A Dominican vocation
What is a Dominican?
It is sometimes said that “if you’ve met a Dominican, then you’ve only met one Dominican”. This is on account of the perceived individuality of Dominicans, so it might seem difficult to answer the question “What is a Dominican?”. This individuality might seem unlikely, given our common life and vowed obedience to a common Rule and Constitutions, but it is also a well-known axiom of the great Dominican teacher, St Thomas Aquinas, that grace builds upon nature. As such, it should be unsurprising that there is no uniform ‘type’ of Dominican. For the grace of this religious vocation – our living out of our Christian vocation in a Dominican way – uses, forms and perfects our individual human nature.
Consequently, Dominican spirituality is not so much the study of a text or even just the life of our founder, St Dominic de Guzman, but rather it is the consideration of the lives of all the Dominican saints. For in their diversity we see how God’s grace perfects and brings to fruition each individual whom he has created, but within the context of Dominican life.
What, then, is Dominican life? St Dominic himself did not write a Rule, nor did he leave us a set of spiritual exercises or a fixed path of spiritual growth. Rather, he left us a mission which encompassed all these and more besides. fr Simon Tugwell OP said that what St Dominic wanted “was to preach the Gospel where it was needed most, in whatever way would make it most effective”. Therefore, if the question asked is, “What are Dominicans?”, we might say that Dominicans are those who share St Dominic’s passion and desire to preach the Gospel for the salvation of souls, and they do this because they are truly friends of Jesus Christ and wish to share this divine friendship with all people.
A Dominican, then, is motivated by love for God and neighbour. He or she is, so to speak, intoxicated with love for Christ so that, like the apostles on the day of Pentecost, this love spills over into praise of God and holy preaching. Thus, fr Paul Murray OP says that “we preach a wine of truth that we have actually tasted ourselves, and have drunk with living faith and joy.” This requires of us an interior spirit of contemplation, patiently studying the Word of God and deepening our friendship with God through prayer.
St Dominic’s successor, Blessed Jordan of Saxony said that a Dominican is someone who is called “to live virtuously, to learn, to teach”. Learning comes before teaching, so if a Dominican is a lover of truth and wants to be a preacher of truth, then he is compelled to humbly and diligently seek truth wherever it may be found. Therefore Dominicans are engaged in a variety of ministries and situations all over the world, seeking God in all that is good in his creation.
Although these vocation pages are written principally with the vocation of a friar in mind, much that is said applies equally to the vocations of the Dominican nuns and sisters and members of Dominican Secular Institutes and Lay Fraternities. If you wish to contact them, you will find links on the Dominican Family page.
Fr Aidan Nichols, O.P.
Professed 4 November 1971
I became a Catholic when I was 17. Full of fervour, I wanted to go the whole hog. Why not become a monk, and devote my life directly to God? So that was my first vocational choice, in a Benedictine monastery, and it didn’t last long. But what I hung on to, both from conversion and from monasticism, was having a spiritual life. In particular, I’d discovered a love for the divine Office, especially as sung or recited in choir. All Orders have a spirituality, but not all are committed to a conventual form of worship, with choral celebration of the Liturgy. Later on, in the 1970s, when people were reacting against formality in worship, I got some flack for saying I couldn’t imagine living without a choir-stall. It’s still the case.
While I was at University, my orientation changed and became more apostolic. I got the slightly mad-cap idea of becoming a Catholic missionary to Scandinavia. Ordinands for the secular priesthood were on offer there by an organization called ‘European Priest-Help’. It was while I was at Uppsala (in Sweden) I was told by someone I ought to become a Dominican. Then I could be a monk and a missionary simultaneously.
Basically, that is why I became a Dominican. Historically, Dominicans are not really monks. They are canons regular of the strict observance, who have been turned into a world-wide Order. But in broad terms their life is that of monk-missionaries, and that is why I remain one.
Fr Leon Pereira, O.P.
Professed: 21 September 1999
I was brought up a cradle Catholic, in a fairly devout family. As a teenager I was tempted to lapse, but only because I was being led astray by evangelicals. I was in ignorance. I began to discover the Faith in which I had never been properly catechized when I started to pray the Rosary with a group of students at sixth form. Shortly after my A-levels I had an accident and broke my spine.
My convalescence was long, and to relieve the boredom I began reading theology and to pray the Divine Office. I didn’t really know what either entailed, but I was curious. I had never guessed that the Faith could be so thrilling. Both my heart and mind were drawn.
While at university, the thought of religious life and priesthood grew. A friend, a Benedictine monk, pointed out the Dominicans to me. I was delighted to find the friars I met were both devout and sound. It seemed utterly natural to me to join their family, to become their brother, and by grace to bear their burdens as they bear mine. We help each other not to take ourselves too seriously, and to take God more seriously.
Fr Lawrence Lew, O.P.
Professed: 20 September 2006
Finding myself at home as a Dominican friar began in the first home God gave me: my family. I was born into a devout Protestant family, and they shared with me the gift of faith and an attentiveness to God’s word as well as a zeal for sharing it. However, it was only years later that I discovered the fullness of the Catholic faith when I was sent to a school run by LaSalle brothers in Singapore.
Some years later, a wise Dominican, who is now our Prior Provincial, advised me to take some time away and just be myself rather than a law student, or a seminarian, or an aspiring friar. I spent a year in the Philippines working alongside the Dominicans in their parish in the slums of Manila. And there, I began to feel ‘at home’ with myself. For the Filipino people unconditionally opened their hearts and their homes to me, and I had time and space to think, to pray, and to reflect on God’s goodness to me, on who I was and on how I could serve him. Knowing God’s loving kindness, I was able to respond in love and to give of myself in the Dominican Volunteers International project. After that year abroad, I applied to join the Order of Preachers in England, even though my family live thousands of miles away, for I knew after much thought, prayer and advice that here, with the English Dominicans, is my home.
People, including my parents, sometimes ask me what motivated me to become a religious, and I can think of only one answer. Love. Only love for God, and the consequent passion to follow him and to keep his Word, can lead one to begin and to persevere in this ‘strange’ way of life. But religious life is only strange when seen from the perspective of this world because it is not at home in this world. In fact, it belongs to the world to come. As St Paul says: “our commonwealth is in heaven” (Philippians 3:20).