Letters and texts from the Masters of the Order

Fr. Bruno Cadoré (2010- )

"Go tell my brothers!" (Jn 20:15): Dominican women and evangelisation.

“Go tell my brothers!” (Jn 20:15)
Dominican women and evangelization

Letter of the Master of the Order – January 2012

fr. Bruno Cadoré, O.P.

This appeal of the Christ to Mary at the dawn of the resurrection was chosen as the theme for this fourth year of the novena as we prepare to celebrate the Jubilee of the Order. This year titled “Dominican Women and Preaching” invites us to place the announcement of the resurrection at the source of our mission in the Order.

This very simple sentence initially reminded me of the emotion I felt a few years ago in the church of a town in Iraq. Morning had just broken and we were preparing to celebrate the entrance to the novitiate and the profession of some young brothers. A crowd of women were already in the church as they waited for the celebration; among them, there were Dominican mothers, sisters, friends, apostolic sisters and lay women. All together, they filled the church with the dense silence of their prayers while the entire country was suffering from chaos, violence and threats. In that silence and in the presence of the Father, these women prayed with such intensity that at the heart of the chaos, which wreaked havoc in the country and ripped it apart with all sorts of divisions, they conveyed the assurance that nothing can silence the message of life. One day, in this world, dawn broke out in the country of Judaea, through the birth of a child, the Prince of Peace. In spite of appearances, His coming pushed back darkness forever and the night was definitively torn open when, from the depths of a death inflicted on him, He gave his life. Often, in certain parts of the world, where violence repeatedly claims to destroy all social ties, women and mothers act as guardians of life to testify that, in spite of the appearances, no one can claim to become the master of a life that is received, primarily so that it can be given away. Go tell my brothers! Tell them of the strength of life, the unheard story of a humanity that, day after day, is born again in the Spirit of life and given away, through the Passion, all the way to the Resurrection. These women in Iraq showed the vast horizon of the mission of evangelisation: to inscribe into the heart of human history the joy and hope of Christ, who gave his life so that the world may live and learn to be his witnesses.

As part of the Dominican family, women – nuns, apostolic sisters, Dominican lay women, and members of secular institutes – make an essential contribution to the evangelizing mission of the Order. Rather than talk about preaching, I choose the definition of our mission that was given at the time of the foundation of our Order: totally devoted to the evangelisation of the Word of God. We belong first and foremost to the family of «Preachers», because as men and women we have committed our lives to this adventure of evangelisation. All of us, in one way or another, and according to our particular state of life and ministry, choose first a way of «life», and only then do we describe the «actions».

Go tell my brothers! Through this sending, Christ asks Mary and the others to invite the Church to be born from the preaching. This evokes for us the first intuition that preaching will be the foundation of the Order. At the beginning of this new adventure of evangelizing led by Dominic, it is in fact women who first come to join him, followed by the laity, providing for us a picture of the evangelisation effort: a sort of “small church”, a community gathered by the power of the spoken Word, gathered to listen to this Word together and to take it to the world. As it occurred with Jesus, according to Luke (8, 1-4), the community gathers at the very moment it has an intuition to become a “community for evangelisation”. Even from the beginning, and as strange as it may appear for that time, women were part of the community that had gathered around Jesus. There is no room for the world’s categories when it comes to being disciples. Let us imagine this community that was being formed as it followed Jesus on the first path of evangelisation. It went beyond the weaknesses, failures, sins and fragilities that can only be healed by Jesus. The holy preaching is established because of His mercy, felt in so many different ways. By seeing Him live and teach, the disciples probably had many occasions to share the experiences of their personal encounters with Him. And the women of the Gospel had the opportunity to give witness to the words that He had addressed to them: a Word that announces resurrection, one that recognises faith and the promise of salvation, a Word of life and pardon, of healing and trust. He spoke to them in a heart-felt way, respectful of their femininity and their familiarity with giving life. He was mindful of their capacity to care for and protect fragile life, of the power of their confidence in creativity and endurance in the face of life’s difficulties. The women were with Him along the path leading to Calvary; they waited in the garden, near the tomb, and again they set off along the roads and byways, running to announce to the apostles that He had risen. The mission of evangelisation needs this witness and this announcement to help the world hear this Word that carries life within it.

Since its foundation, when the first «Dominican women» came to join Dominic, giving birth to the «holy preaching of Prouilhe», our own «communion for evangelisation», the Dominican family, has the need to be composed of men and women, religious and laity, so that it can be an image of the first community that walks along the paths with Jesus, learning from Him how to love and speak to the world, how to seek the Father, receiving everything from Him. All together, with our diversity and complementarity, as well as a mutual respect for differences and the common will to share in equality, we must all carry out this «task of being brothers and sisters», in order to be signs in the world and the Church. Ours is a community of brothers and sisters that knows that the equal recognition of each member often suffers because of worldly limitations. In particular, there is still much to do so that everywhere the words of women and men may have equal value, rejecting all injustices and violence that still affect so many women throughout the world. Dominican women, in the adventure of the “holy preaching”, have the task of reminding all, even in the midst of many odds, that the world may not be «at peace» as long as these inequalities are not resolved. We must learn to become sisters and brothers, to identify the injustices, to fight them through this long and beautiful task of listening and of mutual esteem. However, we must also express that evangelisation is not mainly a matter of this or that ministry, rather an invitation to a certain way of life, one which is totally devoted to ensuring that the Word of God be good news for the world. Deep down, we often spend time examining what differentiates us within the Dominican family. Let us instead be attentive to what gathers us and brings us together: the grace of the Word of God, the Word’s truth and strength, its life and mercy. Dominican women and preaching? It is first of all our duty to share with them, to be open to all that they they have received and achieved through the grace of the “evangelisation of the Word of God”, so that the community may be built and consolidated as a common mission.

To speak of Dominican women – nuns, sisters, consecrated women and laity – is, before all else, to speak of the immense role that they have had and continue to have in this task of evangelisation, in this engendering of hope through the “evangelisation of the Word of God” in the world. The places of prayer and of sisterly/fraternal communion, of contemplation and hospitality, which are the monasteries of the Order, are the foundational stones of the preaching. In these places, the cries and the needs, the distress and the hope of the whole world are brought into the prayers of the sisters and presented to God, the Father. Dominican contemplation is just that – preaching – totally and profoundly. It is impossible to list the countless commitments, friendships and works carried out by the apostolic sisters of the Order. Their presence and actions render the Word Good News for their contemporaries, as they concern themselves with searching for ever-new ways to «light the fire» of the Grace of the Spirit in this world. This concern was manifested throughout the centuries by their foundresses or founders, working in contexts where the place of women and their recognition were not always evident. Regarding our sisters in the laity, be it within their families, groups of friends or professional relationships, we see once again their great creativity and diversity being manifest so that the Word may be seen and heard as Good News, thus giving birth to hope in the resurrection.

In speaking of Dominican women and preaching, it is not my desire to elaborate here on the topic of complementarity, which is so evident, nor on the topic of ordination and the ministry of preaching. As you have understood by now, the issue is not primarily what is done, rather what is contributed to the common good of the holy preaching, and how we may together be organized to receive what is offered. Dominican women, I believe – though it is really up to them to say it – bring to the holy preaching a unique experience in their relationship with Christ, a particular manner for studying the Word, a precise way to organize a chapter, a vulnerability regarding what brings life and what causes death in our world, a way to say God.

They also contribute a great diversity in the way that the Dominican intuition is interpreted, as transmitted by their founders, providing us with a dramatic understanding, at a given moment of human history, of the freshness of Dominic’s intuition in whatever context and in whatever task offered in the service of humanity. Go tell my brothers! This is perhaps what our sisters – lay and religious – can teach us, and this could also be, perhaps, what the brothers would like to learn. To learn about the world together, particularly during this year; for the brothers to learn from the sisters, and sisters among themselves, beyond our differences, so that, at the heart of holy preaching in our day, we may thirst for the Word of resurrection. In a family, the strongest and most beautiful ties are often the ones that are woven by the sharing of joys and sorrows, by the mutual offering of shared friendship and support when the world’s trials make us doubt whether we know how to find the future. In a family, isn’t it often the women who establish the relationships, forging the link among one another, simply because they give life? Are they not the ones who inspire enough confidence so that all the members desire to be born anew – as brothers and sisters, as sons and daughters? And for us, in the family of Dominic, do we not desire to listen to and love the world as daughters and sons of the Father, as the sisters and brothers of humanity, a desire to be in this world as «sacraments of fraternal and sisterly communion»?

Go tell my brothers! I believe that when we speak of Dominican women in their relation to preaching, we must recall the difficult experience that many congregations of apostolic sisters and several monasteries of the Order are facing today. After years of growth and development, there is no sign of relief for the immediate future. We must face this challenge together, supporting one another in his or her own specificity and autonomy, while also witnessing to the fact that the mission of preaching, carried out together, is on one hand the fruit of all that has been sown before us, and on the other hand, larger than the specific mission of any given institution. I cannot ignore the fact that it may be difficult to face concretely such a test in a realistic and creative manner, without resignation nor obstinacy. We must make an option for true hope in life, even when we perceive death up close, even when a large number of houses must be closed, and many beloved sisters laid to rest in the ground. During this transition, we are in absolute need of our solidarity and our unity, so that we can prepare the future of the mission of the holy preaching based on our present strengths. We do this without dreaming about the strengths that are no longer a reality, nor deciding what they should be in the future, but by receiving, with simplicity, the grace of the vocations that are given, ordering them to the common mission carried out by all. Consecration and religious life must open our hope up as wide as the dimensions of the world, and for the world, freeing us from living paralyzed by either the memory of past glories or the challenge of present difficulties. We often hear that in many parts of the world, apostolic religious life – and thus Dominican as well – is aging significantly and will not succeed in renewing itself as it did in the past. Certainly, but there is a great adventure to be lived in old age, when one can be grateful for having borne much fruit for the life of the Church and for so many human communities: Can we together learn to be carried away by the lightness of our giving thanks, rather than be discouraged by the weight of the lost future? Above all, and we firmly believe this, the holy preaching has the need – an absolute need – for the contribution of Dominican women who totally consecrate their lives to it. It is by being gathered together, therefore, and building on what is already very much alive among us, that we must prepare the framework for this preaching. This need, this urgency – to call women to join the mission of the Order under its many different forms – is the responsibility of all the members of the Dominican family, men as well as women.

Just like the preaching in the days of Jesus, or like that of the apostolic times, or when the Order was founded, and now at this time in which the Church is emphasizing the urgency of evangelisation, the family of Saint Dominic, «the family for evangelisation» has today more than ever the duty of joining together brothers and sisters who «preach the Word». Go tell my brothers…

A Good and Happy New Year to all!

Rome, January 13, 201

fr. Bruno Cadoré O. P.

Master of the Order

Maître de l’Ordre

Dominic: Government, Spirituality and Freedom. Commentary on the annual theme of the Jubilee (2015)

Dominic: Government, Spirituality and Freedom

Commentary on the annual theme of the Jubilee (2015)

par Bruno Cadoré, o.p.

‘If you remain in my word, you will truly be my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free’ (John 8:31-32); ‘For freedom Christ set us free’ (Gal 5:1)

The truth will set you free! Echoing this promise of Jesus, the image that is forced on me is that of the group that walked with Jesus, announcing the kingdom from town to town. Each one in their own way had been freed. Freed from the weight of their mistakes, the impasses of their lies, the heaviness of their history, from alienating divisions … driven by the desire of their Master and Lord to go even to other cities, they accompanied him, confident so as to hold themselves, with him, in a Breath that made them day by day more free to be themselves, free to have been given this friendship offered by God with His Son, free to be sent. Free to be disciples of Christ and in turn to invite others to join them. It is the Breath of Jesus’ preaching that sets them free, even though they had perhaps not really considered what they had become involved in by responding to his invitation to follow him, or by joining him on their own initiative in appreciation of the mercy which was his grace to them. By staying by his side in his proclamation of the kingdom, they discover that they are becoming even more free than they had ever dared to hope. Free because of the Word of their friend and Lord. ’If you remain in my Word, you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free’. Freed by the Word of truth!

It is, I believe, to this freedom of the preacher that this year’s theme in preparation for the celebration of the jubilee of the Order refers. Dominic: government, spirituality and freedom. We have in mind some important texts that were proposed to us over the last few decades on these topics (government in the order, obedience, freedom and responsibility…), and which we will be happy to read again. It seems to me that the theme of this year invites us, within the perspective opened by these texts, to focus our attention on what is perhaps the heart of the spirituality of the Order: to receive the audacity of the preacher’s freedom in learning to become his disciples. And such is the horizon of government in the Order.

We always emphasize the essential role, unique, given to obedience in the profession of being a preacher: ‘I promise obedience, to God …’ Dominic, the historians recall, asked the first brothers to promise him ‘obedience and common life’. Two ways to become disciples: listen to the Word and follow his example in living with others, following him as the first community of friends that went with Jesus from town to town to learn from him how to be a preacher. Listen and live together, making this following of the Word the source of unanimity.

Consecrated to preaching: Sent to preach the Gospel

In this year dedicated to the consecrated life, it seems we are invited to draw again, constantly, to this source of our life: to be devoted to the evangelization of God’s Word, to be consecrated to the preaching the Word, ’remain in his Word’. ’If you remain in my word, you are truly my disciples’. Government for Dominic is to support this desire – of individuals and communities – to be ’truly his disciples’. This means be a guardian of this ’remain in the Word’. There again, it is the criterion of the mission that imposes itself. Indeed, what is this ’Word’ ? We learn what that Word means for us starting from the conversation of the Son with the Father in the breath of the Spirit: ‘those you have given me …’, ’that where I am, they also may be with me …’ This filial intimacy in which the mission is ingrained: ’as you sent me, I will also send them …’. Remaining in the Word does not evoke any ’self-centred contemplative immobility’. Nor does it evoke a ’moral observance’ that would establish (or seek) a final ‘state of perfection’. Remaining in the Word, in the school of Dominic, means rather to enter into the movement of the Word which comes to humanity to make his home there, and to make us free by the power of his Spirit. It is to stand in the Breath of the Son’s mission. It is for us to become disciples, and a community of disciples, proportionate to this friendly and brotherly closeness to the Son. In the words of Thomas Aquinas when he speaks of ’verbum spirans amorem’, one can in effect think that to remain in the Word is to remain in this Word that ’transmits’ love, that is to say establishes friendship, brotherhood and communion, in us and amongst us. The Spirit, the Word, of truth and freedom.

One of the first decisions of Dominic, regarded by the history of the Order as one of the most important, was to disperse the brothers of Saint-Romain, so that the grain would not accumulate. In this way he showed that government in the Order would mainly be concerned with preaching. As such, government involves a certain dynamic of spiritual life, which seeks to promote and to serve the freedom of each one and which has its source in the Word of God. As Jesus himself did with the disciples, Dominic sends his brothers in pairs on the roads of preaching. In reality he sends them at the same time to study and to preach, and it is thanks to this determination about dispersal that the Order develops, is established, creates, and welcomes new vocations. This dispersion establishes itinerancy as a method for ‘becoming disciples’, inviting preachers to allow their lives to be marked by the encounters they will have by going out into the world as ‘brothers’. It will also lead them to go to school at the first universities and so to root their search for the truth of the Word in the conversation with the knowledge of their time, root their respect for the human capacity to have knowledge in the study of the mystery of the revelation of God the Creator and Saviour. Remaining in his Word means to stand closer to the conversation of God with humanity which Jesus, first and only master of the preaching of the Kingdom, made visible to the eyes of all.

‘God manifested the tenderness and humanity of his Son in his friend Dominic, may he transfigure you in the image …’. This prayer of blessing for the feast of St Dominic echoes the choice of Pope Saint John Paul II, to place his reflection on the ‘Vita consacrata’ within the light of the mystery of the Transfiguration (VC 14). In this perspective, and because it has the task of calling, leading and assisting on the journey of ‘becoming disciples’ so as to become preachers, Dominican government continually seeks to promote the conditions of this ‘economy of the transfiguration’. The preaching of the Kingdom is the way the Order proposes to its brothers and sisters for them to be conformed to Christ by the Spirit. Contemplating the icon of the Transfiguration reveals the essential dimensions of this adventure. At the heart of his journey of preaching, Jesus took three of his disciples with him to attend his transfiguration: contemplation of the mystery of the Son is at the heart of the preacher’s mission. From this, the preacher receives what it is his mission to transmit: the reality of the Son of God along with the revelation of the economy of the mystery of salvation. Let us remember, in fact, the account of the Transfiguration: ‘let us make three tents, one for you, one for Moses, one for Elijah …’ And Jesus does not take long to answer: a tent will indeed be set up, but it will be at Golgotha in Jerusalem. There will also be two companions, but they will be robbers expelled with him from society and put to death. To the shining light of the mountain of the transfiguration corresponds the lightning that will tear the skies, as if to confirm beforehand the fulfillment of this descent into the abode of the dead from where the Son will be raised, living, overcoming once and for all the darkness of death, and carrying with him in the full presence of the Father those who from this point forward will live with Him forever. On the Mountain of Transfiguration, the disciples finally receive the mission that will be their joy: to go with Jesus, as far as Jerusalem, where the Word of truth is revealed in fullness. There where the donated life of Christ is the source of our freedom.

To be under the sign of the Transfiguration, is to take a path on which our desire to become disciples can grow, remaining in his Word, letting it teach us the obedience and love of the Son revealed on Golgotha and on Easter morning, receiving from his Breath the mission as on the day of Pentecost.

Remain in my word

In his apostolic letter to religious, Pope Francis invites them to ’wake up the world’, by knowing how to create ’other places where the evangelical logic of gift, brotherhood, welcoming of diversity, mutual love will flourish’. These places ‘must become ever more the leaven of a society inspired by the Gospel, the ‘town on the hilltop’ which tells the truth and the power of Jesus’ words’. These places are our communities, where we can promise to learn to become ‘experts in communion’ of which the Pope speaks in this same apostolic letter.

It is significant and essential that, in the Order, the superior’s function is located precisely at the intersection of these two horizons of our promise: obedience and common life. Dominic wanted ‘apostolic obedience’ to shape the preachers in becoming brothers of those to whom they were sent in mendicant itinerancy, and in letting themselves be converted and shaped into a brotherhood by leading a community life. This apostolic brotherhood to which we make the vow of obedience is the path proposed by Dominic for fully receiving our freedom. Obedience and common life: two ways to direct attention towards the eschatological communion promised to the world that has been created ‘capable’, as we say that the world is created ‘capable of God’. Two ways to engage,’ usque ad mortem’, our freedom in all its fullness. Once again, it is for the superior to call us to take that route of being placed ‘under the authority’ of the Word, of being the servant of this conversation between God and humanity, that the Word came to fulfill by living amongst men. Obedience and common life, so that preaching is rooted both in the community of disciples who hear the Word of life, and in the community hoping for this eschatological communion announced by the prophet and sealed by the Son with his own life.

What could be a ‘tree of preaching‘, fruit of the promise of evangelical and apostolic life, is rooted in three ways which the tradition of the Order offers us for ‘remaining in his Word’: brotherly communion, celebration of the Word and prayer, study. It is a specific task of government in the Order – and this is perhaps its primary responsibility – to promote amongst the brothers, and amongst the sisters and the laity, the quality of this triple foundation which guarantees and promotes apostolic freedom.

Brotherly communion is the place where the brothers and sisters can test the ability of human words to serve the search for truth that will set them free. It is through community life that we are to arrive at our freedom by contributing to communion. For this reason, our ‘capitular religious life’ is essential to our spirituality: each member of the community has his own voice, engaging in the common search for the good of all adapted to the mission of being a servant of the Word, he participates fully in the government of the Order. This is democratic, not because it consists in the designation of the power of the majority, but because it consists rather in the democratic search for unanimity. This exercise of community life is demanding, we know this, because it calls each one never to evade his own participation in the dialogue of this search. It is demanding also, because it requires the expression, in the fullest possible truth, of positions and arguments, even to objectifying disagreements among the brothers, but in the confidence that no one will ever be reduced to an opinion or position expressed, being always in the first place welcomed and loved as a brother. It is demanding, furthermore, because it requires all members of a community, after a patient search to the point that is the closest possible to unanimity, to take their part with determination in realizing the decision made by all. It is at this price that everyone is then welcome, recognized and supported by all in the momentum of his own generosity and apostolic creativity. Perhaps it is because of the difficulty of this exercise that we abandon far too often this dimension of our remaining in the Word by our community life.

Prayer is a second method of rooting the tree of preaching in the Word. Personal and community prayer cannot be regarded as an exercise to be fulfilled so as to be consistent with the commitment to regular consecrated life. It is the way in which we make the choice, individually and in community, to punctuate the time of our human history through meditation on the mystery of God’s history with the world. It is thus to ’own’ the history of revelation, in response to this God who comes in His Son to ’own’ each one of us. It is about allowing, in prayer, the Spirit to ‘blow where he wants’. In this way, prayer comes from listening to the Word and leads back to it, establishing the center of gravity of our personal lives and of the lives of our communities in the contemplation of the mystery of the revelation of which Scripture is the account. The celebration of the Word in the liturgy, its contemplation in meditation on the mysteries of the Rosary, patient silent prayer, help us to locate the consecration of our lives to preaching between contemplation and study, two ways of seeking the truth of His Word of which we want to give the taste to those to whom we are sent. ’If you remain in my word, you are truly my disciples’. Remaining thus becomes an opportunity for us, as was the case for the first friends of Jesus preaching, to find ourselves free because raised by His calling, strengthened by His love and mercy, encouraged and sent by his grace to carry forward His Word of truth. Remaining in the Word then leads to us carrying with us, in this silence of listening and waiting, those to whom we are sent, who rely on our prayer, who are given to us by God so that, mysteriously, we accept that He binds their destiny to ours in the same grace of salvation. In this area, government in the Order is a watchman: ensuring that the freedom of individuals and communities is really rooted in the contemplation of this mystery in which the Son himself, in his humanity, gave salvation to the world by adjusting his freedom to that of his Father.

Prayer places us in the school of Our Lady of Preachers. With her, preachers can discover and be constantly amazed by the capacity of human life to be able to become a ’life for God’. With her, singing the Psalms which write their contemplation in the history of revelation, the human words of the preachers are rooted in a friendly understanding of the conversation by which God proposes to humanity its adoption. With her, yet again, the Order establishes at the heart of it’s preaching the prophetic sign of conversion to brotherly communion, confident announcement of the full realisation of the promise of the alliance in Him who is Truth. At the school of Our Lady of Preachers, this spirituality of obedience in the common life unites the Order intimately to the mystery of the Church, by the shared love of Christ, by adoption in the Breath of His life, by the gift to the world.

Study is the third method for rooting preaching by ‘remaining in his Word’. It is the place of research and contemplation of the truth, and it is for this reason that it is a very particular observance in our tradition. Still firmly established in listening to Scripture, and in fidelity to the doctrine and teaching of the Church, study is in the Order the preferred way to maintain our conversation with God, leading also to a friendly and brotherly dialogue with the many systems of thought that mold the world and which search in their own way for truth. By study, the Order invites us to grow continually in freedom, not by enhancing in a worldly way the level of acquired knowledge, but rather by inviting us to move forward on the path of the ’humility of truth’. To engage human intelligence in this adventure that has the audacity to attempt by words and finite human concepts to make the mystery understandable, is both to give thanks to God the Creator who wanted human reason, however finite and limited it is, to be ’capable of God’, and also to allow the surpassing of reason in hope of a fullness that no concept can truly grasp. The occurrence of hope reveals the true extent of our freedom. Government, in the Order, has the responsibility of stopping us abandoning this field of study, and to stimulate our creativity to seek constantly for the most compatible ways of proposing to others this adventure of the evangelization of reason.

Government and spirituality?

This perspective given to the spirituality of the Order – remaining in the Word to know the truth that sets free – allows us to identify certain essential principles of government in the Order. We have already seen that government is essentially directed to the mission of preaching and that it seeks to promote a lifestyle specific to the Dominican tradition which provides brothers with the conditions for rooting their preaching in the Word.

The first principle is to encourage constantly the celebration of the chapters to establish the brothers in a common apostolic responsibility. In his recent apostolic letter, Pope Francis expresses the wish that consecrated persons should ask themselves what it is God and humanity are asking of them. In our tradition, this underlines the renewed importance we must give to the reality of our chapters. Of course chapters – conventual, provincial and general – have the responsibility of making precise decisions about the organization and legislation for our life and our mission. And, as we have highlighted, they are as such privileged moments for placing ourselves humbly in the school of the truth being sought together in brotherhood. Precious reflections of my predecessors have helped us grasp how democracy in the Order was not a method for the exercise of power by the majority, but rather a search for the greatest possible unanimity. If dialogue and debate between the brothers is so important in our tradition, it is so that everyone might participate freely and confidently in a shared articulation of the good of all to which each one will commit himself to contribute. Such a fraternal conversation is possible to the extent that there is fraternal respect, and we demonstrate among ourselves an openness and freedom to express our thoughts.

One of the essential subjects of these debates should be attention to the signs of our time, and understanding the needs and calls that are made to the charism proper to the Order: to carry at the heart of the church the memory of evangelical preaching. In a letter soon to come, I will address – in response to the request of the General Chapter of Trogir – the theme of the community project whose elaboration seems to me to be the focal point of government in the Order. Only to the extent that all have participated in the development of this project can we really assess and direct our service of the Church and the world by preaching. Fraternal communion is built starting from a common concern for the mission, which is not only the determination of what we want to ‘do’, but also the sharing of our ‘compassion for the world’ from which we want to share this precious gift of being freed by the Word of truth.

On the basis of this common apostolic responsibility, and because the task of government in the Order is to ensure this rooting in the truth of the Word, the second principle of government is to send to preach. Dominic wanted the response to this ’mission’ to be itinerant and mendicant so that the preaching of the Order would extend the economy of the Word, who in Jesus has come into the world as a friend and as a brother, begging hospitality of those he wanted to invite to take part in the conversation with the Father. The ‘assignments’ given by superiors should always be aimed at this horizon of mendicant itinerancy, for the mission. He spoke, specifically, of apostolic itinerancy, of this ‘non-installation’ as the way to become a disciple. ’I will follow you wherever you go …’ said one of the disciples, to which Jesus replied, ‘foxes have holes, and birds have nests. The Son of Man, however, has nowhere to lay his head …’ It is this statement that Dominic wanted to take seriously, in this way giving his brothers a chance to ask again the question of the Baptist’s disciples, ‘Lord, where are you staying?’ ‘Come and you will see …’ This is what should help us to understand the exercise of government in the Order. To understand, and to hear at the heart of our life, the ministries and responsibilities proper to each one: at the heart of the most established realities, perhaps of successes or brilliant ‘careers’, of the most important functions, a call may resound which asks us to leave in order to rejoin, further on, and more freely, another dimension of the common mission of the Order for the Church. These displacements – painful at times, but so often productive – have characteristics that are constantly recalled in Dominic’s life: compassion, frontier between life and death, between the human and the inhuman, the challenge of justice and peace, the need for dialogue between religions and cultures – as many realities as echo the ’existential boundaries’ of which Pope Francis speaks again in his letter. Mercy for sinners, rather than attachment to our own sins which centres us on ourselves. Service of the communion of the Church and its extension, rather than too great an importance given to identities that reassure us but confine us to ourselves. To remain in the Word, is to stand in the full breeze of the Breath of the mission of the Word itself, of the Word of which we wish to become disciples. The itinerancy of preaching is thus the way to our ‘freedom in order to be free.’

It is because the exercise of government in the Order is directed towards this sending that special attention should be given to each person, to his gifts, his creativity, so that the freedom of each one at the service of the common good and mission will be best deployed. At the heart of this attention, in the name of the common search for the truth of the Word, superiors must have at heart the dual requirement of mercy and justice. Mercy, so dear to our tradition, must give to the care for people its first shape. It is in this way that interpersonal fraternal relations, like the relations within a community, should always be the point of focus that allows us to remind each one that he cannot be reduced to his flaws and failures. Brotherhood really forms when everyone discovers, through it and through the call it constantly gives to let yourself be free in order to be free, his full dignity of being raised and saved by the mercy of Christ. But at the same time, this dignity must always be recognized in its capacity for responsibility. In the perspective of the Word of truth that liberates, there is no individual freedom that justifies being an island, or being the centre of gravity of the life of all the others. Brotherhood, as realized by Christ, teaches us precisely how to receive our true freedom in an openness to reciprocity where the other always counts more than myself. This is why government has the demanding responsibility of keeping together the concern for mercy and the duty of justice. The precise and objective reference to our Constitutions, to the common good, to the decisions of our chapters, allows us to protect the common good of all from the arbitrary claims of individual freedom. The task sometimes seems dry and ungrateful, but it is at the price of this demanding equilibrium that we avoid facile reference to a mercy that is nothing more than cowardice, irresponsibility, or indifference, and that everyone will be able to receive the grace that he came looking for in the Order: to be called to allow yourself to be freed by the Word of truth.

In concluding this commentary on the annual theme of the Jubilee, I would like to mention one last spiritual principle of government in the Order, that of unity and communion. Here again, it is by the criterion of the mission that we can move forward. It is to the extent that we patiently take the means of common deliberation which directs the ministry of preaching that individuals, communities, provinces and all the entities of the Dominican family, enter into the dynamics of integration in a single unity. Each of these is of course invited, summoned, to bring to the common good their own identity, personal, cultural, ecclesial. But because of the common reference to a founding enthusiasm which has consecrated us, all together, to preaching, our desire is to respond together to this sending. Or rather, what is even more demanding, we ask the Spirit to make of us a preaching communion. We make this demand along with the incessant prayer that the Spirit of communion might open in this world the horizon of salvation, establish in our hearts the hope of the new creation. Above the door of the Basilica of Santa Sabina, given to St. Dominic by Pope Honorius III, the mosaic representing the Church of the Circumcision and the Church of the Gentiles recalls this first horizon of the preaching of the Order: the Word of truth obliges us to serve, through preaching and through witness, the promised communion. This is why we are sent. And on the door of the same basilica, as we know, the representation of the crucifixion recalls that this preaching will lead us to become disciples of Him who, freely, gives his life so that all might be gathered together in unity.

The truth will make you free !

fr. Bruno Cadoré, O.P.
Master of the Order

Prot. 50/15/84 Jubilee_2016

Fr. Carlos A. Azpiroz Costa, O.P. (2001-2010)

Proclaiming the Gospel in the Order of Preachers (2002)

Proclaiming the Gospel in the Order of Preachers

Rome, 7 November 2002. Feast of All the Saints of the Order

fr. Carlos Azpiroz Costa, o.p.

Dear brothers and sisters,
The Order of Preachers (the Dominicans) “was founded, from the beginning, especially for preaching and the salvation of souls “. Because of this, we, the sons and daughters of Saint Dominic, offer ourselves in a new way to the universal Church, dedicating ourselves entirely to the complete evangelization Word of God to all men and women, groups and communities, believers and non-believers and especially the poor . We are conscious that history and the world of humanity are the places where salvation is achieved. Because of this, attentive to the dynamism of modern society, we insist on the necessity of establishing our preaching on the new experiences and realities that contemporary men and women daily bring to the Christian faith. Reading the Acts of the most recent General Chapters, we can sketch the new “Areopagus” or “frontiers” to which we are called; which are priorities for the Order and how we can portray our proclamation of the Gospel.


The emphasis on the missionary and evangelizing character of the Church in Vatican II, in Evangelii Nuntiandi – which Brother Damian Byrne called the “Carta Magna of the preacher” – makes singularly clear the foundational project of Dominic. It is the responsibility of the whole Dominican Family, “men and women together in mission,” to realize that project and to set in motion the specific mission of the Order in the world. Some features that have characterized the Dominican mission from the beginning are:

The mission of the Order was and must continue to be a mission beyond frontiers.

This mission, situated at the – as Bro. Pierre Claverie OP, bishop of Oran in Algeria, called them, “lignes de fracture” of humanity, which go across our globalized world so often marked by injustice and the violence of racial, social and religious conflicts.

It demanded and demands of the Dominican community the attitude and practice of itinerancy, mobility, the continuous displacement towards the new frontiers to which the priorities of our mission guide us.

1. The frontier between life and death:

The great challenge of justice and peace in the world

The most dramatic and urgent problems that confront contemporary men and women are of a historical character. They deal with the systems, structures, social practices, politics and economies that put a great mass of people between life and death. So, the dedication to justice and peace – analysis, reflection and actions of solidarity – is a criterion of the validation of any Dominican mission, and must accompany any sphere or modality of our preaching. The example of Bartolomé de las Casas, Antonio de Montesinos and Pedro de Córdoba in Latin America, like the example of Domingo de Salazar in the east and the works of Brother Louis Joseph Lebret in our time are illuminating.

2. The frontier between humanity and inhumanity:

The great challenge of the emarginated

The marginalizing structure of today’s society produces an ever-increasing number of emarginated men and women, who come close to the frontier of an inhuman or sub-human life. Among the categories of emarginated can be found many peoples that suffer from material poverty and a cultural, social, economic and political marginalization. There are still today, in various forms, victims of “apartheid”: emigrants, dissidents, workers, women, the sick, the young, the old. These are manifest signs of the absence of the reign of God, and as such, a challenge that takes priority in our reflection, study and evangelization. The mission of the Dominican community is to inaugurate and show a new model of communion and participation among all men and women.

3. The Christian frontier:

The challenge of the universal religions

The universal religious traditions give us the experience of God. Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism and Islam are situated nevertheless, beyond the frontier of the Christian experience of God. Some of these religious traditions exert a strong influence on contemporary men and women. The dialogue with other religions brings into question the traditional conceptions of the evangelizing mission of the Church as well as inauthentic attitudes and models of evangelization. The dialogue must be at once analytical and self-critical; this presupposes a listening attitude and an inculturated presence, free of any hint of colonialism, imperialism or fanaticism. Dominic’s ideal was to be in mission beyond the frontiers of established Christianity, among the Cumbans (this was his dream). The placing of convents in cities and the presence of the friars in universities for intercultural and inter-religious dialogue give priority to this challenge of Dominican evangelization.

4. The frontier of religious experience:

The challenge of secular ideologies

Contemporary men and women find themselves in a deeply paradoxical situation: there is a lack of religion and a yearning for the religious. Secular ideologies explain, in part, this lack and question the old models of the transmission of Christ’s message. Many of these questions, planted by contemporary thought, remain to be answered. Present in all of these is the interrogative about the person and his or her future and the critical question about the truth. Atheism, unbelief, secularization, indifference and laicism are questions that deal strongly with these ideologies. Dialogue on these very subjects can serve as a critical corrective to the varied manifestations of religious and Christian actions and, at the same time, suggest a priority area of Dominican evangelization. An important lesson from the origins of Dominican history has been the capacity of the Order to establish a dialogue between Christ’s message and both classical and emerging cultures. Some examples are: Saint Dominic, who incorporated study in his foundational project: Thomas Aquinas in the 13th century; the Dominican professors and theologians of the 16th century; the Dominican theologians at Vatican II. Theology has been creative and prophetic in the Dominican Family in so far as it has been allowed to be clarified by cultural coordinates. It has been life-giving in the measure that it has taken as its point of departure the pressing quæstiones disputatæ of each time.

5. The frontier of the Church:

The challenge of the non-Catholic confessions and other religious movements

The plurality of confessions is a scandal for believers and non-believers. The hidden riches in the diverse Christian traditions are an invitation to ecumenical dialogue and reconciliation. The theological reflection of the Order, faithful to its tradition, addresses this challenge. With other overtones, the frontier of the Church also goes to the phenomenon of the “new religious options”. In certain countries and regions of the world, the growing presence of these “movements” constitutes a challenge for evangelization. Simple denunciation and anathemas are insufficient. The first ideal of Dominic was to be in mission beyond the frontiers of “Christianity”. The immediate needs of the Church impeded him, and he carried out his mission among heretics, in the frontiers of the Church. From them he learned and took models of the evangelical and apostolic life. With them, he was in dialogue without rest. He questioned them with his witness and fidelity to the communion of the Church.


The Order of Preachers, which participates in the Apostolic Life of the Church, must be always in mission and position itself on the frontiers. The highest priority of all for us is preaching, “dedicating ourselves entirely to the complete evangelization of the Word of God”. To realize this end, the Order has reaffirmed four priorities in recent years. These priorities can not be separated one from the other nor can one be emphasized while diminishing the importance of the others; on the contrary, they are complementary; each one responds in a different way to the more pressing needs of contemporary peoples with regard to preaching the Word of God. Neither are they new, but belong wholly to the charism and tradition of the Order: in the life of Saint Dominic, in the life of the brothers of the 13th century, in the life of the brothers of the 16th century who arrived in Latin America and the Far East, in the modern epoch. The four priories are certainly the fruit of our original grace. They are:

1. Catechesis in a dechristianized world: the world of those who grew up in the context of a Christian tradition, but in fact live on the fringes or outside; indifferent or hostile to the visible community of believers. This catechesis should be Pascal, to call people to a personal conversion and bring about the transformation of the world; also, it should promote lay ministries.

2. Evangelization in the context of diverse cultures: oriented towards a philosophical and theological investigation of cultures, intellectual systems, social movements and religious traditions operative “outside of historical Christianity”. The Order is called to help to give birth to a new way to be Christian on the various continents. The local communities must identify with the people in a positive attitude of dialogue and appreciation of their cultural values.

3. Justice and Peace: critical analysis of the origins, forms and structures of injustice in contemporary societies; evangelical praxis for the liberation and promotion of the whole person. Actions for Justice and Peace, that they may be prophetic signs in the world, need to be integrated into projects of local, provincial or regional communities; they must be based in social analysis and biblical and theological sources; they must support the brothers and sisters who participate at the risk of their lives in associations and movements in favor of human dignity.

4. Human communication through mass media: in the preaching of the Word of God. The media has very evidently shown us “the drama of our times”: the fracture between human culture and the evangelical message, between the human word and the word of faith (Evangelii Nuntiandi 20); the media today constitutes a privileged instrument to provide a culturally intelligible and effective word to the efficacious proclamation of the whole Gospel. Immersed in a world in which the whole person is communicative of life or death. This occurs in a process in which there are no spectators; all are actors; the vocation of the Order calls us, then, to be preachers, that is, communicators with these characteristics: conviction, new vision, liberty.


Evangelization in these frontiers and in accord with these priorities has certain characteristics and requires some personal and communitarian attitudes :

1. THEOLOGICAL Preaching

This implies a total openness to the whole truth, wherever it is to be found. It demands a profound reflection and disposition for dialogue (ecumenical, inter religious and cultural). Our preaching has always been rooted in a profound and scientific study of theology. “Our study must be directed principally, ardently and diligently to this: that we can be useful to the souls of our neighbors.” Since then our study has been intimately related to the apostolic mission of preaching of the Order. To dedicate ourselves to study is to respond to a call to “cultivate the human search for the truth”. Saint Dominic encouraged his friars to be useful to souls through an intellectual compassion, to share with them misericordia veritatis, the mercy of the truth. The crisis of today’s world, the scandal of growing poverty and injustice, confrontation of different cultures, contact with dechristianized peoples; all of this is a challenge for us. Our practice of theological reflection must prepare us to penetrate profoundly into the significance of these subjects in the mystery of Divine Providence. Contemplation and theological reflection give us the capacity to seek ways more suited for today’s preaching of the Gospel. This is the true path we follow so that our preaching be doctrinally true, and not an abstract, intellectual exposition of some system.


This demands an attitude of profound compassion for people, especially for those who find themselves “distant”. Only compassion can cure our blindness and make it possible that we see the signs of the times. Compassion brings humility to our preaching – humility for which we are willing to listen and speak, to receive and give, that we may influence and be influenced, to be evangelized and to evangelize. Compassion and humility come only from a profound union with God in Christ. We are united to God when we imitate the compassion and humble service of Christ. Compassion and humility are fountains from which emanate the knowledge of the signs of the times, pervading prayer and contemplation. This is how we contemplate God, who has revealed himself to us through Sacred Scripture and who manifests his will in the signs of the times.


This demands a profound sensibility to the diverse visions of reality that other religions, cultures and philosophies (incarnation and inculturation) have. It implies an education in order to know how to hope, to learn, to come to conversion, to be part, integrate and help to purify and elevate that which we find in these religions, cultures and philosophies.

4. PROPHETIC Preaching

It is the proclamation not of our own knowledge, but of the Word of God, living and life-giving, integral pronouncement of the revealed Gospel that contains words of eternal life. It is not possible to omit the serious analysis of the “signs of the times”, which proceeds from supernatural principles and is illuminated through prayer. To discern the signs of the times, we must attend diligently to the cry of the poor, the oppressed, the emarginated and the tortured, and all those who, because of race, religion and denouncing injustice, suffer persecution. God talks to us through these cries and also through the silence of those who have no voice and live in apathy, loneliness and depression.

5. Preaching IN POVERTY

Poverty is not only a form of self-denial, but also a testament and appropriate means that lends credibility to our preaching; it is a sign of its authority and sincerity. We live in a world that augments the division between the rich and the poor – as much in rich and poor nations as in rich and poor groups and people. Moreover, the poor today have a better knowledge of national and international structures that are the cause of this state of servility and poverty. If in a world such as this we were to present ourselves as living more with the rich than with the poor, our preaching would not be credible.

6. ITINERANT Preaching

We are men and women in journey. Itinerancy is, in the first place, a spatial concept that implies a disposition to go on journey, to travel; but our preaching asks of us a social, cultural, ideological and economic itinerancy. It is an aspect of Dominican spirituality that must inform the whole of our lives and that is nurtured from diverse biblical experiences from the Hebrew Scriptures as well as those of Jesus, “The Way” whom Dominic longed to follow as a true evangelical son.


Our preaching is not the solitary effort of isolated individuals. And so, it demands a disposition to collaborate, to work in groups, to support the efforts of others with a demonstrated interest, vivaciousness and effective aid. These attitudes have their roots in the essential elements of our Dominican life: the common life, contemplative prayer, assiduous study, a fraternal community and consecration through our vows. The communion and universality of the Order also inform its government in which are exceptional the organic and proportioned participation of all of the parts to attain the correct ends of the Order. It is a communitarian government in its way and is certainly appropriate for the promotion of the Order and its frequent revision.


The Order was born as a Family. Friars, contemplative nuns, sisters, members of secular institutes and lay and clerical fraternities and other groups in some manner associated with the Order (among these: Dominican Youth Movement – IDYM ; Dominican Volunteers International – DVI ) inspire us in the charism of Dominic. This charism is one and indivisible: the grace of preaching. It is a shared preaching with our brothers and sisters of the Order who through their baptism live the same common priesthood and who are consecrated through the same religious profession and through their promise to the same mission. Our global identity is better manifested through our collaboration with one another. This collaboration includes: praying together, planning, making decisions and completing projects from a mutual complementarity that respects equality. These projects include very diverse themes such as ministries of prayer, teaching, preaching, pastoral animation, justice and peace, the mass media, investigations and publications, as well as promotion of vocations and formation.

Conclusion: These frontiers, priorities and characteristics of our proclamation of the Gospel are not “new tasks” that are added to others like a kind of “categorical imperative” or “new way” that excludes others of yesterday. On the contrary, they express a path of joy and freedom; they express the vocation of many men and women that have given and give their lives making their own the words of the Apostle:
“Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel!” (1 Corinthians 9, 16)

Rome, 7 November 2002. Feast of All the Saints of the Order

"Let us walk in joy and think of our saviour". Some views on dominican itinerancy (2003)

Some views on Dominican itinerancy

Santa Sabina, 24 May 2003, Memorial of the Translation of our Father Saint Dominic.

fr. Carlos Azpiroz Costa, o.p.

Dear brothers and sisters in Saint Dominic,

I write to you in fear and trembling. First of all, in order to pluck up some courage, I want to tell you something in confidence. Lately, I read and meditated on the different messages that the last four Masters of the Order wrote to the Order. I refer to these four, only to cite those Providence has put at the service of the Dominican Family from the days of the Second Vatican Council to 2001. I could only exclaim: How much wealth! How profound is the word they have preached with so much generosity and dedication. With this in mind – and this is what I wanted to tell you fraternally – how difficult it is to write a letter to the Order! It seems that everything has been already said. What can I tell you, brothers and sisters in Saint Dominic, that is new? At the same time I have to admit sadly that in many communities, and I refer more specifically to those of the friars, maybe only the Acts of the last General Chapters are known, these texts being truly programs for us to live the Dominican way of life in our own times. And lastly, I have the feeling, like so many others even outside the Order, that we are facing a certain ‘inflation’ of documents, texts, messages, letters, about the most different subjects (which are impossible to read profitably before another new text arrives).


1. Some time ago a friar, a provincial, was talking to me informally about the situation in his province. Thinking aloud he lamented, not without a certain sadness: ‘in my province I cannot make any assignation.’ These words impressed me very much. I cannot stop thinking about them and their consequences.

It is no news that in these last years I have lived two very different experiences. My work as Procurator General, a ‘sedentary’ job like no other, however, put me in touch with many delicate situations for the Dominican and religious life of many brothers and sisters. Now, in fulfilling this present ministry, much more ‘nomadic,’ visiting communities in different countries, I discover the ‘polychromatic symphony’ of the Order in the Church and in the world from another point of view. However, both points of view brought me to the same intuition. They made me discover that something is really ‘blocking,’ threatening the roots of our vocation and mission in the Church and in the world: a certain immobility. This inertia provokes a sort of paralysis, a ‘settling down,’ which ends up mortally wounding the most generous energies of our being and living as daughters and sons of Saint Dominic.

2. One of the characteristics that Dominic of Caleruega incarnated in imitating the apostles, and which was inherited by all of us who are his disciples, is that of evangelical itinerancy. With the grace of God, he broke the boundaries of a ‘geographical’ scheme in the organization and life of the Church, fundamentally based on the diocesan organization on the one hand and – speaking of religious life – on the structure of monastic life and that of the canons regular on the other. There is no doubt that the history of the missionary Church does not begin with the Order of Preachers. Many missionary monks, for example, evangelized so many regions of Europe, but Dominic wanted to found, in medio Ecclesiæ, an Order that was called and was made up of Preachers.


3. When we were young we enjoyed hearing or reading real or imagined stories. Many of these began with the usual ‘Once upon a time.’ Acknowledging the difference, when the Gospel is announced, following Jesus on his Way, we normally start the reading saying: ‘At that time…’

Blessed Jordan, with the freshness of the disciple, as if wanting us to fall in love again with our origins, writes in his Libellus:

At that time, it happened that Alphonse, King of Castile, was making plans for a marriage between his son Ferdinand and a princess of the Marches. He approached the Bishop of Osma and asked that he consent to arrange the matter. The bishop agreed to the king’s request and (…) took with him the man of God, Dominic, the sub prior of his church and setting out on his journey, they reached Toulouse.

4. In his History of Saint Dominic, Marie-Humbert Vicaire, by means of different historical arguments, writes that this invitation of Alphonse VIII to the Bishop of Osma was made around mid-May 1203. The renowned French biographer, following Jordan, concludes: The bishop immediately set out on his journey, taking with him Dominic. It was mid-October 1203. This was 800 years ago.

This is not the place nor the appropriate time to enter into details, nor dwell on a complete historical and chronological analysis. We know, however, that this journey changed forever the life of these two friends. In fact, as soon as they crossed the Pyrenees, these two men of God could see for themselves a fact that, up to that time, they only knew by hearsay: the challenge of the dualism of Manichean origin, profoundly rooted in that region through different groups and sects. As an eloquent example of the impact this new reality made on both travelers, Jordan tells us of the famous episode of the innkeeper:

At the inn where they found shelter in Toulouse, Dominic spent the entire night fervently exhorting and zealously arguing with the heretical innkeeper, who, no longer able to resist the wisdom and the spirit that spoke, returned by God’s grace to the true faith.

The ‘marriage mission,’ we know, would have them make another journey, which turned out to be a failure. A failure? Yes, but full of new life. This is what Jordan of Saxony says:

God had planned to reap other benefits from this journey, since, as events proved, it paved the way for a more excellent marriage, a union between God and the souls for the benefit of the whole Church; the nuptials of eternal salvation for the souls recalled from the errors of their sins (2 Cor 11,2).

5. A diplomatic mission in the King’s name – a sudden change of plans in Diego’s and Dominic’s life – is the occasion that ends up offering a different color to their different histories illumined by the renewing light of grace. A Bishop and the sub prior of a Cathedral Chapter, called to grow and give fruit in the limited garden of Osma, are faced with a totally different ecclesial and historical panorama. Yes they knew the consequences of the heresies beyond the Pyrenees, but only ‘by hearsay.’ Something similar to what happened to the good Job, who at the end of his difficult life experience, in an open dialogue with God, exclaims: My ears had heard of you, but now my eyes have seen you.

In fact, God was calling Diego and Dominic to start in a foreign land a new evangelization that later would acquire universal horizons. The journey away from that which was known opened their hearts’ vision. Both of them were never the same again. Both diplomatic journeys (in 1203 and 1205 respectively) had ‘vocational’ consequences for both, and it was not because they had discovered a diplomatic vocation!

Diego of Osma (in 1206?) would ask Pope Innocent III to kindly accept his resignation as bishop, because it was his project, very dear to him, to dedicate himself with all his energies to the conversion of the Cumans, a pagan people to the east of Hungary. We know that the Pope did not accept this resignation. The Bishop will later take the habit of the Cistercians. He counsels the papal legates on the preaching of the faith against the Albigensians. He commits himself seriously to this itinerant mission for two years and he decides to return to his seat in Osma. A few days later he falls sick and dies around the end of 1207.

We know Dominic’s life in more detail. As from these journeys to the Marches and unto his death, his life will be that of an itinerant apostle. From this eighth centenary of Dominic’s ‘first missionary voyage’ onwards, why don’t we start celebrating in joy other ‘eighth centenaries’ of extraordinary beauty and importance for the whole Dominican Family, among them the foundation of Prouilhe, which is always considered to be the first community of the Order.


6. Bro. Paul of Venice, one of the witnesses in the process of canonization of Saint Dominic, says that ‘master Dominic’ told him and others that were with him: Walk, let us think of our Savior. He also testifies that wherever he was, Dominic always spoke of God or with God, and confesses that he never saw him angry, agitated or upset, not because of fatigue from the journey, nor for any other reason. But he was always joyful in tribulation and patient in adversity.

7. So then? Another letter to the Order about itinerancy? What you have in your hands, what you will read and – I hope – meditate in your hearts, personally or in common, is the fruit of a reflection made during the General Council. When I started to think and reflect on the theme of itinerancy in the Dominican life, we prepared a whole meeting of the General Council. I also invited Bro. Manuel Merten, Promoter General for the nuns. Every brother had enough time to prepare a short exposition about the different aspects of itinerancy in our sequela Dominici: itinerancy and spiritual life; itinerancy and the formative and intellectual journey; itinerancy and each one of the religious vows; itinerancy and life in common; itinerancy and contemplative life; itinerancy and Dominican government; itinerancy and mission; etc. During a three-day meeting outside Rome, each one of the friars presented his theme, and all of us dialogued on these and other aspects of our Dominican itinerancy.

I must confess that the quality of these reflections was such that, at the end, I felt I wasn’t able to write a letter on this subject that could embrace all this wealth. So ample is the rainbow of themes to be treated. On the other hand, we couldn’t just edit the fifteen ‘texts’ prepared. We did not want to publish an ‘encyclopaedia’ or ‘dictionary’ on the subject, far from it!

During a second stage, we tried to meditate on some of the central themes around which other themes are linked, which we had already studied together. I asked four brothers to present in an elaborated synthesis what we had shared in common. I now present the result of our work. Bro. Roger Houngbedji (Vicariate of West Africa, Province of France, Socius for Africa) writes about ‘Itinerancy in the Bible.’ Bro. Manuel Merten (Province of Teutonia, Promoter for the Nuns) offers us his reflection on ‘Itinerancy and Contemplative Life.’ Bro. Wojciech Giertych (Province of Poland, Socius for Intellectual Life) writes about ‘Itinerancy in the formative and intellectual journey.’ Finally, Bro. Chrys McVey (Vice-Province of Pakistan, Socius for Apostolic Life and Promoter of the Dominican Family) talks to us about ‘Itinerancy and mission.’

The word iter – itineris (from the Greek hodós) means: ‘way, journey, walk, a day’s journey.’ Let us set out and walk together along this Dominican interior landscape!


8. Itinerancy appears as a dominant topic in the Bible. Indeed, the people of the Bible are defined mainly as a people in pilgrimage. The word ‘Hebrew,’ by which it is known, comes from ibri (derived from eber which means ‘the other side’ of a limit) and evokes the idea of emigration. The Hebrew people is thus basically a people in migration, a nomad people. It is in this perspective that the great believers of the Old Testament (particularly the Patriarchs) regard themselves as ‘foreigners’ (xenoi), from the fact that they could not obtain (but saw only from afar) the object of the promises made to them by Yahweh (cf. Gn 23,4; Ex 2,22; 1 Ch 29,15; Ps 39,13; Lv 25,23). The whole history of the People of Israel will then be understood as a long march towards the fulfillment of the God’s promises in his Son Jesus.

The Christian community (the new People of God) will itself be also called ‘the Way’ (cf. Ac 9,2; 18,25; 19,9.23, 22,4; 24,14.22). This underlines well the idea of walking, or of itinerancy. In this perspective, the author of the letter to the Hebrews will present the Christian community as a community of pilgrims on earth (He 11,13), walking towards the future city, which is solidly built (He 13,14). The Christians then live on earth as if ‘uprooted’ but as if ‘deeply rooted’ in the heavenly city: the ultimate goal of their walking. In his epistle St. Peter (1 P 1,17) shows that as Christians belong only to God, they should consider their passage on earth as transitory, without any attachment to this world below. The technical term used by the New Testament in order to express this passing situation of the Christians in this world is Parepidêmos, which designates the un-established foreigner, the traveler, as opposed to the permanently resident foreigner.

Thus, it appears that in the biblical mentality, the whole life of the believer, his relationship to God is polarized by the idea of walking, of the way, of itinerancy. The question is to know in what this itinerancy consists, or what characterizes it? An overall picture enables us to identify three great characteristic features of biblical itinerancy.

Spatial Displacement

9. God’s way (hodos) is defined here as a departure, an exit, an exodus. The believer is called to leave for a determined place, to break away with his attachment to a physical or geographic world and to set out and go somewhere else. Itinerancy is taken here in its geographic and physical meaning. It is in this sense that one can understand the itinerancy of Abraham who had to leave his land in order to venture into a foreign country. (Gn 12, 1-9). God’s Word addressed to the patriarch leads him to a total rupture with his country and all human attachments in order to launch himself on a way in which faith is the only determining factor. The patriarch’s faith consists precisely in an unconditional response that leads him to engage himself on a road only God knows where it leads to. The same thing happens to the prophet Elijah who will take the road to Horeb where God, through a light breeze, will reveal himself to him (1 K 19, 4-8). Thus, itinerancy here requires one to leap into the unknown, which is where faith lies.

Besides, the elected people as a whole is also marked by the experience of the Exodus from Egypt, an experience that will determine all its life. Guided by God and by Moses, the people is called to engage itself on a long and difficult road in which through a thousand ordeals it will come to know its God and to make its entry into the promised land. Because of its many sins, the people will be exiled again in Babylon where it will undergo the painful experience of its ‘pilgrim’ condition, regarding itself as a group of refugees or exiles in a foreign territory (cf. Ps 137). On its liberation, it will be called again to launch itself into a new exodus, a sign of the liberation which ‘the Servant of Yahweh’ will accomplish, and whose mission consists in making it abandon the most profound slavery caused by sin (Is 42, 1-9; 53, 5-12).

In the New Testament Jesus is presented as a great itinerant. In fact, the Gospels present him as a great traveler, always on the road (cf. Lc 9,57; 13,33; Mc 6,6b), going from Samaria into Galilee, or on his way to Jerusalem (Lk 9,51). He presents himself as the Son of Man who has no place where to lay his head (Lk 9, 58). He will also send his disciples on the road (Lk 10, 1-9; Mt 10, 5-15) and will show the disciple’s condition as a commitment to follow him (Lk 9, 59-62; Mk 2, 13-14; Jn 1, 43). The whole mission of the apostles after the death of Jesus will be carried out in the perspective of a great itinerancy (cf. Ac 16, 1-10; 2 Co 11, 23-28).

Itinerancy in the Bible is first and foremost geographic/spatial, in the sense of passing from one place to another – the word passage also means Easter, Exodus (Jesus fulfilled his Easter by passing from this world to his Father: Jn 13,1). This spatial displacement is always in view of a mission.

Spatial displacement in view of a mission

10. In the biblical perspective, displacements made within the framework of a command or in obedience are frequently in view of a mission: a message to be delivered, an action to be undertaken. It is the case with Moses, for example, whose encounter with Yahweh (Ex 3, 1-6) will be the beginning of his mission: whereas at first Moses, afraid of the police, had to flee Egypt (2, 15), on God’s request (2,15) he returns there to free the people. During this mission he frequently receives requests from Yahweh to meet Pharaoh and lead the people to the desert, in order to receive the Law and give it to the people. The whole book of Exodus presents itself as an itinerancy lived in obedience to God.

The same thing happens to the prophets. The prophet is indeed taken by God from the situation he is in to fulfil a mission. Frequently this mission leads him to confront the king or religious authorities, to risk his own life. The obedience required supposes not only a displacement but also a risk to be taken. The mission is not without danger, as Elijah, the model of a prophet, experienced. He must flee his country to assure the future success of his mission (1 K 17, 3.9). He must return to face Ahab in order to give him the message dictated by God (1 K 18,1; 21,18-19), and also to abandon the place of the encounter with God in order to continue his mission (1 K 19,15-16). We have a sort of summary of this scheme when the prophet asks a simple believer to be his intermediary: the command orders a displacement in view of a message to be delivered, but there is a risk and so reason enough to be afraid (1 K 18, 7-16).

In the New Testament, the command that requires a displacement is always associated with the preaching of the Kingdom, of Jesus’ time (cf. Lk 9,2) or to the mission after the resurrection (Mt 28, 19-20). The conditions are specified: it is a question of travelling without cumbersome luggage and without private means. We note that there can be failures to the call by refusing itinerancy (Mt 19, 16-22; Lk 18, 18-23; Mc 10, 17-22).


11. Geographical/spatial itinerancy is linked to spiritual itinerancy, which appears as the place for a conversion, understood as metanoia (a radical change of spirit, of mentality). Indeed, in the Bible, geographical itinerancy is always accompanied by spiritual itinerancy: to go from one place to another has as its aim a detachment of self in order to belong to nobody else but God. The biblical term used to manifest this link between the two types of itinerancy is derek (way), derived from darak (to walk), which refers to the spiritual journey to be undertaken in order to correspond to the will of God and his plan. In Israel’s mentality, because of his sins and his refusal to carry out God’s designs, man must conform his mode of existence, and his doings and actions to God’s will (Mic 6,8; Is 30, 21; Os 14,10; Ps 119,1). It is the condition for him to reach true life (Pr 2,19; 5,6; 6,23; Dt 30,15; Jr 21,8). Conversion consists in the whole spiritual process (the spiritual itinerancy) that has to be undertaken in order to correspond to the will of God. It is in this perspective that one can understand all the changes that occur in the life of the prophet who receives a specific mission from God. God’s call takes hold of him and profoundly affects his social status and his way of living, at the same time as it is demanded of him to fulfil a mission that involves a displacement, an itinerancy (cf. Ho 1,2; Jon 1,2; 3,2). The displacement here is not only spatial but also symbolic insofar as it affects at the same time both the prophet’s life and that of the people, in his relationship with the Law.

This same idea is taken up again in the New Testament through the word hodos which refers to the way (Ac 18,26) that the disciples must undertake in order to reach life (Mt 7,13-14). The conditions put down by Jesus for one to enter the Kingdom (Mc 1,15) and those which are required of the disciples who want to engage themselves as his followers (Mc 8, 34-35) are written down in this perspective. To follow Christ here leads the disciple to renounce himself radically and to renounce all his egotistic tendencies in order to make his life dependent on him alone. The following of Christ (the geographic itinerancy) is also conditioned by the radical renunciation, as a place of conversion (spiritual itinerancy). The spiritual itinerancy presents itself here as the place for an identification with Christ.


Christ as the way

12. The great innovation of the New Testament is the identification of the way with the Christ: Christ presents himself as the living way which leads to heaven and gives access to the Father (Jn 14,6). This identification of Christ with the way shows that the road to be undertaken (be it physical or spiritual) is not a body of laws or attitudes but the Person of Christ, the only way to which the disciple must identify himself in order to have access to God the Father. The whole journey of the Christian (his itinerancy) will thus consist in identifying oneself to Christ by one’s life of faith. To believe in Christ then consists in setting forth and in uniting oneself with him (to engage oneself existentially in relation to him), in such a way that one can receive his gifts and wealth, a condition to reach God.

The identification with Christ (the way that leads to the Father) presents itself here as that which gives the Christian the consistence, the stability which enables him to continue along the road in spite of the difficulties and the ordeals of the journey. To say it in another way, to identify oneself with Christ – the place for a life of faith and of getting rooted in his Person, is what gives the disciple the drive for a true itinerancy. So, there is no true itinerancy without the search for a certain fixity or stability in Christ.

Obedience and itinerancy in the Order

13. The question of identifying oneself with Christ – the place for a conformity to his will and for obedience – has a very strong link with the itinerancy in the Order. Indeed, because of obedience, itinerancy, in the Dominican tradition, is at the origin itself of the Order, or rather of its spectacular development outside the region of Toulouse. St Dominic disperses the brothers two by two (Libellus 47), probably while thinking of an identical action taken by Jesus who sends his disciples two by two. It is an obedience that excludes discussion (cf. Deposition of Bro. Jean of Spain, Bologna deposition, 26) and which is maintained in spite of the opposition offered by the friars and the civil and religious authorities friends of St Dominic. Its fruit will be the magnificent development of the Order. There also the dispersion was made in view of a mission, that of preaching and propagating the apostolic way of life according to the model imagined and wanted by Saint Dominic. The depositions at the process of canonization of Master Dominic show that the friars traveled frequently from one place to another according to what was needed. An example of this mobility is the assignation of Bl Reginald to Paris at the time when he was doing wonders in Bologna (Libellus 61-62).

Religious obedience is not an aim in itself. It is at the service of the mission of the Order, as defined by the General and Provincial Chapters, and it ensures the freedom the Order needs for its actions (Bologna 33). It is a means through which the friars, as a constituted body, can answer the needs of the common good to be reached together because it was discerned together. Obedience thus is not the expression of the superior’s whim or that of the Chapter, but the personalized expression of the effort demanded from all in view of the mission and the good of the Order in particular circumstances. As by their nature these circumstances change, it is important that the friars also accept change in order to better serve the mission. The intellectual mobility, that of apostolic offices and places, is then the result of the mission evaluated and wanted in common. Both immobility and the excess of mobility are evasions in relation to the mission. Obedience is a means by which to regulate mobility in view of mission, to provoke itinerancy in order to answer to the needs imposed by the circumstances or wanted by a Chapter. Obviously, in order to go back to what the Bible teaches us, the type of itinerancy desired and accepted in the framework of religious obedience presupposes that one has faith, on the one hand in the ability of the institution to discern the common good, and on the other hand in God, because it is his Gospel which lies at the beginning of our presence in the Order and the mission entrusted by the Church whom we serve in the best possible way. In this sense, religious obedience and the itinerancy that may result from it, are for us intimately linked to our religious life, for this has as its aim the preaching of the Gospel. It is not in vain that the only vow we pronounce publicly is that of obedience.


14. ‘Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”’

Probably it was and still is this part of the Gospel according to Luke which contributed most to a Christian understanding of contemplation: contemplation became the opposite of action and was even better. In this image you will hardly find a hint of itinerancy as a special value for a real disciple of Christ except for the fact that the Lord himself and those who accompanied him ‘went on their way’ before they entered the house of Bethany.

Nevertheless, this text might be one which is still misunderstood as condemning action and giving spiritual preference to a ‘hidden life of quiet’ or a ‘retired place for contemplation.’ And in fact, at first glance, ‘itinerancy’ seems to be the exact opposite of how Mary behaves in Luke’s Gospel. She does not move even a tiny bit to give her sister a hand!

As a boy I always felt somewhat uncomfortable with our Lord’s reaction to Martha’s request. On the one hand, to my innocent thinking, Jesus takes advantage of Martha’s diligence and hard work, yet on the other hand and at the same time, he sides with Mary, who is sitting at his feet just listening. I felt sorry for Martha and was annoyed with Mary, whom I considered a bit lazy and someone whom Jesus praised a little unfairly. I used to imagine my sister reading the Bible while I had to do the dishes – I would surely have looked on her as one who had chosen the better part, but in no way as the one who, to top it all, deserved praise for it. But can one contradict Jesus? Nevertheless, I would have liked to question him: ‘And what about the words you said to the woman in the crowd who raised her voice and said to you: Blessed is the womb that bore you and the breasts that nursed you! Didn’t you answer this woman: “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it?”’

Even if my innocent childish thinking had little in common with biblical scholarship today, I’m convinced that I was right in questioning an understanding of ‘contemplation’ as ‘just sitting and listening.’ According to our Lord’s own teaching one has ‘to obey the word,’ to act ‘according to the will of the father.’


15. What is obvious is that ‘contemplation’ is used wrongly if it is used just in contrast to ‘action,’ as an exhortation that it is better to stay at home and do nothing besides sitting around and listening. Not without reason do the Constitutions of the Nuns of our Order speak of contemplation and listening in one breath with working diligently, studying the truth eagerly, praying intently and pursuing the common life.

Thus, at least according to a Dominican understanding, ‘contemplation’ with ‘action’ is what ‘contemplative life’ is all about. So ‘contemplation’ is different from laziness. It does not mean remaining motionlessness or rigid. Even the enclosure of our nuns is related to the understanding of breadth and length, the depth and heights of God’s love, who sent his Son for only one reason: for the salvation of the whole world.

The ‘empty space,’ so important for any ‘contemplation,’ is not the same as idleness. The Gospel according to John provides us with another story of a visit of Jesus to the house of Bethany, which helps us discover more fully the dimensions of a ‘contemplative life’:

‘Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.’

Martha is again serving the Lord, Lazarus is at the table with Jesus, but Mary, who according to Luke’s Gospel had chosen the better part, is not this time sitting at Jesus’ feet, but instead doing something very concrete. But it looks like she had chosen again ‘the better part.’ Jesus again sides with her and she receives his support against Judas Iscariot’s and the disciples’ intervention. That leads to the question: ‘What is the mystery of ‘choosing the better part,’ what is the real key to leading a ‘contemplative life?’

We find an answer to this question in the book of Ecclesiastes, a document of wisdom – surely the result, and fruit, of a contemplative life:

‘For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing.’

To know ‘how to interpret the present time’ is what Jesus expects from his disciples. Mary from Bethany obviously meets fully the Lord’s expectations. She does so while sitting at his feet, listening to his words, as well as by taking a pound of perfume and being lavish with the expression of her love, not worrying about what people might think she is.

How can one behave that way? What precondition is needed to become an interpreter of the present time, a contemplative man or woman? It is this special kind of attentiveness, Mary from Bethany shows for the Lord: she is totally attentive to him as a person, she is totally attentive to his mission and at the same time she remains aware of herself and what is good for herself: she lives out of a permanent relationship with ‘the one whom her soul loves.’

Attentiveness in this sense means that there is only one focus for all of your life: to be related to God and his will. Step by step that will form you to the shape of how Jesus led his life: ‘My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work.’

There is no doubt about Jesus’ itinerancy, no doubt about him living an active life, but no doubt as well about his praying in solitude and silence – the key to a contemplative life is the ‘interpretation of the present time,’ the attentiveness to the will of the father, the willingness to let your live be determined by nothing else than what God asks from you here and now, ‘to love the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to keep his commandments, and to hold fast to him, and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul.’


16. ‘Restless is our heart until it rests in you’ – this insight of St Augustine links our reflections on Itinerancy and Contemplation to maturity in religious (as well as in Christian) life. There is no maturity imaginable without moving forward, without taking risks, without spiritual itinerancy. But this process of growing is in need of stops, pauses, self-adjustment as well. There is a need for ones own efforts as well as for challenges from outside.

Luke’s Gospel provides us with an excellent story on a process of religious and human maturing.

‘Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened.’ Itinerancy – even if just to escape from depression – is described as a possible, if not a necessary precondition for inner healing and growth, and so is companionship. There is no maturing process at all which you can undergo on your own. You are in need of the other, of his or her going by your side, of comforting you, of sharing your worries and concerns, of questioning you.

‘While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” They stood still, looking sad.’ Now the story provides us with an additional insight on the process of becoming mature: Apart from those you are already familiar with you are in need of challenges coming from outside. Mourning together and sharing only among a circle of friends is not sufficient. As long as you remain with what you already know, there is neither improvement nor progress: You stand still and look sad. Even if you open yourself to an encounter with a stranger for the experience of otherness, your eyes could still fail to recognize.

‘Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?”’ This leads us to another insight regarding preconditions for becoming mature. Cleopas considers the stranger at their side as the only one who does not know. In fact it is only the stranger who knows. The process of becoming mature needs a kind of letting go of security. As long as you are convinced that you are the one who knows and the other, the stranger, the foreigner is the one who does not, your eyes will remain closed and your heart will not burn within you – you can not achieve religious maturity. ‘Then he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared!”’ That underlines the necessity that I myself must reckon with: the possibility that I am foolish, that my convictions are foolish, instead of those whom I consider foolish – like the Emmaus disciples who considered the women of their group as the foolish ones.

‘Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.’ Here we are looking at the connection of contemplation as attentiveness and spiritual growth. It is necessary to listen to God’s Word and to reckon with its strangeness and its newness. That’s what the Emmaus disciples are in fact doing. They listen attentively to one who had called them ‘foolish.’ They go even further by urging him: ‘Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.’ In a way it was curiosity, a longing for a deeper insight, an ardent desire for a better understanding which finally, along with the Lord’s loving revelation, led to recognition and maturity in discipleship. Now their itinerancy changes direction: from escape to encounter, with eyes open for the unexpected.

The last General Chapter put this in concrete terms for contemporary Dominican life, when it dealt with the connection of Contemplation and (Initial) Formation: ‘Considering the world that has formed our brothers thus far, three elements may be critical to their appropriation of a genuinely Dominican contemplative spirit: constancy, depth and openness. Constancy is a remedy for the experience of transience whether intellectual, personal or religious and is, in our life, manifest both in our life-long study and in our external observances of prayer, silence and a common life that should be joyful. Depth stands in contrast to the often superficial pleasures a global economy awards the few and promises the many, and engenders a healing of desire that is both necessary and longed for. This may be most evident in growth in prayer and virtue, love of study, and in compassionate self understanding. Openness is both a legacy of this age and an antidote to reactions against it. As Dominicans, we cannot be truly contemplative preachers unless we are open to people and their experiences, new learning, and the new ways that God may be inviting us to serve. Yet for these elements to be present and effective for our brothers in initial formation we must commit ourselves to a renewal of our life in each of its dimensions (Mexico 27.4) and to participation in the common life even at a cost to ourselves (Ratio Formationis Generalis 166). In so doing, we provide our brothers in initial formation with a visible manifestation of the Holy Preaching to which they are called and to which we would have them commit their lives.’

I cannot finish this spiritual approach to ‘Itinerancy – Contemplation – Maturity’ without at least mentioning another key text. We find it at the end of John’s Gospel: The moving dialogue between Jesus and Peter. After Peter’s testimony ‘Lord, you know everything, you know that I love you’ and the Lord’s answer ‘Feed my sheep,’ the Lord continues: ‘Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.’ This is possibly the most important part of our personal itinerancy, the deepest contemplation and highest level of maturity, when we are willing to agree that it is no longer we who decide and determine what to do, where to go, what to leave and what to keep – but stretch out so that someone else can fasten a belt around us and take us where we do not wish to go – and yet we remain full of trust that whatever happens is happening for our best and that we remain able to confess: ‘Lord, you know everything, you know that I love you.’


17. Itinerancy denotes movement, the capacity to go forward with passion, in an adventurous spirit. As we reflect on this aspect of our Dominican life, we can try to discern the various ways in which this movement can sometimes be blocked, both in ourselves, in our communities and provinces. The blocking of internal movement is ultimately a form of repression. It can appear on the level of the emotions, which is a form of neurosis; it can appear on the level of the mind, which is an ideological stopping short of the intellectual capacities; and it can appear on the level of the spiritual life, when the response to God is paralyzed by interior brakes. It is this last form of repression which inhibits most the itinerancy which is proper to our Dominican charism.


18. In a neurotic repression the dynamism of the emotions is blocked by other emotions, by the emotion of fear, or an emotional feeling of obligation. This leads to self-concentration, to an incapacity for self-criticism and a seriousness that has no room for humor. Emotional repression is a problem of youth, in which the fear of self, of novelty, of one’s sexuality, of what people will do or say, or the emotional sense of duty become an ultimate rule. It incapacitates the conscience to reason for oneself. This can lead some young men and women to search for the security that a sheltered religious life can give. In their emotional fragility, they may look for clear and simple rules of life which dispense from risk and adventure. Instead of being moved by a fascinating preaching mission which reaches out to the Cumans of our times, they will persist in being locked in by their fears, by their instinctic disapproval of everything that involves novelty. A healthy community life will help to liberate them from these fears, to move and be moved by others, to laugh in an interior freedom at one’s own blunders. Blessed are those who know how to laugh at themselves because they will have great fun all their lives!


19. In an intellectual repression the mind is prevented from going towards the truth in all its richness and contextual diversity. A mind that refrains from the effort of searching for truth or prefers half-truths that captivate by their simplicity is stuck in dismal intellectual paralysis or is constantly swayed by external forces such as fashion.

20. Itinerancy should not mean dispersion of the mind. This is an intellectual danger: having a supermarket attitude, trying to know everything, to be interested in everything, accepting all popular trends without ever seeing how they fit together. The first stage of intellectual formation is a moment when the mind has to be furnished. We need the time for study, time for a contemplative putting of everything together. We need to ask deeper questions, to see the nexus mysteriorum, the metaphysical rooting of truth.

Jesus said: ‘Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod’ (Mk 8,15). The Pharisees thought that they had all the answers, their mind was blocked from reaching out beyond their rigid convictions. Herod had no answers, no pre-conceptions, no ideologies. He was looking for entertainment, for fun. In the post-modern world, the great ideologies are gone, and the world is set on entertainment, on producing money and spending it, on creating and enjoying superficial needs. The temptation therefore today is to remain on the level of superficiality. A young person entering the Order may be tempted to know everything, to be interesting in everything, to have plenty of information on many diverse issues, coming from TV, from the news, from travel; but what will be lacking is the capacity for a deeper vision. ‘We are faced with the patent inadequacy of perspectives in which the ephemeral is affirmed as a value and the possibility of discovering the real meaning of life is cast in doubt’ (John Paul II, Fides et ratio, 6). The first stage of intellectual formation must help youth to acquire convictions, to be free from the slavery of fads. Our Dominican tradition is built on the conviction that reason has an inherent attraction to truth, that it can perceive the true good, and stick to it, not because of external group pressure, but because it is true. The capacity for discernment of truth however, has to be developed.

What sort of philosophy do we give to our young? A knowledge of disparate, conflicting ideas, which helps one to be in line with various contemporary trains of thought? Or a philosophy which integrates the mind, giving it the confidence that it can know truth, enabling it to interpret critically what is observed in contemporary culture? Some people need to be helped to formulate an intellectual synthesis, before they will reach out to new fields of thought. Others will manage while acquiring a disparate knowledge because they already have well-formed interior convictions.

An excessive intellectual itinerancy at the initial stage of intellectual formation may be disastrous. Some people in their intellectual journey move from one extreme to another. They begin as liberals and end up ultra-conservatives. They look for answers to their questions in Buddhism, psychoanalysis, or political sciences – and never take time to immerse themselves in the Word of God and in the Catholic tradition. The initial intellectual formation should lead to the finding of a Master, some author, approved by the Church, who will help the student to formulate a theological synthesis. This may a Father or Doctor of the Church, a renowned theologian, it can very well be St Thomas Aquinas. If the young sister or friar spends many years reading the chosen author, studying his or her theology, building ministry and preaching on the works of the Master, this will give a solid point of reference. The preacher will know what he is talking about. If a synthesis is not built, this may lead to a state of perpetual itinerancy, without any convictions.

21. The necessity for intellectual hygiene however should not lead to a fear of questions. The Thomistic tradition formulates the videtur quod. Our intellectual synthesis is built on the conviction that the mind can hook onto the true good. With the conviction that truth is accessible, we can without fear address all types of questions, knowing that every truth, coming from whatever source, ultimately comes from the Holy Spirit. The formed mind, capable of critical discernment does not fear new ideas. It can develop a further curiosity, it can compare its own approach with others, it can acquire new information, expand interests, because it has a base. Itinerancy is possible when you have a home to go back to. It is not an invitation to intellectual nihilism.

A mind formed in the searching of truth, and in the hooking onto it, will be free from intellectual stagnation. The quest for truth should prevent us from being glued to a frame of mind, a vision of the Church, of society, in which there is no critical self-reflection. Do we ask where the Spirit is leading us, and do we allow him to do this? The mind is hungry for truth but it can become enslaved. This is the danger of ideologies. The mind stops short at a half-truth, and does not allow itself to be led to the fullness. There are not only the great ideologies that imposed various forms of totalitarianism. There are also small ideologies which block communities and provinces. A particular style of life, a set of opinions about the Church, about the needs of a province or religious congregation, can easily become an unmovable tradition. It functions like a contraceptive device which blocks the birth of new concepts; it is not life-giving. The Dominican democratic form of government cherishes the lively novelty of ideas, which should be given a field of expression in chapters, community meetings, formation sessions. Not all proposed solutions will be appropriate, but a healthy community climate will allow them to be voiced and discussed. If discussion is forced into a fearful underground, the little ideologies will lock the community in stagnation.

The search for truth has to be undertaken in community life, in philosophical endeavors, in the study of theology, and in the pilgrimage of faith. One of the dramas of the contemporary intellectual scene is the retreat from the search for truth. ‘There is the deep-seated distrust of reason which has surfaced in the most recent development of much of philosophical research, to the point where there is talk at times of the “end of metaphysics”…I cannot but encourage philosophers – be they Christian or not – to trust in the power of human reason and not to set themselves goals that are too modest in their philosophizing’ (Fides et ratio, 55-58). Faith provokes the philosophical mind to go further. ‘The mystery of the Incarnation will always remain the central point of reference for an understanding of the enigma of human existence, the created world and God himself. The challenge of this mystery pushes philosophy to its limits, as reason is summoned to make its own a logic which brings down the walls within which it risks being confined’ (Fides et ratio, 80).

22. The expanding of the mind which is an intellectual itinerancy will draw it even deeper into the truth. This is the meaning of faith and of dogma. In the classical theological tradition faith is a gift of God which draws the mind out towards God. Dogmatic statements are a gift of the Holy Spirit which give more light, preventing the mind from falling into error and focusing it on the mystery which is salvific. In modern thinking faith and dogma have been interpreted as a limitation of the mind, as a blocking of curiosity imposed by ecclesiastical authority. A spiritual itinerancy will involve the reaching out of the mind towards the revealed truth. ‘As a theological virtue, faith liberates reason from presumption, the typical temptation of the philosopher’ (Fides et ratio, 76).

The adapting of the mind to the divine mystery however is painful for the mind, because the mind by nature wants clarity and faith is an encounter with the mystery. Within faith there is room for searching for understanding (cogitatio fidei), but sometimes there is also a coagitatio fidei. Due to the mind’s inherent need of clarity, as it is adapted to faith, it becomes agitated. In the development of faith the mind encounters the cross. The passing through this cross is always painful but paradoxically life-giving. The great stumbling block for faith is intellectual pride: the incapacity or subconscious unwillingness to accept the mystery. We are not to scan the Word of God with tools coming from human sciences, accepting these sciences (history, archeology, linguistics, psychology, sociology, philosophies) as the ultimate criterion, because this destroys faith. (Aquinas, interpreting St Paul says that even good philosophies can destroy faith, if these philosophies offer the final word!) We are called to scan our lives with the ultimate criterion of faith. This is painful for intellectual pride, but only then do we go further. The courageous itinerancy of the mind allows for itinerancy on the spiritual level.


23. The mind in its pilgrimage of faith needs to be freed from attachments. When we invent projects, new missions, when we perceive challenges, when we conceive ideas, we easily become attached to them. The attachment to our own concepts for a moment is good, but very easily we attribute to ourselves the merit. When the Holy Spirit conceives life in the Church, he does this without egoism, in a total gift of self. The Holy Spirit’s conception is immaculate. The trick is to be selfless in what we do with passion. The motive for our work needs to be purified. Not only bad habits and customs, but also good projects need to be purified, to ensure that they shall be for God. Without this the attachment to our own ideas prevents spiritual growth, leads to the building of private empires. What is essential is a transparency for God working within us. In intellectual as in artistic inspirations there is a temptation of egoism. No soon that an idea comes to mind, immediately there is the joy that it can be used in an article, in an artistic project, in a homily to be preached – for our own glory. The spirit of dependence on God, of itinerancy requires a great spiritual poverty. The good things that will pass through our minds, hands and mouths will be God’s not our own, even though we have devoted to them our energy and talents.

The religious profession in which we vow our future to God is a confirmation of the value of itinerancy. The acceptance of the unknown, received in faith, as a permanent rule of life strengthens the attachment to God and to God alone. It is here that the true fruitfulness of life and mission is born. At depth, it is the grace of God which allows goodness to be born through our service.

We will find out what was our true vocation at the moment of death, when looking back at our lives we shall see at which moments we have been most responsive to the calls that have been addressed to us. A true career is made by God as in each step of our life we give ourselves totally to God. Each step however comes as a surprise, not as the realization of a personal project for which we have fought. In the earlier stages of life we have our plans and dreams, but one by one we are asked by God to relinquish them, as God’s plans turn out to be totally different. What can we say about the young postulant who in the early part of the 20th century entered a Dominican congregation in Moscow? She had dreamed of travelling far and wide so as to see the world, but at the same time she recognized that God was asking her for something more. She put aside her dreams and entered religious life, giving to God her unfulfilled travel plans. But God’s response turned out to be abundant. Before her novitiate ended she was arrested and sent to the gulags of Siberia. She visited during a long novitiate numerous prison camps along the Arctic sea and then along the Chinese frontier. Her initial desire to travel was fulfilled in a demonic, but at the same time divine way. It was only after seven years that she met another sister in a prison camp in whose hands she made her profession. A life maybe wasted, but maybe not. In the heart of godlessness and despair, this Dominican sister brought the message of the Gospel preached through her witness and charity.

24. Why is it that some of us do not want to move, do not want to accept that we can be sent for a mission? In some cases, there may be an excessive individualism, a thinking about personal fulfillment, the search for personal success. Instead of responding to God who sends, there is a search for one’s own career, as if we could plan our lives. Sometimes there is an excessive attachment to the first love, to our first assignment. We took up the job that we were asked to do, and we did it with the correct motivation, as our gift to God, but in time we became attached to our work, we treated our achievements as totally ours. We failed to accept that God wanted our services in this particular mission for a few years, and then others were asked to continue, whereas we should have moved on to something else. This is a difficult moment, like that of parents who have to let go of their adult children. The elderly parents who centered their life on their children may fear about their own future. What shall they do in later life without their children? This however is a normal stage, a moment when the time comes to find a new challenge in life.

In religious life, we do not own our apostolates, nor do we own the people whom we serve. We accept that as we leave them in other people’s hands, we leave them in the hands of God, and God will take care of them. This requires hope. Hope is the acceptance of the mystery that is unfolding in our lives. A natural hope grants the energy, the boost to undertake difficult challenges. (In Polish the word for hope, nadzieja, means ‘force for action.’) The theological virtue of hope, being focused on God, allows our will to accept the way that God has planned for us. Both St Augustine and St John of the Cross tie hope with memory, and they write that to grow in hope, the memory has to be purified. It is not that remembering things is bad. A good memory is of course a valuable asset, but we can become attached to our memories, both good and bad, and this attachment has to be purified. The attachment to pleasing memories may block the willingness to go forward, to accept the novelty in life. It is normal that a friar working in a university chaplaincy will experience the joy of serving young people as they mature. But he helps these people so as to let them go, and allow them to move to other cities, to set up their families, to live their own lives. When he is replaced by somebody younger, the memory of joys, the pastoral experience acquired over the years will have to be set aside, so as to accept a new task, a new challenge. Similarly bad memories may prevent itinerancy. Memories of awkward situations, of suffering may paralyze. Somebody who has suffered in a community in which he or she has not been appreciated will not want to return there, nor will there be a willingness to find oneself in a similar job, in a similar setting. Maybe in the meantime the community has changed, its members have matured, they have grown out of their unfraternal behavior. Has the community been allowed the right to make errors and to grow out of them? Painful memories also need to be purified so that hope will grow, so that confidence in the divine mystery unfolding itself in life will be accepted.

The purification of hope helps to center the attention upon God. And when God is truly the prime passion, then we are free to move. Dominican itinerancy needs this freedom. Both the friar who is asked to move to another community and the provincial who is asked to give a friar, can do this, if they accept the mysterious leading of God. If they fail to be open to God’s own mystery, they will object when new missions will be proposed. Provincials are sometimes perplexed when they are asked to give a friar who was prepared for the province or when he is earning money for the province. Where is the openness to the mystery in hope?

25. It is not good when too many posts are tied with a salary. Obviously communities prefer to have brothers or sisters who bring in a regular income. Some works however, undertaken by the community as a whole (eg, the running of a shrine) also bring money, without the attachment of an individual to a given salary. A salaried job may block itinerancy. It may lead to a situation where somebody spends many years doing the same job, sometimes living in the same building, in the same room. Provinces that have too many salaried posts end in stagnation. Certain ministries need to be changed quickly, because society is going through profound social changes. The young change every few years, they listen to different music, watch different films, chew a different type of bubble gum. The youth chaplain or formator must constantly adapt, prepare new themes, new conferences, so as not to lose a common language with the young. If there is little movement within a province, a religious congregation, or lay fraternity, stagnation and routine, in time, conveys an out-dated image of the Church.

26. In wondering about the difficulties in itinerancy, we should not place all the blame on those who have a difficulty in letting go of their attachments. An important psychological block against itinerancy may sometimes come from the lack of support on the part of those who send. When a province opens a mission, that province has to be responsible for its friars sent abroad. Normally there is a long period during which a new mission belongs to a province as a provincial vicariate; then with growth in numbers it becomes a regional or general vicariate, then a vice-province and finally a province. During all these years, the mother-province may have its brethren in the new entity, first in a major position of responsibility, then of cooperation and finally dependence upon local brethren. During all these years, the mother province must exercise its responsibility for the friars who have been sent to the distant mission. They need encouragement, interest, and sometimes financial aid. If their work is viewed not as a mission, but as a place of dismissal, a place where difficult brethren may be sent in the conviction that their problems will resolve themselves, this will as a backlash discourage further brethren to take up the challenge. Those who are sent must know that they are sent and not dismissed. Itinerancy requires responsibility, both on the part of the sent and of the sending.

