Dean's Corner

Ad Extra - Vol. 1, n.4: February 2012

Dean's Corner

February 2012

by C. J. Renz, OP

To those who know me well, it comes as no surprise when I say that I am enamored of chocolate! Certainly first and foremost for the pleasure it offers to the senses. But also, for the stories which surround it and the way it has crept into the culture of so many different peoples.

According to tradition, the cacao bean arrived from Mesoamerica (where it was central to the religious and social life of both Myan and Aztec cultures) to the court of King Charles V of Spain in 1528, as a gift to him from Hernando Cortéz. In the Mesoamerican cultures, the bean was valued as both a form of currency (according to one journal, a slave was purchased for 100 cocoa beans) and a drink for both the gods and the nobility of human society. Upon its arrival in the court of Spain, chocolate, by itself quite bitter, was combined with sugar, vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg and other spices to produce a popular drink.

What is perhaps less well known is that the first recipes using cacao beans come from a 12th century Cistercian monastery, Monasterio de Nuestra Señora de Piedra monasterio. Extant documents indicate that by 1534 it is already a staple in the monastic kitchen. According to tradition, a Franciscan friar, Fray Jerónimo de Aguilar, who had traveled with Cortéz, gave a recipe and some beans to Don Antonio de Álvero, the Abbot of the Monastery. As depicted in this photo – located at the Monasterio de Piedra – Cistercian communities, even to this day, often have a room located above the cloister, known as the chocolatería, used specifically for the preparation and enjoyment of chocolate.

DSPT Ad Extra - Cistercian Monks making chocolate

I mention all this by way of highlighting two related things: the exhibition this semester in Blackfriars Gallery produced by Fr. Michael Morris, OP, entitled, Monks & Friars & Food – Oh my! A delightful collection of images, prints, rare books and religious articles has been gathered to explore the long and varied history of this relationship between monastic communities (which were usually sustainable, i.e. produced their own food) and food. Fr. Michael will present a lecture on this exhibit on February 20th, after which we will offer a selection of artisanal foods and beverages – including Brigittine fudge – prepared by monastic communities in the United States (along with a small selection of Belgian beer).

The second reason for highlighting this obsession of mine is that it reminds me that Lent is (or at least it can be) a season of heightened anticipation, and in that sense hope and joy. Whatever it is we “give up” for Lent (I readily acknowledge that I would never give up chocolate!) the privation can engender within us a growing sense of anticipation – mirroring the “lengthening of day light” – which is so central to this season. As one of the Prefaces for Lent states, “Your faithful await the sacred paschal feasts with the joy of minds made pure, so that . . . they may be led to the fullness of grace.”

Faculty Updates

Fr. Mike Fones, OP, was the featured speaker at the Canadian Catholic Campus Ministry Roundtable in Toronto, Canada. The meeting was a gathering of the national leadership of the CCCM (Canadian Catholic Campus Ministry), CCSA (Canadian Catholic Student Association), and leadership from a variety of other movements and groups that are present on Canadian university and college campuses. The purpose was to help these groups collaborate in their common ministry to the Catholic students of Canada.

Sr. Barbara Green, OP is presenting the Lenten Quiet Day at Incarnation Monastery (Camaldolese monastery in north Berkeley) on Saturday February 25, 9-noon. The topic is "God, Psalms, Violence, Ourselves."

Fr. Chris Renz, OP, will present a workshop on February 13th to a women's prayer group, WINGS, at the Catholic Community of Pleasanton. The topic is Lent as a season of hope, and will focus on the parallel rhythms between the hope expressed by nature in springtime (the “lengthening of days”) and the hope which builds as the Church anticipates the celebration of the Resurrection of the Lord and the full initiation of the Elect into new life in Christ Jesus.

Fr. Augustine Thompson, OP reports that a Polish press had contacted Cornell about doing a translation of his new book on St. Francis (Francis of Assisi: A New Biography; New York: Cornell University Press, April 24, 2012 francis). But upon his recommendation, the Press has opened negotiations for publishing a translation through the Polish Dominican press, W Drodze wdrodze. The Cornell Press has also been contacted by an agent, who is “somehow connected to Mel Gibson” – about the possibility of a screen play. Talks on the life of St. Francis given by Fr. Augustine earlier this month drew a crowd of about 60 in Anchorage, AK and 130 in Portland, OR. Finally, an article on reforms of the Dominican Rite in the 1950s was published in the current issue of Antiphon: A Journal for Liturgical Renewal.