12 May 2012

Questions for the Friar: I respond. . .

Q 1: We all know that Christ was fully Man and fully God. Does this mean that while he was walking around Galilee he was able to see behind his own head?

A: If by “see” you mean “properly use his eyes,” then no. His eyes were perfectly human and one's perfectly human eyes cannot—unaided—see behind one's own head. However, if by “see” you mean “understand” and if by “behind his own head” you mean “his past,” then yes. In his divinity, Christ understood his own history. Of course, he could've picked up a pair of those nifty mirror sunglasses in Jerusalem!

Q 2: When are you coming for steak, twice baked potato, grilled onions, and pecan pie?

A: If my Double Secret Nefarious Plan comes to fruition, soon, my dear. . .very, very soon. I understand that the post office will deliver pecan pies for a nominal fee.

Q 3: Father, what is the life and role of a Dominican helper brother?

A: Right now the Order is exploring this very question. By our constitutions, we are a clerical order, meaning, our principal purpose can only be carried out by ordained friars—preaching and hearing confessions. So, historically, lay brothers or cooperator brothers were charged with taking care of the “worldly things” of the Order. For example, keeping the priory grounds, cooking, cleaning, laundry, shopping, etc. The idea was that the brothers made it possible for the priests to focus on study and preaching. More recently, brothers have expanded their ministry within the Order and to the world by taking up teaching and academic work, nursing, school and hospital administration; really, almost anything that can and needs to be done can be done by a brother! These days, brothers usually receive the same seminary education as a clerical student, so they also preach whenever possible, give retreats, missions, etc. One of our cooperator brothers tells people that he is a “boy nun.” I cringe a little at that, but in terms of active ministry, the lay brothers and sisters of the Order take on many of the same sorts of ministries. Because of the clerical nature of the Order and the emphasis the Church put on sacramental ministry, the number of brothers has dropped in modern times. Some brothers were encouraged to petition for ordination b/c of the priest “shortage.” Many European provinces have no cooperator brothers at all. In the US, we are a little better at helping men explore this vocation and encouraging its growth. We still have a lot of learn and a long way to go before we get to where we need to be in promoting the lay brother vocation. The danger, of course, is defining the lay brother vocation in negative terms, that is, “He's a Dominican friar but he's not a priest.” Their vocation is NOT a deprivation of priestly ordination but a positive service to the Order and the Church in it own right. When you meet a lay brother, please don't ask him, “Why didn't you go all the way?” He did go all the way. . .all the way to solemn vows!

Q 4: While the doctrine of Original Sin is an excellent description of how mankind is, I believe it has big problems as an explanation to educated 21st century people of how we got to be this way.

A: It's helpful here to distinguish between the reality and consequences of original sin and the historical origins of original sin. We need to remember that not all truths are facts; that is, all facts are true but not all truths are factual. The Adam and Eve story tells an enduring truth about the human race. At some point in our evolution, we came to realize that there is a difference between Good and Evil, that our thoughts, words, deeds have consequences that endure and that we are capable of choosing to commit both good and evil acts. The CCC teaches, “The account of the fall in Genesis 3 uses figurative language, but affirms a primeval event, a deed that took place at the beginning of the history of man. Revelation gives us the certainty of faith that the whole of human history is marked by the original fault freely committed by our first parents” (n. 390). One way of understanding the Genesis story is to read the Fall as that moment in our racial evolution when we became of aware—existentially conscious—of death; that is, we began to experience death as Evil and the need arose to explain the origins of this newly acquired awareness. Unfortunately, this explanation of the Genesis story leaves out a key element for the Christian, namely, God. However, we could hold this explanation and note that part of the acquired existential consciousness of death also necessarily involved an evolution in our awareness of God as God. In other words, becoming aware of God as Something Other (something Good) is also a consequence of the Fall. This is not to say that Adam and Eve didn't know God before the Fall; it's to say that they didn't know Him as Something Other, something distinguishable and different from Evil. Remember the whole point of keeping those two away from the Tree was to prevent them from acquiring the knowledge of Good and Evil. The CCC notes, “The 'tree of the knowledge of good and evil' symbolically evokes the insurmountable limits that man, being a creature, must freely recognize and respect with trust. Man is dependent on his Creator, and subject to the laws of creation and to the moral norms that govern the use of freedom” (n. 396). 

How to explain all of this to modernists? Explaining the origins of original sin to modernists may not be possible in terms consistent with divine revelation. . .we can throw in the Incarnation, the Resurrection, heaven, hell, and any number of other events revealed by God to believers. Using the Genesis story as a way of explaining death, violence, crime, etc. to modernists requires that the modernists first accept that God exists and has revealed Himself to us. Also, an essential element of the Genesis story that must be argued for and accepted before the story makes sense is the creaturely status of Man. Until then, all we can do is point to the reality and consequences of original sin and argue that the figurative language of Genesis gives us the truth of an event that happened at the beginning of the evolution of human consciousness and provides us with an existential explanation (not a scientific one) for why we are the way we are. 

Q 5: Before an home altar can be used does it need to be blessed by an ordained minister? If so, would the average pastor know the blessing?

A: I don't think that a blessing is required, but it is a good idea. It is also a good idea to have your whole house blessed. There are a number of approved blessings for houses, cars, boats, etc. and any parish priest would know about these blessings. Blessing houses is a common pastoral activity for pastors and parochial vicars!

Q 6: Do Dominicans have a special dispensation to wear their habits in place of an alb while celebrating Mass or is it just a handy custom? Have they always done that? Do they all do it?