27. St Dominic as he moved from place to place walking along the roads of Europe used to sing the Ave Maris Stella. In this ancient Marian hymn, we have the phrase Iter para tutum! St Dominic was praying to Mary, asking her intercession so that his road would be safe, so that it would lead to where he was planning to go, so that God’s plans would be present in his initiatives.


28. Itinerancy is a necessary partner to mission. This ontological link is rooted in our own history and especially in the life of St Dominic. He discovered his mission ‘on the road,’ and sent his brothers – even novices – to a life ‘on the road.’ Recent chapters of the Order have reminded us of this history and have called us ‘to take to the road again.’ Quezon City, in 1977, was perhaps the first to show an awareness that the priorities had shifted, and saw as the first priority, ‘catechesis in diverse cultures and places.’ Aware that this new and different situation called for a new approach, the chapter declared, as second priority, ‘the training and preparation required for preaching in this new world.’

Subsequent chapters have elaborated on just what these new priorities mean. Walberberg, in 1980, addressed ‘the adaptation of our apostolic activities according to the needs of today,’ and offered some ‘specific notes’ Dominican mission and preaching should have: ‘prophetic, made credible by poverty, compassionate, and founded on a deep and scientific study of theology.’ Avila, in 1986, in the country of Dominic himself, that unique ‘man of the frontier,’ affirmed as the ‘specific mission’ of the Order, ‘evangelization on the frontiers.’ And it enumerated those frontiers where we are to be and live out our mission. Oakland, in 1989, challenged the Order: ‘Do we hear the call coming from the world of today?’ Are we not, rather, in need of a profound conversion from ‘comfort and security [which] produce a mentality opposed to any change.’ We must recapture ‘Dominic’s spirit of itinerancy and mobility… and rediscover that poverty which frees us for the Spirit and makes us open to the cries of those in misery.

Mexico City (1992) lists the actual situations and challenges to the apostolic life in the Order and boldly declares: ‘Our willingness [to meet these challenges] is born of a confidence that somewhere in the Dominican heart are the requirements to meet this urgent calling. The seeds of our tradition are ready to burst forth again into flower if only there are courageous and generous hearts to house them.’ The chapter also cites some ‘strengths from our tradition,’ each one involving a certain kind of bodily or mental itinerancy: mobility, a readiness to move without excessive material, cultural or intellectual baggage; respect and concern for others, a readiness to meet people where they are; openness, a readiness to listen and learn; and community, for we never act alone. Caleruega (1995) called us to be ‘faithful to itinerancy.’

The last two chapters focus on the nature of itinerancy as a ‘going beyond.’ The mission of the Order, says Bologna (1998), ‘calls the Order to go courageously beyond those frontiers that separate poor from rich, women from men, [and from] diverse Christian faith communities and other religions.’ The chapter situates this mission on ‘the lines of brokenness’ of humanity and sees the Order placing itself ‘at the service of the ‘Other,’ ready to listen and to be transformed.

In his Relatio de Statu Ordinis at the Providence chapter, the Master of the Order spoke of a ‘future that we have chosen… as part of an itinerancy of heart and mind and mission’ and the chapter speaks about the concern of all in the province for the mission of a vicariate: ‘The province should foster a spirit of itinerancy to ensure that brethren are easily available for such service.’

The following reflection is in aid of fostering just such a spirit of itinerancy ‘of heart and mind and mission.’


29. According to the biblical witness, it is always on a journey that surprising things happen. Abraham rushes out of his tent to greet strangers and they promise him a future different from the one he and Sarah had imagined (Gen 18.1-15). Moses, on the run, experiences God in a burning bush and discovers both a people and a task. God says, ‘Go, now, I am sending you…’ and promises: ‘I will be with you’ – so long as you continue to journey… (Exod 3.1-21). Jacob, ‘on his way,’ wrestles with the angel at the ford of the Jabbok, in a story of conversion and vulnerability. Jacob, like many of us, has some very disagreeable traits. He is a ‘trickster’ and fears those he has harmed. His father-in-law is pursuing him behind and in front, Esau awaits him. And then, the struggle, from which Jacob emerges, forgiven and converted, with a new name, a new mission – and a limp.

It is while ‘on the road’ that Jesus summons his disciples and it is ‘on the road’ that he teaches them. (Pasolini’s film on the Gospel of St Matthew has an unforgettable image of the Sermon on the Mount: Jesus is running over the hills, the disciples trying to catch up to hear the words of Jesus as he turns his head back to teach them ‘on the run.’) The feeding of the four thousand in Mark (8.1-10) was eaten ‘on the run’ like fast-food. And it is on the road that Jesus learned from those he met, like the pagan women (Mt 15.21-28), whom he praises and even offers to his disciples as a model of faith. Finally, it is on the road to Emmaus that he reveals himself to disheartened disciples (Lk 24.13-35).

The mission he gives his disciples is just that, a sending, a ‘taking to the road,’ without purse or bag or sandals. He tells them, ‘Do not stop at the homes of those you know’ (Lk 10.4). There are several interesting things about this: Jesus invites them to a life of itinerancy, to a life of urgency (‘keep moving’) and to a life of dependency on the goodness of others, strangers, whom they ‘do not know.’


30. To be itinerant is to make oneself vulnerable and dependent. But itinerancy is the only proper response for a Dominican in a world that produces the homeless, the hurting, and the stranger. To take to the road again – as our general chapters remind us again and again – is to live on those ‘lines of brokenness’ of humanity, to share the fate of those who have been made itinerant. It means sharing their fate of being made homeless because of the stands we take against prevailing opinion.

The scripture scholar, Walter Brueggemann, writes of ‘the monopoly of imagination,’ a phrase that suggests that ‘some body or force in society has both the sole voice in determining how things are experienced, and the right and legitimacy to supply the lens through which life is properly viewed or experienced. No one is permitted to have an image outside this approved set of imaginations or images.’ To stand against such powerful monopolies is to align ourselves with the Gospel-vision that Dominic made his own. (One writer believed that Dominic sent his brothers to the cities, not only because of the universities but because it was there that the newly disenfranchised victims of an emerging mercantile society were: Dominicans were to be ‘brothers’ (friars) to them.) To take such a stand is to be ourselves made marginal and vulnerable. But it is only there that our preaching is credible.

It is interesting, in our context, to realize that the Greek word used in the New Testament for welcoming (lambano: ‘take, receive, possess’) is not about taking aside those whose conduct is not in harmony with ours. The verb indicates that we must ‘take [them] with us’ and ‘introduce [them] warmly into our fellowship.’ It is a word often used by St Paul in his vision of strangers becoming community, rooted in the experience of what God did in Jesus: ‘In Christ, God was making friends with the world… and entrusted to us the task of making friends’ (2 Cor 5.19). This is why he entreats the Romans to ‘practice hospitality’ (12.13). But to make friends or welcome others, those others have to be looked at as ‘like us’ in needs, experiences, and expectations. ‘It was not sufficient,’ writes Christine D Pohl, ‘that strangers be vulnerable, hosts had to identify with their experiences of vulnerability and suffering before they welcomed them.’

Perhaps the ‘being out of place’ that is associated with itinerancy really means being able to be in another’s place. And it could well be that the more foundational text for mission is not one of the traditional ‘Go and baptize’ passages but, rather, a passage like 2 Cor 1.3-7, which defines mission as paraklesis, as consoling and comforting. Paul writes, ‘Blessed be… the Father of mercies and the God of all consolation, who consoles us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to console those who are in any affliction with the consolation with which we ourselves are consoled by God…’ What is interesting about this passage is the appeal to a mutual experience. Even what we suffer is for others’ consolation. Can there be any other motive for mission than in going out, like Jesus, ‘stretching and touching’ (Mk 1.41), seeking out the vulnerable, on the road, in a healing and comforting relationship.


31. Claude Geffré has written that ‘the challenge of religious pluralism invites us to return to the heart of the Christian paradox as the religion of the Incarnation and the religion of the kenosis of God.’ It is for this reason that he can speak of Christianity as ‘a religion of otherness.’ There is something adventurous about a theological journey on the frontiers, which challenges us to become truly Dominican, ‘taking to the road again,’ responding to new realities where they are, on the frontier, being ‘useful’ to those others who define our mission and determine where we are to be.

Early in the Bible, it is written that ‘anyone who wished to consult the Lord would go to the meeting tent, outside the camp’ (Exod 33.7). ‘Outside the camp’ among all those ‘others’ relegated to a place outside the camp, is where we meet God. Itinerancy demands going outside the institution, outside culturally conditioned perceptions and beliefs, because it is ‘outside the camp’ that we meet a God who cannot be controlled. It is ‘outside the camp’ that we meet the Other who is different and discover who we are and what we are to do.

In February 2001, a group of Dominican men and women, almost all of them living in Asia, met in Bangkok, ‘outside the camp,’ and shared their experience of listening and learning. ‘We realized,’ they said, ‘that dialogue with those of other religious traditions is the main challenge at the beginning of this new millenium for our Dominican preaching. It is here in Asia, a privileged place for the encounter with different cultures, different religions and different people that we are challenged to conversion: to a new way of listening, seeing, touching, learning and understanding.

‘Dialogue opens a door on an unfamiliar world, whose exact contours we do not yet know – but the journey there will lead us home because we believe it is where we belong.

‘The Order was called into being by Dominic’s attentiveness to the needs of people in the changing world of the 13th century. We, like Dominic – and like the Buddhist monk and the Hindu sanyyasi – are called to take to the road again, to reclaim our mendicant heritage, to realize that we are all beggars before the truth, which only waits to surprise us.

‘We pray to be able to trust in that Spirit who maps our journey for us, for we, as Church and as Order, have ourselves been given to the Spirit. It is the Spirit, present in every culture and every religion – long before Christianity arrived – that makes dialogue both possible and necessary.

‘We pray for the trust of our father, Dominic, who even though he could not foresee the outcome, knew that he was doing what God wanted.’

How significant it is for us Dominicans, entrusted with a universal mission of preaching, to remember that Jesus began his mission in ‘Galilee of the Nations,’ Galilee of the foreigners, half-Gentile in population, half-pagan in cult, a land populated by people considered suspect by the institution in Jerusalem: ‘Can anything good come from Nazareth?’ (Jn 1.46). Yet after the Resurrection, Jesus tells his disciples, ‘I will go ahead of you to Galilee’ (Mt 26.32). Even more intriguing is Jesus’ message to the women: ‘Go and tell my brothers to set out for Galilee; there they will see me’ (Mt 28.10).

It is outside the camp, in all the Galilees that surround us, that we discover what mission is: to be in mission is to live outside the camp. And to discover, with others, what God is really about. But this knowledge comes at a price. The image of going outside the camp or outside the tent in order to meet God is found again at the end of the Bible, in the Letter to the Hebrews: ‘Jesus suffered outside the gate to sanctify the people with his blood. Let us go to him, then, outside the camp and bear the abuse he suffered’ (13.12-13). We have been blessed by the example of Dominican martyrs in Algeria, Pakistan and many other places, who put themselves on ‘the lines of brokenness, outside the camp.’ They ‘bore the abuse he suffered’; they ‘sanctify’ us by their blood. We, like them, are called to ‘go to him, outside the camp’ and endure what Jesus endured.

Even his relatives thought Jesus was ‘out of his mind’ (Mk3.21), so far from the norm, so eccentric was his behavior. If we Dominicans are to adopt the vita apostolica in today’s world, perhaps we need to be a bit more abnormal, a bit more eccentric, unbalanced and off-center. What are we doing now that can make others believe we are ‘out of our minds’? The Report of the Commission de Missione Ordinis asked: ‘Were we living what we preach, were our lives a true service of the Gospel, throwing us onto the roads beyond frontiers, then we might be seen as ‘out of our minds,’ and a touch of Gospel-madness would joyfully dwell in us.’


32. A brief historical reference; biblical sources in order to recognize one’s own vocation; echoes of our contemplative origins; study and the formation as a way forward; the call to mission going towards those who hunger and thirst for the Gospel even without knowing it.

We cannot possibly leave out a canonical reference in this reflection done in common and offered as a ‘Letter to the Order.’

At present, surrounded as we are by insecurities, it seems that all of us wish to know ‘what will happen’; ‘what is in wait for us’; ‘how many steps and which ones should we take to reach an objective’; ‘which stages have to be planned in order to get a result’; ‘how many are the stairs for us to reach our complete fulfillment.’ These things are not alien to our Dominican life. We want and demand clarity, security, stability from the others, especially from our superiors.

33. However, we have been called to be preachers, to be prophets. To be a prophet does not mean to know or to foretell the future, having it clear, and offering security. God calls the prophets to read history in the light of his Word; to read the Word feeling the pulse of what is happening. The prophets are not called to read the future in the hands of people as if they were experts in ‘Chiromancy.’

It is true that hands project what inhabits the heart. Every gesture of our hands shows what is present in the innermost part of us. (One needn’t be Italian or Argentine to confirm this!) The tenderness of a caress, the harshness of an aggressive gesture, life in the hands of the one who sows, death in the hands of a killer…

34. At the beginning of our Dominican life, after the novitiate, we all made a gesture with our hands, a very eloquent one: we put our hands in the hands of the one who received our profession.

An article by Antoninus M. Thomas OP which I read when I was still a student in Canon Law, keeps inspiring me when I write these things. This great historiographer of the Order’s Laws teaches us that the Dominicans took this gesture that is central in the ritual of our profession from the one used in the past by the Cistercian ‘conversi.’

The lay brothers of Cîteaux used to make their profession in the Chapter room in the hands of the Abbot. The other monks made their profession in the Abbey church by means of a written document deposited on the altar as a sign of offering and of monastic stability. In Saint Dominic’s day this was also the ritual for regular canons, among them the Premonstratensians. The monks and the regular canons were, in fact, specially bound to their monastery and to the monastery church.

The Dominican friars made their profession – like the Cistercian lay brothers – in the chapter room, through the offering of their hands. If for the monks and the canons the oblatio super altare symbolized their bond to the abbey and to the canonical church, the professio in manibus as a central element of the Dominican profession opens the preachers’ way for their apostolate.

35. All of us have made our profession through the offering of our hands and, at the same time, through the offering of the hands of the one who, holding our hands, received our profession. It is a mutual exchange of wills. The hands open to the grace of God, open to the mercy of the brothers and sisters with whom we commit our future even without knowing what it will be!

This is a true sign of mutual trust. Our future is in the hands of our brothers, of our sisters. The future of our brothers and sisters is in our hands. Here is all of our Dominican stability! Sustained by the stability of our profession of obedience!

In our profession we do not commit our lives to a future bound to a specific ‘Abbey’ or ‘Canonical Church.’ It sometimes seems, however, as if we have made profession of stability to a certain convent or house; to some specific office or responsibility or to not having any responsibility at all; to a village or a region we come from or where we were born; to certain places in which we ‘feel’ at ease, in good company, friends …

36. I am not unaware that Dominican itinerancy takes on different shadings and characteristics in some branches of the Order (I think mostly of the contemplative nuns and lay persons). For this reason we do not want to limit the meaning of itinerancy to packing one’s bags and going somewhere else! Though in truth, beautiful to note, even our contemplative nuns and laypersons teach us what Dominican itinerancy is.

Many nuns, with great generosity, wanted ‘to set out’ in order to create new foundations; others have done so in order to help other monasteries in need. Some contemplative communities – acknowledging their poverty of means, the reduced number of sisters and the lack of vocations – have decided to join another monastery in order to live the vocation to which the Lord has called them ‘to live together harmoniously in the house, in oneness of mind and heart,’ far from the one concrete monastery in which they had once entered.

Many, too, are the laypersons who offer themselves as volunteers to announce the Gospel in remote regions, collaborating in the apostolic mission of Dominican communities.

37. Unfortunately – when faced with an assignation or a change of office or responsibility in a community – we object to the motives of the one who invites us ‘to set out’ because we only understand them from two reductive categories: ‘that of a promotion after a cursus honorum imagined or merited,’ or ‘that of a chastisement – punishment.’ Maybe these categories suit other worlds well, those we have renounced, such as the world of management, of competitiveness, of the political or academic career! In Dominican life, however, these destroy trust, destroy docility, wound itinerancy, and kill infinite possibilities.

On many occasions when we are faced with a change, an assignation, when we are asked to accept or to leave an office or a responsibility, phrases like this, ‘in conscience I cannot accept,’ come to our minds – as if in a ‘reflex action.’ Too easily we forget the famous distinction between a ‘psychological conscience’ and a ‘moral conscience’! We mistake our own emotions, sentiments, even our conscience, with the judgment of our practical reason, which our profession in the hands has elevated to the supernatural level of an act of faith in God and in the brothers.

38. From this gesture, old and eloquent, of our Dominican profession, we have started to experience in our life the mystery of Easter, the ars moriendi et nascendi¸ to die in order to live. It is for this reason that we have put our life and future in the hands of others.

In the Basilica of Santa Sabina, our conventual church in Rome, there is a burial monument that carries a very suggestive inscription that seeks to synthesize the life of the person in question :

(In order to live after death – he lived as one destined to die)

Jesus said: Unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds (Jn 12,24)

After the resurrection, when Thomas wanted to see in order to believe, using his hands and fingers to measure and check what his brothers had told him, Jesus himself invited him: see my hands… After the Resurrection, the wounded hands of Jesus continue to be the sign of a future full of hope and life.


39. On the morning of 21 May, 1992, Bro. Damian Byrne asked me to accompany him to the Palazzo San Callisto in the Roman Trastevere. Some days before leaving Santa Sabina on his way to the Mexico General Chapter, this great Dominican missionary, poor and itinerant, wanted to say good-bye to Cardinal Eduardo Pironio. Going on foot for the appointment, Bro. Damian made this comment: I have never heard so many beautiful things about Saint Dominic and the Order as those the Cardinal pronounced during the General Chapter of 1983.

I always wanted to know these words, so very Dominican, addressed to the Chapter of Rome. In the General Archives there was no written document, only a cassette with the recording. I confess that I felt a great emotion when I heard both their voices: Bro. Damian Byrne and Cardinal Pironio!

We are mendicants and also beg from others their ideas, like the dispatch rider who receives the document from another’s hands and then runs to hand it to someone else. Timidly paraphrasing the words of those who preceded us in the journey of faith, to announce them to others, I offer these thoughts of Cardinal Pironio.

40. When the Lord entrusts one with a mission he always repeats invariably these three phrases:

Behold, I send you … This is the sending off, the mission, which comes from God. This will is expressed through the will of the brothers or sisters, but the mission comes from God: Behold, I send you… This gives us courage and at the same time serenity.

The second phrase is Do not be afraid… This is very important for a preacher. May he be truly poor; for we feel insecure in ourselves, but trust in God and in the brothers. From this poverty the preacher acquires a special strength that makes him precisely a prophet of hope. The preacher is someone who, because he is poor and relies only on God, is not afraid and does not allow others to be afraid, because we are witnesses of the Resurrection!

The third phrase is I am with you… The Lord will always accompany us, I am with you. I will walk the way with you. He animates us and encourages us to commit ourselves deeply in the mission he has given us as preachers of the Gospel in this providential moment for the Church and history.

The world in particular is waiting for the Word of God to be announced. Saint Catherine, speaking about Saint Dominic, used to say that ‘he received the office of the Word.’ Every Dominican, man and woman, is called by profession to this mission. For this he/she has to let himself/herself be completely possessed by the word of God in order to announce this word made flesh, made history, made concrete. We have been called to announce the Good News to all nations joining truth to love, being faithful to truth and to love. To truth, because it is specific to the Dominicans; to love, because we love this truth as one loves a person. Our Dominican life, which drinks from the springs of the Rule of Saint Augustine, is founded on this love. In it Saint Dominic of Guzman found his inspiration because he wanted to send, beyond the limits of the known, contemplative apostles, as Jesus sent the Apostles, and consequently in line with what is strongly evangelical.

41. Jesus invited Peter to put out into deep water and let down the nets. Simon, skilled on seas, boats, nets and fishing, answered that he had worked hard all night without catching anything. But sustained by the word of Jesus, he let down the nets and the catch was very big. (cf Lk 5, 4-6).

I simply want to repeat the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the invitation Pope John Paul II made us at the end of the Jubilee of 2000:

Duc in altum! Let us go forward in hope! … At the beginning of this new century, our steps must quicken as we travel the highways of the world…

On 15 August, 1217, the ‘Dominican Pentecost,’ invoking the Holy Spirit and with the friars gathered around him, brother Dominic told them that he had decided in the depths of his heart to send them all to the world, even if they were but a few. Some objected to his decision, but he answered without hesitation: ‘Do not oppose me, I know very well what I am doing.’ In this way he dissipated all their fears. The friars, comforted by his words, easily agreed, trusting in that everything will lead to a good end.

These pages – perhaps too many – are the fruit of reflection done in common. I invite all of you to meditate on them, individually and in community, and to pray with me:

God of love and fidelity, who sent us your Word in order to be our way; grant us that following in the footsteps of Saint Dominic “we may walk in joy and think of our Savior. Amen.

Santa Sabina, 24 May 2003, Memorial of the Translation of our Father Saint Dominic.

Bro. Carlos Alfonso Azpiroz Costa OP
Master of the Order

1. By the way, work is going on to prepare an edition with the most important messages that Bro. Aniceto Fernández, Bro. Vincent De Couesnongle, Bro. Damian Byrne and Bro. Timothy Radcliffe sent to the Order. This will be published shortly in different languages bearing the title “Laudare-Benedicere-Prædicare – Messages to the Order (1961-2001)”, and we are anxiously waiting for it.
2. Libellus Iordani de Saxonia n. 14 – Ed. A. Walz OP in MOPH XVI (Romae 1935) 33-34.
3. M.-H. Vicaire, Histoire de saint Dominique, Vol. I (Paris 1982) 126.
4. Cf. Libellus n. 15.
5. Libellus n. 16.
6. Job 42, 5.
7. Cf. Acta Canonizationis S. Dominici – Ed. A. Walz OP in MOPH XVI (Romæ 1935) 161.
8. Luke 10,38 – 42.
9. Cf. Humbert of Romans, who complained about those people whose sole passion is for contemplation and refuse to the summons to be useful to others by preaching – source: Talk of Bro. Paul Murray on the Contemplative Dimension of Dominican Life, General Assembly at the General Chapter at Providence 2001.
10. cf. Luke 11:27-28.
11. cf. for example: Mathew 12,50; 21,31; Mk 3,35; Luke 12,47; John 7,17; 9,31; Eph 6,6; Hebr 10,36; 13,21; 1 John 2,17.
12. cf. Fundamental Constitution; LCM V.
13. cf. LCM 36.
14. John 12:1-3.
15. Eccles. 3:1-5.
16. cf. Luke 12:54-56.
17. cf. Song 3:1-3.
18. John 4:34.
19. cf. Joshua 22:5.
20. Luke 24:13 and following verses.
21. Providence Nr. 355.
22. John 21:18.
23. Fides et ratio, 48: It is an illusion to think that faith, tied to weak reasoning, might be more penetrating: on the contrary, faith then runs the grave risk of withering into myth or superstition.
24. Super Epist. ad Col., 91-92. Cf. Fides et ratio, 37-8: ‘See to it that no-one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the universe and not according to Christ (Col, 2, 8)’… Following Saint Paul, other writers of the early centuries, especially Saint Irenaeus and Tertullian, sound the alarm when confronted with a cultural perspective which sought to subordinate the truth of Revelation to the interpretation of the philosopher… But that does not mean that they ignored the task of deepening the understanding of faith and its motivations.
25. Acta 17, A.
26. Acta I, 22, 1-5.
27. Acta 43,I.
28. Acta 51.
29. Acta 20.9.
30. Acta 33.
31. Acta, Appendix One, 4.3.2.
32. Acta 461.
33. ‘Welcoming the Stranger,’ Interpretation and Obedience, Minneapolis MN: Fortress Press, 1991, pp 290-310.
34. Ceslas Spicq, trans and ed by James D Ernest, Theological Lexicon of the New Testament, Vol 3, Peabody MA: Hendrikson Publishers, 1996, pp 195-200.
35. Making Room, Recovering Hospitality as a Christian Tradition, Grand Rapids MI & Cambridge UK: William B Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1999, p 97.
36. ‘The Theological Foundations of Dialogue,’ Focus, Vol 22, No 1, 2002, pp 15-16.
37. Statement, Sound the Gong, Conference on Interfaith Dialogue: 2001, ed Vicente G Cajilig OP, Manila: University of Santo Tomas, 2002, p 6.
38. 4.3.3., A Final Word: Madness.
39. A. Thomas, La profession religieuse des dominicains, in Archivum Fratrum Prædicatorum 39 (1969) 5-52; especially 5-22.
40. This gesture goes back even to the feudal homagium of the vassal to his lord, to certain old roman contracts and even to some biblical gestures.
41. I am referring to the burial monument of Cardinal d’Auxia († 1484); the translation is free.
42. Eduardo Francisco Pironio, made his profession in Buenos Aires (1947) as a member of the Priestly Fraternity of the then Third Order, in the hands of Bro. Manuel Suárez, who was then Master of the Order. A few years later he completed his theological studies in the “Angelicum” in Rome (1952-1954). He was Prefect of the Congregation for the Religious and Secular Institutes (1975-1983) and President of the Pontifical Council for the Laity (1983-1996). He died on February 5, 1998.
43. Still the Prefect for the “Congregation for the Religious and Secular Institutes”, he visited the Chapter that was meeting in the Angelicum on September 21, 1983.
44. It is not a written text prepared for the occasion. At the request of the Master of the Order he said a few words to those present. In the General Archives of the Order a cassette with a recording of the meeting is kept. (cf AGOP III 1983/17 Roma – Cassette degli interventi).
45. Dialogo n. 158.
46. Novo Millennio Ineunte (6.01.2001) n., 58.
47. Testimonium fratris Iohannis Hispani in Acta Canonizationis S. Dominici – A. Walz OP in MOPH XVI (Romæ 1935) 144.
48. Cf. Libellus n. 47.
49. Liturgia de las Horas O.P. – Edición típica en lengua española (Roma 1988) 1811 n.6.

Fr. Timothy Radcliffe, OP (1993-2001)

Vowed to Mission (1994)

Letter to the Order. Santa Sabina, Rome, 1994

fr. Timothy Radcliffe, o.p.

The young flocked to the Order in Dominic’s time because, with his passion for preaching, he invited them to take part in an adventure. For what are we passionate and what are the adventures of our time? Who are the Cumans for us? We face the challenge of establishing the Order in much of Asia, where half of humanity lives, and preparing to teach in China. Are there young Dominicans ready to learn Chinese and give themselves, not knowing what it will cost them? All over the world we face the dialogue with Islam. Are we ready to give our lives to that?

Like Dominic, we too are faced with preaching the gospel in the new cities, but for us these are the sprawling mega-towns that are home to an ever increasing percentage of humanity, the urban jungle of Los Angeles, Sâo Paolo, Mexico City, Lagos, Tokyo, and London and so on. These are often urban deserts, marked by the and violence, and the dense solitude of those who are surrounded by millions of people and yet are alone. How are we to find our way into the new world of the young, increasingly a single world culture, with its religious hunger and scepticism, its respect of individuals and suspicion of institutions, its distrust of words and fascination with the technology of information, its music and songs? How the we to be in touch with all that is vital and creative in this new culture, learn from it and welcome it for the gospel?

Above all, how are we to be preachers of hope in a world which is often tempted by despair and fatalism, afflicted by an economic system that is undermining the social and economic- structures of most countries of the world? What is the gospel that we can preach in Latin America, or as the Order is established in Asia and reborn in East Europe? And then there is the endless intellectual adventure of study, of wrestling with the Word of God, the exigence of truthfulness, of questioning and being questioned, and the passion to understand. This deserves another letter.

And so, my brothers and sisters, one thing cannot be doubted, that our vocation as preachers of the gospel is as urgently needed as ever before (Avila 22). We can respond to these challenges if we are people of courage, who dare to give up old commitments, so that we can be free to take new initiatives, who dare to experiment and risk failure. We will never be able to respond unless we offer each other confidence and courage. A complex structure, like a religious Order, can either communicate pessimism and a sense of defeat, or it can be a network of hope, in which we help each other to imagine and create the new. If the Order is to be the latter, then we must face a number of questions.

Do we dare to accept into the Order young people who have the daring to face these new challenges with courage and initiative, knowing that they may well put in question much of what we have been and done? Would we happily accept into our own Province a man like Thomas Aquinas, who embraced a new and suspect philosophy and posed hard and searching questions? Would we welcome a brother like Bartolome de Las Casas, with his passion for social justice? Would we be pleased to have a Fra Angelico who experimented with new ways of preaching the gospel? Would we give profession to Catherine of Siena, with all her outspokenness? Would we welcome Martin de Porres, who might disturb the peace of the community by inviting in all sorts of poor people? Would we accept Dominic? Or might we prefer candidates who will leave us in peace? And what is the result of our initial formation? Is it to produce brothers and sisters who have grown in faith and courage, who dare to try and risk more than when they came to us at first? Or do we tame them and make them safe?

If we are to face the immense and exciting challenges of today, and renew that sense of the adventure of religious life, then we will have to look at many aspects of our life as an Order in subsequent letters. Today, in this letter, I would like to explore only one question, which I have found raised in every part of the Order during my travels. How can the vows that we have made be a source of life and dynamism, and sustain us in our preaching? The vows are not the whole of our religious life, but it is often in relation to them that the brothers and sisters pose searching questions that we must address together. It is often said that the vows are only a means. And this is true, for the Order was founded not so that we might live the vows but for the preaching of the gospel. But the vows are not merely a means in an utilitarian sense, as a car might be to get from one place to another. The vows are means towards us becoming people who truly are missionary. St. Thomas says that all the vows have as their goal caritas, 1 the love that is the very life of God. They serve their purpose only if they help us to grow in love, so that we may speak with authority of the God of love.

The vows are in fundamental contradiction with the values of much of society, particularly of the culture of consumerism which is rapidly becoming the dominant culture of our planet. The vow of Obedience goes against an understanding of being human as rooted in radical autonomy and individualism; to be poor is a sign of failure and worthlessness in our culture, and chastity seems to be an unimaginable rejection of the universal human right to sexual fulfilment. If we embrace the vows, then it is likely that at some stage we will find it hard to endure. They may seem to condemn us to frustration and sterility. If we accept them merely as a utilitarian means to an end, a necessary inconvenience of the life of the preacher, then they may seem a price that is not worth paying. But if we live them as ordered towards caritas, one way among others of sharing in the life of the God of love, then we may believe that the suffering may be fertile, and the dying that we experience may open up a way to resurrection. Then we may be able to say, like our brother Reginald of Orleans: “I do not believe that I have gained any merit in living in this Order, for here I have always found so much joy.” 2

In this letter I wish to offer a few simple observations about the vows. They will be largely marked by my own limitations, and the culture which has formed me My hope is that they will contribute to a dialogue through which we will arrive at some common vision that will enable us to encourage each other, and give us the strength to be an Order which dares to take up the challenges of the next century.

Daring to Vow

In many parts of the world, especially those marked by Western culture, there has been a profound loss of confidence in the making of promises. This can be seen in the collapse of marriage, the high rate of divorce or, within our own Order, the regular requests for dispensation from the vows, the slow steady hemorrhaging of the life blood of the Order. What sense can it make to give one’s word usque ad mortem?

One reason why the giving of one’s word may not seem to be a serious matter may be a weakening of our sense of the importance of our words. Do words matter that much in our society? Can they make a difference? Can one offer one’s life to another, to God or in marriage, by speaking a few words? We preachers of the Word of God are witnesses that words matter. We are made in the image of God who spoke a word and the heavens and the earth came to be. He spoke a Word that became flesh for our redemption. The words that human beings speak to each other offer life or death, build community or destroy it. The terrible solitude of our vast cities is surely a sign of a culture that has sometimes ceased to believe in the importance of language, to believe that it can build community through language shared. When we give our word in the vows we witness to a fundamental human vocation, to speak words which have weight and authority.

Yet we cannot know what our vows will mean and where they will lead us. How do we dare to make them? Surely only because our God has done so, and we are his children. We dare to do as our Father did first. From the beginning, the history of salvation was of the God who made promises, who promised to Noah that never again would the earth be overwhelmed by flood, who promised to Abraham descendants more numerous than the sand, and who promised to Moses to lead his people out of bondage. The culmination and astonishing fulfilment of all those promises was Jesus Christ, God’s eternal ‘Yes’. As God’s children we dare to give our word, not knowing what it will mean. And this act is a sign of hope since for many people there is only the promise. If one is locked in despair, destroyed by poverty or unemployment or imprisoned by one’s own personal failure, then maybe there is nothing in which one can put one’s hope and trust other than in the God who has made vows to us, who again and again has offered a covenant to humanity and through the prophets taught us to hope for salvation (Fourth Eucharist prayer).

In this world so tempted by despair there may be no other source of hope than trust in the God who has given us his Word. And what sign is there of that vow given, other than men and women who dare to take vows, whether of marriage or in religious life. I have never understood so clearly the meaning of our vows as when I went to visit a barrio on the edges of Lisbon, inhabited by the very poorest of people, the forgotten and invisible of the city, and found the quarter alive with rejoicing, because a sister who shared their lives was to make her solemn profession. It was their feast.

Ours has been called “The Now Generation”, the culture in which there is only the present moment. This can be the source of a wonderful spontaneity, a freshness and immediacy in which we should rejoice. But if the present moment is one of poverty or failure, of defeat or depression, then what hope can there be? The vows of their nature reach out to an unknown future. For St. Thomas, to make a vow was an act of radical generosity, because one gave in a single moment a life which was to be lived successively through time. 3 For many people in our culture this offer of a future which cannot be predicted may make no sense. How can I bind myself until death when I do not know who or what I shall become? Who will I be in ten or twenty years time? Whom will I have met and what will draw my heart? For us it is a sign of our dignity as the children of God and of trust in the God of providence, who offers unexpectedly the ram caught in the bushes. The taking of vows remains an act of the deepest significance, a sign of hope in the God who promises us a future, even when it is beyond our imagining, and who will keep his word.

It is true that sometimes a brother or sister may find themselves incapable of continuing in the vows they have taken. This may be because of a lack of discernment in the time of initial formation, or simply because this is a life that, in all honesty, they can no longer bear. Then there exists the wise provision of the possibility of dispensation from the vows. Let us at least give thanks for what they have given, and rejoice in what we have shared! Let us also ask whether, in our communities, we did all that we could to sustain them in their vows.


The beginning of Jesus’ preaching was his proclamation of the fulfilment of Isaiah’s promise, freedom for prisoners and liberty for those who are oppressed (Luke 4). The gospel which we are called to preach is of the irrepressible freedom of the children of God. “For Freedom Christ has set us free”. (Gal 5:1) It is therefore paradoxical that we give our lives to the Order, to preach this gospel, by a vow of obedience, the only vow we pronounce. How can we speak of freedom who have given away our lives?

The vow of obedience is a scandal in a world which aspires to freedom as its highest value. But what is the freedom for which we hunger? This is a question that is being posed with particular intensity in the countries which have been liberated from Communism. They have entered the “free world”, but is this the freedom for which they have fought? There is certainly a certain important freedom gained, in the political process, but the freedom of the market place is often a disappointment. It does not bring the liberation that it promised, and tears apart the fabric of human society even more deeply. Above all, our supposedly free world is often characterised by a deep sense of fatalism, an impotence to take our destinies into our hands, to really shape our lives, that must make us question the freedom of the consumerist culture. The vow of obedience, then, is not for us merely an administrative convenience, a utilitarian means. It must confront us with a question: What is the freedom for which we long in Christ? How might this vow express that, and help us preachers of the Kingdom to live the exultant liberty of the children of God?

When the disciples find Jesus talking to the Samaritan woman by the well, he says to them: “My food is to do the will of Him who sent me” (Jn 4.34). The obedience of Jesus to the Father is not a limitation of his freedom, a restriction of his autonomy. It is the food that gives him strength and makes him robust. It is his relationship to the Father, the gift of all that he is, his very being.

This deep freedom of Jesus, to belong to the Father, is surely the context in which we reflect upon what it means for us to be free, and to give our lives to the Order. It is not the freedom of the consumer, with unrestricted choice between alternative purchases or courses of action; it is the freedom to be, the freedom of the one who loves. Within our own Dominican tradition this belonging together in mutual obedience is marked by a tension between two characteristics: an unqualified gift of our lives to the Order, and a search for consensus based on debate and mutual attentiveness and respect. Both are necessary if we are to be preachers of the freedom of Christ, the freedom for which the world thirsts. If we fail to really give ourselves to the Order, without condition, then we become merely a group of independent individuals who occasionally co-operate; if obedience is experienced as the imposition of the will of the superior, without the search for a common mind, then our vow becomes alienating and inhuman.

1) Obedience and listening

Obedience is not, in our tradition, fundamentally the submission of the will of a brother or sister to a superior. Because it is an expression of our fraternity with each other, the shared life within the Order, it is based on dialogue and discussion. As is so often remarked, the word obedire comes from ob-audire, to listen. The beginning of true obedience is when we dare to let our brother or sister speak and we listen to them. It is the “principle of unity”(LCO.17.1) It is also when we are summoned to grow as human beings by being attentive to others. Married people have no option but to be drawn beyond themselves by the demands of the children and spouses. Our way of life, with its silence and solitude can help us to grow in attentiveness and generosity, but we also run the risk of being locked within ourselves and our own concerns. Religious life can produce people who are deeply selfless or profoundly egoistic, depending upon whether we have listened. It requires all of our attention, complete receptivity. The fertile moment of our redemption was the obedience of Mary who dared to listen to an angel.

This is a listening that demands using our intelligence. In our tradition, we use our reason not so as to dominate the other, but so as to draw near to them. As P. Rousselot said, intelligence is “the faculty of the other”. It opens our ears to hear. As Herbert McCabe wrote:

“it is first an openness of the mind such as is involved in all learning. Obedience only becomes perfect when the one who commands and the one who obeys come to share one mind. The notion of blind obedience makes no more sense in our tradition than would blind learning. A totally obedient community would be one in which no one was ever compelled to do anything” 4.

It follows that the primary place in which we practice obedience, in the Dominican tradition, is the community chapter, in which we argue with each other. The function of discussion within the Chapter is to seek unity of heart and mind as we seek the common good. We argue together, as good Dominicans, not so as to win but in the hope of learning from each other. What we seek is not the victory of the majority but, if at all possible, unanimity. This search for unanimity, even if it is sometimes unattainable, does not express just a desire to live in peace with each other. More radically it is a form of government born of a belief that those with whom we disagree have something to say, and we therefore cannot attain the truth alone. Truth and community are inseparable As Malachy O’Dwyer wrote:

“Why did Dominic place so much trust and confidence in his companions? The answer is a simple one. He was profoundly a man of God, convinced that the hand of God lay upon everything and everyone … If he was convinced that God was indeed speaking to him through voices other than his own then he had to organise his family in such a way that all within the family could be heard.” 5

It follows that government within our tradition takes time. Most of us are busy and this time may seem wasted. Why should we spend time debating with each other when we could be out preaching and teaching? We do so because it is this shared life, this lived solidarity, that makes us to be preachers. We can speak of Christ only out of what we live, and the labour of seeking to be of one heart and mind trains us to speak with authority of the Christ in whom is all reconciliation.

Obedience for us is not the flight from responsibility. It structures the different ways in which we share it. Often the role of a prior is difficult because some brethren believe that having elected him to office, he alone must bear the burden. This inculcates a puerile attitude to authority. Obedience demands that we grasp the responsibility that is ours, otherwise we shall never respond to the challenges that face the Order. As I said at the meeting of European Provincials at Prague in 1993:

“Responsibility is the ability to respond. Will we? In my own experience as a Provincial I have seen ‘the mystery of the disappearing responsibility.’ It is as mysterious as a novel of Sherlock Holmes! A Provincial Chapter sees there is a problem and commissions the Provincial to face it and resolve it. A bold decision must be taken. He tells the Provincial Council to consider. The Council appoints a Commission to consider what is to be done. They take two or three years clarifying exactly what is the problem. And they then commit it to the next Provincial Chapter, and so the cycle of irresponsibility continues.”

Sometimes what paralyses the Order and prevents us from daring to do new things is the fear of accepting responsibility, of risking failure. We must each grasp the responsibility that is ours, even if it is painful to do so and we risk making the wrong decision, otherwise we shall die of irrelevancy.

It may be argued that our system of government is not the most efficient A more centralised and authoritarian government would enable us to respond more rapidly to crises, to take wise decisions based on wide knowledge of the Order. There is often an impulse towards the centralisation of authority. But, as Bede Jarrett OP wrote seventy years ago,

“to those who live under its shadow, liberty in electing government is too blessed a thing to be put aside even at the risk of inefficiency. With all its inherent weakness, for them it mates better than autocracy, however beneficent, with the independence of human reason and the strengthening of human will. Democracy may mar results, but it makes men.” 6

It may sometimes lead to inefficiency but it makes preachers. Our form of government is profoundly linked to our vocation as preachers, for we can only speak with authority of our freedom in Christ if we live it with each other. But our tradition of democracy and of decentralisation can never be an acceptable excuse for immobility and irresponsibility. It should not be a way of hiding from the challenges of our mission.

2) Obedience and self-gift

The democratic tradition of the Order, our stress on shared responsibility, and on debate and dialogue, might suggest that the demands upon us of obedience are less total than in a more autocratic and centralised system. Is not obedience, then, always a compromise between what I wish and what the Order asks? Might one not bargain for a certain limited autonomy? I do not believe this to be so. Fraternity asks of us all that we are. Because, like all the vows, it is ordered towards caritas, an expression of love, then it must be whole-hearted. There will inevitably be a tension between the process of dialogue, the search for consensus, And the moment of handing oneself into the hands of the brethren, but it is a fruitful tension rather than a negotiated compromise. Although I speak most especially out of my experience of government by the brethren, I hope that much of what follows might be helpful to our sisters.

I started by pointing out the immensity of the challenges that we face as an Order. We can face these challenges only if we are able to form new common projects, and give up apostolates that may be dear to us as individuals or Provinces. We must dare to try new experiments, risking failure. We must have the courage sometimes to give up institutions that have been important in the past and may still be significant. If we do not, we shall be prisoners of our past. We must have the courage to die if we are to live. This will demand mobility of mind and heart and body, as Provinces and as individuals. If we are to build up proper centres of formation and study in Africa and Latin America, rebuild the Order in Eastern Europe, face the challenges of China, of preaching in the world of the young, dialogue with Islam and other religions, then inevitably there are apostolates that we will have to give up. Otherwise we shall never do anything new.

For me this wholehearted gift of one’s life to the brethren is more than just the necessary flexibility which a complex organisation needs to respond to new challenges. It belongs to the freedom in Christ that we preach. It belongs to the lex libertatis 7, the law of freedom of the New Covenant. On the night he was betrayed, when his life was doomed to failure, Jesus took bread, broke it, gave it to his disciples and said: “This is my body, and I give it to you”. Faced with his fate, for “it was necessary that the Son of man be handed over”, he made this supreme gesture of liberty, giving his life away. Our profession, when we place our lives in the hands of the provincial, is a eucharistic gesture of mad liberty. ‘This is my life and I give it to you. It is thus that we give ourselves to the mission of the Order, “appointed entirely for the complete evange!isation of the Word of God”. (LCO III)

When a brother gives his life into our hands this implies that we are under a corresponding obligation. We must dare to ask much of him. A Provincial must have the courage to believe that the brethren of his Province are capable of doing wonderful things, more than they may ever imagine. Our system of government must express an astonishing confidence in each other, as when Dominic scandalized his contemporaries in sending out the novices to preach, saying “Go confidently, because the Lord will be with you, and he will put into your mouth the word of preaching”. 8 If a member of the Order has freely given his life then we honour that gift in freely asking of each other, even if it means leaving behind a project that he dearly loves and has flourished in. Otherwise the Order will be paralysed. We should invite each other to give our lives to new projects, to dare to grasp the challenges of the moment, rather than just to use them to keep alive institutions or communities that are no longer vital to our preaching.

There are challenges before us today where a response of the whole Order is necessary. The evangelisation of China may be one such. In such cases the Master will have to call upon the Provinces to be generous and give brothers to new areas of mission, even if this has consequences that are hard to bear. I approached one Provincial to discuss the gift of a brother for our new General Vicariate in Russia and the Ukraine. It was with great hesitation since I knew that he was a brother whom this Province could ill afford to lose. The Provincial said to me, “If God’s providence has prepared this brother for this work, then we too must trust in God’s providence for our needs.”

Nothing new can ever be born unless we dare to give up what has been proved to have value in favour of that which may turn out to be a failure. One cannot know in advance. The pressure of our society is that one should have a career, a life that goes somewhere. To give one’s life to the preaching of the gospel is to renounce that reassurance. We are people who have no career, no prospects. That is our freedom. I think of the courage of our brethren who are establishing the Order in Korea, struggling with a new language and an unknown culture, with no guarantee in advance that this gift of their lives will bear fruit. That is only a gift of the Lord, as was the resurrection after the failure of the cross. A true gift is, of its nature, a surprise.

One of the ways in which we may have to live out this generosity is in accepting election as a prior, provincial or as a member of a Conventual or Provincial Council. In many provinces it has become hard to find capable brethren who are prepared to accept office. The search for a superior becomes a matter of finding someone who is willing to let his name be proposed to chapter. We look for ‘candidates’. Yet it seems to me that the only reason for accepting such a position is because one is obedient to the desires of one’s brethren and not because one wishes to be a “candidate”. There may be good objective reasons for refusing office, which must be taken seriously and possibly accepted, after confirmation by the higher authority. These should be grave reasons, rather than just the fact that one is not attracted by the idea of holding office.

On the Mountain of the Transfiguration, Peter is fascinated by the vision of glory that he has seen. He wishes to build tents and stay there. He resists the call of Jesus to walk on the way to Jerusalem, where he must suffer and die. He fails to see that it is in that death on the cross that the glory will be revealed. Sometimes we remain fascinated by the glory of our past, the glory of the institutions which our brethren before us built. Our gratitude to them should be expressed in searching for ways to meet today’s challenges. Like Peter we may be hypnotised and paralysed, and resist the invitation to get up and walk, to share in death and resurrection. Every Province must face death in every generation, but there is the sterile death of those who remain stuck on the mountain of Transfiguration when the Lord has left, and there is the fertile death of those who have dared to take the road and travel with him to the mountain of Calvary, and which leads to resurrection.


Poverty is the vow for which it is hardest to find words that ring true, and this is for two reasons. Those brothers and sisters who have come closest to being really poor are often the most reticent to talk about it. They know how much of what we say about poverty and about the “option for the poor” is empty rhetoric. they know just how terrible are the lives of the poor, often without hope, with the daily, grinding violence, the boredom, the insecurity and the dependence. Those of us who have seen, even from afar, what poverty is like are usually suspicious of easy words. Can we ever really know ourselves what it means to live that degradation, insecurity and hopelessness?

A second reason that it is so hard to write about poverty is that what it means to be poor is so different from one society to another, depending upon the nature of family ties, the type of economy, the social provisions made by the State and so on. Poverty means one thing in India, where there is a long tradition of the holy beggar, another in Africa where in most cultures riches are seen as God’s blessing, and yet another in the consumerist culture of the West. What it means for us to take a vow of poverty is more culturally determined than for obedience or chastity. The size and location of the community, the apostolates of the brethren, impose different constraints that should make us wary of too easy judgments upon how well others are living this vow.

It is, like all the vows, in the first place, a means. It offers us the freedom to go anywhere and preach. You cannot be a wandering preacher if you must transport all your furniture every time you move. In the Bull Cum Spiritus Fervore of 1217 Honorius III wrote that Dominic and his brethren:

“in the fervour of the spirit that animated them, cast off the burden of the riches of this world and being shod with zeal to propagate the gospel had resolved to exercise the office of preaching in the humble state of voluntary poverty, exposing themselves to numberless sufferings and dangers for the salvation of others” 9

We are invited to give up not merely wealth to follow Christ, but “brothers and sisters and mothers and fathers for my sake”. The renunciation that gives us freedom implies a radical break with our family ties as well, a disinheritance. The consequences of this need to be thought out with great delicacy since the nature of the family has changed in many societies. Our families today are often marked by divorce and remarriage, and in some societies our brothers and sisters are increasingly likely to be only children. We do have real obligations to our parents but how are these to be reconciled with the radical self-gift that we have made of our lives to the preaching of the gospel through our vows in the Order? It is paradoxical that it is often the members of the family who are in religious vows who are considered to be “free” to help look after aged or ill parents. We will need to reflect on this with great sensitivity.

The vow of poverty offers us freedom to give ourselves without reservation to the preaching of the gospel but it is not just a means in a narrow and utilitarian sense. Like the other vows it is, as Thomas wrote, ordered towards caritas, the love that is the very life of God. How can we live it so that we can talk about God with authority?

One way to answer this would be to explore how poverty touches fundamental aspects of that sacrament of love which is the Eucharist. For the Eucharist is the sacrament of unity which poverty destroys; it is the sacrament of vulnerability, which the poor endure; it is the moment of gift, which our culture of consumption resists. To ask how we may and should be poor, is to ask how we should live eucharistically.

1) Invisibility

On the night before he died Jesus gathered the disciples around the table to celebrate the new covenant. It was the birth of a home in which all might belong, since he embraced all that might destroy human community: betrayal, denial, even death. The scandal of poverty is that it rips apart what Christ has made one. Poverty is not just an economic condition, the lack of food and clothing or employment. It tears apart the human family. It alienates us from our sisters and brothers. Lazarus at the door of the rich man’s house is not merely excluded from sharing his food but from sitting at his table. The unbridgeable abyss that separates them after death merely reveals what had been the case during their lifetimes. In our world today the rift between rich and poor countries, and within these countries themselves, is becoming ever more acute. Even within the rich countries of the European Community there are almost twenty million unemployed. The body of Christ is dismembered.

The voluntary poverty that we vow has value not because it is in any sense good to be poor. Poverty is terrible. It matters only if it is a reaching out across the boundaries that separate human beings from each other, a presence with our separated brothers and sisters. What possible authority could our words about our unity in Christ have if we do not dare to make this journey? During the last year I have seen how much our sisters have to teach the brethren, by their quiet presence among the poor in so many parts of the world. They know the importance of just being there as a sign of the Kingdom.

The Eucharist is the foundation of the universal human home. Would a poor person feel at home and welcomed in our communities? Would they feel that their dignity was respected? Or might they feel intimidated and small? Do our buildings attract or repel? One of the ways that the poor are removed from the human community is by becoming invisible and inaudible. They disappear, the desaparecidos, like Lazarus at the door of the rich man. When one arrives at Calcutta Railway Station, the beggars rush up and thrust their deformities at one. They demand to be seen, to be visible. Do we dare to look for fear of what we might see, a brother or a sister?

2) Vulnerability

In the Last Supper Christ embraced his suffering and his death. He accepted the ultimate vulnerability of being human, liability to be wounded and killed. Our vow of poverty surely invites us to embrace our human vulnerability. In the Bull of Honorius III that I quoted above, Dominic and the brethren are praised not merely for being poor but for “exposing themselves to numberless sufferings and dangers for the salvation of others”. In what sense do we ever share even a glimpse of the vulnerability of the poor?

How ever little we eat, for us there is always an escape route if we can endure it no more. The Order will not let us die of hunger. Yet I have met brothers and sisters who have dared to go as far as they can, for example in one of the most violent barrios of Caracas. They endure the danger and exhaustion of living every day in a world where violence is all pervasive. That is a real vulnerability which could cost them their lives. I think of our brothers and sisters in Haiti, whose brave stand for justice puts their life at risk. In Algeria and Cairo our brothers choose to remain, despite all the dangers, as a sign of their hope for reconciliation between Christians and Muslims. In Guatemala our indigenous sisters wear clothes of their own people, so that they may share their daily humiliation. If they wore a traditional habit they would be insulated from that. Not all of us are called to this degree of exposure. There are different tasks within the Order. But we can support them, listen to them and learn from them. The seedbed of our theology is their experience.

This call of Christ to vulnerability must put questions as to how we live the vow of poverty together. Do we dare even live the vulnerability which is presupposed by the common life? Do we really live out of the common purse? Do we live the insecurity of giving to the community all that we receive, exposed to the risk that they might not give us all that we think we need? How can we speak of the Christ who put himself into our hands, if we do not? Are our communities divided into financial classes? Are there some who have access to more money than others? Is there a real sharing of wealth between the communities of a Provinces, or between Provinces?

3) Gift

At the heart of our lives is the celebration of that moment of utter vulnerability and generosity, when Jesus took bread and broke it and gave it to his disciples saying “Take and eat, this is my body, given to you.” At the centre of the gospel is a moment of pure gift. This is where the caritas which is the life of God becomes most tangible. It is a generosity that our society finds hard to grasp, for it is a market in which everything is to bought and sold. What sense can it make of the God who shouts out “Come to me all you who are thirsty and I will give you food without price.” All human societies have markets, the buying and selling and exchange of goods. Western society differs in being a market. It is the fundamental model that dominates and forms our conception of society, of politics and even of each other. Everything is for sale. The infinite fertility of nature, the land, water have become commodities. Even we human beings are on the “labour market”. This culture of consumerism threatens to engulf the whole world, and it claims to do so in the name of freedom, but it locks us in a world where nothing is free. Even when we become aware of the distress of the poor and seek to respond, so often caritas has been monetarised into “charity”, in which the gift of money is substituted for the sharing of life.

How can we be preachers of the gracious and generous God, who gives us his life, if we are caught up in this all-pervasive culture? One of the most radical demands of the vow of poverty is surely that we so live in simplicity to see the world differently and gain some glimpse of the utterly gracious God. The lives of our communities should be marked by a simplicity which helps liberate us from the illusory promises of our culture of consummation, and from “the domination of wealth” (LCO 31.I). The world looks different from the back of a Mercedes than it does from the seat of a bicycle. Jordan of Saxony said that Dominic was “a true lover of poverty”, perhaps not because poverty is in itself lovable but because it can disclose to us our deepest desires. I have often been struck by the joyfulness and spontaneity of our brothers and sisters who live in simplicity and poverty.

In some parts of the Order the very language that we use when describing our common life suggests that we should be attentive to the dangers of absorbing the values of the world of business. The brethren or sisters become “personnel”; we have “personnel boards”; the role of a superior becomes that of “management” or “administration”, and we study “management techniques”. Can one imagine Dominic as the first President of the Order of Preachers Incorporated? How often does a Provincial prevent a brother from seeking new and creative ways of preaching and teaching because the Province would suffer financially?

The buildings in which we live are gifts. Do we live in them and treat them with gratitude? Do we have a responsible attitude to what we are given, for the fabric of our buildings, for what we receive? Do we need the buildings that we have? Could our buildings be better used? Bursars often have a thankless task, even though they have a vital role in helping us to live with the responsibility that we owe to those who are generous to us.


We have an urgent need in the Order to think together about the meaning of the vow of Chastity. It touches issues central to our humanity: our sexuality, our bodiliness, our need to express and receive affection, and yet frequently we fear to talk. So often it is an area in which we struggle alone, afraid of judgement or incomprehension. It may be useful to prepare a further letter on this subject in the future.

It is of course true that this vow is, like the others, a means. It gives us the freedom to preach, the mobility to respond to the needs of the Order. But with this vow it is perhaps especially important that it is not merely endured as a grim necessity. Unless we can learn, perhaps through much time and suffering, to embrace it positively, then it can poison our lives. And we can do so because it is, like all the vows, ordered towards caritas, towards that love which is the very life of God. It is a particular way of loving. If it is not that, then it will lead us to frustration and sterility.

The first sin against chastity is a failure to love. It was said of Dominic that “since he loved all, he was loved by all.”10 What is at issue, yet again, is the authority of our preaching. How can we speak of the God of love if that is not a mystery that we live? If we do so, then it will ask of us death and resurrection The temptation is to take flight. One common escape route is activism, to lose ourselves in hectic work, even good and important work, so as to flee the solitude. We may even tempted to flee from the fact of our sexuality, our bodiliness. Yet the Order was born precisely in the struggle against such dualism. Dominic was the one who preached against the division of body and soul, spirit and matter. It remains a modern temptation. Much of modern culture is deeply dualistic. Pornography, which appears to delight in sexuality, is in reality a flight from it, a refusal of that vulnerability that human relationship demands. The voyeur keeps his distance, invulnerable and in control, afraid.

It is our corporeality that is blessed and made holy in the Incarnation. If we are to be preachers of the Word become flesh, then we cannot deny or forget what we are. Do we care for the bodies of our brethren, making sure that they have enough food, tend them when they are sick, be tender to them when they are old? When Bede Jarrett wrote to encourage a young Benedictine who was enduring the first sufferings of friendship, he wrote:

“I am glad because I think your temptation has been towards Puritanism, a narrowness, a certain inhumanity. Your tendency was almost towards the denial of the hallowing of matter. You were in love with the Lord, but not properly with the Incarnation. You were really afraid.” 11

The basis of our chastity can never be fear, fear of our sexuality, fear of our bodiliness, fear of people of the other sex. Fear is never a good foundation for religious life. For the God who drew near to us dared to become flesh and blood, even though it led to crucifixion. Ultimately this vow demands of us that we follow where God has gone before. Our God has become human, and invites us to do so as well.

St. Thomas Aquinas makes the startling claim that our relationship with God is one of friendship, amicitia. The good news that we preach is that we share in the infinite mystery of the friendship of Father and Son which is the Spirit. And indeed Thomas argues that the ”evangelical counsels” are the counsels offered by Christ in friendship.12 One way that we live that friendship is the vow of chastity. To help us reflect upon what it demands of us, let us briefly reflect upon two aspect of that Trinitarian love. It is utterly generous and unpossessive, and it is the love between equals.

1) An unpossessive love

It is that utterly generous and unpossessive love by which the Father gives all that He is to the Son, including his divinity. It is not a sentiment or a feeling, but the love that grants the Son being. All human love, of married people or religious, should seek to live and share in this mystery, in its unpossessive generosity.

We must be completely unambiguous as to what this loving demands of us who are vowed to chastity. It means not just that we do not marry but that we abstain from sexual activity. It asks of us a real and clear renunciation, an asceticism. If we pretend otherwise and willingly accept compromises, then we enter upon a path that may be ultimately impossible to sustain and cause us and others terrible unhappiness.

The first thing that we are asked to do is to believe that the vow of chastity really can be a way of loving, that though we may pass through moments of frustration and desolation, it is a path that can lead to our flourishing as affectionate, whole human beings. The older members of our community are often signs of hope for us. We meet men and women who have passed through the trials of chastity, and emerged into the liberty of those who can love freely. They can be for us signs that with God nothing is impossible.

The entry to this free and unpossessive love will take time. We may endure failures and discouragement on the way. Now that many people enter the Order when they are older, having had sexual experience, then we must not think of it so much as an innocence that we may lose but an integrity of heart into which we may grow. Even moments of failure may, in the grace of God, belong to the path by which we mature, for “we know that in everything God works for good with those who love him”. (Romans 8:28)

Our communities should be places in which we must give each other courage when one’s heart hesitates, forgiveness when one fails and truthfulness when one is tempted by self-deceit. We must believe in the goodness of our brothers or sisters when they ceased to believe it of themselves. Nothing is more poisonous than self-despising As Damian Byrne wrote in his letter on ‘The Common Life”:

“While the deepest sanctuary of our hearts is given to God – we have other needs. He has made us so that a large area of our life is accessible to others and is needed by others. Each one of us needs to experience the genuine interest of the other members of the community, their affection, esteem and fellowship … Life together means breaking the bread of our minds and hearts with each other. If religious do not find this in their communities – then they will seek it elsewhere.”

Sometimes the passage to real freedom and integrity of heart will demand that we pass through the valley of death, that we find ourselves faced only, it may seem, with sterility and frustration. Is it really possible to make this journey without prayer? There is first of all the prayer that we share with the community, the daily prayer that is fundamental to our lives. But there is also the silent and private prayer, that brings us face to face with God, in moments of unavoidable truth and astonishing mercy. Here one can learn to hope. Dominic himself would sometimes, when he walked, invite the brethren to go ahead so that he could be alone to pray and in an early version of the Constitutions Dominic said that the novice master should teach his novices to pray in silence.13 Our nuns have much to teach the brethren about the value of prayer in silence.

2) The love that gives equality

Finally, the love that is at the heart of God is utterly fertile. It is generative, creative of all that is. What we struggle with in chastity is not just the need for affection but the desire to beget, to bring to birth. Our care for each other must surely include an attentiveness to the creativity that each one of us has, and which our lives as Dominicans should liberate for the gospel. This may be the creativity of a brother or sister bringing a community into being in a parish, or the intellectual labour of a theologian, or the prenovices in El Salvador performing spontaneous theatre. Our chastity must never be sterile.

The love that is God is so fertile as to create equality. The Trinity is without domination or manipulation. It is not patronising or condescending. This is the love that our vow of chastity invites us to live and preach. As Thomas wrote, friendship finds or creates equality.14 The fraternity of our Dominican tradition, the democratic form of government in which we delight, expresses not just a way of organising our lives and taking decisions, but expresses something of the mystery of the life of God. That the brethren are known as the Ordo fratrum praedicatorum embodies what it is that we preach, the mystery of that love of perfect equality that is the Trinity.

This should characterize all our relationships. The Dominican Family, with its recognition of each other’s dignity, and the equality of all members of the family belongs to our living this vow well. The relationship between sisters and brothers, religious and laity, should also be a ‘holy preaching’. Even our search for a more just world, in which the dignity of every human being will be respected, is not merely a moral imperative, but an expression of the mystery of the love that is the life of the Trinity which we are called to embody.


When Dominic used to walk through villages where his life was threatened by the Albigensians, he used to sing loudly so that everyone knew that he was there. The vows only have any value if they liberate us for the mission of the Order with some of Dominic’s courage and joy. They should not be a heavy burden to weight us down, but grant us a freedom to walk lightly as we go to new places to do new things. What I have written in this letter gives only a very inadequate expression of how this may be so. I hope that together we may build a shared vision of our life as Dominicans, vowed to mission, that may strengthen us on the journey and free us to sing.

1 eg. 2a2ae q184 a3
2 Jordan of Saxony,Libellus 64
3 ST. 2a 2ae q.186 a.6 ad2
4 Herbert McCabe OP, God Matters London 1987
5 “Pursuing Communion in Government: Role of the Community Chapter”, Dominican Monastic Search. Vol II Fall/Winter 1992 p. 41
6 The Life of St. Dominic London 1924 p 128
7 ST. 1a2ae q108 a4
8 Acta Canon. 24
9 quoted by Marie-Humbert Vicaire, “The Order of St. Dominic in 1215” in ed. Peter B. Lobo OP, The Genius of St. Dominic p75
10 Jordan of Saxony Libellus 107, cf LCO 25
11 ed Bede Bailey, Aidan Bellenger and Simon Tugwell Letters of Bede Jarrett Dominican Sources in English Vol. 5, Downside and Blackfriars, p. 180
12 1a 2ae q108 a4
13 Primitive Constitutions. Dist I. cXIII
14 1 Ethicorum 1.8 s.7

Jurassic Park and the Last Supper (1994)

Jurassic Park and the Last Supper
Feast of Blessed Jordan of Saxony 1999

fr. Timothy Radcliffe, o.p.

Last year I had to give a ten minute talk to the Union of Superiors General the heads of religious orders on the challenges to our mission as religious in the West. It seemed a pretty impossible task. What could one say in ten minutes? Then I went to see the film Jurassic Park and it became clear that this is a story that shows us a wonderful picture of the world in which we have to live our faith today. It is one of the most successful films ever made. At one stage it was showing in one in three cinemas in Italy, and the French Minister of Culture has declared it a threat to the nation. In motorway cafes our children can buy dinosaur biscuits. Why has it been so successful? It is surely because every culture lives by stories, narratives that shape our perception of the world and of ourselves, which tell us what it means to be human. And this is a narrative in which millions of people, perhaps unconsciously, find themselves.

But we Christians claim to live by another tale, which we gather to remember and re enact every Sunday, the story of the Last Supper, of the man who gathered his friends around him and shared with them a meal, who gave them himself, his body and his blood. This is the story that should, above all, shape our lives and self awareness. So the challenge of being a Christian is for us not just that of trying to be good. There is no evidence to suggest that Christians are, on the whole any better than anyone else, and Jesus certainly did not call the saints but the sinners. The challenge is rather to live by and through a story that some of our contemporaries may find very odd, and which offers a different vision of the world and of being human. This evening I want to touch upon just a few of the differences between these two stories.

I assume that most of you have been to see Jurassic Park. You probably took your children, pretending that you were only going to make them happy but enjoyed it enormously. Justin case you have not seen it, here is the story. A millionaire (Richard Attenborough) uses experiments on DNA to bring the dinosaurs back to life. He creates a Mesozoic Longleat, where all the dinosaurs can run free. Unfortunately they break out, start killing the visitors, and so the human beings desert the island and fly away, leaving the jungle behind them. This may not seem to you to be much like life in the suburbs of London, unless things have changed a lot since I left for Rome, but I will suggest that it touches on important elements of our contemporary culture.


The first point I want to make is really pretty commonplace. Jurassic Park tells us of a violent world, of herds of dinosaurs roaming the plains, and devouring everything they meet. It is a violence to which the human beings can only reply with further violence. Our other story, that of the Last Supper, is also a story of violence, of the violence that is inflicted upon Jesus, and which he bears, “like a sheep that is led to the slaughter, he did not open his mouth”. (Is 53:7)

When I asked recently a group of American Dominicans, brothers and sisters, what was the primary challenge for our preaching, they replied, without hesitation, that it was violence. In recent months I have visited Rwanda, Burundi, Haiti, Angola, Croatia and New York, and I have been confronted with the raw violence of much of our world. I suppose that most of human history has been violent and, except for the horrors of the two world wars, ours has not been much worse. Many societies in the past have glorified violence. I think that ours does so too, and in ways that are very subtle and hardly explicit.

Jurassic Park offers us a resurrected Darwinian jungle, in which animals compete to survive. The weak fail and die and become extinct, like the dinosaurs. The violent competition for food and territory is part of the creative process by which we come to be. That brutal struggle is what brings us into existence. It is our cradle. Ultimately, the film suggests, violence is fruitful. But Darwin’s theory of evolution, which I cannot claim ever to have studied, is interesting as just one symptom of a deep shift in our understanding of what it means to be human which has occurred over the last two hundred or so years. It is the emergence of the conviction that all human society functions and flourishes through this fierce struggle between competing individuals, each pursuing their own good. The metaphor of the survival of the fittest, of life as a Darwinian jungle, haunts much of our language. Sumner, the Yale economist, even wrote that “millionaires are a product of natural selection …. They may fairly be regarded as the naturally selected agents of society for certain work.”

One of the first indications of this deep shift in our understanding of human society was a little parody called the Parable of the Bees, written by a man called Mandeville in the eighteenth century. He argued that greed, envy, pride, all the traditional vices, may actually be very useful. They are what makes the world go round and human society flourish. They may be private vices but they are public virtues. The politics of greedy competition go back a long way. It is this understanding of what it means to be human that makes of our cities urban Jurassic Parks, violent inner city jungles, where the weak are destroyed. Our story, the tale of the Last Supper, offers a deep challenge, not just because here is the man who bears violence and refuses to pass it on. It offers a radically different image of what it means to be human. He offers us his body. This is the new covenant, our home and dwelling place. The meaning of our lives is given not in the pursuit of self interest but by the reception of a gift of communion.

I think that most of us would agree, and it has often been argued, that the challenge of this moment is to break the fascination of what is ultimately a harmful and. destructive image of what it is to be a human being, of us as solitary monads forever pursuing our own individual goods. We are flesh of each other’s flesh, a communion that finds perfection in that flesh which Christ gives, his own body. That which we seek is most radically the common good. The problem is how we are to break the hold of this false myth of our humanity. What are we to do? As David Marquand put it in The Unprincipled Society:

“How can a fragmented society make itself whole? How can a culture permeated by possessive individualism restore the bonds of community? Granted that the common sense of nearly two hundred years is the chief obstacle to successful economic and political adjustment, how can common sense be redefined?”

The story of the Last Supper can liberate our imagination. It is the story of a community that is radically fractured, in which the man at the heart of the community is about to be betrayed and denied. All his friends will scatter in a moment. It is the story of the birth of a community which overthrows every form of alienation, betrayal, even death. It offers us hope.


The central act of Jesus is to speak a powerful and transforming word: “This is my Body and I give it to you.” He speaks a word. Words are not so very important in Jurassic Park. There is a lot of grunting and roaring, the sound of breaking bones, but you are not encouraged to chat to a Tyrannosaurus Rex. A Russian or Chinese could happily watch the film in English and not miss much. This difference is significant. I would say that one of the ways in which we build a human society, and transcend that trap of possessive individualism, is by recovering a reverence for words, and of their potency to form and sustain community.

We are human and we belong to each other because we can talk together. A society in disintegration is one in which there is contempt for words. When I was in San Salvador I went to visit the room where the Jesuits were gunned down in the University. The murderers also shot their books. You can see a copy of Kittel’s Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, open at the page on the Holy Spirit, source of all wisdom, ripped across with bullet holes. I think of the library of a priest in Haiti, the books all destroyed and torn up. I think of a little village on the border of Croatia and Serbia, shelled out of existence, with the very bodies from the graves dug up and thrown around, and the missal in the Church ripped up, and desecrated with obscenities. What all these incidents speak of is both a hatred of words and a sense of their power.

When I land in England during my travels, to recover from jetlag and to wash my clothes, I do not read about MPs bursting into each other’s rooms and ripping up their opponents’ libraries. But I do get the impression of a culture in which we loose off words at each other with little thought as to their consequences, like children who play at cowboys and Indians without realizing that the guns they use are real. It is as if we had forgotten that speaking is a moral act, demanding the deepest responsibility. I could not help but be astonished at the difference between what was said about that fine man John Smith before and after his death. Was it all just words? Part of our deep social crisis is that we have lost confidence that words really show things as they are.

We have lost St Augustine’s sense of awe when he says, “Words, those precious cups of meaning.”

The Book of Genesis tells us that the vocation of Adam was to call things by their proper names. God made Adam to help with creation. He showed him a lion or a rabbit and Adam named it; he knew what things were and so assisted God in bringing a meaningful world out of chaos. His names were not just arbitrary labels stuck on things, so that he might just as well have called a rabbit a hare; they shared the power of God’s words to bring to be, and to bring to light. To speak, to use words, is almost a divine vocation. Like God, it gives us the power of life and death. It is a religious matter.

The violence of our society impregnates the language that we use. The President of the Czech Republic, Vaclav Havel, contrasts the words of Salman Rushdie with the words of Ayatollah Khomeini. «Words that electrify society with their freedom and truthfulness are matched by words that mesmerise, deceive, inflame, madden, beguile, words that are harmful lethal even. The word as arrow.” George Steiner has written:

“In words, as in particle physics, there is matter and antimatter. There is construction and annihilation. Parents and children, men and women, when facing each other in exchange of speech, are at ultimate risk. One word can cripple a human relationship, can do dirt on hope. The knives of saying cut deepest. Yet the identical instrument, lexical, syntactical, semantic, is that of revelation, of ecstasy, of the wonder of understanding that is communion.” (Real Presences: Is There Anything in What We Say?, London, 1989, P 58 )

A Dominican sister from Taiwan told of a girl carrying the burden of a child on her back. Someone said to her: “Little girl, you are carrying a heavy weight.” She replied “I am not carrying a weight, I am carrying my brother.” A word that transforms.

The proponents of Political Correctness are on to the right thing in the wrong way. They have seen rightly that it matters desperately what words I use, because my words can be daggers that kill people. But the human community is not healed simply by us being forbidden to use certain words. As Robert Hughes wrote, in The Culture of Complaint, «We want to create a sort of linguistic Lourdes, where evil and misfortune are dispelled by a dip in the waters of euphemism.’ He points out that one does not overthrow the horror of death by ruling, as proposed in the New England Journal of Medicine, that a corpse should be referred to as a ‘nonliving person’. A fat corpse, he points out, becomes a differently sized nonliving person! The administrators of the University of San Francisco in Santa Cruz were wrong to believe that you could overcome racialism by banning expressions like there is “a nip, in the air” and a “chink in one’s armour” on the grounds that in some contexts they may seem to be racially disparaging!

We build communion and heal wounds not by banning nasty words but by using words that create communion, that welcome the stranger, that overthrow distance. At the heart of our typical story, the Last Supper, is a man who speaks words that bring a community into being: “This is my Body and I give it to you.” And if the doctrine of the Real Presence, of these words as truly and deeply transforming, seems foolish and absurd to many of our contemporaries, then surely it is because we have forgotten just how powerful words are. Emily Dickinson wrote:

Could mortal lip divine
The undeveloped freight of a delivered syllable,
‘Twould crumble at the weight.

Christ’s words of consecration disclose that to which all human language aspires, grace perfecting nature. When the monks fled to the west coast of Ireland in the Dark Ages, they carried with them the texts of the gospels, which they copied and recopied and ornamented and revered. They founded communities which kept alive a reverence for these holy words. Perhaps what we are called to do is form communities in which there is a reverence for language, for truthful words, and words that build communion. If the Church is to be a place in which people can rediscover a deep sense of what it is to be human, to be those who in our deepest identity are one with each other, then we must be before all a community in which words are used with reverence and responsibility.

That means that we have to be a community of people which dares to debate, to argue, to dialogue in pursuit of the truth that we can never master. So often in our beloved Church there is a fear of debate. I do not mean of disagreement. There is plenty of vociferous disagreement. I mean that difficult struggle with one another, in which we both seek mutual enlightenment, that passionate argument in which one fights with the other precisely because one hopes to learn from them. In the Summa, St Thomas Aquinas always starts with the objections of his opponents, not just to prove them wrong but to discover in precisely what sense they are right. We wrestle with our opponent like Jacob struggling with an angel, so that we may demand a blessing.

Reverence for words implies a humility before the truth and the other person. Our words, both in the Church and in society, are so often heavy with arrogance. A last quote from Havel:

“We should all fight together against arrogant words and keep a weather eye out for any insidious germs of arrogance in words that are seemingly humble. Obviously this is not just a linguistic task. Responsibility for words and towards words is a task which is intrinsically ethical. As such, however, it is situated beyond the horizon of the visible world, in that realm wherein dwells the Word that was in the beginning and is not the word of Man.”


When we gather on a Sunday, to hear again our founding narrative, the powerful words that we hear are ones of forgiveness, of the blood which is shed for the forgiveness of sins. The word is a word that heals and absolves. Yet there is within our culture a deep resistance to the notion of forgiveness. Part of it comes, I would guess, from a suspicion that people who go on about forgiveness, especially Catholics, probably have an unhealthy obsession with guilt. Having been educated by the Benedictines, those humane men, this was not the sort of Catholicism in which I was raised. More fundamentally, I wonder whether in fact our culture is not suspicious of forgiveness because we suspect that it may not be a very good thing. Might it not be that within our contemporary culture there is a belief that, except in the most private and personal sense, forgiveness is harmful and even dangerous. If there was too much of it around society would fall apart. Like butter and chocolates and other good things, it should be strictly rationed! And yet it is central to our faith.

Certainly after Dachau and Auswitchz, after Dresden, and Hiroshima, one might be hesitant of too easy an idea of forgiveness. As if such horrors could be simply forgotten. Yet our hesitation is perhaps deeper still, and we can see clues in Jurassic Park. In the Darwinian jungle there can be no forgiveness. The necessary consequence of weakness and failure is extinction. And it is good that this happens; otherwise there would be no evolution. We human beings are the result of a ruthless process which wipes out innumerable species because they could not adapt, but it leads to us. What is creative of our humanity is an unforgiving history. In Jurassic Park these dinosaurs are redeemed from death and we quickly discover that that is a great mistake. We should have left their DNA stuck in the drops of amber.

Now I cannot claim any expertise in economics. When the prioral accounts were explained in English, it did not take long for me to get lost. Now that I live in Santa Sabina, Rome, and the explanations are in Italian, the darkness is total. But I suspect that the image of the survival of the fittest operates in a similarly unforgiving way in much contemporary economics and politics and that one of the functions of government is precisely to remove whatever shields and protects the weak and ill adapted industries. There should be no forgiveness. The weak should perish, and pity is a dangerous sentiment. I know that that is drastically over simple, and that we believe in safety nets, and dream of the Social Market, and of benevolent capitalism, and yet it touches some deep instinct of our contemporary sensibility.

This mercilessness seems to deeply penetrate our culture. One of the joys of my wandering existence sixty countries since July ’92 is, apart from reading The Tablet, coming across an English newspaper. It may be a few weeks old, but I fall upon it like a hungry man. And yet it is depressing how often it will tell of denunciation and accusation. The dominant model of arriving at the truth is that of exposure, of showing up someone’s sins. No doubt this is all said to be done in the name of morality, of getting back to basics. Yet one must ask: What is really exposed? What is discovered and revealed? The truth of other human beings, with all their virtue and vice, goodness and badness, can only be attained through patient attentiveness. One must listen very carefully, and let the others disclose themselves. The truth is given not through exposure but in a moment of revelation. It needs tenderness and not denunciation. The truthful eye is always the compassionate eye, even the loving eye, for, as Thomas Aquinas taught us, the true and the beautiful are the same. The journalist with a scoop reminds me of Pompey storming up to the Temple in Jerusalem, demanding to see what was concealed behind the veil of the Holy of Holies. And when he rips it away he shouts out, «But there is nothing, nothing at all.’ There was nothing that he could see.

The forgiveness of the Last Supper is not primarily about forgetting. It does not reassure us that our God is willing to overlook our mistakes, to look the other way. It is a deeply creative act of healing. Forgiveness, within our tradition, is that utterly creative moment in which Jesus is raised from the dead. It is not what enables us to forget. It makes memory possible. It is the mystery of the ever fertile God who, in the mediaeval image, made the dead wood of the cross blossom with flowers, and can make our dead lives flourish. Our two stories, Jurassic Park and the Last Supper, differ most profoundly in their perception of creativity. In one, humans are created through a pitiless process which destroys the weak; in the other it is a creative word which heals and redeems and makes us whole.

The heroes of Jurassic Park are the dinosaurs. They are of course the victims, the ones who were condemned by the evolutionary process. And they are suitable heroes in our culture in which the victim so often has hero status. And the anger and bitterness of the victim, of abuse or molestation or injustice, surely derive from the feeling that nothing can ever be done to heal the damage, that they or we are condemned for ever to bear the wounds, to be casualties. To even mention the possibility of forgiveness would be to trivialise the hurt and to intensify the anger. All that can be done is to drive out the perpetrator. Surely it is only a belief in an utterly fecund God, who made everything out of nothing and raised Jesus from the dead, that can give us the courage to think on those whom we have wounded, or who have hurt us, and to hope for forgiveness.

In the Last Supper forgiveness is not just a private absolution, but the birth of a community. It is not just the offer of a personal interior peace, but the peace we live together. This was how it was seen in Europe, where the sacrament of reconciliation was the sacrament in which the community was healed, a public event until after the Council of Trent when we invented confessional boxes.

One of the most moving examples I saw of this shared forgiveness was in Burundi last year, during the massacres. The conflicts between Tutsi and Hutu that have decimated Rwanda this year had already begun in Burundi. Our brethren belonged to both ethnic groups, and everyone of them had lost members of their family. It was a time of deep pain for our brothers. How could we sustain and build a religious community in which traditional enemies lived together? That was our greatest priority. I toured the country with the Councillor of the General Council for Africa, who is Hutu, and the local superior who is Tutsi. We saw almost no one except the occasional band of armed men looking for their enemies. We visited the refugee camps and found the families of our brothers and sisters. It was enormously important that these accepted both these brothers, Tutsi and Hutu together. It was the first gesture of reconciliation and mutual forgiveness. And then before I left the capital, Bujumbura, we all sat down and tried to speak. Rather than the words of denunciation and accusation, each had to listen, t0 hear what the other had endured, so that he might remain a brother and not become a stranger. It was perhaps the most extraordinary moment of attentiveness that I have ever seen, of offering an hospitable ear to the one who seemed to speak from another world. It was a moment of deep silence, the sort of silence that accompanies words that are hard to find and hard to hear. Forgiveness here is not amnesia but the impossible gift of communion.


The last contrast that I would like to make between Jurassic Park and the Last Supper is deeply connected with the possibility of forgiveness. It is about the different understandings of freedom that they imply. Jurassic Park is a sort of parable, like the story of Frankenstein before it, about the failure of our scientific culture to live up to its dreams of absolute control. It is a story of a loss of control, a failure of freedom. In the book this is made quite explicit when the control room of the Park ceases to function and so all the dinosaurs can get out. Pausing for a moment of reflection as chaos is about to overwhelm them, the hero says, “Ever since Newton and Descartes, science has explicitly offered us the vision of total control. Science has claimed the power to eventually control everything, through its understanding of natural laws. But in the twentieth century that claim has been shattered beyond repair.” (Michael Crichton,JurassicPark,p.313). In the end, the only freedom that remains for our heroes is the freedom to run away, to escape the mess they have made. It also means that we can look forward to Jurassic Park, Part z. It is the freedom not to belong, which is the final freedom of our modern human being, that isolated and solitary being for whom to belong is to be trapped.

Wonderful things have happened in these last years, unexpected freedoms have been achieved. We have seen the Berlin Wall fall, Nelson Mandela elected as President of South Africa. We may even be on the way to peace in the Middle East. Yep despite all this, sometimes we are tempted by a sad fatalism, a feeling that nothing that we do can really face and overcome the growing poverty, the cruelty and the death. It is what Havel calls «the general inability of modern humanity to be the master of its own situation.’ Maybe that sense of fatalism is due not just to a failure of science to provide all the answers. In The Culture of Contentment the American economist, John Kenneth Galbraith, argues this fatalism is in fact implicit in our economic system, that our politics has been deeply influenced, for the past two hundred or so years, by the philosophy of laissez faire. This asserts that any interference in the market will have a harmful effect. We must let the market work under its principles and all will be all right in the end. “Economic life has within itself the capacity to solve its own problems and for all to work out best in the end.” (The Culture of Contentment, London, 1992, P 79 ) It is a philosophy that encourages us all to think only in the short term, for, as Keynes said, “In the long term we are all dead.”

The Last Supper offers freedom precisely in the face of death, that long or short term prospect. It offers us the memory of a man fated to death. It is necessary one of the central words of Mark’s Gospel that the Son of Man will be handed over to suffer and to die. It is his fate. And yet in the face of destruction, the night before he was handed over, he performs an act of mad liberty. He takes his suffering and death, he grasps his fate, and makes of it a gift. “This is my Body and I give it to you.” Fate is transfigured into freedom. And the form that this takes is the very opposite of that of Jurassic Park. It is precisely by refusing to escape from the disciples who will betray him and deny him. He places himself in their hands. He lets them do what they will with him. This is a very different freedom from the heroes of Jurassic Park escaping in their airplane from the chaos of rampaging dinosaurs. It is the freedom to belong. It is the deepest freedom that we have because we are, whatever we may be tempted to think, flesh of each other’s flesh and we cannot thrive alone. The freedom of escape is the flight from our own deepest nature.

If you were to ask me what I have most importantly learnt during these two years as Master of the Order, moving from airport to airport, I would say that I have learnt a tiny bit of what that freedom to belong might imply. What I have seen is so many people, women and men, so very often members of religious orders but also many lay people, who have dared to grasp that freedom to belong, to give their lives away, to make of their lives a gift. I have learnt just a little more about what it means to celebrate the Eucharist.

I have just come yesterday from Algeria, where the brethren have decided to stay on despite death threats from Islamic fundamentalists, as a sign of hope and future communion. Every Eucharist for them is celebrated in the face of death.

I think of a day in northern Rwanda, in the war zone, before these present troubles. I had visited the refugee camp with thirty thousand people and seen women trying to feed children who had just given up eating because they could not be bothered to live. I had visited the hospital run by the sisters, and seen ward after ward of children and young people with their limbs blown off. I remember one child, eight or nine, with both his legs blown off, and an arm and an eye, and his father sitting by the bed weeping. And we went back to the sisters’ house and there was nothing to say. We could not find a single word. But we could celebrate the Eucharist, we could remember that Last Supper. It was the only thing to do, and which gave those sisters the courage to stay, and to belong.

To conclude, how are to break the hold, the entrancement, of the image of being human that holds our culture captive? How are we to be liberated from this recent myth, that we are really just solitary beings, each pursuing his or her own good in hot competition? How can we, as Marquand put it, redefine the common sense of the last two hundred years and discover that we are brothers and sisters, children of a single God, and siblings in Christ, who share the same flesh and cannot find contentment apart?

The deepest truth of our human nature is not that we are greedy and selfish but that we hunger and thirst for God and in God we will find each other. Alasdair McIntyre suggests we should follow the example of our ancestors in the Dark Ages, and form local communities “within which the moral life could be sustained so that both morality and civility might survive the coming ages of barbarism and darkness.” (After Virtue, London, IGHI, p. 244 ) Certainly one of the ways in which we will testify to what it is to be human is to gather in small local communities and to re enact this story of the Last Supper, with its mystery of freedom and forgiveness. In England we call some of these small communities parishes. They take many different forms in the world. They should be communities in which we are nourished in the knowledge that the good that we seek is not our own private satisfaction but the common good. But they should not be introverted little groups, celebrating their own chumminess. I personally could not abide that. Here we should nourish a wider sense of belonging, taste our communion with all other humans, the saints and the sinners, and the living and dead.

The Wellspring of Hope. Study and the Annunciation of the Good News (1996)

The Wellspring of Hope
Study and the Annunciation of the Good News
Santa Sabina, Rome. October 1996

fr. Timothy Radcliffe, o.p.

When St Dominic wandered through the south of France, his life in danger, he used to sing cheerfully. “He always appeared cheerful and happy, except when he was moved by compassion for any trouble which afflicted his neighbour”. (1) And this joy of Dominic is inseparable from our vocation to be preachers of the good news. We are called to “give an account of the hope that is within us” [I Peter 3:15]. Today, in a world crucified by suffering, violence and poverty, our vocation is both harder and more necessary than ever. There is a crisis of hope in every part of the world. How are we to live Dominic’s joy when we are people of our time, and we share the crises of our peoples and the strengths and weaknesses of our culture? How can we nurture a deep hope, grounded in God’s unshakeable promise of life and happiness for his children? The conviction which I explore in this letter to the Order is that a life of study is one of the ways in which we may grow in that love which “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things”. [ 1 Cor 13 :7]

The time has come to renew the love affair between the Order and study. This is beginning to happen. All over the world I see new centres of study and theological reflection opening, in Kiev, Ibadan, Sao Paolo, Santo Domingo, Warsaw, to name a few. These should offer not just an intellectual formation. Study is a way to holiness, which opens our hearts and minds to each other, builds community and forms us as those who confidently proclaim the coming of the Kingdom.

