Keeping the Light Burning
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--By Br. Michael James Rivera, OP
As a co-patroness of the Order of Preachers, St. Mary Magdalen holds a special place in the heart of every Dominican. Tradition recounts how she often appeared, along with the Blessed Virgin Mary and St. Catherine of Alexandria, to brothers who were in need of consolation. In Libellus de Principiis Ordinis Praedicatorum Bl. Jordan of Saxony tells of the Blessed Mother’s appearance to Bl. Reginald of Orleans when he was gravely ill. According to Jordan, Reginald’s miraculous recovery came about when she anointed him with a healing balm. The event was later depicted in a painting by Bl. Fra Angelico, in which he shows the Queen of Heaven at Reginald’s bedside, accompanied by two women, one of whom is carrying a small jar. Traditionally this jar is one of the attributes of Mary Magdalen, who went to anoint the body of Jesus with oil and spices three days after his crucifixion.
A lesser-known story, even among Dominicans, is that of the Blessed Mother’s appearance at the Convento de Santo Domingo in Soriano. The story begins in 1510, when St. Dominic appeared to Br. Vincent in Calabria, and told him to establish a community in Soriano. Many years later the Blessed Mother, accompanied by Catherine of Alexandria and Mary Magdalen, appeared to the sacristan in Soriano and handed him an image of St. Dominic. Fray Juan Bautista Maíno, OP, immortalized the event in 1629 with two remarkable paintings, one of which hangs at the Museo Nacional del Prado, and the other at the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg. Both canvases show a friar kneeling before the three noble women in awe. Catherine, with a crown atop her head, holds the image of Saint Dominic, who in turn holds a book in his right hand and lilies in his left—the attribute of a confessor. Mary Magdalen, once again, holds her jar of ointment, while the Blessed Mother, clothed in blue and red, and with a soft halo around her head, points at the friar and admonishes him to remain faithful and steadfast.
As inspiring as these stories are, they are only one of the reasons Dominicans honor St. Mary Magdalen. The “Apostle to the Apostles,” as she is known in the Byzantine liturgy, was the foremost personification of the penitent sinner, and her commission to announce the resurrection of Jesus Christ serves as a reminder of what all Dominicans are called to do: to praise, to bless, to preach.
Fr. Bruno Cadore, Master of the Order of Preachers and special guest at the Dominican Colloquia in Berkeley, presided at the daily Mass at St. Albert's Priory in Oakland on July 18th. His homily on the day's Gospel (Matthew 12:1-8) is included below.
"I desire mercy, not sacrifice."
Obviously, this very simple statement calls us to reflect upon the Pharisees’ understanding of the Sabbath laws. As we know, observance of the Sabbath was essential for the Jewish people in the time of Jesus, and remains important for many Jews today. But what did the Sabbath laws actually require? Did the Sabbath demand being confined, even stifled, by a narrow reading of the law? This is the question that Jesus invites the Pharisees to consider with him. The worship of God and the service of our brothers and sisters are two ways that we are reminded of God’s goodness and his generosity in creating all things. If there is a violation of the letter, that can in no way presume a violation of the fundamental spirit of the law. The response of Jesus, by alluding to the life and worship of the Temple is eloquent. The challenge for the believer is not to cling to what can be built by human hands—the law, or the Temple, or to offer sacrifices that would help us to hold on to these. There is in the midst of us someone greater than the Temple. In this we can understand that the Son of Man is Master of the Sabbath.
But in what way is he Master of the Sabbath? Is it enough to say that because the Son of Man is present with his disciples, we can interpret the law with mercy and so reduce Jesus to a kind of liberal critic who opposes conservative or legalist readings of the law? This would be unfortunate because the teaching of Jesus is much richer, much stronger than this.
