Thursday and Friday of last week featured a workshop at DSPT called "Gifted and Called to Study" on discerning one's charisms. The workshop was led by Fr. Michael Fones, OP, the student master of the Dominican seminarians at DSPT; and Mr. Ed Hopfner, an employee of the Diocese of Oakland and a DSPT graduate. A charism, from the Greek word for grace or favor, is a gift given by the Holy Spirit to a Christian for the service of others and the upbuilding of the Church. And, as any of you who have endured an untalented choir at your church know, it's useful for both yourself and those around you for you to know what your gifts are, and what they aren't. Though the workshop was titled "Gifted and Called to Study," it wasn't solely aimed at academically related charisms; it had a broader scope--O you who have come here to do graduate study, in what ways do you feel called to serve? What gifts might you have that you can put at the service of others?
The particular program we were using listed 24 different charisms, though it acknowledged there were more. Each participant was given a list of 120 statements, and instructed to rate from 0-3 how often that statement was true of them. Those scores were then used to determine which charisms one might possibly have. On the inventory, I scored highly on wisdom, counsel, knowledge, encouragement, teaching, and writing. It was emphasized to us, though, that scores from the inventory were a tool in discerning one's charisms, not the final say in the matter. We were also encouraged to pay attention to others' comments about us, and to try putting these charisms into practice and see 1) if they were successful, and 2) if they bring us joy and fulfillment in exercising them. I have to say that I do enjoy and get energized by teaching others, by learning things and passing on to others what I know, particularly through writing, and by giving advice or encouragement to others when I feel I have something helpful to say. I hope that others have felt the same way in my attempts to be useful to them.
Friday night I watched a classic film: Sunset Boulevard, from 1950. I encourage any of you who haven't seen it to check it out. Starring the rugged William Holden, a scary Gloria Swanson, and cute-as-a-button Nancy Olson, it's the story of a struggling screen writer who accidentally meets a reclusive former silent film star. She wants him to pen her big comeback movie, and since his career is going nowhere fast, he accepts. It becomes clear quickly, however, that she's a bit delusional about her legacy and her chances at coming back, and he's forced to tiptoe through the situation without upsetting the unstable actress or missing his chance with the script reader he's just, who also happens to be his friend's girl. It's dark and dramatic and funny and tragic. It features an outstanding performance from Gloria Swanson--how hard would it be to play an overly dramatic actress without doing it, you know, overly dramatically? It also has two of the great lines in cinema history: "I am big; it's the pictures that got small!" and "All right, Mr. DeMille, I'm ready for my close-up." (The last is more connected to the moment in the film.) Good stuff. Check it out if you haven't before.
On Sunday my roommate Rodrigo and I went to St. Albert's Priory in Oakland. There we prayed a combination of Matins and Lauds with the Dominican friars before Mass. A brief explanation: priests and those in religious vows make promises to pray daily a form of prayer known as the Divine Office, or the Liturgy of the Hours. It consists of sets of Psalms, other Scripture readings, readings from the writings of Church Fathers, ecumenical councils, and theologians, and intercessions. You can find examples here.Generally, they'll pray it at five different times or "hours" of the day; by doing this, they sanctify the day through their prayers and come as close as any of us can to following St. Paul's exhortation to "pray without ceasing." The two main "hours" prayed are Lauds, also called Morning Prayer, and Vespers, also called Evening Prayer. Another important hour is Matins, also known as the Office of Readings. There is also Daytime Prayer (split into Terce, Sext, and None, or the third, sixth, and ninth hours--usually the priest or religious prays one of these each day), and Compline, or Night Prayer. Oh, and no, each one does not take a hour to pray--you could pray night prayer in three minutes if you're doing it by yourself.
Anyway, the Dominicans at St. Albert's invite the public to join them in their common recitation of these hours of prayer, so we did. (It seems to be a popular thing for DSPT folks to do, actually.) Different religious orders will have slightly different ways of praying the Office. Some, like the Dominicans, sing it. The Dominicans have beautiful, simple tones for the different components of the Office; for some of them, there were multiple singing parts, and the strong-voiced friars in their beautiful, acoustics-friendly chapel, broke into harmonies that rang out and gave glory to God. I was pleased that one of the multi-part tones was one we used to use at Moreau--I knew the bass part, and got to sing along with the friars! It was beautiful.
This was followed by Mass, celebrated by the prior (e.g. head honcho at the priory), Fr. Reginald Martin, OP. Those of you in the Portland area may remember Fr. Reginald's soft and deep voice reciting the Angelus prayer on KBVM, from his days at Holy Rosary priory in the Rose City. It was a beautiful Mass in a beautiful chapel, and I look forward to going there again.
Tomorrow, boys and girls, is the first day of school. First up: Ancient Philosophy, then Philosophy of Nature. Say a prayer for my fellow students and I that we have a an enlightening school year. Do invoke the intercession of St. Albert the Great, patron of the college, and patrons of students like St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Brigid. Thanks for reading!