The Annunciation

To study is itself an act of hope, since it expresses our confidence that there is a meaning to our lives and the sufferings of our people. And this meaning comes to us as a gift, a Word of Hope promising life. There is one moment in the story of our redemption which sums up powerfully what it means to receive that gift of the good news, the Annunciation to Mary. That meeting, that conversation, is a powerful symbol of what is meant by being a student. I will use this to guide our reflection upon how study grounds our hope.

First of all it is a moment of attentiveness. Mary listens to the good news that is announced to her. This is the beginning of all our study, attentiveness to the Word of Hope proclaimed in the Scriptures. “Orally and by letter brother Dominic exhorted the brothers to study incessantly the New and the Old Testament “.(2) We learn to listen to the One who says “Sing, O barren one, who did not bear; break forth into singing and cry aloud, you who have not been in travail. ” [Is 54:1 ] Do our studies offer us the hard discipline of learning to hear the good news?

Secondly it is a moment of fertility. There she is, as Fra Angelico portrays her, with the book on her knees, attentive, waiting, listening. And the fruit of her attentiveness is that she bears a child the Word made flesh. Her listening releases all her creativity, her female fertility. And our study, the attentiveness to the Word of God, should release the springs of our fertility, make us bear Christ in our world. In the midst of a world which often seems doomed and sterile, we bring Christ to birth in a miracle of creativity. Whenever the Word of God is heard, it does not just tell of hope, but of a hope that takes flesh and blood in our lives and words. Congar loved to quote the famous words of Péguy “Not the Truth, but the Real … That is to say, the Truth historically, with its concrete state in the future, in time. ” This is the test of our studies: Does it bring Christ to birth again? Are our studies moments of real creativity, of Incarnation? Houses of study should be like maternity wards!

Thirdly, in a moment when God’s people seem deserted and without hope, God gives his people a future, a way to the Kingdom. The Annunciation transforms the way in which God’s people could understand its history. Instead of leading to servitude and despair, it opens a way to the Kingdom. Do our studies prepare the way for the coming of Christ? Do they transform our perception of human history so that we may come to understand it, not from the point of view of the victor but of the small and crushed whom God has not forgotten and whom He will vindicate?

Learning to Listen

And he came to her and said “Hail, O favoured one, the Lord is with you. “But she was greatly troubled at the saying and considered in her mind what sort of greeting this might be. [Lukel:29 30J

Mary listens to the words of the angel, the good news of our salvation. That is the beginning of all study. Study is not learning how to be clever but how to listen. Weil wrote to fr Perrin that “the development of the faculty of attentiveness forms the real object and almost the sole interest of studies. “(3) This receptivity, this opening of the ear which marks all study, ultimately is deeply linked to prayer. They both require of us that we be silent and wait for God’s Word to come to us. They both demand of us an emptiness, so that we wait upon the Lord for what He may give us. Think of Fra Angelico’s picture of Dominic, sitting at the foot of the cross and reading. Is he studying or praying? Is this even a relevant question? True study makes mendicants of us. We are led to the thrilling discovery that we do not know what this text means, that we have become ignorant and needy, and so we wait, in intelligent receptivity for what will be given.

For Lagrange, the Ecole Biblique was a centre of scriptural studies precisely because it was a house of prayer. The rhythm of the life of the community was a movement between the cell and the choir. He wrote “I love to hear the gospel sung by the deacon at the ambo, in the middle of the clouds of incense: the words penetrate my soul more deeply when I meet them again in an article. “(4) Our monasteries should play an important role in the life of study of the Order, as oases of peace and places of attentive reflection. Study in our monasteries belongs to the asceticism of Dominican monastic life. It cannot just
be left to the brethren. Every nun deserves a good intellectual formation as part of her religious life. As the Constitutions of the Nuns say, “The blessed Dominic recommended some form of study to the first Nuns as an authentic observance of the Order. It not only nourishes contemplation but also removes the impediments which arise through ignorance and forms a practical judgement. ” [LMO 100 II]

Mary listened to the promise spoken to her by the angel, and she bore the Word of Life. This seems so simple. What more do we need to do than to open ourselves to the Word of God spoken in scripture? Why are so many years of study necessary to form preachers of the good news? Why do we have to study philosophy, read fat and difficult books of theology when we have God’s own Word? Is it not simple to give an “account of the hope that is within us”? God is love and love has conquered death. What more is there to say? Do we not betray this simplicity in our complex discussions? But it was not so simple for Mary. This story begins with her puzzlement. “But she was greatly troubled at the saying and considered in her mind what sort of greeting this might be. ” Listening begins when we dare to let ourselves be puzzled, disturbed. And then the story continues with her question to the messenger. “How can this be, since I am a virgin?”

a) The Confidence to Study

The story is told that St Albert the Great was once sitting in his cell studying. And the Devil appeared to him disguised as one of the brethren, and tried to persuade him that he was wasting his time and energy studying the secular sciences. It was bad for his health. Albert just made the sign of the cross and the apparition disappeared. (5) Alas, the brethren are not always so easy to convince! All the disciplines literature, poetry, history, philosophy, psychology, sociology, physics, etc that try to make sense of our world, are our allies in our search for God. “It must be possible to find God in the complexity of human experience. “(6) This world of ours, for all its pain and suffering, is ultimately the fruit of “that divine love which first moved all beautiful things. “(7) The hope that makes us preachers of good news is not a vague optimism, a hearty cheerfulness, whistling in the dark. It is the belief that in the end we can discover some meaning in our lives, a meaning that is not imposed, which is there, waiting to be discovered.

It follows that study should be above all a pleasure, the pure delight of discovering that things do, despite all the evidence to the contrary, make sense, whether our own lives, human history or the particular bit of scripture with which we have been struggling all morning. Our centres of study are schools of joy because they are founded upon the belief that it is possible to arrive at some understanding of our world and our lives. Human history is not the senseless and endless conflict of “Jurassic Park”, the survival of the fittest. This creation in which we live and of which we are part is not the result of chance, but it is the work of Christ: “all things were created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together” [Col 1:16f]. Wisdom dances before the throne of God to express her joy in creating this world, and the aim of all study is to share her pleasure. Simone Weil wrote in April 1942 to a French Dominican, fr Perrin, “The intelligence can only be led by desire. For there to be desire there must be pleasure and joy in the work. The joy of learning is as indispensable to study as breathing is to running. “(8) The Constitutions talk of our propensio (LCO 77) to the truth, a natural inclination of the human heart. To study should be simply part of the joy of being fully alive. The truth is the air that we are made to breathe.

This is a beautiful idea, but let us admit straightaway that it is very far from the experience of many of us! For some Dominicans, brothers and sisters, the years of study have not been a time of learning to hope but of despair. So often I have seen students struggling with books that seem arid and remote from their experience, longing for it all to be over so that they can get on with preaching, swearing never to open another book of theology after they have escaped from their studies. And even worse than the aridity is, for some, the humiliation, struggling with Hebrew verbs without success, never managing to understand the difference between the Arians and the Apollinarians, and finally defeated by German philosophy!

Why is study so hard for many of us? In part it is because we are marked by a culture which has lost confidence that study is a worthwhile activity and which doubts that debate can bring us to the truth for which we long. If our century has been so marked by violence it is surely partly because it has lost confidence in our ability to attain the truth together. Violence is the only resort in a culture which has no trust in the shared search for truth. Dachau, Hiroshima, Rwanda, Bosnia; these are all symbols of the collapse of a belief in the possibility of building a common human home through dialogue. This lack of confidence may take two forms, a relativism which despairs of ever attaining to the truth, and a fundamentalism which asserts that the truth is already completely possessed.

In the face of that despair which is relativism, we celebrate that the truth may be known and in fact has come to us as a gift. With St Paul we can say: “What I received from the Lord, I also delivered to you. ” [ I Cor 11:23 ] Studying is a eucharistic act. We open our hands to receive the gifts of tradition rich with knowledge. West culture is marked by a profound suspicion of all teaching since it is equated with indoctrination and bigotry. The only valid truth is that which one has discovered for oneself or which is grounded in one’s feelings. “If it feels right for me, then it is OK. ” But teaching should liberate us from the narrow confines of my experience and my prejudices and open up the wide open spaces of a truth which no one can master. I remember, as a student, the dizzy excitement of discovering that the Council of Chalcedon was not the end of our search to understand the mystery of Christ but another beginning, exploding all the tiny coherent little solutions in which we had tried to box him. Doctrine should not indoctrinate but liberate us to continue on the journey.

But there is also the rising tide of fundamentalism which derives from a profound fear of thinking, and which offers “the false hope of a faith without ambiguity. ” [Oakland No 109] Within the Church this fundamentalism sometimes takes the form of an unthinking repetition of received words, a refusal to take part in the never ending search for understanding, an intolerance of all for whom tradition is not just a revelation but also an invitation to draw nearer to the mystery. This fundamentalism may appear to be a rocklike fidelity to orthodoxy, but it contradicts a fundamental principle of our faith, which is that when we argue and reason we honour our Creator and Redeemer who gave us minds with which to think and to draw near to him. We can never do theology well unless we have the humility and the courage to listen to the arguments of those with whom we disagree and take them seriously. St Thomas wrote “As nobody can judge a case unless he hears the reasons on both sides, so he who has to listen to philosophy will be in a better position to pass judgement if he listens to all the arguments on both sides. ” (9) We have to lose those certainties that banish uncomfortable truths, see both sides of the argument, ask the questions that may frighten us. St Thomas was the man of questions, who learnt to take every question seriously, however foolish it might appear.

Our centres of study are schools of hope. When we gather together to study, our community is a “holy preaching.” In a world which has lost confidence in the value of reason, it witnesses to the possibility of a common search for the truth. This may be a university seminar arguing over a case of bio medical ethics, or a group of pastoral agents studying the bible together in Latin America. Here we should learn confidence in each other as partners in the dialogue, companions in the adventure. Humiliation can have no part in study, if we are to give each other the courage for the journey. No one can teach unless they understand from within another’s panic upon opening a new book, or struggling with a new idea. So the teacher is not there to fill the pupils’ heads with facts, but to strengthen them in their deep human inclination towards the truth, and to accompany them in the search. We must learn to see with our own eyes and stand on our feet. When Lagrange taught at the Ecole Biblique he used to say to his pupils, “Look! You will not say Father Lagrange said this or that, because you will have seen for yourself. ” (10) Above all the teacher should give the student the courage to make mistakes, to risk being wrong. Meister Eckart said that “one seldom finds that people attain to anything good unless they have first gone somewhat astray. ” No child can ever learn to walk unless they have fallen flat on their faces several times. The child who is frightened remains for ever on its bottom!

The Wellspring of Hope
b) The Breaking of Idols

In the earliest days, the study of the brethren was essentially biblical, in preparation for pastoral work, above all the sacrament of penance. The first theological works of the Order were confessional manuals. But when St Thomas was teaching those beginners in theology at Santa Sabina he realised that our preaching would only be useful for the salvation of souls if the brethren received a profound theological and philosophical formation. This was for two reasons. Firstly, the simplest questions often require the most profound thought: Are we free? How can we ask God for things? Secondly because, according to the Biblical tradition, what stands between us and a true worship of God is not so much atheism as idolatry. Humanity has a tendency to build false gods, and then to worship them. The exodus from this idolatry requires of us a hard journey, in how we live and think. It is not enough just to sit and listen to the Word of God. We need to break the hold of those false images of God which hold us captive and block our ears.

All his life St Thomas was fascinated by the question: What is God? As Herbert McCabe OP says, his sanctity lay in the fact that he let himself be defeated by this question. Central to the teaching of Aquinas is this radical ignorance, for we are joined to God “as to one, as it were, unknown. ” (11) We have to be liberated from the image of God as a very powerful and invisible person, manipulating the events of our lives. Such a God would ultimately be a tyrant and a rival to humanity against whom we would be forced to rebel. Instead we have to discover God as the ineffable source of my being, the heart of my freedom. We have to lose God if we are to discover Him, as St Augustine said, “closer to me than I am to myself. “(12)

Teaching theology, then, is not just a matter of communicating information, but of accompanying students as they face the loss of God, the disappearance of a well known and loved person, so as to discover God as the source of all who has given Himself to us in His Son. Then we can indeed say, “Blessed are those who mourn; they shall be comforted. “McCabe writes, “It is one of the special pleasures of teaching in our studium to watch the moment which comes to every student sooner or later, the moment of conversion you might say, when he realises that … God is not less than the source of all my free acts, and the reason why they are my own. ” (13)

The intellectual discipline of our study has this ultimate purpose, to bring us to this moment of conversion when our false images of God are destroyed so that we may draw near to the mystery. But thinking is not enough. Dominican theology began when Dominic got off his horse and became a poor preacher. The intellectual poverty of Thomas before the mystery of God is inseparable from his choice of an Order of poor preachers. The theologian must be a beggar who knows how to receive the free gifts of the Lord.

For us, listening to the Word will demand of us that we free ourselves from the false ideologies of our time. Who are our false gods? Surely they include the idolatry of the State, upon whose altars millions of innocent lives have been shed this century; the worship of the market, and the pursuit of wealth. I have written often enough about he dangers of the myth of consumerism. Our whole world has been seduced by a mythology, that everything can be bought and sold. Everything has been transformed into commodities every thing has a price. The world of nature, the fertility of the earth, the fragile ecology of forests, all this is put on sale. Even we ourselves, the sons and daughters of the Most High, are to be bought and sold on the labour market. The Industrial Revolution saw the uprooting of whole communities, expelled from their land and enslaved in the new cities. This massive migration continues today. The most acute and scandalous example was the enslaving of millions of our brothers and sisters from Africa, transformed into marketable goods for profit and export. As it was written at the Chapter of Caleruega: ‘Men and women must not be treated as commodities, nor may their lives and work, their culture and potential for, flourishing in society be counted among negotiable tokens in the game of profit and loss. ” [20 5]

Our centres of study should be places in which we are liberated from this reductive view of the world, and where we learn again to wonder in gratitude at the good gifts of God. It is through study, by seeking to understand things and each other, that we recover a sense of astonishment at the miracle of creation. Simon Tugwell OP writes, “When we get to the bottom of things, reaching their very essence with our minds, what we find is the inscrutable mystery of God’s creative act … Really to know something is to find ourselves tipped headlong into a wonder far surpassing mere curiosity. ” (14) The truth does indeed set us free. This intellectual liberation goes hand in hand with the real freedom of poverty. Like Dominic and Thomas we have to become beggars who receive God’s good gifts. The vow of poverty and a closeness to the poor is the proper Dominican context in which to study.

In our struggle to liberate ourselves from this perception of the world, we are helped by being an Order which is truly worldwide. Many cultures do not have a vision of reality which is based upon domination and mastery. Our brothers and sisters from Africa can help us towards a theology which is based more upon mutuality and harmony. The Asian religious traditions can also help us towards a more contemplative theology. We have to be present in these other cultures not just so that we may inculturate the gospel there, but so that they may help us to understand the mystery of creation, and of God the giver of all good things.

The Birth of Community

The Angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God. And behold you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus” (Luke 1:30)

The purpose of our studies is not merely to impart information but to bring Christ to birth in our world. The test of our studies is not so much whether they make us well informed, but whether they make us fertile. Every new born child is a surprise, even to its parents. They cannot know beforehand whom they are bringing into the world. So too our study should prepare us to be surprised. Christ comes among us in every generation in ways that we could never have anticipated and may only slowly recognise as authentic, as it took time for the Church to accept the new shocking theology of St Thomas. In the mountains of Guatemala, in our centre of reflection on inculturation AK’KUTAN in Coban, the brothers and sisters seek to help the Order to be born with the richness of the indigenous culture. In Takamori, behind Mount Fuji, our brother Oshida seeks to bring Christ to birth in the world of Japan, or there is our brother Michael Shines in New Zealand, who has for twenty years been struggling to meld the fertile seeds of Maori spirituality with Christian faith. This may happen in all sorts of ways that are not academic. In Croatia one of our brothers heads a rock band called the ‘Messengers of Hope. ” In Japan I have seen the wonderful paintings of our brothers Petit and Carpentier. Or it may be in the miraculous birth of community in a village in Haiti. How can our preaching bring Christ to birth among the drug addicts of New York or the slums of London? How can the Word become flesh in the words of today, take body in the languages of philosophy and psychology, through our prayer and study? It is for this incarnation of the Word of God in every culture, that the establishment of houses of study, of theological excellence, in every continent, must be a priority of the Order.

I wish to argue that a life of study builds community, and so prepares a home for Christ to dwell among us. There is no more cruel experience of despair than that of utter solitude, the human person introverted upon his or her self. If our society is tempted so often by despair, then maybe it is because this is the dominant image of the human being in our world, the solitary individual in pursuit of his or her own desires and private good. The radical individualism of our time seems like a liberation but it can plunge us into a lonely hopelessness. The community offers us an “ecology of hope”. (15) It is only together that we may dare to hope for a renewed world.

The scholar may seem to be the perfect example of the solitary figure, alone with his or her books or computer screen, and with a sign saying “Do not disturb” on the door. It is true that study will demand of us often that we be alone and struggle with abstract questions. But this is a service that we offer our brothers and sisters. The fruit of this solitary labour is to build community by opening up the mysteries of the Word of God. We learn through study to belong to each other and so to hope.

a) The transformation of mind and heart

Even the very image of the self as utterly alone, an isolated individual, is challenged. For the doctrine of creation shows us that our Creator is more intimately close to us than any being could be, since He is the ever present source of our being. We cannot be alone, because alone we could not even be!

In Western culture there is an obsession with self knowledge. But how can I know myself apart from the one who sustains me in being? St Catherine was deeply modern in inviting her brethren to enter into the “cell of self knowledge “, but that self knowledge was inseparable from a knowledge of God. “We can see neither our own dignity nor the defects which spoil the beauty of our soul, unless we look at ourselves in the peaceful sea of God’s being in which we are imaged. ” (16) Even the moments of utter desolation, of the dark night of the soul, when we seem to be utterly deserted, can be transfigured into moments of meeting: “The night that joins the beloved with her loved one, the night transfiguring the beloved in her loved one ‘s life. ” (17)

Study can never be just the training of the mind; it is the transformation of the human heart. “A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will take out of your flesh the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh” [Ez 36:26] The first General Chapter of the Order at Bologna said that novices are to be taught “how they should be intent on study, so that by day and by night, at home or on a journey, they should be reading or reflecting on something; whatever they can, they should try to commit to memory. ” (18) All the time we are letting our hearts be formed, reading newspapers and novels, watching films and the television. All that we read and see is forming our heart. Do we give it good things to nourish it? Are we moulding it with violence and triviality, giving ourselves a heart of stone?

St Catherine of Siena says of Thomas that “With his mind’s eye he contemplated my Truth ever so tenderly and there gained light beyond the natural. ” (19) Study then teaches us tenderness and even Thomas was a great theologian because he was soft hearted. fr Yves Congar once wrote that his growing illness and paralysis meant that he became increasingly dependent on his brothers. He could do nothing at all without their help. He said “I have understood above all, since I became ill and in constant need of my brothers’ services … that whatever we can preach and say, however sublime it may be, is worthless if not accompanied by praxis, by real, concrete action, of service, and of love. I think that I have been lacking a little of that in my life, I have been a bit too intellectual. ” (20)

When Savanarola talks about St Dominic’s understanding of the scriptures, he says that it was founded on carità, charity. Since it was the love of God which inspired the Scriptures, it is only the loving person who can understand them: “And you, brothers, who wish to understand the scriptures, and who wish to preach: learn charity and she will teach you. Having charity you will understand her. (21)

Study transforms the human heart through its discipline. It is “a form of asceticism by its own perseverance and difficulty” [LCO 83] that belongs to our growth in holiness. It offers us the hard discipline of remaining in our rooms in silence, struggling to understand when we long to escape. One of the innovations of the Order was in offering those especially given to study the solitude of an individual cell, but it is a solitude that can be an asceticism. When we are alone, struggling with a text, then we will think of a thousand valid reasons why we should stop and go and see someone to talk. We will quickly convince ourselves that we have a duty to do so, and that to continue studying would be a betrayal of our vocation and of Christian duty! Yet unless we endure this solitude and silence, we will have nothing of value to give. In the “Letter to Brother John”, we are told “Love your cell by making constant use of it, if you want to be admitted into the wine cellar”, (22) evidently the thirteenth century novice’s idea of paradise! Much study is indeed and inevitably boring. Learning to read Hebrew or Greek is hard and tedious work. Often we will wonder whether it is worthwhile. It is precisely an act of hope, that this labour will bear fruit in ways that we cannot now imagine.

b) Study and the Building of Community in the Order

Study not only should open our hearts to the other but introduce us into a community. To study is to enter into a conversation, with one’s brothers and sisters and with other human beings in our search for the truth that will set us free. Albert the Great wrote of the pleasure of seeking the truth together: “in dulcedine societatis quaerere veritatem. ” (23)

Scholars often reflect the values of our society. Much of academic life is based upon production and competition, as if we were making cars and not seeking wisdom. Universites can be like factories. Articles must pour off the production line, and rivals and enemies must be wiped out. Yet we can never say an illuminating word about God unless we do theology differently, uncompetitively and with reverence. One cannot do theology alone. Not only because no one today would be able to master all the disciplines but because understanding the Word of God is inseparable from building community. Much of the preparation for the Second Vatican Council was done by a community of brothers in Le Saulchoir, especially of Congar, Chenu and Ferret, working together and sharing their insight.

There is a story that while eating with the King of France, Thomas is supposed to have thumped the table and shouted, “That’s settled the Manicheesi” This may suggest that he was not paying much attention to the other guests, but it also shows that theology can be a struggle. We can never build community unless we dare to argue with each other. I must stress, as so often, the importance of debate, argument, the struggle to understand. But one struggles with one’s opponent, like Jacob wrestling with the angel, so as to demand blessing. One argues with an opponent, because you wish to receive what he or she can give you. One wrestles so that the truth can win. We have to argue out of a sort of humility. The other person always has something to teach us and we fight with them so as to receive a gift.

One of my most powerful memories of my year in Paris was of fr Marie Dominique Chenu, the master who was always eager to learn from every one he met, even a ignorant English Dominican! Often, late in the evening, he would return from some meeting with bishops, students, trades unionists, artists, happy to tell you of what he had learnt and to ask what you had learnt that day. The true teacher is always humble. Jordan of Saxony said that Dominic understood everything, “humili cordis intelligencia” (24) , through the humble intelligence of his heart. The heart of flesh is humble, but the heart of stone is impenetrable.

Theology is not just what is done in centres of study. It is the moment of illumination, of new insight, when the Word of God meets our ordinary daily experience of trying to be human, of sin and failure, of trying to build human community and make a just world. All the world of scholarship, of biblical experts, patristic scholars, philosophers and psychologists, are there to help that conversation be fertile and truthful. Good theology happens when, for example, the scripture scholar helps the brother working in pastoral work to understand his experience, and when the brother with pastoral experience helps the scholar to understand the Word of God. The recovery of our theological tradition demands not only that we train more brothers in the various disciplines but that we do theology together. Unless we can build our Provinces as theological communities then our studies may become sterile and our pastoral work superficial. Much of Thomas’ work was answering the questions of the brethren, even rather foolish questions from the Master of the Order ! (25)

Where do we do theology? We need the great theological faculties and the libraries. But we also need centres where theology is done in other contexts, with those who struggle for justice, in dialogue with other religions, in poor slums and hospitals. Especially at this moment in the life of the Church, true study involves the building of community between women and men. A theology which grows solely out of male experience would limp on one leg, breathe with one lung. That is why today we need to do theology with the Dominican Family, listening to each other’s insights, making a theology which is truly human As God says to St Catherine of Siena “I could well have made human beings in such a way that they all had everything, but I preferred to give different gifts to different people, so that they would all need each other. ” (26)

All human communities are vulnerable, liable to dissolve, needing constant reinforcement and repair. One of the ways in which we make and remake community together is through the words that we speak to each other. As servants of the Word of God, we should be deeply aware of the power of our words, a power to heal or to hurt, to build or to destroy. God spoke a word, and the world came to be, and now God speaks the Word that is His Son, and we are redeemed. Our words share in that power. At the heart of all our education and study must be a deep reverence for language, a sensitivity to the words that we offer to our brothers and sisters. With our words we can offer resurrection or crucifixion, and the words that we speak are often remembered, kept in our brothers’ hearts, to be reflected upon, returned to, for good or ill, for years. A word may kill.

Our study should educate us in responsibility, responsibility for the words that we use. Responsibility in the sense that what we say responds to the truth, corresponds to reality. But also we have the responsibility of saying words that build community, that nurture others, that heal wounds, and offer life. St Paul, in prison, wrote to the Philippians, “Finally brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. “[4:8]

c) Study and the Building of a Just World

Our world has seen the triumph of a single economic system. It has become hard to imagine an alternative. The temptation of our generation may be to resign ourselves to the sufferings of this time and to cease to hunger for a world made new. But we preachers must be the guardians of hope. We have been promised the freedom of the children of God, and God will be true to that Word. In San Sisto there is a picture of St Dominic studying, with a dog at his feet holding a candle. In the background another Dominican chases a dog with a stick. The inscription tells us that Dominic did not oppose the devil with violence but with study! Our study prepares us to speak a liberating word. It does this through teaching us compassion, showing us that God is present even in the midst of suffering and it is there that we must forge our theology. It offers us an intellectual discipline that opens our ears to hear God summoning us into freedom.

Felicissimo Martinez OP once described Dominican spirituality as ‘open eyed’. And in the General Chapter of Caleruega, Chris McVey commented, “Dominic was moved to tears and to action by the starving in Palencia, by the innkeeper in Toulouse, by the plight of some women in Fanjeaux. But that is not enough to explain his tears. They flowed from the discipline of an open eyed spirituality that did not miss a thing Truth is the motto of the Order not its defence (as often understood), rather its perception. And keeping one’s eyes open so as not to miss a thing, that can make the eyes smart. ” Our study should be a discipline of truthfulness that opens the eyes. As St Paul says, “Look at the evidence of your eyes. ” [2 Cor 10:7]

It is painful to see what lies before us. It is easier to have a heart of stone. Often enough I have been to places which I have longed to forget, hospital wards of young people in Rwanda with their limbs amputated, the beggars on the streets of Calcutta. How can one bear to see so much misery? Yet we must obey Paul’s command to look at the evidence of our eyes and to see a tortured world. The books which we read must prise open our hearts. Franz Kaflca wrote “I think that we ought to read only the kind of books that wound and stab us … we need the books that effect us like a disaster, that grieve us deeply, like the death of someone whom we love more than ourselves, like being banished into forests far from everyone, like a suicide. A book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us. ” (27)

Yet it is not enough just to see these places of human suffering, and to be the tourists of the world’s crucifixion. These are places in which theology is to be done. It is in these places of Calvary that God may be met and a new word of hope discovered. Think of how much of the greatest theology has been written in prison, from the letter of St Paul to the Philippians, the poems of St John of the Cross, to the letters of Dietrich Bonhoeffer in a Nazi concentration camp. We are, said St John of the Cross, like dolphins who plunge into the dark blackness of the sea to emerge into the brilliance of the light. A refugee camp in Goma or a bed in a cancer ward; these are places where a theology that brings hope may be discovered.

It is not only in situations of extreme anguish that God may be encountered. Vincent de Couesnongle (28) wrote “There can be no hope without fresh air, or oxygen or a new vision. There can be no hope in a stuffy atmosphere. ” (29) Ours has been from the beginning a theology of the city and the market place. St Dominic sent his brothers to the cities, the places of new ideas, of new experiments with economic organisation and democracy, but also where the new poor gathered. Do we dare to let ourselves be disturbed by the questions of the modern city? What is the word of hope that may be shared with young people who face unemployment for the rest of their lives? How may God be discovered in the suffering of an unmarried mother or a frightened immigrant? These too are places of theological reflection. What have we to say to a world become sterile with pollution? Will we let ourselves be interrogated by the questions of the young and enter the minefields of moral issues such as sexual ethics, or do we prefer to be safe?

So then, we must dare to see what is before our eyes; we must believe that it is where God seems most distant and where human beings are tempted by despair that theology may be done. Yet surely, as Dominicans, we must assert a third requirement. Our words of hope will only have authority if they are rooted in a serious study of the Word of God and an analysis of our contemporary society. In 1511 Montesino preached his famous sermon against the oppression of the Indians and asked the question, “Are they not human beings? have they not rational souls? Are you not obliged to love them as you love yourselves? Do you not understand this? Do you not grasp this?” Montesino was inviting his contemporaries to open their eyes, and see the world differently. For clarity, compassion is not enough. Hard study was needed to see through the false mythologies of the conquistadores and it was the source of Las Casas’ prophetic stand.

Chenu commented, “It is extremely suggestive to draw attention to the encounter between the speculative doctrine of this first great master of international law (at this moment when nations were being born outside the pale of the Holy Roman Empire) and the evangelism of Las Casas. The theologian, in Vittoria, envelopes the prophet. ” (30) It is not enough to be indignant at the injustices of this world. Our words will only have authority if they are rooted in serious economic and political analysis of the causes of injustice. St Antoninus grappled with the problems of a new economic order in Renaissance Florence, as in this century Lebret analysed the problems of the new economics. If we are to resist the temptation of easy clichés, then we need some brothers and sisters who are trained in scientific, social, political and economic analysis.

The building of a just society does not demand just the equitable distribution of wealth. We need to build a society in which we may all flourish as human beings. Our world is being reduced to a cultural desert through the triumph of consumerism. The cultural poverty of this dominant perception of the human person is ravaging the whole world, and “the people perish for the lack of a vision. ” [Prov 29:18] (31) There is a hunger not just for food but for meaning. As the Chapter of Oakland said, “To speak truthfully is an act of justice” [ 109]. St Basil the Great says that if we have extra clothes they belong to the poor. One of the treasures that we possess and which our centres of study should preserve and share are the poetry, the stories of our people, the music, and traditional wisdom. All this is a wealth for the building of a human world.

Being a prophet is no excuse for not studying the scriptures. We ponder the Word of God, seeking to know His will rather than to discover evidence that God is on our side. It is easy to use the scriptures as a source book for easy slogans, but the study of God’s Word is the pursuit of a deeper liberation than we could ever imagine. Through the discipline of study we seek to catch the echo of a voice that summons us to an ineffable freedom, God’s own liberty. When Lagrange faced the problems raised by modern historical criticism he quoted the words of St Jerome, “Sciens etprudens, manum misi in ignem” 32 (Knowingly and prudently, 1 put my hand in the fire). Knowing that it might cost him pain and suffering, he plunged his hand into the fire. Lagrange’s commitment to the new intellectual disciplines of his time was a real token of trust that the Word of God would surely show itself to be a truly liberating word, and that we need not fear to pass by the way of doubt and questioning. He submitted the Word of God to rigorous analysis because he trusted that it would show itself to be a word that could never be mastered. Do we dare to share his courage? Do we dare plunge our hands in the fire, or do we prefer not to be disturbed?

The Gift of a Future

“He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his Kingdom there will be no end “And Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I have no husband?” (Luke l: 32 34)

How can this be? How can a virgin give birth to a child? How can a woman of this small and unimportant colony of the Roman Empire give birth to the Saviour of the world? Who could have guessed that the history of this people had the seed of such a future? Two thousand years ago it seemed that David’s line had failed, but unexpectedly he was given a son to sit upon his throne.

Much of our studies are studies of the past. We study the story of the people of Israel, the evolution of the bible, the history of the Church, of the Order, and even of philosophy. We learn about the past. Central to study is the acquisition of a memory. Yet this is not so that we may know many facts. We study the past so as to discover the seeds of an unimaginable future. Just as a virgin or a barren woman becomes pregnant with a child, so our apparently barren world is discovered to be pregnant with possibilities that we had never dreamt of, the Kingdom of God.

“History does more than any other discipline to free the mind from the tyranny of present opinion.” (33) History shows us that things need not be as they are, and that history may open us out to an unexpected future. We discover, in the words of Congar, that there is not only the Tradition, but a multitude of traditions which open up riches of which we had never dreamt. The Second Vatican Council was a moment of new beginning because it was a retelling of the past. We were brought back before the divisions of the Reformation, back before the Middle Ages, to rediscover a sense of the Church prior to the divisions of east and west. It was a memory that set us free for new things.

History introduces us to a wider community than those who just happen to be alive today. We find that we are members of the community of saints and the community of our ancestors. They too have a right to a voice in our deliberations. We test our insights against their witness, and they invite us to a larger vision than we could find in the small confines of our own time.

The retelling of history liberates us not just from present opinion but from the “the rulers of this age. ” [ 1 Cor 2:8] History is normally told from the point of view of the victor, of the strong, of those who build empires, and the history that they tell confirms them in their power. We must learn to tell history from another point of view, from the side of the small and forgotten, and that is a story that sets us free. This is why to remember is a religious act, the primordial religious act of the Jewish and Christian traditions. When we gather to pray to God, we “remember the wonderful works that He has done. ” [Psalm 105:5]

Ultimately we are brought back to the memory of a small and apparently insignificant people, the people of Israel. We tell the story from the point of view not of the great Empires, of the Egyptians or the Assyrians, the Persians, the Greeks or the Romans, but of a tiny people whose history was barely registered in the books of the great and the powerful, yet whose history was pregnant with the birth of the Son of the Most High. And the history in which we discover ourselves is finally that of a virgin who hears the message of the angel and of a man who was nailed up on a cross in a sea of crosses, a man whose story was that of failure. This is the story that we remember in every Eucharist. In this story we learn how to tell the history of humanity and it is a history that does not end on the cross.

Do we dare to tell the history of the Church and even of the Order with such courage? Do we dare to tell a history of the Church which is freed from all triumphalism and arrogance, and which recognises the moments of division and sin? Surely the good news, the ground of our hope, is that God has accepted precisely such fallible, quarrelling people as His people. So often when we learn about Dominican history we are told of the glories of the past. Do we dare to tell of the failures, of the conflicts? The previous archivist of the Order, Emilio Panella OP, wrote a study (32) of what the chronicles do not say, what they omitted. Such a story finally gives us more hope and confidence since it shows that God always works with “earthen vessels to show that the transcendent power belongs to God and not to us. ” [2 Cor 4:7] He may even achieve something through us. At the General Character of Mexico, we dared to remember the fifth centenary of our arrival in the Americas. We remembered not only the great deeds of our brothers, of Las Casas and Montesino, but also the silences and failures of others. But they are all our brothers. Above all we remembered those who were reduced to silence or extinction. We remembered so as to hope for a more just world.

There are memories which are hard to bear, of Dachau and Auschwitz, of Hiroshima and the bombing of Dresden. There are acts so terrible that we would rather forget. What history could be told that could bear all that suffering? And yet at Auschwitz the monument to the dead says, “O earth, cover not their blood. ” Maybe we can only dare to remember and to tell of the past truthfully, if we remember the one who embraced his death, who gave himself to his betrayers, who made of his passion a gift and communion. In that memory we dare to hope. We can know that “history does not ultimately lie in the hands of the slaughterer. The dead can be named; the past must be known. In that naming and knowing, God is to be met, and in God lies the possibility for us of a different world, a different apprehension of power, a voice for the dumb. ” (33) “For the poor shall not always be forgotten: the patient abiding of the meek shall not perish for ever. ” [Psalm 9:18]

St Dominic walked through the countryside singing, not just because he was courageous, and not just because he had a cheerful temperament. Years of study had given him a heart formed to hope. Let us study so as to share his joy.

“History says, Don ‘t hope
on this side of the grave.
But then, once in a lifetime
The longed for tidal wave
Of justice can rise up,
And hope and history rhyme.

So hope for a great sea change
On the far side of revenge.
Believe that a further shore
Is reachable from here.” (34)

End Notes:
l Cecilia Miracula B Dominici IS Archivium Fratrum Praedicatorum XXXVII Rome 1967 p 5 ff
2 Process of Canonisation No 29
3 Simone Weil, Attente de Dieu, Paris 1950 p 71
4 B. Montagnes Le Père Lagrange, Paris 1995 p 57
5 Tomas of Chantrimpé
6 Cornelius Ernst OP Multiple Echo ed Fergus Kerr OP and Timothy Radcliffe OP London 1979 p 1
7 Dante Inferno Canto 1, 40
8 Simone Weil op cit p 71
9 Metaph III lec 3
10 Bernard Montagnes Le Père Lagrange Paris 1995 p 54
11 ST 1A Q. 12, a. 8, AD 1. See the Acts of Caleruega Chapter, 32. This text provoked one of the most passionate debates of the
Chapter. It was good to see the brothers arguing over theology!
12 Confessions III, 6
13 God Matters London 1987 p 241
14. Reflections on the Beatitudes London 1979 p 100
15 Jonathan Sachs, Faith in the Future, London 1995, p 5
16 Letter 226, Catherine of Siena, Passion for Truth, Compassion for Humanity, ed Mary O’Driscoll
OP, New York 1993, p 26
17 St John of the Cross, Canciones de Alma 5
18 Primitive Constitutions 1 13
19 Mary O’Driscoll OP, ibid p 127
20 Allocution de fr. Congar, en remerciement à la Remise du prix de l’Unité chrétienne, 24 Novembre
21 “Dalle Prediche di fra’ Gerolamo Savanarola”, Ed L Ferretti, in Memorie Dominicane XXVII 1910
22 De Modo Studendi
23 In Libr viii Politicorum
24 Libellus 7
25See James A. Weisheipl, Albertus Magnus and the Sciences: Commemorative Essays 1980, pp. 41-42
26 Dialogue 7
27 Letter to Oskar Pollak, 27 January 1904.
28. Master of the Order 1974-1983; died July 1992.
29 Le Courage du Futur ch 8
30 M D Chenu “Prophètes et Théologiens dons l’Eglise, Parole de Dieu” in La Parole de Dieu II, Paris
1964 p 211
31 cf the Jamaican National Anthem
32 BernardMontagnes op. cit., p. 84.
33 Owen Chadwick Origins 1985 p 85
34″Quelle che la Cronica Conventuale non dice” Memorie Dominicane 18, 198,7 227-235
35 Rowan Williams, Open Judgement London 1994, p 242
36 Seamus Heaney, The Cure at Troy: version of Sophocleses’ ‘Philocpetes’, London 1990.

The Identity of Religious Today (1996)

Keynote Address to the U.S. Conference of Major Superiors for Men (CMSM) August 8, 1996

fr. Timothy Radcliffe, o.p.

Many years ago, I remember going to my first meeting of the Conference of Major Superiors for England and Wales. I nervously put on my habit and went down to face the crowds. And on the staircase I was stopped by a fierce sister, whom I had never met before. She looked at me witheringly and said: “You must be insecure if you have to wear that thing!”

Where Have All the Vocations Gone?

We religious have been worrying about our identity for a long while now. Who are we? How do we fit into the fabric and structure of the church? Are we clerical, lay or some special hybrid of our own? I believe that no answer will be helpful unless we start from the fact that we share a crisis of identity with most people of our time. What makes us special? Well, it is certainly not having a crisis of identity. That is just part of the common lot we share with others. It is only worth reflecting upon if it helps us to live the good news for all those other sorry souls who are haunted by the same question: “Who am I?”

Please forgive me if I share with you a few over simplistic observations upon why this question of identity is an obsession of modernity. We have seen a profound social transformation this century, and especially since 1945. In Europe, and I suppose in the States too, we have seen the weakening of all sorts of institutions that gave people an identity, that defined a profession, a role, a vocation. The universities, the medical and legal professions, the trade unions, the Churches, the press, various crafts, all these institutions offered people not just ways of earning a living, a job to do, but a way of being a human being, a sense of vocation. To be a musician, a lawyer, a teacher, a nurse, a carpenter, a plumber, a farmer, a priest etc., was not just to have a job; it was to be someone; one belonged to a body of people with institutions that defined appropriate conduct, that shared a wisdom, a history, and a solidarity.

What we have seen over the last years is the corrosive effect of a new and simpler model of society, for we have all found ourselves members of the global market, buying and selling, being bought and sold. The basic institutions of civil society that sustained the professions and vocations, have lost much of their authority and independence. Like everything else, they must submit to market forces. In England even a football team exists now less to play football than to make a profit.

It became less and less clear that one could choose what to do with one’s life. One had to satisfy the demands of supply and demand. It was not just we religious who lost a sense of vocation; the whole idea of a vocation became problematic. Nicholas Boyle, an English philosopher, wrote, “There are no vocations for anyone anymore; society is not composed of people who have lives which they commit in this or that particular way but of functions to be performed only as long as there is a desire to be satisfied.” ! All these professions and crafts and skills were like little eco systems that offered different ways of being a human being. They have weakened and crumbled, like the fragile habitats of rare toads or snails. Society is becoming homogenised. All one is left with is the individual and the state, or even the consumer and the market. Much simpler but more lonely and vulnerable.

In the Church, I suspect that we have suffered from the blowing of this same cold wind, which left us also with a simpler and less confident community. For the Church too is part of civil society. We had been a complex society, with all sorts of institutions which gave us identity: We too had universities, hospitals, schools, professions and above all religious orders, which offered people vocations, identities which were shored up, respected, and honoured.

The Church had all sorts of hierarchies and structures that counterbalanced each other. To be a Mother Superior or a Catholic Headmistress was to be someone to be reckoned with! Priests quailed as they rang the door bell. But to some extent our Church has gone through a similar transformation to the rest of society. And what we were left with was not just the individual consumer and the State or the Market; but the individual believer and the Hierarchy. We have lost confidence in other identities. And that is perhaps one reason why the question of priesthood, and who is allowed to be one, is such a hot issue for us. Because if you cannot get a foot on that ladder, then you cannot be anyone that really matters.

Who are we religious? How do we fit into the fabric and the structure of the Church? We often try to answer by placing ourselves in terms of that hierarchy. Are we lay or are we clerical, or somewhere half way between the two? Or we may answer by placing ourselves over against the hierarchy, as the prophetic individuals shaking our fists at The Institutional Church. But that is the wrong sort of map. I think that it is rather as if one were to look for the Rockies on a map that gave the boundaries of the States of America. Are they in Colorado or are they in Wyoming? Why cannot we see the mountains?

That map of the Church which is the hierarchy is a good and valid one. We are all on it somewhere. Some of us religious are lay, some priests, and some even bishops! But we cannot use it for locating religious life. It does not show us up for who we are, just as the Rockies are not on that map which is of the state boundaries. And you cannot even get clues as to where they are. Where there are no towns there could well be some mountains. But you need another sort of map if you are to see them clearly.

People often complain of the clericalisation of the Church. It seems paradoxical that at the Second Vatican Council we proclaimed a new theology of the Church; we discovered a theology of the laity; we were all part of the People of God on pilgrimage to the Kingdom. But the Church seemed in fact to grow ever more clerical. Instead of putting this down to a sinister plot, I believe that we should see this in the context of the profound transformation of western culture. In the world of the global market, there is no real place for people to have vocations, whether to teach, to nurse, or to be a religious. A job is just a response to a demand. And so when the Catholic Church entered the modern world with a bang, when Pope John XXIII threw open the windows, a cold wind blew down all sorts of other fragile vocational identities within the Church as well. Faced with the clericalisation of the Church, there are of course steps that can be taken to open up positions of influence to lay people and women, to loose the dominance of a clerical caste. But that is the subject of another lecture.

What I am saying here is that it would be a mistake to think that the answer for our crisis of identity is to abolish all hierarchy and go for a Church which is more like our liberal, individualistic society. That would not give us what we want. What we can see in our own society, on the streets of our great urban wildernesses, is that individualism is cruel. It makes urban deserts in which few can really flourish. Mary Douglas, an anthropologist, argues that women, for example, would do even worse in a more individualistic society. She wrote, “the processes of individualism downgrade the economically unsuccessful, and cannot but create derelicts and beggars. Members of an individualist culture are not aware of their own exclusionary behaviour. The condition of the unintentionally excluded, for example beggars sleeping on the streets, shocks visitors from other cultures.” 2

According to Mary Douglas, a healthy society is one that has all sorts of counterbalancing structures and institutions that give a voice and authority to different groups so that no one way of being human dominates and no single map tells you how things are. Perhaps what we want is not to reproduce the homogenised desert of the consumer world, but to be more like a rain forest which has all sorts of ecological niches for different ways of being a human being. In that sense, we do not want less hierarchy but more. We need lots of institutions and structures that recognise and give a voice and authority to all those various ways of being a member of the people of God, such as women, married couples, academics, doctors, and religious orders. In the Middle Ages it was more like that. The emperor and the nobility, the great abbeys of men and women, the universities and the religious orders, all provided alternative foci of power and identity. We had many more maps upon which people could find themselves.

I read once in Cardinal Newman, and I have never again been able to find where, that the Church flourishes when we give recognition to different forms of authority. He names specifically tradition, reason, and experience. Each demands respect and needs institutions and structures to sustain it. Tradition is safeguarded by the bishops, reason by universities and centres of study, and experience by all sorts of institutions from religious orders to married life where people hear the Word and reflect upon it in their lives. What we want then is not the individualism of the modern urban desert, but something more like a rain forest, with all sorts of ecological niches for strange animals that can thrive and multiply and give praise to God in a thousand different voices.

Who are we religious and what is our vocation in the Church? The answer to that question matters, but not just because it may give us the confidence to carry on and even attract some new vocations. It is important because to address it we must reflect upon that crisis of identity which afflicts most people today; no one is created by God just to be a consumer or a worker, to be sold and bought in the market place like a slave. If we can recover a confidence in our vocation, then we may be able to show something of the human vocation. The issue which we have to address touches upon what it means to be a human being.

Identity as Vocation

I read the other day about a thirteen year old American boy called Jimmy, who got into trouble because he and his family insisted on his right to wear an earring to school. And they did so on the grounds that “Each person has the right to choose who he is.” Of course in a way one wants to cheer on Jimmy. In a sense he is right. It belongs to being someone, having an identity, that one can make significant choices and say “This is me. I will wear those earrings.” But one cannot choose to be absolutely anyone. If I were to decide to put on earrings, leathers, and drive around Rome on a motorbike, I expect that my brethren would object and say: “Timothy, that simply is not you.” At least I hope they would! I can no more decide to be a punk than I can decide to be Thomas Aquinas.

To be someone is to be able to make significant decisions about one’s life, but these somehow must hang together, make a story. To have an identity is for the choices that one makes throughout one’s life to have a direction, a narrative unity. 2 What I do today must make sense in the light of what I did before. My life has a pattern, like a good story. One of the reasons why the professions and crafts were so important for human identity was that they gave a structure to large chunks of a person’s life. A musician or a lawyer or a carpenter is not just something that one does; it is a life, from youth to old age, relaxing and working, in sickness and in health.

But our vocation as religious brings to light the deepest narrative structure of every human life. During my first class as a novice, the novice master drew a large circle on the board and told us: “Well lads, that’s all the theology you need to know. All comes from God and all goes to God.” It turned out to be a bit more complex than that! But the claim of our faith is that every human life is a response to a summons from God to share the life of the Trinity. This is the deep narrative in every human life. I discover who I am in answering that call. What he said to Isaiah he says to me: “the Lord called me before I was born, he named me from my mother’s womb.” A name is not a useful label but an invitation. To be someone is not to choose an identity off the supermarket shelf (hell’s angel, pop star, Franciscan); it is to respond to the one who summons me to life: “Samuel, Samuel” calls the voice in the night. And he answers, “Speak Lord, your servant is listening.”

Jimmy, I hope now with his earrings, is partially right. Identity is about making choices. But it is not just a matter of choosing whom you will be, as one chooses the colour of one’s socks; the choice is to respond to that voice that summons one to life. Identity is a gift, and the story of my life is made up of all those choices to accept or refuse that gift.

Paul writes to the Corinthians, “It is God who has called you to share in the life of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord; and God keeps faith “(1 Cor 1:9). What I wish to suggest to you this morning is that religious life is a particular and radical way of saying “Yes” to that call. In a very stark and naked way, it makes plain the plot of every human life, which is the answering of a summons. In our odd way of life, we make explicit what is the drama of every human search for identity, as every human being tries to catch the echo of the voice of God calling him or her by name. Other Christian vocations, such as marriage, also do this, but differently, as I will suggest below.

Leaving All

When we religious discuss our identity, you can be pretty sure that before long the word “prophetic” will occur. And this is understandable. Our vows are in such a direct contradiction with the values of our society that it makes sense to talk of them as prophetic of the Kingdom. The Apostolic Exhortation Vita Consecrata uses the term. I am delighted when other people use that term of us, but I am reluctant for religious to claim it for ourselves. It could carry a hint of arrogance: “We are the prophets.” Often we are not. And I suspect that true prophets would hesitate to claim that title for themselves. Like Amos, they tend to reject the claim and say “I am neither a prophet nor the son of a prophet.” I prefer to think that we are those who leave behind the usual signs of identity. The rich young man asks Jesus “What do I still lack?” “Jesus said to him, ‘If you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come and follow me.’ When the young man heard this, he went away with a heavy heart; for he was a man of great wealth” (Matt 19:21).

In the first place, our vocation shows something about the human vocation by what we leave behind. We give up many of the things that give identity to human beings in our world; money, status, a partner, a career. In a society in which identity is already so fragile, so insecure, we give up the sorts of things to which human beings look for security, the props of our unsure sense of who we are. We ask incessantly the question: Who are we? But we are those who give up the usual markers of identity. That is who we are! No wonder we have problems!

We do this so as to bring to light the true identity and vocation of every human being. First of all, we show that every human identity is gift. No self created identity is ever adequate to who we are. Every little identity which we can hammer out in this society is just too small. And secondly, we show that human identity is not finally given now. It is the whole story of our lives, from beginning to end and beyond, that shows us who we are.

St. John writes, “Dear friends, we are now God’s children; what we shall be has not yet been disclosed, but we know that when Christ appears we shall be like him for we shall see him as he is” (1 Jn 3: 2f). Throwing away the props is a sign that all human identity is a surprise, a gift, and an adventure.

Let me flesh this out with a few simple examples. This is not, of course, intended to be a complete theology of the vows, but a few suggestions as to how they touch the question of human identity.


In the Dominican Order, when you make profession you put your hands into the hands of your superior and you promise obedience. I suppose that in all our congregations, in one way or another, the crunch comes when you put yourself into the hands of your brothers and sisters and say, “Here I am; send me where you will.”

Erik Erikson defined a sense of identity as “a feeling of being at home in one’s body, a sense of knowing where one is going, and an inner anticipated recognition from those who count”. A Well, obedience neatly wipes out that sense of knowing where you are going. One is given the glorious liberty of not knowing where one is headed. The religious is a person who is liberated from the burden of having a career.

A career is one of the ways that human beings tell the longer story of their lives and so glimpse who they are. A career, for those lucky enough to have one, gives a sequence and a structure to the stages of a person’s life, as they move up the ladder, whether it is in a university, the army, or the bank. We do not have that.. However many times we might be elected to office, we go up no ladder. When I made profession, on the 29 September 1966, my career ended. I am and can only ever be, a friar. I believe that there is a legal document in France which includes in the list of those “without profession”: priests and prostitutes. I remember as a university chaplain, my role was to be the one person on the campus without a role, who “loitered with intent,” as the English police say when they arrest suspicious characters.

And we are not only at the summons of our brothers and sisters to go where we are sent; we are obedient to the voices of those who call upon us in various ways. I remember a French Dominican who came to Oxford to learn Bengali. He had been a worker priest for sixteen years, making cars for Citroen, or more often than not leading strikes and making sure that cars were not produced! But now Nicholas and his provincial came to the conviction that his life had entered a new stage, and that he would go to Calcutta and live with the very poorest people. And I remember asking him what he intended to do there. And he replied that that was not for him to say. They would tell him what he was to do.

The summons may come via the most surprising people. Our brethren in Vietnam have suffered many years of persecution, imprisonment, and often having to hide among the people. One of them, a lovely man called Francis, after hiding for a while, was finally caught by the police and imprisoned. And he said to his captors, “We should thank you. For we Dominicans had been living together, but when you came for us you sent us among the people.”

The vow of obedience summons us beyond all the identities that a career could ever give us, and so beyond all the identities that we could ever construct. It points to an identity which is open to all those whose lives go nowhere, who never have a career, who never hold down a job or pass an exam or be a success. Our renunciation of a career is a sign that all human lives do ultimately go somewhere, however much they may appear to come to a dead end, for there is a God who faithfully summons each of us to life.

Every year the Justice and Peace Commission of the Irish Conference of Major Religious Superiors produces a critique of the government’s budget, and ministers tremble as they await it. But one day, after a particularly savage report, the Prime Minister, Charlie Haughey, dismissed it, saying that it was hard to take seriously criticisms made by a group that called itself both major and superior. They took note and changed their name to the Conference of Religious. Not that I am dropping a hint!


The vow of chastity can be so hard to live because it touches so many aspects of our identity. I presume that this will be treated at length by the other speakers, and so I will only say a brief word.

For most human beings, the most fundamental sign of their identity is that there is another person for whom they are central; their husband, wife, or partner. This we do not have. However many people I may love and who may love me, I do not and cannot define myself by such a relationship. That is such a loss, such a deprivation that I do not believe it can be lived fruitfully unless one’s life is deeply nurtured by prayer.

One of the most painful things, at least for me, is that one gives up the possibility of having children. In some societies that means that one can never be accepted as a man. I remember the desolation of a newly ordained priest who went to celebrate the Eucharist at a convent in Edinburgh. When the front door was finally answered, the sister looked at him and said, “Oh, it’s you father; I was expecting a man.”

It also reminds me of an American brother, one of whose names was Mary, following a pious Irish custom. He was sounding off about how the world was filled with weirdos and perverts these days. And a brother put down the paper he was reading and said: “Come on; why do you think you’re so normal. You are called Mary and you are wearing a skirt.”

One gives up father, mother, brother, sister, the whole defining network of human relationships that gives one a name and a place in the world.

I visited Angola during the civil war. I shall never forget a meeting with the postulants of the brothers and sisters in the capital, Luanda. They were cut off from their families by the conflicts which surrounded the city, and they were faced with a moral dilemma. Should they try to cross the war zone to find their families and support them during this terrible time, or should they remain with the Order? For Africans, with their deep sense of family and tribe, this was a terrible situation. And I shall never forget the young sister who stood up and said, “Leave the dead to bury the (lead; we must stay to preach the Gospel.”

So then, our lives are marked by a Great absence, a void. But this makes no sense unless it is lived joyfully, as part of a love story, that is the deep mystery of every human life. It must either be lived passionately, as a sign of that love of God which calls every human being to the fullness of life, or else it is barren and sterile.

So in our vow of chastity, we should be a sign of what is the destiny of every human being. Everyone is summoned by that love, even of those whose lives seem barren of affection, who have no spouse, no family, no children, no tribe, no clan, the utterly alone.


The vow of poverty, of course, goes to the heart of what gives people identity in the world of the global market. It is the renunciation of the status which comes with income, the ability to be someone who buys and sells. It calls us to be a real countersign in our culture of money. Of course we are not often that. As I write these words high on a hill above the Tiber in our enormous old priory of Santa Sabina, I can see a little shack on the bank of the river where a family is living and hanging out their washing. If it rains and the river rises, their house will be swept away. I look at them, and I blush to think how they see us.

I am reminded of how one of our provinces concluded a week’s discussion on the vow of poverty with a slap up meal in an expensive restaurant. And one of the brothers remarked, “Well, if the week on poverty ends here, where we will all be next year after the week discussing chastity!”

But everywhere during my travels I have come across communities of men and women religious, of all congregations, sharing the lives of the poor, who are living signs that no human life is destined to end on a rubbish dump, that ever, human being has the dignity of a child of God. This Christmas I celebrated the midnight Eucharist with one of our brothers, Pedro, who literally lives on the streets of Paris. lie celebrated the feast with a thousand tramps in a big tent, on an altar made of cardboard boxes, to symbolise that Christ was born that night for everyone who lives in cardboard boxes under the bridges of Paris. When he pulled the cork of the bottle of wine for the offertory, cheers rang out from around the congregation!

In each of these vows we see how some pillar of human identity is left behind, surrendered. We give up the usual things that tell us who we are, and that we matter and that our lives are going somewhere. No wonder we get unsure about our identities. But maybe our freedom is not to even care about who we are. We should be much more interested in who God is. As Thomas Merton once wrote: “You have called me here not to wear a label by which I can recognise myself in some category. You do not want me to be thinking about what I am, but about who you are. Or rather, you do not even want me to be thinking about anything much for You would raise me above the level of thought. And if I am always trying to figure out what I am and where I am and why I am, how will that work be done?” 5

In his autobiography, The Long Walk to Freedom, Nelson Mandela describes his great pride and joy when he bought his first house in Johannesburg. It was not much, but he had become a man. A man must own land and beget children. But because of his struggle for his people, he hardly lived in that house or saw his family. He made an option for something very like our vows. He wrote, “It was this desire for the freedom of my people to live their lives with dignity and self respect that animated my life, that transformed a frightened young man into a bold one, that drove a law abiding attorney to become a criminal, that turned a family loving husband into a man without a home, that forced a life living man to live like a monk. I am not more virtuous or self sacrificing than the next man, but I found that I could not even enjoy the poor and limited freedom I was allowed when I knew my people were not free. Freedom is indivisible the chains on any one of my people were the chains on all of them, the chains on all my people were the chains on me.” 6

Mandela lost his wife, his family, his freedom, his career, wealth and status, from a great hunger for the liberation of his people. His imprisonment was a sign of the hidden dignity of his people which would one day be revealed. Few religious communities are quite as tough as Robben Island, but we too leave behind much that could give us identity, as a sign of the hidden dignity of those who have died in Christ. For, as Paul writes to the Colossians, “You died; and now your life lies hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life is revealed, then you too will be revealed with him in glory” (3:3f).

On Easter Morning, Peter and the beloved disciple sprint to the empty tomb. Peter just sees a loss, the absence of a body. The other disciple sees with the eyes of one who loves, and he sees a void filled with the presence of the Risen One. Our lives too may seem to be marked by absence and loss but those who see with the eyes of love may see them filled with the presence of the Risen Lord.

I do not wish to make an exclusive claim for our vocation as religious men and women. All human vocations, as doctors, teachers, social workers etc, say something about that human vocation which is to answer the call of the God who summons us to the Kingdom. What is specific about our vocation is that it shows this universal destiny through a leaving behind of other identities. The Apostolic Exhortation on Vita Consecrata speaks of us as “eschatological symbols.” And that is surely true. Besides, it appeals to me. It would be nice to be able to put on your passport application, under profession, “eschatological symbol.” But one could argue that even more than us, it is matrimony that is the eschatological symbol. It is the consummation of love, this sabbath of the human spirit when two people rest in mutual love, that gives us a symbol of the Kingdom for which we long. Perhaps we are a sign of the journey and the married couple of the destiny.

An Ecology for Flourishing

I have tried to give a definition of the identity of religious life. It is a paradoxical definition, because it defines us as those who give up identity as understood by our society. But we cannot stop here (much as you may wish to!). In our society, which is hostile to the whole idea of vocation, and which is subverting the sense of identity and vocation of every human being, a neat definition is not enough. It would be like trying to comfort tigers threatened with extinction with a nice definition of tigerhood.

In this human desert which is the global marketplace, we need to build a context in which religious can actually flourish and be vital invitations to walk in the way of the Lord. What a particular religious order or congregation does is to offer such a context. In today’s world, we may be tempted to think of religious Orders as being like competing multinationals: Do you buy High Octane Jesuit gas or Green Lead Free Franciscan gas? But the image that comes more readily to my mind is of each institute as being like a mini ecosystem which sustains a weird form of life. To flourish as a butterfly you need more than a nice definition; you need an ecological context that will get you from egg to caterpillar, and from cocoon to butterfly. Some butterflies need nettles, ponds and some rare plant, otherwise they cannot make it. For another form of butterfly, the presence of sheep droppings seems to be vital. Each religious congregation differs in offering a different ecological niche for a strange way of being a human being. I shall resist the temptation to think which forms of butterflies our various orders bring to mind, for the moment anyway!

A religious order is like an environment. Building religious life is like making a nature reserve on an old building site. You have to plant a few nettles here, dig a pond there, and so on. What do our brothers and sisters need to flourish on that journey, as they leave behind career, wealth, status, and the assurance of a single partner? What do they need as they make that hard pilgrimage from novitiate to grave? Each congregation will have its own requirements, its own ecological necessities, its own identity.

And this brings me to an apparent paradox: I have defined the identity of religious life as being in the giving up of identity, leaving behind the props and markers that tell people who they are. And yet our orders and congregations do offer us identities. We each have our distinctive styles. That is why you have all those terrible jokes about Jesuits, Franciscan, and Dominicans changing light bulbs!

I remember that when I told a Benedictine great uncle of mine that I intended to become a Dominican, he look hesitant and said, “Are you sure that that is a good idea? Aren’t they supposed to be rather intelligent?” And then he paused and said, “No, come to think of it, I have known lots of stupid Dominicans.”

But the paradox is only apparent. Each congregation does offer an identity, but it is a particular way of walking after the Lord, a particular way of self forgetfulness. A Carmelite should be happy to be one, not because it gives him status but because it is a particular way of giving it up. I need to delight in my Order, with its stories, its saints, its traditions, so that I can grow in the courage to give up gill that our society finds important. I love the story of Blessed Reginald of Orleans, one of the earliest friars, who said when he was dying that being a Dominican had gained him no merit because he had enjoyed it so much. I need stories like that to encourage me to flourish as a poor, chaste, and obedient friar, to rejoice in it as a liberty and not a prison. I need stories like that to liberate me from self preoccupation.

That is why I have great sympathy with the young religious who today often demand clear signs of their identity as members of a religious order. The adventure for my generation who grew up with a strong sense of Catholic and even Dominican identity, was to cast off the symbols that set us apart from others, like the habit, and immerse ourselves in modernity, let ourselves be tested by its doubts, and share its questions.

And this was right and fruitful. But the young who come to us today often are the children of that modernity, and they have been haunted by its questions since childhood. They have sometimes other needs, clear signs of being a member of a religious community, to sustain them in this very odd way of being a human being.

A final remark: We need an environment in which we are sustained in personal growth. The fact that we are called to leave behind those things which our society considers to be symbols of status and identity does not mean that we are absolved from the difficulties of growing into mature and responsible human beings. We all know brothers who want ever more expensive computers while claiming that the vow of poverty excuses them from worrying about money.

What we can see with our own eyes is that giving up family and power and wealth and self determination does not make us into wimps. No one could say that Nelson Mandela is a weak personality! But that growth into maturity will demand that we pass through moments of crisis. Do our communities sustain us then? Do they help us to live these moments of death as times of rebirth too? When an old monk was asked what they do in the monastery, he replied, “Oh, we fall and get up, we fall and get up, we fall and get up.” 2 We need an environment in which we can fall and get up, as we stagger along to the Kingdom.


Let me conclude by summing up in one minute the journey that we have made in this lecture.

The question that I was asked was this: What is the identity of religious life today? I answer this by saying that we must place this in the context of a society in which most people suffer from a crisis of identity. The global market wipes out all sense of vocation, whether you are a doctor, a priest, or a bus driven

The value of being a religious is that it gives vivid expression to the destiny of every human being. For every human being discovers his or her identity in answering the summons of God to share the divine life. We are called to give particular and radical expression to that vocation by leaving behind any other identity that could seduce our hearts. Other vocations, such as marriage, give alternative expressions to that human destiny.

But, I concluded that it is not enough to stop with a nice definition. We need more than that to keep us going on the journey. Each religious order or congregation should offer the necessary environment to sustain us on the way. And if we are not to be seduced by the consumer society, if we are to offer islands of a counter culture, then we must work very hard to build that environment in which our brothers and sisters can flourish as we journey.

1. ‘Understanding Thatcherism,’New Blackfriars, p. 320. 2 In the Wilderness: The doctrine of Defilement in the Book of Numbers, Sheffield 1993,p. 46. 3 cf Alasdaie MacIntyre, After Virtue: A Study of Moral Theory, London 1981, ch 15. 4 Quoted by Theodore Zeldin, An Intimate History ofHumanity, London 1995, p. 380. 5 Epilogue: Meditatio Pauperis in solitudine. 6 The Long Walk to Freedom, p. 750.

2. Quoted by Joan Chichester, OSB, The Fire in These Ashes, Kansas City 1995, p. 7.

Dominican Freedom and Responsibility. Towards a Spirituality of Government (1997)

Rome,10 May 1997, Feast of St Antoninus OP

fr. Timothy Radcliffe, o.p.

Dominic, a man of freedom and government

Dominic fascinates us by his freedom. It was the freedom of the poor itinerant preacher, the freedom to found an Order unlike any that had existed before. He was free to scatter the fragile little community which he gathered around him and send them to the Universities, and free to accept the decisions of brothers in Chapter, even when he disagreed with them. It was the freedom of the compassionate person, who dared to see and to respond.

The Order has always flourished when we have lived with Dominic’s freedom of heart and mind. How can we renew today the freedom that is properly and deeply Dominican? It has many dimensions: a simplicity of life, itinerancy, prayer. In this letter I wish to focus on just one pillar of our freedom, which is good government. I am convinced, after visitating so many Provinces of the Order, that typical Dominican freedom finds expression in our way of government. Dominic did not leave us a spirituality embodied in a collection of sermons or theological texts. Instead we have inherited from him and those earliest friars, a form of government that frees us to respond with compassion to those who hunger for the Word of God. When we offer our lives for the preaching of the gospel, we take in our hands the book of the Rule and Constitutions. Most of those Constitutions are concerned with government.

This may appear surprising. In contemporary culture, it is usually assumed that government is about control, about limiting the freedom of the individual. Indeed many Dominicans may be tempted to think that freedom lies in evading the control of meddlesome superiors! But our Order is not divided into “the governors” and “the governed”. Rather government enables us to share a common responsibility for our life and mission. Government is at the basis of our fraternity. It forms us as brothers, free to be “useful for the salvation of souls” . When we accept a brother into the Order we express our confidence that he will be capable of taking his place in the government of his community and province, and that he will contribute to our debates and help us to arrive at and implement fruitful decisions.

The temptation of our age is towards fatalism, the belief that faced with the problems of our world we can do nothing. This passivity can infect religious life too. We share Dominic’s freedom when we are so moved by the urgency to preach the gospel that we dare to take difficult decisions, whether to undertake a new initiative, close a community or endure in an apostolate that is hard. For this freedom, good government is necessary. The opposite of government is not freedom but paralysis.

In this letter I will not try to make detailed observations about the application of the Constitutions. That is the responsibility of the General Chapters. Rather I wish to suggest how our Constitutions touch some of the deepest aspects of our religious life: our fraternity and our mission. It is not enough simply to apply the Constitutions as if they were a set of rules. We need to develop what might be called a spirituality of government, so that through it we grow together as brothers and preachers.

These comments will be based upon my experience of government by the brethren. So what I have to say will not always be applicable to the other branches of the Dominican Family. I hope, however, that it will be helpful for our nuns, sisters and laity as you face analagous challenges.

“The Word became flesh and dwelt among us full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son of the Father” (John 1.14). These words of John will help to structure these very simple reflections on government. It may seem absurd to take such a rich theological text as the basis of an exploration of government. I wish to show how the challenge of good government is to make flesh among us that grace and truth.

1. The Word that comes among us is “full of grace and truth”.
The first section of the letter reflects upon the purpose of all government, which is that we be liberated for the preaching of the gospel. All government in the Order has the common mission as its goal.

2. This Word “dwells among us”.
In the second section of the letter, we consider the fundamental principles of Dominican government. Central to our practice of government is that we meet in chapter, engage in debate, vote and take decisions. But these meetings will be nothing more than mere administration at the best, and party politics at the worst, unless they belong to our welcoming of the Word of God who would make his home among us. Government needs to be nourished by lived fraternity.

3. This Word of God became flesh.
Finally, this beautiful theory of government must become flesh in the complex reality of our lives, in our priories, provinces and the whole Order. In the last section I will share a few observations on the relationship between the different levels of responsibility in the Order.

1. The Word was made flesh, “full of grace and truth”
The purpose of Dominican Government

1.1 Freedom for the mission

In St Catherine’s vision the Father says of Dominic, “He took the task of the Word, my only begotten Son. Clearly he appeared as an apostle in the world, with such truth and light did he sow my word, dispelling the darkness and giving light.” All government within the Order has as its goal the bringing forth of the Word of God, the prolongation of the Incarnation. The test of good government is whether it is at the service of this mission. That is why, from the beginning of the Order a superior has had the power of dispensation from our laws, “especially when it seems to him to be expedient in those matters which seem to impede study, preaching or the good of souls” .

Fundamental to the life of the brethren is that we gather in Chapter, whether conventual, provincial or general, to take decisions about our lives and mission. From the beginning of the Order we have arrived at these decisions democratically, by debate leading to voting. But what makes this democratic process properly Dominican is that we are not merely seeking to discover what is the will of the majority, but what are the needs of the mission. To what mission are we sent? The Fundamental Constitution of the Order makes quite explicit this link between our democratic government and the response to needs of the mission: “This communitarian form of government is particularly suitable for the Order’s development and frequent renewal … This continual revision of the Order is necessary, not only on account of a spirit of perennial Christian conversion, but also on account of the special vocation of the Order which impels it to accommodate its presence in the world for each generation” (VII).

Our democratic institutions enable us to grasp responsibility or to evade it. We are free to take decisions that may turn our lives upside down, or we may settle for inertia. We can elect superiors who may dare to ask more of us than we feel we may give, or we choose a brother who will leave us in peace. But let us be clear about this: our democracy is only Dominican if our debating and voting is an attempt to hear the Word of God summoning us to walk in the way of discipleship.

Every institution can be tempted to make its perpetuation its ultimate aim. A company that makes cars does not exist out of a compassionate desire to respond to humanity’s need for cars, but so that the organisation may itself expand and grow. We too may fall into this trap, and especially if we talk about our own institutions in terms which derive from the world of business: the provincial and council may become “The Administration”, and the syndic the “Business Manager”! The brethren may even be referred to as “personnel”. What mother, announcing the birth of a new child, says that the personnel of the family has increased? But our institutions exist for another purpose, outside ourselves, which is to mobilise the brethren for the mission.

There is a story told in The Lives of the Brethren, of how a great lawyer in Vercelli came running to Jordan of Saxony, threw himself down before him, and all he could say was “I belong to God”. Jordan replied “Since you belong to God, in His name we make you over to Him”. Each brother is a gift from God, but he is given to us so that we may give him away, in forming him for the mission and freeing him to preach.

The beginning of all good government is attentiveness, listening together for the Word of God, opening our ears to the needs of the people. In a thirteenth-century Dominican blessing, the brethren prayed for the Holy Spirit, “to enlighten us and give us eyes to see with, ears to hear with, and hands to do the work of God with, and a mouth to preach the word of salvation with, and the angel of peace to watch over us and lead us at last, by our Lord’s gift, to the Kingdom.”. Whenever we gather in Council or Chapter, we pray for the Holy Spirit, that we may have eyes to see and ears to hear, but what we see and hear may well summon us where we would rather not go. Compassion may turn our lives upside down.

And if mission is the end of all government, then what is its beginning? Surely it is that “we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son of the Father”. If government is the exercise of responsibility, then this ultimately expresses our response to the one who has revealed his glory to us. Contemplation of the only begotten Son is the root of all mission, and so the mainspring of all government. Without this stillness there is no movement. All government brings us from contemplation to mission. Without it, then we practise mere administration.

1.2 The task of government is the common mission

The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us. The Word of salvation gathers us together into communion, in the Trinity and with each other. In that Word we find our true freedom, which is the freedom to belong to each other in grace and truth. The good news that we preach is that we may find our home in the life of the Triune God.

If the preaching of the gospel is the summons to communion, then the preacher can never be a solitary person, engaged just in his or her mission. All of our preaching is a sharing in a common task, the invitation to belong in the common home. If the end of government in the Order is the mission of preaching, then its principal challenge is in gathering the brethren into the common mission, the mission of the Order and of the Church. The disciples are not sent out alone.

Nothing so cripples good government as an individualism, by which a brother may become so wedded to “my project”, “my apostolate”, that he ceases to be available for the common mission of the Order. This privatisation of the preaching not only makes it hard for us to evolve and sustain common projects. More radically it may offer a false image of the salvation to which we are called, unity in grace and truth. Ultimately it is a surrender to a false image of what it means to be truly human: the solitary individual whose freedom is that of self-determination, liberated from the interference of others.

One of the principal challenges of government is to refuse to let the common mission of the Order be paralysed by such an individualism. That freedom of Dominic, which we think of as so characteristic of the Order, is not the freedom to plough our own furrow, free from the intervention of superiors. It is the freedom to give ourselves, without reserve, with the mad generosity of the Word made flesh.

Some forms of preaching the gospel cannot be easily shared. For example, a brother or sister who preaches through writing poetry, through painting, or even through research, may often have to labour alone. Even then we must show that they are not just “doing their own thing”, that they too are contributing to common mission. The Order is most often alive when it harnesses the dynamism of the brethren. Sometimes the most liberating thing that a superior can do is to command a brother to do what he most deeply wishes and is able to do. Sometimes the common mission may demand of us that we accept tasks we would not have chosen, that we give up a cherished apostolate for the common good. We need not only preachers and pastors, but bursars and secretaries, superiors and administrators. But this too is part of the preaching of that Word who gathers us into community.

2. The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us
The basic principles of Dominican government

The Constitutions tell us that “the primary reason why we are gathered together is that we may dwell in unity, and that there may be in us one mind and one heart in God” (LCO 2.i). This may appear to contradict the fundamental purpose of the Order, which is that we are sent out to preach the Word of God. In fact it is a healthy and necessary tension which has always marked Dominican life. For the grace and truth that we are sent to preach we must live together, otherwise we will have nothing to say. The common mission which we share is grounded in the common life we live.

This tension is found in our government. For if the end of all government is that the brethren be freed for preaching, yet it is founded on our fraternity. Unless we seek to live together in unity of heart and mind, then our democracy will fail. In her vision, the Father says to St Catherine that the ship of St Dominic is one in which “both the perfect and the not-so-perfect fare well.” The Order is a home for sinners. And this means that to build good government, it is never enough just to apply the Constitutions, to hold Chapters, to vote and take decisions. T S Eliot tells us of people who are “dreaming of systems so perfect that no one will need to be good”. Our system of government ultimately is grounded upon a search for virtue. The flesh must become word and communion, and the mixed group of individuals that we are a community.
2.1 Power, Authority and Responsibility

Good government depends upon a right living of our relationships of power, authority and responsibility. It may seem strange that I do not include a section on obedience. This is because I have already written about obedience at length in my Letter to the Order “Vowed to Mission”. This letter will be quite long enough without my repeating what I have written elsewhere! Also, virtually all that I write in this letter about government comments upon the implications of our vow of obedience, through which we give ourselves unconditionally to the common mission of the Order.

Our common life confronts us inevitably with the question of power. We do not usually like to speak of power, unless we feel that it is being misused. The word seems almost inappropriate for the relationship of brotherhood which unites us. Yet every human community is marked by relationships of power, and Dominican communities are not exempt. When we make profession we place ourselves into the hands of the brethren. Our brethren will take decisions about our lives that we may not welcome, and which we may even feel are unjust. We may be assigned to places to which we do not wish to go, or elected to positions of responsibility which we do not wish to hold.

Every brother has power, by what he says or does not say, and by what he does or does not do. All the issues we shall address in this letter – the democracy of the chapter, voting, the relationship of the different levels of government in the Order – all explore aspects of the power that we all have in our relationships with one another. And if our preaching is to have power then we must live these relationships of power openly, healthily and in accordance with the gospel.

The life of Jesus shows a paradoxical relationship to power. He was the man of powerful words, who summoned the disciples to follow him, who healed the sick, cast out demons, raised the dead and dared to confront the religious authorities of his time. And yet he was the powerless one who refused the protection of the sword of Peter, and who was hung upon a cross.

With this strong and vulnerable man, power was always healing, and life-giving. It never cast down, diminished, made little, destroyed. It was not a power over people, so much as a power that he gave to them. Indeed he was most powerful precisely in refusing to be a channel of violence, in bearing it in his body, in letting it stop with him. He took his passion and death into his own hands, and made it fruitful, a gift, Eucharist.

Good government in our communities demands that we live relationships of power in this way, granting power to our brothers rather than undermining them. This demands of us the courage to be vulnerable. Josef Pieper wrote, “Fortitude presumes vulnerability; without vulnerability there is no possibility of fortitude. An angel cannot be courageous because it is not vulnerable. To be brave means to be ready to sustain a wound. Since human beings are substantially vulnerable, then we can be courageous.” Our government invites to live such a courageous vulnerability.

All government is dependent upon the exercise of authority. The fact that the supreme authority of the Order is the General Chapter is a recognition of the fact that for us authority is granted to all the brethren. The sequence of our General Chapters, of diffinitors and provincials, suggests that for us authority is multifaceted. Superiors enjoy authority in virtue of their office; theologians and thinkers by virtue of their knowledge; brothers engaged in pastoral apostolates enjoy authority because of their contact with people in their struggle to live the faith; the older brothers enjoy authority because of their experience; younger brethren have an authority which comes from their knowledge of the contemporary world with its questions.

Good government works well when we acknowledge and respect the authority that each brother has, and refuse to absolutise any single form of authority. If we were to make absolute the authority of superiors, the Order would cease to be a fraternity; if we were to absolutise the authority of the thinkers, then we would become just a strange academic institution; if we were to absolutise the authority of the pastors, then we would betray our mission in the Church; if we were to make indisputable the authority of the old, then we would have no future; if we were to give authority only to the young, then we would have no roots. The health of our government depends on allowing the interplay of all the voices that make up our community.

Furthermore, we are part of the Dominican Family. This means that we also are called to be attentive to the voice of our nuns, sisters and laity. They too must have authority in our deliberations. The nuns have an authority which derives from lives dedicated to contemplation; our sisters have an authority which comes from their lives as women with a vast variety of pastoral experience. Often they can teach us much through their closeness to the people of God, especially the poor. Increasingly too, there are sisters who have a theological training who have much to teach us. The laity have an authority because of their different experiences, knowledge, and sometimes marriage and parenthood. Part of what we offer to the Church lies in being a community in which each of those authorities should be recognised.

All government is the exercise of our shared responsibility for the life and mission of the Order. Its foundation is the confidence that we should have in each other. When St Dominic sent out the young friars to preach, the Cistercians were scandalised at his confidence in them, and he told them “I know, I know for certain, that my young men will go out and come back, will be sent out and will return; but your young men will be kept locked up and will still go out”.

The aim of all our formation is to form brethren who are free and responsible, and that is why the Constitutions say that the person who has primary responsibility for his formation is the candidate himself (LCO 156). Our government is founded upon a trust in the brethren. We show our trust in accepting a brother for profession; that same trust is present in the election of superiors. Superiors too must trust the brethren whom they appoint to posts of responsibility. Sometimes we will be disappointed, but that is no reason to renounce that fundamental mutual confidence. As Simon Tugwell OP wrote, “In the last analysis, if Dominicans are to do their job properly, they have got to be exposed to certain hazards, and they have got to be trusted to cope with them – and the Order as a whole has got to accept that some, perhaps many, individuals will abuse this trust” .

Such a trust demands that we overcome fear, fear of what may happen if the brethren are not controlled! We must form the brethren to live with that freedom of Dominic. As Felicísimo Martínez OP says, “There is no greater service to a person than to educate him or her to freedom … The fear of freedom may be rooted in the good-will of those who feel responsible for others, and it can be legitimated by an appeal to realism, but this makes it no less a lack of faith in the vigour and force of the Christian experience. Fear and the lack of faith always go hand in hand”.

Fear destroys all good government. St Catherine wrote to Pope Gregory XI, “I desire to see you free of any servile fear, for I am aware that the fearful person does not persevere in the strength of holy resolution and good desire. … Father, get up courageously, because I tell you, there is nothing to fear!” Fear is servile, and therefore is incompatible with our status as the children of God, and brothers and sisters of each other. It is above all wrong in a superior, who is called to help his brothers grow in confidence and fearlessness.

But this confidence that we have in each other is not an excuse for mutual neglect. Because I have confidence in my brother, it does not mean that I can forget about him and let him just go his own way. If good government gives us shared responsibility, then it is rooted in the mutual responsibility that we are called to have for each other. When we make profession we place our hands in those of a brother. It is a gesture of extraordinary vulnerability and tenderness. We hand our life over to our brothers, and we do not know what they will do with it. We are in each other’s hands.

The Lives of the Brethren tell us about a certain Tedalto whose vocation passed through a hard time. “Everything that he saw and felt seemed like the second death to him.” He had joined the Order as a pleasant and calm man, but now he had become so bad tempered that he even hit the subprior with the Psalter. This is an experience that we have all had! Even though we may consider that Tedalto should never have been accepted into the Order, Jordan of Saxony refused to give up on him, and prayed with him until his heart was healed. In accepting a brother for profession we accept a responsibility for him, for his happiness and flourishing. His vocation is our common concern.

Do we always fight for our brother’s vocation? If a brother passes through a time of crisis, do I look the other way? Do I pretend that respect for his privacy can justify my negligence? Am I afraid to hear the doubts that he may share with me? I hope that if ever I am driven to hitting the subprior with the breviary, then my brothers will have care for me! Also I must have the confidence, in times of crisis, to share with my brethren, confident of their understanding and mercy.

As preachers of the Word made flesh, we have a special responsibility for the words that we speak. The Word must become flesh above all in the words of “grace and truth”. The Primitive Constitutions ordain that the novice-master must teach the novices “never to speak about people who are absent except to speak well of them”. (I. 13) This is not a pious squeamishness, which flies from facing the reality of what our brethren are actually like. It is an invitation to speak words of “grace”, a recognition of the power of our words to hurt, to destroy, to subvert and undermine our brothers.

It is just as much a challenge to learn to speak words of truth. Fundamental to our democracy is that we dare to speak truthfully to each other, that we dare to bring to word the tensions and conflicts that hurt the common life and impede the common mission. If we do so, then often it may be with anyone except the brother concerned. If we are disturbed by the behaviour of our brother, then we must dare to talk truthfully with him, gently and fraternally. Chapter is not always the first place in which to do so this. We must dare to knock on his door and speak alone with him (Matt 18.15). We must take the time to speak to each other, especially those from whom we are estranged. Communication in the Chapter will depend upon a vast labour of communication outside. If we make that effort, then we will have strengthened the fraternity between us so that hard questions can be addressed together. Then we will be able to have those open debates about our common life, about how we fail and can grow, which were the aim of the old Chapter of faults. The General Chapter of Caleruega (43,2) makes some excellent recommendations as to how this may happen today.

One of the signs that there is confidence in the brethren is when we are prepared to elect them to positions of responsibility even when they are young or inexperienced. Jordan was chosen to be Provincial of Lombardy when he was just over a year in the Order, and Master after two years. What an extraordinary sign of trust in a man who today would not even have made solemn profession. Sometimes in the Order we may find older men hanging on to responsibility, perhaps out of fear for what the young may do and where they may take us. And often these “young” are not so very young anyway, certainly old enough to be fathers of families and hold important positions in the secular world. Sometimes they are even not much younger than I am! But our formation and mode of government should make us dare to entrust our lives to brothers who will take us we know not where. At profession a brother may place his hands in ours. But accepting him, as a brother with a voice and vote, means that we too have placed ours in his.

2.2. Democracy

When I was asked during a television interview in France what was central to our spirituality, I was almost as surprised as the interviewer when I replied “democracy”. Yet it is central to our lives. To be a brother is to have a voice and a vote. Yet we do not have votes merely as groups of private individuals, seeking compromise decisions that will leave each person with as much private freedom as possible. Our democracy should express our brotherhood. It is one expression of our unity in Christ, a single body.

Democracy for us is more than voting to discover what is the will of the majority. It also involves discovering what is the will of God. Our attentiveness to our brother is an expression of that obedience to the Father. This attentiveness demands intelligence. Alas, God does not always speak clearly through my brother. Indeed sometimes what he says is evidently wrong! Yet, at the heart of our democracy is the conviction that even when what he says is foolish and mistaken, yet there is some grain of truth waiting to be rescued. However much I may disagree with him, he is able to teach me something. Learning to hear: that is an exercise in imagination and intelligence. I must dare to doubt my own position, to open myself to his questions, to become vulnerable to his doubts. It is an act of charity, born of a passion for truth. It indeed is the best preparation to be a preacher of “grace and truth”.

Fergus Kerr OP, in his sermon for the opening of the Chapter of the English Province in 1996, said:

“If there is one thing we should surely manage to do at a chapter it is to demonstrate this commitment to look for the truth, to listen to what we can agree with in what we disagree with, to save what is true in what other people think … What I prize more and more the longer I am in the Order … is a way of thinking – of expecting other people to have views we may disagree with; expecting also to be able to understand why they believe what they do – if only we have the imagination, the courage, the faith in the ultimate power of truth, the charity, to listen to what others say, to listen especially for what they are afraid of when they seem reluctant to accept what we want them to see: there are many ways of finding the truth, but that is one way that I hope the Order of Preachers will always try to practise”.

This beloved democracy of ours takes time. It is time that we owe each other. It can be boring. Few people find long meetings as boring as I do. It is not efficient. I do not believe that we will ever be one of the most efficient Orders in the Church, and it would be wrong for us to seek to be so! Thanks be to God there are more efficient Orders than ours. Thanks be to God that we do not seek to emulate them. A certain efficiency is necessary if we are not to lose our freedom through paralysis. But if we make efficiency our goal, then we may undermine that freedom which is our gift to the Church. Our tradition of giving each brother a voice and a vote is not always the most efficient at arriving at the best decisions, but it is a witness to evangelical values that we offer to the Church, and which the Church needs now more than ever.

2.3 Voting

The aim of this dialogue in our Chapters is that the community should attain unanimity. This is not always possible. Then we must arrive at a decision through a vote. One of the most delicate responsibilities of a superior is to judge the time when there must be a vote. He must bring the brethren as near to an unanimity as possible, without waiting so long that a community is left paralysed by indecision.

When we come to a vote, the aim is not to win. Voting in a chapter is utterly different from in a parliament or a senate. Voting, like debate, belongs to the process whereby we seek to discern what is required by “the common good”. The purpose of voting is not to determine whether my will, or that of the other brethren, will triumph, but to discover what the building of the community and the mission of the Order requires.

Voting, in our tradition, is not a contest between groups, but the fruit of an attentiveness to what all the brethren have said. As far as possible, without betraying any fundamental convictions, I should seek to vote for proposals that reflect the concerns, fears and hopes of all the brethren, not just the majority. Otherwise I may indeed “win”, but the community will lose. In politics one’s vote expresses one’s allegiance to a party. For us, voting expresses who we are, brethren given to the common mission of the Order.

