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A Reflection for the Feast of St. Albert the Great

At a recent meeting of the leaders of the Congregation's Educational Ministries, coinciding with the Feast of the Dominican Saint, St. Albert the Great, Sr. Cathy Arnold spoke on the day's Gospel from the book of Matthew.  

Jesus said to the crowds: "The Kingdom of heaven is like a net thrown into the sea, which collects fish of every kind. When it is full they haul it ashore and sit down to put what is good into buckets. What is bad they throw away.

Thus it will be at the end of the age. The angels will go out and separate the wicked from the righteous and throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth. Do you understand all these things?"

They answered, "Yes."

And he replied, "Then every scribe who has been instructed in the Kingdom of heaven is like the head of a household who brings from his storeroom both the new and the old."

Would that it be so easy to sort what is good and what is bad like the net hauling in all things from the sea.  But as for separating the wicked from the righteous and throwing into the fiery furnace, I don’t even want to touch that.

Instead, let’s focus on “Every scribe who has been instructed in the Kingdom of heaven is like the head of a household who brings from her storeroom both the new and the old.”

Isn’t this the call of each of us and especially every President and Board member of every Catholic Dominican high school, college, and university  - to bring from your storeroom both the new and the old when dealing with the challenges and complexities we face today? 

Today’s Gospel reading chosen by the Church for the feast of our Dominican brother, St. Albert the Great, reminds us of our call as humans, as Catholics, as Christians, and as Dominicans that we are an evolving species, an evolving Church, an evolving Dominican order, and each one of us is called to continually grow and evolve.  We are called to bring from our storeroom of life experience both the old and the new and to weave them together in such a way that brings forth the kingdom of heaven, that is, bringing forth life and love wherever we are.    

In today’s first reading from Sirach, we hear that the human finds wisdom by first fearing the Lord and practicing the law; the basis for a whole and healthy life is to practice goodness in thoughts and actions and to avoid evil.  Then with that foundation – God as Wisdom – Sophia can meet us, embrace us, nourish us with the bread of understanding and give us the water of learning. 

Think of your own faith journey.  Recall the way you learned about God, Jesus, and the faith and how doing what was right included some healthy fear of not hurting God, nor our neighbors, nor ourselves.

Then the day came when a situation arose and you had to discern and to make a choice – the statutes and the law might indicate clearly what choice to make, but given a relationship or a commitment to compassion, truth, beauty, or goodness, another possible greater good, which perhaps seemed to contradict the law, became the most loving and Jesus-like choice.  Isn’t this the most significant reason why Jesus was crucified? 

On a personal level, I recall a story that happened many years ago before my time in the family.  My father disowned his sister when she became pregnant outside of marriage.  I don’t know if he kept his word that he would never see her again.  He died young.  And I don’t know if he would make the same decision today because today most of us, when faced with a similar situation, would likely not choose that option.  But somehow at the time, he must have thought he was following the law and doing what he had to do. 

What are the tensions we experience in our Church and society and world today?  What is the new we are being invited to study critically and positively for the sake of the common good and for our own salvation in this life and in the life to come?  What oppressive and unjust systems are we challenged to examine, study, and think critically about, in order to bring about transformation for the good of all, especially those marginalized, including Earth. 

As we all know, nothing stays constant.  We are forever being invited to grow and to change to help bring about the kingdom of heaven here in this life.     

Consider our Brother Albert, who sought truth in every field of study and of every area of life.  With a passion for discovery and of love of God, he helped the Church to expand its knowledge of the natural world and of science.  Our Dominican Brother and theologian, Edward Schillebeeckx in his article on Dominican Spirituality wrote, quote “At a time when the Constitutions of the Dominican Order -  years 1221-1231 said: “Our brothers may not study the books of pagan writers (referring above all to Aristotle) and philosophers (what is meant is Arabic philosophy, the great modernism in the Middle Ages); far less may they study the secular sciences.’  However, only about twenty years later, Albert the Great and Thomas Aquinas were to regard the study of secular sciences and the ‘pagan philosophers’ as a necessary condition of the preparation and formation of an appropriate Dominican apostolate, going against the Dominican constitution of the time.”  End quote.

