You never know what you’re going to get!
By Mr. Pedro A. Moreno, O.P.
Since I was asked to contribute an article on Dominican Spirituality, I’ve been praying, studying and reflecting on what to say. I kept coming back to this point: we are all awesomely different.
Many years ago, yes, I’m that old, I heard from a wonderful Dominican friend, Fr. Ralph (RIP), a phrase that has long been around in Dominican circles: “When you’ve seen one Dominican, you’ve seen one Dominican!” The implication is clear: every member of the Dominican family is slightly different.
The same can be applied to our Lay Dominican reality. “When you’ve seen one Lay Dominican, you’ve seen only one Lay Dominican!” We are an awesomely diverse bunch; each living his or her own Dominican spirituality in a slightly diverse way, and that is OK. Each human being’s spirituality will be slightly different, many similarities, but ultimately different. We live in unity but not in uniformity. And once again I reiterate, that is OK.
Fr. Timothy Radcliffe, O.P., past Master of the Order of Preachers, in his Foreword to the book Dominican Spirituality by Erik Borgman, a Dutch Lay Dominican, said the following: “… it is also part of Dominican spirituality to delight in discovering that we do not always agree….”
Fr. Edward Schillebeeckx, O.P., in an article on Dominican spirituality writes: “… When I became a Dominican, I linked my life story with the family story of the Dominicans; as a result, my life story took on a new orientation and I picked up the thread of the story of the Order in my own way. So my own life has become part of the Dominican family story: a chapter in it. Through the story of the Order I have attained my own identity.”
We are one family quilt composed of many threads, each with his or her own identity and each with his or her own variants in the way the Dominican spirituality is lived! Schillebeeckx goes on to say, “A first conclusion already follows from this: a definitive all-round definition of Dominican spirituality cannot be given.”
Dominicans, lay and religious, are a family, and as such, are composed of individual members that do not lose their individuality by becoming part of the family. Every Dominican is different in one way or another just as every member of a family is different while still being part of that family.
In my own family, a major issue is that of alcohol consumption. I can’t hold my liquor, and I am known as a cheap drunk. During my time in the army, I was even known as Private Half Beer! There are a few family stories regarding this issue that I have not shared with anyone else at home. In fact, it scared me to read Dominican Fr. Paul Murray’s book The New Wine of Dominican Spirituality. The metaphor of wine and drunkenness being applied to Dominican spirituality throughout history while being intimidating does make clear how we are all different. I get drunk very easily. Likewise, people will get drunk with the Word of God at varying degrees.
Fr. Hinnebusch, O.P., in the Foreword to his book on Dominican spirituality mentions the need to adapt depending on his audience…
“I have also adapted the material to the needs of a wider reading audience. No longer do I address the sister but the Dominican. While some matter applies specifically to nuns or sisters, the use of masculine nouns and pronouns elsewhere by no means indicates that I am addressing only the members of the First Order. Though the forms and methods of their spiritual life vary to some degree (especially that of the secular tertiary), all Dominicans share the same basic vocation and follow the same spiritual path.”
A never-ending series of adaptations of resources to accommodate the differences among the members of the Dominican family is impossible so all resources on Dominican spirituality should be read and studied with this limitation in mind.
The reality of our diversity, as Lay Dominicans and as Catholics is repeated in church teaching. Here are some examples. First from the Catechism…
2672 The Holy Spirit, whose anointing permeates our whole being, is the interior Master of Christian prayer. He is the artisan of the living tradition of prayer. To be sure, there are as many paths of prayer as there are persons who pray, but it is the same Spirit acting in all and with all. It is in the communion of the Holy Spirit that Christian prayer is prayer in the Church. (695)
2707 There are as many and varied methods of meditation as there are spiritual masters. Christians owe it to themselves to develop the desire to meditate regularly, lest they come to resemble the three first kinds of soil in the parable of the sower. But a method is only a guide; the important thing is to advance, with the Holy Spirit, along the one way of prayer: Christ Jesus. (2690, 2664)
Even Saint Dominic left us an assortment of praying styles and positions! Variety is the spice of the spiritual life!
Recently, Pope Francis, gifted us with a beautiful Apostolic Exhortation entitled Gaudete Et Exsultate, which translated is “REJOICE AND BE GLAD” a quote from Matthew 5:12. The exhortation’s topic is: On the Call to Holiness in Today’s World. Paragraph 11 of the exhortation has some wonderful words of wisdom that apply to Lay Dominicans, and all of the baptized:
“Each in his or her own way” the Council says. We should not grow discouraged before examples of holiness that appear unattainable. There are some testimonies that may prove helpful and inspiring, but that we are not meant to copy, for that could even lead us astray from the one specific path that the Lord has in mind for us. The important thing is that each believer discerns his or her own path, that they bring out the very best of themselves, the most personal gifts that God has placed in their hearts (cf. 1 Cor 12:7), rather than hopelessly trying to imitate something not meant for them. We are all called to be witnesses, but there are many actual ways of bearing witness. Indeed, when the great mystic, Saint John of the Cross, wrote his Spiritual Canticle, he preferred to avoid hard and fast rules for all. He explained that his verses were composed so that everyone could benefit from them “in his or her own way”. For God’s life is communicated “to some in one way and to others in another”.