It follows that the result of a vote is the decision of the community, and not just of those who voted in its favour. It is the community that has arrived at a decision. I am free to disagree with the result, and even eventually to campaign for its reversal, but I express my identity as a member of the community by implementing the decision. To trust in the simple majority vote was a profound innovation of the Dominican tradition. Previously the choice of the superior had either been through consensus, or the decision of the “wiser” brethren. It was considered too risky to trust the majority. For us it is an expression of our confidence in the brethren.

Never is this more so than in the election of superiors. It is natural that with like-minded brethren one will discuss who might be a good superior, but it would be contrary to the nature of our democracy for a brother to be presented as the “candidate” of a party. Therefore I am doubtful as to whether it is appropriate to approach a brother beforehand to ask whether he is prepared to “stand” as a candidate. It is of course helpful to know whether a brother would accept or refuse an election, but there is the danger of him being seen as the candidate of a group, and of accepting election as its representative. Also, few brethren who would be good superiors would ever wish to be candidates, though they may be more likely to accept election as an act of obedience to their brothers. To look for candidates who express their willingness to be superiors may well lead us not to choose the brethren most suited to office.

A superior is elected to serve all the brethren, for the common good of the Order. His election is the result of a vote that “we” have made, regardless of for whom we voted. And once he is elected he needs the support of the whole community, for we have elected him regardless of how I individually voted. We have prayed for the guidance of the Holy Spirit before we voted, and we must trust that guidance has indeed been given.

One of the most solemn responsibilities that our democracy may require of us is to vote for the admittance to the Order of candidates, and for the profession of our brothers. It is a beautiful expression of our common responsibility. Here we vote as a search for the truth, as part of a process of discerning whether the brother is called by God to share our life. It can never be an expression of party politics, or our personal like or dislike of a brother. Voting has to be an expression of truthful charity, seeking to discern what is best for that brother. If we do so, then a brother who is refused profession will not feel that he is rejected, but that we have helped him to discern what is indeed the will of God for him. If our vote expresses power struggles within the community, ideological tussles, friendships or enmities, then we will have betrayed a profound responsibility. We will encourage those in formation to conceal their true selves, and we will form brothers who will be unfit to govern in their turn.

3. The Word was made flesh The levels of Dominican government

3. 1 Grasping responsibility

The Word which we proclaim is not an abstract word, for it became flesh and blood. What we preach is not a theory of salvation but the grace that was embodied in the life, death and resurrection of a man some two thousand years ago. So too for us, it is not enough that we have a fine theory of responsibility. We have to live it. We have wonderful democratic structures, which offer us freedom, but it is a freedom that we must grasp.

I have become convinced during my visitations of the Provinces that one of the greatest issues that we face is to respond effectively and responsibly to the challenges of today. Sometimes we suffer from what I have often called “the mystery of disappearing responsibility”. How is it that we, for whom responsibility is central, so often let it slip through our fingers? Our Chapters, General and Provincial, are usually moments of truth, when we look honestly at what is to be done and how we are to do it. Great decisions are made. Wonderful texts are written. But sometimes, having seen and analysed all so clearly, we are like a man “who observes his natural face in a mirror; for he observes himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like” (James 1.23).

One reason why we escape responsibility is that although we are called to freedom, freedom is frightening and responsibility is burdensome and so it is tempting to escape. We have many levels of responsibility in the Order, and often it is attractive to imagine it is at some other level that it must be exercised. “Something must be done”, and yet it is usually by someone else, the superior or the Chapter or even the Master of the Order! “The Province must act”, but what is the Province if not ourselves? If we are to be truly the heirs of Dominic’s freedom, then we must identify the responsibility that is properly ours and grasp it. We must articulate the relationship between the different levels of government in the Order.

The Constitutions say that our government “is noted for an organic and balanced participation of all its members”, and that the universal authority of its head is shared “proportionately and with corresponding autonomy by the provinces and convents”. (LCO 1 VII). If our government is indeed to be “organic and balanced” and recognise the proper autonomy of each brother, convent and province, then we must clarify the relationship between the different levels of government in the Order. I dislike the word “levels” but I have been unable to think of a better word.

The relationship between the different levels of responsibility in the Order is articulated by at least three fundamental principles.

a) Itinerancy
No brother is, or should be, superior for too long. There is a limit to the number of terms that a brother can serve as Prior or Provincial without postulation. We do not have abbots for life. There should be no caste of superiors, for government is the shared responsibility of all the brothers. If we are elected to be a superior, then it is a service that we must offer. But there is no career, no promotion, in the Order of Friars Preachers.

b) We must strengthen each other
There can be no competition for power of responsibility, either to grab it or to flee from it. We must strengthen each other. One of the primary responsibilities of a Prior is to strengthen his brethren, to have confidence in their ability to do more than they ever imagined, and to support them when they take a brave stand on any issue. When Montesinos preached his famous sermon on the rights of the Indians, it was his prior, Pedro de Córdoba, who stood by him, saying that it was the whole community which had preached that sermon. Each brother is a gift to the community and it is an obligation of the Superior to welcome and value the talents of the brethren whom God has given us.

But this relationship is reciprocal. Every brother, in turn, has an especial responsibility for the brother whom we have elected. One of the ways in which we affirm the value of a brother is in electing him to be a superior. Having placed a burden on his shoulders, we have a duty to support him, care for him, and encourage him. If he fails, then he needs our forgiveness. If we have a superior who is inefficient, or who lacks vision, then it is because we have chosen that brother. Let us not blame him for faults which we knew when the community chose him. Rather than burden him with his failure, we must help him to do all of which he is capable.

What the Lord said to Peter he says to us all: “Strengthen your brothers” (Luke 22.32). If our system of government, with all its complexity, works for mutual disempowerment, then we are all paralysed and we have lost the freedom of Dominic. But if it works for the strengthening of all, then we can do great things.

c) The discernment of the common good
The discernment and pursuit of the common good is the principal task of government, and it is here that relationships between different levels of government may become most tense and painful (cf 1.2). A brother may find himself assigned to a community in which he does not wish to live or to a task for which he feels himself unfit. Or a Province may find itself asked to release a brother whom it can ill afford to lose for some mission of the Order. This may be hard, and yet it is the clearest expression of our unity in a common mission, and often the wider common good must receive priority over the more local if the Order is not to fragment into a loose association of individuals.

It can be painful to ask, for both. Rather than face that pain, it may be tempting for a superior to ask for volunteers, or to declare that nothing can be done. Yet this would be a flight from the responsibility for which one has been elected, and would lead to paralysis.

At times we must dare to govern, precisely because we value the freedom which is at the heart of Dominican life. We cherish that freedom of the brethren to gather in Chapter and take decisions about our common mission and life which can be realised and not remain mere declarations on paper. We also cherish the freedom with which a brother has given his life to the Order, and to its common mission. Not to dare to ask a brother to give himself to some mission would be to fail to respect that free self-gift which he made at profession. I admit that often I have hesitated to ask of a brother what I suspect he does not wish to give. Who am I to ask this of my brother? Yet I am not asking for submission to my will, but acceptance of that common good which the brethren have defined together. Sometimes one may even have to insist “under obedience”. Yet, if it comes to this, it would be a mistake to think that this is the best image of what obedience is all about, since for us it is above all grounded in mutual attentiveness, in which we both seek together to understand what is right and best.

I will now share with you a few brief observations about some of the challenges that we face in grasping responsibility at the different levels of government in the Order. This is by no means a complete picture. That would need a book.

3.2 Conventual government

Fundamental to the life of the Order is that we share responsibility in the communities in which we live. We do not elect a brother as superior of the community, to relieve us of responsibility for our common life and mission, but to help us to share it. In some Provinces it is hard to find brothers who are willing to accept election as Prior. One reason may be that we expect him to bear all responsibility alone. The Prior, having been a majestic figure, has sometimes become the domestic manager, the one who must be perpetually solving the problems of the community. If my light bulb does not work or the central heating does not function, then it is the Prior who must solve the problem. It was only when I became Prior of Oxford that I was confronted with the question of how the milk gets from the cow to the jug, so that I may have milk with my coffee! The Prior is indeed called to “serve with charity” (LCO 299) but this does not mean that we can pile all responsibility upon his shoulders, leaving him alone and helpless. The right that we have to elect a superior implies the duty to support him in building our common life and mission.

Superiors also need support from the Provincial and his Council. Many Provinces hold annual meetings of superiors at which they can discuss the challenges that they face and offer each other support and encouragement. The Province of St Albert the Great in the United States even produced an excellent booklet, to help new superiors understand their role, and how to survive it.

As the servant of the common good, one of the Prior’s principal tasks is to preside over the Chapter and to help the brethren seek consensus. Above all he has to ensure that all the brethren have a voice, especially those who are most timid or who hold minority views. He is there to protect the weak against the strong. “There are fragile brothers who may suffer much from being crushed, perhaps involuntarily, by the brethren with strong personalities. The role of the Prior is to protect them, on the one hand by valuing their gifts, and on the other by making the strong aware of their duty not to overwhelm the others.” St Catherine wrote to the rulers of Bologna, that they often let the strong get away with anything, yet with the weak, “who seem insignificant and whom they do not fear, they display tremendous enthusiasm for ‘justice’ and, showing neither mercy nor compassion, they exact hard punishments for small faults.” Even a superior in a Dominican community may be tempted to show more zeal in pointing out the failures of the weak than the strong.

The superior must take time with every brother. It is not enough to preside at the community meeting. He must be attentive to every brother, and regularly meet him alone, so that the brother may share his hopes and fears with freedom, certain of an open ear. Above all a superior must have care for the dignity of every brother. If there is one piece of advice that I would give it is this: Never ever let any brother be humiliated.

One of the most important tasks of the superior is to help the community define its “community project”. The centrality of this to our common life and mission has been underlined by the last three General Chapters of the Order, but in some Provinces it is neglected. Sometimes this is because it has been misunderstood to mean that every community must identify a single task to which all the brethren must be committed, such as a school or a parish. The first step is for each brother to tell the community about his life and ministries, to share the joys and disappointments that he faces. But it must lead us further, to a deep collaboration in each other’s tasks, and the emergence of a common mission. It is a moment for a community to assess together the apostolic presence of the Order in a region, and how far it conforms to the priorities of the Order. I strongly support the recommendation of the General Chapter of Caleruega (44), that every community hold an annual day, to assess the ministries of the brethren, and to plan for the year ahead.

Democracy does not mean that the Prior must bring everything to the Chapter. We elect brethren to hold particular responsibilities so that we may be free for the mission. Having elected a brother to govern, we must leave him free to do so. The Constitutions lay down when the Prior must consult the community, or when the Chapter or Council has the power of decision. But the superior should not use this as an excuse to deny the Community responsibility for anything that it is of importance for the brethren. “What touches all must be approved by all”. The fundamental principle was laid down by Humbert of Romans in the thirteenth century, which is that the Prior ought to consult the community in all matters of importance, but not bother to do so if the question is insignificant, and that in intermediate matters prudence would demand that he consult some of his councillors.

Democratic rule of the Chapter is so central to our life that sometimes we may be tempted to assume that the Prior is merely the chair of the Chapter, that his sole role is to guide the debate so that the brethren may arrive, if possible, at a consensus. But the Constitutions (LCO 299, 300) also make clear that the Prior has a role as the guardian of the religious and apostolic life of the community. For example he is to preach to the brethren regularly. This does not in any way undermine the democratic principle. It demonstrates that the local community is a part of the Province, just as the Province is part of the Order, and so the local community cannot make decisions which contradict what the brethren at a Provincial or General Chapter have ruled. It is precisely in the name of our wider democracy that a local Prior might find that he cannot accept the will of the majority. If the brethren were to vote that a sauna bath be installed in every cell, he would have to refuse his consent!

3.3. Provincial government

At the General Chapter of Mexico, the Province is described as being the normal centre of animation of the Order’s apostolic dynamism (N° 208). It is at the Provincial level that much of the practical planning for the mission of the Order must take place. Having now visitated some thirty-five entities of the Order, I will have to struggle to limit what I write. Be grateful that I did not wait another year before writing this letter! I regret that there has not been space to write about the relationships of the Vicariates to the Provinces.

a. Creating new projects
Each Province needs to establish projects and institutions, which give body and form to our common mission. Most of us are drawn to the Order because we wish to be preachers. But what form does that preaching take? What projects give flesh and blood to our Dominican charism today?

We may succumb to the profound suspicion of institutions which is part of contemporary culture, and yet the foundation of the Order was an act of supreme institutional creativity. Dominic and his brothers responded to the need to preach the gospel with extraordinary imagination, the invention of a new institution, our Order. We need such creativity. Institutions need not be complex or expensive: a radio station or an Internet home page, a University or a musical band, a priory or an art gallery, a book shop or a team of itinerant preachers. All these are “institutions” which can sustain new ways of preaching. The incarnation of the Word of God at new frontiers demands new conceptions.

When we gather in Chapters to plan the missions of our Provinces, then we must always ask whether the institutions that we maintain serve the mission of the Order. Do they give us a voice in the debates of today? St Dominic sent the friars to the new Universities, because it was there that the important issues of the time where being argued over. Where would he send us today?

The planning of the mission requires of us that institutional creativity, the ability to imagine new projects, new pulpits, that give the Order a voice and a visibility. At one stage the young French Dominicans invented a new form of mission, “the mission to the beach”, which was very popular! An American brother, charged with a mission to the Protestant south of the country, transformed a caravan into a mobile chapel with a pulpit. If we really urgently wish to share the good news of Jesus Christ, then we will use our imagination fully.

If we do not have that courage and inventiveness, then either we will be stuck, waiting in our churches for the people to come to us, while they are elsewhere, hungry for a word. Or else we will find ourselves working for other institutions, founded by other groups, even religious orders, who have had more daring and imagination than we have.

We need young brethren and new vocations to preach in ways that we cannot now imagine. When the Province of Chicago was accepting novices a few years ago, who could then have guessed that today these same young men would be preaching on the World Wide Web, and even considering the foundation of a Virtual Centre of Studies?

b. Planning
“In dreams begin responsibility”, said W B Yeats. Provincial Chapters should be moments when we dare to respond to the challenges by dreaming of new projects. Often Chapters take brave and bold decisions, to be more committed to Justice and Peace, to develop our presence in the Mass Media, to send brethren on the missions. Thanks be to God! And yet often four years later nothing much has happened. There is a prayer for Chapters from the old Dominican missal, in which the brethren pray for the gift of the Holy Spirit “that they may seek to discern those things that you will, and use their strength to accomplish them”. Presumably this prayer was necessary because the brethren then as now found that it was easier to make decisions than to execute them. Yet unless we learn both to make decisions and to implement them, then we will become disillusioned with all government, and our freedom and responsibility will be destroyed.

Bringing the Word to flesh in our time, finding new forms of preaching now, must begin in dreams, but end in hard practical planning. Good government relies on the virtue of prudence, a practical wisdom. We must come to an agreement as to what we can achieve. We cannot do everything at once, and so we must determine the order in which projects will be realised. We must face the consequences of our choices, even if this means a profound re-orientation of the mission and life of the Province. We must decide the process by which a project may be planned, proposed, evaluated and implemented. If the process does not work, then we must seek to understand why and how this may be remedied.

c. Challenges of growth and shrinkage
There are specific moments in the life of an entity of the Order when careful planning is especially important.

The transition to a full Dominican identity

There are successive moments in the birth of the Order in a new country. Sometimes, at the beginning, to gain acceptance and to enter a new culture we may have to accept apostolates that do not fully express our charism as preachers and teachers.

All over the Order, in Africa, Latin America, Eastern Europe and Asia, I have seen the excitement and the difficulty of making the transition to the next stage of Dominican life. It is a moment of profound transformation, as the brethren try to form communities, give up some parishes, adopt new apostolates, establish centres of formation and study, build up a body of professors. The flourishing of the Order depends upon the brethren being able to live through this time of transition with mutual understanding and support.

For the older brethren, perhaps “the founding fathers”, it can be a painful time, because the aspirations of the young may feel like a rejection of all that they have done. They have welcomed young men into the Order who appear to wish to destroy the work of their lives, and in the name of being “fully Dominican”. For the young it can also be a time of anxiety, when they may wonder whether they will be able to fulfil their dreams of a more developed Dominican life.

Such moments of transition need careful planning and consultation. But this is not a question solely of administration. We have to both show that we value what the older brethren have done, and live through this moment as a time of death and rebirth, walking in the steps of Christ. When Bishop Paul Andreotti was giving a retreat to the brethren in Pakistan, at the time of the birth of the new Vice-Province, he said to the brothers who had come from abroad, “Some of you may now decide to return to your own provinces, but those who choose to stay must be very sure of their motivations. I believe that Jesus is offering us a way of dying.” If the older brethren can walk this way with joy then they will give the most profound formation to the young. For formation, especially for a mendicant itinerant friar, is always an introduction to dispossession.

Gilbert Márkus OP said at the General Chapter of Caleruega, “If these young men are coming to the Order to follow Christ, they themselves must also be given guidance in the art of dying. They have entrusted themselves to the Order, and part of the responsibility which we accept when we receive their profession is the responsibility of teaching them the art. There is no hope for a young Dominican who cannot realise during his formation something of how he must lose himself, die to himself. This is not an excuse for the older men to cling defensively to their own position or to resist change. They need instead to lead the young on that sacrificial path, and that means to travel it with them, to give an example of generosity.”

Very few Provinces in the Order are dying, though some, especially in Western Europe, are shrinking. How can such Provinces remain capable of undertaking new projects and fresh initiatives?

A Province must ask itself what it really wishes to do. What is its mission today? What new challenges must it face? What new forms of preaching can it evolve? To have such a freedom it may well have to take drastic action. It may be necessary to close two houses so as to have the freedom to open one that will offer new possibilities. But it is better to take firm action so that we may be free, rather than simply to beat a slow retreat in which we are the passive victims of circumstances beyond our control. How can we preach the freedom of the children of God if we have renounced all freedom ourselves? How can we be messengers of hope if we have given up all hope of doing something new for God? Unless we are seen to grasp that freedom, then we will never attract or retain any vocations.

d. The Provincial and Council
The Provincial Council is elected to assist the Provincial in his government of the Province, through offering counsel and taking decisions. The Councillors may have been elected because they represent a variety of views or priories or interests, but they are not members of the Council as the representatives of any group or ideology. The development of any faction within the Council would undermine its service of the Province. Its role is to help the Provincial to implement the decisions of the Chapter and to seek the common good. This demands a profound respect for confidentiality, otherwise the Provincial will not be able to receive the support that he needs.

In his implementation of the decisions of the Chapter, and his pursuit of the common good, the Provincial will sometimes have to take decisions that are painful. I have already written of the pain sometimes involved in making assignations (3.1 c). Yet a Province cannot be governed on the basis of waiting for the brethren to volunteer for ministries. Asking for volunteers may look like respect for the brethren’s freedom, but, except in very special circumstances, it is a misinterpretation of the nature of the freedom with which we have given ourselves to the mission of the Order. It also undermines the freedom of the Province effectively to make and implement decisions. Finally, it rests upon the assumption that the best judge of what a brother is capable is that brother himself. We may be radically mistaken. Sometimes a brother may consider himself to be the true successor of St Thomas whereas he is more of a dumb ox. More often, brothers underestimate of what they are capable. I trust my brethren to know what I am best able to do. It is part of the confidence that knits the Order together.

A Provincial or the Master of the Order may also have to cassate an election. This too can be painful. It may look as if we are undermining the democratic rights of the brethren to choose their own superior. Yet sometimes this must be done, precisely because these superiors have themselves been democratically elected to have care of the common good of the Province or the Order. It would undermine democracy if they were to refuse to bear the responsibility for which they have been elected. There are moments in this process. The community votes; the superior must decide whether to confirm or cassate; the brother elected must accept or refuse; the superior must decide whether to accept the refusal or to insist. At each moment we must be allowed to exercise the responsibility that is properly ours, without interference or pressure, so that we may discover what is indeed for the common good.

3.4 The Master of the Order and the General Council

The General government of the Order relates to the other levels of government in accordance with the same principles suggested in 3.1, itinerancy, mutual support, and the pursuit of the wider common good.

a) Strengthening the brethren
The primary task of the Master of the Order and the General Council is to support the brethren, and indeed the whole Dominican Family. Everywhere I go on my travels I meet brothers and sisters preaching the gospel with wonderful courage, often in situations of poverty and violence. This is an inspiration to me and the Council.

The principal way in which the Master of the Order strengthens the brethren is through visitations, trying to meet every brother. This is a privilege and a joy. The programme is so full that there is little time left for anything else. Between last November and this May, I have been in Rome for less than four weeks. I was not able, as I had hoped, to visit the brethren and sisters in the Great Lakes region of Africa to offer a support that they need. A question that I shall put to the General Chapter of Bologna is whether we should not rethink how visitations are done so that the Master of the Order has the freedom to respond to the needs of the Order in other ways.

When a Province is going through a profound process of renewal or facing a time of crisis, then an occasional visitation is not enough. Increasingly the General Council sees the need to accompany some Provinces of the Order as they face difficult challenges. We have to support them so that they may have the strength and courage to take the hard decisions necessary for their renewal. The Socius of the Master for that Province will often have a demanding role, accompanying the brethren as they face the challenges of rebuilding Dominican life and government.

It is rarely necessary for the Master of the Order directly to intervene in the government of a Province. When he does, it may be hard for the brethren to bear. It may appear as if their democratic right for make decisions about their life and mission has been superseded. Yet any such intervention is always an attempt to strengthen the brethren, and to help them to be renewed in their freedom and responsibility. If government at the Provincial level becomes weak or even paralysed, then the Master may have to intervene directly so that the brethren may once again be free to face the future. This is often the issue when we have to examine the unification of Provinces.

b) The wider common good
The Master of the Order has to promote the unity of the Order in its common mission. We see this common mission most clearly in the establishment of new foundations, in the renewal of the Order where it is weak, and in the houses directly under the Master’s jurisdiction.

One of the hardest tasks of the Master of the Order is to find brethren for this common mission. Humbert of Romans wrote to the Order in the thirteenth century that one of the main obstacles to the mission of the Order was “the brothers’ love of their native land, the lure of which so often ensnares them, their nature not yet having been graced, that rather than leave their own land and relations and forget their own folk, they wish to live and die among their own family and friends, not recalling that in similar circumstances the Saviour did not permit himself to be found even by his own mother.” Some things do not change!

Truthfully, I can say that many brethren, especially the young, have a deep and growing sense of this common mission of the Order to which we are called. Some Provinces are profoundly generous in giving their brethren to the common mission of the Order. For example, we have found brethren to help us rebuild the Order in the ex-Soviet Union. Yet often it is difficult to find the brethren who are needed, for example, to support the brethren in Rwanda and Burundi in this time of suffering. We need brethren for the foundation of the Order in Western Canada. We need brethren to renew and sustain our international centres of study.

How are we to deepen our participation in the common mission of the Order? It asks of us that we grow together in the grace and truth of the Incarnate Word.

i. We are called to the utter gracious generosity of the Word. This is not just the generosity of a Province giving a brother who is free, or even asking for volunteers. Often it is precisely the brethren who are not free who are needed. It implies the redefinition of the priorities of the Province in the light of the needs of our common mission. For example, in Latin America, we are trying to renew the Order by asking the stronger Provinces to work closely with Provinces where we are weaker. We are moving to a sort of partnership, whereby a Province may be asked to accompany another entity. We are asking these Provinces to redefine their mission in the light of the needs of the Order.

ii. It demands of us that we live in truth. First of all the truth of what it means to be a Dominican brother. We have made our profession to the Master of the Order for the Order’s mission. Of course the mission of each Province is an expression of that mission. But sometimes we must express our deepest identity as Dominicans by being released for the mission beyond the boundaries of our Province.

iii. It asks of us that together we truthfully seek to know what are our resources for the common mission. This requires of us great mutual trust. When the Master of the Order asks a Provincial whether there is a brother suitable for some task in our common mission, there may sometimes be an understandable instinct to protect the Province’s interests. We need, if we are to discern the common good, a deep trust and transparency, so that we may dialogue about how best to meet the needs of the Order while respecting the situation of the Province. In the past it was common for Masters of the Order simply to assign brethren out of their Provinces, even against the will of the Provincials. It is still sometimes necessary to do this, just as a Provincial may sometimes have to assign a brother from one convent to another, despite the superior’s resistance. But ultimately our common mission demands of us trust and mutual confidence, grace and truth.

3.5 The Incarnation of Dominican government in different cultures

The Word became flesh in a particular culture. Yet the Word transforms what it touches, the leaven of new life. A new form of community is born, and the flesh becomes word and communion.

So too Dominican government bears the marks of the time and place of its birth, a particular moment in European history. We were born in a time of experimentation with new forms of democratic institutions, and of intense intellectual ferment. How is this form of government to become flesh and blood in the Order in the coming years, when two thirds of all those in formation come from non-Western cultures? How is it to become incarnate in Western culture as it is today, with its strengths and weaknesses, its love of freedom and its temptation to consumerism? Central to our tradition of government is the pursuit of truth through debate and dialogue. How are we to sustain Dominican government in a society in which the very idea of truth is in crisis? The incarnation of Dominican government in all these cultures is always both a challenge and a richness. It should witness to a freedom and responsibility that is deeply evangelical, but these different cultures may help us to learn what these values truly mean.

For example, African cultures can help us to understand the nature of debate, and the importance of time and patience in listening to our brothers; in North America, the immense sense of respect for the individual can deepen our understanding of Dominican freedom; in Eastern Europe, the passionate commitment to the faith can help us to understanding what it means to give one’s life to the Order; in Latin America we can learn how central to our preaching is a commitment to justice.

Yet it is also true that our Dominican tradition of government offers a challenge to every culture in which we implant the Order. It may challenge the power of tribal identity in Africa; it is critical of the individualism of contemporary America; it will invite the brethren of Eastern Europe to be freed from the effects of years of communist rule and grow in mutual trust. In Latin America, the tradition of the coup d’état does not always help towards a deep commitment to our elected structures of government.

Often the challenge will be to understand when a culture is inviting us to a new insight and when it may deform what is properly Dominican in our government. Does the respect for the elders in African society offer us a new insight into the proper authority of each generation, or is it contrary to our democratic tradition? Does the practice of some Western Provinces of letting the brethren have private bank accounts lead to a deeper and truly Dominican sense of responsibility, or does it lead to a privatisation of life that destroys our common life?

Answering these questions will take time. General Chapters, regional meetings of brethren in every continent, and even visitations by the Master, should be of help to the brethren as we find our way towards discovering what responsibility and freedom mean in any particular society. Time, prayer, honest debate and contact with Dominicans in other cultures will be necessary if we are to arrive at a true understanding of how government is to be implemented in each society. It is good that we take this time, both for the benefit of the Order and also so that we may build communities which can offer true witnesses to brotherhood wherever we are.


I have not talked about many matters which are central to government. For example, I have not discussed government and wealth nor of the importance of visitations. I have said hardly a word about the Dominican Family or Regional collaboration. There is a limit to what can be written in a letter.

In St Catherine’s vision, God says, “Dominic allied himself with my Truth by showing that he did not want the sinner to die, but rather to be converted and live. He made his ship very spacious, gladsome, and fragrant, a most delightful garden” in which “the perfect and the not-so-perfect fare well”. Here the grace and truth of the incarnate Word coincide in mercy. It is this that makes the ship so spacious, a place in which we, the not-so-perfect, can be at home. This ship may steam along slowly; it is not always clear in what direction it is moving, and the crew change roles with an astonishing frequency. But it is a place in which we may hope to grow into the freedom of Dominic, hesitantly and with many mistakes, confident in God’s mercy and each other’s.

The Bear and the Nun : What is the Sense of Religious Life Today ! (1998)

An address to the Major Religious Superiors of France, October, 1998

fr. Timothy Radcliffe, o.p.


I have been asked to speak about `La vie religieuese, quel sens aujourd’hui?’ This is an urgent question for religious today because many of us wonder whether the way of life to which we have committed ourselves has any meaning at all. There are fewer vocations in western Europe than before; in France many congregations are growing smaller and some are dying out; to be a religious does not have the same status and respect that it used to have. We may appear to have lost our role in a Church that seems to have become more clerical, and our importance in a society in which lay people now do so much that before was largely done by religious. With the new sense of the sanctity of marriage we are not even considered to live a way of life that is more perfect than any other. It is understandable that many religious ask, `La vie religieuse, quel sens aujourd’hui?’ In this situation it would be natural to try to find the sense of religious life in something special about us, something that we do that no one else does, something that gives us our special place, our special identify. We are like blacksmiths in a world of cars, looking for a new role. I suspect that this is one reason why we religious often eagerly talk of ourselves as prophets. We claim that we are the prophetic part of the life of the Church. It gives us a role, an identity, a label. I do believe that religious life is called to be prophetic, but not as a solution to our identify crisis! Instead I would like to start elsewhere, which is with the crisis of meaning which western society is living. I believe that religious life is more important than ever before because of how we are called to face the crisis of meaning of our contemporaries. Our life must be an answer to the question: `What is the sense of human life today?’ Perhaps this has always been the primary witness of religious life.

How can we even begin to think about a question as large as the contemporary crisis of meaning. To say anything adequately, I would have to have studied books about modernity and postmodernity. I have not done so. My excuse is that with my life on the road, I have had no time. But the truth is that if I were to read these books probably I would not understand them. They are mainly written by clever French people and beyond the grasp of the English! Instead I will try a simpler approach. I would like to offer you the contrast between two images, two implicit stories of human life.

Every culture needs stories which embody an understanding of what it means to be a human being, what the pattern of life is. We need stories which tell us who we are and where we are going. When there is a crisis of meaning in a society, one symptom is that the stories that society tells seem no longer to make sense of our experience. They do not fit any more. When a society goes through a moment of profound change, then it needs a new sort of story to make sense of its life.

I shall argue that the basic crisis of meaning in our society is that the story which has been implicit in European culture for a few hundred years, no longer makes sense. It is a story of progress, of the survival of the fittest, of the triumph of the strong. The hero of this story is the modern self. He (and it is usually a he!) is alone, and free. This is the story that has been implicit in our novels, our films, our philosophy, our economics and our politics. But now it is ceasing to make sense of our experience. I shall take as a symbol of this story a poster of a bear that I have often seen in the posters of Rome.

So we are a society that hungers for a new story that will make some sense of who we are. I believe that the meaning of religious life lies in answering that question: `What is the meaning of human life today?’ People must be able to recognize in our lives an invitation to be a human being in a new way. For me the symbol of this other story will be of a nun singing in the dark to the paschal candle.

So I wish to offer you this contrast between two images, two stories, of a bear and a nun. I wish to contrast these two stories by looking at the three elements which are necessary for every story: a plot that evolves through time; the events that move the story forward, and the actors. If our contemporaries feel lost and confused, hungry for meaning, then it is because the stories of modernity no longer make sense of our experience of time, events and what it means to be an individual. We religious should embody another way of being alive.


Let me start by telling you about my bear. A year ago, the walls of Rome were covered with posters of a large and angry bear. And the inscription on the poster read `La forza del prezzogiusto’ `The power of the Right Price’. As I waited for buses I had much time to contemplate this bear. It captures well the story of modernity.

In the first place this bear suggests that the basic plot of history is an irresistible progress. It is a bear of which Darwin would have been proud, a victor in the evolutionary process. Human history marches onwards. It is also a symbol of the global economy, the market place. What drives human history forward is economics. `La forza del prezzo giusto’ `The power of the Right Price’. History is the story of inevitable progress, through the liberalisation of the market. The best economic system must triumph. The bear is the victor.

When I was growing up (and looking at you I suspect that when many of you were growing up too), it was still just possible to believe that humanity was on the way to a glorious future. But already there were shadows. I was born a week before the end of a war that left fifty million people dead. We slowly learned of the Holocaust and of the six million Jews who died in the camps. I grew up under the shadow of the bomb. I remember my mother storing tins of food in the cellar, just in case a nuclear war started. Yet, still it was possible to cling to the idea that humanity was moving forward. Every year we saw independence given to our old colonies, medicine was wiping out diseases like TB and malaria. Surely poverty would also be ended soon. Even the planes and cars went more quickly every year. Things would go on getting better.

Today we are less sure. The gap between rich and poor goes on growing. Malaria and TB are coming back and within a year there will probably be forty million people with AIDS. Unemployment stands at twenty million in Europe alone. The dreams of a just world seem farther away. Where is humanity going? Does our history have a meaning, a direction? Or are we wandering around in circles in the desert, getting no nearer to the promised land? Even the Church, which seemed to be moving towards renewal and new life at the Second Vatican Council, now seems not to know where it is going.

At the heart of modernity there is a contradiction, and that is why its story is no longer plausible. On the one hand the bear is indeed irresistible. The global market is triumphing over all its enemies. Communism has fallen in Eastern Europe and even China looks as if it may succumb. But, on the other hand, the story is not taking us to the Kingdom. What we seeing is growing poverty and war. Even the Asian tigers are sick. The bear is irresistible but it is tearing us to pieces. So the plot of modernity contains an unbearable contradiction. We cannot find ourselves in it any more.

We cannot live without stories. As we have come to doubt the story of humanity’s march forward, so other stories must fill the vacuum. They may be millenarian stories of the end of the world, stories of aliens, stories of victory in the World Cup (Congratulations, France!). Often enough, it is just what we call in English `soap operas’, trivial serials on television. Recently the final episode of a soap opera in the United States was watched by eighty million people. Restaurants closed for the night. When it was announced that a giant asteroid would hit the earth on 26 October 2028, there was less interest. Having come to disbelieve in the myth of progress we take refuge in fictions.

Maybe it was the hunger for a story that explains the extraordinary reaction to the death of Princess Diana. The English are, as you know, very unemotional, or so the French like to think! But I have never seen such grief. It was as if the story at the heart of humanity had come to an end under a bridge in Paris. Millions of people wept as if they had lost their wife or child or mother. Everywhere I go in the world, I know that eventually people will ask me about the Princess. I am prepared to answer questions about her after this lecture. In Vietnam they even told me that I looked like Prince William. I was delighted, but they are a very polite people! It was the world’s soap opera. Perhaps her story appealed to so many precisely because in her we could see ourselves. She was a good but not perfect person, who really cared for others, whose life should have been wonderful, and yet inexplicably it was a failure. It was a sad and futile story, which evoked the futility that so many people feel, as they wonder where their lives are going.

In what sense can religious life suggest another plot, an alternative story?

Let me offer you another image. I celebrated Easter this year in a monastery of Dominican contemplative nuns. The monastery was built on a hill behind Caracas, in Venezuela. The church was packed with young people. We lit the Paschal Candle and placed it on its stand. And a young nun with a guitar sang a love song to the candle. The song had all the harsh passion of Andalusia. I confess that I was completely bowled over by this image, of a young nun singing a love song in the darkness to the newborn fire. This image suggested that we are caught up in another drama, another story. This is our story, not that of the angry bear, devouring its rivals.

In the first place, the nun singing in the night suggests that the basic plot of the story of humanity is longer than that represented by the bear. Out in the garden the celebrant had inscribed the candle with these words: `Christ yesterday and today, the beginning and the end, Alpha and Omega. All time belongs to him, and all the ages. To him be glory and power through every age. Amen.’

The religious life is perhaps in the first place a living Amen to that longer span of time. It is within the stretch of the story from Alpha to Omega, from Creation to Kingdom, that every human life must find its meaning. We are those who live for the Kingdom when, as Julian of Norwich said, `All will be well, all manner of things will be well.’

The vocation that most radically brings to light that longest story is that of the contemplative monk or nun. Their lives have no meaning at all if they are not on the way to the Kingdom. Cardinal Basil Hume is the most respected Christian in England, and partly because he is a monk. And he wrote of monks: `We do not see ourselves as having any particular mission or function in the Church. We do not set out to change the course of history. We are just there almost by accident from a human point of view.

And, happily, we go on “just being there”. (I. In Praise of Benedict, Ampleforth, 1996. p. 23.)

Monks are just there, and so their lives have no meaning at all, except as pointing to the fulfilment of the ages, that meeting with God. They are like people waiting at a bus stop. Just being there points to the bus that must surely come. There is no provisional or lesser sense. No children, no career, no achievements, no promotion, no use. It is by an absence of meaning that their lives point to a fullness of meaning that we cannot state, as the empty tomb points to the Resurrection, or as the wobble in the orbit of a star points to the invisible planet.

Western monasticism was born in a moment of crisis. It was when the Roman Empire was slowly dying before the assaults of the barbarians that Benedict went to Subiaco and founded a community of monks. When the story of humanity seemed to be going nowhere, then Benedict founded a community of people whose lives had sense only in pointing to that ultimate end, the Kingdom.

One might say that religious life forces us to live nakedly the crisis of modernity. Most people’s lives have a shape and a story which may hold the larger question at bay. A life may have its own meaning, from falling in love, marrying, having children and then grandchildren. Or maybe someone’s story may find its meaning in a career, in rising up the ladder of promotion, in gaining wealth and even fame. There are so many stories that we may tell which will give a provisional pattern and a meaning to our span of years. And that is good and right. But our vows do not give us that consolation. We have no marriage to offer a shape to our lives. We have no careers. We are naked before the question: `What is the meaning of human life?’

Kingdom. Sometimes the younger brethren may not agree with me, but one does have to get out of bed each morning and do something. Even monks and nuns must do something! I remember asking an especially lazy brother what he was doing one day. He replied that he was being an `eschatological sign’, waiting for the Kingdom. How do we give value to what we do now? Most of us spend our days doing useful things, teaching, working in hospitals, helping in parishes, looking after the forgotten. How do our daily lives say something about the story of humanity?

Let us return to that young nun again. It is the middle of the night when she sings that wild song. It is in the night when she praises God. Even when it is dark, between the beginning and the end, one may encounter God and praise him. Now is the hour. As he is waiting to be murdered, Jesus says to the disciples, `In the world you have tribulation, but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world’ (Jn 16:33). Now is the hour of victory and praise.

What this suggests is a new sense of time. What gives shape to time is not the story of inevitable progress towards wealth and success. The hidden shape of our lives is the growth in friendship with God, as we meet him on the way and say Amen. It is not just the end of the story which gives it meaning. The pattern of my life is the encounter with God, and my response to his invitation. This is what makes of my life not just a sequence of events but a destiny. As Cornelius Ernst OP said, `Destiny is the summons and invitation of the God of love, that we should respond to him in loving and creative consent.’ (The Theology of Grace, Dublin, 1974. p. 82.) Even in the dark, in despair, when nothing makes sense any more, we may meet the God of life. As a Jewish philosopher wrote: `Every moment can be the small door through which the Messiah can enter.’ The story of our lives is of this meeting with the God who comes in the night like a lover. This we celebrate with praise.

Some of the most moving moments of the last six years have been the times when I have been able to share with my brothers and sisters in praising God in the most difficult circumstances. In a monastery in Burundi, after touring a country torn apart by ethnic violence; in Iraq, as we waited for the bombs to fall; in Algeria, with our brother Pierre Claverie before he was killed. It is central to the religious life that we sing the praises of God, even in the night. We sing the psalms, the tehillim, the book of praises. We measure the day with the hours of the Divine Office, the liturgy of the psalms, not just with the mechanical hours of the clock. `Seven times a day I praise you’. Well, at least twice for most of us.

I remember a story which illustrates how the time of praise may interact with the time of the clock, the time of modernity. When one of my brethren was a child at school, a dentist came to give lessons in dental hygiene to the children. He asked the class when they must clean their teeth. There was absolute silence. He said, `Come on, you know when you must clean your teeth. In the morning and in the evening … ‘ This touched a button in the minds of these good Catholic children who knew their catechism. And they all carried on `before and after meals’. `Excellent,’ said the dentist. `In times of temptation and in the hour of our death’. Well, if we always cleaned our teeth in the hours of temptation, we might avoid many sins!

This regular rhythm of praise is more than just an optimism that all will be well in the end. We are claiming that even now, in the desert, the Lord of life meets us and shapes our lives. In this sense religious life should be truly prophetic, for the prophet is the one who sees the future bursting into present. As Habakkuk says, `Even though the fig tree does not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, even though the olive crop fails … yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I rejoice in the God of my salvation.’ (3:I7 I9)

Recently I met the Order’s Promoters of Justice and Peace for Latin America. They were a new generation, not the old ones of the late sixties like me! They were young men and women who keep alive a dream. I expected that they would be discouraged, given the worsening economic situation, the growing violence, the social disintegration of the continent. Not at all! They said that it was precisely now, when all the utopias had disappeared, when the Kingdom seemed more remote than ever, that we religious have our role to play. No one else could dream now. But to fight for a more just world now, when no progress ever seems to be made, means that one has to be a person of deep prayer. As our Brazilian brother, Frei Betto has said, one has to be a mystic now to believe in justice and peace.


There is a second contrast between the stories of bear and nun that I would like to make, and that is in terms of how things happen. What is the motive force of the story? What carries the story forward? We need both plot and action.

We have already seen that the bear represents the competitive struggle for survival. What moves history is that competition in which the weak perish and the strong thrive. Whether you are studying evolution or economics, that is just the way things happen. That is the basic assumption of the modern story. The motor which drives history is free competition, which eliminates the defective, the hopeless, the unviable.

But once again we see a contradiction. For this bear is a symbol of that freedom which is at the heart of modernity: freedom to compete in the free market, in which everyone is free to choose what they want. Yet we have seen that this freedom too is, to some extent, illusory. For we are caught in a global transformation of the world that makes us powerless, and which no one is able to halt, which is destroying communities, and devouring the planet. So at the heart of the modern story is a double contradiction. We are offered progress, and find poverty; we are offered freedom, and find ourselves powerless. What alternative story can religious life embody?

But let us look again at that young nun, singing her love song in the dark. She represents another way of telling a story. The story that she celebrates is of a man who is crushed by the strong but lives for ever. The big bears of Rome and Jerusalem devour the weak man from Galilee. What we celebrate in this story is not God’s superior strength, God the bigger bear, but his utter creativity in raising Jesus from the dead.

There can be no story unless something new happens. Stories tell about how things change. But the model of change of modernity is that of the survival of the fittest. Evolution, whether biological or economic, brings change, but through the competition to survive. But our story of the nun suggests an even more radical novelty, the unimaginable gift of new life. We praise the God who says, `Behold I make all things new.’ (Rev 21:5) We religious are called to be signs of God’s unspeakable novelty, his unutterable creativity.

How are we religious to be the signs of this strange story of the God of death and resurrection? The clearest sign is in the presence of all those religious who refuse to leave places of death and violence, trusting in the Lord who raises the dead. Everywhere there is violence, in Rwanda, Burundi, the Congo, Chiapas, one can find men and women religious whose presence is a sign of that other story, of which our nun sings. Naturally here in France we think of those many religious who have died in Algeria. You must all know so well those wonderful words of Christian de Cherge, prior of the Trappist monks, when he wrote his last spiritual testimony, shortly before his death. I hope you will let me repeat them yet again:

When an A Dieu is foreseen

If it should happen one day and it could be today that I become a victim of the terrorism which now seems set to engulf all the foreigners living in Algeria, I would love my community, my Church, my family, to remember that my life was given to God and to this country. I ask them to accept that the one Master of all life was not a foreigner at this brutal departure. I ask them to pray for me: for how would I be found worthy of such an offering? I would like them to be able to link this death with so many other deaths, equally violent, but shrouded in indifference and anonymity …

This life lost, totally mine and totally theirs, I thank God who seems to have willed it in its entirety for the sake of that joy in everything and in spite of everything.

The preparation for such a witness is surely, that every religious community should be a place in which we learn how to come alive through death and resurrection. I had a great aunt, who became a Sacred Heart nun. At the age of seven she startled all her numerous sisters by pinning on the nursery wall a bit of paper saying, `I wish to be dissolved and united with Christ’. I doubt whether many candidates for religious life do that sort of thing these days, thanks be to God! But surely a religious community should be a place in which we learn to die and rise, a place of transformation. We are not the prisoners of our past. We can grow in holiness. We can die and be made new.

This is unlikely to happen if we flee from facing the death of our own institutions. Today in western Europe, many congregations, communities, monasteries and provinces must face death. There are many strategies for avoiding that truth. Perhaps we beatify the founder, start expensive building programmes, write beautiful documents about plans that we will never implement. When we send brothers or sisters to the Philippines or to Colombia or Brazil, is it because of a sudden new missionary zeal, or because we want vocations to let us survive? If we cannot face the prospect of death, then what have we to say about the Lord of life? I once had to visit a Dominican monastery in England with an old friar. The monastery was clearly nearing the end of its life, but one of the nuns said to my companion, `Surely Father, our dear Lord would never let this monastery die!’ To which he replied, `He let his Son die, didn’t he?’

One of the ways in which we live out that unimaginable story of death and resurrection is surely in bringing new life to birth in unexpected places. We must be those who go into the valley of death and show our belief in the God who raises the dead. I remember one of my Scottish brethren, who was a poet and a wrestler, an unlikely combination, but then he was an unlikely man. He started a scheme in Scotland for bringing art to prisoners. He was convinced that unless we could believe in their creativity, then they would never be healed. His first attempt was in a tough prison in Glasgow. He asked the prisoners what they would like to try: painting, poetry, sculpture, dance. You can imagine the reactions that he got! And so he rolled up his sleeves and said, `If any of you think that art is not for real men, then I will fight him!’ And he did, every one of them. And they all took poetry and painting classes! I am glad to say that this is not the only way to bring people to faith in the God who makes all things new.

Perhaps another more traditional way in which religious have always been a sign of the ever creative God is through beauty. Of this you have always been more deeply aware in France than in many other countries. A few weeks ago I met an old Dominican in Germany who is a painter and sculptor. And I asked what he most enjoyed doing. He replied that he always loved carving tombstones! There are some wounds so deep that only beauty may heal them. In the face of some sufferings hope can only be expressed by art. A beautiful tombstone can speak eloquently of the hope of resurrection of the God who can raise the dead.

Finally there is the beauty of liturgy, the beauty of the praise of God, which speaks of the God who transforms all things. It is the beauty from which we started, of a young nun singing a love song to a candle in the night. It is the beauty of a passionate song of the people of southern Spain that bowled me over. It reminds me of Neruda who said that, between the dramas of birth and death, he had chosen the guitar!


Finally one cannot have a story without actors, characters. Every story needs its hero. And what better image of the modern self could one find than our bear, angry and alone. But this modern self is in crisis.

Fundamental to modernity is this new sense of what it means to be a human being; a separate and autonomous self, detached and free, and ultimately alone. He is the fruit of an evolution that has gone on for centuries, in which social bonds have been dissolved, and privacy has become possible and an ideal. He has been our hero since the time of Descartes. We can see him in every American western, a lonely figure.

Part of the crisis of modernity is that this `modern self contains
a contradiction. Because one cannot be a `self alone. One cannot
exist as a solitary, autonomous atom. One cannot exist without
community, without people to whom we talk, without what
Charles Taylor calls `webs of interlocution’. (Source of the Self, Cambridge, 1989, p. 36) This is the contradiction at the centre of the modern story, that we see ourselves as
essentially solitary, and yet in fact no one can be a self outside
some form of community. It is impossible to be a’modern self for
long. The bear on the poster represents an impossible ideal.
Alone it would die.

Let us return for a last time to our nun, singing to the Paschal Candle. She is not alone. Just visible in the light of the candle are the crowd of young people. The Easter Vigil is a gathering of the People of God. What is born that night is a community. We come together to remember our baptism into the body of Christ and recite together a common profession of faith. This represents another vision of what it means to be a self.

`What is the sense of human life today?’ One of the ways in which religious life tries to answer that question, is by living in community. To find one’s identity in this community, as a brother or a sister, is to live another image of the self, another way of being a human being. It embodies an alternative story to that of the modern hero. In the early days a Dominican community was called asacra praedicatio, a’holy preaching’. To live together as brothers `with one heart and one mind’ was a preaching, before one said a single word. Probably more young people are drawn to religious life by the search for community than for any other reason. According to the apostolic exhortation after the Synod on religious life, Vita Consecrata, we are a sign of communion for the whole Church, a witness to the life of the Trinity.

But if community is what draws the young to religious life, it is the difficulty of community life that makes so many give up. We aspire to communion and yet it is so painful to live. When I meet young Dominicans in formation, I often ask what they find best and worst about religious life, and they usually give the same answer to both questions: living in community. That is because we are all the children of this age, moulded by its perception of the modern self. We are not wolves in sheep’s clothing. We are bears in nuns’ habits!

Perhaps one could say that in religious life we live the mirror image of the crisis of the modern self. The modern self aspires to an autonomy, a freedom, a detachment that is impossible to sustain, because no one can be human alone. We need to belong to communities to be human at all, whatever we may think. But we religious live the mirror image of this drama. We enter religious life aspiring for community, longing to be truly brothers and sisters of each other, and yet we are products of modernity, marked by its individualism, its fear of commitment, its hunger for independence. Most of us are born into families with 1.5 children and it is hard to live with the crowd. And so the modern self and the religious life are alternative aspects of the same tension. The modern selfdreams of an impossible autonomy, and we religious aspire to a community which is hard to sustain.

The bear cannot become the nun during the space of a year’s noviciate. There is the slow education in becoming human, in learning to speak and to hear, to break the hold of self absorption and egoism, which makes myself the centre of the world. It is the slow rebirth through prayer and conversation, that will liberate me from false images of God and the other person.

In this we live, naked, acutely, the drama of the modern Church. Never before has the Church so insistently presented herself as a community. Koinonia is the heart of all contemporary ecclesiologies. And yet never before has the Church, at least in Western Europe, offered so little real communion. We speak the language of communion, but it is rarely how we live. Language and reality have come apart. One of the ways in which we try to give flesh and blood to this dream of communion is surely by daring to build communities in impossible places, where everyone else has given up. So often in recent years, I have found little communities of religious, usually women, building community where everyone else seems to have despaired, where human beings are crushed and dispersed by violence and poverty. Where it seems hopeless, one can find often a few sisters, making a home with an open door.

One image will stand for so many memories. The day after I celebrated the Easter Vigil with that nun in the monastery, I went to visit a little chapel run by the brethren in Caracas, in one of the most violent barrios of Latin America. The chapel was filled with bullet holes. On average some twenty eight people are murdered in the parish every weekend by gun fire. On the wall behind the altar was a fresco painted by the local children. There was a picture of the Last Supper, with Jesus eating with a circle of Dominicans, men and women. Dominic was patting his dog. But the beloved disciple, sleeping on the side of Jesus, was a local child, a kid from the streets. It was a symbol of the child who had eventually found somewhere to belong in this violent world, the promise of a home.


I must conclude. I began by asserting that we can only find the meaning of religious life if we see how it is an answer to the search for the meaning of human life. And then I suggested that one way to understand the contemporary crisis of meaning in western society is by saying that the basic story that we tell about who we are and where we are going, no longer works. This is symbolised by our beloved bear. It is a story filled with contradictions. It tells of progress but seems to be leading us to poverty. It offers freedom, and yet often we find ourselves powerless. It invites us to be the modern self, autonomous and alone, and yet we discover that we cannot be human without community.

So religious life can only respond to that hunger for meaning by embodying another story, another vision of what it is to be human, which we see symbolised in our even more beloved nun, singing to the Candle in the night. And this is a story which offers another sense of time. It is not so much the inevitable march of progress as the story of how we meet the Lord who summons us to himself. And what drives that story is not the competition of the free, but the unimaginable creativity of God who raises the dead. And the hero of this story is not the solitary hero of modernity, but the brother or sister who find themselves in community, and build community for others.

Religious life is nothing other than the attempt to live that other story, the paschal story of death and resurrection. As Bruno Chenu wrote in his excellent book, which I read too late, “Religious endeavour to put into practice a certain baptismal logic: a life in Christ taken to its ultimate implications”. (L’Urgence prophétique, Dieu au défi de I’Histoire, Paris, p. 262.) The vows do not give a different, a special meaning to our lives. But they make public and explicit our rejection of the story of the bear. Obedience, for example, is a clear rejection of the image of the self as autonomous, solitary and disengaged. It is a declaration of our intention to live by that other story, to discover who we are in the common life of the brethren. It is a commitment to be liberated from the unsustainable burden of the modern and lonely self. In obedience, we also reject the image of life as the struggle to be strong, just as in poverty we publicly renounce the competitive struggle for success, the rat race of the consumerist society. In chastity we accept that the deepest fertility we can ever have is that of the creative God who raises the dead.

These vows leave us naked and exposed. They subvert any other stories that might give provisional meaning to my life and enable me to carry on for another day. We promise to give up career, financial success, any of the hiding places that might suggest that the bear is right after all. If that paschal story is not true, then our lives have no meaning at all and `we are of all people the most to be pitied.’ (I Cor I5:I9)

This is not easy. We are children of modernity and we have been formed by its stories and have shared its dreams. I know, for example, that I myself am more like the bear than the nun. My instinctive responses are more often that of the solitary self than the brother. I know that I have barely begun the process of being reborn. My imagination is but half reshaped. Waiting at the bus stops in Rome and looking at the posters, I see myself.

From this I draw two conclusions. First of all, that at least I can share with my contemporaries a struggle to lose the mask of the bear and acquire a human face. If I did not share this struggle, then I would have nothing to say in response to the question: `What is the sense of human life today?’ The religious is not a celestial being, who has escaped modernity, but one whose vows have made the tussle to be new inevitable, inescapable. We share with other people the pangs of rebirth. If we are honest about our struggles, then they may come to share our hope.

Secondly, because it is hard, then we must really dedicate ourselves to building communities in which this new paschal life is possible. A religious community needs to be more than a place where we can eat our meals, say a few prayers and come to sleep every night. It is a place of death and resurrection, in which we help each other to become new. I have come to like the idea of religious life as an ecosystem, a concept that I have developed elsewhere. (`Religious Vocations: Leaving behind the Usual Signs of Identity’, supra, pp. 189 209, at pp. 2o6 209.) An ecosystem is what enables strange forms of life to flourish. Every strange form of life needs its ecosystem. This is especially true for the young who now come to religious life, often only recently come to faith in God. A rare frog cannot live and reproduce and have a future unless it has all the necessary elements of its ecosystem: a pond, shade, various plants, lots of mud, and other frogs. To be a religious is to choose a strange form of life, and we each will need our sustaining environment: prayer, silence, community. Otherwise we will not thrive. So a good superior is an ecologist who helps his brethren build the necessary environments in which they may thrive. But ecosystems are not little prisons which cut us off from the modern world. An ecosystem allows a form of life to flourish and react creatively with other forms of life.

We need ecosystems that sustain in us that sense of paschaltime, the rhythm of the liturgical year which carries us from Advent to Pentecost. We need communities that are marked by its rhythms, by its patterns of feasting and fasting. We need communities in which we do not simply rush through a few Psalms before leaving for work, but where we are sustained as people who even in the wilderness may finally come to praise. We need to build communities in which we can share our faith, and share our despair, so that we bring each other through the wilderness. We need communities in which we may slowly be reborn as brothers and sisters, children of the living God.

The nun sings in the dark, as Dominic sang as he walked through the south of France. This is the Christian vocation. St Augustine told us: `Walk along the way. Sing as you walk. That’s what travellers do to ease the burden … Sing a new song. Let no one sing old songs there. Sing the love songs of your homeland . . . Like travellers, sing, and they often sing at night. All the noises they hear around are frightening. Yet they sing even when they are afraid of bandits (F_narrationes in Psalmos 66.6). Or bears!

The Rosary (1998)

An address from the Master of the Order at Lourdes, in October 1998

fr. Timothy Radcliffe, o.p.

When I saw that I had been asked to talk about the Rosary, I must confess that I had a moment of panic. I have never read about the Rosary or reflected about it ever in my life. I am sure that most of you have much more profound thoughts about the Rosary than I have. The Rosary is simply something that I have done, without thought, like breathing. Breathing is very important to me. I breathe all the time, but I have never given a talk on it. Saying the Rosary, like breathing, is so simple. So what is there to say?


It may seem a little strange that a prayer as simple as the Rosary should be particularly associated with Dominicans. Dominicans are not often thought of as very simple people. We have a reputation for writing long and complex books on theology. And yet, we fought to keep the Rosary ours. The General Chapter of 1574 urged the brethren to preach the Rosary. It is “nostra sacra haereditas”, “our sacred inheritance”. There is a long tradition of pictures of Our Lady giving the Rosary to St Dominic. But at one time, other religious orders grew jealous, and started commissioning paintings of Our Lady giving the Rosary to other saints, to St Francis and even to St Ignatius. But we fought back, and, I think in the seventeenth century, persuaded the Pope to ban the competition. Our Lady was only allowed to be shown giving the Rosary to Dominic! But why is this simple prayer so dear to Dominicans?

An address at Lourdes, in October 1998, for the ninetieth anniversary of the Pélerinage du Rosaire, the annual pilgrimage to Lourdes organized by the Dominicans of France.

The Rosary
Perhaps it is because at the center of our theological tradition is a longing for simplicity. St Thomas Aquinas said that we cannot understand God because God is utterly simple – simple beyond all our conceptions. We study, we wrestle with theological problems, we strain our minds, but the aim is to draw near to the mystery of the One who is totally simple. We have to pass through the complexity so as to arrive at simplicity.

There is a false simplicity, which we must leave behind. It is the simplicity of those who oversimplify, who have too easy answers to everything, who know it all in advance. They are either too lazy or are incapable of thought. And there is the true simplicity, the simplicity of heart, the simplicity of the clear eye. And that we can only arrive at slowly, with God’s grace, as we draw near to God’s blinding simplicity. The Rosary is indeed simple, very simple. But it has the deep and wise simplicity for which we hunger, and in which we will find peace.

It is said that when St John the Evangelist became an old man, he became utterly simple. He liked to play with a dove, and all that he would say to people, when they came to see him, was «Love one another’. You and I would not get away with that! People would not believe us. It is only someone like St John, who wrote the richest and most complex Gospel of all, who can arrive at the true simplicity of wisdom and say no more than just: «Love one another’. Just as it is only a St Thomas Aquinas, after he has written his great Summa Theologiae, who can say that all that he had written is «as straw’. Yes, the Rosary is very simple. But perhaps it is an invitation to find that deep simplicity of true wisdom. It was said of Lagrange, one of the founders of modern biblical scholarship, that he did three things every day: he read the newspapers, studied the Bible, and prayed the Rosary!

I would also like to suggest that not only is the simplicity of the Rosary good and deep simplicity, but also that it has many characteristics which are truly Dominican.

The angel as a preacher

The Hail Mary begins with the words of the angel Gabriel, “Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you.” Angels are professional preachers. It is their whole being to proclaim the good news. The words of Gabriel are the perfect sermon. It is even short! He proclaims the essence of all preaching, “The Lord is with you”. Here we see the heart of our vocation, to say to each other: “Hail Daniel, Hail Eric, the Lord is with you”. That is why Humbert of Romans, one of the earliest Masters of the Order, said that we Dominicans are called to live like angels. Though I have to say that, in my experience, most Dominicans are not especially angelic!

Last December, I was in Ho Chi Minh City, visiting the Province of Vietnam. After the day’s work was over, my socius and I loved to go and get lost in all the back streets of the city. Part of the fun was to escape the Government spy who was sent to see what we were up to. We spent hours wandering around the maze of tiny streets, filled with life – people gambling, eating, talking, playing billiards. Many of the houses had images of Buddha. And then one evening, we went around the corner into a little square, and there, right in the middle, was an enormous statue of a Dominican with wings. It was St Vincent Ferrer, who is always represented as an angel. He was the great preacher. He was seen as the angel of the Apocalypse, announcing the end of the world. Well, no preacher can get everything right! So Gabriel the archangel is a good model for us Dominicans.

And there is another way in which the Hail Mary is like a sermon. Because a sermon does not just tell us about God. It starts from the Word of God which is addressed to us. Preaching is not just the reporting of facts about God. It gives us God’s Word, which breaks the silence between God and us.

The opening words of the prayer are words that are addressed to Mary by the angel: “Hail Mary, full of grace”. The beginning of everything is the Word which we hear. St John wrote “In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the expiation for our sin.” (I Jn 4:10) In fact in the time of St Dominic the Ave Maria only consisted of these words of the angel and those of Elizabeth. Our prayer was the words given to us. It was only later, after the Council of Trent, that our own words to Mary were added.

So often we think of prayer as the effort that we make to talk to God. Prayer can look like the struggle to reach up to a distant God. Does he even hear us? But this simple prayer reminds us that this is not so. We do not break the silence. When we speak we are responding to a word spoken to us. We are taken into a conversation that has already begun without us. The angel proclaims God’s word. And this creates a space in which we can speak in turn: “Holy Mary, Mother of God”.

So often our lives are afflicted by silence. There is the silence of heaven, which may at times seem closed to us. There is the silence which may appear to separate us from each other. But the Word of God comes to us in good preaching, and breaks open those barriers. We are liberated into language. We find words come, words for God and words for each other.

Perhaps we can say even more. Meister Eckhart once said that “We do not pray, we are prayed”. Our words are the reverberation, the prolongation of the Word spoken to us. Our prayers are God praying, blessing, praising in us. As St Paul wrote, “When we cry “Abba, Father” it is the Spirit himself bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God … “ (Rom 8:14) The greetings of he angel and Elizabeth to Mary are continued in the words that we address to her. The second half of the prayer echoes the first. So the angel spoke “Hail Mary, full of grace”, and this becomes, in our mouths, the same greeting, “Holy Mary”. Elizabeth says “Blessed is the fruit of your womb”, and we say “Mother of God”. We are caught up into God’s speaking. Our prayer is God speaking within us. We are caught up into the conversation that is the life of the Trinity.

So, I would suggest that this simple prayer of the Hail Mary is like a tiny model sermon. It proclaims the good news. But like all good sermons, it does more than that. It does not simply give us information. It offers a word from God, a word that echoes in our words, a word that overcomes our silence and gives us a voice.

A prayer for home and a prayer for the journey

There is another way in which this prayer is very Dominican. And that is because it is a prayer for the home, and a prayer for the road. It is a prayer which builds community and also which propels us on our journey. And that is a tension which is very Dominican. We need our communities. We need places in which we are at home, with our brothers and sisters. And yet at the same time we are itinerant preachers, who cannot settle for too long, but must set out to preach. We are contemplative and active. Let me explain how the Hail Mary is marked by this same tension.

Think of the great pictures of the Annunciation. They usually offer us a domestic scene. The angel has come to Mary’s home. Mary is there in her room, usually reading. Often there is a spinning wheel in the background, or a brush leaning against the wall. Outside there is a garden. This is where the story begins, at home. And this is appropriate, because the Word of God makes his home with us. He pitches his tent among us.

And in a way, the Rosary is often the prayer of the home and the community. Traditionally it was said by the family and by religious communities each day. From the mid-fifteenth century we see the foundation of Rosary Confraternities who meet to pray together. So the Rosary is deeply associated with community, a prayer that we share with others. I must confess that I have ambiguous memories of family Rosary! We did not say the Rosary at home, but we often stayed with cousins who recited it together every night. But it was often a disaster. No matter how carefully the doors were locked, the dogs always burst in and made their way around the family licking our faces. And so however pious we intended to be, we, usually collapsed in giggles. I came to dread the family Rosary.

But the angel’s greeting does not leave Mary at home. The angel comes to disturb her domestic life. I often think of a wonderful Annunciation made by our Dominican brother Petit, who lives and works in Japan. He shows Gabriel as a great messenger, filling the canvas, and Mary is this small, shy, demure Japanese girl, whose life is turned upside down. She is propelled on a journey, which will take her to Elizabeth’s home, to Bethlehem, to Egypt, to Jerusalem. It is a journey that will lead to her heart being pierced, and to the foot of the cross. It is a journey that will eventually carry her to heaven and glory.

So the Rosary is also the prayer of those who journey, of pilgrims, like yourselves. I have come to love the Rosary precisely as a prayer for my travels. It is a prayer for airports and airplanes. It is a prayer that I often say as I come into land at a new place, and I wonder what I shall find, and what I can offer. It is a prayer for taking off again, giving thanks for all that I have received from the brothers and the sisters. It is a prayer of pilgrimage around the Order.

I think that the structure of Mary’s journey marks the Rosary in two ways. It is there in the words of each Hail Mary. And it is there in the structures of the mysteries of the Rosary.

Hail Mary – The story of the individual

Each Ave Maria suggests the individual journey that each of us must make, from birth to death. It is marked by the biological rhythm of each human life. It mentions the only three moments of our lives which we can know with absolute certainty: that we are born, that we live now, and that we shall die. It starts with the beginning of every human life, a conception in the womb. It situates us now, as we ask now for Mary’s prayers. It looks forward to death, our death. It is an amazingly physical prayer. It is marked by the inevitable corporeal drama of every human body, which is born and must die.

And this is surely truly Dominican. For Dominic’s preaching began in the south of France, not far from here, against heretics who despised the body, and who thought of all creation as evil. He was confronted with one of those waves of dualistic spirituality which have periodically swept Europe. Augustine, whose Rule we have, was caught in another such movement, when he was a Manichee as a young man. And even today, much of popular thought is profoundly dualistic. Studies have shown that modern scientists usually think of salvation in terms of the escape from the body.

But the Dominican tradition has always stressed that we are physical, corporeal beings. All that we are comes from God. We receive the sacrament of Jesus’ body and blood for our nourishment; we hope for the resurrection of the body.

The journey that each of us must travel is, in the first place, this physical, biological one, which takes us from the womb to the tomb. It is in this biological span of life that we will meet God and find salvation. And this simple prayer helps us on the way.


The words of the angel promise fertility, fertility for a virgin and for a barren woman. The blessing of God makes us fertile. Each of us, in our individual births, is a fruit of a womb that was blessed.

I believe that the blessing promised by the angel always takes the form of fertility, in every human life. It is the blessing of new beginnings, the grace of freshness. Perhaps we are made in the image and likeness of God because we share God’s creativity. We are his partners in creating and recreating the world. The most dramatic and miraculous example of this is childbirth. But even we men, who cannot manage that miracle, we too are blessed by fertility. When we are faced with barrenness, sterility, futility, then God comes with a fertile word. Whenever God draws near to us, it is so that we may be creative, transforming, making new, whether in tilling the soil, planting and sowing, or through art, poetry, painting.

“Blessed is the fruit of your womb”. Perhaps the best way, then, that we can ever preach the miracle of this fertility is through art, through painting and song and poetry. Because these are some small share in that same blessing, that endless fertility of God.

There is a charming story, which was told by Malaroux to Picasso. He said that when Bernadette of Lourdes entered the convent, many people sent her statues of the Virgin. But she never had them in her room, because she said that they did not look like the woman whom she had seen. The bishop sent her albums of famous pictures of the Virgin, by Raphael, Murillo and so on. She looked at Baroque virgins, of which she had seen so many, and Renaissance virgins. But none of them looked right. And then she saw the Virgin of Cambrai, a fourteenth century copy of a very old Byzantine icon, which was not like any picture of Mary that Bernadette would have seen. And she said, “That’s her!”

Perhaps it is not surprising that the young girl who had seen the Virgin, recognised her again in an icon, the fruit of a holy art, a sacred creativity. Mary shows herself most clearly in the work of one who was made fertile through God’s grace, a painter.


But the Rosary also invokes another time, not just of birth but also now. “Pray for us sinners now”. Now is the present moment in the pilgrimage of our lives, when we must carry on, survive, on our way to the Kingdom.

It is interesting that this present moment is seen as a time when we sinners need compassion. This is a profoundly Dominican compassion. You remember that Dominic prayed always to God: “Lord, have mercy on your people. What will become of sinners?” Now is a moment when we need compassion, mercy. In the Sistine Chapel, in the fresco of the Last Judgement, there is a man being pulled up from Purgatory by an angel with a Rosary.

Now is the time when we must survive, wondering how long we must wait for the Kingdom. When an American Dominican went back to visit China a few years ago, he found various groups of Dominican laity who survived during years of persecution and isolation. And the only thing that they had kept during all those years was the recitation of the Rosary together. It was the daily bread of survival. And when some of our brethren went to remote areas of Mexico, and met groups of Dominican laity, who had not been in contact with the Order for years, they found the same thing. The one practice that was continued was the Rosary. It is the prayer for survivors in this present time. During Communist times when our brother Dommik Duka was in prison with Vaclav Havel, now the President of the Czech Republic, they said the Rosary together on a knotted piece of string.

Bede Jarrett, the English provincial in the 1930s, sent a member of the Province, called Bertrand Pike, to South Africa, to help in the new mission of the Order. But Bertrand felt overwhelmed and unable to cope. It was more than he could face. He lacked the courage to continue. And Bede wrote to him reminding him of a time in war when he had found his courage in his Rosary.

“Do you remember that dreadful day you had to cross between trenches at Ypres, when your courage failed you, and only after 3 or 4 attempts, did you force yourself to get by, and how you found the carved edges of your Rosary-beads had cut into your finger in your unconscious gripping of them to take a new lease of courage from holding them.”

“Yes, I remember that.”

“But, my dear Bertrand, courage and fear are not opposed. Those only have courage who do what they should do even though they have fear.”

So Bertrand must tightly grip his Rosary to have courage, “now and at the hour of his death”. It is the prayer for all of us who need courage to carry on, to triumph over fear. It gives us the courage of the pilgrim.

The hour of our death

And the final certain moment of our bodily lives is death. «Pray for us sinners now and in the hour of our death’. In the face of death, we pray the Rosary. I have just returned from Kinshasa, in the Congo, where many of our sisters have faced death in recent years. The Provincial of the Missionary Sisters of Grenada, Sister Christina, told me about how she and her sisters had had to flee from their home in the north of the Congo during the last war. They had been hidden in the bush by friends. She is a doctor, and when they were fleeing she met a man whose wife she had saved. And he said to her that now it was his turn to save her life. All around them they heard the sound of gun fire. They were told that the rebels had discovered where they were and would come soon to kill them. In the face of this death, they prayed the Rosary. It is a prayer that when we face death, knowing that we will not do so alone, Mary will then pray for us.

I think also of my father. During the Second World War, my mother and the three eldest children remained in London. I was just on the way. My mother insisted on being available in case my father could ever have leave and come home, even though night after night the bombs fell on London. And my father promised that if all of his family would survive the war, then he would pray the Rosary every night. So one of the memories of my childhood is of how every night before dinner, my father would pace up and down the drawing room, praying the Rosary. He gave thanks nightly, that we had survived that threat of death. And one of my last memories of my father was of just before he died, too weak to pray himself any more, we his family, his wife and six children, gathered around his bed and prayed the Rosary for him. It was the first time that he could not do it himself. That he be surrounded by all of us was an answer to that prayer he had said so many thousands of times. “Pray for us now and at the hour of our death.”

T. S. Eliot begins one of his poems “Pray for us now and at the hour of our birth”. And this is right. For we must face these three sure moments in our life: birth, the present, and our death. But what we long for in each moment is always the same, new birth. What we long for now, as sinners, is not the mercy that merely forgets what we have done, but which makes this too a moment of new birth, of fresh beginning. And faced with death, we again long for the words of the angel to announce a new fertility. For all of our lives are open to God’s endless newness, his inexhaustible freshness. The angel comes time and time again, with new Annunciations of good news.

The Mysteries of the Rosary – The story of salvation

So the individual Ave Maria is the prayer of the journey that each of us must make, from birth, through the present now until death. But ultimately our lives do not have meaning in themselves, as private and individual stories. Our lives only have meaning because they are caught up in a larger story, which reaches from the very beginning to the unknown end, from Creation to the Kingdom. And this longer span is given by the mysteries of the Rosary, which tell the story of redemption.

The mysteries of the Rosary have been compared with the Summa Theologiae of St Thomas. They tell, in their own way, of how everything comes from God and everything returns to God. For each mystery of the Rosary is part of a single mystery, the mystery of our redemption in Christ. As Paul wrote to the Ephesians, “For he has made known to us in all wisdom and insight the mystery of his will, according to his purpose which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth”. (Eph I:9)

So, one might say that each Ave Maria represents an individual life, with its own story from birth to death. But all these Ave Marias are taken up into the mysteries of the Rosary just as our individual lives are taken up into the larger story of redemption. We need both dimensions, a story with two levels. I need to give a form and meaning to my own life, the story of this unique human flesh and blood, with my moments of failure and victory. If there is no place for my unrepeatable story, then I will be merely lost in the history of humanity. For Christ says to me, “Today, you will be with me in paradise”. I need the individual AveMaria, my own little drama, in the face of my own little death. My death may not mean much for humanity, but it will be quite important for me.

But it is not enough to remain trapped on that merely personal level. I must find my life taken into the larger drama of God’s purpose. Alone my story has no meaning. My individual Ave Maria must find its place in the mysteries of the Rosary. So the Rosary offers that perfect balance we need in the search for the meaning of our lives, both the individual and the communal.


I have tried to sketch a few reasons why the Rosary is indeed a deeply Dominican devotion. The Ave Maria bears all the marks of a perfect little sermon. And the whole of the Rosary is marked by the theme of the journey, our own and that of humanity. All this fits well the life of an Order of itinerant preachers. There are other things that I could have stressed, like the biblical basis of the mysteries. It is a prolonged meditation on the Word of God in scripture. But I have said enough!

But I must face a final objection. I have tried to suggest the theological richness of the Rosary. But the fact is that when one prays the Rosary, one rarely thinks about anything. We do not in fact think about the nature of preaching or the human story and its relationship with the story of salvation. Our minds are largely blank. We may even sometimes find ourselves wondering why we are endlessly repeating the same words in this mindless fashion. That is surely not very Dominican! Yet from the very beginning of our tradition, our brethren and nuns have delighted in this repetition. One brother Romeo, who died in 1261, is supposed to have recited a thousand Ave Marias a day!

First of all, many religions are marked by this tradition of the repetition of sacred words. Last Sunday, when I was wondering what to say about the Rosary, I heard a Buddhist service broadcast on the BBC, and it seemed to consist in the endless repetition of holy words, the mantra. It has often been pointed out that the Rosary is quite similar to these Eastern ways of prayer, and that the constant reiteration of these words can work a slow but deep transformation of our hearts. Since this is so widely known I will say no more.

One could also point out that repetition is not necessarily a sign of a lack of imagination. It may be sheer exuberant pleasure that makes us repeat words. If we love someone, we know that it is not enough to tell them “I love you” just once. We will want to say it again and again, and we may hope that they wish to hear it again and again.

G. K. Chesterton argued that repetition is a characteristic of the vitality of children, who like the same stories, with the same words, time and time again, not because they are bored and unimaginative but because they delight in life. Chesterton wrote: Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, “Do it again”; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead, for grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening “Do it again” to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes each daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old and our Father is younger than we. The repetition in Nature may not be a mere recurrence; it may be a theatrical encore. Heaven may encore the bird who laid an egg.’ Or our repetition of the Rosary!

Finally, it is true that when we say the Rosary we often may not think about God. We may go for hours without any thoughts at all. We are just there, saying our prayers. But this may be good. When we say the Rosary, we are celebrating that the Lord is indeed with us and we are in his presence. We repeat the words of the angel “The Lord be with you”. It is a prayer of God’s presence. And if we are with someone then we do not need to think about them. As Simon Tugwell wrote, “I do not think about my friend when he is there beside me; I am far too busy enjoying his presence. It is when he is absent that I will start to think about him. Thinking about God all too easily leads us to treat him as if he were absent. But he is not absent.”

So, in the Rosary we do not try to have thoughts about God. Instead we rejoice in the words of the angel addressed to each of us, “The Lord be with you”. We endlessly repeat these same words, with the endless vital exuberance of the children of God, who take pleasure in the good news.

The Promise of Life (1998)

“I have come that they may have life, and have it more abundantly.” John (10.10)
25 February, Ash Wednesday 1998

fr. Timothy Radcliffe, o.p.

When St Dominic gave the friars the habit, he promised them “the bread of life and the water of heaven”(1) . If we are to be preachers of a word that gives life, then we must find the “bread of life” in our communities. Do they help us to flourish, or merely to survive?

Shortly after I joined the Order, the Province was visitated by fr. Aniceto Fernandez, then Master. He asked me only one question, the traditional question of all visitators: “Are you happy?” I had expected some deeper question, about preaching the gospel, or the challenges facing the Province. Now I realise that this is the first question we must put to our brethren: “Are you happy?” There is a happiness which is properly that of being alive as a Dominican, and which is the source of our preaching. It is not an endless cheerfulness, a relentless bonhomie. It entails a capacity for sorrow. It may be absent for a time, even a long time. It is some small taste of that abundance of life which we preach, the joy of those who have begun to share God’s own life. We should have the capacity for delight because we are children of the Kingdom. “Delight is the intrinsic character of the blessed life and the life which by the gift of the Holy Spirit is on the way to blessedness”.(2) When we sing to Dominic we conclude by praying: Nos junge beatis. Join us to the blessed. May we share some glimpse of their happiness there now.

If we are to build communities in which there is an abundance of life, then we must recognise who and what we are and what it means for us to be alive. as men and women brothers and sisters, and as preachers.

We are not angels. We are passionate beings, moved by the animal desires for food and copulation. This is the nature which the Word of life accepted when he embraced human nature. We can do no less. It is from here that the journey to holiness begins.

Yet we are created by God in his image, destined for God’s friendship. We are capax Dei, hungry for God To be alive is to embark on that adventure which leads us to the Kingdom.

We need communities that will sustain us on the way. The Lord has promised “I will take out of your flesh the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh” (Ezekiel 36.26). We need brothers and sisters who are with us as our hearts are broken and made tender.

Every wise person has always known that there is no way to life that does not take one through the wilderness. The journey from Egypt to the Promised Land passes through the desert. If we would be happy and truly alive, then we too must pass that way. We need communities which will accompany us on that journey, and help us to believe that when the Lord leads Israel into the wilderness it is so that he “may speak tenderly to her” (Hosea 2.16). Perhaps so many people have left religious life in the last thirty years not because it is any harder than before, but because we have sometimes lost sight of the fact that these dark nights belong to our rebirth as people who are alive with the joy of the Kingdom. So our communities should not be places in which we merely survive, but places where we find food for the journey.

To use a metaphor which I have developed elsewhere,(3) religious communities are like ecological systems, designed to sustain strange forms of life. A rare frog will need its own ecosystem if it is flourish, and make its hazardous way from spawn to tadpole to frog. If the frog is threatened with extinction, then one must build an environment, with its food and ponds and a climate in which it can thrive. Dominican life also requires its own ecosystem, if we are to live fully, and preach a word of life. It is not enough to talk about it; we must actively plan and build such Dominican ecosystems.

This is, in the first place, the responsibility of each community. It is for the brethren and sisters who live together to create communities in which we may not just survive but flourish, offering to each other “the bread of life and the water of heaven”. This is the fundamental purpose of the “community project” proposed by the last three General Chapters. This will only happen if we dare to talk together about what touches us most deeply as human beings and as Dominicans. My hope is that this letter to the Order may open up discussion of some aspects of our Dominican life. I look at the apostolic life, the affective life, and the life of prayer. These are not three parts of each life (Contemplative life, 7am – 7.30am; Apostolic life, 9am – 5pm; Affective life ?.). They belong to the fullness of any life that is truly human and Dominican. Nicodemus asks how one can be reborn. This is our question too: how can we help each other as we face transformation, so as to become apostles of life?

Not every community will be able to renew itself and attain the ideal envisaged by our Constitutions and recent General Chapters. A Province will therefore have to evolve a plan for the gradual renewal of communities in which the brethren may flourish. It is to these communities alone that young brethren should be assigned. They will carry the seeds for the future of Dominican life. Unless a Province plans the building of such communities, then it dies. A Province with three communities where the brethren flourish in the Dominican life has a future, with the grace of God. A Province with twenty communities where we just survive may well have none.


1.1 A life torn open

The Dominican life is in the first place apostolic. This may easily be understood to mean that a good Dominican is always busy, engaged in “apostolates”. Yet the apostolic life is not what we do so much as what we are, those who are called to “live the life of the apostles in the form conceived by St Dominic”.(4) When Diego met the Cistercian delegates sent to preach to the Albigensians he told them “go humbly, following the example of our loving Master, teaching and acting, travelling on foot without silver and gold, imitating the life of the apostles in everything”.(5) To be an apostle is to have a life, not a job.

And the first characteristic of this apostolic life is that it is a sharing of the life of the Lord. The apostles are those who accompanied him “during all the time that Lord Jesus went in and out among us” (Acts 1.21). They were called by him, walked with him, listened to him, rested and prayed with him, argued with him, and were sent out by him. They shared the life of the one who is Emmanuel, “God with us”. The culmination of that life was the sharing of the Last Supper, the sacrament of the bread of life. Though one left early because he had too much to do.

The apostolic life is therefore for us more than the various apostolates that we do. It is a way of life. Yves Congar OP wrote of preaching that it is a “vocation that is the substance of my life and being,”.(6) If the demands of the apostolate mean that we have no time to pray and eat with our brothers, to share their lives, then how ever busy we may be, we will not be apostles in the full sense of the word. Meister Eckhart wrote: “People should not worry so much about what they should do; rather about what they should be. If we and our ways are good, then what we do will be radiant.”(7) Dominic was a preacher with all his being.

But this apostolic life necessarily tears us apart. This is its pain and the source of its fertility. For the Word of God, whose life the apostles share, reaches out to all that is farthest from God and embraces it. According to Eckhart, the Word remains one with the Father while boiling over into the world. Nothing human is alien to him. The life of God is stretched open to find a space for all that we are; he becomes like us in all things but sin. He takes upon himself our doubts and fears; he enters into our experience of absurdity, that wilderness in which all meaning is lost.

So for us to live the apostolic life fully is to find that we too are torn open, stretched out. To be a preacher is not just to tell people about God. It is to bear within our lives that distance between the life of God and that which is furthest away, alienated and hurt We have a word of hope only if we glimpse from within the pain and despair of those to whom we preach. We have no word of compassion unless somehow we know their failures and temptations as our own. We have no word which offers meaning to people’s lives, unless we have been touched by their doubts, and glimpsed the abyss. I think of some of my French brethren, who after a day of teaching theology and doing research, take to the pavements at night, to meet the prostitutes, to hear their woes and sufferings, and to offer them a word of hope. No wonder that, from the beginning, we Dominicans have a bad reputation! It is a risk of the vocation. Jordan of Rivalto, in the fourteenth century, tells people not to be too hart on the friars if they are bit “grubby”. It is part of our vocation: “being here among the people, seeing the things of the world, it is impossible for them not to get a bit dirty. They are men of flesh and blood like you, and in the freshness of youth; it is a wonder that they are as clean as they are . This is no place for monks!”(8)

So the apostolic life does not offer us a balanced and healthy “lifestyle”, with good career prospects. For it unbalances us, tips us into that which is most other. If we share the life of the Word of God in this way, then we are hollowed out, opened up, so that there is the space and the silence for a new word to be born, as if for the first time. We are people of faith who reach out to open our hearts to those who do not believe. Sometimes we ourselves will be unsure of what it all means. We are like the apostles, who were summoned by Christ, and who walked to Jerusalem with him, knowing that he alone had the words of eternal life. And yet they argued as to who was the greatest, and often had no idea where they were going.

So the apostolic life invites us to live a tension. We have promised to build our lives with our Dominican brothers and sisters. “For us henceforth to be human, to be ourselves is to be one of the preaching brethren, we have no other life-story.”(9) Here is our home and we can have no other. But the impetus of the apostolic life propels us into different worlds. It has taken many of our brothers into the industrial world, to the world of factories and trade unions. It takes others into universities. It takes us into the cyberworld of Internet. A new project of the French Dominicans, Jubilatio, carries us into the world of the young. A project in Benin takes us into the world of ecological farming. We are present in the worlds of Islam and Judaism. This tension may tear us open, so that the only life we have is not built or planned by us, but received as a daily gift, “bread of life” that Dominic promised.

1.2 Work in contemporary society

In our contemporary society, this tension can easily become a simple division. We can become people with two lives, our lives as Dominicans in our communities and the lives we live in our apostolates. This is because of the way that work is perceived today. If this happens then the beautiful, painful, fertile tension at the heart of the apostolic life is broken, and we may become simply people with jobs who happen to go back to religious hotels at night. Let us see why this is a particular challenge we must face today.

a) The fragmentation of our lives
Contemporary western society fragments life. The weekday is separated from the weekend, work from leisure, the working life from retirement, at least for those lucky enough to have a job. You can be a history teacher in the day and a parent at night and a Christian on Sunday. This fragmentation can make it hard for us to live unified and whole lives. Dominicans preach in an almost infinite variety of ways. We are parish priests and professors, social workers and hospital chaplains, poets and painters. How do we live these apostates as friars, members of our communities, vowed brethren and sisters? I remember being very moved talking to a young Dominican journalist who shared with me the difficulties of living in the world of the media. In the day he lived in one world, with its moral assumptions, its “lifestyle”. At night he came back to his religious community. How was he to be one person, friar and journalist? When we come back to the community at night, then like everyone else in society we will want to shut off the burdens of the day. What we do at work is “another life”.

b) The professionalisation of work
Increasingly work is professionalised. For the preaching of the gospel we will often become qualified professionals. One can even get a diploma in preaching or a doctorate in pastoral studies. None of those whom Jesus called had graduated in “apostleship”! There is nothing wrong with this professionalisation. We must be as qualified and professional as those with whom we work. Yet we must be aware of the seductions of becoming a “professional”. It grants status and position. It locates us in a stratified society. It gives identity and invites us to a way of life. We may bring in a salary to the community. How is this doctor, professor, pastor, to be a mendicant, an itinerant friar or sister? Does our profession confine us to a narrow path, with only the prospect of promotion? Does it leave us free for the unexpected demands of our brethren and of God?

c) The work ethic
Finally, in western society, the work ethic has triumphed. It is what justifies our existence. Salvation not by works but by work. The unemployed arc excluded from the Kingdom. Whatever we may preach, surely the hectic activism one so often encounters in the Order may suggest that sometimes we too believe that we can save ourselves by what we do. We praise Dominic as Praedicator Gratiae, “preacher of grace”, but though we may preach that salvation is a gift, is that how we live? Do we live as those for whom life, and the fullness of life, is a gift? Is that how we regard our brethren? Do we compete to show how busy and therefore important we are?

1.3 The wilderness of meaninglessness

So to be a preacher is to have one’s life prized open. We have somehow to share in the Exodus of the Word of God, who comes forth from the Father to embrace all that is human. Sometimes this Exodus may carry us into the wilderness, with no apparent way through to the Promised Land. We may be like Job who sits upon the dung heap and proclaims that his Redeemer lives. Only sometimes we merely sit upon the dung heap. If we let ourselves be touched by the doubts and beliefs of our contemporaries, then we may find ourselves in a desert in which the gospel makes no sense anymore. “He has walled up my path “(Job 19.8).

