By Lisa Rosenlund,
Saint Brendan Parish Manager
Each week, we summarize a specific style, form, or approach to prayer, using the highly-acclaimed book by Robert J. Wicks, Prayer in the Catholic Tradition: A Handbook of Practical Approaches (Franciscan Media 2006). In this article, you’ll learn more about prayer in the Carmelite tradition.
I was eager to read this chapter of Wicks’ book because my grandmother was a founding member of a group of lay women that supported Carmelite nuns who arrived in Cleveland in 1923. I never really knew anything about the Carmelite tradition other than that it was a contemplative way of life.
For centuries, one of the main characteristics of the Carmelites has been their focus on prayer. The Carmelite tradition began with a small group of European hermits who traveled to the Holy Land around 1200 A.D. and settled on the side of Mount Carmel, which rises above the city of Haifa, Israel, facing the Mediterranean Sea. They modeled their lives of solitude and prayer after the prophet Elijah.
The early Carmelites asked Albert, the Patriarch of Jerusalem, in whose jurisdiction Mount Carmel lay, to document their pattern of living and praying. The resulting “Rule of Carmel” governed what became the Carmelite Order.
According to the Rule, each Carmelite was to have a “cell,” where he would meditate on Scripture day and night. This way of praying is now known as “lectio divina,” where one seeks God’s guidance by pondering the Word.
Throughout the eight hundred years that the Carmelite tradition has been in existence, many saints have been inspired by it. The Catholic Church has declared three of Carmel’s saints Doctors of the Universal Church: Saint Teresa of Avila, Saint John of the Cross, and Saint Therese of Lisieux.
According to Wicks, Saint Teresa of Avila (1515-1582) understood prayer to be a conversation with a friend, the purpose of which was to align one’s life with God’s will. However, in order to have a conversation, one must first become aware of the friend’s presence.
In her book, The Interior Castle, Teresa imagines her spiritual life as a journey from the outside of a crystal, global castle to the center room where the King lives. Teresa’s journey moves through seven suites of rooms representing the seven stages of the soul’s relationship with God.
Teresa says that “[t]he door of entry to this castle is prayer and reflection.” Wicks interprets her writings to mean that, “rather than having one center in our life, we have many centers, each calling for our attention. The many concerns, the many centers, fragment us. What frees us from our dissipated and fragmented life outside the castle, on the periphery of our life, is prayer.” (214)
The original Carmelite settlement is now in ruins, but to this day Carmelites refer to going back to it in memory and imagination as “entering Carmel.” We can all try to “enter Carmel” by adopting the Carmelite style of prayer. As Wicks says, “With the Rule of Carmel as a foundation and Carmel’s saints as companions, the pilgrim in the land of Carmel is invited into the mystery of God.” (234)
As part of our message series, It’s Better in Here, each week a parishioner will describe what Saint Brendan means to him or her personally. This week’s article is by former school parent, Brit Hahn.
Born in 1960 and raised in San Francisco, I remember first noticing Saint Brendan’s as a kid riding the old 10 Monterey. The bus would stop in front of the school, and I would see the children in their uniforms with red sweaters playing and coming and going.
Although I didn’t know any of them, I remember wondering what it must be like to attend such a fine school. Although I was not Catholic, little did I know that years later, through a series of “coincidences,” I would have all three of my own children at Saint Brendan School.
We were attending the annual May Crowning event when I first felt it: A feeling of total belonging. It was one of those rare moments when I felt like I was exactly where I was supposed to be. I knew at that moment that I needed to stop being a spectator and belong. I followed my wife Dawn, enrolled in RCIA, and was baptized and confirmed the following spring. It wasn’t long before my mother Kathryn had joined and was confirmed as well.
After the kids left the school, I found myself attending Mass less and less frequently, until I was barely going at all. It wasn’t until our youngest was in his senior year of high school that I found myself feeling that something was missing in my life. Right around the same time, I decided to go ahead with a bilateral knee replacement that had been recommended for many years. I was scared. Aside from the obvious ordeal of getting through the surgery and recovery, I was certain that I would have massive complications and would end up in a wheelchair.