Albert and Thomas followed Dominic’s example of weaving.  Dominic wove the cross-threads of the past religious tradition critically and positively with the new apostolic experiments of preaching combined with poverty and living simply.

In his article, Schillebeeckx also notes that the story of the Dominican order continues to be written in and through the lives of those of us Dominicans who are alive today.  In the article he is very clear that our call as Dominicans is not to cling to the past and the way things were done in the past, this could inadvertently lead us to become inquisition-like, but rather we are called to hold the best of the past, critically study and examine current challenges, and work to integrate the two, all the while, loving and following Jesus’ example given to us in the Gospel, drawing from the storeroom the old and the new.

How do we do this?  As we grow to rely more and more on Wisdom/Sophia, we ask to lean upon her to keep us from falling, to trust in her to not let us be put to shame, to find joy and gladness in her.  Wisdom will open our mouths to proclaim God’s love and faithfulness, will fill us with spirit and understanding, will clothe us with the robe of glory – and I add - a glory that may look and feel like the glory of Jesus as he was lifted up on the cross.  Weaving the old and the new does not come without pain and even persecution at times.  But if there is truth in the new, then the day comes, when the new understanding becomes part of the necessary growth we need to become more fully human as we put on the mind and heart of Christ.

It’s so important - Our current students and alums need us, our colleagues need us, our Dominican Order and our Church need us.  Earth needs us. 

May we trust fully in our ever-loving and faithful God in Jesus and the Holy Spirit/Sophia/Wisdom to fill us and to call forth from us the most loving responses we can make at this time in our world. 

St. Albert the Great, pray for us.

St. Thomas Aquinas, pray for us.

Sophia/Wisdom/Jesus lead us and love us fully into who we are called to be.

Front, from left: Mark Butler, OPA, Director of Founded Ministries; Sr. Anne Lythgoe, OP, Dominican Sisters of Peace Leadership team; Anne McCrory, Albertus Magnus College, Board Vice Chair; Sr. Anne Kilbride, OP, Albertus Magnus College, Assistance to the President for Dominican Mission; Alexandria M. Egler, PhD, President of Dominican Academy; Melissa Gibilaro, Dominican Academy, Directory of Campus Ministry; Sr. Cathy Arnold, OP, Dominican Sisters of Peace Leadership team; Sr. Valerie Shaul, OP, Our Lady of the Elms, Board Member; Claire Crane, Resource and Education Coordinator, Office of Founded Ministries. Center, from left to right: Dr. Cynthia Thomas, OPA, St. Mary's Dominican High School, President, Dr. Maureen Wright, OP, St. Mary's Dominican High School, Vice President Dominican Catholic Identity, Jill Cabes, St. Mary's Dominican High School, Board Chair, Jennifer Erbs, Our Lady of the Elms, Board Member Back Row, from left, Dr. Marc Camille, Albertus Magnus College, President; Vin Petrini. Albertus Magnus College, Board Chair; Sr. Pat Twohill, OP, Prioress, Dominican Sisters of Peace Leadership; Sr. Susan Leslie, Dominican Sisters of Peace Leadership team; Brendan Doyle, Dominican Academy, VP of Finance; Adam Woods, St. Agnes Academy-St. Dominic School, Dean of St. Dominic School; Anne Clark, Our Lady of the Elms, Board Vice Chair; Tom Hood, OPA, St. Agnes Academy - St. Dominic School, President; Holli Kenney, St. Agnes Academy - St. Dominic School, VP for Advancement; Sr. Carol Davis, Dominican Sisters of Peace Leadership team; Travis LeMonte, St. Agnes Academy - St. Dominic School, Board Chair

From left, Tom Hood, President, St. Agnes Academy-St. Dominic School; Alexandria M. Egler, PhD, President of Dominican Academy; Sr. Pat Twohill, Prioress, Dominican Sisters of Peace; Deborah Farquhar Jones, President, Our Lady of the Elms School; Cynthia Thomas, PhD, President, St. Mary's Dominican High School

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