The fundamental crisis of our society is perhaps that of meaning. The violence, corruption and drug addiction are symptoms of a deeper malady, which is the hunger for some meaning to our human existence. To make us preachers God may lead us into that wilderness. There our old certainties will collapse, and the God whom we have known and loved will disappear. Then we may have to share the dark night of Gethsemane, when all seems absurd and senseless, and the Father appears to be absent. And yet it is only if we let ourselves be led there, where nothing makes any sense any more, that we may hear the word of grace which God offers; for our time. “Grace shows itself where we break through despair into the affirmation of praise.”(10)

Faced with void, we may be tempted to fill it, with half believed platitudes, with substitutes for the living God. The fundamentalism which we so often see in the Church today is perhaps the frightened reaction of those who stood on the edge of that desert, but did not dare to endure it. The desert is a place of terrifying silence, which we may try to drown by banging out old formulas with a terrible sincerity. But the Lord leads us into the wilderness to show us his glory. Therefore, says Meister Eckhart, “Stand firm, and do not waver from your emptiness”.(11)

1.4 Communities of apostolic life

How can our communities sustain us in this apostolic life? How can we support each other when a brother or sister finds themselves in that wilderness, when nothing at all makes any more sense?

a) The apostle is the one who is sent. The apostles did not apply for the job! We give our lives to the Order so that we may be sent out on its mission. In most Dominican communities there is the regular rhythm of going out in the morning and coming back at night. But we are not just going out to work, like a professional leaving his house. It is the community that sends us. And “on their return the apostles told him what they had done” (Luke 9. 10). Do we listen to what our brethren have done in the day when they come home in the evening? Do we give them the chance to share the challenges that they meet in their apostolates? We are out there, in the parish or the classroom, for them, on their behalf, representing them. The community is present here in this brother or sister.

How can the prayers that we share together, morning and evening, be not just the common fulfilment of an obligation but part of the rhythm of the community that send out and receives back its members? Do we pray for and with our brothers in their apostolates? If not, then how can our community be said to be apostolic? It may become just a hostel.

The General Chapter of Caleruega has given excellent and clear suggestions as to how communities may plan and evaluate the common mission of the community, so that the brethren grow in a real sense of collaboration. I strongly urge all communities to fulfil these recommendations (No. 44).

b) In our communities we should be able to share both our faith and our doubts. For most of us, especially many who are joining the Order today, it is not enough just to recite the psalms together. We need to share the faith that brought us to the Order and which sustains us now. This the foundation of our fraternity. Perhaps we can only do this tentatively, shyly, but even so we may offer our brothers and sisters the bread of life and the water of heaven”. General Chapters frequently recommend that there be preaching at every public liturgy. This is not only because we are the Order of Preachers, but also that we may share with each other our faith.

We must also be able to share our doubts. It is above all when brother enters that wilderness, when nothing makes sense any more, that we must let him speak. We must respect his struggle and never crush him. If a brother dares to share these moments of darkness and incomprehension, and we dare to listen to him, then it may be the greatest gift that he could ever give. The Lord may lead a brother into the dark night of Gethsemane. Will we go to sleep while he struggles? Nothing binds a community more closely together than a faith that we struggled to attain together. This may be in a theological faculty or a poor barrio of Latin America. In wrestling together to make sense of who we are and to what we are called in the light of the gospel, then we shall surely be astonished by the God who is always new and unexpected. We may even be surprised to encounter and discover each other, as if for the first time.


2.1 In this is love

“In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the expiation of our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another”. (I Jn 4.10f)

All apostolic life is a sharing in that redemptive love of God for humanity. If it is not, then our preaching will be at best a job, and at worst an exercise in manipulation of others, the propagation of an ideology. Perhaps in some countries the churches are empty because the preaching of the gospel is seen as an exercise of control rather than the expression of God’s boundless love. So to become alive, abundantly alive as preachers, means discovering how to love well. “My vocation is Love”.(12)

But one could put it the other way around. For us Dominicans, learning how to love is inseparable from being caught up in the mystery of God’s redemption of humanity. This is our school of love. Today religious formators all over the world are beginning to face the question of “affectivity”, a word I dislike. How can we form those who join the Order so that they may love well and fully, as chaste religious? Most of us had little or no formation in facing our emotions, our sexuality, our hunger to love and be loved. I do not remember ever receiving any formation in this area. It seemed to be assumed, or perhaps hoped nervously, that a good run and a cold shower would solve the “problem”. Alas, I cannot run and I dislike cold showers!

In this letter I will not discuss issues relating specifically to formation and affectivity, since I hope there will be a letter to the Order on the topic of formation soon. I will just say this: it is not enough to hope that all will be well if we recruit well-balanced young men and women, free of obvious emotional disorders. Would well balanced people lay down their lives for their friends? Would they leave the ninety-nine sheep and go and look for the one that is lost? Would they eat and drink with prostitutes and sinners? I fear that they may be too sensible. Commenting on St John’s gospel, Augustine wrote “Show me a lover, and he feels what I am saying”. (13) It is only those who are capable of love who can possibly understand the passion of the apostolic life. Unless we let ourselves be caught on the wave of that immense love, then all our attempts to be chaste may end up in being exercises in control. We may succeed, but at the risk of great damage to ourselves. We may fail, at the risk of terrible damage to others. So unless our apostolic impulse and our capacity for love are deeply integrated, then they become a matter of either controlling others or myself. But Jesus let go control of his life, and placed it in our hands.

2.2 “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” (Jn 15.13)

Loving humanity may be very admirable but it may seem like a pale and abstract substitute for that deep and personal love for which we sometimes hunger. Is it really enough? And we may feel this all the more in contemporary society in which the dominant model of love is the passionate sexual love of a man and woman. When we feel this urgency, then can we be satisfied with loving humanity?

That passionate, spousal love is indeed a deep human need, and I shall say something about it later. It may also be an image of our relationship with God, for example in the medieval commentaries on the Song of Songs. But there is another complementary tradition which is perhaps more typically Dominican. It is at the heart of John’s gospel. “Greater love has no one than this, that he lays down his life for his friends.” So this is what the mystery of love looks like, someone giving away their life for their friends. Here we see a love that is profoundly passionate, in Jesus’ relationship with the disciples, with the prostitutes and publicans, the sick and the lepers, and even the Pharisees. It is a passion whose consummation is the passion that leads to Golgotha. Is not this as passionate as any love affair?

Our society may find our way of loving incomprehensible, since we have apparently rejected the typical experience of love, the sexual union with one other person. We may feel that sometimes ourselves, that we have missed out on “the big experience”, and that we have not lived. But St Thomas Aquinas taught that at the heart of the life of the God who is love is friendship, the unutterable friendship of the Father and the Son, which is the Spirit. For us to live, to become unutterably alive, is to find our home in that friendship and to be transformed by it. It will overspill into all that we do and are. As Don Goergen OP wrote, “Celibacy does not witness to anything. But celibates do”.(14) We witness to the Kingdom if we are seen to be people whose chastity liberates us for life.

Our communities should be schools of friendship. When he was dying St Hyacinth repeated the words of St Dominic to the brethren, “Have goodness and gentleness (dulcedo) of heart. Keep love of God and fraternal charity”.(15) Are we always sufficiently good and gentle hearted towards each other? In religious life there has often been a fear of friendship, but perhaps this has not been so present in the Dominican tradition. From the beginning there have been profound and loving friendships, of Dominic for his brethren and sisters; of Jordan of Saxony for his beloved Diana and for Henry; of Catherine of Siena and Raymond of Capua. I remember an old Dominican saying in Chapter when I was young, “I have nothing against particular friendships; it’s particular enmities to which I object!”. This friendship is never exclusive, but profoundly transformative, painfully and slowly liberating us from all that is dominative or possessive, all that is patronising or contemptuous. If it is a sharing in the life of the Trinity, then it will be a love that lifts the other to equality and sets them free. As Bede Jarrett, the English provincial, wrote in 1932, “Oh dear friendship, what a gift of God it is. Speak no ill of it. Rather praise its Maker and Model, the Blessed Three-in-one.”(16) If it is truly a friendship which is of God, then it will propel us out into the mission of preaching the good news.

The culmination of our loving will be a dispossession. Those whom we love we must let go; we must let them be. Does my love for another give them freedom to make their own lives and leave me free for the mission of the Order? Does my love for this woman, for example, help her to grow in her love for her husband, or am I tying her life to mine, and making her dependent? This painful but liberating dispossession invites us to become peripheral to the lives of those whom we love. We should find that we disappear from the centre of their lives, so that they may forget us and be free, free for someone else, free for God. This is the hardest thing of all, but I firmly believe that it can give us more joy than we can ever say or imagine. It is when our sides are opened up, so that living water may flow out.

One of the beautiful examples within our Dominican tradition is surely that of the love between Blessed Jordan of Saxony, Dominic’s successor as Master of the Order, and the Dominican nun, B1essed Diana d’Andalo. Clearly they loved each other deeply. How many Masters of the Order have written with such openness to a woman? “Am I not yours, am I not with you: yours in labour, yours in rest; yours when I am with you, yours when I am far away?(17) And it is clear that she taught him much about how to love. But in his letters Jordan is always giving her away to the Lord. He is the Bridegroom’s friend, whose role is to bring the bride to the bridegroom: “Think on him.” “What is lacking to you because I cannot be with you, make up for in the company of a better friend, your Bridegroom Jesus Christ whom you have more constantly with you in spirit and in truth, and who speaks to you more sweetly and to better purpose than Jordan”.(18)

We even have to be dispossessed, in a sense, of our own families. We will rightly love them and delight in their love for us, but once we make our profession in the Order we should be free to go where the mission of the Order needs us, even if it is far from the homes of our family. That is part of our poverty. Now our first belonging is to the Order and the preaching of the gospel.

2.3 Sex, Bodies and Desire

a) An unattainable ideal?

This is a beautiful ideal, but it may seem remote and unattainable. As we struggle with sexual desire, with fantasies and possessiveness, then this selfless friendship may seem beyond our reach. The media assures us every day that this ideal is “unrealistic”. But God does not transform humanity by inviting us to labour up to heaven. The divine life comes to where we are, flesh and blood. Jesus summons Zacchaeus to come down from the tree and join him on the ground. The Word becomes bodily, takes upon himself our desires, our passion, our sexuality. If we would meet the Lord and be healed, then we too must become incarnate, in the bodies that we are, with all our passions, with our hurts and hungers.

We start from who and what we are. When we are clothed in the habit, we bring to the Order this person, who is the fruit of a history, and carries its wounds. This is the person whom the Lord has called, and not some ideal human being. We come with the scars of past experience, perhaps with the unhealed memories of failures in love, of abuse, of sex. Our families have taught us to love; they may also have inflicted wounds on us that will take time to heal. To grow in this Christlike love takes time, and this time is given. It is a gift, and God always gives his gifts through time. He took centuries to form his people, preparing the way for the birth of his Son. God gives us life patiently, not in an instant. If we accept his gifts, we must accept the way God gives, “not as the world gives do I give unto you” (Jn 14.27). Accepting this gift of time is perhaps especially important in our society, in which adolescence is prolonged, and it is only late that most of us arrive at maturity. We must start with our desires, our hungers, our bodies. We are neither angels nor beasts, but flesh and blood and spirit, destined for the Kingdom. But, as Pascal said, if we make the mistake of thinking that we are angels, then we will become beasts.

b) Desire

“I will take out of your flesh the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh ” (Ezekiel 36.26). If our hearts are to become flesh then we must let our desires be transformed.

What are the desires that shape our heart, and which we hide from others and perhaps even from ourselves? “None of us is so self-transparent as to know quite where, in fact, our hearts are set.”(19) Until we look squarely at our desires in the face and learn to desire well, then we shall be subject to their control and so their prisoner. This is especially hard in a society which is dedicated to the cultivation of desire. Our society is dying not of famine but of an excess of desire. Every advertisement encourages us to desire more, endlessly, infinitely. The world is being consumed by a voracious, unmeasured desire, that may consume us all. Unrestrained sexual desire is merely one symptom of how we are taught to see the world, as there to be taken and consumed.

In the first place, that love which is friendship invites us to see the other without seeking to possess them. We delight in them without seeking ownership. It is hard to attain this liberty of heart if we remain captivated by the culture of the market, in which everything is there to be acquired and used, even other people. Thus true friendship asks of us that we break with the dominant culture of our time. We have to learn to see aright, with clarity, with eyes that do not devour each other and the world. St Thomas wrote “ubi amor, ibi oculus”. “Where love is, there is the eye.” (20) He says that when we lust we see the other as the lion sees the stag, as a meal to be devoured. Love is therefore inseparable from a true poverty of heart. As William Blake asked, “Can that be Love that drinks another as a sponge drinks water?” (21)

So the healing of desire implies a different way of being in the world, true poverty. And what sort of sign would chastity be if we remain just as acquisitive in other ways? As Don Goergen OP wrote, “If I partake of consumer society, defend capitalism, tolerate machismo, believe that Western society is superior to others, and am sexually abstinent, I am simply witnessing to that for which we stand: capitalism, sexism, western arrogance, and sexual abstinence. The latter is hardly deeply meaningful and understandably questioned.” (22)

We also need to see sexuality clearly and free ourselves from the sexual mythology of contemporary society. We have to demythologise sex. On the one hand a sexual relationship is usually seen as the culmination of all our hungers for communion and the only escape from loneliness. It has been called the last remaining sacrament of transcendence, the only sign that we exist for another, or even that we exist at all. To be without a sexual relationship is therefore to be half dead. On the other hand, sexuality is trivialised. An English madam

recently declared that sex is of no more importance than having a cup of tea. It is this combination of the deification of sexuality and its trivialisation that makes celibacy so hard to bear. We are both told that we must have it, and that it is ours to have without a moment’s thought. The re-education of our human hearts demands that we see sexuality clearly. It is indeed a beautiful sacrament of communion with another, the gift of oneself, and so it can never be trivialised. Yet them are other ways in which we may love fully and completely and so its absence does not condemn us to isolation and loneliness.

Finally, faced with the insatiable desires of the market place, we are invited not to repression, but to hunger for more We are passionate people, and to kill all passion would be to stunt and wither our humanity. It would make us preachers of death. Instead we must be liberated into deeper desires, for the boundless goodness of God. As Oshida, the Japanese Dominican, says, we beg God to make himself irresistible. Our desires may go astray not because we ask for too much, but because we have settled for too little, for tiny satisfactions “The ideal is for us not to control our appetites at all, but to allow them full rein in the wake of an uncontrolled appetite for God (23) The advertisements that line our roads invite us to struggle against each other, to trample upon each other in the competition to fulfil our endless desires; our God offers the satisfaction of infinite desire freely and as a gift. Let us desire more deeply.

This transformation of desire will surely imply some asceticism. This is a conclusion which I have long resisted! Dominic surely arrived at his freedom, his spontaneity, his lightheartedness partly because he was a temperate man, who ate and drank little. He feasted with his brethren but he also fasted. There is an aceticism which is not a Manichean rejection of God’s world, but teaches us a proper pleasure in it. “It is about giving up not desire itself which would be inhuman – but its violence. It is about dying to the violence of pleasure, to its omnipotence.” (24) Temperance measures our appetites against the real needs of our body, and so rescues us from the delusions of fantasy and the tyranny of desire.

c) Bodies

I cannot have a mature relationship to my sexuality until I learn to accept and even delight in human bodies, my own and other people’s. This is the body that I have, and that I am, getting older, fatter, losing my hair, evidently mortal. I must be at ease with other people’s bodies, the beautiful and the ugly, the sick and the healthy, the old and young, male and female. St. Dominic founded the Order to rescue people from the tragedy of a dualistic religion, which condemned this created world as evil. Central to our tradition from the beginning is an appreciation of corporeality. It is here that God comes to meet and redeem us, becoming a human being of flesh and blood like us. The central sacrament of our faith is the sharing of his body; our final hope is the resurrection of the body. The vow of chastity is not a refuge from our bodily existence. If God has become flesh and blood, then we can dare to do so as well.

We discover what it means for us to be bodily in that climax of Jesus’ life, when he gives his body to us: “This is my body, given for you”. Here we see that the body is not just a lump of flesh, a bag of muscles, blood and fat. The Eucharist shows us the vocation of our human bodies: to become gifts to each other, the possibility of communion.

The immense pain of celibacy is that we renounce a moment of intense bodiliness, when bodies are given to each other, without reserve. Here the body is seen in its profound identity not as a lump of flesh but as the sacrament of presence. This sexual act expresses, makes flesh and blood, our deep desire to share our lives. That is why it is a sacrament of Christ’s unity with the Church. We religious too, in our corporeality, can make Christ present in our way. The preacher brings the Word to expression, not just in his or her words, but in all that we are. God’s compassion seeks to become flesh and blood is us, in our tenderness, even in our faces.

In the Old Testament, we often find the prayer that God’s face may shine upon us. This prayer was finally answered in the form of a human face, Christ’s face. He looks at the rich young man, loves him and asks him to follow him; he looks at Peter in the courtyard after his betrayal; he looks at Mary Magdalene in the garden and calls her by her name. As preachers, flesh and blood, we can give body to that compassionate look of God. Our bodiliness is not excluded from our vocation. “And the man who is both a preacher and a brother can learn, painfully and probably with every uneven progress, what it means to be a face for God precisely in having a human face, a face that can smile and laugh and weep and look bored … It is in all our uniqueness and individuality, which is eternally valid and desired by God, that we are also the revelation, the manifestation, the expression of him who is the One Word coming forth from an eternity from the silence of God.”(25)

True purity of heart is not about being freed from contamination by this world. It is more about being fully present in what we do and are, having a face and a body that expresses ourselves, beyond deceit and duplicity. The pure in heart are not concealed behind their faces, watching warily. Their faces are transparent, unprotected, with the nakedness and vulnerability of Christ. They have his freedom and: spontaneity. “Only he who has a pure heart can laugh in a freedom that creates freedom in others.” (26)

d) Generativity

Perhaps more than anything else, I have missed not having children. And if I, as a man, feel this, then what can it mean for a woman not to have given birth? This is a fundamental desire we must recognise. Yet if our apostolic life is caught up in the fertile love of God for humanity, then we will be fruitful. Meister Eckhart says that God’s love in us is green and fertile. God is in us “ever verdant and flowering in all the joy and the glory that he is in himself” (27) “God ‘s chief aim is giving birth He is never content until he begets his Son in us. And the soul too is in no way content until the Son is born in her.” (28)

It belongs to our love of the brethren and sisters that we help each other to be fruitful. The apostolic life is not just a matter of endless work. If our apostolates are alive with the abundance of God’s own life, then we shall share in his creativity.

But to be a parent is to live through the joy and pain of letting your children go. The consummation of being a parent is to give one’s children their freedom, and let them build lives which are different from what we hoped for them. We too must let go what we bring to birth. We know that we have really been fruitful when projects that we have initiated, and to which we have given our lives, take off in new directions, and are in the hands of others. That is hard, but the generosity of parents is to give their children freedom.

2.4 How may we sustain one another?

If we let the love that is God touch us, then we shall slowly become alive. It may seem safer to remain dead, vulnerable, untouchable. But is this so? “Nature abhors a vacuum. Terrible things can happen to a man with an empty heart. In the last resort it is better to run the risk of an occasional scandal than to have a monastery — a choir, a refectory, a recreation room — full of dead men. Our Lord did not say ‘I am come that they may have safety and have it more abundantly’. Some of us would indeed give anything to feel safe, about our life in this world, as in the next, but we cannot have it both ways: safety or life we must choose.” (29) If we choose life, then we shall need communities which support us as we come alive, which help us to grow in a love which is truly holy, a sharing in the pouring forth of God’s Word.

a) Communities of hope

Above all we should offer each other hope and mercy. Often we are drawn to the Order because we admire the brethren. We hope that we will become like them. Soon we will discover that they are in fact just like us, fragile, sinful and selfish This can be a moment of profound disillusionment. I remember a novice complaining of this sad discovery. The novice master replied to him, “I am delighted to hear that you no longer admire us. Now there is a chance that you might come to love us.” The redemptive mystery of God’s love is to be seen not in a community of spiritual heroes, but of brothers or sisters, who encourage each other on the journey to the Kingdom with hope and mercy. The risen Lord appears in the midst of a community of timid and weak mem If we wish to meet him we must dare to be there with them. Jordan of Saxony wrote to the brethren of Paris, who were clearly just like us: “It cannot be that Jesus will appear to those who cut themselves off from the unity of the brotherhood: Thomas, for not being with the other disciples when Jesus came, was denied sight of him: and will you think yourself more holy than Thomas?”(30)

Above all we will need our communities if we fail in love. We may fail because we enter a time of sterility when we feel ourselves to be incapable of any love, when our hearts of flesh have been replaced by hearts of stone. Then we will need them to believe for us that:

“Hidden within the deepest
self — no matter how
treacherous one has been

or how corruptible — hidden
within the deepest self
the seed of love remains. (31)

Our communities must be places in which there is no accusation, “for the accuser of our brethren has been thrown down” (Rev. 12.10). We may sin and feel that we have destroyed our vocations, and that we must leave the Order in shame. Then our brothers and sisters may have to believe for us in God’s mercy when we may find it hard to believe ourselves. If God can make the dead tree of Golgotha flower, then he can bring fruit out of my sins. We may need our brothers to believe, when we cannot, that some failure is not the end, but that God in his infinite fertility can make it part of our journey to holiness. Even our sins can be part of our fumbling attempts to love. All those years of Augustine’s sexual adventures were perhaps part of his searching for the one who was most beloved, and that chastity was not the cessation but the consummation of his desire.

b) Community and sexual orientation

It is here that cultural differences can be seen most clearly. Great delicacy is needed if we are to avoid either scandalising or wounding our brothers and sisters. In some cultures, the admission of people of homosexual orientation to religious life is virtually unthinkable. In others it is accepted without question. Anything that is written about this topic is likely to be scrutinised to see whether one is “in favour” or “against” homosexuality. This is the wrong question. It is not for us to tell God whom he may or may not call to religious life. The General Chapter of Caleruega affirmed that the same demands of chastity apply to all brethren of whatever sexual orientation, and so no one can be excluded on this ground. There was much debate at Caleruega over this question, and I am sure that it will continue.

How can our communities support and sustain brethren as they confront the question of their sexual orientation? First we must recognise that it touches deeply our own sense of who we are. This is therefore a sensitive and important question for many young people who join the Order, for two reasons. First of all there is often a profound hunger for identity. For many young people the overriding question is: “Who am I?” Secondly, because of the- prolonged adolescence which characterises many cultures today, the question of sexual orientation is often not resolved until late. Sometimes we receive requests from brethren for dispensation because only late in life have they realised that they are fundamentally heterosexual and so able to marry.

If a brother comes to believe that he is homosexual, then it is important that he knows that he is accepted and loved as he is. He may live in terror of rejection and accusation. But this acceptance is bread for the journey as he moves to discover a deeper identity, as a child of God. For none of us, heterosexual or homosexual, can find our deepest identities in our sexual orientation. Who we are most deeply, we must discover in Christ. “Beloved we are God ‘s children now; it does not appear what we shall be, but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.” (1 Jn 3.2) By our vows we commit ourselves to follow Christ, and to discover our identity in him. It belongs to our poverty that we are carried beyond these small identities. “At the root of all other possessiveness is the ultimately possessive desire to be a self: the desire that there should be at my centre not that unnameable abyss into which as into a vacuum, the nameless God is inevitably drawn, but an identity I can own, an identity which is defined by my ownership of it.”32 Any brother who makes his sexual orientation central to his public identity would be mistaking who he most deeply is. He would be stopping on the roadside when he is called to walk to Jerusalem. What is fundamental is that we can love and so are children of God, not to whom we are sexually attracted. But it does not only concern an individual’s personal sense of identity. We have an identity as each other’s brothers and sisters. We are responsible for the consequences for our brethren of how we present ourselves? especially in an area as sensitive as that of sexual orientation.

So, every brother should be accepted as he is. But the emergence of any subgroups within a community, based on sexual orientation, would be highly divisive. It can threaten the unity of the community; it can make it harder for the brethren to practice the chastity which we have vowed. It can put pressure on brethren to think of themselves in a way that is not central to their vocation as preachers of the Kingdom, and which perhaps they may eventually discover to be untrue.

c) Falling in love

However much we present friendship as a supreme revelation of that love which is the life of God, yet we may fall in love, and this may be one of the most significant experiences of our lives. One of the first public questions that I was ever asked after my election as Master, at a meeting of a great crowd of Filipino Dominican students, was: “Timothy, have you ever fallen in love?” And the second question was: “Was this before or after you joined the Order?” If this happens, then we will indeed need the support and love of our communities.

For a brother or sister who has professed their lives to the Order, to fall in love is almost certainly a moment of crisis. But as fr Jean-Jacques Pérennès often reminds us in the General Council, a crisis is a moment of opportunity. It can be fruitful. Any experience of love can be an encounter with the God who is love. Falling in love can be the moment when our egocentrism is torn open, and we discover that we are not the centre of the world. It can demolish, at least for a time, that self-preoccupation that kills us. Falling in love is “for many people the most. extraordinary and revealing experience of their lives, whereby the centre of significance is suddenly ripped out of the self, and, the dreamy ego is shocked into an awareness of an entirely separate reality”. (33)

Once we have gone through this profound “unselfing”, then we cannot just go on living as if nothing had happened. We cannot pretend that we have never met this person, and that we can return to our old life as if nothing had happened. And this may be one reason why if a brother falls in love he may ask for a dispensation from his vows, for that old life to which he pledged himself is over.

When Thomas Merton, an American Cistercian, was at the height of his fame as a spiritual writer, he fell utterly in love with a nurse who had cared for him in hospital. He wrote in his diary that he was “tormented by the gradual realisation that we were in love and I did not know how I would live without her”. (34) Othello says faced with the loss of his beloved Desdemona, she is “where I have garner’d up my heart, where I must live or bear no life, the fountain from which my current runs or else dries up”.

Then we cannot imagine a life apart from the person we love and so we have to pray for the gift of a life that indeed we cannot imagine, a life which can only come as a gift from God. On the cross, Jesus awaits no imaginable life, only the inconceivable and abundant life which the Father will give him. Then we cannot make a life. It must be given.

It is so very hard to let ourselves go into the hands of the Father at this moment, trusting that this death will give way to resurrection. We will need our friends and brothers and sisters as never before, who may have to believe for us when we cannot, that in this desert we may meet the Lord of life. Possibly we have never before felt so alive, so vital. We may feel that this love is what we have been looking for all our lives. How can we take the risk of losing it? We may become dried up, bad tempered and frustrated! At this moment we have to trust that if we remain faithful to our vows then God will be faithfu1 too. We will receive life abundantly. Merton’s biographer says that finally Merton’s experience of falling in love gave him “an inner liberation, which gave him a new sense of sureness, uncautiousness, defenselessness in his vocation and in the depths of himself. (35)

It may seem as if I am suggesting that such an experience is almost a necessary step on the road of our spiritual development. This is not what I am saying at all. “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” As religious we pledge ourselves to receive the fullness of life in mystery of that unpossessive friendship. Also we priests and religious can inflict terrible damage on ourselves and others when we fall in love. We may be seen by others as “safe” and consider ourselves to be safe too. We can easily abuse others by indulging in a form of “emotional tourism”, which leaves us free to return back to the our community when things become dangerous but possibly leaving the other person damaged, and their trust in the Church and even God, undermined for ever.

d) The wilderness of loneliness

In our growth as people capable of love, we may sometime have to pass through the wilderness. This may be because we feel ourselves incapable of love, or because we fall in love, or perhaps fail in our vows. If the apostolic life leads us to the bewilderment of Gethsemane, where life loses all meaning, then crisis in love may confront us with the solitude of the cross.

The experience of loneliness reveals a fundamental truth about ourselves, which is that alone we are incomplete. Contrary to the dominant perception of much of western society, we are not self-sufficient, self-contained beings. Loneliness reveals that I cannot be alive, I cannot be, by myself. I only exist through my relationships with others. Alone I die. This loneliness reveals a void, an emptiness at the heart of my life. We may be tempted to fill it with many things, food, drink, sex, power or work. But the emptiness remains. The alcohol or whatever is merely a disguised thirst for God. I suspect that we cannot even fill it with the presence of other people. A room full of lonely people changes nothing. “The awfulness of this loneliness shows itself precisely in the fact that all share it, none can relieve it.” (36) When Merton fell in love, then he discovered that what he was looking for was perhaps not his beloved, but a solution to the hollow at the centre of his heart. She was “the person whose name I would try to use as magic to break the grip of the awful loneliness of my heart”. (37)

Ultimately I suspect that this loneliness must not simply be endured. It must be lived as an entry into the loneliness of Christ in his death, which bears and transforms all human loneliness. “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” If we do that, then the veil of the temple will be torn in half and we shall discover the God who is at the heart of our being, granting us existence in every moment: “Tu autem eras interior intimo meo.” “You are closer to me than I am to myself” (38). If we take upon ourselves the cross of loneliness and walk with it, then it will be revealed that the modern perception of the self is not true. The deepest truth of ourselves is that we are not alone. At the deepest point of my being is God giving me the abundance of life. St Catherine describes herself in the Dialogue as “dwelling in the cell of self-knowledge in order to know better God’s goodness toward her.” Profound self knowledge reveals not the solitary self of modernity but the one whose existence is inseparable from the God who grants us life in every moment.

If we can enter this desert and there encounter God, then we will become free to love unpossessively, freely, without domination or manipulation. We will be able to see others not as solutions to my needs or answers to my loneliness but simply there, to be delighted in “Therefore stand still and do not waver from your emptiness”. It was at the foot of the cross, where Jesus gave his mother and the beloved disciple to each other, that the community of the Church was born.


“I have called you friends, for an that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you” (John 15.15).

The person who is touched by the abundance of life loves unpossessively, spontaneously, joyfully. His heart of stone becomes a heart of flesh. This deep transformation of our humanity implies, according to our tradition, both study and prayer. Jordan of Saxony tells us that they are both as necessary to us as food and drink. Through study we remake the human heart. We discover that “intellectual illumination which breaks forth into the affection of love “(39). Both study and prayer belong to the contemplative life to which every Dominican is called. But you will be spared any more reflections upon study, since I have already written a letter on it. I will share a few thoughts about prayer and the fullness of life.

3.1 Community of the Word

At the end of most visitations, the visitator will make some edifying remarks about the need to pray more. We will nod sagely and make vague resolutions. Does one have the impression that what is at issue is how these dry bones shall live?

When a child is born, its parents immediately begin to talk to it. Long before it can understand, a child is fed with words, bathed and soothed with words. The mother and father do not talk to their child so as to communicate information. They are talking it into life. It becomes human in this sea of language. Slowly it will be able to find a place in the love that its parents share. It grows into a life that is human.

So too we are transformed by immersion in the Word of God, addressed to us. We do not read the Word so as to seek information. We ponder it, study it, meditate on it, live with it, eat and drink it. “These words which I command you this day shall be upon your heart; and you shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. ” (Deut. 6.6f). This word of God works in us, making us human, bringing us to life, forming us to in that friendship which is the very life of God. As Jordan wrote to Diana in his Christmas letter of 1229, “Read over this Word in your heart, turn it over in your mind, let it be sweet as honey on your lips; ponder it, dwell on it, that it may dwell with you and in you for ever”(40).

Some friends of mine adopted a child. They found him in a vast hospital ward in Saigon, an orphan of the Vietnamese war. For the first months in the ward no one had had the time to look or speak to him. He grew up unable to smile. But his adoptive parents talked to him and smiled at him, with a labour of love. I remember the day on which he first smiled back. The Word of God nurtures us, so that we come alive, human, and even able to smile back at God. A community that offers life will be one in which we find that Word of God treasured and shared. It is not enough just to say more prayers. These may stifle us, especially if recited at great speed. When Dominic prayed he relished the word of God, “savoring the words of God in his mouth and, as it were, enjoying reciting them to himself” (Fifth way), like someone enjoying a good French wine. Albert the Great says that we need “to be nourished often by the charm (again dulcedo) of the word of God”.(41)

As the child is fed by the words of its parents, then it makes the liberating and terrifying discovery that it is not the centre of the world. Behind the breast there is a mother. Everything is not at its command. It discovers itself as part of the human community. In the conversation of our parents, we discover a world in which we may belong. So, too, as we are nourished by the word of God, we are led into a larger world. The good shepherd who has come that we may have life and have it more abundantly, is the one who opens the gate, so that we may come out and find large open spaces. In prayer we make an exodus, beyond the tiny shell of our self-obsession. We enter the larger world of God. Prayer is a “discipline that stops me taking myself for granted as the fixed centre of a little universe, and allows me to find and lose and re-find myself constantly in the interweaving patterns of a world I did not make and do not control”.(42)

The child ripens in the conversation of its parents, and discovers that it is not alone. So too we are caught up into God’s friendship, and are healed of self-obsession and begin to glimpse the real world. Yeats wrote, “We had fed the heart on fantasies; the heart’s grown brutal from the fare.”(43) Prayer heals our hearts of fantasies. St Thomas says that praying the Our Father “gives shape to our whole affective life”.”(44) Praying that God’s will be done and that the Kingdom come, our hearts are remade.

As we are liberated from our self-obsessed fantasies and enter God’s larger world, we discover that others suffer violence and sorrow. fr. Vincent de Couesnongle talked of “the contemplation of the street”. For Dominic, the afflicted and the oppressed “form part of the ‘contemplata’ in ‘contemplata aliis tradere’ … The wound of knowledge that opens up Dominic’s mind and heart in contemplation, allowing him with an awesome unprotectedness to experience his neighbour’s pain and his neighbour’s need cannot be accounted for simply by certain crowding memories of pain observed or by his own natural sympathy”.”(45) It is, fr. Paul Murray says, a “contemplative wound.” That is why the contemplative life is at the heart of any search for a just world. Contemplation makes us capable of seeing selflessly.

3.2 Communities of celebration and silence

As a child grows up, it will stop screaming and become capable of both speech and silence. It will learn both to talk and to hear. So too for us, building communities of prayer implies more than adding another psalm to Vespers. We have to create environments in which we can both speak and hear, rejoice and be silent. This is the ecosystem that we need if we are to flourish

In the Dominican tradition, speaking to God is above all else asking for what we want This is not infantile but realism. It shows that we are waking up from the little fantasy world of the market, in which everything is for sale, and recognising that in the real world everything is a gift from the one who is the “the source of all that is good for us” (II II 83 a 2, ad 3). When we begin to ask then we are on the way to adulthood. When we pray together, then do we dare to ask from God what we most deeply desire? Or do we merely recite a few petitions from the breviary?

The exodus from the Egypt of self-obsession is a moment of ecstasy. We are liberated from the dark and cramped little world of the ego. Like Miriam after the crossing of the Red Sea we will surely be exuberant. We exult in having entered the wide open spaces of God’s friendship. David danced wildly before the ark; Mary exulted in the Lord, and the marvellous things he had done for her. The prayer of the preacher should surely be exultant, ecstatic. We are called “To praise, to bless, to preach”. When the psalms say “Let us sing a new song to the Lord”, then let us do so! Dominic was exuberant in his prayer He used his whole body, stretching out his arms, lying on the ground, genuflecting and making a lot of noise. The whole body is saved by grace and so prays. Some of my most beautifu1 memories of praying are with the brethren. I think of the ecstatic Eucharist celebrated in Haiti, in the midst of poverty and violence, of the dance and song of our Zulu sisters in South Africa, of the marvellous and passionate singing at the Easter Vigil in Krakow, of firecrackers and gongs one year later in Taiwan. Do we celebrate the liturgy, and exult together in the Lord who has done marvellous things for us? Do we regard it merely as an obligation to be fulfilled? It is an obligation indeed, that most solemn obligation which comes from friendship. We delight to do things for our friends.

Eckhart wrote that “the very best and noblest attainment in this life is to be silent and let God work and speak within”(46) There is no friendship without silence. Unless one has learnt to stop, be quiet and listen to another, then one remains locked in one’s own little world, of which one is the centre and the only real inhabitant. In silence we make the wonderful and liberating discovery that we are not gods, but just creatures.

There are different types of silence. There is the silence of the women at the tomb, who “said nothing to anyone because they were afraid” (Mk 16 8). It is the silence with which we exclude the utterly unexpected, the new, the unthinkable. It is the silence by which I shut out unwelcome words which may rob me of peace of mind. And then there is the silence of the disciples on the road to Emmaus, as they listen to the Lord as he expounds the scriptures to them. Then they say nothing, but afterwards they exclaim “Did not our hearts burn within us, as he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the scriptures?” (Lk 24 32) Paul Philibert OP has called prayer our openness to God’s secret initiatives. In that vulnerable silence we let him do new and unexpected things. We are open to be astonished by the novelty of the God of surprises: “Behold I make all things new ” (Rev 21 5).

This is the silence that prepares the way for a word of preaching. Ignatius of Antioch said that the Word came out from the silence of the Father. It was a strong, clear, decisive and truthful Word, because it was born in silence. He “was not Yes and No; but in him it was always yes. For all the promises of God find their Yes in him ” (2 Cor 1 l9f). Often our words lack authority, because they are yes and no; they hint and nudge; they are coloured by innuendoes and ambiguities, they carry little arrows and small resentments. We must create that silence in which true words can be conceived and shared.

How can we rediscover such a silence in ourselves and in our communities? In my experience there is no way other than simply taking the time to be silent in God’s presence every day (cf LCO 66.11). This is the discipline that I have sought and evaded, attained and let slip ever since I joined the Order. In it I spend most of the time thinking of food and faxes. For this contemplative silence we need each other’s support. We need communities which help us to grow in tranquil silence. A Buddhist monk told Merton, “Before you can meditate you’ve got to learn not to slam doors”. Anyone who lives near me knows that I have not mastered that art yet! Each community needs to reflect upon how it can create times and places of silence.

This is not the depressing silence of the morgue which one sometimes found in the past, the silence which shuts out other people. We hunger for a silence which prepares for communication rather than refuses it. It is the comfortable silence which comes before and after we share a word, rather than the awkward silence of those who have nothing to say to each other. When I was a child, my younger brother and I often went into the woods, to look for animals and birds. The secret was learning to be silent together. It was a communion in shared attentiveness. Maybe we can find that, as we listen together for the word that may come.

3.3 The wilderness of death and resurrection

Jesus summons us to have life and to have it abundantly. This is the good news that we preach. Yet we have seen that in answering that summons we may find ourselves led into the wilderness. As preachers of the word, we may discover that we have no word to offer, that nothing makes sense anymore. As those who preach the love of God, we discover that we are desolate, alone and abandoned. As those who are invited to find ourselves in God’s own life, we will be confronted with our mortality. We are creatures and not gods, and we must die. Then we may cry out like the Israelites to Moses, “Is it because there are no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? ” (Ex.14.11) Then we must “stand firm and not waver in our emptiness”, trusting that life will be given.

How are we to sustain and encourage each other as we face mortality? First we must stimulate each other with the freedom of Jesus. Knowing that the Son of man must die, he turned his face to go to Jerusalem. This is a freedom that I have seen sometimes in the brothers and sisters, giving away their lives. In the years before he was assassinated, fr Pierre Claverie OP, Bishop of Oran in Algeria, took the road to Jerusalem, as he refused to give in to threats and leave his people. In 1994 he said in a sermon, “I have struggled for dialogue and friendship between people, cultures and religions. All that probably earns me death, but I am ready to accept that risk”.(47)

Jesus’ freedom in the face of death found its culmination in the night before he died, when he took his body and gave it to his disciples, a gesture of astonishing liberty. This is what it is given to us to do together, in the face of mortality. I remember one Easter morning at Blackfriars, joyfully celebrating the Eucharist with a brother dying of cancer. All of the community was crammed in his room. Afterwards we drank champagne in honour of the resurrection. I remember celebrating the Eucharist with the brothers and sisters in Iraq a few weeks ago, as we waited for the military attack that would surely come. The Eucharist should not be the centre of our common life because we feel that we are united, or even so that we may come to feel so. It is the sacrament of that abundant life which is purely a gift, the “bread of life” which Dominic promised we would find in the Order. We receive it together, offering each other food for the wilderness.

We live out the meaning of that Eucharist in setting each other free, infecting each other with Christ’s immeasurable freedom. It may be in the small freedom of forgiveness freely given, or letting ourselves break some old pattern of life, of taking a risk. We let go. As Lacordaire wrote “I go where God leaves me, uncertain of myself, but sure of him”. In all these ways we let ourselves be caught up in the sweep of the Spirit coming forth from the Father and the Son, crying within us “Abba Father”. As Eckhart says “We do not pray, we are prayed”. Yet it is also our entry into freedom and spontaneity, when we become most alive. We let ourselves be caught by the movement, like a dancer who gives in to the rhythm, and finds in it grace and freedom.

Wisdom danced in the presence of God while she made the world. St Thomas says that the contemplation of the wise person is like play, because it is pleasurable and because it is done for its own sake, like a dance. “Unmitigated seriousness betokens a lack of virtue, because it wholly despises play which is as necessary for a good human life as is rest.”(48) The abundance of life leads us into that playfulness of those who have laid down the burden of being little gods. We can drop that terrible seriousness of those who believe that they carry the world upon their shoulders. Then our communities may indeed be places in which we will begin to know the happiness of the Kingdom. Saint Dominic, Nos junge beatis. Join us to the blessed, and may we share some glimpse of their happiness there now.


(1) Stephen of Salagnac l.9, ed. Thomas Kaeppeli OP MOPH XXII Rome 1949 p 81

(2) Cornelius Ernst OP, The Theology of Grace Dublin 1974 p 42

(3) The Identity of Religious today The Conference of Major Superiors of Men, USA. 1996

(4) Fundamental Constitution IV

(5) Cernai 21, quotes by Tugwell (ed), Dominic London 1997 p 125

(6) Dominican Ashram March 1982, “What is my licence to say what I say?” p 10

(7) Die deutsche Predigten und lateinischen Werke Stuttgart 1936 vol V p 197

(8) Prediche del Beato Giordano to Rivalto ed A. M. Bisconi e D. M. Manni Firenze 1739 p 9

(9) Herbert McCabe OP God Matters London 1987 “On being Dominican” p 240

(10) Cornelius Ernst OP op cit p 72

(11) Sermons and Treatises trans M O’C Walshe vol I London 1979 p 44

(12) St. Thérèse of Lisieux Manuscrits autobiographiques Paris p 226

(13) In Jn 26.

(14) Talk to be published in Review for Religious March 1998

(15) D.A Mortier OP Histoire des maîtres géneraux de l’ordre des Frères Prêcheurs vol I Rome 1903 p 528

(16) The Letters of Bede Jarrett OP ed Bede Bailey Aidan Bellenger and Simon Tugwell Bath 1989 p 182

(17) Letter 46 trans from G.Vann OP To Heaven with Diana London 1959 p 120

(18) Letter 48 ibid p 28

(19) Nicholas Lash The Beginning and the End of Religion Cambridge 1996 p 21

(20) Sentences 3 d 35, 1,2,1

(21) Vision of Albion 7.17

(22) op cit

(23) Simon Tugwell OP Reflections on the Beatitutes London 1980 p 78

(24) Jean-Louis Bruguès OP Les idées heureuses Paris 1996 p 56

(25) Tugwell The Way of the Preacher London 1979 p 96

(26) Joseph Pieper A Brief Reader on the Virtues of the Human Heart San Francisco p 44

(27) Meister Eckhart Walshe op cit Sermon 8

(28) ibid Sermon 68

(29) Gerald Vann OP op cit p 46ff

(30) ibid p 157

(31) Paul Murray OP “A Song for the Afflicted” unpublished poem

(32) Rowan Williams Open for Judgement London p 184

(33) Iris Murdoch The Fire and the Sun: Why Plato banished the Artists Oxford 1979 p 36, quoted by Fergus Kerr OP Immortal Longings: Versions of Transcending Humanity Indiana 1997 p 72

(34) John Howard Griffin Thomas Merton: The Hermitage Years London 1993 p 60

(35) Griffin op cit p 87

(36) Sebastian Moore OSB The Inner Loneliness London 1982 p 40

(37) op cit p 58

(38) St. Augustine Confessions 3.6.11

(39) ST. 1.43, a 5, ad 2

(40) Letter 41 Vann op cit p 112

(41) A sermon Recherches de Théologie Ancienne et Mediévale 36 1969 p 109

(42) Rowan Williams ibid p 120

(43) “Meditations in time of Civil War” Collected Poems London 1969 p 230

(44) II.II 83. a.8

(45) Paul Murray OP “Dominicans grounded in Contemplative experience”, a talk given at River Forest Chicago June 1997

(46) Walshe op cit vol I p 6

(47) Sermon after the death of Br Henri and of Sister Paule-Hélène la vie spirituelle October 1997 p 764

(48) Eth ad Nic iv ib 854

Letter to our brothers and sisters in initial formation (1999)

Feast of Blessed Jordan of Saxony 1999

fr. Timothy Radcliffe, o.p.

Dear brothers and sisters in St Dominic,

You are a gift of God to the Order, and we honour the creator in welcoming his gifts. This we must do by giving you the best possible formation. The future of the Order depends upon it, which is why every General Chapter of the Order spends so much time discussing formation. Over the last few years the Order has produced excellent documents about formation, and so rather than write a long letter on formation and repeat all that has been said, I have thought it better to collect these documents together so that you and your formators can easily study them. But I do wish to share just a word addressed directly to you, my brothers and sisters who are at the beginning of your Dominican life, knowing that some of your formators may be looking over your shoulder. I shall talk in terms of the formation of the brothers, since that is what I know about more. I hope that it will also be relevant to the experience of our sisters.

One of my greatest pleasures during my visits to the Order has been the meetings with you. I have been moved by your enthusiasm for the Order, your desire to study and to preach, your true Dominican joy. But formation will also entail moments of pain, disorientation, discouragement, and a loss of meaning. Sometimes you will wonder why you are here, and whether you should remain. Such moments are a necessary and painful part of formation, as you grow as a Dominican. If they did not happen, then your formation would not be touching you deeply.

Formation in our tradition is not the moulding of passive matter, so as to produce a standard product, “A Dominican”. It is our accompaniment of you as you freely respond to the threefold call that you receive: from the Risen Lord who invites you to follow him, from the brethren and sisters who invite you become one of them, and to the demands of the mission. If you respond fully and generously to these demands, then you will be changed. It will ask of you death trusting in the Lord who gives resurrection. This will be both painful and liberating, exciting and frightening. It will form you as the person whom God calls you to be. This is a process that will continue throughout your Dominican life. The years of initial formation are just the beginning. I write this letter to you to offer some encouragement on the journey. Do not give up when it is hard!

I shall take as my text to explore this theme the meeting of Mary Magdalene, the patroness of the Order, with Jesus in the garden (John 20: 11 – 18)

“Whom do you seek?”

When Jesus meets Mary Magdalene, he asks her: “Whom do you seek?”. Our life in the Order begins with a similar question, as we lay stretched out on the floor: “What do you seek?” It is the question that Jesus put to the disciples at the beginning of the gospel.

You have to come to the Order with a hunger in your heart, but for what? Is it because you have discovered the gospel recently and wish to share it with everyone? Is it because you met a Dominican whom you admired and wish to imitate? Is it to run away from the world with all its complications, from the pain of forming human relationships? Is it because you have always wished to be a priest, and yet feel that you need a community? Is it because you wonder about the meaning of your life, and wish to discover it with us? Whom do you seek? What do you seek? We cannot answer that question for you, but we can be with you as you face it yourself and help you to arrive at an honest answer.

During our Dominican life, we may answer that question differently at different moments. The reasons that brought us to the Order may not be the reasons why we stay. When I joined the Order I was drawn above all by the hunger to understand my faith. The motto of the Order, “Veritas”, attracted me. I doubted whether I would ever have the courage to preach a sermon. Later I stayed because this desire caught hold of me. Sometimes we may not be at all clear why we are still here and for what we long. We may cling to no more than a vague feeling that this is where we are called to be. Most of us stay in the end because, like Mary Magdalene in the garden, we are looking for the Lord. A vocation is the story of a desire, a hunger. We stay because we are hooked by love, and not by the promise of personal fulfilment or a career. Eckhart says, “For love resembles the angler’s hook. The angler cannot get the fish till it is caught on the hook. ….. He who hangs on to this hook is caught so fast that foot and hand, mouth, eyes and heart, and all that is this person’s belongs only to God. Just watch for this hook, so as to be blessedly caught, for the more you are caught, the more you are free.”

Perhaps you will discover that you are indeed searching for the risen Lord, but that you are called to find him in another form of life, perhaps as a married disciple. Perhaps God called you to the Order for a while, to prepare you to be a preacher in another way.

The joy of this Easter meeting is at the heart of our Dominican life. This is a happiness which we share in our preaching. But we grow in this happiness only by passing through moments of loss. The one whom Mary Magdalene loves has disappeared. “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away”. She grieves for the loss of the person she loves. Sometimes entry into the Order may be marked by that same experience of desolation. Perhaps you joined full of enthusiasm. You were going to give yourself to God, have hours of ecstatic prayer. But God appears to have slipped away. Praying becomes the tedious repetition of long psalms at the wrong times, with brethren who sing badly. We may even think that it is the brethren who are to blame for God’s disappearance, with their lack of devotion. Why do they not even turn up to office? Their teaching may seem to undermine the faith that brought me here. The Word of God is dissected in their lectures, and we are told that it is not literally true. Where have they buried my Lord?

“Jesus said to her, ‘Mary’. She turned and said to him in Hebrew ‘Rabboni’ (which means Teacher)”

We have to lose Christ if we are to find him again, astonishingly alive and unexpectedly close. We have to let him go, be desolate, grieve for his absence, so that we may discover God closer to us than we could ever have imagined. If we do not go through that experience, then we will be stuck in a childish and infantile relationship with God. It belongs to our formation that we may become disorientated, like Mary confused in the garden, not knowing what is happening. Otherwise we can never be surprised by a new intimacy with the Risen Lord. And it must happen again and again as the angler reels us in. The lost Lord appears and speaks to her, and then tells her to let him go again: “Do not cling to me”.

When they seem to have taken away the body of the Lord, do not give up and go away. When Jesus disappeared, then Peter, like a typical man, went back to work. That may be a temptation, to go back to take up again our old lives. Mary did not give up but went on looking, even if only for a dead body. If we endure then, like her, we shall be surprised. I remember a long period of desolation, during the years of simple profession. I did not doubt the existence of God, but God seemed unimaginably distant, and nothing much to do with me. It was years later, after solemn profession, in the garden of Gethsemane in Jerusalem one summer, that that the void was filled. I may have to endure that absence again one day, and then maybe it will be you, my brothers and sisters, who will help me carry on until the next surprise encounter.

Jesus says to her just one word, her name: “Mary”. God always calls us by name. “Samuel”, God called three times in the night. Who we are, our deepest identity, we discover in responding to the call of our name. “The Lord called me from the womb, from the body of my mother he named my name” (Isaiah 49:1). So our Dominican vocation is not a matter of finding a job, or even a useful service of Church and society. It is my “Yes” to the God who summons me to be, “Yes” to the brethren with whom I live, and “Yes” to the mission upon which I am sent. I am summoned into life, like one who was called out of the tomb by a voice shouting “Lazarus, come forth”.

So we can say that the fundamental goal of formation is to help us become Christians, to say “Yes” to Christ. If it does not do that, then we are playing games. But does that mean that becoming a Dominican is unimportant, a mere incidental? No, because it is Dominic’s way of following Christ. Perhaps the earliest name for Christianity was “The Way” (Acts 9:2). When Dominic took to the roads in the south of France, he discovered a way to the Kingdom. The Order offers us a way of life, with its common prayer, its form of government, its way of doing theology and being a brother. When we make profession, then we trust that this strange way of life can lead us to the Kingdom.

So I do not wait to be a good Christian before I become a preacher. Sharing the word of God with others is part of my search for the Lord in the garden. When I struggle to find a word to preach then I am like Mary Magdalene begging the gardener to tell me where they have put the body of my Lord. If I can share my wrestling with the word, then I can share also that moment of revelation when the Lord speaks my name. I must dare to look into the tomb and see the absence of the body if I am also to share the subsequent encounter. To be a preacher is to share all the moments in that drama in the Easter garden: desolation, interrogation, revelation. But if I speak as someone who knows it all, untroubled by doubt, then people may be very impressed by my knowledge, but they may feel it has little to do with them.

“Go to my brethren”

Jesus calls Mary Magdalene by name, and sends her to his brethren. We respond to God’s call by becoming one of the brethren.

Becoming a brother is more than joining a community and putting on a habit. It implies a profound transformation of my being. Being the blood brother of someone is more than having the same parents; it implies relationships which have slowly formed me to be the person that I am. In a similar way becoming one of Dominic’s brothers will ask of me a patient and, sometimes painful, transformation of whom I am. There will be times, perhaps prolonged, of death and resurrection.

It is true that most Dominican brethren are priests, and that we belong to “a clerical institute”, but ordination does not make us any the less brethren. During my years of formation I came to love being one of the brethren. I wished for no more. I accepted ordination because my brothers asked it of me, and for the sake of the mission. I came to value being a priest, because the communion and mercy that are at the heart of our fraternal life found sacramental expression for the wider Church. But I was just as much a brother as before. There is no higher title in the Order. This is one reason why I believe that the promotion of the vocation of the co-operator brethren – a term that I have never liked – is so important for the future of the Order. They remind us of who we all are, Dominic’s brothers. There can be no second class brethren in the Order.

When I was a student, I remember the visit of a priest from another Province to our community in Oxford. When he arrived, there was a Dominican sweeping the hall. The visitor asked him, “Are you a brother?”. “Yes” he replied. “Brother, go and get me a cup of coffee”. After his coffee, he told the brother to take his bags to his room. And finally the visitor said, “Now, brother, I wish to meet the Father Prior”. He replied, “I am the Prior”.

Different visions of being a brother

To be a brother is to find that you belong with us. You are at home with the brethren. But we Dominicans may have many different conceptions as to what it means to be a brother.

One of the shocks of joining the noviciate may be to discover that my fellow novices may have come with very different visions of the Dominican life than my own. When I joined I was powerfully attracted not only by the search for Veritas, but also by Dominic’s poverty. I imagined myself in the streets begging for my bread. I soon discovered that most of my fellow novices considered that to be foolish romanticism. Some of you will be drawn because of a love of study; others because of a desire to struggle for a more just world. You may be scandalised to see other novices unpacking enormous quantities of books or a CD player. Some of you may wish to wear the habit for twenty four hours a day and others will remove it as soon as possible. We easily trample on each other’s dreams.

Often there is such a tension between generations of brethren. Some young people who come to the Order these days value highly the tradition and the visible signs of Dominican identity: studying St. Thomas, the traditional songs or anthems of the Order, wearing the habit, celebrating our saints. Often brethren of a previous generation are puzzled by this desire for a clear and visible Dominican identity. For them the adventure had been to leave behind old forms that seemed to stand between us and preaching the gospel. We had to be on the road, with the people, seeing things through their eyes, anonymous if we were to be close. Occasionally this can lead to a certain misunderstanding, even a mutual suspicion. The Provinces which are thriving today are often those which have succeeded in getting beyond such ideological conflicts. How can we build a fraternity which is deeper than these differences?

First of all, we may come to recognise the same deep evangelical impulse in each other. In the habit or out of the habit, we preach the same Risen Lord. I have always found myself at home with the brethren, whether sitting with a few brethren by a river in the Amazon reciting the psalms in our shirtsleeves, or celebrating an elaborate polyphonic liturgy in Toulouse. Besides the objective demands of the vows and the Constitutions, one recognises certain family resemblances: a quality of joy; a sense of the equality of all the brethren; a passion for theology, even of quite contradictory tendencies; a trust in our democratic tradition, a lack of pretension. All these hint at a way of life we share, however great the superficial differences.

Secondly, our different visions of the Dominican life may be formed by different moments in the history of the Church and the Order. Many of us who became Dominicans at the time of the Second Vatican Council, grew up in a confident Catholicism, sure of its identity. Our adventure was to reach out to those far from Christ by overthrowing the barriers. What drives brothers and sisters of that generation is sometimes the desire to be close to the invisible Christ who was present in every factory, in every barrio, every University. Visible identity was suppressed for the sake of the preaching. Our worker-priests, for example, were a sign of the God who is close even to those who appear to have forgotten his name.

Many who come to the Order today, especially in the West, have made a different pilgrimage, growing up far from Christianity. Perhaps now you wish to celebrate and affirm the faith you have embraced and come to love. You wish to be seen as Dominicans, for that too belongs to the preaching. It can be just the same evangelical impulse which leads some brethren to put on the habit and others to take it off.

This tension is ultimately fruitful and necessary for the vitality of the Order. Accepting the young into the Order challenges us. Just as the birth of a child changes the life of the whole family, so each generation of young who come to us change the brotherhood. You come with your questions to which we have not always got the answers, with your ideals, which may reveal our inadequacies, your dreams which we may not share. You come with your friends and your families, your cultures and your tribes. You come to disturb us, and that is why we need you. Often you come demanding what is indeed central to our Dominican life, but which we may have forgotten or belittled: a more profound and beautiful common prayer; a deeper fraternity in which we care more for each other, the courage to leave behind our old commitments and take to the road again. Often the Order is renewed because the young come to us and insist on trying to build the Dominican life that they have read about in books! Go on insisting!

It is easy for us who came before you to say, with some irritation: “You are joining us; we are not joining you.” This is indeed true, but only half so. For when we joined the Order, we gave ourselves into the hands of the brethren who were still to come. We pledged obedience to those who were not born. It is true that we do not have to reinvent the Order in each generation, but part of Dominic’s genius was to found an Order that has adaptation and flexibility as part of its being. We need to be renewed by those who have been caught by enthusiasm for Dominic’s vision. We must not recruit you to fight our old battles. We have to resist the temptation to box you into the categories of our youth, and label you as “conservatives” or “progressives”, just as you have to refrain from dismissing us as relics of “the seventies”.

You too will be challenged by those who came before you, or at least I hope so. Accepting that there are different ways of being a Dominican does not mean that anyone can just invent his own interpretation. I cannot, for example, decide that for me the vows are compatible with keeping a mistress and a sports car. Our way of life includes certain inescapable and objective demands, that ultimately must invite me to undergo a profound transformation of my being. If I avoid that, then I will never become one of the brethren.

Above all different conceptions of being a Dominican should never really divide us because the unity of the Order does not lie in a common ideological line, even a single spirituality. If it had then we would have splintered long ago. What holds us together is a way of life which allows for great diversity and flexibility, a common mission, and a form of government that gives a voice to each person. The Dominican lion and the Dominican lamb can live together and enjoy each other’s company.

At the beginning of the life of the Order, “The Lives of the brethren” was written to record the memory of the first generation of our brothers. We are bound together as a community by the stories of the past as well as by the dreams of the future. Visible signs of Dominican identity do have their value and say something important of who we are, but they should not become the battle standards of different parties. The Dominicans whose memory we rightly treasure were often those who were so caught up in the passion for preaching that they did not have time to reflect too much about their identity as Dominicans. As Simon Tugwell wrote, “throughout the whole story, when the Order has been most true to itself, it has been least concerned with being Dominican.” .

Formation should indeed give us a strong Dominican identity, and teach us about our history and our tradition. This is not so that we can contemplate the glory of the Order, and how important we are, or were, but so that we can take to the road and walk together after the poor and itinerant Christ. A strong sense of identity frees us from thinking about ourselves too much, otherwise we will be too self-preoccupied to hear the voice which asks us: “Whom do you seek?”.

So brotherhood is based on more than a single vision. It is built patiently, by learning to listen to each other, to be strong and to be fragile, learning fidelity to each other and love of the brethren.

Talking and listening

We know that we are at home when we can talk easily with each other, confident that our brothers will at least try to understand us. This is probably our expectation when we join the Order. Jesus says to Mary Magdalene, “Go to my brothers and say to them, I am ascending to my God and your God, to my Father and your Father” She is commissioned to share her faith in the risen Lord, even though her brothers may regard her as deluded. So we build a common home in the Order by daring to share what brought us here. Sometimes it will be hard. We probably came expecting to find like-minded people, with the same dreams and the same way of thinking. But we may discover that others have come to the Order by such different paths that we cannot recognise ourselves in what they say. We may hesitate to expose what is most precious, our fragile faith, to criticism and examination. Sharing our faith demands of us great vulnerability. Sometimes it may be easier to do so with people with whom we do not have to live.

One of the main challenges for the formators is to build up trust so that you may dare to talk freely. Martin Buber wrote that, “The decisive thing is whether the young people are ready to talk. If someone treats them with trust, shows them that he believes in them, they will talk to him. The first necessity is that the teacher must arouse in his pupils that most valuable thing of all – genuine trust” . Just as important is that you trust each other. You may even at times have the courage to share your doubts.

Contemporary western culture systematically cultivates suspicion. We are taught to probe beneath what others say to what is not acknowledged, concealed and even unconscious. In the Church this can sometimes take the form of hunting for error, scanning statements for heresies. Is this brother a true disciple of St Thomas Aquinas or of liberation theology? Is he one of us? It is easier to discover how a brother is wrong and has denied a dogma of the Church, or some ideology of my own, than to hear the little grain of truth that he may be struggling to share with us. But such suspicion is subversive of fraternity. It comes from fear and only love casts out fear.

Learning to listen to each other charitably is a discipline of the mind. Benedict Ashley wrote, “There has to be a new asceticism of the mind, for nothing is more painful than to maintain charity alive in the midst of genuine argument about serious issues.” Loving my brother is not just a pleasant warm emotion, but an intellectual discipline. I have to restrain myself from dismissing what my brother has said as nonsense before I have heard what he is saying. It is the mental asceticism of opening one’s mind to an unexpected insight. It will involve learning to be silent, not just while I wait for him to stop speaking, but so that I may hear him. I must still the defensive objections, the urge to stop him before he says another word. I must be quiet and listen.

Conversation builds a community of equals, and that is why we must build the community of the Dominican Family by taking the time to talk with our sisters and lay Dominicans, and discover the pleasure of it. Conversation builds the larger home of Dominic and Catherine. It “demands equality between participants. Indeed, it is one of the most important ways of establishing equality. Its enemies are rhetoric, disputation, jargon, and private language, or despair at not being listened to and not being understood. To flourish, it needs the help of midwives of either sex…..Only when people learn to converse will they begin to be equal.” One of the challenges for us brethren is to let the sisters form us as preachers. The most profound formation is always mutual.

Being strong and weak

We belong and are at home when we find that we are stronger than we ever believed, and weaker than we dared to admit. And these are not contrary qualities, for they are signs that we are beginning to be conformed to the strong and vulnerable Christ.

We are formed in the first place as Christians. In our tradition this means not so much the progressive submission to commandments, to tame our unruly natures, as the growth in virtue. Becoming virtuous makes us strong, single hearted, free and able to stand on our own two feet. As Jean Luis-Bruguès OP has written, virtue is an apprenticeship in humanity. “It is in the passage from virtuality to virtuosity” ( for the French text “ce passage de la virtualité à la virtuosité ” )

Becoming a brother means that we receive our strength from each other. We are not soloists. It is a strength that makes us free, but with each other not from each other. In the first place we become strong because we have confidence in each other. At the origin of our tradition is Dominic’s endless confidence in the brethren. He trusted the brethren because he trusted in God. As John of Spain wrote, “He had such confidence in God’s goodness that he sent even ignorant men to preaching saying, ‘Do not be afraid, the Lord will be with you and will put power in your mouths.’”

So the first task of your formator is to build up that trust and confidence. But it is also the responsibility that you have for each other, for it is usually those in formation who form each other most. You have the power to undermine a brother, sap his confidence, make fun of him. And you have the power to build each other up, to give each other strength, to form each other as preachers of God’s strong word.

It is said in our Constitutions that “the primary responsibility for his own formation lies with the candidate himself” (LCO 156). We should not be treated as children, incapable of making decisions for ourselves. We grow into brethren, equal members of the community, by being treated as mature adults. In Dominic’s day, there was no sign of the traditional monastic circator, whose job was to go around snooping, seeing whether everyone was doing what they ought. But this is a responsibility that we do not exercise alone. If we are brothers, then we will help each other into the freedom to think, to speak, to believe, to take risks, to transcend fear. We will also dare to challenge each other.

As we grow as brethren, then we will be strong enough to face our weakness and fragility. This is in the first place what a friend of mine has called “the wisdom of creatures” . This is the knowledge that we are created, that our existence is a gift, that we are mortal and live between birth and death. We wake up to the fact that we are not gods. We stand on our own two feet, but our feet are a gift.

We will also discover that we have not joined the communion of saints, but a group of men and women who are weak, irresolute, and who must constantly pick themselves up after failure. I have written elsewhere about how this can be a moment of crisis in a brother’s formation . The heroes whom a novice had loved and admired turn out to have feet of clay. But this has always been so. That is one reason why we have as Patroness of the Order Mary Magdalene, who according to tradition was a weak and sinful woman, but who was called to be the first preacher of the gospel.

More than five hundred years ago Savonarola wrote a letter to a novice who had clearly been scandalised by the sins of the brethren. Savonarola warns him about people who join the Order hoping to enter paradise right away. They never last. “They wish to live among the saints, excluding all wicked and imperfect people. And when they do not find this, they abandon their vocation and take to the road…..But if you wish to flee from all the wicked, then you must leave this world.” This confrontation with fragility is often a wonderful moment in the maturing of a vocation. This is when we discover that we are able to give and to receive the mercy which we asked for when we joined the Order. If we can do this, then we are on the road to becoming a brother and a preacher.

One of the fears that may inhibit us from trusting in this mercy is the worry that if the brethren were to see what we are really like, then they might not vote for us for profession. We may be tempted to conceal who we are until we are safely and securely inside, professed and ordained and invulnerable. To accept this would be to settle for a formation in deceit. Formation would become a training in concealment, and this would be a travesty for an Order whose motto is “Veritas”. We must believe in our brethren enough to let them see who we are and what we think. Without such transparency there is no fraternity. This does not mean that we must stand up in the refectory and proclaim our sins, but we cannot create a mask behind which we hide. We dare to embrace such vulnerability because Christ has done so before us. It prepares us to preach a trustworthy and honest word.

Fidelity and love of the brethren

Finally, there is a quality to brotherhood which is elusive and hard to describe, which I shall call fidelity, according to Peguy “the most beautiful of words”. At the heart of our preaching is God’s fidelity. God has given his word to us, and it is a Word made flesh. It is a word in which we can trust, and which makes of the history of humanity a story which goes somewhere rather than just a succession of random events. It is the strong and solid word of the one who said “I am who I am”. That is a fidelity which we must seek to embody in our lives. The married couple is a sacrament of God’s fidelity, who has joined himself irrevocably to us in Christ. It belongs also to our preaching of the gospel that we are faithful to each other.

What does that mean? In the first place, it is fidelity to the commitment we have made to the Order. God has given us his Word made flesh, even though it led to a senseless death. We have given God our word, even when our promise may appear to ask of us more than we may think possible. I remember, when I was Provincial, talking with an old brother who came to tell me that he was dying of cancer. He was a loveable and good man, who had lived through difficult and uncertain moments in his Dominican life. He told me, “It looks as if I am going to fulfil my ambition of dying in the Order”. It may look a small ambition, but it is an essential one. He had given his word and his life. He rejoiced that, despite everything, he had not taken back this gift.

Secondly it means that our common mission has priority over my private agenda. I have my talents, my preferences and dreams, but I have given myself to our shared preaching of the good news. This common mission may require of me that I accept some unwanted burden for a while, like being a Bursar, a Novice or Student Master, or Master of the Order, for the common good. A bus may look much like a common room. It is filled with people who sit together, talking or reading, sharing a common space. But when the bus route departs from the direction of my own journey, then I will leave that bus and continue on my own way. Do I regard the Order as much like a bus, on which I stay only as long as it carries me in the direction I wish to go?

Fidelity also implies that I will stand up for my brethren, for their reputation is mine. In the Primitive Constitutions, and until recently, one of the tasks of the novice master was to teach the novices to “suspect the good” . One must always give the best possible interpretation of what the brethren did or said. If a brother comes back regularly late at night then rather than imagine the terrible sins he may have committed, one must assume that, for example, he had been out visiting the sick. Savonarola writes to that judgmental novice: “If you see something that does not please you, think that it was done with a good intention. Many are, in themselves, better than you imagine”. This is more than the optimism of the unworldly. It belongs to that love which sees the world with God’s eyes, as good. St Catherine of Siena once wrote to Raymond of Capua, reassuring him that he must trust in her love for him, and when we love someone we give the best interpretation to what they do, trusting that they always seek our good: “Beyond the general love, there is a particular love which expresses itself in faith. And it expresses itself in such a way that it can neither believe or imagine that the other could want anything except our good.”

If my brother is condemned as bad or unorthodox, then fidelity means that I will do everything I can to stand by him, and give the best possible interpretation to his views or actions. It was because of this mutual fidelity that the foreword of the Constitutions of 1228 ruled, as to be observed “inviolably and unchangeably in perpetuity”, that one never can appeal outside the Order against the decisions that the Order made. It should be virtually unimaginable, therefore, that a brother might publicly accuse or disassociate himself from one of his brethren.

This fidelity implies that I will not only stand up for my brother but to him. If he is my brother, then I must care what he thinks, and dare to disagree with him. I cannot leave it just for the superiors, as if it were not my responsibility. But I must do so to his face and not behind his back. We may fear to do this, expecting hostility and rejection. But, in my experience, if one makes it clear that one is speaking out of a love of the truth and of one’s brother, then this has always led to a deepened friendship and understanding.

So these are some of the elements of being formed as a brother: talking and listening to each other; learning to be strong and weak; growing in mutual fidelity. All this belongs to what is most fundamental, which is learning to love the brethren. We Dominicans, with our robust approach to each other, may hesitate to use such language. It may sound sugary and sentimental. Yet it is the ultimate basis of our fraternity. This is what we are required to do by the one who calls us: “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you” (John 16:12). This is the fundamental commandment of our faith. Obedience to it forms us as Christians and as brethren. St Dominic said that he had learnt ” more in the book of Charity than in the books of men” . It means that ultimately we see each other as a gift from God. My brother or sister may irritate me; I may be totally opposed to their opinions, but I come to delight in them, and see their goodness.

There is a fundamental relationship between love and vocation. It has brought many of you to us. Jesus looked at the rich young man and loved him, and called him to follow him, just as he looked at Mary Magdalene and called her by her name. Stephen of Spain tells us that he went to confession to Dominic, and “he looked at me as if he loved me.” Later that evening Dominic summoned him and clothed him in the habit. Love is, as Eckhart said, the angler’s hook that catches the fish and will not let it go. I must confess that I decided to join the Order before I ever met a Dominican, drawn by the ideal that I had read about. Perhaps that also can be a blessing!

There is nothing sentimental about this love. Sometimes we have to work at it, and struggle to overcome prejudice and difference. It is the labour of becoming one of the brethren. I remember that once there was a brother with whom it was hard for me to live. Anything that either did or said appeared to irritate the other. One evening we agreed to go out to the pub together, a very English solution. We talked for hours, learned about each other’s childhood, and struggles. I could, for the first time, see through his eyes and see myself as I must appear to him. I began to understand. That was the beginning of friendship and fraternity.

“I have seen the Lord”

Mary Magdalene goes to her brothers and says “I have seen the Lord”. She is the first preacher of the resurrection. She is a preacher because she is capable of hearing the Lord when he calls, and of sharing the good news of Christ’s victory over death.

So becoming a preacher is more than learning a certain amount of information, so that you have something to say, and a few preaching techniques, so that you know how to say it. It is being formed as someone who can hear the Lord, and speak a word that offers life. Isaiah says, “The Lord called me from the womb, from the body of my mother he named my name. He made my mouth like a sharp sword, in the shadow of his hand he hid me.”(49.1f). All of Isaiah’s life, from the very beginning, shaped him as someone who is ready to speak a prophetic word.

The Order should offer you more than a training in theology. It is a life that forms you as a preacher. Our common life, prayer, pastoral experiences, struggles and failures, will make us capable of attention and proclamation in ways that we cannot anticipate.

One of my predecessors as Provincial was a brother called Anthony Ross. He was famous as a preacher, a historian, a prison reformer, and even a wrestler! One day, shortly after he was elected Provincial, he suffered a stroke and was reduced almost to silence. He had to resign as Provincial and learn to speak again. The few words he could manage had more power than anything he had said before. People came to confession to him, to hear his simple healing words. His sermons of half a dozen words could change people’s lives. It was as if that suffering and that silence formed a preacher who could give us life-giving words as never before. I went to see him before I left for the General Chapter of Mexico, from which, to my great surprise, I did not come back to my Province. His last word to me was “Courage”. The greatest gift we can give to a brother is such a word.

A Compassionate word

Mary Magdalene announces to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”. This is not just the statement of a fact, but the sharing of a discovery. She has shared their loss, their puzzlement, their grief, and so now she can share with them her encounter with the Risen Lord. She can share the good news with them because it is good news for her.

The Word that we preach is a word who shared our humanity, and is “not a high priest unable to sympathise with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” (Hebrews 4.15). Preaching will demand of us that we became incarnate in different worlds, whether that of the contemporary youth culture or a Micronesian island, the world of drug addicts or business managers. We have to enter a world, learn its language, see through its inhabitants’ eyes, get under their skin, understand their weaknesses and their hopes. We must, in some sense, become them. Then we can speak a word that is good news to them and to us. This does not mean that we must agree with them. Often we may need to challenge them. But we must feel the pulse of their humanity before we can do so.

It is the tradition of the Church to sing the praises of God at dawn. We go on being watchmen waiting for the dawn, so that we can share our hope with others who see no sign of the sun rising. It is because I have somehow glimpsed their darkness, and maybe known it as my own, that I can share a word about the “loving kindness of the heart of our God, who visits us like the dawn from on high”.

Often we can do this because of who we are and what we have lived. Mary Magdalene searched for the body of the Lord with a tenderness which she had learned in a life that was marked, according to the tradition, by its own failures and sins. It was this life that prepared her to be the person who searched for the man she loved and recognised him when he called her by name. One of the most precious gifts you bring to the Order is your life, with its failures, its difficulties, its dark moments. I can even look back at some sin and see it as a felix culpa, because it has prepared me as someone who can speak a word of compassion and hope for others who are living the same defeat. I can share with them the rising of the sun.

In other areas we need a formation in compassion, an education of the heart and the mind that breaks down everything within us that is stony hearted, priggish, arrogant and judgmental. One of the most useful things that I ever did in my rather unusual noviciate, was to visit regularly the sexual offenders in the local prison. They are perhaps the most despised people in our society. The revelation was that really we were no different from each other. We can listen to the gospel together. So our formation should wear down our defences against those who are different, and unattractive, those whom our society despises: the beggars, the prostitutes, the criminals, the sort of people with whom the Word of God spent his time. We learn to receive the gifts that they can give us, if our hands are open.

The ideal preacher is the one who is all things to all human beings, perfectly human. No Dominican that I know is that, and we will be faced with our limitations. For years I went one night a week to a refuge for the homeless in Oxford, to prepare the soup and to talk with them. Yet I must confess that I dreaded it. I hated the smell, and was bored by the drunken conversation; I knew that my soup was not a success and I longed to be home reading books. Yet I do not regret those hours. Maybe the wall between me and my brothers and sisters on the street was somewhat eroded.

Compassion will reshape our lives in ways that we never planned. When St. Dominic was a student at Palencia he let himself be touched by compassion for the hungry and sold his books. He only stayed in the south of France and founded the Order because he was moved by the plight of the people caught in a destructive heresy. The whole of his life was moulded by response to situations he never anticipated. This merciful man was at the mercy of others, vulnerable to their needs. Learning compassion will wrestle from our hands the tight control of our lives.

A word of life

“I have seen the Lord”. This is more than the reporting of an event. Mary Magdalene shares with her brethren the triumph of life over death, of light over darkness. It is a word that brings the dawn that she witnessed “very early in the morning”.

Catherine of Siena tells Raymond of Capua that we must be “doers rather than undoers and spoilers” We are formed as preachers through the ordinary conversations that we have with others, the words that we exchange in the common room and the corridors. We discover how to share a word of life in our preaching, by being formed as brethren who offer each other words that give hope, encourage, build up and heal. If we are people who habitually offer words to other people which hurt, undermine, sap and destroy, then however intelligent and knowledgeable we may be, we can never be preachers. There is a Polish saying, “Wystygl mistyk; wynik cynik”, which means : “The mystic has cooled down; the result is a cynic.” We may be the “dogs of the Lord” but we can never be cynics .

The word of the preacher is fertile. It fructifies. When Mary Magdalene meet Jesus she mistook him for the gardener. Only it is not a mistake, because Jesus is the new Adam in the garden of life, where death is defeated and the dead tree of the cross bears fruit. So the natural allies of the preacher are the creative people in our society. Who are the people struggling to make sense of contemporary experience? Who are the thinkers, the philosophers, the poets and the artists, who can teach us a creative word for today. They too should help to form us as preachers

A word that we have received

How are we to find this fresh, compassionate creative word? I confessed at the beginning of this letter that when I joined the Order I feared that I would never be able to preach. This is a fear that often is still there. It is embarrassing for a Dominican to confess that when I am asked to preach my first reaction still is often: “But I have nothing to say.” But what is to be said will be given, even if sometimes at the last moment. To receive the word that is given, we have to learn the art of silence. In study and in prayer, we learn to be still, attentive, so that what we may receive from the Lord what he gives us to share: “What I received from the Lord, is what I also delivered to you.”(1 Cor. 11:23)

Being still is for many the hardest part of formation. Pascal wrote that “I have discovered that the unhappiness of human beings comes from just one thing: not knowing how to remain quietly in a room.” Ultimately the preacher must love “the pleasures of solitude” because that is when we receive gifts. We have to nail ourselves to our chairs, not so that we may master knowledge, but so that we may be ready and alert when it comes unexpectedly, like a thief in the night. Finally we may come to love this silence as the deepest centre of our Dominican lives. It is the time of gifts, whether in prayer or study.

It demands discipline. “Truly, you are a God who lies hidden”(Is 45: 15).To detect God’s coming, we need ears that are acute, like those of a hunter. Eckhart asks: “Where is this God, whom all creatures seek, and from whom they have their being and their life? Just like a man who hides himself, and who coughs and so gives himself away, so is God. No one is capable of discovering God, if he did not give himself away.” But God is there, discreetly coughing, giving tiny hints to those who are able to hear, if we are silent. Often, later in your Dominican life, you will be overwhelmed by demands on your time. Now is the time to establish a habit of regular silence in the presence of God, to which you must cling all your life. It can make the difference between mere survival and flourishing as a Dominican.

Often people come to the Order with a newfound enthusiasm to share the good news of Jesus Christ. You may wish to take immediately to the streets, to storm the pulpit, to share your discovery of the gospel with the world. It can be frustrating to join the Order of Preachers and then find that for years you are tied to hours of boring study, reading dry books written by dead men. We yearn perhaps to be on the road preaching the gospel, or sent on the missions. We may be like those young men of whom Dostoyevsky wrote in Brothers Karamazov, “who do not understand that the sacrifice of one’s life is in most cases perhaps the easiest of all sacrifices, and that to sacrifice, for instance, five or six years of their life, full of youthful fervour, to hard and difficult study, if only to increase tenfold their powers of serving truth so as to be able to carry out the great work they have set their hearts on carrying out – that such a sacrifice is almost beyond the strength of many of them.”

It is right that from the beginning we find ways of sharing the good news with others, but the patient apprenticeship of silence is inescapable if we are to communicate more than just our own enthusiasm. Dominic’s memory was a “kind of barn for God, filled to overflowing with crops of every kind” . We need the years of study to fill the barn. It is true that Matthew 10:19 tells us that we must not think beforehand what we are to say, but Humbert of Romans informs those in formation that this text only applied to apostles!

A shared word

A year ago I was walking through the tiny back streets of Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, when I came across a little square, dominated by a statute of St Vincent Ferrer. Standing on his pedestal, he looked the model preacher, the solitary speaker lifted up above the crowd. We may be wish to be preachers like that, individual stars, the focus of attention and admiration.

The word of the preacher is not his. It is a word that we have received not only in the silence of prayer and study but from each other. And so a community of preachers should be one in which we share our deepest convictions, as Mary Magdalene shared her faith in the Risen Lord with her brethren. In the General Council we gather every Wednesday to read the gospel together. Our sermons are the fruit of our common reflection. Modern conceptions of authorship may make us possessive of our own ideas, and we may think that any brother who uses them is committing robbery. But it is the rich who believe firmly in private property. We share what we have received and as mendicant friars we should not be ashamed to beg an idea off anyone.

Our formation should also prepare us to preach together, in a common mission. Jesus sent out the disciples two by two. It is tempting to claim an apostolate as my own and to guard it jealously from the other brethren. This is my responsibility, my care, my glory. If I do that, then it may be that all that I preach is myself. Humbert of Romans tells us to beware of people “who realise that preaching is a particularly splendid kind of job and set their hearts on it because they want to be important.” If we give in to this temptation we may come to think that we are the good news for which everyone is hungering. The most enjoyable teaching that I have ever done was when I taught doctrine at Oxford with two other brethren. We prepared the course together, and went to each other’s lectures. We tried to teach the students by introducing them into our discussions. The idea was that by entering our conversation they could discover a voice of their own, rather than be passive recipients of instruction.

Each brother speaks for the whole community. The most famous example of this was in the early days of the conquest of the Americas. When Antonio Montesino preached against the injustices done to the Indians, the city authorities went to the Prior to denounce him. But the Prior replied that when Antonio preached it was the whole community who spoke..

All this goes against the grain of an individualism which is characteristic both of modernity and often of Dominicans. Indeed individualism is often claimed with some pride as a typically Dominican characteristic. It is true that we have a tradition which cherishes the freedom and the unique gifts of each brother. Thanks be to God. Planning common projects in the Order can be a nightmare. But we are preaching brothers and our greatest brethren, though often pictured alone, usually worked in the common mission: Fra Angelico was not a solitary artist but trained brethren in his skills; St Catherine was surrounded by brothers and sisters; Bartolomeo de Las Casas worked with his brethren in Salamanca for the rights of the Indians. Congar and Chenu flourished as members of a community of theologians. Even St Thomas needed a team of brothers to write down his words.

So our formation should liberate us from the debilitating effects of contemporary individualism, and form us as preaching brothers. We will be much more truly individual and strong if we dare to do that. In some parts of the world, which have been more affected by this individualism, this may be the great challenge for your generation: to invent and launch new ways of preaching the gospel together. This you can do. There are many young in formation, one in six of the brethren and over a thousand novices this year for the nuns and sisters. Together you can do more than we can begin to imagine now.


In 1217, shortly after the foundation of the Order, St Dominic scattered the brethren, because “stored grain rots”. He sent them on their way without money, like the apostles. But one brother, John of Navarra, refused to leave for Paris unless he had money in his pocket. They argued, and finally Dominic gave in and gave him something. This incident scandalised some of the other brethren but perhaps it is a good image of our formation. I am not suggesting that your formators should give in to your every request but that our formation should be both exigent and compassionate, idealistic and realistic. Dominic invites John to be confident, not with an arrogant self-confidence, but confident in the Lord who will provide for him on the journey, and in his brother who sends him. When he sees that he has not got that far as yet, then he has mercy on him.

I pray that your formation may help you to grow in Dominic’s confidence and joy. The Order needs courageous and joyful young men and women who will help us to found the Order in new places, refound it in others, and develop new ways of preaching of the gospel. Sometimes, like brother John, your confidence may falter. You may doubt your strength to set out on the journey, or even whether it is worth while to do so. May such dark and uncertain times become part of your growth as Christians, preachers, brothers and sisters. When you feel lost and unsure, may you hear a voice, unexpectedly close, saying, “Whom do you seek?”


1 M. Walshe, Meister Eckhart, Vol. 1, Londres, p. 46-47.

2. Simon Tugwell, « Dominican Spirituality » in Compendium of Spirituality, éd. E. De Cea OP, New York, 1996, p. 144.

3. Encounter with Martin Buber, Aubrey Hodes, Londres, 1972, p. 217.

4. The Dominicans, Collegeville, 1990, p. 236.

5. Theodore Zeldon, An Intimate History of Humanity, Londres, 1994, p. 49.

6. Les idées heureuses, Paris, 1996, p. 24.

7. Procès pour sa canonisation à Bologne, 26.

8. Rowan Williams, Open to Judgement, Londres, 1994, p. 248.

9. La promesse de vie, 2.4.

10. Lettre à Stefano Codiponte, 22 mai 1492.

11. Simon Tugwell, op. cit., p. 145.

12. Mary O’Driscoll OP, Catherine of Sienna : Passion for the truth, Compassion for Humanity, New City, 1993, p. 48.

13. Gérald de Frachet, 82.

14. Témoignage d’Étienne d’Espagne au procès pour la canonisation de saint Dominique.

15. Mary O’Driscoll op, op. cit., p. 48.

16. Vous voudrez bien pardonner ce petit jeu de mots, et vous reporter à l’étymologie de « cynique ».

17. Pensées, n° 205.

18. Jourdain de Saxe, Libellus, 7.

19. « Treatise on the Formation of Preachers » in Early Dominicans : Selected Writings, trad. Simon Tugwell op, ibid., p. 205.

20. Early Dominicans, op. cit., p. 236.

To Praise, to Bless, to Preach. The Mission of the Dominican Family (2000)

An address to the Dominican Family, Manilla 2000

fr. Timothy Radcliffe, o.p.

When I was asked to address this Assembly of the Dominican Family, I was extremely excited. I am convinced that if we can come to share a common preaching of the gospel, then it will renew the whole Order. But I also felt very inadequate. Who am I to articulate a vision of that common mission? How can any individual friars or brother, man or woman, do this? It is together, listening to each other, that we need to discover that new vision, and that is what we are here for in Manila. So I thought that what I should do is to listen with you to the Word of God. All preaching begins with listening to the gospel. And we become preachers together, when we listen together.

When we listen to the gospel, then we bring it to our experience. We make sense of our experience in the light of the gospel. We try to see again what we have lived and done with new eyes. But our experience also helps us to understand the gospel better. We read it in the light of what we have lived. It is like a conversation, between the Word of God and human experience. And the fruit of that conversation is our preaching. In any good conversation, one does not know where it will take us, especially when one is in conversation with God.

So what I want to do today is listen to a text from the gospel with you. I hope that it may illuminate what we are living now, as the Dominican Family learns how to preach together. And I hope that our experience will help us to understand the gospel better. We are preachers of the Resurrection, and so the text that I have chosen is of the Risen Christ appearing to the disciples in John’s gospel.

On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being shut where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” And he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” John 20. 19 – 23

That scene of the disciples seems very far away from this meeting of the Dominican Family. There you have a little group of disciples, locked away in the upper room, not daring to go out because they are afraid. And here we are, 9000 kilometres away and almost 2000 years later, in this great big meeting hall. They were a little group of Jews, and we in this meeting are 160 people from 58 nationalities, with all our brothers and sisters from the Dominican Family in the Philippines. They did not dare to leave the room, but we have come from all over the planet.

