Reflection for fourth week of Lent

Even a person minimally versed in Scripture will recognize the parable of the Prodigal Son. The terms “prodigal son” or “prodigal daughter” are part of daily parlance. Once when I returned late from a college party my mother was sitting up waiting. As I closed the door behind me she said, “The prodigal son has returned.” See what I mean? Of course such familiarity with biblical stories is not always advantageous since the familiar might just evoke the same response we made when last we approached the text. “What’s new?” It’s the question the preacher wrestles with this Sunday as we ponder the parable of the Prodigal Son. If the Word of God is always fresh bread then, potentially, everything is new.

Speaking of bread, before we go on, let’s look at our first reading. It’s about the cessation of one form of bread and the beginning of another. In Joshua we read that the Israelites are completing their arduous and long journey under God’s guidance; they came out of Egypt and spent 40 years on their wilderness journey. They have finally crossed the Jordan and entered the Promise Land. They have left the land of Egypt and can now claim the land of Canaan. In the new land they finally eat “the produce of the land.” No longer would food be scarce when they had to rely on the daily manna God provided for them. Now the land would produce more than enough to satisfy the people.

There is a danger in that, isn’t there? During the hard times they had to learn to trust that God would take care of them. It was a daily act of trust because each day the manna had to come anew. Now, in the Promise Land, they could care for themselves – or so it would seem – planting, harvesting and shepherding. It’s a danger for us too. No one wants hard times, but for the believer who learns to lean on God each day, difficult times can teach us trust. In good times, we risk forgetting God.

Whatever sins the people committed in the desert, especially their disloyalty to God and the temptation to turn to other gods, would now be forgiven. As our Psalm says, “Taste and see the goodness of the Lord.” The manna may have ceased, but God is still providing the daily bread of forgiveness.

The Israelites, like our parable’s younger son, wandered in the wilderness and lost their way. God takes them back after their infidelities and declares to them, “Today I have removed the reproach of Egypt from you.” While, in the parable, it is the father who rescues and redeems his son from his past wanderings. “He was lost and has been found.” The Israelites feast after God’s cleansing; the prodigal son enters the feast after his father’s words and embrace. Our Eucharistic feast today is our welcome back from wandering and our acceptance to the banquet.

The context for a parable can give us a clue to its meaning. The parable of the prodigal is one of the responses Jesus gives to his critics. The scribes and Pharisees have complained that he associates too closely with sinners. So, he responds with three parables about things lost and found. However, they are not repetitious: the first two are about lost things which, when found, are cause for rejoicing – the lost sheep (15:1-7) and a lost coin (8-10). Both parables link the findings with repentance, “In just the same way, I tell you, there will be rejoicing among the angels of God over one sinner who repents” (15:10).

The Prodigal Son parable brings us into a household under stress. This is a comfortable family with “issues.” There would be very few families in the congregation this weekend who wouldn’t be able to put a specific name of a family member, or someone from a friend’s family, in place of the wayward son in the parable.

Who hasn’t heard about a parent who helped a particularly needy or wayward child with financial assistance, only to cause rancor among the siblings, who claimed, “You’re wasting our inheritance on your no good son/daughter!” Parents will claim to love all their children, but if you were to ask, “Which one do you love the most?” – the response would sound like a version of today’s parable, “The one who needs me the most.”

The atmosphere in the parable is complicated from the beginning, when the younger son asks for part of the inheritance. The nerve! It was as if he couldn’t wait for his father’s death so that he could get his hands on some money. Those of us listening to the parable would want to interrupt to tell the father, “Don’t be such a foolish old man! Don’t waste your hard-earned money on that ne’er-do-well son of yours!”

But there’s no stopping this father, he’s going to go ahead and risk his property and reputation on this irresponsible son. Imagine what the father’s associates, family and townspeople would say about his reckless generosity. What will happen to his standing in the community? The father has risked more than his money on the boy.

