Domus Dei et Porta Coeli in Cor Civitatem

+JMJ+

There are some seriously beautiful Churches in this Catholic city. Some 25% of the population in the Bay is said to be Roman Catholic. That means there are more Catholics in this Bay Area than there are Episcopalians. Anywhere. Or Orthodox, for that matter. (How many of them go to Church is another thing entirely, as it is for the other groups.) That many folks means there are some Beautiful Churches here. There are some toasters as well, don’t get me wrong, as well as some of those cyborg things that use holograms and floating statuary. Still, this one seems the winner.



Built in the late 1920s, just before the Depression hit, just in time to support folks through that dark period, and refurbished and retrofitted in the 1980s, just in time to withstand the Loma Prieta quake, it’s a miracle of community in the heart of this city. Doubly so, for the initial funding was from the community and it thrived through the Depression; and then, again, in the 80s, when the Archdiocese wanted it closed, the OP said not just no, but, O Heck No. And the community made the rebuild, and the retrofit and the rebirth happen. I don’t know if this is true, but I’ve heard that nearly 20% of the new Catholics in the Archdiocese come through this RCIA program. There are program events every night, there are multiple masses every day, the Daily Office is said here, weddings, funerals, baptisms, confessions, the food pantry, the homeless services, and open doors from 6AM to (at least) 9PM ever day. The friary hosts the Novitiate for the Dominican Province of the Holy Name. Speakers and clergy come from all over the world to talk about missions, spiritual topics, social justice, and to pray in what was once called, “The most beautiful Church in America”. It still is in my book.


More than a Parish Church, this is home to so many folks, including yours truly. While I’ve felt at home before in other places, and even not at home at all, something here clicked in a way that no other place has. The homeless in the pews, the hippies with their patchouli, the couples, the ethnic diversity, the Spanish Passion Play, the Christmas Messiah Concert, the Old Ladies with their Rosaries, the faithful in the fellowships, the dozens of small groups that spontaneously form to care for each other, the mobs of folks that show up for the daily masses (I’m used to seeing 7 or 9 for a weekday service, not 60 or 70… 30 or more is normal at 6:30 AM) all combine to tell me the Holy Spirit is doing something here, in the Heart of the City, that is making all heaven rejoice.



Numbers are not everything. Growth is not the measure of the Holy and I would rather a tiny, faithful remnant than a stadium full of pretenders. But we’re all sinners, and I can’t tell anyone’s pretending when I’m kneeling in the confessional or reaching out to receive the Body of Christ.


Deacon Jimmy asked in his Homily today how it was that each of us came to be there. I had heard of St Dominic’s parish, of all places, from my Orthodox Goddaughter and her husband, he a cradle Catholic from this Parish. When I left the Monastery, my heart firmly fixed on staying in the West, and having arrived back in SF, my question was “Where can I continue the monastic practice of going to Daily Mass easily from my residence and then get to work?” Easily means one bus, and that was the case for me: the 22 Fillmore brought me every day from Potrero Hill to Saint Dominic’s for 630 Mass and Morning Prayer. You’d almost think God set it up or something. My apartment now is also one bus away, although I have three buses to pick from now, and four buses coming back! That’s how I got there. But what kept me coming back was three moments: talking with Fr Michael about becoming Catholic (when he convinced me that plugging into the community was the important thing); Fr Augustine Hilander racing me out of Morning Prayer one morning to intercept me at the door and invite me to chant the office with the others in Choir; and Michael O’Smith letting me co-lead a small faith group when I had been in the church less than 3 months and wasn’t even officially Roman Catholic. These are all community-related if you can’t tell.

And now there is a new community in the Dominican Tertiaries, or the Third Order, OP, or the Dominican Laity. (Today at Mass I heard us called the “Order of Preachers, Laity”.)  I’m discerning my way yet, but that seems to be my best fit into this place.


I got there on the Second Sunday of Advent 2016. My friend, Tim, says three days later I moved in. How could I not move into my home? If you pay any attention to my social media you know I cannot stop taking pictures of this place. I’ve seen it in every light and shade, and in as many different sorts of weather as we have here, including smog from wildfires. 


I’ve watch stars overhead, seen an Iridium Flare from the front steps, hidden from the rain, and knelt as the evening sun blinded me to the elevated Host at Mass. But there is something else, something, pardon the wordplay, Catholic here. Mass is filled with Anglican Hymns. Our Solemn Mass (11:30s on Sunday) is an Anglo Catholic’s dream of vested choirs and smells and bells. Our low masses (6:30 and 8:00 AM and 5:30PM week-daily) are motions of high piety and prayer (rather than 15 minute Dine and Dashes) that lead folks to mini coffee-hours at the local bakeries or fellowship meals on the Fillmore. I run into people from this parish all over town. There are folks praying the Rosary and the Jesus Prayer here. There are Latin, English, and Spanish Masses. There’s a guitar mass and a Taize mass. There may be more… who knows what God will do here? But everything is here from my past. It’s as if God has prepared this place for an oddball on a journey home. 

And, so it is, that God willing, one of these will be mine soon:


A blessed Feast! 



Stanley & Becoming a (Lay) Dominican (Tertiary)

+JMJ+

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.