And yet in many ways, we are just like them. Their story is our story. We too are locked in our own little rooms; we too have our fears which imprison us. The Risen Christ also comes to us to open the doors, and send us on the way. We too will discover who we are as a Dominican Family, and what is our mission, not by gazing at ourselves, but in meeting the Risen Lord. He also says to us: “Peace be with you”, and sends us to preach forgiveness and reconciliation. And that is why I wish to reflect on this story and discover what it is saying to us. It may seem absurd to compare the renewal of the Dominican Family with the Resurrection of the dead. But for Christians, all new life is always a sharing in that victory. Paul calls us to die and rise with Christ every day. Even the smallest defeats and victories are shaped by those three days, from Good Friday to Easter Sunday.

On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being shut where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews,…..

The disciples are locked in the upper room. It is a time of waiting, between two lives. The women claim to have met the Risen Lord, but the men have not seen him. As usual, the men are a bit slow! They have seen only an empty tomb, but what does that mean? Their old life with Jesus is over, when they walked with him to Jerusalem, listened to his parables and shared his life. But the new life after the Resurrection has not yet begun. They have heard that Jesus is risen, but have not met him face to face. And so they wait, or go back to what they were doing before, fishing for fish. It is a moment of transition.

In a small way, the Dominican Family is living such a moment. From the beginning Dominic gathered together a family of preachers, men and women, lay and religious, contemplatives and preachers who took to the road. We can see inscriptions in S Sabina which talk of the Dominican Family which go back to the beginning. It has always been part of who we are. But now we claim that something new is happening. All over the world, sisters and lay Dominicans are claiming their identity as preachers. When we read the Acts of General Chapters of the brethren, we are told that this is a new moment in our history. We proclaim that all the members of the Dominican Family are equal and that we share a common mission. There are lots of beautiful words and documents. But some of us are like the disciples. We have not seen much evidence of change as yet. Most things seem to go on much as before. We hear stories of a wonderful new collaboration, but it usually appears to be happening somewhere else, and not where we are! So, we may be like the disciples in the upper room, waiting, hopeful but uncertain.

This is part of the experience of the whole Church at the moment. We have beautiful documents from the Second Vatican Council, proclaiming the dignity of the lay vocation. We have statements from Rome about the place of women in the life and mission of the Church. We have a new vision of the Church, as the pilgrim People of God. But sometimes we may feel that nothing much seems to have changed. In fact, sometimes the Church seems even more clerical than it was before. And so for many Catholics this is a time of mixed feelings: of hope and disappointment, of renewal and frustration, of joy and anger.

And then there is fear. The disciples are locked up in their upper room by fear. Of what are we afraid? What fears keep us locked inside some little space, reluctant to try something new? We must dare to see the fears that lock us in and prevent us from throwing ourselves wholeheartedly into the mission of the Dominican Family. Maybe we are afraid of losing the distinctive tradition of our congregation with its own founder, its unique history and stories. Will we lose what is special to us, our own identity? Maybe we are afraid that we will try something new and fail. We may give up a good ministry for a project that might not work. Maybe we fear to ask our brothers and sisters to collaborate with a new project, because we could be humiliated and not taken seriously. Maybe we fear that we are not up to it; we do not have the theological formation, the organisational ability. It is safer just carry on doing what we have always done. Let’s go on fishing for fish.

Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” And he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord

It is the sight of the wounded Christ that frees the disciples from fear and makes them glad. It is the wounded Christ that transforms them into preachers.

One cannot be a preacher without getting wounded. The Word became flesh, and was hurt and killed. He was powerless in the face of the powers of this world. He dared to be vulnerable to what they might do to him. If we are preachers of that same Word, then we will also get hurt. At the heart of preaching of St Catherine of Siena was her vision of the wounded Christ, and she was given a share of his wounds. We may only suffer small wounds, being mocked, not taken seriously, being considered fools. We may be tortured, like our brother Tito de Alencar in Brazil, and killed like Pierre Claverie in Algeria or Joaquin Bernado in Albania, or our four sisters in Zimbabwe in the seventies. The vision of the wounded but living Christ can free us from the fear of getting wounded.. We can take the risk of getting hurt or worse, because hurt and death do not have the victory.

When we see that wounded Christ, then we can face the fact that we are already hurt. Perhaps we have been hurt by our childhoods, by growing up in dysfunctional families, or by our experience of religious life, by botched attempts to love, by ideological conflicts in the Church, by sin. Every one of us is a wounded preacher. But the good news is that we are preachers because we are wounded. Gerald Vann, an English Dominican, was one of the most famous writers on spirituality in the English-speaking world since the Second World War. He struggled with alcoholism and depression all his life. That is why he had something to say. We have a word of hope and mercy because we have needed them ourselves. On my bookshelves I have a book written by an old French Dominican called “Les Cicatrices”, “The Scars”. In this book he tells how he came to Christ through the hurts of his life. And when he gave it to me he wrote a dedication saying “For Timothy who knows that the scars can become the doors of the sun.” Every wound we have can become a door for the rising sun. One brother suggested that I should show you my wounds. I am afraid that you will have to wait for my memoirs!

The most painful thing for the disciples is that they look at the Jesus whom they have wounded. They denied him, deserted him, ran away. They hurt him. Jesus does not accuse them, he just shows them his wounds. We must face the fact we too have wounded each other. So often I have seen the brethren wound other members of the Dominican Family unintentionally, through a patronising word, by a failure to treat women or lay people as our equals. But it is not only the brothers. We all do it! Jesus was wounded by the powers of this world, and we have the power to hurt: the power to speak words that wound, the power of the priests over the laity, of men over women and of women over men, of religious over laity, of superiors over the members of their community, of the rich over the power, of the confident over the fearful.

We can dare to see the wounds that we have inflicted and received, and still be glad, because Christ is risen from the dead. We may hobble on one foot, but the Lord makes us happy. This was Dominic’s joy, and there is no preaching of the good news without it. Earlier this year, a team from French TV came to spend a few days at S Sabina to make a programme. And at the end the director said to me, “It is very strange. In this community you talk about serious things, and yet you are all always laughing.” We are joyful wounded preachers.

Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you

Jesus sends the disciples out of the safety of the locked room. This sending is the beginning of the preaching. To be a preacher is to be someone who is sent by God, but we are not all sent in the same way. For the sisters and the brothers, this will often mean being literally sent to another place. My brethren sent me to Rome. Yvon and Margaret could be sent to the South Pole to preach to the penguins. It is my hope that with the evolution of the Volunteer movement we will see lay people being sent to other parts of the world to share in our preaching, Bolivians to the Philippines, and Filipinos to France. For many of us, being sent means that we must be prepared to pack our bags and go. I remember an old friar telling me that no brother should possess more than he can carry in his two hands.

But for many members of the Dominican family to be sent does not mean to travel. The nuns are members of the monastery, and usually that is where they will stay all of their lives. Many lay Dominicans are married or have jobs, which mean that they cannot just get up and go. So being sent means more than physical mobility. It means being from God. It is our being. Jesus is “the one who was sent” (Heb 3.1.). He is sent from the Father, but that did not mean that Jesus made a physical journey, that he left heaven and came to another place called earth. His very existence to be from the Father. Being sent is who he is, now and for ever!

Being a preacher means that every one of us is sent from God to those whom we meet. The wife is sent to the husband and the husband to the wife. Each is a word of God to each other. The nun may not be able to leave her monastery, but she is just as much sent as any brother. She is sent to her sisters, and the whole monastery is a word of God sent to us. Sometimes we accept our mission by remaining where we are and being a word of life there.

One of my favourite lay fraternities is in Norfolk prison in Massachusetts, in the United States. The members of that fraternity cannot go elsewhere. If they try they will be stopped forcibly. But they are preachers there in that prison, sent to be a word of life and hope in a place of despair and suffering. They are sent as preachers to a place to which most of us cannot go.

But Jesus does not just send the disciples out of the locked room; he also gathers them into community. He sends them to the ends of the earth, and commands them to be one as he and the Father are one. I believe that this paradox is central to Dominican life. When Dominic received the Bull confirming the Order, he went back to his little community in Toulouse and he dispersed the brethren. No sooner was the community founded than it was broken up. The brethren were not at all keen to go, but for once Dominic insisted.

For Dominic, the Order disperses the brethren, and gathers them into unity. We are sent away as preachers, but we are one. We are one because we preach the Kingdom, into which all of humanity is called. As Paul writes, we preach “one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all…”(Ephesians 4.4). We cannot preach the Kingdom and be divided. This is why we have always struggled not to split into separate Orders. Sometimes we only hung on by the skin of our teeth!

So for the brethren, from the beginning this was the pulse to our lives, of being sent out and gathered back into unity. It is the breathing of the Order. And the genius of Dominic was to give this breathing strong lungs, which are our democratic form of government. Government is not just a form of administration. It embodies a spirituality of mission. It is the strong lungs that sends us on mission and gathers us back again into unity. In the early centuries there was a General Chapter every year. Every year the brethren gathered in Bologna or Paris, and sent out on new missions. All year long there were brethren on the road, walking to Bologna or Paris to meet for the Chapter, and then walking away to new exotic places of mission, like England! These were the lungs that gave life.

We have already seen that as a Dominican Family we have different ways of being sent. How are we to be one? What form will our communion take? What are our lungs, that breathe us out and bring us together again? We are at just the beginning of reflecting on this. The monasteries of nuns feel deeply part of the one Order, and yet each monastery has its own precious autonomy. For many branches of the Family unity has never been so important. Many congregations of sisters came into existence through a process of splitting, through dividing like cells. Juridical unity was not important for you. With Dominican Sisters International, the sisters are at the beginning of a process to see how 160 congregations can collaborate together and find unity. As yet, there is no world-wide structure which brings together the Dominican laity.

I believe that we must start by finding our unity in the mission. We are sent out together to preach the one Kingdom, in which all humanity is reconciled. Our unity with each other will be discovered as we go out together. We will need new structures to build a common mission. Already these are beginning to emerge. The Bologna General Chapter, two years ago, encouraged the Dominican family who live in the same place to meet and plan a common mission. In Mexico City or Paris, for example, the whole Family can meet to decide what is our mission here. At the International level the General Council of the brethren is meeting regularly with the co-ordinating team of DSI, to share each others’ concerns. When we found the Order in new places, we should try to plan the new presence as an initiative of the whole Dominican Family from the beginning.

At this meeting, our aim is not to set up new juridical structures. We have no authority to do this. In the future we can discover together what structures best serve that unity. Today we have the far more fundamental and important task of discovering a common vision of the mission. That is the first step to unity. And so let us return to the appearance of the Risen Christ, and see what vision of mission we have here.

Jesus says to the disciples “I send you”

He gives the disciples authority to speak. The preacher is not someone who just communicates information. He or she speaks with authority. If we are all to claim our identity as preachers, then we must recognise that each of us has the authority to preach the gospel.

In the first place we all have the authority to preach because we are baptised. This is the clear teaching of the Church, in Evangelii Nuntiandi, Redemptoris Missio, and Christifideles Laici. We have been baptised into the death and resurrection of Christ, and so we can proclaim it. Each of us also has a unique authority because of who we are, the lives we have lived, and the gifts that we have been given. Each of us has a word to proclaim which is given to no one else. God is in our lives, as married and single people, parents and as children. Out of these human experiences of love, its triumphs and failures, we have a word to speak of the God who is love. We also have authority because of our skills and knowledge. We are politicians and cooks, carpenters and physicists; we are teachers and taxi drivers, lawyers and economists. I went to a meeting in Goias, in Brazil, of members of the Dominican Family who are lawyers. They had their special authority as lawyers, to address issues of justice and peace in the Continent.

Ultimately the authority of our preaching is that of the truth, Veritas. This is the truth for which human beings are made and recognise instinctively. When fray Luis Munio de Zamora OP drew up the first rule for the Dominican fraternities in the thirteenth century, he did not invite them just to be penitents, as was the tradition then. He wanted them to be people of the truth, “true sons of Dominic in the Lord, filled to the utmost with strong and ardent zeal for Catholic truth, in ways in keeping with their own life.” It is a truth that we must seek together, in places like Aquinas Institute, in St Louis, USA, where lay Dominicans and sisters and brethren study and teach together. Seeking can be painful. It can lead us to be misunderstood and even condemned, like our brother Marie-Joseph Lagrange. But it gives our words authority and it responds to humanity’s deepest thirst.

If we are to be truly a family of preachers, then we must recognise each others’ authority. I must be open to the authority of a sister because she speaks from the truth of her experience as a woman, also perhaps as a teacher, or a theologian. I must give authority to the lay Dominican who knows more than I do about so many things: perhaps marriage, or poverty, or some science or skill. If we recognise each other’s authority then we will be truly a Family of preachers, with a strong voice. Together we can find an authority which none of us has individually. We must find our voice together.

For many Dominicans, the discovery that we all have the authority to preach has been exciting and liberating. And the restriction of preaching after the gospel during the Eucharist is deeply painful for many of our sisters and laity. It is experienced as a negation of your full identity as preachers. As asked by the General Chapter, I appointed a Commission to examine this question, but unfortunately its conclusions will not be published until next March. I wish that I could have read them before preparing this talk!

All that I can say is this: Do not be discouraged. Accept every other occasion to preach. Let us together create new occasions. Whether we agree or disagree with this ruling, it is not for us the crux of the matter. Preaching in a pulpit has always been only a small part of our preaching. In fact one could argue that Dominic wished to carry the preaching of the gospel out of the confines of the Church and into the street. He wished to carry the word of God to where people are, living and studying, and arguing and relaxing. For us, the challenge is to preach in new places, on the Internet, through art, in a thousand ways. It would be paradoxical if we thought that preaching in the pulpit was the only real way of proclaiming the gospel. It would be a form of fundamentalism that would go against the creativity of Dominic, a retreat back into the church.

I know that this might look like an evasion, an excuse for depriving lay people and sisters of active preaching of the word in the ordinary sense of the word. It could look as if we are saying that the non-ordained should settle for a lesser form of preaching. But this is not so. The Order of preachers exists to get out and share the good news, especially to those who do not come to us. The brethren do this in an incredible variety of ways: writing books, appearing on the television, visiting the sick. However much the exclusion from the pulpit may be hurtful and not accepted, I do not believe that it is the big issue.

We are all “good stewards of God’s varied grace” (1 Peter 4.10) in different ways. Each of us has received the gratia predicationis, but differently. The Dominican martyrs in Vietnam, China and Japan in the seventeenth century were men and women, lay and religious, with an extraordinary diversity of ways of being a preacher. St Dominic Uy was a Vietnamese Dominican lay man who was known as “The Master Preacher”, and so obviously he proclaimed the word; Peter Ching was a Chinese lay man, who took part in public debates in Fogan, to defend the truth of Christianity, just like Dominic with the Albigensians. But other lay Dominicans who were martyred were catechists, inn-keepers, merchants, and scholars.

We preach the Word which has become flesh, and that Word of God can become flesh in all that we are, and not just in what we say. St Francis of Assisi said: “Preach the gospel at all times. If necessary use words!” We have to become living words of truth and hope. St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “You are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone, but on the tablets of the human heart.” (2 Cor. 3.3) In some situations the most effective word can even be silence. I was struck in Japan by how our monasteries are powerful witnesses to the gospel. Buddhists may meet Christ more powerfully in their silence than in any words that we could say. I think of the lepers’ colonies here in the Philippines, run by the brothers of St Martin, which are an embodiment of Dominic’s compassion. The Word also becomes visible in poetry and painting, in music and dancing. Every skill gives us a way of propagating the word. For, example, Hilary Pepler, a famous lay Dominican and a printer, wrote that, “The work of the printer, as all work, should be done for the glory of God. The work of the printer is to multiply the written word, hence the printer serves the maker of words, and the maker of words serves, – or should serve – the Word Which become Flesh”

We do not preach this word as scattered individuals, but as a community. Christifideles Laici says that communion with Jesus “gives rise to communion of Christians among themselves…Communion gives rise to mission and mission is accomplished in communion” (n.32). As you all know, in the early days, a community of the brethren was known as a sacra praedicatio, a holy preaching. When Antonio de Montesinos preached his famous sermon in defence of the Indians in Hispaniola in 1511 in, the Spanish conquistadors went to complain to the Prior, Pedro de Cordoba. And the Prior told them that when Antonio preached, the whole community all preached. We should be midwives to each other, helping our sisters and brothers to speak the word that is given to them. We must help each other to find the authority that is given to them. Together we are a living word in a way that we could not be separately.

I met a brother in the United States recently who had had an operation for cancer and lost part of his tongue. He had to learn to speak again. He discovered how complex it is to speak a single word. We need parts of the body we never think of: our minds, lungs, a throat, vocal cords, a tongue, teeth and a mouth. All this is necessary just to say: “Peace be with you”. And if we are to proclaim this to the world, then we need each other so that we can together form these words of life. Together we are the mind, the lungs, the tongue, the mouth, the teeth, the vocal cords that can form a word of peace.

I was at a meeting of the Dominican Family in Bologna earlier this year. There was a group of laity who worked with the sisters and brethren in preaching missions in parishes. There was another group of laity and brethren whose love is philosophy, and who saw their mission as to confront the intellectual vacuum at the heart of people’s lives. They preach by teaching. And there was a group of sisters who ran a University for the retired and unemployed. And there was a group of laity who said that they wished to support the mission of the others by praying. There was no competition between these Dominicans. No group could claim to be the “true Dominicans” or that the others were “second class citizens”. For example, the fraternities have a central role in the life of the Order that no new group can threaten. But these fraternities can strengthen the Dominican Family by helping to found youth groups, new associations, and these in turn will renew the fraternities. If we are to be a true Family of Preachers, then there can be no competition between us. If there is, then we will fail to embody the gospel.

And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”

Jesus breathes upon the disciples. This deliberately echoes the creation of humanity, when God breathed upon Adam and made him a living being. Jesus breathes on the disciples so that they become fully alive. This is the completion of creation. Peter says to Jesus, “You have the words of eternal life.” (Jn 6. 68). The goal of preaching is not to communicate information but life. The Lord says to Ezekiel, “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. Thus says the Lord God to these bones: Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live.” (37.4f) We preachers should speak words that make dry bones come alive!

We must be honest and admit that most preaching is very boring, and is more inclined to put us to sleep than to wake us up. At least it drives us to prayer. After ten minutes we discreetly look at our watches and pray for the preacher to stop. The Colombian Dominicans say: “Five minutes for the people, five minutes for the walls, and everything else is for the Devil”. Even Paul, the greatest of all preachers, managed to send Eutychus to sleep, so that he fell out of the window and almost died! But God sometimes gives us the grace to speak words that give life to others.

I met a woman here in the Philippines called Clarentia. She had caught leprosy when she was fourteen years old, and spent all of her life in leprosaria, living with our Brothers of St Martin. She hardly dared to leave these places where she was accepted and welcome. Now that she is already in her sixties, she has discovered her vocation as a preacher. She has found the courage to leave her locked “upper room”, to go out and to visit leprosaria to encourage the people who are there also to find a freedom; she addresses conferences and government agencies. She has found her voice and authority in fighting this terrible disease. This is what it means to preach a word of life.

For us preachers, all words matter. All our words can offer life to other people, or death. Our words can sustain and renew other people, or they can undermine and destroy. All day long we are offering words to each other; we joke and tease, we exchange information, we gossip, we repeat the news, and talk about the people who are not in the room. Our lives are filled with words, doing good or evil. A computer virus was sent out from this very city, Manila, earlier this year. It was disguised in a message called “I LOVE YOU”. We all like to get messages like that. But if you opened that message, then all your computer files were destroyed. Sometimes our words can be similar. We can give the impression that we are just being truthful, just or honest, “I am just saying this for your own good, my dear”, while sowing poison!

One motto of the Order is “Laudare, benedicere, praedicare”, “to praise, to bless, to preach”. Becoming a preacher is more than learning to speak about God. It is discovering the art of praising and blessing all that is good. There is no preaching without celebration. We cannot preach unless we see the goodness of what God has made and praise it and bless it. Sometimes the preacher must, like Las Casas, confront and denounce injustice, but only so that life may have the victory over death, and resurrection over the tomb, and praise over complaint.

We will therefore only flourish as a family of preachers if we make each other strong, and give each other life. We must breathe God’s breath into each other, as Jesus did on the disciples. St Catherine of Siena was a preacher not just in what she said and wrote, but in giving others strength. When the Pope was getting discouraged, she stiffened his courage. When her beloved Raymond of Capua, the Master of the Order, was afraid, then she encouraged him onwards. All Masters of the Order need that sometimes. When a criminal was condemned to death, she helped him to face execution. She says to him: “Courage, my dear brother, we shall soon be at the wedding feast….Never forget this. I shall be waiting for you at the place of execution”.

The Dominican Family in Brazil established what is called “The Dominican mutirão”. Mutirão means “working together”. Every year a small group of brethren, sisters and laity goes to be with people struggling for life or justice, especially those who are poor and forgotten. They go just to be with them, to show support, to hear what they are living, to show that someone remembers them. We need this if we are to be strong.

So we shall grow together as a Dominican Family as we learn to make each other strong and alive, as we recognise each other’s authority and praise God for what we see. Most of us learn how to be human in our families. Our parents and siblings, aunts and uncles and cousins, teach us how to talk and listen, how to play and laugh, how to walk and get up when we fall over. You cannot learn to be human alone. Perhaps this is why Dominic always thought of the Order as having the breadth of a family, with nuns and laity and brethren. Dominic was eminently human and he preached the God who embraced our humanity. We need our Dominican Family to form us human preachers, and make us alive. We need the wisdom of women, and the experience of married people and parents, and the depth of contemplative if we are to be formed as preachers. So all Dominican formation should be mutual formation. In many parts of the world, the novices of the sisters and the brothers spend part of their formation together. We can teach each other to speak a word of life.

And the last words of Jesus that I will comment upon show us what is at the heart of that word of life.

“If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

Twice Jesus says to them “Peace be with you”, and then he gives them the power to forgive or retain sins. That is the heart of our preaching. This includes the forgiveness of our individual sins. St Dominic wept for sinners. It also includes the healing of divisions between peoples, reconciliation and the birth of a just world.

Again this is a vocation that we live in different ways. There was a French Dominican lay woman, called Maïti Girtanner who was brilliant young pianist. But in 1940, during the Nazi occupation of France, she founded a resistance group. Finally she was caught by the Gestapo and tortured by a young doctor. This destroyed her nervous system, and for the rest of her life she was in pain. It destroyed her career as a pianist. Forty years later, this doctor realised that before he died he had to seek forgiveness from her. And so he tracked down Maïti and asked for reconciliation. She forgave him and he returned home, able to face himself, his family and his death. As Maïti said, “Vous voyez le mal n’est pas le plus fort” “You see, evil is not the strongest”. That is an embodiment of Jesus’ preaching.

I also think of Dominican Peace Action in Britain, a group of nuns, sisters, laity and brethren, who made a commitment to work together for peace and especially the abolition of nuclear weapons, through writing and preaching, and even through breaking the law. There is the community of S Maria Maggiore in Rome, which is entrusted with hearing confessions in the Basilica. For hours every day, especially during this Jubilee year, and in innumerable languages, they are there to offer God’s forgiveness. All these are ways of preaching those words: “Peace be with you.”

But we cannot preach that peace unless we live it among ourselves. When the brethren and sisters make profession they ask for God’s mercy and that of the Order. We can have nothing to say about peace and forgiveness if we do not offer it to each other, as a whole Dominican Family.

When war broke out between Argentina and Britain over the Malvinas Islands in 1982, the brethren of the community in Oxford went out into the street in the habit and carrying candles. We went in procession to the war memorial to pray for peace. Last year I happened to be in Argentina on the “Malvinas day”, the day when the nation renews its commitment to the islands. I was in Tucuman in the north of the country, and the streets were filled with Argentinean flags and banners. I must admit that I wondered whether I had chosen the right day to come! In the afternoon I went to a meeting of a thousand members of the Dominican Family, and there was a little British flag too! And we celebrated the Eucharist together for all the dead. The peace we preach is a peace that we must live

In the north of Burundi, there is a Dominican monastery of nuns. The whole countryside has been destroyed by the violent civil war between the Tutsis and the Hutus. Everywhere the villages are empty and the fields are burnt. But when you draw near to the hill upon which the monastery is built, you see that it is green. Here the people come to tend their fields. In this desert of war this is an oasis of peace. And it is so because the nuns themselves live peacefully together, although they too are Hutu and Tutsi. All of them have lost members of their families in the war. It is a peace and forgiveness that is made flesh in their community.

This peace that we should share is much more than an absence of conflict. It is more than forgiving each other when we do wrong. It is the friendship that is the heart of Dominican spirituality. Before he died Jesus said to the disciples, “I call you my friends”. Three days later, after betrayal, denial, suffering and death, he appears among them and offers them again his friendship, “Peace be with you”. It is a friendship which can transcend any betrayal or cowardice or sin. It is the friendship which is God’s own life, the love at the heart of the Trinity.

This friendship is the foundation of our equality with each other. It means that we all equally belong in the Dominican Family. It means that there can be no competition, between the brethren and the sisters, between the nuns and the sisters, between the fraternities and the new forms of lay groups. It implies a certain fidelity to each other. We should stand by each other, and never denounce each other in public.

The Dominican Family is our common home. We are called to be chez nous, in la nostra casa. I know that sometimes the sisters and laity can feel that in our Dominican home, the brethren are in the upper room, and they have tried to lock out everyone else. One of our biggest challenges is building a shared consciousness of the Order as the place where we all belong. To be at home means that one does not have to justify being there, that one is at ease. One is accepted just as one is. Of course each community needs its own times and its own space. We cannot all go barging into the monasteries and demanding to share the lives of the nuns. The communities of brethren and sisters and the families of the laity need their own privacy. This is obvious. St Thomas says that friendship does not consist in living under the same roof or even eating at the same table “like cattle”, but in communication, in the pleasure of conversation . It means that we recognise each other as brothers and sisters. It shows in our faces, gestures and words, in the welcome we give each other.

Many little tensions within the Dominican Family, such as who can put which initials after their names, who can wear the habit and when, are symptoms of this more important and deeper longing, for friendship, for a home, to belong, to have one’s assured place. In the old days we used to belong to the First, Second and Third Order. This terminology was abolished at the General Chapter of River Forest in 1968, to make plain our equality. No one is first or second or third class. But in so doing we lost a way of stating our unity in a common Order. Together we must find ways to build that common home.

And it should be an open home, which welcomes the friends of our friends, which welcomes new groups whose Dominican identity is not perhaps clear but who want to be part of the Family. The friendship that Jesus offers is wide and open. He welcomes in everyone. He gets impatient when the disciples try to stop someone preaching because they do not belong to the group of the disciples. He does not shut doors but bursts through them. Let us embody that big hearted friendship. Let us be a sign of that welcome, so that we may all be at ease in Dominic’s Family and know that we belong. May Dominic liberate us from the fear that locks the doors.

ed Aidan Nichols OP Dominican Gallery, Leominster 1997, p. 347
L. 273; DT XXXI
e.g. ST 1-2. 28. 1. Ad 1

The Throne of God (2000)

A Talk for the Congress of Abbots. Sant’Anselmo September 2000

fr. Timothy Radcliffe, o.p.

It is a great honour for me to be asked to speak to this Congress of Abbots. I want to say a little about the role of monasteries in the new Millennium. I feel so little suited to speak about this that I wonder whether I ought to have accepted the invitation. I did so just as an act of gratitude to St Benedict and those who follow his rule. I was educated – more or less – by the Benedictines for ten years, at Worth and Downside Abbeys, and I have the happiest memories of those years. Above all I remember the humanity of the monks, who helped me to believe in a God who was good and merciful, though very English! I probably owe my religious vocation to a great-uncle who was a Benedictine, Dom John Lane Fox, whose vitality and enthusiasm for God was a great gift. And finally, I would like to thank God for that good Benedictine and friend, Cardinal Basil Hume.

Benedictine abbeys have been like oases in the pilgrimage of my life, where I have been able to rest and be refreshed before carrying on the journey. I did my diaconate retreat in Buckfast Abbey, and my retreat before ordination to the priesthood in Bec-Hellouin in Normandy. I spent holidays at La Pierre qui vire, and Einsiedeln, and celebrated Easter at Pannenhalme in Hungary, visited Subiaco, Monte Casino, Monte Oliveto and a hundred more abbeys.

Everywhere I have gone, I have found crowds of people who were visiting the monasteries. Why are they there? Some no doubt are tourists who have come to pass an afternoon perhaps hoping to see a monk, like a monkey in a zoo. We might expect to find notices that say “Do not feed the monks”. Others come for the beauty of the buildings or the liturgy. Many come hoping for some encounter with God. We talk about “secularisation”, but we live in a time marked by a deep religious search. There is a hunger for the transcendent. People look for it in eastern religions, in new age sects, in the exotic and the esoteric. Often there is a suspicion of the Church and all institutional religion, except perhaps for the monasteries. Still there is a trust that in the monasteries we may glimpse the mystery of God, and discover some hint of the transcendent.

Indeed it is the role of the monastery to welcome these strangers. The Rule tells us that the stranger must be welcomed like Christ. He must be greeted with reverence, his feet must be washed and he must be fed. This has always been my experience. I remember going to visit St Otilien, when Bishop Viktor Dammertz was Abbot. I was a poor, dirty, hitch hiking English Dominican student. And I was taken in by these very clean German Benedictines, and washed, scrubbed, my hair was cut. I was almost respectable when I left to take to the road again. It did not last for long!

Why are people so drawn to monasteries? Today I would like to share with you some thoughts as to why this is so. You may think that my thoughts are completely crazy, and proof that a Dominican can understand nothing of the Benedictine life. If so, then please forgive me. I wish to claim that your monasteries disclose God not because of what you do or say, but perhaps because the monastic life has at its centre a space, a void, in which God may show himself. I wish to suggest that the rule of St. Benedict offers a sort of hollow centre to your lives, in which God may live and be glimpsed.

The glory of God always shows itself in an empty space. When the Israelites came out of the desert, God came with them seated in the space between the wings of the cherubim, above the seat of mercy. The throne of glory was this void. It was only a small space, a hand’s breadth. God does not need much space to show his glory. Down the Aventine, not two hundred metres away, is the Basilica of S. Sabina. And on its door is the first known representation of the cross. Here we see a throne of glory which is also a void, an absence, as a man dies crying out for the God who seems to have deserted him. The ultimate throne of glory is an empty tomb, where there is no body.

My hope is that the Benedictine monasteries will continue to be places in which the glory of God shines out, thrones for the mystery. And this is because of what you are not, and what you do not do. In recent years astronomers have been searching the skies for new planets. Until recently they could never see any planets directly. But they could detect them by a wobble in the orbit of the star. Perhaps with those who follow the rule of St Benedict it is similar, only you are the planets which disclose the invisible star which is the centre of the monastery. The measured orbit of your life points to the mystery which we cannot see directly. “Truly, you are a hidden God, O God of Israel.” (Is. 45. 13)

I would like to suggest, then, that the invisible centre of your life is revealed in how you live. The glory of God is shown in a void, an empty space in your lives. I will suggest three aspects of the monastic life which open this void and make a space for God: First of all, your lives are for no particular purpose. Secondly in that they lead nowhere, and finally because they are lives of humility. Each of these aspects of the monastic life opens us a space for God. And I wish to suggest that in each case it is the celebration of the liturgy that makes sense of this void. It is the singing of the Office several times a day that shows that this void is filled with the glory of God.

Being there

The most obvious fact about monks is that you do not do anything in particular. You farm but you are not farmers. You teach, but you are not school teachers. You may even run hospitals, or mission stations, but you are not primarily doctors or missionaries. You are monks, who follow the rule of Benedict. You do not do anything in particular. Monks are usually very busy people but the business is not the point and purpose of your lives. Cardinal Hume once wrote that, “we do not see ourselves as having any particular mission or function in the Church. We do not set out to change the course of history. We are just there almost by accident from a human point of view. And, happily, we go on ‘just being there’” . It is this absence of explicit purpose that discloses God as the secret, hidden purpose of your lives. God is disclosed as the invisible centre of our lives when we do not try to give any other justification for who we are. The point of the Christian life is just to be with God. Jesus says to the disciples: “Abide in my love” (Jn 15.10). Monks are called to abide in his love.

Our world is a market place. Everyone is competing for attention, and trying to convince that others what they sell is necessary for the good life. All the time we are being told what we need so as to be happy: a microwave, a computer, a holiday in the Caribbean, a new soap. And it is tempting for religion to come to the market place and to try to shout along with the other competitors. “You need religion to be happy, to be successful and even to be rich.” One of the reasons for the explosion of the sects in Latin America is that they promise wealth. And so Christianity is there, proclaiming that it is relevant for your life. Yoga this week, aromatherapy next week. Can we persuade them to give Christianity a try? I remember a lavatory in a pub in Oxford. There was a graffito written in tiny letters, in a corner of the ceiling. And it said: “If you have looked this far then you must be looking for something. Why not try the Roman Catholic Church?”

We need Christians out there, shouting along with the rest, joining in the bustle of the market place, trying to catch peoples’ eyes. That is where Dominicans and Franciscans, for example, should be. But the monasteries embody a deep truth. Ultimately we worship God, not because he is relevant for us, simply because he is. The voice from the burning bush proclaimed “I am who I am”. What matters is not that God is relevant to us, but that in God we find the disclosure of all relevance, the lodestar of our lives.

I think that this was the secret of Cardinal Hume’s unique authority. He did not try to market religion, and show that Catholicism was the secret ingredient for the successful life. He was just a monk who said his prayers. Deep down, people know that a God who must show that he is useful for me is not worth worshipping. A God who has to be relevant is not God at all. The life of the monk witnesses to the irrelevance of God, for everything is only relevant in relation to God. The lives of monks bear witness to that, by not doing anything in particular, except abide with God. Your lives have a void at their centres, like the space between the wings of the cherubim. Here we may glimpse God’s glory.

Perhaps the role of the Abbot is to be the person who obviously does nothing in particular. Other monks may get caught up in being bursar, or infirmarian, or running the farm or the printing house, or the school. But perhaps I can be so bold as to suggest that the Abbot might be the person who is guardian of the monks’ deepest identity as those who have nothing in particular to do. There was an English Dominican called Bede Jarret, who was Provincial for many years, a famous preacher, a prolific writer of books. But he never appeared to do anything. If you went to see him, then I am told that he was usually doing nothing. If you asked him what he was doing, then I am told that he usually replied, “Waiting to see if anyone came”. He perfected the art of doing much while appearing to do little. Most of us, including myself, do the opposite; we ensure that we always appear to be extremely busy, even when there is nothing to do!

When people flock to the monasteries, and look at the monks, and stay to hear Vespers, then how may they discover that this nothingness is a revelation of God? Why do they not just think of monks as people who are either lazy, or without ambition, uncompetitive failures in the rat race of life? How may they glimpse that it is God who is at the centre of your lives? I suspect that it is by listening to your singing. The authority for that summons is found in the beauty of your praise of God. Lives that have no especial purpose are indeed a puzzle and a question. “Why are these monks here and for what? What is their purpose?” It is the beauty of the praise of God that shows why you are here. When I was a young boy at Downside Abbey, I must confess that I was not very religious. I smoked behind the classrooms, and escaped at night to the pubs. I was almost expelled from school for reading a notorious book, “Lady Chatterley’s Lover”, during benediction. If one thing kept me anchored in my faith, then it was the beauty that I found there: the beauty of the sung Office, the luminosity of the early morning in the Abbey, the radiance of the silence. It was the beauty that would not let me go.

It is surely no coincidence that the great theologian of beauty, Hans Urs von Balthasar, received his earliest education at Engelberg, a Benedictine school famous for its musical tradition. Balthasar talks of the “self-evidence” of beauty, “its intrinsic authority” . You cannot argue with beauty’s summons or dismiss it. And this is probably the most resounding form of God’s authority in this age, in which art has become a form of religion. Few people may go to church on a Sunday, but millions go to concerts and art galleries and museums. In beauty we can glimpse the glory of God’s wisdom which danced when she made the world, “more beautiful than the sun” (Wisdom 7). In the LXX, when God made the world, then he saw that it was kala, beautiful. Goodness summons us in the form of beauty. When people hear the beauty of the singing, then they may indeed guess why the monks are there and what is the secret centre of their lives, the praise of glory. It was typical of Dom Basil, that when he talked about the deepest desires of his heart, then he talked in terms of beauty: “what an experience it would be if I could know that which among the most beautiful things was the most beautiful of them all. That would be the highest of all the experiences of joy, and total fulfilment. The most beautiful of all things I call God.”

And if beauty is truly the revelation of the good and the true, as St Thomas Aquinas believed, then perhaps part of the vocation of the Church is to be a place of the revelation of true beauty. Much modern music, even in Church, is so trivial that it is a parody of beauty. It is kitsch which has been described as the “pornography of insignificance” Maybe it is because we fall into the trap of seeing beauty in utilitarian terms, useful for entertaining people, instead of seeing that what is truly beautiful reveals the good.

I hope that you will not think it too bizarre if I say that I believe that the monastic way of life is in itself beautiful. I was fascinated when I read the rule to see that it says at the beginning that, “It is called a rule because it regulates the lives of those who obey it.” The regula regulates. At first that sounds all too controlling for a Dominican. In my experience, it is very hard to regulate the friars! But perhaps regula suggests not control so much as measure, rhythm, lives which have a shape and a form. Perhaps what it suggests is discipline of music. St. Augustine thought that to live virtuously was to live musically, to be in harmony. Loving one’s neighbour was, he said, “keeping musical order” . Grace is graceful and the graced life is beautiful.

So once again it is the singing of the liturgy that discloses the meaning of our lives. St Thomas said that beauty in music was essentially linked to temperantia. Nothing should ever be in excess. Music must keep the right beat, neither too fast nor too slow, keeping the right measure. And Thomas thought that the temperate life kept us young and beautiful. But what the Rule appears to offer is especially a measured life, with nothing in excess, though I do not know whether monks stay any younger and more beautiful than anyone else! The Rule admits that in the past monks did not drink at all, but since we cannot convince monks not to drink, then at least it must be in moderation. Nothing to excess.

I am reminded of my Benedictine great-uncle who had a great love of wine, which he was sure was necessary for his health. Since he lived to be almost a 100 then perhaps he was right. He persuaded my father and uncles to keep him well supplied with a daily bottle of claret, which I suppose could be called moderate and in accordance with the Rule, a hemina (Chapter 40). When he smuggled these back into the monastery, the monks always wondered what caused the clinking noises in his bag. Elaborate explanations were prepared in advance with the help of his nephews!

When we hear monks sing, we glimpse the music that is your lives, following the rhythm and beat of the tune of the Rule of St Benedict. The glory of God is enthroned on the praises of Israel.

Going nowhere

The lives of monks puzzle the outsider not just because you do not do anything in particular, but also because your lives go nowhere. Like all members of religious orders, your lives do not have shape and meaning through climbing a ladder of promotion. We are just brethren and sisters, friars, monks and nuns. We can never aspire to be more. A successful soldier or academic rises through the ranks. His life is shown to have value because he is promoted to being a professor or general. But that is not so with us. The only ladder in the Rule of St Benedict is that of humility. I am sure that monks, like friars, sometimes nurse secret desires for promotion, and dream of the glory of being cellarer or even abbot! I am sure that many a monk looks in the mirror and imagines what he might look like with a pectoral cross or even a mitre, and sketches a blessing when no one looking – he hopes! But we all know that the shape of our lives is really given not by promotion but by the journey to the Kingdom. The Rule is given, St. Benedict says, to hasten us to our heavenly home.

I am reminded of a very beloved Abbot who used to come and stay with our family every Christmas. He was admirable in every way, except a slight tendency to take being an Abbot rather too seriously, unlike anyone present today I am sure. He expected to be met at the railway station by the entire family, and for all six children to genuflect and kiss the abbatial ring, on platform four. This reverence was so ingrained in my family that a cousin of mine was reputed to often genuflect when she took her seat in the cinema. Every time our family Abbot came to stay, there would be the annual fight of the candle sticks. He strongly maintained that as an abbot he had a right to four silver candle sticks, but my father always insisted that in his house every priest had the same number of candlesticks!

For most people in our society, a life without promotion makes no sense, for to live is to be in competition for success, to get ahead or perish. And so our lives are a puzzle, a question mark. They apparently lead nowhere. One becomes a monk or a friar, and need be nothing more ever. I remember that when I was elected Master of the Order, a well known journalist wrote an article in the NCR, which concluded remarking that at the end of my term as Master, I would be only 55. “What will Radcliffe do then?”, he asked. When I read this I was deeply disturbed. I felt as if the meaning of my life was being taken from me, and forced into other categories. What would Radcliffe do then? The implication was that my life should make sense through another “promotion”. But why could I do except go on being brother? Our lives have meaning, because of an absence of progression, which points to God as the end and goal of our lives.

Once again, I wish to claim that it is in the singing of the Office that this claim makes sense, by articulating that longer story of redemption. Earlier this year, I went into the Cathedral Church of Monereale in Sicily, beside the old Benedictine abbey. I had little time free but I had been told that whoever goes to Palermo and does not visit Monreale arrives a human and leaves a pig! And it was an astonishing experience. The whole interior is a dazzling jigsaw of mosaics, which tell the history of creation and redemption. To enter the Church is to find yourself inside the story, our story. This is humanity’s true story, not the struggle to get to the top of the tree. This is a revelation of the structure of true time. The true story is not that of individual success, of promotion and competition; it is the story of humanity’s journey to the Kingdom, celebrated every year in the liturgical cycle, from Advent to Pentecost, which climaxes in the green of ordinary time, our time.

This is true time, the time that encompasses all the little events and dramas of our lives. This is the time that gathers up all the small defeats and victories, and gives them sense. The monastic celebration of the liturgical year should be a disclosure of the true time, the only important story. The different times in the year – ordinary time, Advent, Christmas, Lent and Easter – should feel different, with different melodies, different colours, as different as the spring is from the summer, and summer from the autumn. They have to be distinctive enough to resist being dwarfed by the other rhythms, the financial year, the academic year, the years we count as we grow older. One of our brothers, Kim en Joong, the Korean Dominican painter, has made wonderful chasubles, which explode with the colours of the seasons.

Often the modern liturgy does not communicate this. When one goes to Vespers, it could be any time of the year. But in our community in Oxford, where I lived for twenty years, we composed antiphons for every season of the year. I can still hear these when I travel. For me Advent means certain hymn tunes, antiphons for the Benedictus and the Magnificat. We know that Christmas is drawing near with the great O antiphons. Holy Week is the Lamentations of Jeremiah. We have to live the rhythm of the liturgical year as the deepest rhythm of our lives. The monastic liturgy is a reminder that where we are going is to the Kingdom. We do not know what will happen tomorrow or in the next century; we have no predictions to make, but our wisdom is to live for that ultimate end.

Perhaps I would add one final nuance. It is easy to say that the religious lives for the coming of the Kingdom, but in actual fact often we do not. The liturgical years sketches the royal road to freedom, but we do not always take it. According to St Thomas, formation, especially moral formation, is always formation in freedom. But the entry into freedom is slow and painful, and will include mistakes, wrong choices, and sin. God brings us out of Egypt into freedom of the desert, but we become afraid and enslave ourselves to golden bulls, or try to sneak back to Egypt again. This is the true drama of the daily life of the monk, not whether he gets promoted up the ladder of office, but the initiation into freedom, with frequent collapses back into puerility and enslavement. How can we make sense of our slow ascension into God’s freedom, and our frequent descents back into slavery? Once again, it is perhaps in again music that we may find the key.

St Augustine wrote that the history of humanity is like a musical score which gives a place for all the discords and disharmonies of human failure, but which finally leads to a harmonic resolution, in which everything has its place. In his wonderful work, De Musica, he wrote that “Dissonance can be redeemed without being obliterated” . The story of redemption is like a great symphony which embraces all our errors, our bum notes, and in which beauty finally triumphs. The victory is not that God wipes out our wrong notes, or pretends that they never happened. He finds a place for them in the musical score that redeems them. This happens above all in the Eucharist. In the words of Catherine Pickstock, “the highest music in the fallen world, the redemptive music….is none other than the repeated sacrifice of Christ himself which is the music of the forever-repeated Eucharist” .

The Eucharist is the repetition of the climax in the drama of our liberation. Christ freely gives us his body, but the disciples reject him, deny him, run away from him, pretend that they do not know him. Here in the music of our relationship with God, we find the deepest disharmonies. But in the Eucharist they are taken up, embraced, and transfigured into beauty in a gesture of love and gift. In this Eucharistic music we are made whole and find harmony. This is a harmonic resolution that does not wipe out our rejection of love and freedom, and pretend that they never happened, but transforms them into steps on the journey. In our celebrations we dare to remember those weak apostles.

So the meaning of the monk’s life is that it goes to the Kingdom. Our story is the story of humanity on its way to the Kingdom. This we enact in the annual cycle of the liturgical year, from Creation to Kingdom. But the daily drama of the monk’s life is more complex, with our struggles and failures to become free. The annual symphony of the journey to the Kingdom needs to be punctuated with the daily music of the Eucharist, which recognises that we constantly refuse to walk to Jerusalem, to death and Resurrection, and choose unfreedom. Here we need to find ourselves every day in the music of the Eucharist, in which no disharmony is so crude as to be beyond God’s creative resolution.

The space inside

Finally, we come to what is most fundamental in monastic life, what is most beautiful and hardest to describe, and that is humility. It is what is least immediately visible to the people who come to visit your monasteries, and yet it is the basis of everything. It is, Cardinal Hume says, “a very beautiful thing to see, but the attempt to become humble is painful indeed” It is humility that makes for God an empty space in which God may dwell and his glory be seen. It is ultimately, humility which makes our communities the throne of God.

It is hard for us today to find words to talk about humility. Our society almost seems to invite us to cultivate the opposite, an assertiveness, a brash self confidence. The successful person aggressively pushes himself forward. When we read in the seventh step of humility that we must learn to say with the prophet, “I am a worm and no man”, then we flinch. But is this because we are so proud? Or is it because we are so unsure of ourselves, so unconfident of our value? Perhaps we dare not proclaim that we are worms because we are haunted by the fear that we are worse than worthless.

How are we to build communities which are living signs of humility’s beauty? How can we show the deep attractiveness of humility in an aggressive world? You alone can answer that. Benedict was the master of humility, and I am not sure that it has always been the most obvious virtue of all Dominicans! But I would like to share a brief thought. When we think of humility, then it may be as an intensely personal and private thing: Me looking at myself and seeing how worthless I am, inspecting my own interiority, gazing at my own worm-like qualities. This is, to say the least, a depressing prospect. Perhaps Benedict invites us to do something far more liberating, which is to build a community in which we are liberated from rivalry and competition and the struggle for power. This is a new sort of community which is structured by mutual deference, mutual obedience. This is a community in which no one is at the centre, but there is the empty space, the void which is filled with glory of God.. This implies a profound challenge to the modern image of the self which is of the self as solitary, self-absorbed, the centre of the world, the hub around which everything gravitates. At the heart of its identity is self-consciousness: “I think therefore I am”.

The monastic life invites us to let go of the centre, and to give in to the gravitational pull of grace. It invites us to be decentred. Once again we find God disclosed in a void, an emptiness, and this time at the centre of the community, the hollow space which is kept for God. We have to make a home for the Word to come and dwell among us, a space for God to be. As long as we are competing for the centre, then there is no space for God. So then humility is not me despising myself, and thinking that I am awful. It is hollowing out the heart of the community of to make a space where the Word can pitch his tent.

Once again, I think that it is in the liturgy that we can find this beauty made manifest. God is enthroned on the praises of Israel. It is when people see monks singing the praise of God, then we glimpse the freedom and the beauty of humility. In the Middle Ages, it was believed that good harmonious music went with building a harmonious community . Music heals the soul and the community. We cannot sing together if each person is striving to sing more loudly, competing for the spotlight. We make music together. In a similar way, I am sure that singing together in harmony, learning to sing one’s own note, to find one’s place in the melody forms us as brethren, and shows to other people what it is like to live together without competition and rivalry.

What is the role of the Abbot in this? I hesitate to say, since in the Dominican Order we have only ever had one Abbot, a certain Matthew, and he was rather a disaster, so we have had no more Abbots since. But perhaps the Abbot should be the person who keeps open the space for Christ at the centre. To put it musically, he refuses to drown out the voices of the other monks, to grab the principal role, to be the Pavarotti of the Abbey. He will let the harmony rule. You can see how a community lives together when you hear it sing. And you can see immediately how different are Benedictines and Dominicans in our way of singing!

The climax of humility is when one discovers that not only is one not the centre of the world, but that one is not even the centre of oneself. There is not only a void in the centre of the community where God dwells, but there is a void at the centre of my being, where God can pitch his tent. I am a creature, to whom God gives existence at every moment. In the mosaics in Monereale, we see God making Adam. God gives Adam his breath and sustains him in being. At the heart of my being I am not alone. God is there breathing me into existence at every moment, giving me existence. At my centre there is no solitary self, no Cartesian ego but a space which is filled with God.

Perhaps this is the ultimate vocation of the monk, to show the beauty of that hollowness, to be individually and communally, temples for God’s glory to dwell in. You will not be surprised that I think that this is shown through the singing of the praises of God. And here I am really going beyond what I am competent to talk about, and will only have a go because it is fascinating. If you think I am talking nonsense, then you are probably right!

Every artistic creation echoes the first creation. In art we get our closest glimpse of what it means for God to have made the world from nothing. Its originality points back to that origin of all that is. Every poem, every painting, sculpture or song, gives us a hint of what it means for God to create. George Steiner wrote that “Deep inside every ‘art-act’ lies the dream of an absolute leap out of nothingness, of the invention of an enunciatory shape so new, so singular to its begetter, that it would, literally, leave the previous world behind.”

In the Christian tradition this has been especially true for music. St Augustine said that it is in music, in which sound comes forth from silence, that we can see what it means for the universe to be grounded in nothing, to be contingent, and so for us to be creatures. “The alternation of sound and silence in music is seen by Augustine as a manifestation of the alternation of the coming into being and the passing into non-being which must characterise a universe created out of nothing” . We hear in music, to quote Steiner again, “the ever-renewed vestige of the original, never wholly accessible moment of creation……the inaccessible first fiat” This is the echo of the big bang, or as Tavener said, the preecho of the divine silence.

At the heart of the monastic life is humility. Not, I suspect, the grinding depressing humility of those who hate themselves. It is the humility of those who recognise that they are creatures, and that their existence is a gift. And so it is utterly right that at the centre of your life should be singing. For it is in this singing that we show forth God’s bringing of everything to be. You sing that Word of God, through which all is made. Here we can see a beauty which is more than just pleasing. It is the beauty which celebrates the burst of creation.

To conclude, I have argued in this conference that God’s glory always needs a space, an emptiness, if it is to show itself: the emptiness between the wings of the cherubim in the Temple; the empty tomb; a Jesus who vanishes in Emmaus. I have suggested that if you let such empty spaces be hollowed out in your lives, by being people who are not there for any particular reason, whose lives lead nowhere, and who face your creaturehood without fear, then your communities will be thrones for God’s glory.

What we hope to glimpse in monasteries is more than we can say. The glory of God escapes our words. The mystery breaks our little ideologies. Like St Thomas Aquinas, we see that all that we can say is just straw. Does that mean that we can just be silent? No, because monasteries are not just places of silence but of song. We have to find ways of singing, at the limits of language, at the edge of meaning. This is what St Augustine calls the song of jubilation, and it is the song of this Jubilee year.

“You ask, what is singing in jubilation? It means to realise that words are not enough to express what we are singing in our hearts. At the harvest, in the vineyard, whenever men must labour hard, they begin with songs whose words express their joy. But when their joy brims over and words are not enough, they abandon even this coherence and give themselves up to the sheer sound of singing. What is this jubilation, this exultant song? It is the melody that means our hearts are bursting with feelings that words cannot express.. And to whom does this jubilation most belong? Surely to God who is unutterable?”

1. In praise of Benedict p. 23 2. Aidan Nichols OP The Word has been abroad. Edinburgh 1998 p.1 3. To be a Pilgrim Slough 1984 p.39 4. George Steiner Real Presences, London 1989, p.145 5. De Musica VI. xiv 46 6. Catherine Pickstock, “Music:Soul, and city and cosmos after Augustine” in Radical Orthodoxy, ed John Millbank, et al., London 1999, p.276, footnote 131 7. ibid, p 265 8. To be a Pilgrim Slough 1984 p67 9. cf Pickstock, op cit. p. 262 10. op cit. p 202 11. Pickstock op cit p. 247 12. Steiner, op cit, pp 210, 202 13. On Ps 32, Sermon 1.8

St Catherine of Siena (1347-1380) Patroness of Europe (2000)

A letter to the Dominican Order, published April 2000 to celebrate the naming of St Catherine of Siena as one of the Patrons of Europe.

fr. Timothy Radcliffe, o.p.

During the Mass for the opening of the Second Synod for Europe, to my surprise and delight the Pope proclaimed St Catherine of Siena co patroness of Europe, together with St Teresa Benedict of the Cross and St Bridget of Sweden. Catherine was a prodigious letter writer to her brethren and sisters, and so it is appropriate to honour her in a brief letter to the Order.

Catherine’s Europe was, like our world today, marked by violence and an uncertain future: the papacy had fled to Avignon, splitting the Church and dividing countries, cities and religious orders, including our own; cities were being decimated by the bubonic plague, known as the Black Death; there was a decline of vitality in the Church, a loss of a sense of purpose and a crisis of religious life.

Catherine refused to resign herself in the face of this suffering and division. In the words of Pope John Paul II, she dived `into the thick of the ecclesiastical and social issues of her time’.’ She addressed political and religious rulers, either in person or through letters, and clearly told them their faults and their Christian duty. She did not hesitate even to tell the Pope that he must be brave and go back to Rome. She went to the prisons and cared for the poor and the sick. She was consumed by an urgency to bring God’s love and mercy to everyone.

Above all, Catherine struggled for peace. She was convinced that `not by the sword or by war or by violence’ could good be achieved, but `through peace and through constant humble prayer’. 2 Yet she never sacrificed truth or justice for a cheap or easy peace. She reminded the rulers of Bologna that to seek peace without justice was like smearing ointment on a wound that needed to be cauterized. 3 She knew that to be a peacemaker was to follow the steps of Christ, who made peace between God and humanity. And thus the peacemaker must sometimes face Christ’s own fate, and suffer rejection. The peacemaker is `another Christ crucified’. Our own world is also torn by violence: ethnic and tribal violence in Africa and the Balkans; the threat of nuclear war; violence in our cities and families. Catherine invites us to have the courage to be peacemakers, even if this means that we must suffer persecution and rejection ourselves.

Peace, for Catherine, meant, above all, peace in the Church, the healing of the Great Schism. Here we see both her intense love of the Church, which for her was `no other than Christ himself, 4 and her courage and freedom. She so loved the Church that she did not hesitate to denounce the failings of the clergy and bishops in their pursuit of wealth and position, and called for the Church to be the mystery of Christ in the world, the humble servant of all. She even dared to tell God what to do, when she prayed:

You know how and you are able and it is your will,
so I plead with you to have mercy on the world,
and to restore the warmth of charity and peace
and unity to holy Church. It is my will that you
do not delay any longer. 5

The Church in our time also suffers from divisions, caused by misunderstanding, intolerance and a loss of `the warmth of charity and peace’. Today the love of the Church is often assumed to mean an uncritical silence. One must not `rock the boat’! But Catherine could never be silent. She wrote to some cardinals, `Be silent no longer. Cry out with a hundred thousands voices. I see that the world is destroyed through silence. Christ’s spouse is pallid, her colour has been drained from her.’ 6 May St Catherine teach us her deep love of the Body of Christ, and the wisdom and courage to speak truthfully and openly with words that unite rather than divide, which illuminate rather than obscure, and which heal rather than wound.

Catherine’s relationships with her friends, and especially her Dominican brothers and sisters, was marked by the same combination of love and boldness of speech (`parrhesia’, e.g. Acts 4:31, 2 Cor 7:4). She regarded each friend as a gift from God, to be loved `very closely, with a particular love’. 7 She believed that their mutual friendship was an opportunity `to bring each other to birth in the gentle presence of God’, 8 and a proclamation of `the glory and praise of God’s name to others’. But this love did not prevent her from speaking very frankly to her friends, and telling her brethren exactly what they should do, including her beloved Raymond of Capua, who became Master of the Order in the year of her death. There can be no love without truth, nor truth without love. This is how she prayed for her friends:

Eternal God,
I pray to you for all those you have given me
to love with a special love
and with special concern.
Let them be illuminated with your light.
Let all imperfection be taken from them,
so that in truth they may work in your garden,
where you have assigned them. 9

If the Dominican Family is to become, in Catherine’s words, `a very spacious, gladsome and fragrant, a most delightful garden’, 10 then we must learn both her capacity for mutual friendship and for truthfulness. Our friendship as men and women, religious and lay people, is a great gift for the Order and for the Church, but it often is marred by wounds of which we hardly dare to speak. If we are to work together as preachers of the gospel, then we must speak to each other with Catherine’s frankness and trust, so that `in truth they may work in your garden’.

Catherine was a passionate woman with big desires: for union with God, for the spread of the gospel and for the good of the whole human family. Desire expands our hearts. She told God: `you make the heart big, not stingy so big that it has room in its loving charity for everyone’ . 11 God said to Catherine, `I who am infinite God want you to serve me with what is infinite, and you have nothing infinite except your soul’s desire. 12

How can we grow as men and women who are touched by Catherine’s passion for God? How can we be liberated from smallness of heart and contentment with little satisfactions? Perhaps it is through discovering, as did Catherine, that God is present in the very centre of our being and identity. The passion for God is not a taste to be acquired, like a love of football. It is there in the core of my being, waiting to be discovered. Our world is marked by a deep hunger for identity. For many people today the urgent question is: `Who am I?’ This was Catherine’s question.

The contemporary search for self knowledge is often a narcissistic preoccupation with self, an introverted concentration on one’s own well being and fulfilment. But for Catherine, when I finally see myself as I am, I do not discover a little nugget of lonely selfhood. In what Catherine called `the cell of self knowledge’ I discover myself being loved into existence. She described herself as `dwelling in the cell of selfknowledge in order to know better God’s goodness towards her’. 13 If I dare to make that journey towards self knowledge, then I shall discover how small, flawed and finite I am, but I shall also see that I am utterly loved and valued. God told Catherine: `It was with providence that I created you, and when I contemplated my creature in myself, I fell in love with the beauty of my creation.’ 14

So Catherine offers a liberating answer to the contemporary quest for identity. It takes us far away from a false identity based on status or wealth or power. For at the heart of our being is the God whose love sustains us in being. This is the place of contemplative prayer, where one meets the God who delights in loving and forgiving, and whose own goodness we taste. Here we discover the secret of Catherine’s peace and her dynamism, her confidence and her humility. This is what made this young woman, with little formal education, a great preacher. This is what gave her the freedom to speak and to listen. This is what gave her the courage to dive in and address the great issues of her time. With the help of her prayers we may do likewise.

1 Apostolic Letter, L’Osservatore Romano, no. 40 (1611), English edition.
2 D. 15.
3 L. 268.
4 L. 171.
5 O.24.
6 L. 16.
7 D. 41.
8 L. 292.
9 9 O. 21.
10 D. 158.
11 O. 21.
12 D. 92.
13 D. 1.
14 D. 135.

The Parable of the Good Samaritan (2001)

Conference given at Camaldoli, 30 June 2001

fr. Timothy Radcliffe, o.p.

But he, wishing to justify himself, said to Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbour?’

You must love your neighbour as yourself. It is simple. But the lawyer is not satisfied. He wants a clear, and probably a complex, answer. Lawyers would have nothing to do if the answers were too simple! He wants to know exactly what are his obligations. The Jews reflected much upon who was a neighbour. The word literally means ‘someone who is close to me’. The closer they are, the more obligations I have to them. Some people were so remote from me that they were not neighbours at all, and so I owe them nothing. This was above all true of those heretics, the Samaritans.

This is a question for us in Europe today. Who are our neighbours? Our families? Yes, especially in Italy! The people who live next to us? In the villages perhaps still, but not in the big towns where we may not even know the name of the people next door. What do we owe them? People from other countries of the European Union? Are the English neighbours of the Italians? Yes, when it is the Prime Minister but perhaps not when they are football fans! And what obligations do we have to the immigrants who are arriving in Europe every day from around our frontiers, from Eastern Europe, Asia and Africa? What of the illegal immigrants, fleeing from poverty and sometimes from political oppression? Are these our neighbours? Like the lawyer we want clear answers. We wish to know what we must do.

But Jesus does not give a clear answer. He tells a story:

‘A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho…..’

Parables are not illustrations of a point. They are powerful events that change us. They turn our lives upside down. A Jewish rabbi told this story about his grandfather, who was a pupil of the famous rabbi Baal Shem Tov. He said, ‘My grandfather was paralysed. Once he was asked to tell a story about his teacher and he told how the holy Baal Shem Tov used to jump and dance when he was praying. My grandfather stood up while he was telling the story and the story carried him away so much that he had to jump and dance to show how the master had done it. From that moment he was healed. This is how stories ought to be told ’

Jesus’ parables should catch us up and carry us away. We find ourselves inside the parables and they transform us. Jesus’ parables usually did this by shocking people. The trouble is that we know them so well that they do not often surprise us. It is like listening to a joke when you know the punch line. We have to rediscover the sense of surprise. The parable of the Good Samaritan was scandalous for those who first heard it. We need to rediscover the shock.

During the revolution in Nicaragua, an American Dominican helped a young group of Nicaraguans to enact the parable of the Good Samaritans during Mass. They showed how a young Nicaraguan was beaten up and left half dead by the road. A Dominican friar went by and ignored him. Then a delegate of the word passed by as well. And then one of the enemy, a ‘contra’, came by wearing a military uniform. He stopped, put a rosary around the neck of the Nicaraguan, gave him water and carried him to the next village. At this point, half of the congregation began to shout and protest. It was unacceptable that a contra could do this. They are terrible people. ‘We have nothing to do with them’. The Mass broke up in chaos. Then the people began to discuss what the parable meant. Because they had been shocked, they came to understand it more deeply. They agreed in the future not to refer to the others said as ‘los contras’, but ‘our cousins in Honduras’, or ‘our mistaken cousins’. They repeated the initial rite of confession of sins, gave each other the kiss of peace, and continued the celebration of the Eucharist. That is the shock that this story should produce in us.

Obviously the first shock is that it is this impure man, this heretic, the Samaritan, who offers the help and not the holy priest or the Levite. But I wish to suggest that the parable offers a much deeper challenge. It challenges our very ideas of what it means for us to be human, and of who is God.

The story tells of a journey from Jerusalem to Jericho. I have made that journey on foot, down the Wadi Qelt. It is about 25 kilometres, through rocky desert country. It was so hot that one of my companions became a little crazy. Mind you, he was a Dominican, and so that was not so unusual! But the story is about a deeper journey.

The word that Luke uses for ‘journey’ is the same word (hodos) that he uses for the Christian faith, ‘The way’. The parable is a journey that transforms our understanding of God and humanity.

‘Which of these three, do you think, proved neighbour to the man who fell among the robbers?

The lawyer asks ‘Who is my neighbour?’ At the end Jesus poses a different question: ‘Which of these three proved neighbour to the man who fell among robbers?’ The lawyer’s question puts himself at the centre. Who is his neighbour? But the parable transforms the question: it is the wounded man who is the centre now. Who was neighbour to him?

This is the most radical journey that every human being has to make, the liberation from egoism. We begin this journey as a baby. The new-born baby is the centre of its own world. Growing up is the slow discovery there are other people and they do not exist just to do one’s will. Behind the breast there is a mother. One becomes fully human as one learns to surrender the centre to others.

For every one of us the biggest challenge of our lives is to cease to be the centre of the world. This is a truth that I know intellectually, but which is so difficult to achieve. I think that it is especially difficult in contemporary society. Modernity has consecrated the image of the human being as essentially solitary, detached from other people, free from obligation, disengaged. This is the ego of the consumerist society. In Italy you have in some ways perhaps preserved an older and more traditional view of the human being, thanks be to God. But everywhere in the global village we can see signs of the triumph of the ‘Me generation’, the tyranny of the ego. How can we learn to let go and give others the centre?

A Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he (the wounded man) was and when he saw him he had compassion.

The word translated by ‘to have compassion’ is one of the most important in the New Testament. It means to be touched in the centre of one’s being, in one’s very bowels. It is the shock of the awareness of another.

An experiment was carried out in New York. A group of seminarians were asked to prepare a homily on the parable of the Good Samaritan, as part of learning how to preach. They prepared their texts in one building and then had to walk down the street to a studio, where it was recorded on video. An actor was dressed up as a wounded man lying on the pavement covered with blood, begging for help. 80% of them walked passed him and did not even see him. They studied the parable and even composed beautiful words about it, but they could walk by the wounded man and ignore him. How can we open ourselves to the other?

For most human beings this utter awareness of the other occurs most dramatically when we fall in love. Iris Murdoch, the English philosopher, said that falling in love is ‘for many people the most extraordinary and revealing experience of their lives, whereby the centre of significance is suddenly ripped out of the self, and the dreamy ego is shocked into an awareness of an entirely separate reality.’ When we fall in love, we cease, at least from time to time, to be the centre of the universe, and let another take that place. We cease to be the sun and become the moon.

But this does not really answer our question. We cannot fall in love with everyone! And the Good Samaritan did not fall in love with the wounded man! So the question is this: How can we let ourselves be touched by the other people whom we hardly know? The Samaritan is touched because he sees the wounded man. The priest and the Levite also see him, but they see not a person needing help but a possible source of impurity. We shall come back to them later.

The first challenge is to open one’s eyes to see. Just before the parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus turns to the disciples and says, ‘Blessed are the eyes which see what you see’ (10.23). When I was a student at Oxford, we decided to open up a hostel for the tramps. The streets of Oxford are filled with tramps, because the tourists are generous. We decided that the first step was to organise a survey at night to see how many tramps were sleeping outside. Six groups of students went to visit all the parts of the city. We met at 5am, and we had not found a single tramp asleep! They were out there somewhere, but we did not know where to look! They were invisible to our eyes!

Every society makes some people visible and others disappear. In our society politicians and film stars, singers and footballers are all visible. They appear in public spaces and on the billboards and the Television screens. But we make the poor invisible. They disappear from the electoral lists. They have neither a voice nor a face. And illegal immigrants cannot afford to be visible. If they do not have papers, then they must become inconspicuous. They must learn the art of camouflage.

When the Pope visited the Dominican Republic, the government built a wall along the route from the airport to the city centre, to stop him seeing the slums in which the poor lived. The people call it ‘the wall of shame’. Do we dare to see our poor and be touched by them? What are the walls of shame that we construct in our society to hide the poor?

And the Samaritan ‘went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine; then he set him on his own beast and brought him to an inn, and took care of him. And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, “Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.”’

Being touched is not enough. When I go to see films, I get very involved and weep easily. My friends are embarrassed to go to the cinema with me! But when the film finishes and I go and have a good pizza, then I quickly forget. We all suffer from ‘compassion fatigue’. We see on the screens of our televisions thousands of images of wounded and dying men, women and children lying by the roadside. How can we react to them all?

When I was writing this lecture it was exactly at this point that a Dominican Bishop from Guatemala came to see me. He described the poverty of the people, the suffering caused by hurricanes and earthquakes, the corruption of the government, and the persecution of the Church. I was extremely moved. But when he left I went on preparing my lecture on the Good Samaritan! It is much easier to write lectures about parables than to live them. As George Bernard Shaw (I think) said, ‘Those who can, do; those who cannot, teach’!

The compassion of the Samaritan upsets his plans. He had prepared himself for his journey, with food, drink and money. Now these are used for a purpose that he had not imagined. Two denarii was a lot of money, enough to pay for more than three weeks board and lodging. He even gives what he does not yet have, the money that he will hope to earn in Jericho. He takes the risk of a promise that is open, without predetermined limits.

When the lawyer asks, ‘Who is my neighbour?’ he wishes to define his obligations. He wishes to know in advance what he must do and what he need not do. But the response of the Samaritan leads him into unknown territory. He cannot know how much the innkeeper will ask from him. There is an old joke: ‘If you want to make God laugh, then tell him your plans’. True compassion upsets our plans, and leads us in unexpected directions. If we dare to see the poor, the wounded, the strangers in our midst, then who knows what will be the consequences for us?

‘ “Which of these three, do you think, proved neighbour to the man who fell among thieves?” He said “The one who showed mercy on him”. And Jesus said to him “Go and do likewise”’.

We have already seen that the lawyer asks a question that makes himself the centre, and Jesus replies with a question which makes the other person the centre. But there is another change. The lawyer asks who is his neighbour. The assumption is that we already have neighbours, but we must define who they are. But Jesus replies by asking who became a neighbour to the wounded man. The Samaritan makes himself a neighbour to that man. He creates a relationship that did not exist before.

Europe is haunted these days by the fear of the other. Neo-Nazi groups appear to be growing in Germany. In England recently there have been race riots in the northern towns of Oldham and Leeds. Europe feels under threat from foreigners. Within every society, there is fear of those who are different, who have different religions, different colours of skin, who dress differently, speak different languages. The invitation of the parable is to make them neighbours. Helder Camera, the Archbishop of Recife in Brazil, was often accused of being a communist because of his concern for the poor who live in the favellas on the hills around the city. He said: ‘If I do not go up the hills into their favellas to greet them as my brothers and sisters, then they will come from the hills into the cities with flags and guns’.

‘Go and do likewise’. These words are an invitation to construct a society that does not yet exist. A Christian politics is more than the management of society and the regulation of competing interests. Una ‘coscienza cristiana e nuove responsibilità della politica’ is always geared to the future. It is a stretching out towards a community in which the alien, the stranger, the poor are truly our neighbours. It points towards the Kingdom. Unlike communism, we Christians do not believe that we can ourselves build the Kingdom. The Kingdom will come as a gift that is unmerited and beyond our imagination. But our politics, in reaching out to communion with the other, opens our hands to receive that gift. Politics has been defined as ‘the art of the possible’. Christian politics is marked by the hope for what many would consider impossible. We take the risk of stretching forward for a communion that is beyond our grasp. Christian politics is the art of the impossible.

Ultimately, this means losing the small identities that separate us from each other. The parable tells of our journey that transforms the identities of the participants. The man who is attacked by robbers is simply called ‘a certain man’. It is not said if he is a Jew or Samaritan, an English man or an Italian. He is each of us, every human being. And when Jesus asks who became the neighbour to the wounded man, then the lawyer does not reply ‘The Samaritan’. He just says, ‘The one who showed him mercy’. The Samaritan too has been liberated from that small identity as a heretic. The story begins as a story of Jews and Samaritans and becomes the story of two human beings. The ones who retain their original identity are those who just walk by, the priest and the Levite. They miss the opportunity to discover a new way of being human. They walk by but they are stuck in their old identity.

You must love your neighbour as yourself. This means much more than loving your neighbour as much as yourself. We are invited to love our neighbour as part of myself. We love the members of our family as ourselves, because they are part of who we are. We are one flesh and blood. To love the stranger as myself is to discover a new identity, which transform me. The Samaritan exercises what we call charity, but in the older sense of the word . Until the seventeenth century, at least in English, ‘charity’ meant the bonds that link us to each other as members of the Body of Christ. After the seventeenth century, with a vast transformation in how we understand our humanity, it came above all to mean the money that we give to the poor. It ceased to express the love of our brothers and sisters, and came to mean the aid offered to strangers.

Sometimes, when Helder Camera heard that a poor man had been taken by the police, he would ring up and say, ‘I hear that you have arrested my brother’. And the police would be very apologetic. ‘Your Excellency, what a terrible mistake! We did not know he was your brother. He will be released at once!’ And when the Archbishop would go to the police station to collect the man, the police might say, ‘But your Excellency, he does not have the same family name as you.’ And Camera would reply that every poor person was his brother and sister.

So, loving my neighbour as myself is taking to the road. The road leads not just from Jerusalem to Jericho but the Kingdom, in which I shall discover fully who I am. It is a journey that liberates me from all small self-definitions, and conforms me to Christ. As St John writes, ‘It does not yet appear what we shall be, but we know that when he (Christ) appears we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is’ (1 John 3.2).

How can we dare to make that perilous journey to the Kingdom? How can we dare to set off from Jerusalem to Jericho? We may be set upon by robbers and left half dead. We may come across a wounded man, and the encounter will change our lives. Is it not safer to stay at home? Ultimately we may dare to go on ‘the way’ because God has gone before us. It is God who has moved from Jerusalem to Jericho and we can follow safely.

The parable tells of the transformation of human identity. But deeper inside, there is another story, the transformation of God’s identity too. But do not worry, I shall only recount that very briefly!

A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho…..

Jerusalem is the holy city, the place where God dwells in the Temple. But the journey carries us away from the Temple, away the holiest place on earth.

The priest is also going to Jericho. In fact many priestly families lived in Jericho and when they had finished their turn in the Temple they would have gone back home down this same road. And when he sees the body of the wounded man, he passes by. Why? It is not necessarily because he is heartless. The wounded man is described as ‘half dead’. It is usually agreed that he could not have touched the body of this half-dead person because it would have made him impure. The God of life has nothing to do with death, and so the priests of the Temple were completely forbidden to touch corpses. He does not see a man in need of help but a threat to his holiness. And the Levite, who served in the Temple too, would have passed by for the same reason.

The Samaritan was utterly remote from the holiness of the Temple. He was a heretic and a schismatic. The Samaritans had even set up another Temple. They were impurity incarnated. But his gestures of compassion reveal the new place in which God’s holiness is revealed. It is even possible that the reference to the wine and the oil refer to two elements used in the Temple sacrifices. Here you have the true place of sacrifice in which God dwells. The whole text is haunted by the text of Hosea 6.6, ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice’. And the Samaritan carries the man to an inn. In Greek he uses a suggestive word which means ‘all welcoming’. Corpses are not a threat to true holiness. Indeed the God of life can embrace the dead and give them life. The cross is the true Temple in which God’s glory is seen.

One of the most moving funerals I ever celebrated was for a man called Benedict. He died of AIDS in about 1985. I anointed him an hour before his death and I asked him if he had any special requests. And he replied that he wished to be buried from Westminster Cathedral. This was a time when little was known about AIDS and there was much fear and prejudice. But the Cathedral authorities accepted his request. His coffin was placed right at the centre of the cathedral, at the centre of English Catholicism. This was a beautiful symbol of where God is. Benedict had been struck down by a terrible illness, which carries with it rejection and revulsion and fear. But now he was in the centre of this holy place, surrounded by his friends, many of whom had AIDS as well. The God of life is seen when those on the edge become the centre.

‘Who is my neighbour?’ asked the lawyer. This is a question that haunts Europe today. What obligations do we have to others? There are many hard questions that we must struggle to answer. Jesus does not offer us a simple answer. We do need the help of the lawyers and the politicians. What the parable does is to change how we ask those questions. How can I become a neighbour to the wounded man? How can I discover myself with him and for him? How can I discover God there? For in the end, it is God who lies by the roadside, stripped and beaten, waiting for me.

“A city set on a hilltop cannot be hidden” A Contemplative Life (2001)

“A city set on a hilltop cannot be hidden.” A Contemplative Life (1)

Given at S Sabina on the Feast of St Catherine of Siena, 2001

fr. Timothy Radcliffe, o.p.

THIS LETTER IS ADDRESSED in the first place to the nuns, because it is about your life. I wish to give thanks to God for your presence at the centre of the Order. Often during hectic visitations, my visits to the monasteries have been times of joy, laughter and refreshment. I am not a nun and so what have I to say about your life? I too, like you, am a Dominican called to contemplation. You have openly shared with me your hopes for the renewal of this contemplative life at the heart of the Order, and the challenges that you face. So in this letter I wish to share with all the nuns the fruit of our conversations. If ever I appear not to have understood your vocation, then forgive me. The Order will only flourish if we dare to speak what is in our hearts, confident in that forgiveness.

I also wish to share this with the whole Dominican Family. Before he died St Dominic “entrusted the nuns as part of the same Order to the fraternal concern of his sons” (LCM 1 § I). The first Dominican community that he founded was for the nuns at Prouilhe, and one of his last concerns was the building of the monastery at Bologna: “It is absolutely necessary, brethren, that a house of nuns should be built, even if it means leaving off for a time the work on our own house.” So the monasteries are entrusted to us all. And we are entrusted to the prayer and the care of the nuns. This mutuality is at the heart of the Order. So even though I address myself directly to the nuns, I hope that all Dominicans will eavesdrop.

1. A contemplative life

The monasteries are not the contemplative branch of the Order. We cannot leave contemplation to the nuns. We are all called to be contemplatives, and the renewal of the contemplative life is one of the greatest challenges the Order faces. I hesitate to give a definition of “contemplation”, but let’s be bold! By contemplation I mean our search for God, which leads to our encounter with God who is searching for us. We look for God in silence and in prayer, in study and in debate, in solitude and in love. With every gift of the heart and the mind, we seek the traces of God. But God finds us when we least expect it. Mary Magdalene, the first Patron of the Order, is the true contemplative, searching for the body of Jesus, only to be astonished to hear her name called by the Risen Lord. Our prayer springs from this deep desire. As Catherine said, “Desire itself is prayer”.

fr Vincent de Couesnongle talked of “the contemplation of the street.” The Word has become flesh and dwells among us, in the least of our brothers and sisters (Mt 25), in our families, in the places we work, in our friends and our enemies, in the times of delight and of desolation. The Word is there, if we can but open our eyes to see. Eric Borgman, a Dutch lay Dominican, wrote, “Dominicans are convinced that the world in which we live, turbulent and restless, often violent and terrifying, is at the same time the place where the holy comes to light, the place where we encounter and listen to – ‘contemplate’ – God.” So every Dominican is called to contemplation, whether we are lay Dominicans, sisters, friars or nuns. Our greatest contemplative, St Catherine of Siena, was a lay woman.

Preaching is a contemplative act. Don Goergen wrote, “In preaching the seeker and the sought come together, the lost and the found. God finds us in the midst of our very own words attempting to bespeak him. God never lets go of us.” Preaching is not just opening one’s mouth and speaking. It begins in silent attention to the gospel, the struggle to understand, the prayer for illumination, and concludes in the reactions of those who hear. As a young friar, I remember a visiting Bishop, who was due to preach, saying to one of the brethren one minute before Mass, “If you are a good Dominican, you should be able to preach now without preparation”. The brother replied “It is precisely because I am a Dominican that I do not believe that preaching is just saying the first thing that comes into my head.”

If all Dominicans are called to be contemplatives, what then is special about your life? Your life is entirely shaped by the search for God. The vocation of the nun “is a reminder to all Christian people of the fundamental vocation of everyone to come to God” (Verbi Sponsa 4). As fr. Marie-Dominque Chenu wrote, “the mystical life is not basically other than the Christian life” . You do not escape from the dramas and the crises of ordinary human life. You live them more nakedly, intensely, knowing the joy and despair of every human life, without the shelter of many of the things that give meaning to most human lives: marriage, children, a career. The monastery is the place where there is nowhere to hide from the ultimate question of every human life. One nun wrote, “I entered the monastery not to flee from the world, to forget it or ignore its existence even, but in order to be present to it in some more profound way, to live at the heart of the world, in a hidden way, but that I believe to be more real. I came here not looking for a quiet life or security, but to share, to take on board the suffering, the pain, the hopes of all mankind.”

Your lives make sense only if the search for God does lead to the meeting in the garden and the hearing of one’s name. Your lives have no intermediate purpose to get you through the days and the years. The monastery is like the queue at the bus stop, a sign of hope that the bus will come. This is true of all those who live the monastic enclosed life. In a conference to the Congress of Benedictine Abbots , I maintained that God often shows Himself in absence, in the void: the empty space between the wings of the cherubim in the Temple, and ultimately in the empty tomb in the garden. The life of the nun and the monk is hollowed out by emptiness. Your lives are empty of purpose, other than to be there for God. You do not do anything especially useful. But that emptiness is a hollow space in which God dwells and where we glimpse his glory.

You do this as nuns of the Order of Preachers. The Church calls on the contemplatives of different religious families to live from the richness of their own traditions and charisms – Benedictine, Carmelite, Franciscan or Dominican – which “constitute a splendid array of variety” . What does it mean for a monastery to be Dominican? I will share what I have learned from you, by looking at how your lives are marked by the Mission of the Order, by Dominican community life, by the search for Truth, and by belonging to the whole Order. There are many other aspects of your life that I will not touch, just these that are central to your Dominican identity.

2. Mission

What does it mean to be a nun in a missionary Order? How is it possible to be an enclosed contemplative and a missionary?

Being sent

To be a missionary is literally to be sent. The brethren and the sisters can be sent on mission to the ends of the earth, as Jesus sent the disciples. You may be sent to found a new monastery or to reinforce a monastery that is weak, but usually you stay where you are. In what sense are you sent? For Jesus to be sent by the Father was not for him to move from one place to another. He did not set out on a journey. His very existence was from the Father. You are missionaries just as much as the brethren, not by going anywhere but by living your lives from God and for God. As Jordan said to Diana, “you remaining in the quietness of your convent and my many wanderings in the world are equally done for the love of him” . You are a preached Word in your being.

The seventh way in which Dominic prayed was by stretching “his whole body up towards heaven in prayer, like a choice arrow straight up from the bow” You point to God like an arrow, just by being there, for no other purpose. You are a word to your brethren, sisters and lay Dominicans in your life, and a word for the place where your monastery is. I have seen this most clearly in places of suffering, like Angola, Nicaragua, in the slums of great cities like Karachi, or in the Bronx in New York or the suburbs of Paris. In such places a monastery is a Word that becomes flesh and blood, “full of grace and truth” (Jn 1.18).

Mary Magdalene goes to the apostles and says to them, “I have seen the Lord”. Some of you may be called to preach through writing. Many of the greatest theologians have been monks and nuns, and this would be especially appropriate for a Dominican nun. LCM 106 § II is explicit that the work of the nuns may also be intellectual.

You may also be sent to make new foundations. Olmedo is an inspiration, with its eight foundations in four continents. The Order is growing in many parts of the world, especially in Asia, and we are incomplete without you. Sometimes you have gone before us. It may take great courage to send nuns to found a new monastery, especially because it is the ones who give most to their communities who will be capable of such an adventure. Remember the courage of Dominic, who dispersed the brethren as soon as the Order was founded, so that the seed would bear fruit.


Compassion is part of your mission, sharing Dominic’s gift “of bearing sinners, the down-trodden, and the afflicted in the inmost sanctuary of his compassion” (LCM 35. § I,). Dominic’s God is a God of mercy. Compassion means unlearning that hardness of heart which sits in judgement on other people, shedding the armour that holds others at bay, learning vulnerability to another’s pain and confusion, hearing their cry for help. We learn this first of all in our communities. Do we dare to be touched by the suffering of the sister next door? Do we dare to take the risk of hearing her half-expressed requests for help? If not, then how can we embody Dominic’s compassion for the world?

Compassion is more than feeling, but opening one’s eyes to see Christ among us suffering still, as Las Casas saw the crucified Christ in the Indians of Hispaniola. It is an education of the heart and the eye, which makes us attentive to the Lord who is with us in the crushed and wounded. Compassion is thus truly contemplative, clear-sightedness. As Borgman says, “To be moved and shocked at what happens to people and what this does to them is a way of perceiving God’s presence. Compassion is contemplation in the Dominican sense” . Contemplative compassion is learning to look selflessly at others. As such it is deeply linked to the hunger for a just world. The Order’s commitment to justice easily becomes ideological if it is not born of contemplative compassion. “A society that doesn’t understand contemplation won’t understand justice, because it will have forgotten how to look selflessly at what is other. It will take refuge in generalities, prejudices, self-serving clichés.”

Compassion draws us beyond our own divisions. The monastery at Rweza in Burundi is surrounded by war. The sisters themselves come from the different ethnic groups that are fighting, and all have lost members of their family. When they were asked what kept them together, they said that unity was a gift from God for which they could never give enough thanks. They also said that they listen to the news on the radio together, even though this was painful. The sharing of that pain makes them one.

Compassion therefore implies a knowledge of the needs of the Order and of the world. I have seen that in flourishing monasteries there is often a desire to know about the Order and its needs, just as Diana pestered Jordan for news of his missions. “For what do you want us to pray?” There is a thirst to understand what is happening in places of war, such as Algeria and Rwanda. So the monastery needs to have access to information and real analysis, rather than news that just entertains, so that you may bring the needs of the world to God.


Compassion overflows into prayer. The early brethren were always asking the nuns to pray for them because they had little time themselves. Raymond of Peñafort complained to the Prioress of Bologna that he was so caught up with the business of the papal court, that “I am hardly ever able to reach or, to be quite honest, even to see from afar the tranquillity of contemplation…..So it is a great joy and an enormous comfort to me to know that I am helped by your prayers.” Jordan writes to Diana, “Pray for me often and earnestly in the Lord; I am much in need of prayer because of my faults, and I pray but seldom myself” .

This may give the impression that the brethren and the nuns are involved in two quite different activities, the brethren preaching and the nuns praying, just as in a home the wife may do the cooking and then leave the husband to do the washing up, if she is lucky! But in preaching we share the word that is given to us. And so praying for that word is part of the event of preaching. It does not just precede preaching, as cooking precedes washing up the dishes. It is part of the coming of the Word, and so the nuns are most intimately involved in the act of our preaching. “The nuns are to seek, ponder and call upon him in solitude so that the word proceeding from the mouth of God may not return to him empty, but may accomplish those things for which it was sent” (LCM Fund. I §2). For Jordan, it is the prayers of Diana and her community that make his preaching powerful and that bring the flood of vocations.

The most typical form of prayer for St Thomas Aquinas is intercession and thanksgiving. We ask God for what we need and we give thanks when it is given. This may suggest an infantile way of being in the world, as if we were incapable of doing anything for ourselves. In fact it is the maturity of those who realise that everything is a gift. In the world of consumerism, where everything can be bought for a price, then to ask is seen as a failure. But if we live in the real world, made by God, then asking for what we need is being truthful, the recognition that God “is the source of all that is good for us” . But more than this, it is through answering our prayers that God sometimes acts in the world. God wishes us to pray, so that he may give in response. Prayer is not twisting God’s arm, so that he may change his mind. It is part of friendship that God gives to us what we ask. So your prayers are a participation in God’s action in the world.

The Celebration of the liturgy

Another way you preach is through the public and beautiful celebration of the liturgy, as urged by Venite Seorsum. In our society there is hunger for God, but often a suspicion of teaching. As I know from experience, the moment that one begins to preach, some faces will turn off. But beauty can touch the deepest springs of our longing for God. Beauty summons us without bullying. It has its own authority, which is more profound than argument.