God could be accused of a similar foolish risk. God is taking a big chance on us by generously giving us: our faith, talents, other people and the created world. We do tend to go off on our own, into a “distant country,” forgetting our connection to God; focusing more on what we have been given and less on gratitude to the Giver; using and spending as if all we are given is just for our sole use.

“In coming to his senses,” the conniving boy hatches a plan to fill his belly and so, once more, he goes to his father for help. Forget whatever notions we might have about how the father should teach the boy a lesson or two for his reckless behavior before taking him back. The father puts all his dignity, as head of the household aside, to rush out to welcome his son home. He even cuts the son off before he can finish his rehearsed speech of contrition.

While we might like to interject some words of wisdom on good parenting to the father, this isn’t a lesson on how to raise children. It’s a parable about how it is between us and God. The first two of these three parables were about repentance, but the emphasis in this parable is less on the son’s repentance. It doesn’t say he was sorry for taking advantage of his father, rather he “came to his senses” – an ambiguous description.

It’s a story of grace. Forgiveness does not rely on the son’s doing acts of penance and reparation. Nor did he have to confess his contrition and plans for reform with a properly worded speech. What got the boy’s welcome and his re-installment back into the heart of the family (symbolized by “the finest robe… a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet”) were the embrace and words of the father. Who gets a welcome, or welcome-back, into God’s kingdom? Judging from the dynamics of this parable, anyone who even dares approach and hope for a reception.

The older brother didn’t appear to be a “lost sheep or lost coin” – not the way his younger brother was. Still, the older, like the younger son, was a lost child as well. He reasons the way we do: he did the work, did not break the rules and stayed around while his brother went off. He is like a lot of us good church folk. But, while he did everything he was supposed to, he never appreciated the uniqueness of his father. He misinterpreted the world in which he lived: he did his work, but missed the grace of what it meant to live in his father’s house. “My son, you are here with me always; everything I have is yours.”

What we can say about the older son is that he gets it: he names how foolish and outrageous his father’s princely welcome is to his younger brother. He understands that the boy has done nothing, not even finish his apology, yet he receives a royal welcome home. What the father showed the younger son, he now offers, in a slightly different way, to the resentful brother. He doesn’t cast him off for his disrespect, but reaffirms their relationship by calling him, “My son,” reminding him that he is a member of the household – “everything I have is yours.”

We presume the younger son grabbed the opportunity to get back into the bosom of his family. We don’t know how the observant son responded. Will he also “come to his senses” and reenter the family home to join the feast and celebrate the gifts of his life? Will we?

fr. Jude Siciliano, O.P.

St. Ambrose on the parable of the fig tree

Today’s gospel reading for the Third Week in Lent is taken from the 13th chapter of Luke’s Gospel and contains the parable of the barren fig tree.

And he told them this parable: “There once was a person who had a fig tree planted in his orchard, and when he came in search of fruit on it but found none, he said to the gardener, ‘For three years now I have come in search of fruit on this fig tree but have found none. [So] cut it down. Why should it exhaust the soil?’ He said to him in reply, ‘Sir, leave it for this year also, and I shall cultivate the ground around it and fertilize it; it may bear fruit in the future. If not you can cut it down’” (Luke 13:6-9).

The following excerpt is taken from the Catena Aurea (i.e. The Golden Chain) and features St. Ambrose reflection on the above parable:

But our Lord sought, not because He was ignorant that the fig tree had no fruit, but that He might show in a figure that the synagogue ought by this time to have fruit. Lastly, from what follows, He teaches that He Himself came not before the time who came after three years. For so it is said, Then said he to the dresser of the vineyard, Behold, these three years I come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and find none. He came to Abraham, He came to Moses, He came to Mary, that is, He came in the seal of the covenant, He came in the law, He came in the body. We recognise His coming by His gifts; at one time purification, at another sanctification, at another justification. Circumcision purified, the law sanctified, grace justified. The Jewish people then could not be purified because they had not the circumcision of the heart, but of the body; nor be sanctified, because ignorant of the meaning of the law, they followed carnal things rather than spiritual; nor justified, because not working repentance for the their offences, they knew nothing of grace. Rightly then was there no fruit found in the synagogue, and consequently it is ordered to be cut down; for it follows, Cut it down, why cumbers it the ground? But the merciful dresser, perhaps meaning him on whom the Church is founded, foreseeing that another would be sent to the Gentiles, but he himself to them who were of the circumcision, piously intercedes that it may not be cut off; trusting to his calling, that the Jewish people also might be saved through the Church. Hence it follows, And he answering said to him, Lord, let it alone this year also. He soon perceived hardness of bears and pride to be the causes of the barrenness of the Jews. He knew therefore how to discipline, who knew how to censure faults. Therefore adds He, till I shall dig about it. He promises that the hardness of their hearts shall be dug about by the Apostles’ spades, lest a heap of earth cover up and obscure the root of wisdom. And He adds, and dung it, that is, by the grace of humility, by which even the fig is thought to become fruitful toward the Gospel of Christ. Hence He adds, And if it bear fruit, well, that is, it shall be well, but if not, then after that you shall cut it down.

For other reflections from the Early Church Fathers on the same text, you can click here.

The Master of the Order writes to the Holy Father

Most Holy Father,

Screen Shot 2013-02-28 at 1.00.23 PMI ask you to accept the immense gratitude of the Order of Preachers for the great generosity and beautiful simplicity with which you have exercised your ministry, ‘a humble worker in the Lord’s vineyard’. The Brothers, Nuns, Apostolic Sisters, Lay Dominicans and the entire Dominican Family join me in assuring you of our communion in prayer and thanksgiving.

On several occasions during your ministry, in the course of your teaching, you evoked some great figures of holiness that God by His grace has given to the Order of Preachers. It was for us a strong invitation to draw anew and constantly from the source of the charism of St. Dominic.

When you did me the honor of receiving me, you insisted that the Order should deploy its rich tradition of “study and worship” and take its place in the “new evangelization” to which you have invited the Church in continuity with the Second Vatican Council. This reminder, I believe, provides us with the horizon in view of which we are preparing to celebrate, in 2016, the eighth centenary of the confirmation of the Order of Preachers.

I ask you to assist us with your prayers, that the Lord may grant us the grace always to seeks always to serve the Church and its unity, “totally committed to the evangelization of the Word of God” as it was expressed by Pope Honorius III.

fr. Bruno Cadoré, O.P., Master of the Order


Christ, an example in fasting

“When He had fasted forty days and forty nights, He was afterward an hungered.” — Matt. iv. 2.

S. AUGUSTINE says that it is the highest religion to imitate what we worship, so that, when Our Lord fasted, we ought to imitate Him in fasting. There are four reasons which ought to move us to fasting — firstly, the command of God; secondly, the example of Christ; thirdly, the manifold harm which befalls those who do not fast; fourthly, the manifold benefits which come to them from fasting.

I. On the first head it is to be noted, that the Lord commanded us to fast in a fourfold manner — (1) By Himself, to Adam and Eve in Paradise, when He commanded that they should fast i.e., abstain from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, and eat it not. (2) He commanded it by the Law of Moses: Lev. xvi. 31, “It shall be a Sabbath of rest unto you, and ye shall afflict your souls by a statute for ever.” (3) God commanded it by the Prophets: Joel ii. 15, “Sanctify a fast.” (4) God commanded it by the Apostles: 2 Cor. xi. 27, “In hunger and thirst, in fastings often” — whence he is a manifest transgressor of the precepts of grace who is unwilling to fast.

