[Rev. Br. Columban is a student brother in his diaconate year, preparing for the priesthood. He is currently serving at Holy Family Old Cathedral in Anchorage, Alaska.]
When the contemporary Church speaks of “mission,” she usually means the mission of evangelization which belongs to her by nature, in which all her children have a part; and, while this is quite right, it presupposes a sense of mission which is more fundamental, from which the Church’s mission springs and towards which it is ordered: not the mission of God’s people, but the mission of God to His people, what tradition calls the divine missions. These missions are the missions of the Son and of the Spirit, in one way visibly, as the Father sent His Son to be the Savior of the world, “in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin” (Rom. 8:3), as the Father and the Son send the Spirit upon the Church. That is, the Incarnation is itself the visible mission of the Son of God; the Spirit’s descent at Pentecost is one of His visible missions. The visible missions are for the sake of the invisible missions of the Son and the Spirit: “But when the time had fully come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’” (Gal. 4:4-6). In St. Paul’s beautiful asseveration we hear the Trinitarian harmony of the spiritual life, its pattern on the communion of divine Persons, and the importance of Our Lady in this life, both her unique mission and receptiveness to the divine missions, and her continuing example for all Christians.
The spiritual life is the life of grace—the life of adoption in Christ that raises us to intimate friendship with God, to a participation in His nature. A son stands to inherit his father’s property; the Son by nature possesses all that is the Father’s except being the Father, and what He has by birth, we receive by adoption, not becoming God but becoming godlike, what the tradition calls deification and what is expressed in Scripture as becoming “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4). This happens at the first stirrings of grace in us—whether as an infant in baptism, as an adult convert, or in our turning back to the Father in the confessional—but also in each movement of grace within the soul, for each one of these words, these invigorating breaths signifies a new mission of the Son and of the Spirit to the child of God. The Father sends His Son anew into the soul; the Father and the Son together send the Spirit. Father, Son, and Spirit have already come to dwell in the chosen soul as in a temple, yet the soul still needs to grow into its character as dwelling place. A man might purchase a house and come to dwell in it, yet still need to furnish the place, which comes to bear more and more his stamp as he fills it with belongings, things that are an extension of his character: books that reflect his passions and interests, wallpaper that speaks to his taste, artwork that is meaningful to him: so that the house comes to more intensely resemble its owner. So, gradually, our souls are transformed by grace so that they resemble the Triune giver of grace, and those perfecting human habits we call the virtues take on a supernatural character. Given to us in our initial justification, when God entered our souls, the prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance infused in us come to dominate more and more as we more and more resemble the divine Dweller.
Indeed, more than simply furnish his home with accoutrements that reflect him, a man might make improvements that make the home much more than what it was before. He might add a deck, a patio, a new wing, a fireplace. God, likewise, adds to our nature, not merely making it resemble him over time, but granting us powers that are strictly supernatural, even if they are (or should be) eminently familiar to the Christian: faith, hope, and love. These theological virtues touch God directly, even if invisibly, and they elevate human life to a divine level in a way that transcends even the life of the natural virtues when they are transformed by grace and complemented by their infused counterparts, which still have a measure that governs them, as they are not directly about God. Faith, hope, and love, however, concern God directly, and there is no measure, there is no end to how much we should believe in, hope in, or love God.
Since all these virtues, whether moral or theological, are infused into us by the Holy Spirit, they presuppose the Spirit’s mission to us, the Spirit’s mission in us. Again, this happens Every graced action in our lives flows from a fresh movement of the Holy Spirit, a fresh mission of the Spirit in our hearts recreating them after the pattern of the Son, Who arrives in there in the splendor of a new dawn, unseen except by the eyes of faith, and Who points faith homeward to the Father, present wherever His Son and Spirit are: “If a man loves Me, he will keep My word, and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him” (John 14: 23). When we love Christ, when we keep His word and act according to that word, He comes to us; He has sent His Spirit into us so that we might keep His word, and so that His Father will love us. But the order is not what we might expect, as if when we love Christ, when we keep His word, He visits us—although this is true, it is not our love that has called the Trinity down to us. It is the love of the Trinity for us, the action of the Son and the Spirit within us, that makes it possible for us to love the Trinity in return—indeed, that actually moves us to do so.
