The Feast of Saint Dominic 24th May

The Feast of Saint Dominic 24th May

As we celebrate the feast day of Saint Dominic, we might wonder how our father Dominic would react if he came and saw the Order the way we live our vows today. Would he shake his head, sigh loudly and start a reform that would make any political reform of recent times look like kids playing in a nursery? Or would he nod with a little smile, happy with what he might see? Or should we imagine the diplomatic twist, proposing that he might say something in between?
If we want to know more about what Saint Dominic would say about the state of the Dominican order in 2011 and its present challenges, it may be a good idea to search for answers through his successors. In connection with the election of a new Master of the Order in September last year, the former Master, brother Carlos Alphonsus Azpiroz Costa, wrote his “Relatio”, a reflection on the state of the order as he handed over the Master’s office to Bruno Cadoré. As we are approaching the 800th Anniversary of the Confirmation of the Order, and as it is about 50 years since the Council of Vatican II, fr Carlos reflects on the present situation and on the main challenges of the Dominican life.
Vatican II announced the beginning of a renewal of the Church, a renewal that also affects our Order. The Council announced both a return to the sources (ressourcement) and a better dialogue with the society of modern times (aggiornamento). In other words, the Church felt the need to strengthen the bonds to the deeper mystery of the Church, and thereby enable herself to announce the good news with renewed force in a society that is changing rapidly. Such a programme has parallels with one of the mottos of the order: contemplata aliis tradere – to share with others the fruits of contemplation. In this motto we find both the personal and collective meditation on the Paschal Mystery, and the very foundation for the existence of the Dominican Order, preaching. The former Master introduces his first chapter by citing Saint Paul: ‘Woe to us if we do not preach the Gospel’ (Cf. 1 Corinthians 9:16) (§ 5). The Ordo Praedicatorum has from its very beginning been tied to the task of preaching. As preachers, the words of Saint Paul in the letter of Romans are of special importance: ‘How can they believe in him of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone to preach? And how can people preach unless they are sent?’ (Romans 10: 14-15).
And brother Carlos continues: ‘Dominican itinerancy […] is not being a vagabond or a globetrotter, […] it is about being “sent”’ (§ 35). Our Father Saint Dominic transformed  Saint Paul’s words into reality in his own time as he sent brothers all over Europe to preach. Our vocation remains the same today, and in our time, where individualism and “self-centredness” mark the society, the Order calls for a strengthened readiness to be sent where it seems most useful, ‘for the needs of the Order and the work of Christ’. Evangelisation is what Dominicans are sent for; it is the essential part of our way of life realized through our apostolic activities.
The Order is founded for preaching the Gospel, but the context is not the same now as then. From preaching to a society strongly influenced by the life of Church in the 13th century, we are now facing a very different situation. We often hear about secularisation, and as Christian values and faith are being attacked from many sides, we may notice a tendency of the Church to victimize herself. But brother Carlos challenges us, exactly as we find ourselves in this position: ‘Do we know how to preach in the context of a secularized society? Perhaps we have become secular, too?’(§ 51) These questions are directed to the Dominican family. Nevertheless, it concerns the whole of the Christian Church as we are all members of the same Body of Christ, sent to preach, each in his or her way, the Good News of Redemption and full communion with God.
How may we respond to the challenge of preaching to a secularised society? The first part of the motto that we have mentioned, contemplata, may lead us an answer. To be able to preach, we need to nourish our faith by prayer and by studies. Without a personal relation with our Saviour, our words remain words, lacking the depth given by a living spiritual life. For a Dominican, the context for this is community life, and we may remind ourselves of how Saint Dominic himself begged his brothers to live in ‘community and obedience’. Just as every brother is asked to show willingness to be “sent” in mission and apostolic activity, every brother also has chosen the community life as the basis for all other activities. Brother Carlos describes the community life as ‘the soil in which our life and mission matures’, and he underlines that a majority of the younger generation of Dominican brothers are attracted by the call to community life, seeing the apostolic life and mission as “fruits” of the fellowship of brothers.

It is appropriate here to remind ourselves of the role of the liturgy within the community, and brother Carlos underlines how the common celebration of the liturgy deserves as among the main “works” of our vocation (§ 88), and he exhorts the brothers never to let “business” become an excuse for abandoning the common liturgical life. To neglect this part of the community life is to sacrifice our deep need of intimacy with the Lord, as it will deprive us from the source that feeds us in our study and mission of preaching. The letter of the former Master of the Dominican Order describes the present situation of our religious life, and exhorts us to remain faithful to our life as it is described in our constitutions. At the same time, he pays attention to the younger generations among the brothers, referring to how the vast majority of younger brothers are attracted to the call to community life and how they express a desire of visibility and faithfulness to tradition (§ 12/87). The Dominican Order is in constant movement, just as the Church, being the Body of Christ, seeks to follow the will of her head, Jesus Christ. I would like to end this reflection with some words of brother Carlos Alphonsus Azpiroz Costa that reflect the dynamic of the Dominican life:

If we really believe that every brother who makes profession inserts his life and history into the life and history of the Order, this means that “the brother”, in a sense, will never be the same and analogously neither will “the Order” be the same for having taken him under her wing (§ 12).

You can find the whole “Relatio” here.

Bror Haavar Simon Nilsen OP

fr Haavar Simon Nilsen is a son of the French Province, resident in his native Norway. He studied for a masters degree in Applied Theology at Blackfriars, Oxford.