This quote begins with key words from the last line of paragraph 11 in Vatican II’s Lumen Gentium: “Fortified by so many and such powerful means of salvation, all the faithful, whatever their condition or state, are called by the Lord, each in his own way, to that perfect holiness whereby the Father Himself is perfect.”
Regarding our spiritual lives, I must emphasize that we are not meant to be clones. Every spiritual life, the spiritual life of every Lay Dominican, or any Dominican, is meant to be lived “each in his or her own way”, and this way is never meant to be a complicated way and we should try and avoid complicating our spiritual paths.
Quoting Saint Thomas Aquinas, Pope Francis emphasizes this point in paragraph 59 of Gaudete Et Exsultate:
“Once we believe that everything depends on human effort as channeled by ecclesial rules and structures, we unconsciously complicate the Gospel and become enslaved to a blueprint that leaves few openings for the working of grace. Saint Thomas Aquinas reminded us that the precepts added to the Gospel by the Church should be imposed with moderation “lest the conduct of the faithful become burdensome”, for then our religion would become a form of servitude.”
Moderation, in my personal view, is uniquely important to Lay Dominican spirituality because Dominican spirituality was born, in part, from a reaction against the Albigensian heresy, Catharism, which was a very extremist attempt to forge a path to God.
So, as we strive to live out our Dominican spirituality as lay men and women, as we recommit ourselves each day to practice of the “Four Pillars of Dominican Life”: Prayer, Study, Community, and Preaching, we live our lives inspired by the example of St. Dominic, which was either “talking to God or talking about God,” each Lay Dominican will give these elements of Veritas (truth) a different flavor.
The distinct flavor of our Lay Dominican spirituality will depend on each person’s state of life. It will rely on factors such as whether this lay person is male or female; single, married or widowed; which ethnic background they come from; what level of education they have obtained, which profession has he or she chosen; what their current health status is; their upbringing; and many other variants. All of these will have a direct effect on one’s spirituality, their personal response to God, and their style of preaching.
Fr. Benedict M. Ashley, O.P., mentions, at the end of his book The Dominicans, the following idea regarding our obligation to preach as Lay Dominicans:
“… Dominican Laity share in this same obligation but they, in particular, need today to rethink, as Catherine did, what their opportunities are… They must decide with courage exactly what their relation is to the Dominican family…”
I am sure that how we interpret our preaching opportunities and our relation to the family, will vary a bit depending on which Lay Dominican you speak to, and that’s OK.
Different varieties of Lay Dominicans, like the different varieties found in a box of chocolates will depend on many factors and that includes some nuts in each box, each chapter. This makes us more flavorful and tastier. The lack of uniformity, the presence of diversity while living our unity, is not just OK, it is beautiful. It is a blessing It is a grace-filled communion of love in Christ.
We might not know what we’re going to get in each chapter, but we know it will be good.
Ashley, Benedict M. The Dominicans. The Liturgical Press, 1990. Available at www.domcentral.org/study/ashley/.
Catholic Church. Catechism of the Catholic Church (2nd ed.). Our Sunday Visitor, 2000.
Hinnebusch, William A. Dominican Spirituality: Principles and Practice. Wipf & Stock Publishers, 2014.
Murray, Paul. The New Wine of Dominican Spirituality. Burns & Oates, 2006.
Pope Francis, “Gaudete Et Exsultate.” The Holy See, March 19, 2018. https://www.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/apost_exhortations/documents/papa-francesco_esortazione-ap_20180319_gaudete-et-exsultate.html.
Radcliffe, Timothy. Forward. Dominican Spirituality: An Exploration, by Erik Borgman, Continuum, 2001.
Schillebeeckx, Edward. Appendix: Dominican Spirituality: An Exploration, by Erik Borgman, Continuum, 2001.
Vatican II. Dogmatic Constitution on the Church: Lumen Gentium. November 21, 1964. https://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_const_19641121_lumen-gentium_en.html.
Pedro A. Moreno, a husband, father and catechist, completed his graduate studies in theology and education in Puerto Rico and is a lay member of the Dominican Family, Order of Preachers. He is an award-wining writer and is regularly sought out for parish missions, retreats, courses and workshops.
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