It is not as if we attract God to take up residence in us by putting our souls on the market, as we would a house. Rather, God takes possession of us by His own sovereign action, in majesty and condescension, in victorious mercy: “You did not choose Me, but I chose you” (John 15: 16). We are not only God’s temple, God’s dwelling place, we are His children, adopted in His only Son born of a particular woman whom He destined and fitted to this task. He did this by unique missions to Mary, to whom the missions of God’s Son and God’s Spirit must have been of a singular intensity, and whose receptivity to those missions stands as a witness to all generations. Indeed, more than a witness, Our Lady stands as an intercessor for all generations, begging her Son to dwell in the minds of the faithful, praying that the Spirit fill our hearts. At her conception God preserved her from all stain and filled her soul with grace, a miracle of the spiritual life betokening the rarest missions of Son and Spirit. It was the same for her as it is for us. Every act of love in her girlhood, of praise, of mercy, kindness to neighbor, humility before others, determination in virginity—these
flowed from particular divine missions to Our Lady, and these prepared her for the fateful day when the angel’s greeting would trouble her, and for that Fiat which flowed from her heart and lips as a river overflows its banks under a constant rain. For the cloud which overshadowed her was the Holy Spirit in His invisible mission to her heart, stirring it to a “Yes” in response to the Father’s choice, and the dew that dropped down was the Word whom she conceived in her mind before she conceived Him in her womb. But she is closer to the Word by faith than she is to Him by the flesh, as St. Augustine points out: “Mary is more blessed in receiving the faith of Christ than she is in conceiving the flesh of Christ.” Though this might surprise us, Augustine insists, “Thus also her nearness as Mother would have been no profit to Mary, had she not borne Christ in her heart after a more blessed manner than in her flesh”. (De virginitate 3). God would not allow the woman He loved enough to choose her for His Mother to be closer to Him in the flesh than in the spirit.
Yet this has profound implications for how we understand Mary as an example of discipleship, of believer. For, although we cannot imitate her in her fleshly relationship to Christ, we can imitate her in our cooperation with God, in our spiritual relationship to Christ: “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it” (Luke 8: 21). The divine maternity was for Mary alone; the divine missions are for all believers. True, the perfection of the fruit which these missions bore in Mary is something to which we will not be able to attain, but they are generically the same in her as they are in us: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, generosity, gentleness, faithfulness, modesty, self-control, chastity. These flow from the Spirit—they are His fruits—and conform us to the Son. They are the fruit which Jesus, the True Vine, commissioned us to bear. And that only scratches the surface. Who saw the celestial brilliance of these in the poor Nazarene girl? Surely, they appreciated the everyday righteousness of Mary, their neighbor, they beheld the sweetness of the Spirit’s fruit in her life—but who suspected the invisible glories of her heart?
God is simple—He does all that he does with all that He is. We are complex, and the intensity with which we respond to God is reflective of what He wills for us, not the intensity of how He wills it. God willed His Son to be born of this woman, whom He uniquely named “Graced One” (Luke 1:28), whom He uniquely prepared so that she could be truly the Mother of His Only Begotten Son, and overshadowing her with His Spirit as the Cloud descended on the tabernacle in the desert. How intense the invisible missions of the Son and the Spirit must have been to Our Lady!—throughout her life, but most obvious to us at this crucial moment, the Annunciation, which sets before us, in stark relief, the workings of grace and the missions of the Son and Spirit. The Spirit fills us with His power, and through His sweet and strong influence, the image of Christ, the Son of the Most High, is reproduced in us; likewise, the Spirit fills Our Lady, reproducing the Son in her—first, in her soul, and then, through a singular miracle, in her very flesh, in her womb. Her answer to the angel affirms her submission to the Father, her adoration of His will: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. Let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1: 38).
