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Saturday, November 15, 2008

St. Albert the Great

Today is the feast of St. Albert the Great, Bishop, Doctor of the Church, Dominican, and teacher of St. Thomas Aquinas. Even as other students called St. Thomas a "dumb ox", St. Albert knew there was something in him that was not possessed by the other students, and indeed, his faith in his student was not in vain.

I have a special place in my own heart for St. Albert, for I believe he is one of the Saints that helped lead me back home.

At that time in my life I was struggling to come back to the Church. I'd begun attending Mass (although I hadn't been to Confession in about 10 or 11 years by that point), and a church near where I was living was named after the great Saint. It was somewhat of a dissenting parish with very low attendance, but it was close, it was convenient, and there was SOMETHING that kept drawing me. Noting the name of the church, I remember praying to this Saint I'd never heard of before, asking him for his help.

I was so thirsty for God, and had hope, every time I went, that I would indeed meeet God there. Nearly every week I'd be frustrated, though; the readings were great, but the "homily" was most often given by a woman, a Director of Religious Education, while the priest sat down and listened. While I was dying to hear something about the readings of that week, to learn more about Christ and obtain some kind of balm for my aching soul, I was given lessons in social statistics and subject to all sorts of "look how great we are for feeding x statistic of people!"

I wanted to know where Jesus was in all that; after all, I HAD a background in social services and had no problem getting my hands dirty. I had grown up eating from food shelves. But what I needed desperately was to know who God was, and where I could find Our Lord.

The church wasn't well attended, as I mentioned, but there were a few neighborhood elderly who had probably lived their lives in that neighborhood and who faithfully attended Mass each week. I wondered how they had survived. Even I, an uneducated fallen-away Catholic, could see that it seemed the parish had left them behind. Their devotion was obvious, especially during the Eucharistic prayers and the Consecration, when they knelt, sometimes with great difficulty, as perfectly healthy younger people stood. I knew we should all be kneeling, although I didn't really understand why. But something prompted me to follow their devotion, and kneel when they knelt.

A couple weeks later, I noticed that another young-ish type person sitting near me was watching me when I knelt...and she knelt, too. And so did someone else. Then so did a few more. It seemed to be confirmation that indeed, we should be kneeling, and I was thankful for the dear ladies and gentlemen who had the courage to be faithful, showing the rest of us proper reverence even for mysteries we did not understand.

I didn't know what was wrong or why this church was doing things differently than everyone else.

Nor do I know exactly what St. Albert did to interceed for me, but I do know this; that church, in spite of all the dissent and liturgical abuse, in spite of the spiritual malpractice going on there, was a very important waystation in my faith.

It was there that God began to console me through certain words of certain hymns, causing a certain miracle to happen one day at the beginning of Lent; that miracle is maybe for another post. Suffice to say that I knew God had heard my sincere prayer of repentance: Lord, have mercy on me!

That year, I attended the evening service on Good Friday. As of that point, I still had not been to confession, still too terrified to go. But I went forward to venerate the cross, knelt down and placed my hand on the wood. Suddenly I could almost see Our Lord nailed to the wood above me, and I could almost feel his blood dripping on my head. I was certain that, had I looked upward, I would have gazed upon Him as He took his last breath. It was a profound moment as I suddenly understood that this really happened, Jesus had died for me, and yes....Jesus loved me and wanted me back.

I returned to my pew, shaken, in tears, wanting nothing more than to return to the Cross and remain there forever.

Somehow, in spite of all the craziness, in spite of my own sinful life, in spite of my fear, Jesus got through to me, perhaps through the intercession of St. Albert the Great who refused to give up on me.

I didn't know then that he was a Dominincan, or St. Thomas Aquinas's teacher. I had never heard of the Summa. But now, having returned Home, in looking back at that waystation, at the connections made for me, I'm not surprised by any of those facts. After all...St. Thomas is one of my patrons (this blog being under his direct patronage, the name chosen when I didn't know he'd penned the hymn), and of course, I am drawn to the Dominican spirituality. Even more...the thirst to know God even more, and to make Him known to others seems not to abate, even as I drink of the Living Water, and continue to kneel at Calvary every week, sometimes every day.
Thank you, St. Albert, for your intercession. Pray for us!

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