II. On the second head it is to be noted, that Our Lord taught us that there were four things necessary in fasting — (1) That we should be cleansed from all sin. (2) That we should conceal our fasting from the applause of men. (3) That we should fast with long-suffering and perseverance. (4) That we should overcome the temptations of the Devil. The first He taught in this, that He fasted when He was baptized; so also he who wishes to fast well ought first to be cleansed by penitence and confession: S. Matt. vi. 17, “But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thine head and wash thy face.” The second He taught because He sought the desert when about to fast; whence He showed to us that when we fast and do good works we must hide ourselves from the praises of men: S. Matt. vi. 16, “When ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance ….. that thou appear not unto men to fast.” The third He taught in this, that He fasted forty days and forty nights: S. Austin, “Subdue your flesh with abstinence from meat and drink as far as your health will permit.” The fourth He taught in this, that He did not give way to the temptation of the Devil: “Man shall not live by bread alone ….. Get thee hence, Satan;” Ecclus. ii. 1, “Son, when thou comest to the service of God prepare thy soul for temptation.”

III. On the third head it is to be noted, that four evils come upon those who are unwilling to fast when they ought — (1) The evil of iniquity: Ezek. xvi. 49, “Behold, this was the iniquity of thy sister Sodom, pride, fullness of bread.” (2) The evil of loss, for he who is not willing to fast will have to fast for ever from the fruit of eternal life; and this is indicated in Gen. iii. 17, where it is recorded that Adam would not abstain from the forbidden fruit; wherefore the Lord said, “Now, lest he put forth his hand and take also of the tree of life ….. the Lord God sent him forth from the Garden of Eden.” (3) The evil of present punishment: Ecclus. xxxvii. 34, “By surfeiting many have perished.” (4) The evil of the punishment of perpetual hunger and thirst in the lower world: Isa. Ixv. 13, “Behold, My servants shall eat, but ye shall be hungry: behold, My servants shall drink, but ye shall be thirsty” — which relates to the “heavenly feast,” from which they who do not fast now, but “fare sumptuously every day, shall not have a drop of water even” (see S.Luke xvi. 19-24).

IV. On the fourth head it is to be noted, that a fourfold profit flows from fasting — (1) The mortification of vices. (2) An elevation of the mind towards God. (3) The acquisition of virtue, (4) The reward of eternal blessedness.

St Thomas Aquinas, Homilies on Lent #2

Couplets for Lent and Easter

Clean up your house, prepare the feast;
for He comes soon, our great High Priest.

To find ourselves we journey far;
the answer’s here, just where we are.

We strive to reach the pinnacle
when all we need is the cenacle.

Worldly triumph, unworldly doom.
Dispose of acclaim with a humble broom.

Life is long, life is short;
we must dress well for the heavenly court.

The shepherd came to tend his sheep,
but all had left or gone to sleep.

A thousand groans, a million sighs,
but by our stones the sparrow dies.

A woman smiles, a man may scorn,
together they weave a crown of thorns.

He was just here, they hung him there;
the world grows dim, does no one care?

Where have they laid my lovely Lord?
The music ends on a screeching chord.

The heaviest stone is cast aside,
the highest gate is opened wide.

In wood and word, by nail and song,
all praise the Lord forever long!

mr. Ron Vardiman, O.P.

The Grace and Duties of Lent

“Behold now is the accepted time : behold now is the day of salvation.” — 2 Cor. vi. 2.

Two subjects for consideration are indicated in these words firstly, a commendation of the present time, “Behold now is the accepted time;” secondly, the cause of this commendation is added, “Behold now is the day of salvation.”

I. On the first head it is to be noted, that the present time is called an “acceptable time,” for eight reasons (1) Because it is the time for seeking the Lord: Hos. x. 12, “It is time to seek the Lord, till He come and rain righteousness upon you.” (2) Because it is a time for reconciling the Lord: Ps. Ixix. 13, “My prayer is unto Thee, Lord, in an acceptable time.” (3) Because it is a time for correcting our ways: Heb. ix. 10, “Until the time of reformation” i.e., of the injustice of the Jews. (4) Because it is a time for restraining superfluities and vices: Cant. ii. 12 (Vulg.), “The time of pruning is come.” (5) Because it is the time of receiving the Divine compassion: Ps. cii. 13, “For the time to favour her, yea the set time, is come.” (6) Because it is the time for suffering tribulation: Jer. xxx. 7, “It is even the time of Jacob’s trouble; but he shall be saved out of it.” (7) Because it is the time of acquiring salvation: Ecclus. iv. 28, “Refrain not to speak in the time of salvation.” (8) Because it is a time for doing good: Ps. cxix. 126, “It is time for Thee, Lord, to work.”

