Wednesday, November 14, 2012

St Albert, My Brother

The Dominican Order is justly proud of its famous Saint Albert the Great. This illustrious teacher and Doctor of the Church was born about the same time that St. Dominic was founding his new Order of Preachers. After studying in Padua and in Paris, Albert joined this new Dominican Order. However, although he was a whiz at all the physical sciences, he found the abstract disciplines very difficult. In fact, legend has it that he became so discouraged at one point in his studies that he decided to leave the Order. As he was preparing to flee, Our Blessed Mother appeared to him and told him not to fear, that she would help him. This gave him the courage to go on, but she also told him that before he died, this gift would be withdrawn as a sign that it was all from her. And so it happened. Shortly before his death, in the very midst of a lecture, he suddenly lost his train of thought and his memory, and he related to the Brothers that this is what Our Lady told him would happen.

As Albert became a teacher in the Order, one of his students was the future St. Thomas Aquinas. It is said that Thomas was a very quiet young man, giving the impression to his fellow students that he was not very intelligent. However Albert knew him better and told Thomas’ classmates, “You call him a ‘Dumb Ox’, but I tell you, his bellowing will be heard around the world.”

Albert was known as the ‘teacher of everything there is to know’. He left us many writings on logic, music, philosophy and theology. One of his deep studies was the writings of the Philosopher, Aristotle, which he was able to use in Christian teachings.  But the physical sciences were among Albert’s favorite subjects. Research and experimentation in every field ( which gave him the reputation of being a wizard and a magician) led to writing treatises on almost every branch of science. It is even said that he drew a plan for a ‘flying machine’ that was way before its time but would have really worked had they been able to build it. He studied and wrote about trees, flowers, and leaves, stars and planets, rocks and soils, chemical compounds, animals of every kind, as well as birds, fish, and insects. Albert was convinced that all creation speaks to us of God, and the tiniest bit of scientific knowledge tells us about Him.

The Pope named Albert Bishop of Ratisbon (now Regensburg) in Germany, and asked him to undertake a reform of the abuses in the diocese. He worked at it for three years but finally considered himself a failure in this effort because he was not able to convince the clergy to cooperate with the changes he felt necessary. He submitted his resignation to the Holy Father who accepted it, and then he was free to return to his Dominican life of study and teaching, but often accepted episcopal duties such as administering the Sacrament of Confirmation or consecrating altars.

What makes Albert so appealing, so human, so understanding, is that he struggled in so many areas of his own life. Study of abstract sciences was hard for him as he began his novitiate, later in life, try as he did, he could not convince the priests of his diocese to help in the reform that the Pope was asking for. Brilliant as a teacher and writer, a man with warm and deep friendships with his brethren, he was still one who saw himself as a failure in some areas of his life, and therefore he will surely know what I mean when I tell him about my own struggles, weaknesses and shortcomings. I can go to him as to a big brother and count on his prayers whenever I meet obstacles in my journey to God.

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