Assertive Non-Dominance – Pastor’s Reflection (November 6, 2016)
These words attempt to crystalize the preaching of the three great feasts of this week. In the sermons for All Saints, All Souls, and St. Martin de Porres, I sought to honor the Jubilee of our Order of Preachers by articulating the particular character of a Dominican parish. The three feasts together celebrate the marvelous beauty of the Communion of Saints, the sharing of spiritual things that links the Church across every boundary raised by human society, and human nature. The work of the communion of saints crosses the unscalable wall of death.
So we could say that a Dominican parish is a corner of that communion where the Order of Preachers shares its spiritual gifts intimately with a group of God’s People. As we could say of any of the great religious families in the Church, the preaching and ministry of the Friars, Nuns, Sisters, and laity of the Order emerge from a whole way of life distinctive to us.
This points to the first spiritual gift of our Order, or any Order, which is order itself. If I say that I am a member of the Order, or work for the Order, or subscribe to the principles of the Order, I speak only part of the truth. It captures this mystery more fully to say that the Order is something I live within. It determines where and with whom I live, when I pray, how I work, what I wear. At the same time, it forms me for interacting with you; as a preacher, a confessor, a leader, or a friend. For eight centuries this way of life has welcomed, formed, and caused to thrive all kinds of Christians, both clerics and laity, men and women, contemplative and active, educated and uneducated.
If I answer the call to live within an Order, then I consent to live the rest of my life according to a pattern that will shape me in its likeness. One could argue by analogy that every Christian marriage serves as order for the spouses, who come to live with the relationship, which is bigger than the two of them. The marriage shapes them in general as they each acquire the character of a married person, but it also shapes them in particular as the unique dynamic of their life molds choices and perspectives over the course of decades.
Distinctive of Dominicans, and determinative among us, is the life of Brothers and Sisters. This sounds like a cliche, but it truly serves as the structures the life. In many orders the superior holds parental status and may be called Father (Abbot), or Mother (Abbess). In others the governing analogy is military, and the superior is called general. In Dominican governance, and this has been the case from the beginning, the superior has been elected by the members and understood to be the first among equals, never losing the relationship of Brother or Sister, and returning “to the ranks” at the end of a term, or two.
A fraternal or sororal government will be one of checks and balances since absolute authority would be inimical to it. Consequently, at each level of the Order local (Priory), regional (Province), or universal, superiors serve in tandem with elected assemblies, whom at times they must obey. The Friars also possess a fraternal polity. Local houses, such as our two priories, form regional provinces, and these in turn make up the Order. But each level of this structure possesses rights and obligations vis a vis the others.
What results has concrete effects for us, and for you. To live within a fraternal and sororal order requires a deep spirit of interdependence, unilateral action and the giving of commands being rare. In the end, most projects take the form of a joint enterprise. Study, as a principal discipline of the Order, supports this as it takes account of context and consequence. Such a way of life will necessitate consultation beforehand, collaboration during, and review after. All must be willing to value inclusion more than efficiency. I find that when I set about doing something for the parish, these are my best instincts. It puts me on the scenic route to accomplishing things, but yields the most enduring results.
Such a life also elicits a distinctive pattern of holiness, which I refer to as asserting non-dominance. By this I make a positive choice to use authority to diffuse power and power to further the gifts of others. If I accept this as the discipline of my life, I do not subjugate others, nor do I content myself with passivity. Indeed, the way of assertive non-dominance calls forth constant self-discipline and creativity. This way of life finds an origin in the Kingship Christ crucified, for He accepted His passion as a spending of self for others. We can also discern this pattern in the Beatitudes which locate the individual’s happiness and holiness in the necessary context of harmony with God and neighbor.
A parish is, like the Church herself, a community of souls. If such a community is entrusted to Dominicans, they will preach most effectively by extending the life of Brothers and Sisters to include the parishioners, and indeed to characterize them. What we want to explore next are the consequences of this for the way in which the parish worships, conducts its affairs, forms its members, and relates to the Church and the world.
I will start from here next week. I trust that in the meantime we may all be brothers and sisters to our fellow Americans at a significant juncture in the life of our nation. How important to remember that we have abundant spiritual goods to share with our contemporaries.