Like us, she experiences bewilderment, trepidation, uncertainty—but with perfect receptivity to her divine Owner, she empties herself of these things. The Spirit overshadowing her in that moment must have infused her with an astonishing richness of His gifts: wisdom to savor the divine Word in her intellect, fortitude to accept her own terrible and tremendous mission, piety in her willingness to be God’s handmaid, fear of the Lord in her hesitancy to accept the angel’s humble greeting, counsel to trust God totally despite the uncertainty of the future, understanding in her recognition that she would be the Mother of the Christ. These gifts, the gifts of the Holy Spirit, are given to all of us, just as are the virtues, and together with the virtues, they produce the fruits. We can see that the gifts of the Spirit perfect our two greatest faculties, intellect and will, and they help us return to God by knowledge and by love— by knowledge conformed to the Son, Who is God’s Wisdom, by love conformed to the Spirit, Who is the Love of the Father and the Son. The Trinity comes to dwell in her as in no other created person, furnishing her soul with the plenitude of his possessions. In her womb she contains Him whom the universe cannot contain; in her mind she treasures Him who causes her to break forth, Magnificat anima mea Domino.
In this, she is a model for us all: how we should welcome the God who comes to us! So is she in her mission to Elizabeth, for she comes not only to bring good news, but she brings the very God whose good news it is, and her coming sparks new missions of the Son and the Spirit to Elizabeth and to the child in her womb: “When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the babe leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit” (Luke 1:41). Mary is an example not only of how to receive God in his missions, but how to bring God to others, and others to God, for this is the purpose of all mission. The Church is missionary, because she is God’s, and God Himself is missionary. He comes to us, and coming to us, He commissions us to go and bear fruit, fruit He Himself will produce in us, working in us according to His Spirit and His gifts, fashioning in us the image of the Son Whom He sent as expiation for our sins.
Fr. Paschal Salisbury died peacefully after a long illness at Holy Rosary Priory in Portland, Oregon, Aug. 18, 2023. He had just celebrated his 95th birthday. Fr. Paschal lived a long and interesting life. His grandfather was freed from slavery in Missouri. Born in Lawrence, Kan., June 6, 1928, Fr. Paschal grew up during segregation when there were very limited employment opportunities for African-Americans. He spent time in the U.S. Army when it was still segregated, and though not Catholic, enjoyed listening to Bishop Fulton Sheen on the radio. President Truman integrated the Air Force shortly after Fr. Paschal's Army tour ended, so he enlisted in that branch of the service. He was a very talented musician and, while practicing the organ at the Catholic chapel, pursued his interest in Catholicism and entered the Church in 1948 at age 21.
When Fr. Paschal returned to civilian life, he completed a degree in business, moved to San Francisco, and pursued his profession. He sang in the choir at our Dominican Church, St. Dominic's Church, and began to discern a call to priesthood. He attempted to enter many religious communities, but because of discrimination was turned down or told to become a lay brother. His desire was finally realized when he was admitted to the Dominican Order on the West Coast. He was ordained the first African-American Dominican priest in the U.S., June 16, 1967, by Bishop Floyd Begin at St. Francis Cathedral in Oakland, Calif. After ministering at St. Dominic Catholic church in San Francisco where he was well-received, he completed a program in Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) and discovered a gift for hospital ministry.
In 1975, he started a CPE internship at St. Elizabeth's Hospital in Washington, D.C. From that time on, much of the rest of his life was spent ministering to the infirm in such disparate places as the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., hospitals in Jefferson City, MO, and Fresno, CA, and VA hospitals in White City, Ashland and Portland, Oregon. He retired in 2008 and spent his last years hearing confessions and gardening at Holy Rosary Dominican Priory in Portland, Oregon. Until the last day he could walk, he would take his normal rotations every Monday and Friday in the Confessional, even in his 90s. Many priests, especially, would come to him for counsel.
He was much loved by the people he served and by the members of his community. We all admired his commitment to the Lord and the religious life. His obvious talents for gardening and music were put to great use for the good of others. Though generally quiet and reserved, it was a delight to get to know him. One of the priests who lived with Fr. Paschal when he ministered to the sick in his beloved Jefferson City stated what all his friends knew, "He's very witty and insightful, and very talented."
Our visiting Novice brothers help us with our first steps in the renovation of the Rosary Center.