When Peter saw this he fell at the feet of Jesus

Jesus is growing in popularity, an great crowds are following Him. He is at the lake of Gennesaret, or the Sea of Galilee, and presumably knew Peter a little as He would have stayed with him in Capernaum after John the Baptist had pointed Jesus out at the river Jordan. Jesus asks Peter to give him a hand and use his boat so Jesus can teach the crowds which had assembled to listen to Him.

I think it is sometimes helpful to think about the circumstances of an event. Sometimes when listening to the Gospels and hearing about one great event after the other it might seem that it is all very disconnected and distant from our own lives. It might feel like reading a novel with elements of reality, but ultimately something that seems fiction. It can seem very unreal and the Gospel stories become stories disconnected. But that is not the way it is. These are not stories which are carefully recorded as we know from St. Luke’s introduction. Luke clearly indicates that he is writing history, and has carefully inquired to make sure they are accurate. We can moreover verify many facts in his accounts and find them to be accurate. While there are naturally many supernatural events in the Gospels, as would be expected,  it doesn’t mean the stories are irrelevant to our lives and by putting ourselves in the story we can learn what it is that is so significant for the characters and why.

So here we have Jesus and Peter and they would have presumably known each other. Jesus, after having taught the crowd asks Peter to pull out into the deep water and to let the nets down for a catch. Peter objects because as a fisherman he knows it is pointless. They didn’t catch anything earlier, the deep water presumably does not render much hope for a catch and moreover it is the wrong time of day. But because Jesus has build up this sense of authority and is a friend of Peter he goes ahead anyway and to his surprise nets a huge catch of fish.

The story as it unfolds is quite a plausible story and we can imagine it happening. But a thing to reflect on is what effect this event has on Peter. Peter falls on his knees before Jesus, and ask Him to go away from Him because He is a sinful man. Peter and his friends knew Jesus, they had heard Him speak, they had seen some of the miracles and moreover had Him as a guest in their house. So while they would have known and respected Him, only now did it really ring home to Peter what all these miracles really indicated. Jesus performed a miracle which really touched Peter’s heart as a fisherman. It is in this instant that something about who Jesus is dawns on Peter, and in addressing Jesus Peter now used Lord instead of Master.

So even if we were witnesses of healing miracles every day this would not necessarily make us realise who God is as is clear from this Gospel message. Miracles might not be as important as some people  think. Jesus performed miracles probably to give Himself credibility and it might help open up people’s minds to the possibility of the supernatural. But ultimately they seem to make little difference in our relationship, our closeness to God, and to accept Him for who He is. This only comes when we allow God to enter into our lives. Like Peter we need to trust and follow the lead God is giving us, even if it might not make complete sense; to pull out into the deep. Only when we give this trust and open our hearts can God really in the depths of who we are connect with us and let us get a glimpse of who He really is and in extension who He is in our lives. This event works a huge change in Peter and he leaves everything including the big catch which must be worth a fortune. He suddenly  doesn’t hesitate to abandon everything and follow Jesus without reserve. This is the effect an encounter with God could and should have, and this is the encounter we should be looking for and should be open towards.

And there is just one little extra remark. While Peter is in awe of what He just experienced, and seems to feel unworthy of being with Jesus, Jesus does not leave Him behind. Instead He invites him exactly to do the opposite and tells Peter to follow Him, to come with Him, to remain with Him. Jesus is not interested in how far we are from Him, He always wants us to come closer to Him.

For me it shows that I need to see where God acts in my life how He personally does things in my life which create this intimate connection with him. It is only when we realise this connection that the relationship becomes meaningful, and only then can we follow Peter’s example; to follow the Lord completely in our own lives and maybe even answer as Isaiah did to the question “Whom shall I sent? Who will be our messenger?” whole heartedly “Here I am, send me!”

Contemplation, Learning and the University in Aquinas

On the occasion of the Jubilee 800, and on the Feast of St. Thomas Aquinas, there was a ‘Jubilee Aquinas Lecture’.

The lecture was delivered by Dr. Rik Van Nieuwenove, Lecturer in Theology at the Department of Theology and Religious Studies, Mary Immaculate College, Limerick.