II. On the second head it is to be noted, that this “day of salvation” exhorts and invites us by eight ways to holiness — (1) The Holy Scriptures, which are read at this time. The Gospels and Epistles which are read invite us to prayer, to fasting, to almsgiving, to just dealing, to repentance, and to other things of this sort, so that he must be indeed insensible who does not now do good. (2) The Creator invites us, Who is believed at this time to have made the world; so that he would be greatly neglectful who did not perform some good act for God, when He has made so many good things for us. (3) The creature invites us to this, which in the time of winter ceased from work, and now begins to be active again, as is seen in herbs, plants, and animals: Jer. viii. 7, “The stork in the heaven knoweth her appointed times” i.e., for building, &c. (4) The example of Christ invites us to well-doing, Who at this time wrought many good things for us: S. Bernard, “Who made me altogether and at once by a word, in regenerating me; Who said many things, and did many miracles, and endured hardships.” (5) The ordination of the Church invites us all to confession, and fasting, and frequenting of the church; whence he who does not do these things breaks the precepts of Mother Church: Prov. i. 8, “Forsake not the law of thy Mother.” (6) The incitement and habits of many, for now many begin to perform good works, so that a man ought to be ashamed to remain alone with the few: Heb. xii. 1, “Seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us.” (7) The abundant forming, out of Divine grace; for it is to be believed that God, Who bestowed so many good things upon us, in these days pours out more abundantly His grace upon us: whence it is read in the Epistle, “that ye receive not the grace of God in vain.” (8) The expectation of the great Easter ought to exhort us to good, for he who expects a great festival ought to make a great vigil, wherefore the Church now sings, “It is not for naught that we rise in the morning before the light, because the Lord promised the Crown to the watchers;” and again, “We expect to receive the Body of Christ, which none ought to receive unless purged: 1 Cor. xi. 28, ‘Let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that Bread and drink of that Cup.’ Whence so by worthily celebrating the Lenten fast at the present time we shall come to Horeb, the Mount of God to the heavenly Supper of the Gospel to which,”

From the Lenten Sermons of St. Thomas Aquinas, Homily #1

The Son of Man

A prophet came in God’s great name;
all those who fail received his call.
He shook the great and loved the small,
and lit an everlasting flame.

Then hear, you deaf, and see, you blind;
the long awaited one had come.
But many asked “Where are you from?
The King must be of David’s kind.”

Our deepest hungers then were fed;
out of his mouth love’s seeds were sowed,
out of his life love’s meaning flowed.
But evil screamed at each word he said.

They took him in the midst of night,
men protecting place and power.
Oh! Terrible this evil hour;
would hell prevail against the right?

The morning’s portents terrified:
the red veiled sun, the screaming birds.
We spoke in hushed and worried words
and heard the cries of “crucified!”

After the run of the blood red sun
darkness grew to cover the land.
Thus we came to understand
something dreadful had been done.

Then bring the oils and winding sheet,
and close the tomb of righteousness.
For power, ever merciless,
cannot abide the least defeat.

Strike the shepherd and scatter the sheep,
curse the ocean and stop the tide!
All things will pass, the Word abides;
and as you sow, so shall you reap.

For then we saw, oh glorious!
that heavy stone was pushed aside
and heaven’s gate was opened wide;
He lived, who died for all of us.

mr. Ron Vardiman, O.P.