Then I remembered the feeling I had that night at May Crowning. I realized exactly what I needed. I was afraid, and the only way I would ever get through this was to strengthen my connection to God and rebuild my faith. I made a commitment to attend weekly Mass.
It happened slowly at first. Many times I would go to Mass and feel awkward and uncomfortable. But I just kept going. Before long my mother started going with me. Every Sunday morning I would pick mom up, and we would go to the 8 a.m. Mass and have breakfast at West Portal afterwards. Soon I had my knees replaced, and I was hobbling back to Mass every Sunday morning with mom.
That feeling of total belonging returned. It didn’t hit me suddenly like it did that night at May Crowning; it happened gradually and grew over time. It’s been over four years and I haven’t missed Sunday Mass once. I have found that, over the last few years, I have developed a strong faith in God that I feel almost all the time. I believe that I am in fit spiritual condition and that I am a calmer, kinder, more loving man as a result.
Mom and I are both Lectors, and you can always catch us at the 8 a.m. Mass.
By Lisa Rosenlund,
Saint Brendan Parish Manager
Each week, we summarize a specific style, form, or approach to prayer, using the highly-acclaimed book by Robert J. Wicks, Prayer in the Catholic Tradition: A Handbook of Practical Approaches (Franciscan Media 2006). In this article, you’ll learn more about prayer in the Dominican tradition.
St. Dominic, founder and namesake of the Dominicans, did not himself prescribe a specific manner of praying, although there is a short book entitled, Nine Ways of Prayer, that was written after his death. The book contains descriptions and pictures of Saint Dominic praying in various ways, such as lying prostrate on the ground, bowing in front of the altar, or genuflecting with his gaze fixed on the crucifix. In fact, previous texts speak of two kinds of prostrations and two kinds of genuflections that were used by Dominican friars. (246, 247)
Noted artist and Dominican monk, Fra Angelico’s frescos in Florence depict some of these bodily postures of prayer and are also part of the Dominican tradition. It is said that Fra Angelico, as he was dubbed (from Fra meaning “brother” and Angelico meaning “angelic”), never began a painting without a prayer.
In addition to its depictions of the saints praying, Dominican art was itself a form of prayer. Similar to praying with icons, the portraits of St. Dominic at prayer in the Nine Ways of Prayer and the different bodily gestures shown were “not only intended to draw what is described but to invite a reflection on the nature of prayer itself.” (248)
Dominican prayer is contemplative but not monastic. It is extroverted not introverted. According to Dominican scholar Thomas Aquinas, one of the mottos of the Dominican order is “contemplari et contemplata a liis tradere” (“to contemplate and to hand on to others the fruits of one’s contemplation.”). (238) Thomas saw the order as a mixture of the contemplative life and a life of ministry, an integration of Martha and Mary. (239)
To contemplate literally means to live in a temple. St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 3:16-17 tells us that we are God’s temple because the Holy Spirit dwells in us. Our body really is our temple! Dominican Saint Catherine of Siena referred to this interior dwelling place of the soul as the “cell of self-knowledge.” It is here at the core of our being that we receive God’s grace, which then pours out into the external space, where we live and engage with the world.
One of St. Dominic’s greatest influences was St. Paul, particularly Paul’s instruction “to pray always” (1 Thessalonians 5:17). (246) Traditional forms of prayer, including the Eucharist, the Liturgy of the Hours, the Rosary and Adoration have always been mainstays of Dominican life. In order to enable us to follow St. Paul’s directive, Dominican prayer is also inclusive of non-traditional ways of deepening one’s contemplative life. In modern times, Dominicans have even incorporated aspects of Eastern religions into their prayer life. (245)
To pray in the Dominican tradition is simply to pray. Unceasingly. Not self-conscious about a right way to pray. (249) Anyone can do it. Using any posture!
As part of our message series, It’s Better in Here, each week a parishioner will describe what Saint Brendan means to him or her personally. This week’s article is by our Director of Music Ministry, Mario Balestrieri.
