I’m too old. Roman Catholic orders want young men. They all seem to max out at guys 15 years younger than me. Some don’t want guys more than 20 years younger than me. This is a sad reality for me. For while my experience in a monastery proved to me I wanted to try in another community rather quickly, it also proved to me that I was not yet at home. When Coming Home to Rome, as they say, a community, a rule of life, a structure of prayer and study was also needed. But I’m too old to be welcomed in the religious orders that I might like. So it was that when – last year – I thought I’d found one that might be a fit, after sniffing around the edges for a while I realized they made Fr James Martin look very conservative. And decided that wasn’t a good match. All this by way of back story…
When I was moving back to SF in 2016 I asked Twitter for Church recommendations. Given my home and my job my only concern was that I should be able to get between house, Mass, and work rather easily. So there was this tweet. It posted moments after Fr Thomas Petri had tweeted something, if I remember correctly, about reading his Midday Office on California’s famous Hwy 1, overlooking the Pacific while on a drive away from San Francisco. Someone pointed out this coincidence and said, “Go to St Dominic’s”. Looking on a map, St D’s was one bus ride away from both work and home. I had also heard of St Dom’s in two very different contexts prior to that – but both were good, prayerful connections. St Dominic’s had a daily mass and also had daily morning and evening prayer. And so it seemed as though it was good to the Holy Spirit, to Twitter, and me at the same time. I arrived at St Dominic’s on the Saturday before the 2nd Sunday of Advent, 2016. And, I’ve been told, 3 days later I moved in.
There have been places that felt like home before but somehow this is home in ways beyond description. In time past I’ve needed to be invited, to wait. It felt as if hesitation was proper until something was needed; on;y then putting myself forward. (This is the case in most of my world, to be honest.) At St Dom’s though, I had put my hand to the plough and there was no looking back. This is a sign of growing up, perhaps. Also “Convert glee”. It’s also a sign of dealing with internal demons. But something at St Dominic’s keeps not only calling me out, but also giving me the courage to act.
So it was that when it was announced there was a chapter forming at St Dominic’s I craved admission. (There are many names: Dominican Laity, Lay Dominicans, Dominican Tertiaries, Third Order Dominicans, Lay Fraternity.) The Dominican charism of Preaching, based on a foundation of Prayer, Community, and Study, of Contemplation and taking the fruits of the Contemplation to the World… these all resonated with my journey, my blogging, my teaching… there was connection here that begged for exploration and deeper digging.
Discernment is a process, an action verb. To begin this there was first required an entrance (there are a total of at least five years of formation). Except to be admitted as an Inquirer, one needed to have been a practicing Catholic for two years. It had only been 6 months since swimming the Tiber. But I asked for a dispensation: the reason is because Orthodox are considered Catholics – a favor not returned, usually – so by Church teaching I had been a curious form of Catholic since my Chrismation in 2002, albeit a cranky, anti-western one for a large part of that time. The Church moving slowly, the dispensation did not arrive until about 2/3 of the way through the first year. But it did come through and so, lo, there’s a Dominican Journey happening.
And now there’s another step: candidacy. In terms of monastic parallels, it is candidacy rather than inquirer that is like my time as a novice at St Laurence’s. One is a Candidate for at least a year and also there’s a new name. I’ve had so many new names in my life… although the last one – Dunstan – I gave back. Any saint is ok, but if there is not a Dominican connection, there also needs to be a Dominican name picked.
So, my Dominican saint is Robert: for Blessed Robert Nutter, a Dominican Martyr under the English Crown. A devotion to the English martyrs began while I was at St Laurence’s Monastery. As I cleaned I would listen to the life of St Edmund Campion, and the other stories of that time – including R.H. Benson’s brilliant Come Rack! Come Rope! Considering how much Anglicans – and thus a certain species of WR Orthodox – lionize the English Reformation and the English Monarchs, it’s really an embarrassment to realize their greatest gift to the western Church was a huge passel of martyrs and some good hymnody. Also furthering this devotion an ancestor, Blessed William Richardson, is another of the English Martyrs. So, Robert Nutter: who may or may not have been an actual Dominican Friar. But was attached to the Order in some way – possibly as a priest received in, or as a member of the priestly fraternity which would make him a tertiary. This is purported to be a holy card… but although the hagiographic elements are correct, the time is all wrong. I’ve seen the same image linked with other Dominican Martyrs. But ok:
Stanley, however, for Blessed Stanley Rother, is the name I’m picking. The first time I saw this image of Stanley Rother, at his beatification, something reached out and touched my heart.
Both Stanley and Robert received martyr crowns via the hands of people we tend to lionize: Robert was slain under Elizabeth I. And Stanley was martyred by right-wing hit squads in Guatemala, enjoying the patronage of the School of the Americas and Our Glorious Leader, Ronald Reagan. Both men are one of several martyrs created by the same politician. Both men seem models (along with Blessed William) of the sort of Catholic men we need today: willing to go the extra mile, to endure rough life consequences, to live in bad political situations standing athwart the accepted leaders’ intentions, and, in the end, to die for the faith if needed. Both men knew that when the leader goes bad, the Church must stand with the people. Both men knew the dignity of the human person stood above the secular government, and that human rights proceed from God – not from Caesar. Both men knew the Church’s ministry to her people must continue at any cost. Since Reagan, we’ve continued to have some pretty bad leaders in this country and I can’t imagine them getting better. That’s not the way the political landscape works. We need men like this to guide us in our prayers and to intercede for us in heaven.
This seems like a good fit. In term of Signal Graces and Peace of Mind, and even mad passionate love, this feels like the right thing. Yes: post-conversion bliss, and also a few other things, but also, peace. Also: the age thing is not important.
I’ve a personal reason to pick this name as well: Stanley is the middle name of my stepfather and his father also. The Church needs more men like them also: faithful, loving, caring, generous to a fault, strong, centered in Christ, and good at raising kids (who are anything but good, most of the time). While Richardson is from my Mom’s side, Stanley is from Dad’s side. This Candidacy Year begins on the 10th of November at the 5:30 Mass, if you’re around (or about and about) I welcome your prayers.
Update: This showed up, a new video about Blessed Stanley Rother.
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