Dominican liturgy should be joyful . Dominic sang with joy. Jordan tells a story about a gloomy Waldensian called Peter, who did not think much of the Dominicans because “the friars were too cheerful and showy” He believed that religious should be serious and sad. And then he had a dream of a meadow. “In it he saw a crowd of Friars Preachers in a ring, with joyful faces raised towards heaven. One of them was holding the Body of Christ in his upraised hands.” He woke up “his heart filled with joy” and joined the Order. The joy of the liturgy is a part of our preaching the Good News. I shall never forget the joy of the nuns in Nairobi, dancing to the altar with the gospel. The joy of the good news was visible in their movement. I could not resist dancing myself!

3. Community

All monastic communities should be places of mutual love in which God makes his home. “Because of the mutual love involved, fraternal life is a God-filled space” (Verbi Sponsa 6). But the Dominican tradition has a particular understanding of the common life. You too take your vows on the Rule of St Augustine, remembering that the end for which we are called “is to dwell in unity in the house and be of one mind and one heart in God”. Jesus called the apostles to be with him before they were sent out to preach. For you, too, the common life is part of your preaching.

Community and Friendship

The Dominican tradition of community is deeply marked by how we understand our relationship with God. In the Church there are two major traditions. One sees our relationship with God in spousal terms, the love of the Bridegroom and the Bride. The other sees it in terms of friendship. Both are found in the Order, but we have especially kept alive the Johannine theology of friendship, which has often been neglected. For St Thomas Aquinas, the heart of God’s life was the friendship of the Father and the Son, which is the Holy Spirit. In the Spirit we are God’s friends. And so praying is talking to God as to a friend. According to Carranza, a sixteenth century Spanish Dominican, prayer is “conversing familiarly with God…. discussing all your affairs with God, whether they are exalted or lowly, of heaven or of earth, to do with the soul or to do with the body, great or small; it is to open your heart to him and pour yourself out entirely before him, leaving nothing hidden; it is to tell him your labours, your sins, your desires, and all the rest, everything that is in your soul, and to relax with him as one friend relaxes with another.”

The spousal tradition is also found in the Order, for example in Jordan of Saxony, Catherine of Siena and Agnes of Langeac. But for them this love is not a private relationship with God, but is embodied in love of the brethren and the sisters. “How can you love God whom you do not see, if you do not love your brother whom you see?” (1 Jn. 4.20). Jordan writes to Diana, “Christ is the bond whereby we are bound together; in him my spirit is knit fast with your spirit; in him you are always, without ceasing, present to me wherever I may wander.” “Let us love one another in him and through him and for him.” Catherine is clear that her love of Christ the Bridegroom is the same love that she has for her friends. The Lord says to her, “Love of me and love of neighbour are one and the same thing” This means that our contemplative life should open our eyes to our sisters and brothers. When we say the Rosary, we follow the mysteries of Christ’s life, moments of joy, sorrow and glory. Are we awake to the “mysteries” of the lives of the members of our community, which are not always joyful and glorious?

Our friendship with God becomes flesh and blood in the texture of community life. I have seen the fruit of this in the joy of so many recreations with you. Sr. Barbara from Herne wrote, “It is there in the recreation that the nuns express their joy at being together, they laugh a lot, even to the point of surprising retreatants in the guest house who overhear these signs of merriment for half an hour or so each evening.” These nuns are the heirs of a long tradition. Once when Dominic came back to S Sisto late, he got the nuns up so that he could teach them and then relax with them over a glass of wine. He kept encouraging them to drink more, “bibite satis” . In my experience it is usually the nuns who say that to the brethren! That joy is so much part of our tradition that Jordan even interprets the phrase “enter into the joy of the Lord” as joining the Order, where “all your sorrows shall be turned into joy and your joy no one can take from you” .

This friendship with the brethren and sisters has been one of the greatest joys of my life, but it can also be hard. And the joy and the hardship must be even more intense for you, since you will probably live with the same sisters all your life. At least if some brother finds me intolerable, he can hope that I will be assigned elsewhere one day. He will not have to put up with me until I die. Cardinal Hume told me that when he was young, his Abbot said to him, “Basil, remember that when you die, there will surely be at least one monk who will be relieved” So for you community life is an especial joy and also a challenge which is impossible without mercy and generosity. Tauler says that when a brother is intolerable, then say to yourself, “He probably has a headache today”. Some sisters may appear to have very frequent headaches!

When we make profession, we ask “for God’s mercy and yours”. To be a Dominican is to promise to offer and receive that mercy. Each day we call upon God “to forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us”. Each sister is given the liberating power to forgive, a share in God’s ability to make all things new. It is the freedom to open the doors of the prisons which each of us builds, to summon each other out of the tomb into new life. Each of you has a ministry of reconciliation in the community. Each of you can speak a word that heals.


This idea of friendship may help us to a Dominican understanding of enclosure. There are intense discussions about enclosure in some monasteries: How often should the nuns be allowed to leave the monastery and for what reasons? I will not enter into these questions. First of all, it could be divisive to do so, and the Master of the Order must above all have a care for unity. Secondly there can only be consensus on these practical questions if we have first clarified the nature of enclosure. Verbi Sponsa says it “is a special way of being with the Lord” (3) It is concerned with building a home with God rather than with rules. It is about love rather than law. It is not a flight from the wicked world so much as building a space in which we learn not to flee from God’s friendship and from each other and even ourselves. What matters is not the enclosure as an exclusion of the world, but what it contains, a life with God, just as a glass can be filled with wine.

In the beginning, the monasteries were literally homes for the brethren. Prouilhe and later San Sisto were the brethren’s homes, from which they went to preach. As the number of brethren increased, this could not continue. No doubt the brethren ruined the peace of the monastery, coming back late at night and demanding to be fed, arguing with each other when the sisters longed for silence! We each needed our own homes. But the monasteries remained homes for the brethren in a more profound sense. For Jordan of Saxony, the monastery in Bologna was the home of his heart, even though he was rarely there. He writes to Diana, “Am I not yours, am I not with you? Yours in labour, yours in rest; yours when I am with you, yours when I am far away” . The monastery is home because it is a place where the nuns live with God (LCM 36), and so it is there that others can glimpse the true home we all seek, where we will rest in God, our eternal Sabbath. That is why so often monasteries are at the heart of the Dominican Family. Often the Dominican Family gravitates to the monastery as the place where we are all at home. That is why welcoming guests to a monastery, wisely and so as not to disturb the rhythm of your life, can be a way of sharing the fruit of your enclosure.

“It is a terrible thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” (Hebrews 10.31). It can be hard to live with God. We find ourselves in the desert, awake at Gethsemane and watching at Golgotha. Sometimes the contemplative must live in the dark but, as the Cloud of Unknowing says, “Learn to be at home in this darkness”. The temptation is to run away from God and to find refuge in small consolations, and tiny desires. We can be tempted to fill our life with little projects, hobbies, and gossip, just to fill the emptiness. We must leave that emptiness there for God to fill. The monastery is a home not because you have fled the world, but if you dare not to run away from God. Dare to abide in darkness and to be at home in the night without fear. As the English poet D H Lawrence wrote, “It is terrible to fall into the hands of the living God, but it is even more terrible to fall out of them”.

We may also be tempted to flee from our brothers and sisters, and evade the challenge of building a loving home in which God may dwell. Above all we may be tempted to flee from ourselves. In the monastery there is no hiding place. Here we learn, in Catherine’s words, to “dwell in the house of self-knowledge” (Dialogues 73), seeing oneself without fear “in the gentle mirror” of God, and knowing oneself as loved. When we are at home with ourselves then we shall be at home with God.

Clear rules about the enclosure are needed, but if they become a source of conflict and division, then they undermine the ultimate purpose of enclosure, to find a home in the infinite love and mercy of God. It is vital that discussion about the enclosure is carried on with charity and the search for mutual understanding. If it produces anger and intolerance, then we shall undermine the enclosure more completely than if the nuns were slipping out of the monastery each day.

However small the enclosure may feel, dwelling with God opens out an immense space, of “the breadth and height and depth of the love of God” (cf LCM 36). Sr Margaret Ebner says how when she received the Eucharist sometimes “my heart was so full that I could not comprehend it. I thought that it was as wide as the whole world” This “expansion of the heart” (latitudinem cordis), of which Thomas speaks, opens us to the immensity of God. If we dwell with the Lord then he will lead us into wide spaces even in a little enclosure. If the enclosure is lived well then its fruit is magnanimity, largeness of heart, in which all pettiness is transcended.


The Dominican spirituality of friendship finds expression above all in our system of government, which is based on the dignity of each sister and the equality of all. Government is not the task of a few sisters, but the way in which all share in the responsibility for the life of the community.

At the heart of good government is obedience, “not like slaves under the law, but like free women under grace” (cf LCM Fund. VI). As fr Damian Byrne wrote in a letter to the Mexican Federation, “The word obedience means to listen. In the Dominican tradition you have to listen in your monasteries to the Prioress, the Council and the Chapter. Each has its own authority which must take into account other legitimate authorities. No authority can dominate on its own.” So monasteries will flourish and be happy if the nuns listen to each other. Above all, the Chapter is where this mutual listening happens. “In order that their contemplative life and sisterly communion may be more abundantly fruitful, participation of all in the ordering of the life of the monastery is of great importance: ‘A good which meets with general approval is quickly and easily achieved.’(Humbert of Romans)” (LCM 7).

In my experience of the brethren, Chapters are life-giving when we have the confidence to speak and the confidence to listen. To speak in the Chapter can be frightening. It took me almost a year to open my mouth, and I used to write down what I wished to say on a piece of paper and scrutinise it several times before I dared say a word. Usually by then it was too late! The superior has the role of building up the community by encouraging all to speak, especially those who hesitate or disagree with the majority. Disagreement does not mean disloyalty or disunity.

We also need the confidence to listen without fear. Listening is a fruit of that silence in which we open our ears to God. The contemplative life should be a formation in listening. A Polish nun said to me “Everyone is talking today but no one is listening. We nuns are here to listen.” The fruit of listening to God in silence should be attentiveness to what one’s sisters really say, and not what one fears that they might say or expect them to say. True listening is only possible if one is at peace. Often when a sister tries to articulate a doubt or a question, she will not find the right words. She will fumble and sound confused or strident, and it would be easy to crush or dismiss her. But if we listen attentively and intelligently, then we catch the grain of truth that she has to share. This means always putting the best interpretation on what she says, listening with a charitable ear. The whole of the Summa Theologica is founded on the principle of taking the objections seriously. The search for consensus may take time. If the community does not reach consensus, then a minority will more easily accept the final decision if it knows that it has been heard.

It can be frightening to discuss the real issues. We may not be sure where the discussion will lead us. But fear is the greatest enemy of religious life. If we have confidence in the Lord, then the waters of chaos will not overwhelm us. If we let fear rule us, then community has not made a home in God who is a rock. Above all it is the role of the superior to lead the community beyond fear.

Communities are usually without fear when the institutions of government – the Chapter, the Council and the Prioress – are mutually supportive instead of being in competition. The Prioress is the guardian of the dignity and voice of every member of the community. But the Prioress should receive the support of the whole community too. As Damian wrote with his customary wisdom, “It is necessary to accept that there are persistent complainers and disruptive members in communities. A Prioress has to be assisted by her community to enable these sisters to see themselves as they are and not to allow them to damage the community. And I make a plea that the mercy and consideration we should extend to each, should it not most of all be extended to our superiors?” Free discussion is different from being in opposition. If we are truly a community, then even if I did not vote for the superior, we did. If I am truly a brother or sister of a community, then I must accept that vote as my own.

A Dominican monastery has no Abbess, but a Prioress, who is prima inter pares. This expresses the friendship between equals which is our life. If the community is strong, then the transition to a new Prioress should be undramatic. Postulations should be rare. But if she has gathered around herself a group of similarly-minded nuns, who dominate the community, then the election either will be a continuation of the dynasty or a coup d’etat! A superior needs the courage to take the decisions that are properly hers, while so strengthening the whole community that the transition to her successor is painless.

4. The Search for Truth

You are nuns of the Order that has Veritas as its motto. Dominicans have always been known for our passion for study. Some nuns have shared with me that this is an element of Dominican life from which they feel distant, either because they have never studied or because they feel incapable of it. And it is tempting to think that it is the brethren who study and the nuns who pray; it is the brethren who talk and the nuns who listen. This is to misunderstand the nature of our commitment to the Truth. It is a way of being in the world truthfully. Each of us is called to this, regardless of whether we have a gift for academic study or not.

Living in the truth

Veritas summons us to be men and women who live truthfully, speak truthfully, and listen attentively. Often communication in religious communities can become deformed. Innuendo, allusion and suspicion may muddy the clarity of our conversations. Fear or a lack of trust may make us resort to hints, nudges, and winks. It belongs to our Dominican life that we dare to speak truthfully, with discretion and sensitivity and respect. This has nothing to do with being a scholar. It is seeking to live with the clarity of Dominic. “He who does what is true comes to the light, that it may be clearly seen that his deeds have been wrought in God” (Jn 3.21). Seeing clearly means seeing what is central and essential and not being distracted by details.

Fr. Simon Tugwell OP wrote that “it is, in fact, most typical of Dominican spirituality to view God, not primarily as the object of our attention, but rather as the essential subject, with whom we are united as co-subjects, co-operators with him (1 Cor. 3.9) in his work of redemption.” That is to say that as God’s friends we do not so much look at God as with him. We are invited to see the world through God’s eyes, and that is to see its goodness. Eckhart writes, “God enjoys himself. His own enjoyment is such that it includes his enjoyment of all creatures.” To see with God’s eyes is to share his pleasure in all that God has made, including our brothers and sisters! Thomas Merton tells of how, after seven years of life in monastery, he went to the dentist and he saw the world differently. “I wondered how I would react at meeting once again, face to face, the wicked world. Perhaps the things I had resented about the world when I left it were defects of my own that I had projected upon it. Now, on the contrary, I found that everything stirred me with a deep and mute sense of compassion…. I went through the city, realising for the first time in my life how good are all the people in the world and how much value they have in the sight of God.” Seeing with God, we come to share God’s love. If we learn that truthful way of being in the world, then we can face anything with joy: our failures, our mortality, the true state of the monastery, our fears and hopes. We can be joyful even in the dark.

The Study of the Word of God

LCM 101§ II says that the nuns are especially to study the Word of God. This is not a dry activity. Jordan tells Diana, “Read over this Word in your heart, turn it over in your mind, let it be as sweet as honey on your lips, ponder it, dwell on it, that it may dwell with you and in you for ever.” If the Word is to touch and change all that we are, then we must bring to it every aspect of our humanity: our intelligence, our emotions, our sense of beauty, our experience, our difficulties and hopes.

Every week in the General Council, we read the Word of God together. Some of us will bring an analysis of the original language, others will share how it touches them or illuminates some recent experience, or provokes them or puzzles them. All these are valid ways of reading the Word, and we need them all. That is why it is good that we ponder it together, and let it transform our communal lives. Each nun may have insights of her own to offer. The Lord says to Catherine, “I could have made all people in such a way that they all had everything, but I preferred to give different gifts to different people, so that they would all need each other” . This is true especially in understanding the Word of God.

The exegetical study of Scripture can be hard at the beginning. We may fear to read what the scholars say, lest our deepest convictions be shaken. When one begins to study, one must pass through the alarming experience of discovering that we never before understood the text. But this is our humility in the face of the Word, which we do not own and which invites us to set out we know not where. We must dare to be like Mary who hears the message of the angel, and who “is greatly troubled in the saying, and considered in her mind what sort of greeting this might be” (Luke 1.29). We must learn to be surprised by the Word, which always means more than we could ever have imagined. That is why it is good that in every community there are nuns who make a serious study of scripture, if possible in the original languages. I confess that my several attempts at learning Hebrew were a disaster!

In every enclosed community, there lurks the dread of boredom, living in the same place, with the same people, listening to the same jokes and eating the same food. But the Word is always new and fresh with God’s eternal youth. Periodically we need to recapture the excitement of the disciples on their way back to Emmaus, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the scriptures?” (Luke 24.32). The study of the Bible renews our capacity for wonder.

The Study of Theology

During my visits to the monasteries I often ask the nuns about what theology they like to study. Usually there is silence and the subject is quickly changed. Theology is usually seen as academic and incomprehensible. LCM 101§ III exhorts the nuns to study St Thomas, but I suspect that often the Summa gathers dust on the shelves of the library. One might be tempted to think that the friars study theology but the nuns study spirituality. This is a modern opposition that would have been incomprehensible to Dominic and Catherine. Theology is not just an academic discipline. It belongs to our searching for our Lord in the garden, our hunger for meaning, our entry into the mystery of love. Through knowledge we draw near to the one whom St Catherine called la prima dolce verità, the first sweet truth. One of Dominic’s ways of praying was to study a book, and he would argue with it, disagree, nod his head, exclaim. And when Thomas was writing the Summa, he would sometimes send away the secretaries and throw himself on the ground and pray until he received understanding. Theology and spirituality are inseparable.

Much theological writing is profoundly boring, but this may be because it is bad theology. We need to be introduced to the Summa as it is, a contemplative work that tells of our journey to God and to happiness. Its teaching liberates us from the traps that would hold us back from the pilgrimage. So many people are trapped in idolatrous conceptions of God, as a great powerful and invisible person, controlling everything that happens, and keeping us in perpetual immaturity. So much anger in religious communities comes from resentment at this image of God, which is an idol. But Thomas explodes this view in the Prima Pars, opens the door of this spiritual prison, and sets us off towards the mystery of the God who is as the eternal spring of freedom in the centre of our being. So often people are caught in a small vision of holiness as the obedience to rules. But in the Secunda Pars, Thomas shows us that the way to holiness is through growth in the virtues, through which we become strong and share in God’s own freedom. So often people are trapped in a view of religion that is magical. But in the Tertia Pars Thomas shows us how in the Incarnation and the sacraments, God embraces and transforms the whole of our humanity. The test of good theology is that it overflows into praise and worship and happiness and true inner freedom. There is little theology which is that good. Maybe some nuns are called to write it. “In the field of theological, cultural and spiritual studies, much can be expected from the genius of women, not only in relation to specific aspects of feminine consecrated life, but also in understanding the faith in all its expressions” (Vita Consecrata 58).

Formation for Veritas

It follows that an essential part of the formation of a Dominican nun is in the study of scripture and theology. This is not a mere addendum, like learning to sow or to cook. It belongs to growth in love, for “knowledge follows love. And loving, the soul seeks to pursue truth and clothe herself in it.”

The study of theology should be happy. We learn about the great things that God has done for us. Thomas said “Those who devote themselves to the contemplation of truth are the happiest anyone can be in this life” And for him contemplation largely meant study. We learn to love the Word of God, and be “nourished by its charm (dulcedo)” , as Albert said. Like the initiation into all profound happiness, rather than mere entertainment, it will have moments of boredom, when we will feel incapable of remaining in our rooms. We must learn confidence, the confidence to think, to question, to search. For Thomas, the teacher must above all teach the pupil to think for himself, to realise his potential for knowledge. This means that when we learn to study we must not be afraid of making mistakes. The formators must not watch their students fearfully. We must dare to try out ideas, and not worry if we get it wrong at first. Of course, orthodoxy is dear to Dominicans, but if we believe the teaching of the Church that the Holy Spirit has been poured upon us, then we will not easily get stuck in error.

The nuns need the tools to study: a good library, periodicals and time. Many monasteries are poor and to buy books is a real sacrifice. But we can no more starve the nuns of books than we can of food. Internet offers the possibility of following theological formation without ever leaving the monastery. The community needs to build into the rhythm of its life times of study. Chalais in France has an annual calendar that includes times for intense study, for silence, and for recreation. We brethren must also respond to the needs of the sisters for formation. When St Dominic came back to S Sisto, exhausted after a day of preaching, then he would teach the nuns, “because they had no other master to do this.” The flourishing of the Dominican Rhineland monasteries in the fourteenth century was partly because Herman de Minden, the Provincial of Teutonia, sent some of his best theologians to teach the nuns.

The monasteries need sisters who have received a deep theological and biblical formation so that they can teach the young. This is especially so today when many nuns come to us from University. They need a theological formation that will stretch their minds and answer their questions. Ideally each monastery would be able to offer a complete formation, but if this is not so then the collaboration between monasteries, especially when there are federations, is vital. Sometimes there is a fear that if the young study in another monastery, then they may lose their attachment to their original community, and ask for transfiliation. This rarely happens, and it cannot be an excuse for not giving a sister a full and true Dominican formation. If the young are well formed, then the whole community will eventually be renewed. The formation house of the Federation of monasteries in Mexico is a wonderful example of how a federation can help each monastery to grow stronger.

5. The Unity of the Order

You are nuns of the Order of Preachers and are part of Dominic’s large family. Each monastery has life in itself, and yet is in contact with other monasteries, often belonging to a federation. You often are a centre of life for the Dominican Family. You make your vows to the Master of the Order. What does it mean for a monastery to have care of its own life and yet to belong to the Order?

A service of Unity

Dominic wished his Order to be one. The Order has always fought to preserve its unity. When other Orders have split we have clung on to our unity, but sometimes only just! This is because our unity belongs to our preaching of the gospel. We preach the Kingdom of God, in which all humanity will be reconciled in Christ. Our words have authority if we are united ourselves. The Order has an especially important role to play in a Church that is often split between different and competing ideologies. Also political conflict, ethnic tension and even war often divide our countries. We must embody that peace that we preach.

Each monastery embodies this unity in itself but “it transcends the limits of the monastery and attains its fullness in communion with the Order and with the whole Church of Christ” (LCM n2 §1). And so you, as Dominican nuns, have care for the unity of the whole Order. Through your prayers and in all that you say and do, you have a responsibility to promote that unity and peace. Contemplatives should especially be able to do this because closeness to the mystery of God draws us beyond all division, and beyond all the pretensions of any party to claim absolute wisdom and knowledge.

The nature of autonomy

Each monastery is autonomous. This belongs to the nature of your lives, as monastic communities. It is an autonomy that you rightly rejoice in. What does it mean? Literally it means that each community is self-governing, and has a responsibility for its own life. Each monastery has responsibility for building a community that is a sign of the Kingdom, in which there is mutual love and an abiding with the Lord. Autonomy is your free responsibility for your contemplative lives, rather than isolation.

In contemporary Western culture, there is a tendency to see autonomy as meaning separation. An individual is seen as free in so far as he or she is free from interference from the outside. But the Catholic understanding of what it means to be a human being offers another model, which is that it is in communion with each other that we find true freedom and autonomy. Autonomy does not mean being autosufficient. This is why the Church welcomes federations of monasteries, because the mutual support of the federations can help the individual monasteries to “safeguard and promote the values of the contemplative life” (Verbi Sponsa 27). Collaboration can help the monastery to be free and to take responsibility for its own life. I have often visited monasteries where the nuns are overwhelmed with the care of the sick, with cooking, with earning an income, with looking after the building. There is no time for prayer. Such a community may have complete independence but have lost its true autonomy, its freedom and responsibility for its own life. When monasteries help each other in formation, the care of the sick as at Dax in France, or economically, then they do not lose their autonomy, but gain it in a more profound way. Often this mutual help will be costly and a sacrifice. It is the nuns whom a monastery most needs who will be the ones who could offer that help for another community.

A time may come when a monastery must face the prospect of closure . If this happens, then there is no need for the nuns to feel guilt or failure. Maybe the monastery has fulfilled the purpose for which it was founded. As Dominicans it is good if we can face the prospect of closure truthfully. Sometimes I am told that if only one or two vocations were to come, then maybe the monastery could survive. Might it not be possible to look for vocations from another country? The determination to survive can lead to the acceptance of unsuitable vocations. But survival for us, who preach the death and resurrection of Christ, is not an absolute value. If we trust in our Father who raised Jesus from the dead, then we can face death, our own or that of our community, with hope and joy. As Provincial of England, I had to go to Carisbrooke to drive the last four nuns to their new home. The oldest nun, in her nineties, appeared to change her mind at the last minute, but finally we all went. The local people came to wave goodbye, singing and crying. This departure was perhaps the most eloquent preaching of the gospel the nuns had ever made. If the monastery is truly a place where you make home with God, then leaving it does not make you homeless.

In a region or a federation in which there are many monasteries and few vocations, then it is wonderful if the nuns dare to think together about the future. Should all the monasteries seek vocations, or should candidates for the Order be sent to just those who have a good chance of flourishing? This is not to deprive the right of any monastery to take decisions about its own life and to accept vocations. It is rather an invitation, in hard times, to seek what is more important than the survival of any individual monastery, which is the flourishing of Dominican contemplative life in the region.

Visitations are central to our tradition. Sometimes they are regarded with apprehension by monasteries because they can be seen as interference from outside. Blessed Hyacinth Cormier said that the purpose of a visitation is to encourage and encourage and encourage. Its concern is above all with “the internal government of the monastery” (LCM 227 § III cf. 228 § III) and thus to help the monastery to be effectively responsible for its own life and to be free to face its challenges. A visitation should therefore help a monastery to become autonomous in the true sense of the word. The LCM suggest that there should be a visitation “at least every two years” (227 § III).

Some monasteries continue to express a concern about the International Commission of Nuns, established by the General Chapter of Oakland in 1989. This is not a juridical body that has any powers to make decisions or to come between the Master and the monasteries. It is a “think tank” which advises the Master, like the many other Commissions of the Order, for the Intellectual Life, for Justice and Peace, and for the Mission of the Order. It is there to promote monastic life and especially to support the monasteries that are isolated. This it has done well. Its term ends in the next few months, and you are welcome to write to my successor or the General Chapter if you have any suggestions about its future. How might such a Commission help the Master in promoting authentic Dominican life in all its beauty and importance?

Relationships with the brethren

The friars and the nuns share a long history. Our friendship has been at the heart of the Order’s life for almost eight hundred years. It has not always been easy. In the early days the brethren often wished to escape from any responsibility for the monasteries, and sometimes still do not take that responsibility seriously. The nuns must surely sometimes have wished to escape from the interference of the brethren! But like an old married couple, who have lived through so much, we can be confident that nothing will destroy the bond. As Dominicans, truthfulness and transparency should mark our relationship. Above all we must be confident in each other, and without suspicion. Jordan wrote to the Provincial of Lombardy that he had been “startled and frightened by a mere rustle of leaves” , when he was disturbed by rumours that the General Chapter had taken decisions against the monastery in Bologna. There are still occasional moments of panic at “mere rustles of leaves”, suspicions about the role of the International Commission, rumours about what the intentions of the General Chapter are. We must have confidence and be without fear. When there is uncertainty, then be without suspicion, give the best interpretation to what you hear, and ask for clarification. With transparency and trust we can build the unity of the Order.

The lives of the monasteries may be complicated by the many men who may claim some authority over you. Some of you have chaplains, assistants, vicars, Provincials, and Bishops; there is the Master of the Order and the Holy See. All of these should be there to strengthen you and not to interfere in your lives and control you. Above all your relationship with the brethren should be mutually strengthening. The service of the brethren must be to support you in your own responsibility for your lives. So many brethren are strengthened by their contact with the monasteries, where we are renewed in that silence from which the preached word springs.


“A city set on a hill top cannot be hidden” (Mt. 5.14). This phrase evokes so many monasteries set on hill tops: Chalais, Orbey, Los Teques near Caracas, Rweza, Drogheda, Vilnius, Perugia, Santorini and others. But whether the monastery is on a mountain or in the plains, in a jungle or a town, if you live your life with joy, then its light cannot be hidden. As Pope John Paul II wrote, this consecrated life exists, “so that this world may never be without a ray of divine beauty to lighten the path of human existence” Be confident in your monastic way of life. It is a gift from God.

For Christmas 1229, Jordan wrote to Diana to celebrate the birth of “a very little word” born for us. He also sends another word, “small and brief, my love”. Alas, this Letter is not small and brief, but it expresses my love and gratitude for your place at the heart of the Order. Pray for the whole Dominican Family, which is entrusted to your care. Pray for fr Viktor Hoffstetter, the previous Promoter of nuns whom so many of you love, and for his successor, fr Manuel Merten, whom you will come to love. Pray for me and for my successor too.



Liber Constitutionum Monialium OP
Ed by Simon Tugwell, Early Dominicans: selected Writings. Ramsey 1982, p. 396
“The Contemplative Dimension of our Dominican Life” IDI March 1983
From the ms of Dominican Spirituality:An exploration, shortly to be published by Continuum Press, London 2001.
“Preaching as Searching for God” in Dominican Ashram, March 2000, p.17
“Une théologie de la vie mystique”, in La Vie Spirituelle, 50, (1937) p. 49
Quoted by Sr Barbara Estelle Beaumont OP, “What makes a Monastery a Dominican Monastery?” Dominican Ashram, September 1999, p.115f
‘The throne of God’, published in I call you friends, London 2001.
Venite Seorsum VI
Gerald Vann OP, To heaven with Diana, Chicago 1960 p.123, Letter 37
Early Dominicans, op cit., p.99
op. cit.
Rowan Williams, Open Judgement London 1994 p.244
Early Dominicans, p. 409
op cit. P.104 Letter 25
ST II II 83.2
cf. the wonderful article by Paul Murray OP, “Dominicans and Happiness” Dominican Ashram September 2000, pp 120 – 142
Early Dominicans p.138
Bartolomé Carranza Comentario sobre el catecismo cristiano ed J.I. Tellechea Idígoras, Madrid 1972, II, p 360
op.cit p.110
op cit. p.149
Dialogues 7, c.f. 17
Miraculis 6, quoted in Simon Tugwell OP, The Way of the Preacher London 1979, p.62
op.cit, p.80
ibid. p. 121 letter 35
quoted by Paul Murray, op.cit, p.130 from The Revelations of Margaret Ebner, ed Leonard Hindsley OP, New York 1993, p.89
Quoted in Letter to the Nuns May 1992 p.6
Ibid p.9
The Way of the Preacher ibid. p.29
Sermon 217: Nolite timere eos. Meister Eckhart: a modern translation, trans Raymond B. Blakney New York 1941 p.225
Quoted in Monica Furlong, Merton:A biography London 1980 p.184
op. cit p.112 letter 31
Dialogue 7
St Catherine of Siena, The Dialogue 1.
Sententia Libri Ethicorum X, 1177 b 31
RTAM 36 (1969) p.109
The Miracles of St Dominic by Bl. Cecilia, Early Dominicans, ibid, p. 391
The criteria for deciding on closure are clearly set out in fr. Damian Byrne’s Letter to Nuns, ibid., p.20 and where he gives the norms set out by the Holy See.
Op.cit p.143
Vita Consecrata 109

Mission to a Runaway World: Future Citizens of the Kingdom (2002)

Conference given at SEDOS 2002

fr. Timothy Radcliffe, o.p.

I have been asked to reflect upon a spirituality of mission for our globalised world. What does it mean to be a missionary in Disneyland? When I was asked to give this lecture I was delighted, because it is a fascinating topic, but I was also hesitant, because I have never been a missionary in the usual sense of the word. At the elective General Chapter of the Order in Mexico eight years, the brethren identified the criteria for candidates to be Master of the Order. Crucially he should have pastoral experience outside his own country. They then elected me who had only ever been an academic in England. I do not know whether all congregations act so eccentrically, but it shows why I feel rather unfitted to give this lecture.

What is so new about our world, that we must look for a new spirituality of mission? How is it so different from the world to which previous generations of missionaries were sent? We may reply automatically that what is new is globalisation. E-mails stream into our offices from all over the world. Trillions of dollars circulate around the markets of the world every day, though not around the Domincian Order! As it is so often said, we live in a global village. Missionaries are no longer dispatched on ships to unknown countries; almost everywhere is no more than a day’s journey away. But I wonder if “globalisation” really identifies the new context for mission. The global village is the fruit of an historical evolution that has been taking place for at least five hundred, if not five thousand, years. Some experts argue that in many ways the world a hundred years ago was just as globalized as today.

Perhaps what is really distinctive about our world is a particular fruit of globalisation, which is that we do not know where the world is going. We do not have a shared sense of the direction of our history. Tony Blair’s guru, Anthony Giddens, calls it “the runaway world” . History appears to be out of our control, and we do not know where we are heading. It is for this runaway world that we must discover a vision and a spirituality of mission.

The first great missions of the Church outside Europe were linked with the colonialism of the sixteenth to the twentieth centuries . The Spanish and the Portuguese brought their mendicant friars with them, just the Dutch and the English took their Protestant missionaries. The missionaries may have supported or criticised the conquistadors, but there was a shared sense of where history was going, towards the Western domination of the world. That gave the context of mission. In the second half of this century, mission occurred within a new context, that of conflict between the two great power-blocks of east and west, of communism and capitalism. Some missionaries may have prayed for the triumph of the proletariat, and others for the defeat of godless communism, but this conflict was the context of mission.

Now, with the fall of the Berlin Wall, we do not know where we are going. Are we going towards universal wealth, or is the economic system about to collapse? Will we have the Long Boom or the Big Bang? Will the Americans dominate the world economy for centuries, or are we at the end of a brief history when the West was at the centre of the world? Will the global community expand to include everyone, including the forgotten continent of Africa? Or will the global village shrink, and leave most people outside? Is it global village or global pillage? We do not know.

We do not know because globalisation has reached a new stage, with the introduction of technologies whose consequences we cannot guess. We do not know because, according to Giddens , we have invented a new sort of risk. Human beings have always had to cope with risk, the risk of plagues, bad harvests, storms, drought, and the occasional invasions of barbarians. But these were largely external risks, that were out of our control. You never knew when a meteorite might hit the planet, or a flee ridden rat might not arrive with the bubonic plague. But now we are principally at risk from what we ourselves have done, what Giddens calls “manufactured risk”: global warming, overpopulation, pollution, unstable markets, the unforeseen consequences of genetic engineering. We do not know the effects of what we are now doing. We live in a runaway world. This produces profound anxiety. We Christians have no special knowledge about the future. We do not know any more than anyone else, whether we are on the way to war or peace, prosperity or poverty. We too are often haunted by the anxiety of our contemporaries. I happen to be deeply optimistic about the future of humanity, but is this because I have inherited St Thomas’ belief in the deep goodness of humanity, or my mother’s optimistic genes?

In this runaway world, what Christians offer is not knowledge but wisdom, the wisdom of humanity’s ultimate destination, the Kingdom of God. We may have no idea of how the Kingdom will come, but we believe in its triumph. The globalized world is rich in knowledge. Indeed, one of the challenges of living in this cyber world is that we are drowned with information, but there is little wisdom. There is little sense of humanity’s ultimate destiny. Indeed such is our anxiety about the future, that it is easier not to think about of it at all. Let us grab the present moment. Let us eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we may die. So our missionary spirituality must be sapiential, the wisdom of the end to which we are called, a wisdom which liberates us from anxiety.

In this lecture I wish to suggest that the missionary may be the bearer of this wisdom in three ways, through presence, epiphany and through proclamation. In some places all we can do is to be present, but there is a natural thrust towards making our hope visible and our wisdom explicit. The word has become flesh and now in our mission the flesh becomes word .


A missionary is sent. That is the meaning of the word. But to whom are missionaries sent in our runaway world? When I was a schoolboy with the Benedictines, missionaries came to visit us from far away places, like Africa and the Amazon. We saved up our money so that children would be baptised with our names. There should be hundreds of middle aged Timothys around the world. So missionaries were sent from the West to other places. But from where are missionaries sent these days? They used to come especially from Ireland, Spain, Brittany, Belgium and Quebec. But few missionaries are from those countries today. The modern missionary is more likely to come from India or Indonesia. I remember the excitement in the British press when the first missionary arrived in Scotland from Jamaica. So in our globalized village, there is no centre from which missionaries are despatched. In the geography of the world-wide web, there is no centre, at least in theory. In fact we know that there are more telephone lines in Manhattan than in sub-Saharan Africa.

As the beginning of an answer I would suggest that in this new world, missionaries are sent to those who are other than us, who are distant from us because of their culture, faith or history. They are far away but not necessarily physically distant. They are strangers though they may be our neighbours. The expression “the global village” sounds cosy and intimate, as if we all belong to one big happy human family. But our global world is traversed by splits and fractures, which make us foreign to each other, incomprehensible and even sometimes enemies. The missionary is sent to be in these places. Pierre Claverie, the Dominican bishop of Oran in Algeria, was assassinated by a bomb in 1996. Just before he died he wrote: “L’Eglise accomplit sa vocation quand elle est présente aux ruptures qui crucifient l’humanité dans sa chair et son unité. Jésus est mort écartelé entre ciel et terre, bras étendus pour rassembler les enfants de Dieu dispersés par le péché qui les sépare, les isole et les dresse les uns contre les autres et contre Dieu lui-même. Il s’est mis sur les lignes de fracture nées de ce péché. En Algérie, nous sommes sur l’une de ces lignes sismiques qui traversent le monde: Islam/Occident, Nord/Sud, riches/pauvres. Nous y sommes bien à notre place car c’est en ce lieu là que peut s’entrevoir la lumière de la Résurrection.”

These lines of fracture do not run just between parts of the world: the north and the south, the developed world and the so-called developing world. These lines traverse every country and every city: New York and Rome, Nairobi and Sao Paolo, Delhi and Tokyo. They divide those who have clean water and those who do not, those who have access to the Internet and those who do not, the literate and the illiterate; the left and the right, those of different faiths and none, black and white. The missionary is to be the bearer of a wisdom, of God’s “purpose which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.” (Ephesians 1.10) And this wisdom we represent by being present to those who are divided from us by the walls of division.

But we must take a further step. Being a missionary is not what I do; it is who I am. Just as Jesus is the one who is sent (Hebrews 3.1). Being present to the other, living on the lines of fracture, implies a transformation of who I am. In being with and for that other person I discover a new identity. I think of an old Spanish missionary whom I met in Taiwan, who had worked in China for many years and suffered imprisonment. Now he was old and sick, and his family wished him to return to Spain. But he said, “I cannot go back. I am Chinese. I would be a stranger in Spain”. When John XXIII met a group of American Jewish leaders in 1960, he astonished them by walking into the room and saying “I am Joseph, your brother”. This is who I am, and I cannot be myself without you. So, being sent implies a dying to who one was. One lets go of a little identity. Chrys, McVey, one of my American brethren who lives in Pakistan, was asked how long he would remain there, and he replied, “until I am tired of dying”. To be present for and with the other is a sort of dying to an old identity so as to be a sign of the Kingdom in which we will be one.

Nicholas Boyle wrote that “the only morally defensibly and conceptually consistent answer to the question ‘who are we now?’ is ‘future citizens of the world’” . We are not just people who work for a new world order, who try to overcome war and division. Who we are now is future citizens of the world. One could adapt Boyle’s words and say that now we are the future citizens of the Kingdom. The Kingdom is my country. Now I discover who I am to be by being close to those who are farthest away. It is precisely our Catholicism which pushes us beyond every small and sectarian identity, every narrow little sense of myself, to that which we can barely glimpse now. That is the embodiment of our wisdom.

This is not easy, and above all it requires fidelity. The missionary is not a tourist. The tourist can go to exotic places, take photographs, enjoy the food and the views, and go back home proudly bearing T-shirts. The missionary is only a sign of the Kingdom in staying there. As one of my brethren said, “you do not only unpack your bags, you throw your bags away.”

I do not mean that every missionary must stay until death. There may be many good reasons to leave: a new challenge to be faced elsewhere, illness or exhaustion, and so on. But I am suggesting that mission implies fidelity. It is the fidelity of a Spanish missionary whom I met in the Peruvian Amazon, who just goes on being there year after year, visiting his people, making his way around the little settlements, faithfully remaining even if not much appears to happen. Often the pain of the missionary is discovering that one is not wanted. Maybe the local people, or even the local vocations to one’s order, wait for him or her to go. It is the stamina to go on being there, sometimes unappreciated. The heroism of the missionary is in daring to discover who I am with and for these others, even if they do not wish to discover who they are with and for me. It is remaining there faithfully, even if it may cost one one’s life, as it did for Pierre Claverie and the Trappist monks in Algeria.

I escaped from Rome just before the World Youth Day. But in my meeting there with some of the young Dominican laity, I was struck by their delight in being with those who are different, who are unlike themselves. Germans and French, Poles and Pakistanis, there is an astonishing openness which reaches across the boundaries of race and culture and generation and faith. This is a gift of the young to the mission of the Church, and a sign of the Kingdom. Perhaps the challenge for the young missionary is learning that stamina, that enduring fidelity to the other, faced with our own fragility and anxiety. Our houses of formation should be schools of fidelity, where we learn to hang in there, stay put, even when we fail, even when there are misunderstandings, crises in relationship, even when we feel that our brethren or sisters are not faithful to us. The answer is not then to run away, to start again, to join another Order or to get married. We have to unpack our bags and throw them away. Presence is not merely being there. It is staying there. It takes the form of a life lived through history, the shape of a life that points to the Kingdom. The enduring presence of the missionary is indeed a sign of the Real Presence of the Lord who gave his body to us forever.


In many parts of the world, all that the missionary can do is to be there. In some Communist and Islamic countries nothing more is possible, just being an implicit sign of the Kingdom. Sometimes in our inner cities or working with the young or the alienated, the mission must begin anonymously. The worker-priest is simply there in the factory. But our faith yearns to take visible form, to be seen. This year Neil MacGregor, the Director of the National Gallery in London organised an exhibition called “Seeing Salvation”. For most of European history, our faith has been made visible, in glass and painting and sculpture. The celebration of Christ’s birth used to begin with Epiphany, the disclosure of the glory of God among us. When Simeon receives the child Jesus in the Temple he rejoices, “for my eyes have seen thy salvation which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples.” (Luke: 2.31f). As St John says, we proclaim “that which we have heard, and which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon and touched with our hands” (1 Jn: 1.1f). Mission pushes beyond presence to epiphany.

Ever since the Iconoclastic Controversy in the ninth century, Christianity has sought to show God’s face. In the Europe in the Middle Ages, people rarely saw the image of any face except those of Christ and the saints, but in our world we are bombarded by faces. We have new icons on our walls: Madonna, Princess Diana, Tiger Woods, the Spice Girls. To be someone important today is to achieve “icon status”! Everywhere there are faces: Politicians, actors, footballers, the rich, people who are famous just for being famous. They smile at us from the billboards in our streets and our television screens. But we believe that all of humanity hungers to see another face, the face of God, the beatific vision. How can we manifest that face?

It would not be enough just to add Christ’s face to the crowd. It would be good but insufficient for Walt Disney to make a cartoon of the gospels. Putting Jesus’ face on the screen along with Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck would not achieve epiphany. Many Protestant churches in Britain have signs outside their churches with the words of the gospel competing with the adverts in the streets. This may be admirable, but I always find it rather embarrassing. I remember our giggles as children when we drove past the sign outside a local Church which asked “whether we watched with the wise virgins or slept with the foolish virgins?”

The challenge is this: how can we disclose the glory of God, God’s beauty? In this world filled with images, how can God’s beauty be manifested. Balthasar talks of the “self-evidence” of beauty, “its intrinsic authority” . We recognise in beauty a summons that we cannot easily ignore. C. S. Lewis said that beauty rouses up the desire for “our own far-off country” , the home for which we long and have never seen. Beauty discloses our ultimate end, that for which we are made, our wisdom. In this runaway world, with its unknown future, the missionary is the bearer of wisdom, the wisdom of humanity’s final destiny. This final destiny is glimpsed in the beauty of God’s face. How can we show it now?

This question is easier to ask than to answer; I hope that you may be able to come up with some more stimulating answers than I have! I would suggest that we need to present images, faces which are different in type from the faces that we see in our streets. In the first place, beauty is disclosed not in the faces of the rich and the famous but the poor and the powerless. And secondly, the images of the global village offer entertainment, distraction, whereas the beauty of God is disclosed in transformation.

The images of the global village show the beauty of power and wealth. It is the beauty of the young and the fit who have everything. It is the beauty of a consumerist society. Now, do not think that I am jealous of the young and fit, however nostalgic I may be, but the gospels locate beauty elsewhere. The disclosure of the glory of God is the cross, a dying and deserted man. This is such a scandalous idea that it seems to have taken four hundred years for this to be represented. Possibly the first representation of the crucified Christ is on the doors of Santa Sabina, where I live, which were made in 432, after the destruction of Rome by the barbarians. God’s irresistible beauty shines through utter poverty.

This may seem a crazy idea, until one thinks of one of the most attractive and beautiful of all saints, St Francis of Assisi. I made a little pilgrimage to Assisi this summer. The Basilica was filled with crowds, who were drawn by the beauty of his life. The frescoes of Giotto are lovely, but the deeper loveliness is that of il poverello. His life is hollowed by a void, a poverty, which can only be filled by God. Cardinal Suhard wrote that to be a missionary “does not consist in engaging in propaganda nor even in stirring people up, but in being a living mystery. It means to live in such a way that one’s life would make no sense if God did not exist.” . We see God’s beauty in Francis, because his life would make no sense if God is not.

Just as important, Francis found an new image for God’s own poverty (though why I am doing all this advertising for the Franciscans, I cannot imagine!). Neil MacGregor says that it was Francis who invented the crib, the sign of God embracing our poverty. In 1223 he wrote to the Lord of Greccio, “ I would like to represent the birth of the Child just as it took place at Bethlehem, so that people should see with their own eyes the hardships He suffered as an infant, how He was laid on hay in a manger with the ox and the ass standing by.” In the world of the thirteenth century Renaissance, with its new frescoes, new exotic consumer goods, its new urban civilisation, its mini-globalisation, Francis revealed the beauty of God with a new image of poverty.

That is our challenge in the global village, to show the beauty of the poor and powerless God. It is especially hard because often our mission is in the places of most terrible poverty, in Africa, Latin America and parts of Asia, where poverty is evidently ugly. Missionaries build schools, universities and hospitals. We run powerful and absolutely vital institutions. We are seen as rich. But in many countries the health and educational system would collapse if it were not for the Church. How then can we show the beauty of the glory of God, visible in poverty? How can we offer these irreplaceable services, and still lead lives which are mysteries, and which make no sense without God?

I now glance quickly at a second way in which we can manifest God’s beauty, and that is through acts of transformation. I begun this lecture by suggesting that what is perhaps unique about our world is not so much that it is global, as that we do not know where it is going. We have no idea what sort of future we are creating for ourselves. Even the north-pole has melted and become a pool of water. What next? This uncertainty provokes a deep anxiety. We hardly dare to even contemplate the future, and so it is easier to live just for now. This is the culture of instant gratification. As Kessler writes, “Most people live today less from great overarching hopes and perspectives than from short-term intentions and tangible goals. ‘Experience your life – now’ is the imperative of the secondary culture which now spans the globe. It is enough to live life like this, in the present – without a goal.”

When I fly into London, I often see the Millennium wheel, the city’s proud celebration of two thousands years since the birth of Christ. But all it does is to go round and round, and that i s on good days! It goes nowhere. It offers us the chance to be spectators, who observe the world without commitment. It entertains us, and enables us to momentarily escape the hectic city. It is a good symbol of how often we seek to survive in this runaway world. We are content to be entertained, to escape a while. And this is what so many of our images offer, entertainment which lets us forget . Computer games, soap operas, films offer us amnesia in the face of an unknown future. Mind you, I am still waiting for one of my nieces to take me on the Millennium wheel!

This escapism is above all expressed in that late twentieth century phenomenon, the “happening”. There is even the French word for it, “Le happening”. When France celebrated the Millennium with a 1000 kilometre breakfast, it was “un incroyable happening”! A happening may be a disco, a football match, a concert, a party, a fiesta, the Olympics. A happening is a moment of exuberance, of ecstasy, where we are transported out of our dull, unmalleable world, so that we can forget. When Disneyland built a new town in Florida, in which people could try to escape from the anxieties of modern America, it was named Celebration.

But Christianity finds its centre also in “un incroyable happening”, which is the Resurrection. But it is an utterly different sort of happening. It does not offer escapism, but transformation. It does not invite us to forget tomorrow, but is the future breaking in now. Faced with all our anxiety in this runaway world, not knowing where we are going, Christians cannot respond either with amnesia or with optimistic predications about the future. But we find signs of the Resurrection breaking in with gestures of transformation and liberation. Our celebrations are not an escape but a foretaste of the future. They offer not opium, as Marx thought, but promise.

An English Dominican, called Cornelius Ernst, once wrote that the experience of God is what he calls the “genetic moment”. The genetic moment is transformation, newness, creativity, in which God irrupts into our lives. He wrote: “Every genetic moment is a mystery. It is dawn, discovery, spring, new birth, coming to the light, awakening, transcendence, liberation, ecstasy, bridal consent, gift, forgiveness, reconciliation, revolution, faith, hope, love. It could be said that Christianity is the consecration of the genetic moment, the living centre from which it reviews the indefinitely various and shifting perspectives of human experience in history. That, at least is or ought to be its claim: that it is the power to transform and renew all things: ‘Behold, I make all things new’ (Apoc. 21.5)”

So the challenge for our mission is how to make God visible through gestures of freedom, liberation, transformation, little “happenings” that are signs of the end. We need little irruptions of God’s uncontainable freedom and his victory over death. Strangely enough, I have found it easier to think of rather obvious secular images than religious ones: the small figure in front of the tank in Tienanmen Square, the fall of the Berlin war.

What might be explicitly religious images? Perhaps a community of Dominican nuns in northern Burundi, Tutsis and Hutus living and praying together in peace in a land of death. The little monastery, surrounded by the greenery of cultivated fields in a countryside that is burnt and barren, is a sign of God, who does not let death have the last word. Another example might be an ecumenical community which I visited in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Catholics and Protestants lived together, and when anyone was killed in the sectarian battles, then a Catholic and a Protestant would go from the community to visit the relatives, and to pray with them. This community was an embodiment of our wisdom, a sign that we are not fated to violence, a little epiphany of the Kingdom. We do not know whether peace is around the corner or whether the violence will get worse, but here was a word made flesh which spoke of God’s ultimate purpose.


We have progressed from mission as presence to mission as epiphany. Our eyes have seen the salvation of the Lord. But we must make one last step, which is to proclamation. Our gospel must come to word. At the end of Matthew’s gospel, the disciples are sent out to all the nations to make disciples, and to teach all that Jesus has commanded. The Word becomes flesh, but the flesh also becomes word.

Here we encounter what is perhaps the deepest crisis in our mission today. There is a profound suspicion of anyone who claims to teach, unless they come from the East or have some strange New Age doctrine. Missionaries who teach are suspected of indoctrination, of cultural imperialism, of arrogance. Who are we to tell anyone what they should believe? To teach that Jesus is God is seen as indoctrination, whereas to teach that God is a sacred mushroom is part of the rich tapestry of human tradition! Anyway our society is deeply sceptical of any truth claims. We live in Disneyland, in which the truth can be reinvented as we wish. In the virtual age, the truth is what you conjure up on your computer screen. I read of a pilot who took off from an airport in Peru, but all his controls went crazy. When he turned left, the controls said that he was going right, when he went up, they said that he was going down. His last recorded words were “It’s all fiction”. Alas, the mountain he hit was not.

In Christianity Rediscovered Vincent Donovan describes how he worked for many years as a missionary with the Maasai, building schools and hospitals, but never proclaiming his faith. He was not encouraged to do so by his superiors. Finally he could restrain himself no longer and he gathered together the people and told them about his belief in Jesus. And then ( if I remember correctly since my copy of the book is lost) the elders said, “We always wondered why you were here, and now at last we know. Why did you not tell us before?”. This is why we are sent, to tell people about our faith. We do not always have the freedom to speak, and we must choose well the moment, but it would ultimately be patronising and condescending not to proclaim what we believe to be true. Indeed it is part of the good news that human beings are made for the truth and can attain it. As Fides et Ratio puts it, “One may define the human being ….as the one who seeks the truth” (para 28), and that search is not in vain. We have, as the Dominican Constitutions say, a “propensio ad veritatem”, (LCO 77.2), an inclination to the truth. Any spirituality of mission has to include a passion for the truth.

At the same time, it is central to traditional Catholic teaching that we stand at the very limits of language, barely glimpsing the edge of the mystery. St Thomas says that the object of faith is not the words we speak, but God whom we cannot see and know. The object of our faith is beyond the grasp and dominion of our words. We do not own the truth or master it. Faced with the beliefs and claims of others we must have a profound humility. As Claverie wrote “je ne possède pas la vérité, j’ai besoin de la vérité des autres”, I am a beggar after the truth.

At the heart of a spirituality of mission is surely an understanding of the right relationship between the confidence that we have in the revelation of the truth and the humility that we have before the mystery. The missionary must seek that right integration between confidence and humility. This is a source of an immense tension within the Church, between the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and some Asian theologians, and indeed within many religious orders. It can be a fruitful tension at the heart of our proclamation of the mystery. I remember a General Chapter of the Dominicans in which a fierce argument broke out between those who staked their whole lives and vocations on the proclamation of the truth, and those who stressed how little Aquinas thought we could know of God. It ended with a seminar in the bar on a text of the Summa contra Gentiles, and the consumption of much beer and cognac! To live that tension well, between proclamation and dialogue, I believe that the missionary needs a spirituality of truthfulness and a life of contemplation.

It may appear strange to talk of a spirituality of truthfulness. Obviously the preacher must say only what is true. But I believe that one will only know when to speak and when to be silent, that balance of confidence and humility, if one has been trained in acute discipline of truthfulness. This is a slow and painful asceticism, becoming attentive to one’s use of words, in one’s attention to what others say, in an awareness of all the ways in which we use words to dominate, to subvert, to manipulate rather than to reveal and disclose.

Nicholas Lash wrote, “Commissioned as ministers of God’s redemptive Word, we are required, in politics and in private life, in work and in play, in commerce and scholarship, to practise and foster that philology, that word-caring, that meticulous and conscientious concern for the quality of conversation and the truthfulness of memory, which is the first causality of sin. The Church accordingly is, or should be, a school of philology, an academy of word-care.” The idea of the theologian as a philologist sounds very dry and dusty. How can a missionary have time for that sort of a thing? But to be a preacher is to learn the asceticism of truthfulness in all the words we speak, how we talk about other people, our friends and our enemies, people when they have left the room, the Vatican, ourselves. It is only if we learn this truth in the heart that we will be able to tell the difference between a good confidence in the proclamation of the truth, and the arrogance of those who claim to know more than they can; between humility in the face of the mystery and a wishy-washy relativism which does not dare to speak at all. The discipline is part of our assimilation to the one who is the Truth, and whose word “is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (Hebrews 4.12)

Secondly, we will only be confident and humble preachers if we become contemplative. Chrys McVey said that “mission begins in humility and ends in mystery”. It is only if we learn to rest in God’s silence, that we can discover the right words, words that are neither arrogant nor vacuous, words that are both truthful and humble. It is only if the centre of our lives is God’s own silence that we will know when language ends and when silence begins, when to proclaim and when to be quiet. Rowan Williams wrote that “what we must rediscover is the discipline of silence – not an absolute, unbroken inarticulacy, but the discipline of letting go of our own easy chattering about the gospel so that our words may come again from a new and different depth or force from something beyond our fantasies” . It is this contemplative dimension that destroys the false images of God that we may be tempted to worship, and which liberates us from the traps of ideology and arrogance.

Future Citizens of the Kingdom

I must now conclude by gathering together the threads. I have suggested that the beginning of all mission is presence; it is being there as a sign of the Kingdom, with those who are most different, separated from us by history, culture or faith. But this is just the beginning. Our mission pushes us towards epiphany and ultimately to proclamation. The Word becomes flesh, and flesh becomes word. Each stage in the development of our mission asks of the missionary different qualities: fidelity, poverty, freedom, truthfulness and silence. Am I offering a picture of an impossibly saintly missionary, unlike any actual missionary? Does this add up to a coherent “Spirituality of mission”?

I have suggested that at this stage in the history of the Church’s mission, we might best think of the missionary as the future citizen of the Kingdom. Our runaway world is out of control. We do not know where it is going, whether to happiness or misery, to prosperity or poverty. We Christians have no privileged information. But we do believe that ultimately the Kingdom will come. That is our wisdom, and it is a wisdom that missionaries embody in their very lives.

St Paul writes to the Philippians, that “forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil: 3. 13f). This is a wonderfully dynamic image. St Paul is stretched out, pressed forward like an Olympic athlete in Sidney going for gold! To be a future citizen of the Kingdom is to live by this dynamism. It is to be stretched, reaching out, pressed forward. The missionary endures incompletion; he or she is half made until the Kingdom, when all will be one. We stretch out to the other, to those most distant, incomplete until we are one with them in the Kingdom. We reach out for a fullness of truth, which now we only glimpse dimly; all that we proclaim is haunted by silence. We are hollowed out by a longing for God, whose beauty may be glimpsed in our poverty. To be a future citizen of the Kingdom is to be dynamically, radiantly, joyfully incomplete.

Eckhart wrote that, “just as much as you go out of all things, just so much, neither more nor less, does God come enter in with all that is His – if indeed you go right out of all that is yours.” The beauty of Eckhart is that the less one knows what he is talking about, the more wonderful it sounds! Perhaps he is inviting us to that radical exodus from ourselves that makes a hollow for God to enter. We stretch out to God in our neighbour, God who is most other, so to discover God in the centre of our being, God as most inward. For God is utterly other and utterly inward. Which is why to love God we must both love our neighbour and ourselves. But that is another lecture!

This love is very risky. Giddens says that in this dangerous world, careering away towards an unknown future, the only solution is to take risks. Risk is the characteristic of a society that looks to the future. He says that “a positive embrace of risk is the very source of that energy which creates wealth in a modern economy…..Risk is the mobilising dynamic of a society bent on change, that wants to determine its own future rather than leaving it to religion, tradition, or the vagaries of nature.” He clearly sees religion as a refuge from risk, but our mission invites us to a risk beyond his imagining. This is the risk of love. It is the risk of living for the other who might not want me; the risk of living for a fullness of truth, that I cannot capture; the risk of letting myself be hollowed out by yearning for the God whose Kingdom will come. This is most risky and yet most sure

Runaway World. How globalisation is reshaping our lives. London 1999
On the first two stages of mission, cf Robert J Schreiter The New Catholicity. Theology between the global and the local. New York 1997.
Runaway World. How globalisation is reshaping our lives London 1999
I am sure that that is a quote from someone, but I cannot remember whom!
Lettres et Messages d’Algerie Paris, 1996
Who are we now? Christian humanism and the global market from Hegel to Heaney. Edinburgh 1998, p. 120
Aidan Nichols OP The Word has been abroad. Edinburgh 1998 p.1
quoted by R. Harries Art and the Beauty of God: A christian understanding, London 1993, p. 4.
Quoted by S. Hauerwas, Santify them in the truth Edinburgh 1998 p.38
Neil MacGregor Seeing Salvation BBC London 2000 p.49
Hans Kessler “Fulfilment – Experienced for a moment yet Painfully Lacking?” Concilium September 1999. P.103
c.f. Alberto Moreira “The dangerous Memory of Jesus Christ in a post-Traditional society” and Ferdinand D Dagmang “Gratification and Instantaneous Liberation” both in Concilium September 1999
The Theology of Grace Dublin 1974 p. 74f
ibid, p.166
Open to Judgment London 1996, p. 268

Fr. Damian Byrne, OP (1984-1993)

On the 750th Anniversary of the Canonization of St. Dominic (1984)

Letter from the Master of the Order. September 1984

fr. Damian Byrne, O.P.

This year marks the 750th anniversary of the canonization of St. Dominic. In the bull of canonization Pope Gregory IX speaks of St. Dominic’s apostolic sanctity and of the fecundity of his spiritual family. Perhaps our most fitting celebration of this anniversary would be a consideration of these aspects of St. Dominic’s life with reference to our own living out of his ideal today.

Like St. Dominic, we are called, through baptism, to be saints. The Gospel for Ash Wednesday, in calling us to renewal, reminds us of three essential elements of the Christian life: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. The process of canonization of St. Dominic gives evidence of his living these elements with signal intensity.

1. Prayer.

“…beyond all doubt he was very fervent and constant in prayer, more so than any man he had every known.” We notice that St. Dominic, while ever faithful to the obligation of choral prayer, had his own highly personal rhythm of private prayer. “He prayed. more than the other brothers who lived with him, and kept longer vigils”. (John of Spain).

We need to be men and women of prayer in the sense of directing our whole lives to God and in our fidelity to community and private prayer, if we are to know God’s will for us and to fulfill it in practice. This rhythm of prayer will be different for each branch of our family: the cloistered nun, the preacher, the active religious, the lay Dominican, and, indeed, will be different for each person within each group. What is important is that each individual, each group, realizes its need of prayer, establishes a suitable rhythm of prayer and is faithful to it.

2. Fasting.

He was also frugal in eating and drinking, but particularly as regards any special dish.

Each of us needs to examine his or her life style – our eating, drinking, our holidays, our travel. We also need to broaden our outlook on penance in the way that Pope John XXIII did when he said that we must allow ourselves to be scourged, and to scourge ourselves a little, too.

There is a place for self-imposed fasts and penances, but it is the lesser penance. The most important penance comes from without, from the acceptance of the arrangements of others, the difficulties of daily life, the pain that is caused by envy, jealously, gossip, selfishness, intolerance, and lack of forgiveness.

St. Dominic teaches us to care for others, for our companions – “He readily dispensed” others – for sinners. We must look to our own responses and not judge the response of others. “He never heard an evil, hurtful or idle word from the lips of Brothers Dominic.”

3. Almsgiving.

“Moved by compassion and mercy, Brother Dominic sold his books (which he himself had annotated) and other possessions and gave the money to the poor.”

Our Lord teaches us (Mt 3, 5) that the ordinary everyday things are important in discipleship… you gave me food, you came to see me. There is a real and necessary service to others when we enable them to attack the root causes of injustice and oppression. There is a need to devote ourselves to the cause of justice and peace in the very best traditions of the order, but none. of us is absolved from the obligation of personal service to others within and without our communities.

In this context, too, it is important that each community sets aside a percentage of its income for the alleviation of poverty as a normal allocation of our resources. We must also take much more seriously the injunctions of our constitutions with regard to sharing among ourselves, and provincial and general taxation must be clearly seen as part of this sharing among ourselves.

Our Christian commitment is lived out in the Dominican Family. We are inspired by the example of Dominic’s gospel living and we are further inspired by his apostolic zeal.

“It seemed to the witness (John of Spain) that he was more zealous for the salvation of souls that anyone he had every known” and this was shown particularly in his dedication and constancy “in preaching and hearing confessions”.

Our family can never lose these characteristics of our apostolic outreach – St. Dominic wanted his Order to be called, and to be, Preachers. There will be other needs and other stated priorities, but for us everything must be directed towards the salvation of souls, our own and others, through preaching.

Recent general chapters have been very clear in putting Teaching/Research, Justice and Peace, Means of Social Communication and Reaching Out to the Unchurched as four priorities in our apostolic outreach today.

We are not called equally to devote all our energies to one or all of these priorities, nor are we called on to give up traditional apostolates, but we are asked, each of us, to bring something of each of these priorities to everything we do and to examine our present activities, as individuals and communities (convents, congregations, provinces) in the light of these stated priorities. This demands a great deal of listening on the part of each of us, a constant willingness to learn and adapt, and a readiness to avail ourselves of the gifts and insights of others.

In our family, accordingly, great emphasis is placed on community. St. Dominic’s system of government and his own example of accepting the will of his brothers are pointers to the kind of community life we should be living. Normally, it means a group of brethren or sisters living together.

However, I have been present at fruitless discussions where the brethren tried to determine the “ideal” or minimum number for a Dominican community and been more than edified by the adhesion to community ideals of brethren living alone out of obedience for the sake of the apostolate.

But it does seem that the number of brethren, and of sisters, living outside community in getting greater. It asks questions of them as to their commitment to community living and of the rest of us as to the quality of our community life.

The difficulty that some houses and provinces have experienced in getting brethren to accept certain administrative positions as a service to the Order and to the Church is noteworthy and should lead to reflection on the part of us all as to the apostolic value of administration.

Finally, Pope Gregory IX spoke of the fruitfulness of St. Dominic’s family. The list of our saints and blesseds – religious and lay, men and women, married and celibate – is a varied and impressive one and shows how people of different gifts and of different nationalities, in every century, have found fulfillment and the means to holiness within our family. It is no different today.

However, there are two things that recent chapters and congresses have spoken about and that we must not neglect.

The first is the sharing by the whole family in the active apostolate and this entails the promotion and the giving of their rightful place to women and to the laity. The Chapters of Walberberg and Rome have many good insights in this regard.

The second is that we be faithful to the call to Mission that is so marked in the life of St. Dominic. The Congress at Madrid in 1973 marked a great advancement in our thinking on Mission and I hope that the General Chapter at Avila in 1986, when we mark the centenary of our missionary province, will further develop our thinking on Mission and increase our awareness of the missionary dimension of our family.

The Rosary (1985)

Letter from the Master of the Order. September 1985

fr. Damian Byrne, O.P.

“Beat your breasts for the pleasant fields, for the faithful vine, growing up in thorns and briers; until the Spirit is poured upon us from on high and the wilderness becomes a fruitful field.” Isaiah 32: 12-15

The cry of the Prophet may well have come to the lips of Our Holy Father, St. Dominic in Languedoc, as again it comes to many of us in our own times. The land is desolate and needs to be watered from on High.

The Dominican legend of the Rosary – “The barren land”

The order was born into a barren land: dichotomized humanity, with flesh warring against the spirit, with woman downgraded and life itself despised, was unable to accept the reality of the Worst made flesh, dwelling in the midst of us.

There was only one answer, and it was summed up in the simple words: “Hail… the Lord is with you… you will conceive in your womb, and bear a son…” (Luke 1: 28-31).

Whatever critical historians may have to say about the Legend of the Rosary, it bears witness to the charismatic gift entrusted by the Church to the order of Preachers, a gift which we must exercise by reason of profession, by our legislation and by the constant exhortation of the See of Rome.

The Legend, as such, is worth recalling in these days of renewed insistence on our preaching ministry: After much fruitless labour, tradition has it that the Mother of God appeared to Dominic in the forest of Bouconne near Toulouse:

“Wonder not that until now you have had such little fruit from your labours. You have spent them on a barren soil, not yet watered with the dew of divine grace. When God willed to renew the face of the earth he began by sending down the fertilizing dew of the Angelic Salutation. Preach my Rosary composed of one hundred and fifty Aves, and you will obtain an abundant harvest.”

True devotion to Mary

It places Mary in her true ecclesial context – waiting herself in the barren land with the broken, the wounded and the little people of God. The heavenly Ave comes first on her, for in truth the Hail Mary is not so much an ascending prayer as a downward divine blessing poured out on all flesh. Mary stands in the desert on behalf of all humanity, so that it may blossom once more like the rose. The word addressed to Mary is addressed to all: “Rejoice, the Lord is with you.” Here, we all draw waters from the springs of salvation, as the fertilizing rain of the Ave renews our land.

A school of prayer
There is a healthy plurality about the Prayer of the Rosary, for its long and varied history has produced many approaches: it has its rich Marian tradition, as witnessed at thousands of Marian shrines, in processions and in rituals where Mary is crowned as Queen. It has too, its Christological orientation as a “compendium of the Scriptures;” it is a powerful vocal prayer and it is a many levelled way of contemplative prayer. It can be prayed in a group or alone. In a word, the Rosary is a School of prayer, providing for body, soul and spirit.

One thinks of the vast collection of Rosary spirituality from the renowned Alanus de Rupensis, Michael de Insulis and William Pepin down to modern times and embracing the wealth of Papal teaching and the untold wealth of Dominican libraries such as that of Santa Maria Novella in Florence. One work which deserves special mention is “Le Triple Rosaire” by Père Bernard, the seventeenth Century Dominican of Toulouse. Père Bernard deals with the classic three ages of prayer in tree Rosary:

“The Rosary of meditation, or of serious reflection … “The Rosary of intimacy, or of looking in love .. “The Rosary of union, of resting in the Lord and listening in the heart …”

Many who abandoned the Rosary as not in keeping with their spiritual development, would be greatly surprised by original dynamic. Directors of the Rosary would to these well-springs of our Dominican heritage.

A method of preaching
St. Dominic is above all the “Man of the Book.” Art may show him without the beads, but never without the Scriptures. The well known fresco of “Christ mocked” in San Marco is a classic illustration. It contains the main elements of Rosary preaching:

1. The Central theme of the Lordship of Jesus, the subject of our contemplation and of our preaching. This is the suffering, yet triumphant Jesus of “now”, with power still going out from his glorious wounds to heal his people.

2. Mary, the first and supreme contemplative who is already exquisitely occupied in pondering these things in her heart and at the same time inviting Dominic to keep her company.

3. St. Dominic, standing for ourselves, pondering the word in the Scriptures and preparing to preach it to others. Fra Angelico portrays him exactly as Our Lady requested five hundred years later at Fatima when she said: “Keep me company meditating on these mysteries of the Rosary.”

The Gospel of the Votive Mass of the Rosary which we have in the old missal is that of the Sower and the Seed, falling on good and bad ground, ending with the challenge “To you is given to know the mysteries of the Kingdom”. It reminds us of our preaching mission and points to the role of the Rosary in our preaching.

In the golden age of the Rosary, it was common practice to open up any detail of the lives of Jesus and Mary to this preaching of the mysteries of the kingdom. Huge volumes were produced on the lines of a modern Lectionary, entitled: “Annualia” and “Festivalia”, giving a whole panorama of the Gospel. This would explain the old adage: “Rosarium magis est modus praedicandi quam orandi.”

There is scope here for study by future Congresses of the Rosary, such as have taken place in the recent past. Meanwhile it would be well to study the analysis of the Rosary method of preaching set out in Marialis Cultus of Pope Paul VI:

“The Rosary is thus a Gospel prayer, as pastors and scholars like to define it, more today perhaps than in the past.”

“It has also been more easily seen how the orderly and gradual unfolding of the Rosary reflects the very way in which the Word of God, mercifully entering into human affairs, brought about the Redemption…” “It has also been observed that the division of the mysteries of the Rosary into three parts not only adheres strictly to the chronological order of the facts but above all reflects the plan of the original proclamation of the faith and sets forth once more the mystery of Christ in the very way in which it is seen by Saint Paul in the celebrated ‘hymn’ of the Letter to Philippians – kenosis, death and exaltation (2: 6-11)”.

An instrument of healing
Early preachers of the Rosary were concerned not merely with preaching a devotional exercise. They were mindful of the Acts of the Apostles: “Grant to your servants to speak your word with boldness, while you stretch out your hand to heal and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” (Acts 4: 29, 30).

Among the classic texts of their preaching was the story of the woman with the issue of blood. She touched the Lord and experienced power go out from him. Healing was a very real part of the Rosary apostolate of former times. The Preacher would hold up the beads, and invite his hearers to touch the Lord in faith, as they reverently called on the name of Jesus in each Ave. “The beads”, they would say, “are like the tassel of his robe. Reach out and clutch them in faith and you will be made well.”

Bernard of Toulouse would encourage the members of the Rosary Confraternity, to do as members of the Milan confraternity: did “anoint themselves with oil from the lamp burning before the Rosary altar, repeating often the names of Jesus and Mary”. He goes to the trouble of setting down a form of words to be used by the laity themselves when they anoint the sick members in the course of their visits.

The Spanish apostle of New Granada, St. Louis Bertrand, gives a graphic account of the miracles performed through his own use of the beads which he was accustomed to place around the neck of the sick person. After his return to Valencia he gave a Rosary to a friend and told him to preserve it with reverence, “because in the Indies, this Rosary cured the sick, converted sinners, and I think, also raised the dead to life.”

In these days of the new flourishing of the ministry of healing, it would be remiss of us Dominicans to fail in the healing dimension of the Rosary which is an integral part of our tradition.

A fraternity of faith
As early as the year 1486, when Michael de Insulis (Francois de Lille) made his defence of the Rosary Confraternity at the time of public debate in the University of Cologne, the Order of Preachers had espoused the concept of a fellowship in the spirit, as the basis for a solid Rosary devotion. However vague and undocumented the involvement of the Order with the Psalter of Mary itself, its concern for community, for sharing and support has always been part of its Rosary tradition.

Michael de Insulis often used the Vulgate text: “I share with all those who keep your law.” (Psalm 118: 63), while Pépin quoted the words of the Prodigal’s father: “All that is mine is yours…” Membership of the Rosary Confraternity implied a great deal more than having one’s name in a register and promising to say certain prayers. It meant assuming the authority of an elder brother, of knowing how to put the robe of mercy on your brother’s or sister’s back; how to put the shoes of freedom on their feet and the ring of covenant friendship on their finger. Hencetorth all would be one and walk like a prince in the royal household. Cf “Alanus Redivivus”.

Small group apostolate
While we may not be able to rival the great confraternities of the past we do have in these times a veritable explosion of small Rosary Groups all over the world. Strong in faith and bound together by bonds of love and service, these groups display many of the qualities of committed covenant community. In keeping with the terms of Marialis Cultus (Par. 51) they have learnt to integrate into their prayer the four elements mentioned by Pope Paui VI: Scripture, Silence, Song and the Sharing of the fruits of their contemplation. A wealth of meditation literature, and other Scripture-based material has sprung from these groups. They have endeavoured in many instances to build their Rosary around the Eucharist, using the traditional Jesus-clauses in each Hail Mary, so as to make of their prayer a deep communion with the Lord.

Directors of Confraternities would do well to encourage and help these groups and in turn to learn from them. In many instances it may be feasible, in accordance with the norms of the Apostolic Constitution of Pope Leo XIII to invite the group to become affiliated to the legally constituted Confraternity in the local district.

Addressing the issues of the day
In the context of this small group apostolate, as well as in the preaching which must accompany any true Dominican Rosary apostolate many of the issues of our day can be faced up to.

The wounded ones can come for healing; it is good to Know that many of our Dominican colleagues are once again using the Rosary as did St. Louis Bertrand; the spirit of St. Martin who went about with the beads in one hand and bread in the other, is still alive. We hear of women being comforted and strengthened as, like the woman of the Gospel, they find that power goes out from the mysteries of Jesus, in our day as in the days when the Lord walked the earth in the flesh.

It is encouraging to observe that where social and political ideologies may fail, the true devotion of God’s own people brings enlightenment and strength. Genuine Rosary fraternity in our day is manifesting itself as another “Upper Room” experience, as men women and little children wait with Mary and the disciples once again for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, with all the gifts and the fruits of that same Spirit.

In conclusion
A Promoter General of the Rosary has been appointed at the Curia, and all Provincial Promoters are asked to keep in touch with him. It is hoped in due course to have Coordinators for the major language groups to assist him and act as facilitators and resource people for the Rosary personnel of their respective groupings.

It would be well if structures for furthering the Rosary could be reviewed in the light of new found experiences of prayer movements in the world today. Is the model of a rosary-office or bureau adequate for new role of the laity, and the growth of covenant communities? We hear of Priests, religious, and laity forming a Prayer-support community for the Rosary with its varied ministry. These ought to be encouraged and facilitated so as to form a genuine Rosary Confraternity in keeping with our times.

Dominican formation must not neglect the rich heritage of the Order in regard to the history and spirituality of the Rosary. It should enable the student to integrate his studies, especially those of Sacred Scripture, mystical theology and preaching with a future Rosary apostolate. Bearing in mind the references to the Rosary in the New Code of Canon Law, we ought to be foremost in implementing these norms.

It may be timely to recall a remarkable letter addressed to a former Master of the Order by Pope Pius XI. On 7th March, 1934, he wrote:

“It may justly be said that the Rosary of Mary is, as it were, the principle and foundation on which the very Order of St. Dominic rests for the perfecting of the lives of its members, and obtaining the salvation of others.”

Pre-novitiate Formation (1987)

Letter from the Master of the Order. September 1987

fr. Damian Byrne, O.P.

The introduction to the Instruction on the renewal of Religious Life – Renovationis Causam reminds us of the need “to make a better adaptation of the entire formation cycle to the mentality of younger generations and modern living conditions, as also to the present demands of the apostolate” while recognizing the “irreplaceable and privileged role” of the Novitiate “as the first initiation into religious life”. It suggests that its goal cannot be attained, “unless the future novice possesses a minimum of human and spiritual preparation which must be verified but, very often also completed.” “Most of the difficulties encountered today in the formation of novices are usually due to the fact that when they were admitted they did not have the required maturity… all institutes… must attach great importance to this preparation for the novitiate.” (RC4).

In a more recent document the Congregation for Religious reiterates the important role of the pre-novitiate. “Formation is not achieved all at once. The journey from the first to the final response falls broadly into five phases: the pre-novitiate period in which the genuineness of the call is identified as far as possible… “. Here the pre-novitiate is recognized as an integral part of the process of formation. (The Essential Elements in the Church’s Teaching on Religious Life as applied to Institutes dedicated to Works of the Apostolate. Sacred Congregation for Religious and Secular Institutes. Rome 1983 No. 48.)

I would like to share some reflections with you on this initial period of formation, having discussed the matter with the General Council during our meeting 11-13 November, 1986.

Experience suggests that a number of those who enter our novitiates are insufficiently prepared to benefit from it as they ought. The novitiate should come at the moment when the candidate “has reached that degree of human and spiritual maturity which will allow him to respond to this call with sufficient and proper responsibility and freedom” (RC4). This needs careful reflection. In this regard the advice of Fr. Vincent de Couesnongle is instructive: “It is better to defer entry into the novitiate if there are doubts about the maturity of candidates, otherwise brothers will leave the order in greater or lesser numbers during their first years of formation, and this is good for nobody because the fervour of the novitiate or studentate will inevitably suffer.”

Christian Formation

Sometimes, we assume in others our own pattern of belief. While it is often true that young people have a much wider knowledge than those of a similar age of ten or fifteen years ago, it is not always accompanied by an equivalent Christian formation. Their life of faith is often based on an elementary knowledge of doctrine in contrast to their knowledge of the secular.

This is not only a concern regarding those entering religious life. It is a concern of the whole Church, and should be a concern for Dominicans as preachers.

To enhance Christian formation and to impart doctrinal knowledge must be one of the chief concerns of the pre-novitiate. “Teach me goodness, and discipleship and knowledge.”

“Perfectae Caritatis” reminds us that the “fundamental norm of religious life is a following of Christ as proposed by the Gospel .” Meeting the Jesus of the Gospel is basic to any formation that is called Christian. The Gospel’s Word shapes the thought, the behaviour and action of the candidates and initiates them into discipleship in Christ. It also initiates them into the Jesus spirituality of the Order.

The Rhythm and Tempo of Modern Life

The rhythm and tempo of religious life, however carefully adapted, and the rhythm and tempo of secular life are different. Transition to the religious state needs a certain delicacy of understanding of younger people and their world. The Pre-Novitiate permits a gradual transition from lay life allowing the time for a gradual spiritual and psychological adjustment, and prepares them for the necessary changes they must make on entering religious life. It also gives them a period of independence from their families and from the Order.

Development of Human Values

One of the important benefits of a pre-novitiate is the opportunity it gives candidates to develop their human values so that they begin to accept responsibility for themselves and can appreciate their own strengths and weaknesses.

This leads me to reflect on the policy of recruiting candidates immediately after schooling to the novitiate or directly from apostolic schools or minor seminaries. “Renovationis Causam”, has already questioned the wisdom of such a policy. It asks, whether it is not more advisable, ” in order to assure better preparation for the novitiate by a fitting period of probation in order to develop the human and emotional maturity of the candidate.” (R.C.4).

Before they enter the novitiate – young people need to develop a certain independence in the responsible use of material things. Secondly they need the space to develop the power of decision making. Thirdly, they need the time to develop normal relationships with others – both men and women. It would be a mistake if candidates entered the novitiate before these had been adequately developed. There is a danger that premature recruitment to the novitiate might leave unresolved the issues which ownership, the exercise of personal autonomy and coming to terms with one’s sexuality imply. The Pre-novitiate year should help to clarify these issues. Furthermore, in their living together, it should help candidates in developing on-going relationships as a preparation for community life and help them to appreciate the gift of human friendship and the choice of celibacy.

To enable candidates to develop these qualities the climate of the pre-novitiate must provide sufficient freedom for them to do so. To overstructure the pre-novitiate or turn it into a mini-novitiate would defeat the whole purpose of the pre-novitiate programme.

Place and Duration of the Pre-Novitiate

The time, form and location of the pre-novitiate period is to be determined by the Provincial Chapter or by the Provincial and his Council cf. (LCO 167).

For myself, I agree with the recommendation in R.C. that it should not be in the novitiate house, and concur with the suggestion, that it might be in a house other than one in which the regular life of the Order is observed, so that the pattern of life can be better adjusted to the growth of the candidates and the needs of this transition period.

The thirty three replies which we have received from various entities of the Order indicate a wide variety of pre-novitiate programmes. For some the emphasis is on developing human and spiritual maturity and a time to complete the Christian education of candidates. For others it is a period used to complete their formal education, study languages and even study philosophy’. Still others put the emphasis on choral office and initiation into Dominican Life. All of these elements may be valid in a particular programme but the emphasis must be on the human and christian development of the candidate and the giving of space to each individual to have a certain independence as explained under the paragraph on human values. Hopefully, a healthy independence will lead to a healthy interdependence. I hope that what I have said above may help to clarify any misunderstanding that may exist regarding pre-novitiate formation. It is not religious life but a preparation for same.

I find it hard to see that the pre-novitiate can achieve its purpose in less than a year. Likewise some form of living together seems to be desirable. For many candidates, it is their first experience of living and adjusting to a 1ife lived with others in community.

Entrance into the Novitiate

The work of the pre-novitiate is completed by the procedures which lead to entry into the novitiate. These are outlined for us in LCO 170. Many of the requests for dispensation from vows might have been avoided if greater care had been taken at this stage. While it would be too much to expect that all those who enter remain, there should be positive signs of hope that those who join will remain. At the same time, we should recognize that growth in religious life is a gradual process. None of us became religious overnight.

As part of this process a number of provinces engage the help of those qualified in psychology. This is a delicate matter and the rights of the individual must be carefully respected, (cf. Can. 646, 220). Such help can be extremely useful in guiding candidates in their future growth as human beings and religious and in guiding the admissions board – the right of admitting candidates remains with the province LCO 171.

LCO 155 clearly outlines the hope of the Order in the whole process of formation when it says:

“To engage in formation profitably, on the part of the candidate the following qualifications are required: physical health, psychological maturity proportionate to his age, suitability for social life, a consistently sound Christian life, aptitude, the right intention, and the free will of consecrating himself to God and the Church in the Dominican way of life.”

Fostering Vocations

The work of fostering vocations is the duty of every member of the Order. It is not to be left to the vocation promoters alone. If we believe in ourselves we must promote vocations. Fidelity to prayer, the witness of our lives, the witness of preaching, all contribute to this. But we must also actively pursue vocations. Dominic didn’t wait for young men to come to him. He went out to meet them, visiting students in their hostels and calling young men to join the Order, Frequently in his letters to Diana, Jordan of Saxony, requested her prayers that “others will join us”… and “for your part pray to the Lord that he may turn hope into reality.” Can we do less?

To be indifferent to vocations is to refuse life. Fr. Vincent reminded us that “just as there are families who do not want any children, there are also communities who discourage the young because they are afraid they will have to change their own life style.” I repeat his words.

Vocations are slowly recovering in certain parts of Europe and North America and continue to grow in Africa, Asia, Central and South America and the Pacific. Indigenous vocations must be encouraged and fostered everywhere. Writing to the King of Spain in 1525 Rodrigo de Albornez said that one indigenous vocation would be more effective than fifty missionaries. An exaggeration? Perhaps. Yet, no one understands the mind, the heart, the thought patterns of a people like one of themselves. Every community needs its own religious and priests. In countries where there are different communities, based on culture, language… we should have the courage to take the initiative in fostering vocations from among these peoples.

The Order still waits to be restored in countries where it once flourished and in other countries it waits to be established. It is sacrificial work but there is no life worthy of the name, which does not demand sacrifice.

In conclusion, many provinces have done a great deal and made many sacrifices in money, personnel, in all kinds of resources to discover what is best for initial formation in the pre-novitiate, novitiate and years of study. The experience of these past years shows that those provinces which have developed carefully thought-out formation programmes have stability in the Houses of Formation and can face the future with confidence.

How often we talk about our survival but do we have the courage to ask – survival for what? Our response to this question will determine the importance we give to formation in all its stages. The quality of the next generation of Dominicans will depend on the example and training that is given those entering today. In this process pre-novitiate formation has a key role.

The Laity and the Mission of the Order (1987)

Letter of the Master of the Order. November 1987

fr. Damian Byrne, O.P.

The General Chapter celebrated at Avila established a special commission to study the role of the laity in our apostolate. In this way the Chapter reflected on the increasing importance of the laity in the Church, particularly since the Second Vatican Council. This Capitular Commission commissioned the Master of the Order, “to write to the Friars and all the Dominican Family about the role of the laity in our apostolate and about the Dominican Laity in the world today.” (n. 95).

This present letter responds to this commission of the Chapter. It is a tribute to all the Dominican Family for its achievements in this important ecclesial area, and, at the same time, a fraternal appeal to all the members of our family to intensify their concern and work in this new ecclesial area.

1. The Awakening of the Laity, a New Ecclesial Sign

The Second Vatican Council reflected on a new ecclesial sign – namely – the awakening of the laity to a new period of co-responsibility and sense of community. The words of the Council recognized this new period in the Church and at the same time invited the whole Church to continue along this way. The Synod of Bishops on the Laity has picked up again the authoritative voice of the Council and has pointed out new lines and goals to re-enforce the vocation and mission of the laity.

The awakening of the laity to ministry and ecclesial co-responsibility is a sign of the times with a deep theological significance. The declarations of the Council and Synod are only the reflection of an historical event while is taking place everywhere in all the local churches. It is an event of the universal church.

Review with me some facts present in this actual moment of the church:

(a) Conscious of their Christian mission and apostolic responsibility, the local churches, many of them young churches, are gaining special vitality due in great part to active co-responsibility of the laity, men and women. The efforts in re-vitalization, re-organization, inculturation, missionary renewal… are frequently urged and put into practice by laity in dialogue and in collaboration with their pastors.

(b) This fact of a progressive diversification of the ministries assumed by laity in their Christian communities is of singular importance. The number of lay people that discover and take up specific ministries (institutional and non-institutional) is greater everyday. In many cases their ministries are recognized and approved by their pastors. The number of laity dedicated to the work of catechesis and evangelization, to theological reflection and teaching, to the presidency and animation of the community, to administration and social services, to engagement in struggles for justice and peace in the world etc. is growing. These ministries are carried out not only with goodwill, but also those who are engaged in them assume responsibility for formation preparation and adequate training.

(c) From a theological, ecclesial and pastoral point of view, the fact that an increasing leadership is being assumed by the laity is extremely significant. It is not simply leadership that substitutes for the absence of a priest or pushes him aside, rather it is the leadership of lay people, who by special charism and grace feel themselves called to become the animators of their Christian communities in prayer, in the sharing of the Word, and in social and political engagements… In the works of charity and justice. These lay leaders point to a new period both in the conception and the function of authority in the Christian community.