A witness is “One who is present, bears testimony, furnishes evidence or proof… The essential qualifications of a witness are knowledge of the fact at issue and truthfulness: he must be an eye-witness and trustworthy.”

~from the Catholic Encylopedia

 They follow the example of Saint Dominic, Saint Catherine of Siena and our forbears who illumined the life of the Order and the Church, and strengthened by their fraternal communion, bear witness above all to their own faith, listen to the needs of their contemporaries, and serve the truth.

~ Rule, §5

“He is Risen”

We chose the name Dominican Witness for this site because the term so aptly describes our roles in the marketplace.

  • We are present to the poor and broken, to our family and friends, to our co-workers and colleagues.
  • We bear testimony for Christ and his Church.
  • We study not for the sake of study but so that we may furnish evidence and proof of God’s word and give a personal account of his on-going creation and salvation story.
  • We work to acquire knowledge of many disciplines in order that we may shed light on the problems and issues at hand today. Some say that Dominicans preach with the Gospel in one hand and a newspaper in the other.
  • We bear witness to the truthfullness of the Gospel and the Magesterium.
  • We live as best we can, ever mindful that we are living witnesses for the love of God. It is our love for Christ and each other that gives our preaching credibility.St. Francis, a contemporary of St. Dominic, once said, “The deeds you do may be the only sermon some persons will hear today”

This section will feature first-person stories and articles about how we live our faith and express our Dominican vocation. The articles do not necessarily reflect the opinions of this chapter nor the official position of the Dominican order. They do, however, reflect the diversity of our members.

This section will also offer blogs from the chapter prior and other members.

We encourage honest and frank contributions. Most of us freely admit we have weaknesses and character flaws and still struggle as we grow in Christ. Frankly, some of the stories from those that fall and rise again are the more interesting.

Theses are some their stories. If you have a story, or a contemplation, even a brief thought you would like to share, please send it to

More than animate dust

Are we but animate dust,
Living on a ball of rock,
Hurling through space,
Around a burning gas house?

Lord God,
You formed us from the clay into Your most Holy Image,
You breathed life into us during creation,
So that we could see, perceive, understand,
and wonder at the beauty all around.

You breathed life , vision, and  understanding into us,
and gave us the great gift of free will,
So we can think, act, do, and be on our own,
Under our own power, based on our choices.

Lord of Creation: Created and Creating.
Thank you for life and free will,
Thank you for all the people around us:
family, friends and strangers alike,
Each a witness to your Creation!

You have given us the means to gaze upon your creation,
From the skies above, the distant universes,
to within the womb itself,
and  to comprehend what is Good.

When we turned to you to offer you thanks,
we pleased you; and when we turned away from you,
we grieved you.

You then humbled yourself,
And took our lowly human form,
with the assent of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

You allowed us to love you, take care of you,
and protect you when you presented yourself to us,
Not as the all-powerful Lord you are,
But in the form of a helpless baby.

You lived among us,
Taught us how to live,
According to Thy Commandments, and
in a manner pleasing to you,

Then, we sinned against you,
And made you suffer, as we crucified you,
on a Cross,
with nails in your hands, and wounds in your side.

By the blood you spilt that day,
You offered us, sinners of the worst sort,
the possibility of redemption, and everlasting life…

if only we would acknowledge our sins against You, and
make every effort to sin no further,
and to submit our wills to Thy Own,
What great incomprehensible Love!

Redemption is always near,
Always a possibility for us,
because you willed it!

Lord, allow me to submit my will to Yours,
and be reconciled to you, through Your Son Jesus Christ,
whose blood  was spilt because of my sin.

Jesus provides us with the path back to you,
through the Great Sacrament of Reconciliation.

Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
You are the Alpha and Omega,
the beginning and the end,
You are He who is; I am he who is not,
You made us into something so much greater than animate dust,
You are Love, and formed us  into beings much greater than dust:

We are able to love You,
And able to share everlasting life with You.

Thank you Lord.

mr. Paul Ignatius Catherine, O.P.
15  February 2011