My work for the last forty-eight years as a church musician has brought me to just about every corner of both the San Francisco Archdiocese and the Oakland Diocese. Early on, my life settled in to a spot that can best be described as feeling familiar, and I came to know very well the many blessings in my life. Along the way, I also came to know a few of my life’s challenges. Like Samuel in last Sunday’s first reading, there have been times when I have been rather slow to recognize God’s attempts to get a message through to me.
In 2014, little did I know that God had begun preparing me for a message that would eventually come two years later in 2016: “Mario, I have a change in store for you.”
I was invited in 2014 to be the musician for the annual priests’ retreat. I declined because the thought of driving to Menlo Park every day for two weeks just wasn’t something I wanted to sign up for. I was invited again in 2015, and then again in 2016. While I hesitated, I did accept the invitation in 2016. It was during that retreat that I had the life-changing good fortune to meet Father Roger Gustafson. He would soon become the pastor of Saint Brendan Parish. The change that God had in store for me was set into motion.
Last weekend, January 14, marked my first anniversary as Director of Music Ministry here at Saint Brendan. It was a year ago that I left many long-time friends, co-workers and acquaintances, and began my work in this parish where I knew almost no one. Initially, even with the most incredibly warm and gracious welcome that was extended to me on that first weekend, I felt like a fish out of water—the new kid on the block and certainly out of my comfort zone.
The people of Saint Brendan took me into their midst, welcomed me, introduced themselves and immediately accepted me as one of the Saint Brendan Family without even knowing me. While there are many names that I still do not know, there are many faces that I recognize, even when out and about beyond the parish. I enjoy the occasions during the week when I meet my new parishioners by chance.
Words fall short in describing the chemistry and interaction among the parish staff, those with whom I work. In spite of the absence of a long history together, the staff members share a genuine and mutual respect for one another. We like and enjoy one another even cooking together in the rectory and on retreat near Santa Cruz. There is a wonderful, refreshing openness and honesty among this young staff that have known each other a year and a half at the most.
Today’s world offers many unfriendly instances. By contrast, small and cozy Saint Brendan offers refreshment for the spirit.
By Lisa Rosenlund,
Saint Brendan Parish Manager
Each week, we summarize a specific style, form, or approach to prayer, using the highly-acclaimed book by Robert J. Wicks, Prayer in the Catholic Tradition: A Handbook of Practical Approaches (Franciscan Media 2006). In this article, you’ll learn more about prayer in the Clarian tradition.
Primarily due to the romanticization of the relationship between Saint Clare and Saint Francis in the 1972 film, Brother Sun, Sister Moon, and others like it, Saint Clare’s independent contribution to the Franciscan tradition is often overlooked.
Clare of Assisi was the first woman to join Francis’ community. Unlike Francis, whose family (though wealthy) were common, Clare came from a family of nobility and high social standing. At seventeen, she heard Francis preach and was captivated by his message. Against the wishes of her family, she asked to be admitted to his newly formed group of followers.
Clare viewed Francis (twelve years older) as her spiritual father and, according to Wicks, was fond of describing herself as his plantacula (“little plant”). However, she was more than a disciple. Modern scholars view her as a “true cofounder and long-influential shaper of the [Franciscan] tradition.”
After Saint Francis’ death, Clare carried the torch and, according to Franciscan scholar William Short, was “at the core of the tradition as it [was] being handed over to the next generation.” She was at the center of the early companions of Saint Francis. Three of the first followers were at her bedside when she died almost thirty years after Francis, the only time the three were in the same place at the same time after Francis’ death. Clare lived for forty years with her sisters at the church of San Damiano, then the site of a leper colony, which contained the crucifix that instructed Saint Francis to “rebuild the church.”
United as they were in their shared Franciscan values of love for Jesus and the Gospel life, the two saints differed not only in age, gender and social status, but also in the manner in which they expressed their beliefs. Both embraced poverty, however, rather than traveling from place to place. Clare chose a cloistered, contemplative life.
Clare’s style of prayer reflected her noble birth and used visualization and relational imagery. She often used royal images such as “precious stones, priceless pearls, sparkling gems, and a golden crown of holiness.” Saint Clare viewed herself and her sisters as having been joined in marriage to Jesus Christ. She refers to him as “the most royal and noble of grooms, a spouse whose beauty far surpasses all others.”