The lecture, entitled “Contemplation, Learning and the University in Aquinas”, was followed by the celebration of Solemn Vespers in the church with the community of St. Saviour’s.

Please find below the audio recording of the lecture. Photo’s and a short video capturing the event will follow later.

Aquinas and Prayer

“The starting point of prayer is desire for eternal life, and this persists in all the other works we do in due order, because all of them should be ordered towards obtaining eternal life, and so the desire for eternal life persists virtually in all the good deeds we do,” and again Thomas teaches, “we pray in order to make ourselves realise that we need to have recourse to his help…. By praying we offer God reverence, inasmuch as we subject ourselves too him and profess, by praying that we need him as the author of all that is good for us.” St. Thomas Aquinas, O.P.

As Christians we believe that we stand in the presence of God continually, and whether we are praying or not, we believe that the Divine presence is everywhere and that the eyes of God look on us always. The Lord in the gospel reminds us to pray always (Lk 18:1) and to never loose heart and this is best answered by us when live with an attitude of faith, hope and love and with a joy that comes from the Holy Spirit.(1 Th. 1:6). Thomas teaches (IaIIae.30 ad.1) us that every creature that exists in the world wants what is good for itself, it is natural to want, but within man there are grace given virtues that dispose us to a goal of perfect happiness beyond our natural human desires and God is the only possible source. Every human therefore desires happiness. This desire which comes from God is a desire that we will live eternally in God, eternally for he is heaven itself, our eternal joy. The goals we set in life move us in different ways depending according to whether our goal is present or absent. If our goal is present Thomas teaches that we will simply rest in it, if our goal is absent we must move on for the attraction keeps us in momentum. For Thomas, God by his ineffable will attracts us to himself, for we simply are made to love, we are attracted by what seems an absent self, and so we desire, this desire will lead to our rest but that is only in the presence of God.

This teaching on the desire of man, explains to me how Thomas comes to his conclusions on continual prayer. The desire for God or beatitude which is Eternal life will always remain as a thirst within the human heart; man will according to his desire live his life in relation to this desire. Unlike many things we desire we forget them after some time, or we lose the momentum to keep searching or we find substitutes that quench that thirst, but we discover that what we unnaturally desire only leads to unfullfillment. Like the prayer of Augustine in the first book of his confession we can pray, Thou movest us to delight in praising Thee; for Thou hast formed us for Thyself, and our hearts are restless till they find rest in Thee.

We therefore live our lives with this grace given love to desire something which seems absent and unattainable in this life, but God is present and as I stated at the beginning, we are always in God’s presence and his eyes look lovingly upon us. If our deepest desire is God, we will live our lives in accordance to God will, all our works will be ordered towards obtaining eternal life, everything we do comes from this love, this one desire to be united. So we can take from St Thomas that our life becomes a prayer, a continuous prayer if we live the moral life, for every action and decision we take comes from an inert desire to be with and in God. There are times however that the initial movement to come close to God weakens, and we begin to rest in the desires that have an ultimate end, or rightly as Thomas teaches we can start to desire pleasures as they are in themselves and not as steps to union with God, the reason be, according to Thomas, the simple cares of life.

In his commentary on the letter to the Thessalonians, Thomas states that; “Pray constantly” means to pray continuously. But then prayer is considered under the aspect of the effect of the prayer. For prayer is the unfolding or expression of desire; for when I desire something, then I ask for it by praying. So prayer is the petition of suitable things from God; and so desire has the power of prayer. “O Lord, thou wilt hear the desire of the meek” (Ps. 10: 17). Therefore, whatever we do is the result of a desire; so prayer always remains in force in the good things we do; for the good things we do flow forth from the desire of the good.

The desire for God will always be in man for it is a natural desire. Origen understood like Thomas that prayer in a broad sense as a life of love for God and for our neighbour, as long as a person loved virtuously and obeyed the commandments of God in his daily occupations, man was living a life of love and could be said to be praying without ceasing. In general speaking too we can describe prayer as true love, a mother and father have a natural love for their children, it is always there, regardless of what the child does, the parent will always love as demonstrated in the Gospels so many times but especially in the story of the Prodigal Son. The love will sometimes be stronger than at other times but there is never a time when it is not present and what is prayer if it is not love, even the shortest thought about God, even the smallest deed, even faithfully living one’s life according to God’s commandments in the smallest and uneventful ways is but awakening the heart to a life of continual love.