(d) In the awakening of the laity to their role in the church and in society, the presence of women after centuries of silence and marginality, acquires singular importance and attention. The natural talents and special charism of women infuses a new vitality in the christian community and reveals a new face of christian experience. Their sense of the concrete, their feminine sensitivity, their motherhood, their persistence in facing difficultie… reveal hidden aspects of the Word of God, of Christian communion, of the experience of the Reign of God.

These phenomena present in the church today have produced an increasing collaboration between laity, religious and priests in different fields of ecclesial life. Increasingly the friars and sisters share their lived and apostolic projects with other religious and laity, men and women, married and single. The laity are not simple receivers of our mission; they share with us – and we with them – this very responsibility in the christian community.

Faced with this ecclesial reality it is necessary for us Dominicans to ask ourselves some questions: How do we feel and how do we react to this awakening of the laity? Do we assume willingly this fact? Do we ignore it with our own self-sufficiency? Do we reject it because of false fears? What are our attitudes and our actions in relationship to the laity? What place does the laity have in our apostolic ministry, in the elaboration and realization of our apostolic projects? To feel with the church today means, among other things, that we ask these questions and answer them sincerily.

2. Theological Keys for a Christian Reflection

Theological reflection has turned to the signs of the times in order to read, interpret and discern the demands of the Word of God and of christian experience. To do theology or to preach puts the Word of God in contact with the historical situations of people. The fidelity to our rich theological tradition requires us to listen attentively and discern this new ecclesial sign of the times. We cannot forget that it was our own brothers as theologians at Vatican II, who developed a new theology of laity and of ministry in the christian community.

(a) The first key to reflection on the laity and on their mission in the Church is given to us by Vatican II’s ecclesiology. It changed the emphasis from a legal- institutional definition of the church towards a theological conception and definition. The critical category of this new definition is “the People of God”: the church is the new people of God called by faith in the Risen Lord and sealed by baptism in Jesus Christ. At present there is a certain insistence that communio, and not people of God, better expresses the nature of the church. However, the Vatican Council and the much older Gaelic tradition are in favour of the ‘People of God’ definition. All baptized participate with full rights in this vocation and mission. All are people of God, active and responsible members of the church for its mission.

(b) This ecclesial conception of the Council leads us to a new conception of ministry and ministries in the church. All ministries and charisms are God’s gifts through the community. Here we find the second important key for our theological reflection. The subject of ministry is the christian community. Each of the baptized shares this dimension of ministry. The diversification of ministries is the expression of the ministerial dimension in the community.

(c) A third key for our reflection obliges us to revise our traditional theologies of ministry. I refer to criteria of validation and organization of them. The very sacred character of the liturgical actions and the strong association between priestly ministry and authority in the church have conditioned us to adapt a sacred and liturgical point of view to give preference to these ministries. In this way the functions and ministries associated with cult occupy the first place in our theological value system, while more secular ministries are relegated to a secondary place. This must change. Remembering St. Paul’s advice to the Corinthians, it is necessary to recover the communitarian criteria to validate and give preference to charism and ministry. Charisms and ministries take on more importance for the christian in the measure that they build up the christian community.

This third theological key helps to overcome the traditional dualism and in many cases false oppositions between priesthood and the laity. It is worth recalling the words of Père Congar on this matter:

The church is not built up merely by acts of the official ministers of the presbytery but many kinds of services, more or less stable or occasional, more or less spontaneous or recognized, some consecrated by sacramental ordination. These services exist – they exist even if they are not called by their real name, ministries, even if they do not yet have their true place and status in ecclesiology… Eventually one sees that the decisive pair is not “priesthood-laity”… but much more that of ministries or services and community. [Ministères et communion ecclésiale. (Paris, 1971), pp. 9, 17, 19].

It also helps us to understand the diversification and the distributions of charisms and ministries among all the members of the community, ordained and lay, male and female. Finally and perhaps more importantly, it helps us to accept the deep Christian meaning of the ministries done by the baptized in the search of a more human, more loving and more just society: promotion, assistance, defense of human rights, etc.

These theological keys must stimulate reflection and theological discernment rooted in our apostolic and ecclesial practices.

Today theology offers us sure directions of reflection and also many questions which are difficult in relation to ministry. It is still the mission of Dominicans to offer the christian community the ministry and charism of theological discernment if we want to be faithful to our tradition. But our theological reflection will not be fruitful if it is separated from our christian, ecclesial and apostolic action.

3. Challenges and Engagements for the Dominican Family

The heart of the Dominican charism must be found in preaching, in the kerigma of the Word of God. To be a Dominican is to be a preacher. This is the primary concern of the Dominican project. Yet, this announcement is something more than a verbal discourse that passes through a catechesis, homily, or religious teaching. It takes shape in any word or in any historical action that manifests the salvific event in the midst of human history. The specific place of encounter between the Dominicans and the laity is exactly in the charism and ministry of preaching. The Dominican family is called to be a community of preaching in which its members are active and co-responsible – friars, sisters, and laity – with diversified ministries and charisms.

The Order was born at a historical moment of special ecclesial crisis and at the same time of extraordinary vitality. It was a moment of the awakening of lay movements and this influenced the foundational project of the mendicant Orders and created a new conception of the church, beyond the limits of parishes and dioceses. All through its history the Order has significant experiences which can help us to understand this new time for the laity: the incorporation of the Third Order into the Dominican project, the evolution of the functions and ministries of the Cooperator Brothers, the incorporation of numerous female congregations into its mission… The memory of these facts is a challenge for these new times.

Though this is sometimes difficult, here are some possibilities we could adapt. Today, I believe that our communities are called to inaugurate and re-enforce new ecclesial practices that channel the laity into collaboration in ministry of the church. The practice of sharing prayer with the laity offers them the richness of a prayer that has the strength of centuries, at the same time it receives from them the novelty and freshness of new christian experiences. Some of our communities could be revitalized by sharing responsibility for our prayer with the laity. In fact, we have some fine examples of this type of renewal already in the Order.

It is also necessary to begin and support new models in formation which are shared with the laity. This cannot be oriented in one direction, it has to be a communitarian reflection. God’s Word is not in chains: it is open to the intellect of all the believers who are attentive and listen. We can offer the richness of our own theological formation but we must learn to listen so that we can be enriched in dialogue with other believers.

Our apostolic work also must be revised and redirected in the light of these new perspectives of ministry to be able to respond adequately to a new ecclesial relationship with the laity. These works must animate new forms of exercising authority and leadership in a more collegial manner. We must find new ways of sharing the planning of apostolic projects, new ways to actualize them in co- responsibility, to diversify the functions and ministries in our apostolic work… The cause of the gospel must take priority over our routines, comforts, and our fears. A Dominican community in situations of mission and itinerancy is a community open to the present and the future of the church in society.

The Chapter of Avila (n. 85A) reflected on the restlessness which exists among our Dominican Laity. They are faced with a particular problem at the present time: in their fraternities there is a notable absence of younger persons, and hence a certain lack of vitality. Could this perhaps be at least in part a result of unawareness of the teaching of the Church since Vatican II on the subject, and hence a failure to put it into practice?

The same problem was analyzed in the Congress of the Dominican Laity, which took place in Montreal in 1985. Confronted with this situation we have to rethink and reorientate the Dominican Laity in relationship to the new ecclesial practices and new theological keys in reference to place and mission of the laity in the world and in the Church.

4. Pathways to the Future

Our brothers and sisters progressively are entering this new way of Dominican ministry which is in favour of a Church, which is constantly emerging. Many have already begun and are the stimulus for the Dominican Family. This new approach to ministry is making our Dominican vocation more credible today. It is an opportunity for renewing our Order, this awakening of the laity offers us a new frontier to cross. To make this crossing we must have courage. The future of the Church and of our Dominican Family demands much of us, the reasons not to act at times can offer us a false security but as John the Baptist the first preacher of Jesus Christ, reminds us that, “I must decrease so that He may increase.” (John 3:30). As Jesus, the grace of God, lives in each of the faithful so he increases, when they proclaim Him until the end of time. May the memory of St. Dominic give us the courage to engage in this new ecclesial sign.

The Challenge of Evangelization Today (1988)

Letter from the Master of the Order. October 1988

fr. Damian Byrne, O.P.

As some of our congregations and provinces decline in number, there is a danger that we become rather inward looking, self-protective and insular and the impulse to evangelization weakens in us. Where this is so, it is important to set before ourselves – and those in formation – the challenge of Evangelization.

Speaking of the early Dominicans, Honorius III said: “The Brothers of this order are totally deputed to evangelization.” A striking statement. But it is no less striking than that of Paul VI in 1970 when he reminded us that: “the Dominican order would undoubtedly sin against itself if it turned away from this missionary duty”, or the assertion of fr. Vicaire that the Order was the “first truly missionary Institute in the history of the Church.”

Our present understanding of evangelization has been transformed by the insights of Vatican II, Evangelii Nuntiandi and the intense reflection of recent years.

Before Vatican II the thrust of evangelization put emphasis on bringing the Gospel to the non-Christian, a movement from the center to the periphery. Today this ‘movement has been enriched by another movement; from the periphery to the center in which the “new churches” give witness and in their turn help to evangelize “older churches”. Europe now learns from Latin America, Africa and the churches in Asia. We have entered a stage of listening to one another, a coresponsibility of all for all.

Conscious of this movement and the challenge it presents we are also enriched by Dominic’s original vision, his enthusiasm for evangelization.

Dominic’s unfolding Vision

Dominic’s burning passion for the salvation of all left a powerful impression on those who were his closest associates. The young William of Kontferrat tells us, that “Dominic was filled with a greater zeal for the salvation of all than anyone else I have ever met.” “So both agreed and even promised each other that when Brother Dominic had organized his Order and I had studied theology for two years, we would go away together and do all that we could to convert the pagans, in Prussia and in other lands of the North.”

Statements such as these are to be found in many of the depositions made at the process of canonization. Jordan of Saxony echoes them in the Libellus when he says: “… with all his energy and with passionate zeal, (Dominic) set himself to win all the souls he could for Christ. His heart was full of an extraordinary, almost incredible yearning for the salvation of everyone”. Jordan also tells us: “He had a special prayer which he often made to God, that God would grant him true charity, which would be effective in caring for and winning the salvation of all; he thought he would only really be a member of Christ’s Body when he would spend himself utterly with all his strength in the winning of souls.

Dominic never achieved his ambition to be a missionary to the non-Christian world but he directed the Order to this path. At the Chapter of 1221 it was decided to send bands of Dominicans to three different territories beyond the frontiers of Christendom. Those who were sent with Paul of Hungary asked to go to the Cumans thus fulfilling Dominic’s ambition. It was the Chapter that made these decisions but the inspiration came from Dominic.

Dominic’s Method of Evangelization

William of Montferrat tells us; “Many times we talked about the means of salvation for ourselves and others.” Dominic developed precise convictions about the way in which evangelization should take place. As in so many other areas, these often ran counter to the accepted ideas about evangelization at the time.

1. Preaching in Poverty on the Apostolic Model.

We know the exact moment when this conviction was first manifested and became his own personal way of preaching God’s Word. It was June 1206 when Diego and Dominic met the Cistercian legates at Montpellier. Discouraged by the apparent failure of their preaching they turned to the bishop for advice. His comment was: “I do not think that you are setting about this in the right way. In my opinion you will never be able to bring these people back to the faith by talking to them, because they are much more inclined to be swayed by example.” For the heretics a preacher of preacher of the Gospel was one who lived according to the apostolic model. Diego and Dominic made this their own personal way of preaching and Dominic continued to develop the method after Diego’s death, His intuition came from the connection in the Gospels, between mission and the form of life enjoined by Christ. Dominic’s principal commitment was to preach the Gospel. “His own personal vocation was something more definite still: to bring the Gospel to far-distant people who had not received it.”

2. Itinerancy – Apostolic Mobility.

Apostolic mobility was a key element in Dominic’s evangelical method. In this too, he wanted to conform his life to that of Christ. Even in houses of the order he had no room that he could call his own. This mobility was an apostolic tool which enabled him to be with and among people. Fr. Vicaire is careful to note that “if his ministry was universal in the type of person addressed and in the immediate success he hoped for, his plan of action was precise. It was contact by preaching not by involvement in the localised pastoral activity.”

3. The Role of Communion with the Church.

When Diego and Dominic went to Rome in 1206 they requested the Pope to permit them to devote themselves to a mission among the people of Northern Europe. He refused. It must have been a painful obedience as it appeared to run counter to their apostolic inspiration. And yet without these acts of obedience there would have been no Order. Furthermore, had they received permission, they would probably have become part of the missionary movement current in Northern Europe at the time – a method based on conquest. It was not the model of evangelization envisaged by Dominic or the first Dominican missionaries. They wanted no support from any army. Dominic and the order could so easily have become a part of a missionary movement which tied evangelization to conquest. Obedience saved them from this. They rejected this form of evangelization in favour of a method based on that of the apostles – preaching in poverty, independent of the civil power.

In a letter to the order in 1970 Cardinal Villot described Dominic as being “stupifyingly free.” For Dominic freedom of spirit was not an accident but a deliberate choice.

Dominic’s convictions about evangelization are mirrored in what Paul VI says about the means of Evangelization in E.N. 40-48.

Mission to the World

Under Dominic’s successors the frontiers of evangelization expanded to include the world. This occurred in two phases – that which followed Dominic’s death and that which coincided with the great maritime discoveries of the 15th and 16th centuries.

On Dominic’s death Jordan of Saxony established missions in North Africa and the Middle East. Raymond of Penyafort opened schools for the study of oriental languages and Islamic studies and a succession of Popes entrusted the order with new areas for evangelization.

The second phase began with the discovery of the Americas and the sea routes to Asia. It is a good story but it is not all good. On the 15th July, 1582, Paul Constabile, the then Master of the order wrote saying that the Dominicans had fallen behind in their missionary activity. It was in response to this letter that the Dominicans of the Rosary Province began work in Asia. It is from among these early missionaries that the Japanese and Vietnamese martyrs were drawn.

The Japanese and Vietnamese Martyrs

On 18th October last year, John Paul II canonized Lorenzo Ruiz, a Filipino layman and fifteen companions. The Decree of Beatification in 1980 noted: “in one way or another all… belong to the Order of Preachers.” They comprised two catechists, two women members of the Dominican Laity, two Lay brothers novices and nine priests together with Lorenzo who was a member of the Rosary Confraternity. Nine were Japanese, four Spanish and one each from the Philippines, Italy and France reflecting the international character of the missionaries.

As I write this letter, the canonization of the Vietnamese martyrs is about to take place. They include 10 members off: the Dominican Laity, 3 Tertiary Priests, 6 Dominican Bishop and 16 priests.

These events coincide with the celebration of the 4th centenary of the Rosary Province in the Orient. Thirty-two of the new saints were members of the province.

When Humbert of Romans appealed for volunteers for the mission in 1255 he noted that two things tended to inhibit the brethren from volunteering for the work of evangelization. “One is an ignorance of languages, the study of which, scarcely any brother will undertake, the majority preferring to exercise their intellects on all sorts of novelties rather than study what would be really useful… The other obstacle is love of one’s country… ” A noteworthy aspect of the canonizations this year is the insistence that was placed at the time on learning the languages of the people. Missionaries were given six months to learn the local language. If they did not succeed, they were sent home.

Another striking feature was their use of music and drama in evangelization – their dependence on the Word of God alone, and a refusal to be identified with the colonial power.

Fourthly, there was their opposition to slavery and all forms of injustice and greed and the insistence of men like Domingo de Salazar that those who had been enslaved should receive restitution.

Striking too was their closeness to the peoplethey evangelized and their loyalty and support for one another during their imprisonment and trial. They made community with one another. When Magdalena of Nagasaki heard that Jordan Esteban had been imprisoned she immediately gave herself up to the authorities that she might share his martyrdom. Her only crime was that she had given them hospitality. We celebrated these men and women and we recognize that in these canonizations there is a message for us today.

At the same time we are aware that, today, we cannot work in precisely the same way, for the methods of evangelization change according to the times.

Before Vatican II, evangelization tended to have a geographical and juridical significance. The first Missionary Congress of Brothers and Sisters held at Madrid in 1973 passed several resolutions with regard to this which are now summed up in LCO 112.

Geographical and Juridical Models

These models identified evangelization with work in non Christian countries and certain countries were identified as mission territories. But the widespread growth of secularism which denies the place of God in human life has created the need for a second evangelization in many Christian countries. And indifference to the faith and the spread of unbelief among the baptized presents an urgent need for an evangelization directed to the baptized. Closely related to this is the challenge of consumerism and the consumer mentality which tends to make the pursuit of pleasure the supreme value in human life, cf. E.N. 55.

Another weakness, is that those who worked in mission territories, irrespective of the work they engaged in, were termed missionaries. Evangelii Nuntiandi corrected this in stating that “there is no true evangelization, if the name, the teaching, life, the promises, the kingdom and the mystery of Jesus of Nazareth are not proclaimed”, (E.N.22.). This is the criterion for judging whether we are truly evangelizers or not.

While conscious of the limitations of such models there is still an urgent need to proclaim the Good News to those who have not received it. Faithful to the memory of St. Dominic, we Dominicans should continue to seek to work in those countries which are beyond the borders of western culture. Asia, home to 60% of the world’s population, immediately springs to mind, as does Africa and parts of the Americas.

New and Emerging Models of Evangelization

Evangelii Nuntiandi reminded us that “the methods of evangelization change according to the times…” (E.N.40). As a response to this, new models of evangelization have begun to emerge.

There is the realization that as we approach the end of the second millennium of Christianity the progress of evangelization over 2,000 years has been extremely limited. Catholics account for just 18% of the world’s population. While the structures of the Church exist almost everywhere, the saving message of Jesus has not been universally, or indeed, widely accepted. Evangelization remains as urgent a task today as in the time of St. Dominic.

Building the kingdom involves a struggle with all those things that obstruct its growth – sin in all its forms. In one society, it may be characterized by a struggle with the unjust structures that oppress people, in another it may involve a struggle with the corrosive influence of a creeping materialism and consumer mentality. As a consequence, evangelization must necessarily develop different facets according to the circumstances in which it is conducted. The message of Jesus, the promise of salvation and the kingdom will be the same but the message will be contextualized in that it will respond in a specific way to the challenges presented by this or that situation. This discernment requires a sensitive awareness among evangelizers.

The complexity of modern society suggests that those who devote themselves to the work of evangelization need the assistance of those skilled in the social sciences to enable them to respond in a meaningful way. Not every vicariate, province or congregation is able tai supply such skilled personnel. If we do not have such skills among ourselves, we should seek them from others, in the Church or the secular world. Our history instructs us in this new orientation. The Chapter of 1232 discouraged the study of pagan philosophers and the secular sciences among Dominicans. Within twenty years of taking this decision Thomas and Albert saw the need for such study and another Chapter reversed the decision. Today we need the help of those skilled in social psychology, cultural anthropology, comparative religions… to help us devise new methods of evangelization for today. A failure to avail ourselves of such skills will impoverish the work we do.

In this regard, I wish to state the need for on-going or permanent formation, the need for a sabbatical year for evangelizers. There is a marked difference between those provinces and vicariates who have accepted the need for such formation and have made the necessary sacrifices to implement such a policy and those provinces which have not done so.

In his work on the “Offices of the Order”, Humbert of Romans remarks that it is the duty of the Master to have a “special care and fervent zeal” in promoting the work of evangelization. In this regard he adds that it is the duty of the Master to see that there is always some writing regarding the beliefs of other peoples. If I were to pick out one area in which the order has fallen behind today in evangelization it is the lack of theological reflection on the whole question of mission in the Church and absence of a Dominican contribution, with a few exceptions, to the search for new methods of evangelization urged on the Church by John Paul II. The document on Mission from the Avila Chapter benefited greatly from the presence of a number of theologians involved in Evangelization.


Intimately connected with the search for new methods of evangelization is the question of culture. In the colonial era evangelization tended to be identified with the culture of the colonizer. The success of evangelization often appeared to bear a relationship to the success with which she culture of the colonizer penetrated and transformed the culture of the colonized. Where this process was successful the progress of evangelization was likewise numerically successful. But where the implantation of the colonizing culture was superficial, the numerical growth of Christianity was likewise limited. The rapid christianization of the Americas in the 16th century was in marked contrast to the progress of evangelization in Asia but as long as the relationship between evangelization and the culture of the colonist bore fruit there was little reflection on its side effects, in particular, the alienation of Christian communities from their cultural roots, and identification of Christianity with an alien culture.

Today, the relationship between the Gospel and culture has become the focus of intense reflection. Reflection focuses not only on the content of evangelization but, in particular, upon the way it is communicated (c.f., E.N.20).

While it is easy to speculate about inculturation, it is extremely difficult to put it into reality. There is no such thing as a disembodied Christianity. Wherever Christianity exists it is incarnate in a culture – either the culture of the people among whom the Christian community lives or that of the evangelizes: It presupposes a special sensitivity on the part of the evangelizer to evangelize in a culture other than his/her own.

What is certain is that the progress of evangelization has been hampered by a failure to appreciate other cultures. “Our first task in approaching another people, another culture, another religion” says Kenneth Cragg, “is to take off our shoes for the place we are approaching is holy. Else we may find ourselves treading on people’s dreams. More seriously still, we may forget that God was there before we arrived.”

Inculturation is a continuing challenge urged upon us by the Holy Father. If its implications are not as yet fully understood, we should nevertheless be a part of that ecclesial search.

To assist this process of inculturation provinces might consider the possibility of those destined for the mission pursuing part of their studies and formation in the countries where they will be working, (c.f. LCO. 119).

Collaboration in Evangelization

The decline in numbers throughout the Order over the past twenty years has been most severely experienced in the emerging churches. Provinces which once sent big numbers too evangelize in other countries are no longer able to do so. This has led to an acute shortage ref key personnel in number of mission vicariates and provinces. In certain cases the addition of just two or three would alleviate a critical situation.

The great need of the order in some vicariates and provinces urges me to make a direct appeal to the brethren throughout the order. I urge you to discern in community those who are able and willing to engage in inculturated evangelization in the context of another country that as an order we may witness to the greater universality of the Church. The international character of the Japanese martyrs, drawn from five different countries, is a lesson for us. Today, there is a similar need for an international approach to the work of evangelization.

It is time, too to examine the possibility of more collaboration between entities who have small numbers.

If a small Province/Vicariate tries to have all its own formation it must ask itself several questions:

(1) Has it sufficient and suitable formators?

(2) Is it putting the needs of the formandi in the first place?

(3) Are the studies sufficient to enable the students become good doctrinal and prophetic preachers open to the needs of the times?

(4) Is it sufficiently appreciative of the international character of the Order?

Likewise I urge those working in the developed countries of the North to become evangelizing communities. The recent Acts of the Province of England state: “we regard all of our houses as mission stations from which we may exercise our vocation as heralds of the Gospel of Christ.”

Collaboration with the Sisters and the Laity

In 1968 fr. Aniceto Fernandez wrote to the Dominican sisters throughout the world in response to enquiries concerning their place in the order. He wrote: “The time has now come to examine our relationships carefully. In this modern world where our Saviour has put us together to carry on his great work of salvation, we are called to embrace together the spirit and tradition bequeathed to us by St. Dominic, to search together and to build together our communities of brothers and sisters in the service of the Church.” Fr. Aniceto speaks of the sisters as equals and invites them to search together with the brothers for the best way of carrying out their apostolate.

Much has been achieved in the intervening years – collaboration in formation, pastoral ministry, teaching at the University level, preaching, jointly run conference and retreat centers… The president of one of our finest faculties of theology is a sister. Wherever such collaboration has been realized, despite initial difficulties, there has been mutual enrichment. And we are only beginning.

Since 1968, successive Chapters and Mission Congresses have urged cooperation in formation, joint preparation of future missionaries, in the ministry of the word, retreats, promotion of vocations, in the work of justice and peace, common prayer, teaching.

Likewise I urge on you the need for collaboration with the laity in the work of evangelization. Again our history is instructive. The first efforts of Bartolome de Las Casas to evangelize the people of Venezuela ended in failure. Later in Guatemala in an area called “The Land of War” because of the ferocity of its people he evolved a completely new method of evangelization. He and his colleagues first mastered the language composing verses in the dialect of the people about creation, the fall and redemption and taught them to Christian Indian traders who penetrated the mountains, sang them and aroused the curiosity of the people to hear more. The laity were the key to the first evangelization of Guatemala.

To this day it is interesting to visit the shrine of our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico on the feast in December and see the people re-enact in song and drama the story of creation and redemption.

In conclusion, let me repeat once again what was stated at Quezon City: “What lies before us at this time is a challenge to become what St. Dominic had begun; a family joined in unity of life and complementarity of service to the Church and the world.” This has particular application in the work of evangelization.

On Common Life (1988)

Letter of the Master of the Order. November 1988

fr. Damian Byrne, O.P.

In my visits to the Order throughout the world, it has become evident to me that our greatest need at this time, is to intensify our understanding and compliance with the essential elements of our community life.

Our community life, no more than our study, is not an end in itself. The Fundamental Constitution (IV) reminds us that the order “is known from the beginning to have been instituted especially for preaching and the salvation of souls”. It reminds us that “we also undertake… the life of the apostles” as a means towards this end for the salvation of souls, insisting that our preaching and teaching must proceed from an abundance of contemplation.”

I wish to suggest two reasons for the present situation with regard to our community life:

1. With the insights of the Council and of the recent General Chapters of the order has come a questioning of some of the structures of the Church and the Order. This has included an examination of the structures of our community life.

As a consequence, some structures have been abolished or ignored because they no longer held any meaning for many of us. However, we sometimes lost sight of the underlying values of the Gospel and of regular life that these structures preserved and promoted in the past. It is not our task now to return to these old structures but rather to enunciate clearly the essential values of our life as found in the Constitutions and traditions and in the teachings of the Church.

It will also be necessary on a personal, community, provincial and on the level of the order as a whole to arrive at the necessary structures to enable us to maintain and live up to these essential values of community life.

2. A second factor which militates against community life is the great need of the Church in the directly pastoral field and the many calls that are made on us as individuals and communities to fill them.

We cannot solve all the pastoral problems of the Church and if we try to do so we will continue to seriously affect our dedication to community. Our best service to the Church is precisely as religious being faithful to our charism of preaching which proceeds from our community life. While we are not monks and our recent General Chapters have been careful to emphasize for example, regular observances rather than monastic observances, it is still true as Fr. Congar says. “that there is a marked trait of the monastic spirit in the Dominican vocation”, (Called to Life, p. 3). We ignore this trait at our peril.

We are on a pilgrimage of faith. None of us has reached the end of that pilgrimage. Each can help the other on that journey we make together. Accordingly, with the consent of the General Council, I suggest six aspects of Dominican Community Life for your reflection and implementation.

1. Prayer

The renewal of community life means that above all else our communities must be communities of prayer. The life of prayer was an essential part of Dominic’s life and the source of his passion for preaching and evangelization. Speaking to religious John Paul II said: “Prayer has a greater value and spiritual fruit than the most intense activity, even apostolic activity itself. Prayer is the most urgent challenge that religious must make to a society in which efficiency has become an idol on whose altar human dignity itself is often sacrificed… your houses must be above all centres of prayer…

We need to renew our conviction of our own need and the need of others, of our prayer: It is ironic that we can become so busy doing the work of the Lord that we neglect the Lord of the work. How many can affirm this in their lives: The celebration of the liturgy must be the center and heart of our community life. In the spirit of St. Dominic the “common celebration of the liturgy must be maintained among the principal duties of our vocation”, (LCO 57). In the daily celebration of the Eucharist the mystery of salvation is made present and is at work. Liturgical and personal prayer and the permanent evangelization of our lives is a consequence of our contemplation of the word of God. It makes us constantly aware of the truth contained in the words: “Without me you can do nothing, with me you can do all things.” It is a life of prayer that enables us to preach to a secularized world to which the Gospel is foolishness.

The hectic pace of life in so many parts of the world seeps into our lives and makes it difficult to make time for prayer. There are some who can permeate their work with prayer. There are many others, who by temperament, need another climate in which to pray.

Fr. Congar has stated that the study of theology is inseparably linked with the celebration of the Liturgy. “The two are for me one single thing.” Our fidelity to the Liturgy will express itself in the importance we give to the daily celebration or assistance at the Eucharist and to the Divine Office, “The Liturgical office consists essentially of the psalms: They play a major role in my life as they have always done… at one and the same time they express prayer and teach us to pray”, (Called to Life p. 3).

Besides communal prayer each one of us needs the space to create that inner silence and aloneness to be with the Lord, to enable us to say for an extended period each day: “I want to be with you.” Frequently Dominic would turn to his companion on the road and say: “You go ahead, let us think of the Saviour” and then fall behind to be alone. We must find a similar space for ourselves. It is more important than any apostolic activity.

More and more communities are beginning to celebrate common prayer with the faithful. Celebrated with the faithful it is truly the prayer of the Church. Each community must adapt its prayer to its environment.

2. Common Life and Faith Sharing

Christ is the center of our community life but this is not always explicit among us. Too often we seem able to share our ideas, the things of the mind, but unable to share our faith, the things of the heart. Today, as we face many challenges, it is not enough that we assume faith among us. We must make Jesus Christ explicit.

To overcome certain blocks to this faith sharing in community, it is important for each of us to recall that none of us has a monopoly on the truth. we must learn from one another (LCO 100) and preach to one another. Our Constitutions speak of the obligation of the prior to preach to their communities (LCO 300) but should not all of our members be encouraged to preach in community. Should we not insist on developing occasions when preaching in the context of community is more frequent. Even our young brothers could share their faith during the Liturgy of the Hours or during special celebrations of our Dominican feasts.

Well-planned meetings to prepare the Sunday homily, study of a specific theme, or to let our community know what we are doing in the ministry are occasions for faith sharing. The last point, sharing our work experiences, is even more critical today when so many of us work outside our houses. It is an act of charity to share one’s faith but should not this charity begin at home?

I cannot exhort you too much to take this aspect of common life more seriously. Many of the brethren, especially among the young desire this type of sharing. Did we not enter the Order to be with men of faith? It is urgent that we enrich one another through sharing of our life in Christ.

Community Life and Study

One of the great advantages of a House of Studies is the many opportunities it affords teachers and students to share common life in the context of study. Through formal and informal contacts they are able to explain and question aspects of the faith. For many it is a time of mutual integration where we become one through study.

In the pastoral formation of students this is even more evident because we are brought closer to the life of the people of God through ministry. In our present formation process this pastoral activity is not only encouraged but required. But it is not insisted upon simply to give some type of change from study. It is provided for ,the purpose of helping us to be able to bring together study and ministry.

The method of reflection as an integral process of ministry is not something which is learnt easily. There should be a progression of exposure to the ministry which is accompanied with a sound theological course of study. All ministry should have planning and evaluation as part of its progression. It is tragic that this helpful insight into the relationship between study, ministry and community is often lost on those of us who are older in community we cannot limit our permanent formation to workshops or private reading, they must be communitarian in nature.

To gather as a community to share some experiences of the apostolate and to reflect together on their meaning in faith could be a start. Readings on a common theme discussed as a community could be another approach.

Our community libraries are another source of renewal of common life through study. A well maintained library is a necessary part of every community. It is frightening to visit some of our community libraries and to see so few new books.

3. Fraternal Correction

Our legislation has always given importance to fraternal correction, which was once a part of the ‘regular house chapter. Though the form of the house chapter has changed the Constitutions retain the need for fraternal correction.

The Chapter of Bogota introduced the option of having a talk/dialogue which would promote the way in which we live our community and apostolic life. The Constitutions of 1968 confirm this orientation, (LCO 7.1), and go on to state that “several times during the year a regular chapter shall be held, in which, in a form determined by the conventual chapter, the brethren shall examine their fidelity towards the apostolic mission of the convent and the regular life and shall undertake some penance. On this occasion the superior can give an exhortation on the spiritual and religious life and opportune admonitions and corrections” (LCO 7.II).

In many places the regular monthly chapter LCO 7.1 is no longer practiced. Yet the experience of recent years suggests the need to strengthen the practice of fraternal dialogue regarding a community’s fidelity to its apostolic commitments and community observance.

Today it is important that community meetings recover some of the values which have been lost. Such meetings should be an occasion for examining the quality of our religious life and apostolic activity in an atmosphere of sincere dialogue, in such a way that we can share our problems and hopes together in the light of faith and so help each other through advice and encouragement.

In order that this may take place it is necessary that such meetings have a truly religious character and avoid a routine formalism. This may be helped by the reflective use of the word of God and prayer to help us realize the presence of God in our midst. We should also respect the creativity of different communities without allowing such meetings to be reduced to total improvisation. The order as a whole might consider giving some guidelines to assist in the animation of such meetings.

For many fraternal correction may conjure up memories of the old chapter of faults. It requires great delicacy. It was said of Dominic that when he had to speak to someone “his words were so pleasant” that what he said was accepted with “patience and eagerness.”

If we live together in community we share responsibility for one another. How many problems are allowed to develop to a critical point because of the neglect of fraternal help and how often is help offered too late? Yet, who among us, would neglect to offer, a brother or sister medical attention if urgently needed?

Another aspect of this is the need for canonical visitation. In many provinces this has become a formality. Its absence affects the quality of our life.

It is a mistake to omit it. There is great wisdom in the ordinations in our constitutions in this regard. The provinces wherevisitations have been faithfully carried out witness to it in the life of the brethren.

Frank Sheed, in his book To Know Christ Jesus writes “the ruler must serve, that is what he is there for. If one of those committed to his care is rebellious, every effort must be made to win him to a better mind by reasoning with him by himself, reasoning with him in the presence of others summoning him officially before the Church”, (Mt. 18:15-17 . )

4. The Witness of our Lives – the Vows

We claim that our lives are a witness to the kingdom and that our vows are public acts of consecration. If our vows are public acts of consecration then our behaviour must witness to that consecration. People have definite expectations. Yet how often are these expectations realized in the way we live out our obedience, poverty and chastity? Here I would like to reflect on specific aspects of the vows.


Obedience is a listening to God as he speaks in us and to us through others. Obedience also means listening to the community and fidelity to the community’s way to holiness. This has particular application today. When we preach, it is the community that preaches. And so, for example, when we take a stand on issues concerning justice or morality, they should first be tested in community. How much pain and even scandal to the faithful might be avoided if we first tested our thoughts on vexed questions in our own communities. W e Dominicans celebrate our prophets. The greatest of them have been those whose preaching and work have been born and supported from within their communities. I think of Antonio de Montesino and Las Casas. Even prophets are subject to obedience.

Another aspect of obedience that needs reflection today is our attitude to community observances. How easily we can drift, and dispense ourselves from community exercises so that imperceptibly we become marginalized within our own communities. Then whose will is served? God’s or our own?


We profess poverty but live with the paradox that most enjoy a security that the vast majority of the laity do not have. A preoccupation with security can, so easily, rob us of apostolic initiative. I see this in many places. I suspect that Dominic’s insistence on living in dependence was intimately connected with his desire for apostolic freedom. Living in total dependence makes the unthinkable possible. For us Dominicans there is a connection between the vows and preaching. They give us freedom to preach – they authenticate our preaching.

In his address to the Extraordinary General Council in May 1970, Fr. Aniceto Fernandez said: “Poverty is a theme much under discussion but in practice, even in private life, there is no sign of poverty either in dress or food nor in the matter of sleep or in the use of motor cars or in taking trips or other entirely superfluous things.” What change has taken place in the intervening years?

Today, we can so easily become the victims of the consumer mentality that is now a world-wide phenomenon. This imposes on us all the need for accountability.

Constantly, we need to question ourselves on the way in which we use material things – the witness we give in our buildings, our table, clothes, recreation and holidays. We also need to support those who administer the goods of the community and they, for their part, mast be conscious that the money they administer is not their own but the communities and that they must be accountable to it.


For many it is the most striking witness of our religious consecration. Again our behaviour must correspond to our consecration. Everything that is icit is not always opportune.

One aspect of this consecration I would like to touch upon is this. While the deepest sanctuary of our hearts is given to God – we have other needs. He has made us so that a large area of our life is accessible to others and is needed by others. Each one of us needs to experience the genuine interest, of the other members of the community, their affection, esteem and fellowship. Some may say that God is enough. But it has been well said, that God has made us so that we need more than prayer and renunciation. We need air, food, sleep, education… but above all love. At what point in our earthly pilgrimage do we cease to be human? Life together means breaking the bread of our minds and hearts with each other. If religious do not find this in their communities – then they will seek it elsewhere.

5. Decision-Making

Our concern for one another leads us to accept responsibility for our community. Each one is responsible for the smooth running of the community and this sense of responsibility will be deepened the more we involve ourselves in the process of decision-making.

The Constitutions provide us with a number of structures designed to facilitate the process of decision making; the General and Provincial Chapters, the community council and chapter. But these will never lead to a common project or common mission unless they are used properly.

I cannot emphasize sufficiently the need to hold regular community meetings which help to foster the collective consciousness of a community leading to consensus. In is collective process the prior is the first among equals. Constantly we need to remind ourselves of the difference between civil democracy and our own. In civil democracies power rests in the vote of the absolute majority and one vote is sufficient to achieve a decision. In the Dominican democratic system our aim is to look for one mind and one heart, to achieve as great a concensus as possible which is a much more powerful witness than an absolute majority. “This striving for unanimity” Fr. Vincent de Couesnongle said, “even if we do not always achieve it – is the sure guarantee of the presence of the Holy Spirit, and by that fact, is a more certain way of discovering the will of God.”

Dominic, had the capacity to disagree with others and allow others disagree with him.

Our house chapters will always be divisive and unproductive if we look upon them as purely legal gatherings or a place to debate. We can overcome this if we begin in a prayerful manner in a spirit of reflection and an openness to the Spirit. Secondly, as a part of this silent and prayerful reflection we might allow ourselves the time to recognise our own failings with regard to our community life.

A number of things can militate against this process. Chief among them is an exaggerated individualism, apathy and a fear which can accompany decision-making. On the other hand we must prepare for such meetings by providing information, and sufficient time to conduct them. Finally we must have the strength to accept the obedience which decision-making imposes on us.

One aspect of this is a willingness to accept responsibility within the community. There is a reluctance almost everywhere to accept positions of responsibility. Election to a particular office should not be refused unless there are serious reasons for doing so. For our part, if we elect someone we must support him.

6. Building Community

Each community must work out a rhythm of observance that takes into account the changing patterns of our ministries and our own needs, always keeping in mind that we have dedicated ourselves to the needs of others.

Unity of heart urges us to live together though we are people of different opinions and outlook. A community in which everyone agrees on everything does not exist. There is need for mutual understanding, tolerance and a willingness to bear each others burdens. There are some who are only disposed to live with their friends, communities which exclude people of a different mentality or outlook. How much of religious remains when we select those with whom we live? It is not even christian.

Then there is the question of recreation, personal and community. Speaking of the world of work John Paul II said: “the Sacred Scripture as well as teaching the need for work, also teach the need for rest.” In a letter to the members of his province one provincial asks: “How does television affect the quality of the time we spend together and what would be the experience of fraternity without it… have we, perhaps, lost something of great importance during the period of renewal, namely, that too many of us find our experience of fraternity more outside than inside the community. Do we so emphasize the apostolic side of our lives at the expense of the fraternal side – and at what post to the apostolate?”

Finally, we must endeavour to build communities of hope. If we preach mercy, then we should be able to receive mercy and show mercy to one another and bear witness to the hope that is in us. The words of Paul VI in Evangelica Testificatio continue to be an inspiration for our lives. “Even if like every Christian – you are imperfect, you nevertheless intend to create surroundings which are favourable to the spiritual progress of each member of the community. How can this result be attained, unless you deepen in the Lord your relationships, even the most ordinary ones, with each of your brethren? Let us not forget that charity must be as it were an active hope for what others can become with the help of our fraternal support. The mark of its genuineness is found in a joyful simplicity, whereby all strive to understand what each one has at heart. If certain religious give the impression of having allowed themselves to be crushed by their community life, which ought to have made them expand and develop, does this happen perhaps because their community life lacks that understanding cordiality which nourishes hope? There is no doubt that community spirit, relationships of friendship. and fraternal cooperation in the apostolate, as well as mutual support in a shared life chosen for a better service of Christ, are so many valuable factors in this daily progress”, (39).

The Ministry of Preaching (1989)

Letter of the Master of the Order. September 1989

fr. Damian Byrne, O.P.

What Dominic wanted his Order to be, and to be called an order of Preachers. This is the title he chose for himself and his companions, the title granted by the Church. It determined not only his mission but his entire way of life. While many are called to preach, there is a need for an Order of Preachers to remind the Church of its preaching mission. Just as there are Orders dedicated to prayer, missionary activity, the service of the sick and we are all called to these things in one way or another, we are a reminder to the whole Church of the importance of preaching. We should also try to excel in it.

How must we live, and what must we do, to fulfill our vocation as men and women who proclaim the saving message of Christ so that it becomes a burning reality in our own lives and in the lives of those to whom we are sent?

Life and Witness

A key to Dominic’s success as a preacher was his manner of life. He would certainly share the sentiments of Evangelii Nuntiandi”… the people of our day are more impressed by witness than by teachers and if they listen to these it is because they also bear witness” (E.N.41).

It is not so much what we say that wins people, as what we are. Our Lord converted sinners like Matthew with a word, Peter with a single glance. He ate with sinners. He challenged preconceived social roles by talking and eating with Publicans, tax collectors and prostitutes. In action and word Jesus proclaimed the compassionate love of God.

In Octogesima Adveniens Paul VI reminds us: “Today more than ever the Word of God will be unable to be proclaimed and heard unless it is accompanied by the witness of the power of the Holy Spirit, working within the action of Christians in the service of their neighbour, at the point in which their existence and future, are at stake”, (51). Words are empty unless they are supported by witness of life, both individually and as a community. The common life is inextricably linked with our preaching mission. Missio et communio are two sides of the same coin both in the Church’ and the Order: We cannot separate them. It is precisely here, through the witness of their lives that our contemplative sisters are at the heart of our, preaching family. But witness of life grows into a more profound witness.

We want to see Jesus

In the Gospel Our Lord told the apostles: “You will be witnesses of me”. The phrase ‘we are witnesses’ literally means offering an experience of a Christ who is alive, one whom it is possible to meet and to talk to: The appeal of those who approached Philip and asked: “We would like to see Jesus” is the cry of so many in the world. But how often do they discover him in the word that we break for them? With a certain anguish, Paul VI wrote :

We are continuously being questioned: Do you believe yourselves what you are saying to us? Is your life in accord with your beliefs? Is your preaching in accord with your beliefs? Is your preaching in accord with your lives? (EN,. 76)

What the world is looking for is credible witnesses. People are tired of sham. They want to see Jesus and as Mother Teresa of Calcutta has pointedly reminded us: “People ought to be able to meet Jesus in us”.

If we are preachers, we must be men and women who read, ponder and live the word of scripture. This meeting with the Jesus of the Gospels, reflected upon and pondered over becomes a living spring for each of us. It is from this table of the Word and the table of the Eucharist that we receive nourishment for our lives as preachers. We also need to renew our faith in the power of God’s Word. “The Word of God is alive, it is life .. .”, (Heb. 4:12) . When it is preached Christ is present. (cf. Mysterium ridei, No. 36). But the word must be pondered in this historical moment.


Our preaching will not be complete unless it relates the Gospel to people’s lives. As Jesus made his message relevant to the lives of people in his day, we must make his message relevant to the people of ours. Faithful to the Gospel, our preaching must also address the questions they ask. This imposes upon us the obligation of listening and an alertness to the movements which are taking place in our rapidly changing societies. How can we speak to people’s needs unless in some measure we share their joys and sorrows? As Gaudium et Spes reminds us :

The joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the people of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these too are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ. Indeed, nothing genuinely human fails to raise an echo in their hearts. (1)

Before we speak we must listen not only to peoples voices but to eyes and hearts. Then our spoken word each day from the altar, in the classroom, in the hospital ward, in the parlor will be a word of hope – the quality of preaching most insisted on by Pope Paul VI.

Prophetic and Doctrinal

The best tradition of the order is seen when our preaching is prophetic. Preaching that is purely theoretical and abstract captures neither the spirit of St. Dominic nor the hearts of people. Prophetic preaching is not merely a sharing of knowledge but a joyous proclamation of the living, life-giving Word of God. But we must announce the whole gospel message.

In his Commentary on the Constitutions, Humbert of Romans writes:

“Study is not the end of the Order but it is of the utmost necessity to that end which is preaching and labouring for the salvation of souls, for without study we can do neither”, (Opera II, p. 41). If we are preachers, we are also students. The day we stop reading and reflecting we will soon cease to be effective preachers. We cannot be consistently good preachers unless we continue to be students. Do we read?. Do we read widely enough? Real listening to the joy, griefs, hopes and anxieties, of the human family requires serious study and social analysis. It requires the learning of new languages and sensitivity to cultural differences if the Gospel is truly to take shape in new cultures: Most of all it requires time and presence among those to whom and with whom we would preach because it is most truly from their experience that we will hear the Gospel in new ways. We are called to receive and welcome the Word of God wherever we hear it. Dominic spent the night in dialogue with the innkeeper; Las Casas’ attention to the cultural differences between Spain and the “New World” demanded a new form of prophetic preaching. Catherine’s attention to the signs of her times sent her to speak a word of mercy to victims of the plague, but also to proclaim the truth as she saw it, not only to politicians, but to cardinals and popes.

Bishop Diego and Dominic saw the inability of the Church of their time to respond effectively to the Albigensian movement. By living among them, by learning and listening to them, they evolved a new catechesis. The Church needed to adopt the authentic values present in the Albigensian movement, while it also proclaimed authentic values that the Albigensians chose to ignore. This is what we mean by doctrinal preaching, the proclamation of the “whole truth” of the Gospel. The challenge of the Albigensians evoked a creative response in Diego and Dominic. What are the challenges that invite a creative response in our preaching today?

In order for us to be sons and daughters of Dominic, we must insert ourselves in those areas of need, especially those areas in which the Church finds it difficult to respond. We insert ourselves in those areas first to learn from and listen to them. Then we engage in theological reflection and discernment as to our response both in what we do and say as well as in how we live If we are not at the heart of a people’s need, then we risk loosing vision and run the risk of becoming irrelevant. To fallow Dominic means to be for our period of history and our Church and society what Dominic was for his This is always our starting point for our self-understanding and for renewing our lives. In fidelity to him and to our tradition, our own identity and spirituality must have its roots in out preaching mission. As early as 1965, Fr. Congar makes this rather startling observation: “I could quote a whole series of ancient texts, all saying more or less that if in one country Mass was celebrated for thirty years without preaching and in another there was preaching for thirty years without the Mass, people would be more Christian in the country where there was preaching.” (Concilium No. 33).

What does it mean ‘for us to be preachers, not at the beginning of the thirteenth century, but at the end of the twentieth. A specifically Dominican emphasis within the mission of the entire Church to preach the Gospel has been our focus on “proclaiming the truth.” Where is the truth unwelcome or compromised today – in our countries, in our personal and communal lives and even in our preaching?

Like the world in which Dominic lived ours has its own forms of dualism which we must address: the deep divisions between rich and poor nations, between races, religions and ethnic groups between men and women, between, countries of differing political ideologies.

Fourteen years after Evangelii Nuntiandi, we might well ask the same three burning questions that Paul VI asked of the entire Church.

1. In our day what has happened to the hidden energy of the Good News, which is able to have a powerful effect on the human conscience?

2. To what extent and in what way is that evangelical force capable of really transforming the people of this century?

3. What methods should be followed in order that the power of the Gospel may have its effect?

Word and Sacrament

The priority of priorities for all Dominicans is preaching and a love of preaching should mark each one of us. I believe that in the spirit of Evangelii Nuntiandi there should be preaching at every public Mass, every day. Paul VI also points out the importance of preaching during the administration of all the sacraments and on the occasion of para-liturgical ceremonies. Addressing the General Chapter in 1983 John Paul II said: “You Dominicans have the mission of proclaiming that Cod is alive, that he is the God of life, and that in him exists the root of, the dignity and the hope of man who is called to life… Your Constitutions give priority to the ministry of the Word in all its oral and written forms and the link between the ministry of the word and that of the sacraments is its crowning.” Preaching comes first but without bringing ourselves and others to receive the Sacraments it is incomplete.

It is important to realize the evangelizing power our preaching can have in the context of the daily and weekly Eucharist. Today we say that many people are sacramentalized but not evangelized. This sacramental dimension cannot only provide a place for evangelical proclamation, but the sacraments themselves are evangelizing symbolic words. As St. Augustine reminds us, the word is an audible sacrament and the sacrament’ is a visible word. While there are many calls to preach the Word outside the sacraments it would be a mistake to ignore the opportunity which the celebration of the sacraments offer us to celebrate the Word.

We should never omit an opportunity of preaching: It is not only for the sake of our hearers. I believe that no one can constantly preach the Word of God without being transformed by the Word they preach.

Both Paul VI and John Paul II insist not only on the spoken word in the setting of Church services but also through individual contacts. “In imitation of St. Dominic who was full of solicitude for the salvation of all individuals and people, may the brothers know that they are sent to all people believers, and especially the poor…”

Is this the vision of the Church and the Order, the vision, the daily practice of each one of us? Paul VI in a general audience, (3rd December, 1975) remarked to a group of Dominican postulants and novices: “It is said that Dominicans are preachers. Nevertheless it is not often that one hears a Dominican preaching”. The seriousness with which we should approach our preaching ministry is reflected in the new Ratio Formationis which states that an “aptitude for preaching is to be one of the elements to be considered for admission to Orders.”

On a recent visit to Japan I was reminded of the powerful witness given by Dominican artists and I recalled the words of Lawrence of Rippafratta to Fra Angelico and his brother during a moment of doubt: “You will be none the less true Friars Preachers if, you cultivate your painting for it is not only by preaching that we persuade people, but also by the arts, especially, by music and painting. Many who will turn a deaf ear to preaching will be won by your pictures which will continue throughout the ages to preach.” Indeed, they do preach, as do those who write and are involved in publications and all who are involved in the various forms of the media.


I would like to refer to two forms of collaboration, one with its roots in our tradition, the other a newer form of collaboration.

On the Sunday before Christmas Day 1511 in a straw thatched chapel on the island of Hispanola, Antonio de Montesino preached a sermon on the text: “I am a voice crying in the wilderness”. His condemnation of injustice caused a storm of protest. People rushed round to complain to the Prior Pedro de Cordoba. He explained to their astonishment and anger: “Antonio de Montesino did not preach, the community preached”. The community decided that a stand had to be taken. They decided what should be said Montesino preached it.

How enriched our preaching would become if we could devise a method within communities of reflecting on the Sunday homily together and of reflecting on the key issues which challenge our various societies today and need to be addressed in our preaching. If such preparation includes the laity so much the better.

A second form of collaboration today is the recognition of the whole family, sharing our common preaching charism. It is not as if the women and lay members of the Order are called to live the Gospel life and the clerical members are called to proclaim the Word. Already in the 13th century Thomas Aquinas recognized that women as well as men have been given the charism for preaching, what he called “the charism for speaking words of wisdom and knowledge in the Christian community”, (II-II. Q. 177,a.2 ad 2 and ad 3). Anyone endowed with a charism has the responsibility to exercise it I urge Dominican sisters, both active and cloistered, to take advantage of every opportunity to preach which is open to them and in accordance with the circumstances of their lives. There is no one who cannot preach by witness and through their personal contact “the other form of individual communication of the gospel from person to person must be encouraged and esteemed”, (EN. 46).

There can be no question about, the call of the Order in our day to preach the Gospel and to do it together. Our very diversity and our honest struggles to grow as a family, to collaborate in our Gospel mission, are very real aspects of our proclamation in a world that has not yet discovered how women and men, lay land cleric, can join together in community as equals, respectful of differences, but united in faith.


As I travel on visitation to different parts of the world, I have found that those who are in situations of greatest need proclaim the Gospel with the greatest power and live the evangelical life with the greatest clarity. Because of their situation, their preaching has a resonance and impact far greater than those who preach in situations of relative comfort arid security. It may be that it is more difficult to produce great preachers among a people who do not suffer or are not oppressed. We must be struggling with significant issues for the Gospel to be powerfully proclaimed. The first world does have significant issues with which to struggle but self-complacency and a false security can easily blind the preacher to their urgency.

The Gospel is Good News to the poor. When we cast our lot with the poor and oppressed we become recipients of their Gospel. Preaching comes out of a deep involvement with people, an involvement which calls forth a word in response to their need. Our job is to proclaim the hope of the Gospel more frequently and preach to the limit of our vision even though we do not fully embody that vision. Like Dominic we are not prophets of doom or misfortune. Like Jesus, he did not announce bad news. He announced good news. He was a prophet of hope. He was not a moralist who threatened punishment and created feelings of guilt. Rather he is the spiritual master who gives back hope to all who are burdened with sorrow and feelings of guilt.

St. Dominic had no doubt about his mission. He knew himself to be a preacher. We must re-claim this sense of Dominic. Today we should understand ourselves not so much as “Dominicans” but as “Preachers”.

I proposed the following question to the Chapter in July:

1. Is my life where my words are? Are Dominicans throughout the world recognized and known as the Order of Preachers?

2. As part of our ongoing renewal, should we not see ourselves more as Preachers? This is the title given us by Pope Honorius and St. Dominic.

What are the human experiences which form me and my words? How have I allowed the cry of the poor, those without social status, education or power to influence my understanding of the Gospel and my expression of it?

3. How do I preach? Is my preaching grounded in prayer and study? Have I made the Word of God my home? Am I preaching my own ideas (myself), or Jesus Christ? Do I evaluate what I do, allowing others to give me feedback? How have I continued my formation as a preacher? Do I seek to collaborate with my brothers and sisters and the laity in my preaching ministry?

4. How can our particular manner of living together directly promote the prayer, study and expression that comprise our preaching, and publicly identify us as “the preachers?”

We are preachers. Let us rejoice in our vocation, men and women entrusted with God. Word and God’s vision for our world.

First Assignations (1990)

Letter of the Master of the Order. May 1990

fr. Damian Byrne, O.P.

In the reports from provincials there is a recurring concern: their difficulties in providing suitable assignation for brothers in their first years of ministry.

It seems to me that there are two basic problems. First, because of a lack of vision, planning and will at some Provincial Chapters a provincial may be expected to fill too many gaps to the detriment of young religious. Secondly, sadly, there are often only a few communities in a province that are open to be challenged by the value that younger members represent and whose communities give promise of a community life and apostolate in accord with our legislation.


As some of our provinces decline in number, their ability to continue their apostolic commitments become progressively more difficult. Provinces which confront this problem and reorganize their commitments are in a much healthier position than those who fail to do so. Postponement of necessary reorganization only compounds the problems which eventually have to be faced. Two examples of a successful reorganization are the provinces of Mexico and England. At successive Chapter they closed a number of houses enabling them to deploy their personnel elsewhere and engage in new apostolates. Such reorganization is never easy but the future health of provinces and vicariates depend on it.

The Constitutions and recent General Chapters insist on the need for planning. It is the responsibility of all, not just superiors. It must be done in our houses as well as in our provinces and vicariates. (cf. Walberberg No. 17c, 78, 201).

It is easy to examine commitments and identify new deeds in an abstract way but when we are faced with closing a house or withdrawing from an apostolate we are often unable to act. You can see this in a small way when a community comes to revise its Mass schedule. How often the preferences of individual brothers come before the actual needs of the faithful or the demands of the liturgy with regard to participation and preaching.

What Donald Nicholl writes about the search for truth and knowledge and the pain that is involved in giving up old formulations, images and symbols can equally be applied to giving up places that are dear to us:

“I puzzled in vain over this feature of our longing for the truth for many years until one day when illumination came to me:.. from Thomas Aquinas’ commentary on the beatitude, “Blessed are those who mourn”. There St. Thomas says that this beatitude is the special beatitude for those whose calling it is to extend the boundaries of knowledge. St. Thomas assertion is, to say the least of it, intriguing and naturally provokes one to ask why this is so. The answer Thomas gives is that whenever our minds yearn towards some new truth then we become afflicted with pain, because our whole being wishes to protect the balance of inertia and comfort which we have established for ourselves. To lose them feels like loosing part of ourselves, and the pain is a symptom of our distress at its disturbance. Moreover, we experience a sort of bereavement … For those formulations, images and symbols have over the years become part of ourselves. To lose them feels like losing part of ourselves. And we mourn that loss as we mourn the loss of a limb”. (Sedos; February 1990).

We must able to die in order to live. The pruning of the Gospel extends not only to live but the houses in which we live and our apostolates. In a number of places we are over attached to buildings which are really museums. Perhaps the State does us a service when it takes over some of our buildings and keeps them open for the public who thus continue to share in our material heritage. Could we preserve priories like San Marco in Florence and Santo Domingo in Oaxaca as well as the State does and if we did so what would be the purpose? Young religious cannot be assigned to communities living in old dilapidated buildings.

Furthermore, some provinces face the challenge of having, foundations in locations which are no longer centres of population or in areas which are adequately served by others. If we tie our preaching project to such foundations are we being faithful to our vocation “to be present to God and the world” of our day? In the spirit of the Gospel we should have the courage to “launch out into the deep” and move to the new centres of population. Jesus places people over things. This does not mean that everything old must go. The maintenance of some foundations may be the springboard for new apostolates. It has been said that “the conditions for hope and the conditions for despair are often exactly the same”. This is certainly my experience. It is our attitude and response or lack of it, that makes them so. Together, in the Spirit, at Chapters and at the level of local communities we must plan for the future. Traditional ministries must be scrutinized and evaluated and new ways of preaching developed.

In particular, we need to pay attention to the number and quality of our parishes. The Avila Chapter recommended that every request to take responsibility for a parish should take into itinerant apostolates. It also reminds us that parishes should not be accepted easily and should be subject to periodic review at provincial chapters. These principles must be applied to the parishes we have everywhere.

A similar evaluation must be made of our universities, colleges, shrines and hospital chaplaincies.

Community Life and the Insertion of Young Religious

My second concern is the first assignation of young Dominicans after completing initial formation. As I have already said, in many provinces there are few communities which offer young religious a place where they can live their religious lives in accordance with a present day understanding of community life and of an apostolate that is specifically Dominican. There should be continuity between institutional formation and the experience of the community life of the province.

They must be received as adults, not as children. We must not look upon them merely as replacements for ourselves. They have their own vision, their own hopes. As we learnt from making mistakes, they must make theirs and learn from them. I still recall the comment of an elderly priest who said: “The young priests are our children, they have to learn from us and they are not prepared to do so”. I replied: “Father, they are not your children. They are adult people who come to an adult community. They have much to learn but they also have a great deal to give and it is not the relationship of a father or a grandfather to a child. It is a relationship of adults who have much to learn from each other”.

I think that we have to be very careful where young religious are placed. They need an assignment where they will not only find a welcome but where they can be very much at home and be encouraged in their ministry. The advice of those responsible for formation should always, be sought. Remember, that for many, the first assignment means a transition from stability to instability. One of the problems seems to be loneliness, the feeling of being left without support. We cannot take away all the pain; the loneliness, the failures of the first years in community and ministry. But we can be present to them. If possible, let the new .brother be a part of team or let him work with at least one other Dominican. In the beginning, try not to assign them to projects by themselves even if they are living in a community. Do not assign them to fill gaps in old projects which have lost their meaning. The apostolic team, the quality of life in the house of assignment and a good relationship with one or more members in the community are three points of a triangle. The weaker one of them is, the stronger the others must be.

I fail to understand the mentality which assign young religious to live and work alone or assignations to communities in which there is not a healthy community life. How can they survive? Furthermore, I question the wisdom of sending them for further studies immediately after initial formation. They need a year or more to settle into the rhythm of their ministry. How many examples there are of young religious who undergo a crisis in the years immediately following ordination! There is no certain way in which we can predict how effective a supportive community life can be. When does anyone of us cease to need encouragement and affirmation in our work? Have some of us forgotten what it was like to be young? Have we forgotten our first tentative beginning to preach, our anxiety, failures, hopes and fears?

We need to question ourselves regarding our attitude towards young people and their world. Do we make the effort to understand the feelings of the young who often have a different cultural and religious experience to our own? Are we able to enter their world, as they are expected to enter ours? Many speak of the “good old days” but of the promise and hope of today? The Chapter of Avila challenges us when it says:

If you really want to be open to the future a fundamental requirement must be fulfilled: learn to really trust the young. If we achieve this we will be able to accompany them, able to maintain patience, able to understand and share their hope, able to welcome the newness that the young bring us. Moreover, we will be able to entrust them with serious apostolic work, not only among people of their own age : . but at the heart of our Christian communities. We will also learn from them how to promote the evangelization of the world …. (Chapter IV, NQ 67.3).

Young Religious and the Four Priorities

Another aspect of first assignations is the proper use of talents. To think that a young religious can do everything or even most things like the person before them is naive. A community can provide the context of a ministry but it is the individual religious who enlivens it according to his own ability and talents. We allow others, not the privilege, but the right to do things in a different way; allow them the space to fly their own kite, whether it is a striving towards excellence in preaching, studies and teaching, human relations . . . We allow them room to develop their initiative, creativity and organizing ability – in a word, a climate which enables them to grow and be themselves:

For us, this development takes place within the Four priorities which offer enormous scope for the development of a brother’s talents. In this regard each province might ask itself the following questions: Is there evangelization among those who do not believe in Jesus? Do we have young men engaged in the intellectual work needed to preach and in the culture of today? Are there some who identify themselves with the poor and the struggle for justice and peace? Are some involved in the social communications media?

As an Order we have a long tradition of apostolic creativity. It is not the prerogative of youth. I still marvel. at the creative response of an elderly German missionary in Taiwan confronted with the rapidly changing society of that country. But we must also encourage creativity among the young.

For centuries, one of the ways in which artists depicted Dominicans was by putting books under their arms. Two centuries before the print revolution the order played an important role in making books a familiar communications media. An incomplete list of Dominican authors includes over five thousand names. A similar creativity was found in the missions. In 1226 Honorius III, granted brothers working in Morocco permission to adapt their dress to that of the people to facilitate their work. In another area Albert and Thomas adapted and assimilated the thought of Aristotle putting it at the service of the Church. There is a 15th century copy in the Vatican Library of the famous moralized game of chess (De Ludis Scacchorum) of Jacobus de Cessolis of our house in Genoa, about 1290. The first drawing is of a Dominican in a pulpit with a chess board hanging over the front of the pulpit, an early attempt at effective communication. Each one of us is likewise challenged to write his own chapter in the ongoing story of the Dominican family.

In the pulpit; the media, in the development of Christian thought and in the work of evangelization the Order has demonstrated a high degree of creativity and adaptability – so must we. The great danger is complacency and a preoccupation with our own security.

Again, young religious must have the courage to engage in frontier apostolates but frontier apostolates need community and careful preparation.

Above All Preachers

Above all we are preachers. In many provinces the preparation for preaching in the years of formation is better than ever before. They learn their skills in groups or a community which encourages them to preach. I believe that there should continue to be some communal experience in the preparation of sermons and sharing of faith. I continue to recommend communities to come together and share their reflection, insights, experience in preparation for the next preaching event. The ideal would be to have some lay participation, sisters and others involved in pastoral ministry. This could be the structure on-going formation in preaching.

There are over a thousand brothers in formation, a healthy number in relation to our overall strength. It even suggests that in the near future our will begin to rise again. The future is theirs.

In Mission Together (1990)

Letter of the Master of the Order. November 1990

fr. Damian Byrne, O.P.

The Bologna Document of 1983 says that “the principle and sign of unity of the Dominican Family (L.C.O. 396) is the Master of the Order, the successor of St Dominic, the one who grants aggregation to the order, the one who outside the General Chapter guarantees and promotes fidelity to the spirit of St. Dominic” (Analecta 1983, pp. 95-971. In the light of this description of the role of the Master of the Order, I would like to share my vision for the Dominican Family. I shall begin with a comment on three aspects of the above statement, namely, unity, aggregation, and fidelity.


During the past seven years I have met many Dominicans, men and women, religious and laity, throughout the world. I have come to appreciate how real is the unity of the Dominican Family and how the Dominican Family looks to the Master of the Order as the principle of unity in striving to be faithful to Dominic’s charism. Among the men, I have tried to make it my principal task to promote fidelity to the spirit of Dominic as it is formulated for us in the Acts of our General Chapters. I am aware that other branches of the family are sometimes more faithful to some aspects of Dominican Life than are the Brothers.

As “the one who grants aggregation to the Order” it is perhaps opportune at this point in my mandate as Master of the Order, to reflect on these matters with you.

The Letter on the Common Life had its origins in a visit to Sisters in Africa in 1984. I was deeply touched by their devotion to the essential elements of the common life in spite of heavy apostolic commitments. This a new approach to the essential values set me thinking about of the common life and about the need, in some situations, for new personal and community structures to preserve and promote these values. The fidelity to Dominic’s vision is evident in the number of Dominican women who have taken one or other aspect of the Dominican charism and made it the central focus of the life of their community or Congregation. You have only to think of the Congregations dedicated to teaching, nursing, evangelization… In them, I see the three great concerns of Dominic; the poor, the unevangelized and sinners – being cared for by the sisters.

Sisters are the most numerous section of the Dominican Family, more numerous than the men in frontier apostolates, more sensitive to the needs of people, especially the poor and the oppressed and often more active in promoting human rights. In many ways the Sisters have taken the challenge of on-going formation more seriously than ourselves.

Aggregation to the Order

Congregations of sisters have their own proper juridical independence through the Holy See. Their link with the brothers is through our common profession as Dominican Religious.

In our case this can lead to a powerful bond based on a common love of St Dominic and an acceptance of his vision. This vision, I believe, has been experienced by the recent General Chapters, beginning at Quezon City in, 1977, in a very real way. It seems to me that membership in the Dominican Family, for Laity, Sisters, Nuns and Brothers demands an understanding of this in the tradition of the order and in the acceptance of its orientation in our apostolic lives. We no longer see ourselves as first, second or third Order. We are Dominicans.


I believe that this sense of the unity of the Dominican Family requires from me an explanation of how the Order sees its task today in the light of its tradition. An understanding of this will lead to an even greater unity and apostolic zeal among all the branches of the Dominican Family.

In 1968, fr. Aniceto Fernandez wrote to the Dominican Sisters throughout the world in response to enquiries concerning their place in the Order.

“The time has now come to examine our relationships carefully. In this modern world where our Saviour has put us together to carry on his great work of salvation, we are called to embrace together the spirit and tradition bequeathed to us by St Dominic, to search together and to build together our communities of brothers and sisters in the service of the Church.”

Fr Aniceto speaks of the sisters as equals, and as equals invites them to search with the brothers for the best way of carrying out our preaching mission together. Are we faithful to this challenge?

General Chapters 1977-1989

Five General Chapters since 1977 state that preaching is the priority of priorities and that preaching today must include the Four Priorities – Theology, Evangelization, Justice and Communications. These are rooted in our tradition. Some Chapters, in addition, have developed one or other aspect of our preaching ministry. For example the Chapter at Avila in 1986 (No. 22) gave us the document on the Five Frontiers which is a development of two of the priorities – Justice and Mission. The recent Chapter at Oakland in 1989 (No. 68,4), calls our attention to the fact that while the Four Priorities are rooted in our ‘tradition they are also inextricably interwoven. You cannot accept one and omit the others. They depend on each other and all must be present in the apostolate of every Dominican. There will be specialists in each field but the specialist in communications, for example, will need to be a theologian and also mindful of Justice and Mission issues. The non specialist will need to bring something of each priority to her/his work.


The Preacher’s Charter is outlined by Paul VI in Evangelii Nuntiandi. It seems to me that when Paul VI writes about “preaching by witness, by word and through individual communication of the Gospel from person to person” he describes Dominic’s programme. St Dominic was aware of the need for witness; we see him, preaching in churches and on the road to the faithful and dissidents; he attention to contact with individuals as with first followers of Dominic paid as much groups. The preacher, were women. It is significant that the first brothers took as patrons of the Order, Mary Magdalene, the apostle to the apostles, and Catherine of Alexandria, the student and professor of philosophy. There are countless examples of great women preachers in our history, Catherine of Siena, Rose of Lima, Margaret Hallahan, and the many foundresses of the Sisters’ Congregations.

The Constitutions of the brothers point out that the whole community constitutes a preaching group and that they “should discuss among themselves their apostolic experiences and difficulties so that they can submit them to common study and, with the combined resources in these special groups, they may be able to exercise their ministry more effectively” (LC0.100.4). Where the brothers and sisters are working together, then preaching can grow out of their common reflection on the gospel together.

The nuns also play their role. “Dominican contemplative life is colored by the orientation of the order to preaching the full Gospel. The nuns are part of the preaching Order, organically, and not only helping by their prayers, linked with the preachers, helping to create the Dominican consciousness of the reality of the truths that they preach… Dominican contemplation will be concerned to study and penetrate all the mysteries of the faith, the whole spectrum of Christian preaching” (Anselm Moynihan, O.P.).

The Chapters of Walberberg in 1980 and Rome in 1983 made significant contributions to the importance of preaching by sisters. Walberberg asks the brethren to form preaching teams with our sisters: “In this way our preaching will more easily and effectively reach the whole person” (No.77). We are challenged to form preaching teams, not just to help each other, but to make our preaching effective in peoples’ live.

The Chapter at Rome urges a wider and more frequent collaboration between brothers and sisters in apostolic work, especially in the office of preaching, teaching theology and in the development of new methods of preaching (No. 66). The following number states: “We especially exhort our sisters to use efficiently the preaching possibilities offered to them in spiritual exercises, in the renewal of parishes, in extra liturgical celebrations of the Word of God and in the visitation of families” (No.67). One other occasion suggests itself, namely, Morning and Evening prayer.

The sisters and brothers working together is itself a witness, a preaching. In the early days ,a priory of the brethren was called a sacra praedicatio; today, this name describes the common apostolate of the entire Dominican Family.

We may talk of the dignity of women, but our words will have no weight unless we are seen to be an Order in which men and women work together with mutual respect and without fear.

That would indeed be “a word made flesh”, the incarnation of a theology. I think it important to acknowledge that we have a long way to go and part of the problem is an exaggerated clericalism among some brothers who are not comfortable preaching with women.

According to Canon Law the homily at Mass is reserved to priests and deacons. This is a cause of irritation and sadness to some but there are many other places and opportunities to preach. We are called to be creative and flexible in preaching. If Catherine of Siena went to Raymond for spiritual direction, she in turn became his directress. A Dominican woman preaches the Word out of her experience of being a woman. In many ways, the priest may be seen in a sacral role which can diminish his effectiveness, whereas sisters are seen as fellow Christians who have nothing else to give but themselves and the Gospel.

The question of where we get our authority to preach is an important one. Obviously, today, both men and women need the permission of the local bishop. In earlier days it was the General Chapter, following Dominic’s requirements, that decided “whether God” had given the grace for preaching. (Cf. Constitutions 1241, Dist. II, cap. XII) The American Sisters have published a very interesting study on this question.

The examples of preaching described in recent Chapters – sisters teaching in our universities, movements such… Parable in the United States; the preaching of peace by Dominican men and women, lay and religious in England are an inspiration for all.

Theological Reflection

“When Dominic wanted to form his brothers as preachers, he sent them to study.” He recruited followers from the universities and sent them to the universities to prepare them for the preaching ministry. Dominic wanted his preachers to be both learned and competent. William of Montferrat tells that he and Dominic agreed to go to Northern Europe as missionaries when “Dominic had organized his Order and I had studied theology for two years… “.

This tradition of study and theological reflection, not for its own end but for the salvation of oneself and others has been constant in the Order. It does not mean that a Dominican is necessarily more learned than other religious or that every Dominican must be a specialist theologian, but it does mean that the study of truth is an integral part of every Dominican man and woman. The Sisters are fully aware of this. The Oakland Chapter makes a further point. “Listening in a Dominican way implies a community of brothers and sisters sharing in the communion of the same life project” ( No. 43).

As we grow to a greater consciousness of the things we hold in common; devotion to St. Dominic and a clear understanding of our preaching mission within the Church – I believe that we must make a greater effort to have more of our institutional formation in common. (Cf. Q.C. No. 71, 79)

This applies to Provinces and Vicariates of the brothers, to Federations and Conferences of our nuns and to the Congregations of Sisters, where this is feasible. There are several examples: two Congregations of Sisters and the brothers in Bolivia, two Vicariates of brothers in Venezuela, the house of studies in Peru, the Inter-Congregational novitiate in St Louis, U.S.A., joint formation in the Solomon Islands, the Federations of nuns in Mexico, Argentina and Spain.

It seems to me that this is worthwhile in situations where we are expanding and vocations are plentiful as well as in situations where numbers are contracting.

Missionary Tradition

From the very beginning many Dominicans have heard a call like Abraham’s: “Leave your country and your father’s house for the land I will show you” (Gen. 12). Dominic himself had a great desire to go to the Cumans. Many of his followers shared his vision, some paid particular attention to the language and customs of those to whom they were sent. Dominicans were among the first to go to the New World and a missionary Province was formed in Spain in 1587 to respond to the call of the orient. Many Sister Congregations, were founded to fulfill this aspect of Dominic’s charism.

In the past the role of the missionary was to establish the local Church. Today it is more to enrich the local Church with the particular charism of one’s congregation. On a recent visit to Africa. I was surprised by the number of bishops who asked for our presence as preachers and theologians. In Kenya, one bishop promotes a Dominican preaching team of two sisters and a brother.

The Avila Chapter urges three aspects of Mission no matter where we find ourselves: the challenge of the great religions, the challenge of secular ideologies, and the challenge of the sects.

At the Second Congress of the Mission of the Order in Europe at L’Arbresle on new places of mission, someone remarked: “We do not have to found new places for preaching. They are there, but we are absent from them.” ,The idea of the foreign missionary has changed, even the name has changed; but the need is still there. The idea of being an evangelizer, wherever we find ourselves, is the great challenge of our day. We must be as creative today as Dominic and the Foundresses of your Congregations were in theirs.

Justice and Peace

The example of our early missionaries in the New World can be our starting point. Within a year of the arrival of the first Dominicans in what is now the Island of Santo Domingo, they were proclaiming the dignity of the Indian. There are three elements of their approach that can instruct us even today.

1. When complaints were made to Prior Pedro de Cordoba about the content of Montesino’s preaching he replied that it was not Montesino who preached but the whole community. It was a community decision to protest injustices. Montesino was the voice of the community.

2. Their impact was great because they were widely respected as theologians and exemplary Dominicans.

They looked for specialized help to their brothers at the University of Salamanca in Spain and as a result we have the first charter of human rights drawn up by Francis de Vitoria.

The lessons are clear – we must act as a community and not as individuals; as a community of Dominicans and not as isolated groups; we must realize that our significant contribution will normally be as theologians; we must know when we need outside help, for example in economics, social psychology… To speak on specialized topics or situations without real knowledge is a disservice to the Church and to the order.

In our day the Order has had two outstanding figures in the cause of Justice and Peace, Dominic Piere who received the Nobel Peace Prize for his work among refugees and Louis Lebret in his work and writing. I think too of Ita Ford, Maura Clarke, Dorothy Kazel and the young lay missionary Jean Donovan who gave their lives in the cause of justice in El Salvador.

Ecology is frequently mentioned as a part of justice. In our time, the Vatican Council has affirmed the value of creation. It asserts that our appreciation of the world is good, that the world is destined to be transfigured by the glory of God. Remember, the Dominican order was founded to defend this. Accordingly, it is not surprising to see the word ecology in the Acts of the 1983 Chapter, ( No.33).

In the whole matter of justice we will preach more by the witness of our lives than with words. There isn’t much point in being concerned about injustice if we are unjust in our dealings with employees, if we are careless about the environment or greedy in our use of our limited resources, if we fail to challenge the consumerism and the culture of our time.

We need not only to preach justice but to witness to it in our relationship with the Sisters. Often we, the brethren, presume upon the support of the sisters whether in the maintenance of our priories or in the pursuit of our apostolates, but we cannot be effective preachers of justice unless we are seen to deal justly with those closest to us.

Means of Communication

Tree Fourth Priority, although formulated in a modern way as tree means of communication, is deeply, rooted in our tradition. John Mills points out that two centuries before the print revolution Dominicans played an important role in making books a familiar communications media.

An enormous revolution has taken place in the means of communications in this century. We need to be familiar with the language of the media and to “use a language in preaching that is up-to-date, that is the language of the people, which enables us to be truly contemporary preachers” (Avila No 72).

The mass media are themselves an important means of discovering this language. They are also an important source of information about our world. But we must learn to evaluate them in a critical way, develop a healthy respect both for their power and their limitations together with an awareness of how they can be manipulated. We must also be conscious of the positive lessons of the media and the opportunities they afford us in preaching the word. Could we not do this more effectively together?

Dominican Government

One of the most distinctive features of the order is its system of government, the basis of which comes from Dominic himself. Although Congregations of Sisters founded in recent centuries may not have all the elements of our government, they nevertheless see the Dominican form of government as essential to their Dominican life.

Our Constitutions are the guarantors of the rights individuals and communities. The manner of arriving at decisions through the proper use of the Chapter, (the meeting of the professed) is necessary for successful Dominican Government and in no way takes away from the lawful authority of superiors and councils.

In his book Confidence for the Future, in the section on authority, Fr Vincent de Couesnongle wrote:

“The fundamental law of democracy is majority rule, but it is different with us, in spite of our frequent voting. Our law is unanimous rule. In the conventual chapter and it is, the same for provincial and general chapters, the prior should not look for a quick vote, but should try to have the question thrashed out, so that everyone has his say: and a common debate will lead to an agreement that is as near unanimous as possible. This striving for unanimity, even if we do not always succeed in doing it,’ is the sure guarantee of the presence of the Lord and his spirit and by that very fact, it is a more certain way of discovering the will of God. It was thus that in Vatican II, Paul VI held up the taking of some votes to help people to understand the question better and prevent decisions being taken just by a majority vote.

There is no need to point out how much this seeking for unanimity demands from each religious and from the whole community.”

Minority voices must be heard. They may have important things to say that may modify or change a position. If such voices are silenced by a quick majority vote our style of government is violated. Remember Dominican government is for mission, in the service of evangelization.

I share these thoughts with you. We are 40,000 Sisters, 4,000 Nuns, 6,900 Brothers, involved in diverse ministries. What can we not achieve if we work together?

The Role of Study in the Order (1991)

Letter from the Master of the Order. 25 th May, 1991

fr. Damian Byrne, O.P.

When Dominic wanted to form his brothers as preachers he sent them to study”. The importance of study runs like a thread through the entire text of the Primitive Constitutions and marks the way in which observances are lived.

“Our study ought to tend principally, ardently, and with the highest endeavor to the end that we might be useful to the souls of our neighbour.”

The Law of Dispensation is introduced, “especially in those things which are seen to impede study, preaching or the good of souls.” The daily chapter may be postponed or omitted “so that study may not be hindered.” The Office is to be recited “briefly and succinctly lest the brothers lose devotion and their study be in any way impeded.” The Novice Master is to teach those in his care “how they should be intent on study…” This we received from Dominic.

The originality of Dominic is in putting study at the service of preaching and giving study a significance, a specificity that is apostolic.

Study Ordained to Preaching

Study ordained to preaching was an essential part of his plan for the Order. In his Expositio Supra Constitutiones, Humbert of Romans clearly states the Dominican attitude to study when he says:

“Study is not the end of the Order but it is of the utmost necessity to that end which is preaching and labouring for the salvation of souls, for without study we can do neither.”

He is also aware of the danger that study might become an end in itself:

“There are some who devote themselves to sacred writings, but if study is not directed to the doctrine of preaching of what use is it.

The Gillet Constitutions gave the impression that study was linked to the first years of Dominican Life, a necessary preamble to a life of preaching and ministry! Whole generations of Dominicans have been affected by this attitude. The River Forest Constitutions :restored the tradition that study and reflection are an integral part of our religious tradition, yet the earlier spirit persists among many who see study as being confined to specialists, or a particular period of our lives as Dominicans.

Pastoral and Academic

It has been said that “we must walk in the past to understand the present.” An event occurred in 1221 which gave an added pastoral dimension to study within the Order. On the 4th February 1221, Honorius III, commended Dominicans as confessors. It focused the attention of the Order on the need to prepare the brothers for hearing confessions and counselling. While the scope of Dominican study expanded to include philosophy with the creation of the Ratio Studiorum of 1259, the commission of Honorius III to the ministry of confessions launched the Order into a system of education with a strong pastoral bias.

It was the genius of Thomas Aquinas to carry forward Dominic’s fundamental orientation and to broaden; the basis of theological education in the Order through his study of Aristotelian philosophy, which enabled him to give an intellectual foundation to the theology of the goodness of creation and the rejection of dualism. In 1265, Thomas began to write his Summa. Fr Leonard Boyle writes of this time in the life of the students and studium in Santa Sabina and the beginning of the Summa:

“… he was now in position to broaden the basis of their theological education and to break out of the tradition of the practical theology that had hitherto marked the Dominican educational system.” He “attempted to set the regular training in practical theology in the Dominican Order on a more truly theological course.”

Dominic and Thomas shared the same ideal. Thomas’ dedication to study was in no way a neglect of preaching, he shared the same purpose as Dominic – salvation through preaching, formed by a life of prayer, contemplation, study and an apostolic community.

Study and Community

The Chapter at Oakland reminds us of the intimate connection between study and community. “The common life is also the context of our study. First of all because no one can speak of the love of God unless he or she finds that love incarnate. Secondly, no one can be a theologian alone… a full theology must always be the fruit of communal endeavor.” Dominican study is communitarian. The primary responsibility for study lies with the community just has the community has the primary responsibility for preaching.

In the Letter to Brother John, attributed to St Thomas, he replies to John’s request on how to study by first suggesting, – how to live!

The climat of study is all important. He urges on John the importance of silence, the place of prayer – to make room in the heart for the Lord, the need for a tempered curiosity, and the need to cultivate fraternal charity. Those who live in centers of study know well how study is helped or hindered by human relations. The atmosphere for study is enormously aided by a good community spirit.

Victor White, in his commentary on the Letter, draws attention to the Second Part of the Summa, where Thomas reflects on the emotional problems experienced by students and their special need for recreation.

Students have special needs. They need encouragement. Have some of us forgotten what it was like to be young and to struggle ? The acquisition of real knowledge is a gradual and interior process. It is gradual because we are human and not angels. No one else can do our knowing for us. There are no short cuts. We need teachers to guide us but the best teacher cannot do our learning for us.

They need an atmosphere conducive to study and reflection. This is not the least of the purposes of having a studium, a master and teachers to guide us. When we study elsewhere, it is necessary to have a rhythm of life and accompaniment that enables us to pursue our studies in a fruitful way. For us, study is an observance which makes considerable demands. It requires a high degree of personal devotion, discipline and dedication. The habit of study is the result of personal endeavour and perseverance.

Those who teach have special needs. Your work involves the intense application of the mind. The work of investigation and critical reflection is not known for giving immediate gratification or guaranteed recognition. The results are at times so meager that they do not seem to justify the effort. The academic vocation is rare and those who, pursue it are constantly faced with the temptation to abandon it.

You cannot teach students everything and sometimes there is little thanks. Perhaps your greatest gift to them, is to equip them with the tools of critical reflection. Do we need to be reminded once again of the plea in the Acts of the General Chapter of Walberberg ?

“We would say one word to the Brothers: Read Thomas; give this formation to our students so that they are able toread the text of Thomas for themselves.”

Yves Congar described the work of scholarship and research in these words: “The scientific study of philosophy and theology, with all this demands: meticulous documentation, reflection, publication… all these are integral to the Order’s mission. Should it ever neglect them the grace would be given to others… In Biblical science, in historical matters and in the knowledge of sources, there are today, resources at our disposal, which no theologian would ignore or neglect to use in research work.”

A demanding vocation

Our motto is truth. If it meant that we possess the truth, we would be guilty of arrogance. If we understand that we are pilgrims in the search for truth, we have begun to understand our vocation.

Gilbert of Tournai wrote: “We will never discover the truth if we are content with what we have discovered. The writers who went before us are not our masters but our guides. The truth is open to everyone. It has never become the sole possession of any one person.”

In the Office of Readings, we find this comment of Vincent of Lerins: “Is there to be no development of doctrine in Christ’s Church ? Certainly there should be great development. Who could be so grudging towards his fellow men and so hostile to God to prevent it ?”

Dominican study is the study of theology. If our study is dedicated to preaching and moreover doctrinal preaching, then our study has to be theological. Because it is specifically theological does not imply a disregard for other areas of knowledge. If it is theological, it is likewise interdisciplinary.

Pilgrims of Truth

We have a tradition in research and scholarship. How faithful are we to this aspect of our vocation ? It has to be said, that Brothers are more drawn to pastoral involvement than to lives dedicated to study and research. Yet the Church and the time we live in, needs men and women who will dedicate themselves to study and research and to creating a philosophy and theology which speaks of God to the people of today. Are we creating in the Order the conditions for them to emerge and support them when they do ? How few of the topics chosen for doctoral theses address the problems of today!

Addressing the General Chapter in 1983, John Paul II reminded us:

“You Dominicans have the mission of proclaiming that our God is alive… The Prophetic charism within your Order has received the particular seal of theology… Be faithful to this mission of theology and of wisdom in your Order, no matter in what form you are called to exercise it, whether academic or pastoral.”

This tradition of study and theological reflection for the purpose of salvation, continues to challenge us. It does not mean that a Dominican is more learned than others, or that every Dominican must be a specialist in philosophy or theology; but it does mean that the pursuit of truth is an intimate part of the life of every Dominican.

Is the search for truth still valid ? Some say no. Words and language have been so devalued that they no longer mean what they originally sought to convey. On the other hand a preoccupation with subjectivity suggests that the truth is – how I feel. A widespread pluralism suggests that everyone’s opinion is right – truth is relative. On another level we live at a time when society is so busy trying to solve the urgent and concrete problems of our time, a preoccupation with survival, that the study of philosophy is considered irrelevant. Yet the pursuit of truth is our vocation. We believe in God’s gift to every human creature – the ability to discover, to live and communicate truth.

Fidelity to our Tradition, Doing Theology Today

It raises the question of how we do theology. The Chapter at Oakland reminded us: “We have been most theologically creative when we have dared to let ourselves be interrogated by the problems that have burdened, people,” as indeed Thomas was. In the Questiones Disputatae, Thomas addressed the problems of his day as Dominicans must address the problems of ours.

Theology flourished in Salamanca, precisely because Vittoria and his companions addressed the actual questions which came to them from their Brothers in the Americas and dedicated themselves to a theological reflection on these questions. It is, perhaps, the finest example of collaboration between missionaries and teachers.

Fidelity to our past is only possible by addressing the problems of today. We are not being faithful to our past by assuming a defensive or triumphalist attitude or by repeating or mimicking what our brothers wrote, or by a servile interpretation of ancient texts: To study tradition out