In contrast to Saint Francis, Clare followed a specific pattern of contemplation: gaze, consider, contemplate and desire to imitate. She used more intimate visual language such as gazing in a mirror, as opposed to aural language like “hearing God’s call.” Indeed, notes Franciscan theologian, Timothy Johnson: “[Clare’s] preference for visual language underlines her conviction that Christ will be continually and intimately present . . . if she envisions him daily as spouse and mirror.”
Likewise, following Saint Clare’s simple four-step guide to prayer can help us develop a more intimate relationship with God.
As part of our message series, It’s Better in Here, each week a parishioner will describe what Saint Brendan means to him or her personally. This week’s article is by young adult, Mitch Carey.
November 23, 2014 was the first time that I visited Saint Brendan. The other parishes that I attended in San Francisco were massive. Undoubtedly, their scale and architecture evoked and signified the beauty that is the Catholic Church. Saint Brendan, however, had a beauty of its own, with a certain friendliness, coziness, and welcome, that sense of hygge, warmth and well-being that Father Roger has been recently mentioning. I appreciate the size of Saint Brendan, tucked away in a corner of the city, especially since I moved to San Francisco from a small town in Southeastern Washington State.
As a young adult, it is refreshing to attend Mass on Sunday and see family life thriving, something that seems rare in San Francisco. As I recognize the faces around me on each Sunday, I experience a sense of belonging, community, and family. It reminds me of home. In fact, it’s the people that I love most about being a parishioner here.
People like Sister Angela. After that first Mass at Saint Brendan, she asked for help setting up tables for hospitality. Such a small task, yet, in me, this fostered that initial sense of belonging. Like many other Catholics, I desired to be more involved in the Church, yet did not know how to serve. Sister Angela recognized this desire and gave me that extra nudge in the right direction. Over the three years since my first visit, setting up tables once a month for Sunday hospitality is now a commitment that my friend Brady and I have made, and I could not be more thankful for Sister Angela asking us to help.
People in small groups. Witnessing the faith of others in the small group “Random Acts of Catholics” at Saint Brendan has provided an opportunity, not only to serve within the church, but also to branch out to those in need in our community. It is inspiring to witness individuals in this group who live out Pope Francis’ words: “You pray for the hungry, and then you feed them. That’s how prayer works.”
Other people at Saint Brendan. Many parishioners probably do not realize the impact they have, but they are all part of the reason that I feel at home here. The women that pray the Rosary early every morning make me look forward to hopping out of bed, for example, and the parish staff have a certain light about them.
This church has helped to ignite a fire within my heart, for which I am forever grateful. I am now in my last year of dental school. As a recipient of a scholarship with the Navy, it seems only fitting that Saint Brendan, patron saint of sailors, will help navigate me, as I discern God’s will in my life and the plans he has for me. Thank you to all those parishioners that make Saint Brendan the home that it is!
By Lisa Rosenlund,
Saint Brendan Parish Manager
Each week, we summarize a specific style, form, or approach to prayer, using the highly-acclaimed book by Robert J. Wicks, Prayer in the Catholic Tradition: A Handbook of Practical Approaches (Franciscan Media 2006). In this article, you’ll learn more about prayer in the tradition of Saint Francis.
Born Francesco di Bernardone in 1182 in the Umbrian town of Assisi, Saint Francis did not set out to found a religious order. In fact, the first twenty-four years of his 44-year lifespan were spent living comfortably as the son of a wealthy cloth merchant and attempting to raise his non-noble status by becoming a knight. However, he was unsuccessful and was captured in battle with a neighboring town. His conversion began in captivity and, after his father ransomed him from prison, he returned home “a beaten and changed man.”
At first, Francis rejected his affluent lifestyle and began wearing simple peasant clothing. Then he started selling clothes from his father’s warehouse and giving the proceeds to the church and the poor. Ultimately, he moved outside of town altogether and took up an itinerant lifestyle. Francis’ writings indicate that he initially preferred to “live the Gospel as something of a ‘lone ranger.’” However, although he did not seek it out, others began following him and adopting his new way of life.
