Fathers’ Day – Pastor’s Reflection (June 19, 2016)
I write you from Providence where we Friars are about to hold an assembly of our whole St. Joseph’s Province, our region of the Order. In the life of our Province such gatherings happen rarely. In this century we held one in 2005 to celebrate our bicentennial, and another in summer of 2009 to face the ramifications of the Great Recession. The financial and logistical challenges of gathering so many deter the overuse of these events. However, we are blessed to have in Providence College a leafy, tech enhanced setting in which two hundred men can live communally for three days.
This year we gather to celebrate the 800th anniversary of our Order. In these days leading up to Fathers’ Day weekend, we will be celebrating fatherhood and its absence.
At their best, Fathers’ Day and Mothers’ Day affirm our roots. We take a fresh look at the man and woman whose perspective on life formed us and we reflect on how we have applied their principles in circumstances they could not have foreseen. I have discerned that the greatest beauty of parenthood is ordinary people doing their best at one of life’s principal tasks, raising a child. Herein lies the freedom to accept the loveliness of my own ordinariness.
Here in Providence the Fatherhood of St. Dominic gathers us to receive again his ancient legacy and to apply it in a world increasingly unfamiliar to us, let alone him. That heritage abides in several timeless principles;
- A life lived in common, with a complete sharing of resources
- A life centered daily around shared liturgical prayer.
- A life sustained by study as its principal work.
- A life dependent on benefactors and the wages given for preaching, with an avoidance of endowments.
- A life of mobility (itineracy) at the service of the Gospel.
- A life governed by elected superiors, elected assemblies, and the evolving legislation they produce.
- A life in which the structures and obligations of daily life yield to the needs of the preaching ministry.
Dominic specified another key principle, not in writing but by his behavior, and this has made all the difference. Having articulated his vision of the Order to his Brothers and to the Church in the person of Pope Honorius III, he then surrendered control of it. When the Brothers gathered and voted, Dominic followed their interpretation rather than his own.
From this moment on, the Order has always been in charge of itself. St. Dominic’s life and preferences do not bind us as some kind of template. From the beginning, we were formed by him to act without him. The fatherhood of St. Dominic is non-fatherhood.
A Fathers’ Day gathering provides the joy seeing fatherhood passed from generation to generation – grandfather, father, son. Among us fatherhood stopped with St. Dominic, and ever since his death, we have all been brothers in relationship and in governance. This stands in contrast to the monastic spirit in which the Abbot or Abbess takes a parental place in the life of the community.
Among us, superiors serve a term in office and then resume their place in the group. From this a fraternal culture emerges and fosters the development of communally held values and tastes. While, as you know, each Brother retains his individuality, he does so in dialog with the personality of the Community. Each Brother comes to realize that he has been formed by the community, as a religious he has been parented by it. At the same time his preaching and his participation shape the development of the same community. In a real way he parents a community culture that his younger brothers will inherit.
The life of fraternity comes as a gift that includes, shapes, and liberates those who live it. It also imposes the discipline of non-dominance. Each of us must check himself from so imposing opinions and tastes upon the group that its freedom to develop is compromised. Even as a superior, a brother remains a contributor to something larger than himself. Living the fraternal life demands confidence in the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit in the Brothers gathered. In this way the life we share at home becomes a witness to the world in which we minister.
It seems to me that if Dominican Friars are to minister successfully in a parish then the community of that parish should bear the same marks. How can we be evident as a community of brothers and sisters? Gifted Friars, Sisters, staff, and volunteers serve this community. They offer it talents, insights, and challenges proper to a given time. At the same time, they recognize it is for the community to receive these gifts and incorporate them into the rich store of its heritage. Each member of the group knows another will come after. The privilege is to have been gathered, to have abided for a time, and to have exchanged riches with one’s companions. To have been part of is the happiness of brothers and sisters.