Reaching Out to Touch It – Pastor’s Reflection (November 8, 2015)
I write you early in the morning of Tuesday, November 3. We are just now preparing to celebrate the Feast of St. Martin de Porres, who made God’s love tangible to poor people at the door of a Dominican Priory, even as he served his Brothers within. (I should note that both of our churches have lovely shrines to Martin.) Today marks the great feast of our Cooperator Brothers in the Order, who by their life and work reveal its essential spirit. Since our parish has four Brothers in residence, the day offers us an especially relevant teaching, and gives a singular point of entree into the 800th anniversary of the Friars, the jubilee we will have begun on Saturday, November 7, the Feast of All Dominican Saints.
Brothers Ignatius, Thomas Aquinas, Damian, and Michael have walked very different paths in the ministry; they have shared the riches of their consecrated life in the worlds of nursing, the foreign missions, parish life, and the internal administration of our houses and our Province. But the resourcefulness, generosity, and joy of their work makes tangible their fundamental identity as men who follow Christ in the vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, and who do so in the fraternal way bequeathed by St Dominic.
Our founder could have structured us according to the monastic pattern that pervaded his time. In monasteries the abbot or abbess relates paternally or maternally to the monks or nuns. Since St. Dominic was responding to a crisis of heresy, he could also have plausibly structured his community along military lines, as St. Ignatius was to do so successfully with the Jesuits several centuries later.
Dominic chose neither way. Rather, he saw himself as a Brother among Brothers, and to this day every man who wears his habit possesses the essential identity of Frater, or Brother, and this identity entered English in the early days as Friar. Brotherhood gave us our pattern of governance. Superiors are elected for a term and then rejoin the ranks, and they serve as the first among equals. Fraternity places non-dominance at the heart of Dominican government and administration, and it effectively mandates a collaborative approach to ministry. This way of doing things has always exacted a price in efficiency and clarity. Any downside, though, yields to the witness given by the life when fully lived. Indeed, the community carries the ongoing task of ensuring that fraternity never recedes into sentimental imagery or legal nomenclature. It also faces the constant temptation of rapid and convenient authoritarian solutions to problems. In a fraternal life we find time to be together even when a project does not demand it, and in such a life each of the brothers claims the Community’s problems and joys as his own. Fraternity seeks complete inclusion and a sharing of the whole of life.
It must be said that St. Dominic was a priest and most Dominican Friars are priests. Further, the Church classifies us as a “clerical” order, and the ministry of Word and Sacrament is not accidental but fundamental to the whole Dominican project. At the same time the Order exists, not just to respond to apostolic needs, like the staffing of parishes, but to be a way of living by which men reach God. Therefore, it would never be accurate to reduce the Dominicans to a type of priest, and it would be equally wrong of us to conceive ourselves as an association of priests, with priestly function as our primary bond.
Our Dominican life demands to be lived as a profound sharing of time and prayer, goods and decisions. This will not happen without our perceiving the ways in which we have been given to each other by God for the giving and receiving of charity. For eight centuries the Friars have struggled to keep this insight before them, and the Order has thrived in the times of their success, and it has stagnated when the Brethren have settled for easier ways of living and doing.
It would not be honest to package this jubilee as celebrating eight hundred years of success, rather it venerates eight centuries of perseverance in a way of life that demands struggle if it is to keep its proper shape.
The Jubilee Year of the Friars runs from November 7, 2015 until January 21, 2017. One of the works of our own parish renewal will be to celebrate properly this significant milestone. Perhaps one of the deepest reasons for this jubilee is that that striving to live a fraternal life still provides a timely challenge and an authentic witness to the truth that Christ lives.
Please pray for the ongoing renewal of our order, that we may not only provide preaching to others, but may be a preaching ourselves.