In contrast to the Benedictine tradition’s balanced life of prayer and work, Saint Francis leaned more towards unceasing prayer. Indeed, he believed that prayer should be continual and therefore encouraged his friars to pray the daily office.
Reflective of the burgeoning community developing around him, Francis’ prayers were expressed almost exclusively in a collective voice. Indeed, only one of those he wrote was in the first-person singular. According to Wicks, prayer was “a communal experience,” for Francis, “one that extends beyond the individual petitioner or adorer of God to include the community gathered locally or the communion of saints more broadly.”
Francis referred to himself as an idiota, or unlearned, person, though he was not illiterate. His understanding of Scripture astonished the most educated scholars of his time, and he composed his own psalmody and prayers based on passages from the Bible, especially the psalms.
Francis balanced his time in community with periodic retreats to hermitages and quiet places to pray. He specified that three or four friars should go together to a hermitage. Two of the friars were to act as mothers and lead the life of Martha in the story of Jesus visiting the home of two sisters, Martha and Mary (Luke 10:38-42). The other one or two friars were to be their children and lead the life of Mary. Occasionally, the roles were to be reversed. Citing scholars, Wicks notes that this prescient “vision of non-dominating governance within the fraternity, frequently conveyed in feminine imagery,” is another of Francis’ many legacies to us as aspirants to Christian spirituality.
Like Saint Francis, by praying daily, praying in community, taking time for periodic retreats and creating our own prayers and psalms, we can make ourselves increasingly present to God.
New Year’s Day is a good time to look back at where we have been and see ahead, hopefully, to a better future. This is not only true in our personal lives, but also as a parish. On the first week of January 2018, we take a brief look at the state of the parish.
“The five-year pastoral plan that we developed with the Advisory Board is based on the five purposes of what a church is supposed to do,” said Father Roger. “People come to church to connect with others, deepen their prayer life and relationship with God, heal from life’s wounds in a safe space, grow in faith, and reach out to others.”
These purposes are often sequential. Community involvement leads to a deeper connection with God, which allows people to seek healing and strength from the Church, which in turn creates a hunger to grow in faith and then, finally, a desire to go out into the world as a disciple. At Saint Brendan, we talk about these five stages of spiritual growth as “connect,” “pray,” “heal,” “grow,” and “love.”
Last year with its One Body theme, Saint Brendan focused on the first of these stages. The hope was to increase a sense of connection and belonging among parishioners. “We beefed up our Sunday hospitality,” said Parish Manager, Lisa Rosenlund. “Greeters were assigned to Sunday Masses, a welcome station was created in the vestibule, a weekly electronic newsletter was initiated, a new website was developed, and several large scale events were hosted to bring people together, including our first annual Saint Brendan festival in May.”
Focusing on the second stage of spiritual growth, the theme for the parish this year is Pray Together. Stay Together. “Our pastoral plan for the year consists of four programs,” Father Roger said. “But what I’m most proud of are the small groups that Sister Angela created, so that parishioners can talk about important issues, pray, and just do life together in a relaxed, informal, and safe environment. We have over a hundred people coming regularly to our small groups.”
The parish also brings in guest speakers once a month to talk about various aspects of prayer. Father Joe Spieler spoke on contemplative prayer, and Father Roger discussed gratitude as a form of prayer. Internationally-known author and artist, David Clayton, offered advice on how to create a space for prayer at home. In the coming months, the church will provide talks on praying with icons and orthodox spirituality, praying with the gospels and the saints, and using music to enhance prayer. The highest form of prayer, the Mass, will be explained during the six weeks of Lent.
Third, the parish hosted a powerful concert dedicated to Our Lady on the 100th anniversary of her appearance in Fatima and will have a highly-acclaimed Catholic speaker available at our Saint Brendan Festival in May. Finally, the bulletin each week contains an article about a different form or style of prayer.
“We truly are praying together and staying together,” Father Roger said. “I am excited about what the new year holds for our parish.”
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