Is it possible therefore to stop praying, to stop desiring God and eternal happiness? I do not think it is, for even when man falls through sin, his desire while against man’s nature was a desire for good, a desire for happiness, though the good desired was not according to God’s commandments. The desire for mercy and forgiveness comes as a grace from God, the child aware of its faults is moved through grace to repent unto the parent, therefore the Spirit within cries out; “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.” (Rm 8.26) The Spirit intercedes from within and we are as sinners humbled and in need of mercy rely on that participation in the life of the Blessed Trinity.

We are moved to repentance and conversion of life and through God’s mercy we are permitted to walk freely again, re-directed in many words along the path of life. When man has fallen in sin, he looks up to God and understands his need. When we fall we are humbled and see our need for that which is greater, if we never fell, we would grow in pride, and become in our own minds self-sufficient and independent. God therefore can see in the permitting of us to fall, a greater good, a deepening of prayer, and the begging of mercy which makes us dependent children on a loving and caring father. Through prayer we discover our need, and we as Thomas teaches, subject ourselves to God again and profess by our humble prayer that we need him as the author of all that is good for us.

Praying therefore without ceasing is simply Love, a love which is the grace of God attracting us to himself, through a life lived according to the commandments and the teaching of Jesus Christ who is the source and summit of the Fathers love, itself made manifest on the Cross.

Religious Formation Ministry Program Award

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During this academic year Fr. Dwight Black OP from Trinidad and Tobago has been living in St. Saviour’s Priory in Dublin while studying for the ‘Loreto House Religious Formation Ministry’ program run by the Irish Missionary Union. At the end of the academic year the brothers in Dominick St. joined together to congratulate Fr. Dwight and to acknowledge the completion of his course and to thank him for his presence in the community for the last year.

S.T.B. Degree Conferrals

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On the 6th June 2015 Fr. Luuk Jansen OP and Fr. Matthew Martinez OP both received their Bachelor of Sacred Theology (S.T.B.) degrees. This is a graduate-level academic degree in theology awarded after four years of theological studies at the Dominican Studium in Dublin. The degree was awarded by the Pontifical University of Saint Thomas Aquinas, the Angelicum, in Rome to which the Dominican Studium in Dublin is affiliated. They were presented with their parchments by Fr. John Harris OP, the Regent of Studies for the Province of Ireland and Fr. Seamus Tuohy OP, secretary of studies.

Frassati Experience

Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati was a mountaineer, a great friend, a charitable volunteer, a political activist, a man of deep prayer, and… a third-Order Dominican. Inspired by his example, the Dominican student brothers have inaugurated ‘the Frassati Experience’, a 24-hour retreat for young men, involving prayer, fellowship, outdoor activity and concrete works of charity. Here are some pics from our first outing, to Glendalough. To find out more about Bl Pier Giorgio, click here.

Frassati Glen

 

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It is all the same mystery.

The Irish Dominicans are always fond of recalling memories of past brethren. One particular memory is that of our brother William Barden, Archbishop of Isfahan of the Latins. Archbishop William was noted for his intense spiritual life and his deep insights into the Christian mystery. One day, just before the community processed out for Christmas Mass, one of the brethren on noticing a lady praying the stations of the Cross said how ridiculous it was. Fr. Barden, as he then was, said gently “ Leave her, it is all the same mystery.”

Jesus in this Sunday’s Gospel tells the Pharisees that all the teachings of the Prophets and the whole Law can be summed up in two great commandments of love: Love of God being the greatest and first and Love of neighbour being the second. Love of God is the foundation for love of others. St. Augustine said love of neighbour is sure proof of love of God. One could not love authentically without first loving God. What seems like two commandments are really one great commandment to love. In the end Archbishop William is right, it is all the same mystery, the mystery of Love.

 If it is the same mystery we should disregard the temptation at times to see God and our neighbour at opposite ends. Perhaps there are times when we feel we have to forgo the delights of prayer or time with God in order to help someone, we may feel disgruntled to be called away from our solitude with the Lord. However, this can be a false dichotomy because if we get up and go to help our neighbour we are in fact choosing God as well. We recall our Lord’s words “ You did it to me.” Our love and service to others is really love and service of God. Thus, we cannot love God with all our hearts and minds and souls without loving each other. It is all the same mystery of love.

