Recently we had a vocations open day at Blackfriars Oxford, a chance for those pondering religious life to have a look at a Dominican house and chat to some of the brothers about the Order, our life, and our mission. I was struck over the course of the day by how often I was asked the question – each time expressed in a slightly different way – what is Dominican spirituality?
This can be something of a tricky question for Dominicans to answer because the systematic methods or techniques of mental prayer that have become synonymous with ‘spirituality’ emerged centuries after the Order’s foundation. Indeed, an elderly friar once told me that he didn’t believe in ‘spirituality’, but he believed in the Holy Spirit, his point being that for Dominicans, a spiritual life is one that is guided and inspired by the Holy Spirit in all its aspects and dimensions. St. Dominic bequeathed us a way of life and a mission, not a methodology. Yet if this tradition is to lead both those that hear us preach and the brothers themselves to God, it must be founded on the one true God. That is, it must be founded on Truth. Hence Veritas – truth- is the motto of the Order of Preachers.
Both the Old and New Testaments witness to the immense danger of individuals, communities and societies founding their lives on falsity, the danger of founding our lives on what is not God. When we make the pursuit of created or human things our purpose we turn these created things into idols, false gods. These idols inevitably stifle our humanity, trapping us in ideas and practices that inhibit our flourishing. Christ promises that the truth will set us free (John 8: 32). As Dominicans, then, our prayer, our common life, our study, and our preaching should be orientated towards exposing these idols that enslave humanity and, like St. Dominic, preaching instead the one true God who has revealed his great love for us in Christ Jesus. A life founded on Christ is a life founded on love, a love that is true, a love more powerful than death.