Thursday, 3 November 2016

October: Cabbage, Clay and a New Novice

October was a busy month, which would explain why we're just able to post about it now, and it ended as it began —with cabbage. A bumper crop of Brassica oleracea, a couple of benefactors willing to lend us crocks and canning supplies and hands, and a lot of patience ("How long do I have to knead it? Seriously?!?!"), and 28 days later we had a pantry (and stomachs) full of homemade sauerkraut. Our prioress, Sr. Marie Tersidis, was away at the General Assembly of the North American Association of Dominican Monasteries and thus missed out on the first round of krauting —so she decided to solo round two, which should be ready any day now. 

In mid-October, we had ongoing formation classes with Fr. Emmerich Vogt, O.P. of the Western Dominican Province. This was followed by a second round of classes from Chilliwack potter Tom Sproule. A few more test-fires of our locally sourced glazes, and visitors to our monastery should start to see some new additions to the gift shop—mugs, tea bowls, tumblers and yarn bowls, for starters!

Finally, on the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary (October 7), our postulant Bronwyn received the habit of the Order of Preachers and her new name, Sister Marie Thomas of the Divine Word. Sister comes to us from not too far away—born in a port town in northern British Columbia, she grew up in Whistler, the resort town just an hour up the road from us.  Please pray for her as she begins her canonical novitiate!

"No more pictures!" say the novices.
We asked sister why she asked to receive the name Thomas, after St. Thomas Aquinas O.P, and instead of a brief answer, she gave us a discourse:

"My university didn’t have a theology program, but when I was doing my homework for poetry and journalism seminars etc., I’d take my laptop up to the library’s mezzanine floor and sit leaning against the Summa Theologiae. If I didn’t have an excuse to study it in-depth, at least I could pray to absorb it via osmosis! St. Thomas Aquinas became a kind of older brother in thought as well as in faith, someone who I could argue dispute with about ideas like 'To what extent are created things knowable and describable in their essence and in their accidents?' (answer: go read Pieper's "Silence of St. Thomas") or 'If a mosquito bit Jesus while he was walking around Galilee, would that be the same as if a mosquito fell into the Precious Blood at Mass?' or 'Do words have intrinsic meaning connected to the essence of things, or are they merely arbitrary symbols with little relation to the essence of things?' Because, as I learned, such questions don’t count as casual conversation in most social situations (Then again, 'And that will settle the Manichees!' probably doesn’t either. And this one time, in the court of King Louis of France, a certain Dominican friar...).

So, that’s how I first 'met' the Angelic Doctor. But when it came time to submit my list of possible names to the novice mistress, I asked for St. Thomas for three distinct reasons. Firstly, his love for Christ in the Eucharist. We see a tiny sliver of this love in the texts and hymns for Mass and the Office on the feast of Corpus Christi, which he wrote at Pope Urban IV’s request. For St. Thomas, 'The Word became Flesh and dwelt among us' was not an abstract idea, but a real, tangible, beautiful Presence—and the saint’s early biographers say that when he was stuck on an idea or problem, he’d lean his head against the Tabernacle to ask for help. As Dietrich von Balthasar would say, his was a “kniende theology”—a theology that began on his knees in love.

Secondly, St. Thomas was a writer. Best known in our century for his systematic and dogmatic writings (like the Summa Theologiae and Summa contra Gentiles), and not nearly known enough for his Biblical commentaries (he was, after all, a Magister Sacra Pagina –'Master of the Sacred Page'), he was a superb poet (see the aforementioned texts and hymns for Corpus Christi—like Lauda Sion salvatorem, Pange lingua corperis or Panis Angelicus).

Finally, it would be fair to say that St. Thomas was obsessed with truth—or, rather, Truth, who is a person, not a thing. He loved God; he loved study; and he loved to love God by study and to share that love of Truth and the truth of Love with others in whatever way he could. He was so hungry for the truth that he went looking for ways of knowing God in the (then highly controversial) works of Aristotle, and (when asked by a joking friend), said that he’d rather find the (presumably lost) homilies of John Chrysostom on the Gospel of Matthew than be Lord of all of Paris. But this quest for the truth about Truth (aka Christ) was not limited to his (rather formidable) intellect or some sort of eccentric academic quest. He himself wrote that 'to love God is something greater than to know Him' (S II-II Q.27 A.4), and that 'it is better to illuminate than to shine; to share contemplated truths with others than merely to contemplate' (S II-II, Q.188, A.6). In seeking Truth, he sought the truth about himself (humility) and the truth about his neighbour (charity), and spent his life working to transform both in light of the Truth of Christ."

And of course, no matter what else is going on in the kitchen, workshop or life of the community, we continue to pray for you, all those enrolled in our prayers and all the needs of our world—that the peace of Our Lord might especially help those peoples and areas suffering from war, terrorism or natural disaster.