A: Oy! I did ask for questions, didn't I? This is a sticky questions among Dominicans. There is no dispensation for Dominicans to forgo the alb. For all religious, “ordinary dress” is the habit approved by their constitutions. Liturgical law requires that all priests celebrating Mass wear an alb over their ordinary dress and under a chasuble (even con-celebrating priests); therefore, albs are required to be worn over a habit. When a Dominican priest doesn't wear an alb to celebrate Mass, he gets away with it b/c his habit tunic is almost identical to an alb. In fact, many Dominicans argue that the habit tunic is an alb and conclude that they are not required to wear two albs. Religious priests with brown or black habits have a more difficult time skirting this requirement. Some argue that the requirement is meant to prevent priests from slipping a stole over their jeans and tee-shirt, or over a black clerical suit to celebrate Mass. Because I am a Human Furnace, I usually strip down to my tunic and then put on a stole and chasuble. The thought of an extra layer of clothing makes me sweat. 

Q 7: How does a Catholic respond to the philosophy of Monism coming out of new age gurus like Eckhart Tolle?

A: If the person reading and following these New Age gurus is Catholic, I would point them to the most recent document from the Vatican warning Catholics away from quacks like Tolle, Jesus Christ, The Bearer of the Water of Life. Like all heresies, monism contains just enough truth to lure you in and get you to swallow the bigger lie. New Age gurus prey on the distance that many people feel with God. God is remote. God is uncaring. God doesn't answer my prays. They take this feeling of abandonment and place the blame for it on a flawed concept of the divine. They say, “The problem here is that your God-concept is from the Dark Ages; it's a child's unenlightened understanding of who you are in relation to the divine. You are divine! God is in you! Accept that and all will be well.” The truth that lures you in here is that God is in the human person. 

Catholics will know or vaguely remember some priest telling them that we all live and move and have our being in God. True. They will recall a retreat conference where a sister told them that seeing God as a big man with a white beard sitting on a throne scowling at us is something from the Dark Ages. True. They will know from EWTN that when we take communion we are taking in the whole Christ and becoming more like Christ. Also, true. All these truths, however, get twisted by the lie that God is not transcendent; that is, that God is not more than His creation. The idea that God is identical to creation is called pantheism. The New Age gurus play on the false notion that a transcendent God is a distant God. “He's transcendent! So, he must be far away. But we know that God is within us.” Transcendence is not quantifiable by distance. God isn't some few million miles away. Transcendence names a quality of the divine. The Catholic Encyclopedia says that transcendence means “that God is one simple and infinitely perfect personal Being whose nature and action in their proper character as Divine infinitely transcend all possible modes of the finite, and cannot, without contradiction, be formally identified with these.” What this means is that in no way can God be identical to His creation. God is immanent in His creation insofar as He is Being Itself and holds all of creation in existence, but all that creation is can never be all that God is. 

The New Age gurus love pantheism because it allows them to dupe people into believing that they gods. Sound familiar? It should. This is exactly the lie with which the serpent tempted Adam and Eve. So, the New Age lie is really the Oldest Lie: “You can be a god without God.”

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  1. Anonymous12:36 AM

    I'm in my mid-40s and single, after an annulled marriage of 20-odd years and the blessings of becoming the father of now adult children. Before moving in with the woman who came to be my lawful wife, I felt called by God, but I knew that it wasn't to the priesthood. Over the years, I came to get to know religious life better and I think that it was the life that God was calling me to. I now feel ready to say yes to God, but I'm unsure about inquiring because of my age. Is it too late for me? Where should I start?

    1. Hmmmm...well, I know that many orders do not accept applicants over the age of 40. Exceptions can be made and often are made. You would have to ask specific vocation directors. The Benedictines will consider you, I'm sure. I know a lot of dioceses accept men over 40. There's even a seminary for "late vocations." Don't let your age stop you from inquiring!

  2. Father Phililp, May I use your answer re: cooperator bro in eLumen, the LFSD newsletter? http://www.3op.org/eLUMEN_May_2012.pdf

  3. Anonymous9:20 AM

    Q 3: Father, what is the life and role of a Dominican helper brother?

    I suppose as a follow-up question, is there such a thing like 3rd Order Dominicans like the Fransiscans have?

    1. Absolutely! Every US province has a chapter or two or three of Lay Dominicans. Just google "lay Dominicans" and you'll see.

  4. Anonymous1:44 PM

    Father, thanks for making this new addition to your blog. It's really great. I know you're gonna' do well with it. One thing, though: Question 6, about the alb and the habit. Honestly, now, come on! The tunic is not--NOT, NOT, NOT--an alb, and no amount of whining can make it one. In fact, because our habits are traditionally wollen, they're not even white--they're off-white (cream, sometimes even a light beige. The alb, on the other hand, IS white, the garment of baptism. Also, even though I'm another heat-hater, I still am not gonna' give you a pass on the temperature. WEAR AN ALB. Maybe a lighter habit or a lighter alb, or both. Or remove the habit altogether. But don't give anyone any more reasons to "tweak" the liturgy. Honestly, we gotta' start to crawl out of the 70s sometime.

    Fr. Martin Farrell, op

    1. Been doing this for twelve years now and I have never found a material light enough. Please understand. . .I'm not whining b/c I get a little overheated. I SWEAT. Dripping, running down my neck, into my eyes, dropping on the floor, soak through my vestments SWEAT! Several times I've had to step off the altar and follow a con-celebrant to finish Mass. No alb for me. . .at least, not one along with undergarments, clothes, habit, and outer vestments. No. Way.

  5. Gregg the Obscure5:37 PM

    Is there a preferred formula for "offering up" pain or frustrations? Or is something along the lines of 'Thank you, Most High, for this pain. May it be a salutary penance' sufficient?