It is mercy that I want…Thomas Aquinas wrote that the Incarnation is the advent of mercy. Jesus is this mercy. So the invitation that we receive today is about reading the law in a new way. Not by concentrating on sacrifices that we can perform, by somehow imagining that they correspond to what God expects from us; but rather, by starting with the contemplation of the One who alone is the sacrifice, a life given freely, fully, and unconditionally in order that the world might have life. To respect the law, this law that Jesus says he has come not to abolish, but to fulfill, is to walk on the road of mercy in the steps of the One who is mercy himself, receiving from him his life, and agreeing to give to him our life.
The response of Jesus calls to mind both David and the bread of offering in the Temple, as well as the ministry of the Temple priests. These images lead me to reflect on the beautiful prayer from the Didache which says: “As the grains of wheat were once scattered on the hills where they were gathered to make the one bread, may we also be gathered from the far corners of the world into your kingdom.”
My brothers and sisters, where will we find the strength, the generosity, the joy to offer the mercy that God desires from us, if not here, where we celebrate the memory of the offering of Him who is the very advent of mercy?
Part 4 in Br. Thomas Aquinas, O.P.'s "Virtue of Religion" series.
To view earlier episodes, click on the appropriate link:
--By Br. Gregory Liu, O.P.
July 9th is a special day for me. Not only is it the feast day of the Dominican martyr, St. John of Cologne, but according to the General Roman Calendar, it is also the feast day of 120 martyrs of China, among which were six Dominicans: St. Francis Fernández de Capillas, St. Peter Sanz Jorda, St. Francis Serrano Frias, St. Joachim Royo Perez, St. John Alcober Figuera, and St. Francis Diaz del Rincon. These six Dominican martyrs were all Spaniards and sons of the Holy Rosary Province, whose mission has always been the evangelization of Eastern Asia. They all labored in the Province of Fujian, located in southeastern China. Notably, St. Francis Fernández de Capillas, martyred in 1646, was the protomartyr of China, while St. Peter Sanz Jorda was the first bishop to be martyred in China. Except for St. Francis Fernández de Capillas, all of the Dominican martyrs in China gave their testimony of faith in blood between 1747 and 1748, in the large-scale persecution of the Church of the early Qing Dynasty.
The Order of Preachers indeed has deep roots in China. Martyrs aside, the first Chinese-born Catholic priest, Dionisio de la Cruz (1510–1603) and the first Chinese-born Catholic bishop, Gregory Lopez (1615–1691, also known as Wenzao Lo) were both Dominicans. Bishop Gregory Lopez was a tireless and zealous preacher, who baptized thousands of people in southeastern China. He was the only priest who could minister freely in China when all the foreign missionaries were exiled in the 1660s, thus keeping the nascent Church there alive.
What can I, a Dominican brother of Chinese descent, do to continue the mission of these martyrs, my forefathers in faith? Through God’s providence, and by the invitation of Fr. Michel Marcil, S.J., I am currently serving as a board member of the US Catholic China Bureau. Founded in 1989, the US Catholic China Bureau is a non-profit organization that aims to build a bridge between the Church in China and the universal Church. It seeks to provide assistance to various ministries of the Church in China, while also making the Church in the United States aware of the situation in China. Specifically, there are a number of worthy projects to achieve these goals. For example, the bureau conducts study tours to China for American Catholics, and it honors American Catholics who have made a distinctive contribution to the mutual understanding between the Church in China and in America through the Ricci Award. The most exciting projects, for me as a Dominican, are the biennial academic conference and the theological textbook translation project for seminaries in China.
The blood of martyrs is the seed of faith, says Tertullian. There is a concrete causal relationship between the martyrs’ ultimate sacrifice and me being a Catholic today. May the Lord use me as an instrument of grace, that through my sacrifice and my humble testimony, I may preach the gospel of salvation to those who need it the most.
Although the United States celebrates the 4th of July as its Independence Day, in other countries Dominicans may honor Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati. To learn more about this Dominican Tertiary, and patron of World Youth Day, check out a reflection by one of our brothers, called: Fireworks, Freedom, and Frassati.
Three Sisters as seen from St. Benedict Lodge, McKenzie Bridge, Oregon
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