 Gospel Reflection for the 30th  Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year A (Matt 22: 34-40) IMG_0409_DxO

The “Good” God

The Ancient Greek philosophers had concepts that Christianity assimilated into its own teaching to help penetrate deeper the mysteries of faith. One such concept is that of the Good. Aristotle said that all our actions aim at some end. The criteria for discerning the Good according to Aristotle is such that it is the final end we desire in all our willing. Therefore, the Good is desired for its own sake and not as a means for something else. Aristotle called happiness the Good. St. Thomas Aquinas building on the  thought of Aristotle, said happiness is to possess and be possessed by God. For Aquinas to possess God is to see Him face to face in the beatific vision in heaven. This is man’s perfect happiness, his beatitudo(beatitude).

Our true human beatitude demands that we do not treat other goods as an ends in themselves. Unfortunately human beings, says St. Thomas, tend to look for happiness in other candidates other than in God. He outlines some typical goods we tend to mistake for happiness such as fame, wealth, honour, power and pleasure.

 In the Gospel this Sunday, we see that there were people who were invited to the splendid wedding feast of the king’s son. In light of St. Thomas’s teaching, we can say this banquet is the equivalent of the chief good, the beatific vision. The rich and abundant notions of a feast in the parable takes on a new significance for us, it speaks of the lavishness of being in union with God at the end of time.

The Gospel also echo’s what we have just said about St. Thomas’s teaching on the candidates for happiness and the good. In the parable many people turn down the invitation by the King because some had to attend to their business while others maltreated and killed the servants who were sent to carry their invitation. Can we not say the first group of men were tempted by the desire for wealth and fame that a business could bring? Similarly did the other men kill the servants because they sought some form of power? The Gospel is showing us what St. Thomas articulated, that man often chooses other goods in lieu of the supreme Good, God.

Both St. Thomas and the Gospel is challenging us to question what things in our life are preventing us from receiving God’s invitation to eternal happiness; to the banquet and marriage supper of the lamb. We may have certain idols in our lives that we mistake for happiness and for God. If this is true we are being hindered from union with God, by rejecting God’s invitation to share more deeply in his inner life. Fortunately, as servant of God Catherine Doherty says, “every moment with God is a moment to begin again.” While we still have time on this earth we can repent and accept our Heavenly Father’s invitation to share his divine life. Like the good and the bad who were invited to the feast may we be one of them and not the one without the garment, the one who did not repent and thus was disconnected by his choice from God’s banquet of his presence.

Gospel Reflection for the 28th  Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year A (Matt 22: 1-10) 

I didn’t expect that!

DamoIn the 1990s there was a famous TV ad for an orange soft drink. It showed a man drinking the soft drink and then in a slow motion replay a small man covered in orange paint is seen running up to the man drinking, unbeknownst to him. After the man has taken a drink, the orange man suddenly appears in front of the man drinking and slaps him on the face with both of his hands. Needless to say the man drinking is left with a bewildered look on his face which clearly says ‘I didn’t expect that!’. In a strange ‘marketing strategy’ way this sudden shock to the system, brought on by the slap to the face, was supposed to represent the unexpected great taste sensation that the soft drink gave.

I couldn’t help but think of this ad when reading today’s Gospel. When Jesus taught through the use of parables He had a unique ability to leave many of his hearers saying to themselves ‘I didn’t expect that!’. As Jesus begins the parable in todays Gospel it seems like a simple story but then Jesus says something which must have registered like a slap in the face for the chief priests and elders He was speaking to. Jesus tells them that ‘the kingdom of God will be taken’ from them. But these were God’s chosen people, a holy nation set apart. How could this be? This would be the result of their rejection of Jesus whom they would have killed just like they had done with the some of the earlier prophets that God had sent to call his chosen people back to him. With teachings like this, it was no wonder that Jesus faced such opposition from the Jewish authorities and ended up being treated so harshly by them, to the point where He received many real slaps to his sacred face.

