yankees!

I have always believed that we are not a family; we are a brotherhood. We have not wanted to be under a "father" but rather the subject of a "brother." In the reformation Of 1968, this fact is underscored in our constitutions, as is the premise that one ought not to serve for very long in a superior's role.

Still, we are as successful a brotherhood as our vow of obedience will allow. That is, if we are truly in earnest about obedience as the practical tie that binds us together, our Order will be strengthened, perhaps immeasurably. We take our vow of obedience to a person, to an individual. I do not bind myself in some vague manner to "my Order," or to "the Dominicans." I commit myself, in my whole being, to other men, to my prior, my provincial, my master. I tell Almighty God, myself, and my superiors that I shall do what they ask of me. This telling, this commitment is most solemn.

We do well, then, periodically to renew our commitment, even publicly on occasion. This, with the Prior's consent, I ask of you this morning as the last moment in our retreat. Please pray for me as I shall for you that we might be, each in his time, place, and manner, obedient sons, struggling to be, even in a small way, defenders of the faith and true lights of the world.

The End of the Retreat Conference.


Sermons and Lectures by Damian Fandal, O.P.

(Taken from