The parable in today’s Gospel was like a slap in the face for me too when I read it, reawakening me to the reality of God’s great patience with and love for each of us. It highlights the great lengths He has gone to to save us from sin and death. Each of us has the freedom to accept or reject Jesus. Realising the ultimate sacrifice that He has made out of love for us should lead us to love him with all our heart. If we choose to reject Jesus, who is the source of all love and life, we will, as the Gospel tells us, come to ‘a wretched end’.

Today is Rosary Sunday and in the sorrowful mysteries of the Rosary we mediate on the terrible reality of what happened to Jesus, ‘the keystone’, when He was ‘rejected by the builders’. During this month of October, which is dedicated to the promotion of the Rosary, let us make a real effort to pray the rosary each day as an offering of love to Jesus who has loved us to the end. A rosary intention for the month could be to pray for the conversion of the people we may know who have rejected Jesus in their lives. May Our Lady help us to love her son as she does.

O God, whose only begotten Son, by His life, death, and resurrection, has purchased for us the rewards of eternal salvation, grant, we beseech Thee, that while meditating on these mysteries of the most holy Rosary of the Blessed Virgin Mary, we may imitate what they contain and obtain what they promise, through the same Christ our Lord. Amen.

Our Lady, Queen of the Rosary, pray for us.

Gospel Reflection: Mt 21:33-43

‘Listen to another parable. There was a man, a landowner, who planted a vineyard; he fenced it round, dug a winepress in it and built a tower; then he leased it to tenants and went abroad. When vintage time drew near he sent his servants to the tenants to collect his produce. But the tenants seized his servants, thrashed one, killed another and stoned a third. Next he sent some more servants, this time a larger number, and they dealt with them in the same way. Finally he sent his son to them thinking, “They will respect my son.” But when the tenants saw the son, they said to each other, “This is the heir. Come on, let us kill him and take over his inheritance.” So they seized him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. Now when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?’ They answered, ‘He will bring those wretches to a wretched end and lease the vineyard to other tenants who will deliver the produce to him at the proper time.’ Jesus said to them, ‘Have you never read in the scriptures: The stone which the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this is the Lord’s doing and we marvel at it? ‘I tell you, then, that the kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit.’

Turning our No into Yes; Grace and Prayer.

This past weekend, a number of brothers were involved in Night Fever, this is a street outreach to people as they pass by a local church. This street evangelization initiative began in London and has spread to other cities across Europe. It is based on a very simple method. Night Fever aims to welcome and invite people off the street into the church principally to meet Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament and confession. Volunteers stand outside the church with candles and invite people to come into the church to light a candle. Priests are available for confession, the Blessed Sacrament is exposed and music is played in the background. Often, like in this Sunday’s Gospel, there are people on the street who at first say ‘no’ but then ‘something happens’ in their hearts and their initial  “No” becomes “a Yes”, they turn back around and they come into the Church.

What is this ‘something’ that happens in their hearts? This openness is the result of prayer, not their prayer but the prayer of those in the church praying for those on the streets. The ceaseless prayer of “the prayer teams” praying in the Church last Saturday resulted in over 800 people accepting the invitation to come into the church and light a candle. Those who went on to the street were amazed at how people seem to have a change of heart in coming into the church. What is even more striking is that some people were seen leaving the Church in tears. No doubt their tears were the fruits of prayer and grace and their “Yes” to the Lord.

Similarly, in the Gospel we can infer this to be the case. While there is no explicit mention of people praying for the tax collectors and prostitutes in the Gospel, their conversion is only possible because of Christ’s own prayer to the Father. We can imagine that Jesus in his many conversations with the Father in solitude, prayed for them to open their hearts to his grace. 

Another wonderful example of the power of prayerful intercession is St. Augustine. In the life of St. Augustine, we see Augustine’s rejection of Christ eventually become a “Yes” through the unwavering prayer of faith of his mother St. Monica. The fruit of Monica’s prayer bore not only in Augustine’s dramatic conversion but also in his intense mission in serving the Lord. 

The lesson then for us from the Gospel, Night Fever and St. Augustine’s life is to believe in grace and the power of prayer. Prayer truly can change hearts only because it invites God’s grace to be at work 

Gospel Reflection for the 26th  Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year A (Matt 21: 28-32)