What openness for Dominican Laity?
Here is the theme you proposed me. I acknowledge that it is not easy for me to speak about this. But, thinking it must be done, I pray the Holy Spirit to help us find a true reflection of our Dominican Vocation, the one we inherit from our ancestors and at the same time, fidelity to the Church, the Order and what the world of today expect. Sometimes we think that openness is used because some fraternities are aging. Openness be viewed fearfully as a marketing ploy to attract new members in our groups. It would be futile to present a vision of laity giving a visibility that in no way corresponds to what you are living. An openness that is not true to what the Dominican Laity is, certainly is no help for renewal. Openness is in the center of our vocation Let’s try to specify what is understood by that… The Dominican vocation is born from communion and this implies a listening attitude. When Dominic travels with his bishop, his intention was not at all to found the Order of the Preachers. Arriving in Toulouse he began to listen to the innkeeper and both discussed all night and Dominique is able, finally, to bring him back to the Church. Discovering God’s calling happens throught all his meetings along the way. The Dominican Vocation becomes a process that never ends because new get together and new challenges, are proposed as we advance and open our hearts and intelligences to others without prejudices. A few days ago I heard a beautiful testimony from a Dominican sister speaking about a meeting in an airport : a lady was saying goodbye to her daughter who was leaving and she was looking at her without saying a word. The sister understood that it was a last farewell, the lady being reached with a serious disease. The conversation with that lady was for the sister a precious moment of testimony and transformation. We also have many important meetings in our lives and these meetings transform and change us. They clarify the direction of our vocation, proposent new urgencies and reveal new horizons. Let us think to Father Lataste, his vocation of preacher changing at the time when he became in a women’s prison. He understood that they were too his sisters, able to pray all night in front of the Blessed Sacrament after a hard workday, like moniales in their monastery. Still let’s think of Father Congar, especially concerning laity, his theology bearing the mark of « Action Catholique ». It would be possible to find many other examples where the Dominican vocation opens to new challenges because of some meetings speaking of God, a real appeal of God. The encounter with « la Parole de Dieu » Maybe it would have been better to begin with that point but what I just said and what I will say are just the same. Dominic has been prepared a long time for his ministry even if he did not know what would be his mission in the Church. The study time in Palencia, life chapter of Osma gave him a close with the Word of God, with the words of grace and mercy he was able to offer to all. The listening prayer is a prayer where the Words of God ask us and always offers new challenges. The Words of God are living Words if allowed to take place in our heart, like Abraham, like the prophets, like Mary. We will be questioned! God offers us new paths, opens new doors, sends us into new fields to bring the seed of his Words. In the path of openness that we try to understand a little better each time, we have to confront the seriousness of our spiritual life. Of sure, I am convinced of the loyalty of many of you in the Liturgy of Hours and I do not doubt your attendance at the Holy Mass even during the week… but I wonder, as I do for myself, if our Prayer nourishes a real and progressive change in our lives. I think a true spiritual life, without too many formulas, but that can seriously question creative fidelity, which is open to great questions of the world and on the response that each day the Lord asks, is fundamental in our lives. Brothers and sisters, to finish this firt part, I will conclude by saying that the heart of openness of every Dominican is in the personal way we open ourselves to God and to others. It will not open if it does not let away things and, foremost, by the action of God who, continually, as the Psalm says, ask us to open our heart. The fraternity life There are more than 35 years that I know the lay fraternities which initially bore the name of « Tiers-Ordre ». In my province they were accompanied by the Brother Promoter, a remarkable man of kindness and goodness. The style of the meetings was always the same: prayer, rosary, spiritual reflection, and that was it. And it has done much good at the time … But I wonder: are our meetings fascinating? If someone is a guest in one of our meetings, what would be his impression? This question bear no harm… I do not know how things are going in your meetings. But I think the fraternity meeting should be a time of sharing the Word of God and life. I think the meeting of a fraternity should not be an isolated moment in the life of the brothers and sisters. If the meeting is reduced to moments that have nothing to do with the life and apostolate of each one, it risks becoming something alien and outside the concrete horizon of our lives. Sometimes we are tempted, at least in some places, to go to the meeting as we hear a scholarly conference. How often I have heard that the meeting was very well because the Promoter Brother talked about a very interesting subject carrying countless knowledge even if it was foreign to our daily lives. I have for some years been assistant to a Secular Institute of Dominican inspiration, founded in France. Of course members have a monthly newsletter to study, but they were able to share, to establish a relationship between the object of the study and the concrete life. The life of a fraternity should be, as recalled by the Master of the Order in his recent letter, a Church experience. We all know that it is not enough to have a vision of ecclesial life reduced to the celebration of Sunday Mass. Living in Church supposes to welcome and be welcomed, to celebrate faith and reflect it, share and make decisions before being sent on behalf of the community. Our reading of Apostle’s Acts is always inspiring. There are vibrant communities where people ask questions, chooses and sends people for new missions. I also would ask the question the dynamism of our fraternities. We must constantly pay attention to the dynamism of the life of the fraternity because only a vibrant fraternity, (and this has nothing to do with the age of its members, but the density of life found there) can testify . I knew a fraternity where members are elderly with a few capacity to support new apostolates but their brotherhood is alive: you can feel in their company the sense and taste for prayer, as well as tenderness for the Order. A dimension that I just mentioned is that of sending. A major challenge of the Order is the sometimes extreme individualism of its members; in all the Dominican family groups I often find a lack of sense of belonging. In a conference where I attended, I heard a lecture that had this very suggestive title: “Your family is much larger than you do judges”. A grand opening of a fraternity is through integration into communion and mutual support of life and especially the apostolic activity of each of its members. We know it well, the Order is present in each of its members, in what they do, their presence in the world and the Church. The commitment of each member is a window that opens on the horizon of the world and the Church. The question I pose is that of the interest, support, communion in prayer and communication about the specific apostolate of each member of a fraternity. It’s the previous question at any openness, that of dialogue and sharing in the fraternity at its primary object, preaching. Of course the Dominican community has a great future, that of developing a profound communion of mind and heart in the words of the Acts of the Apostles, and that means a communion not superficial, but able to find an apostolic dynamism. In the Dominican identity, the apostolate is born of a life and community discernment. In a Christian community, whatsoever besides, there is a dynamic of communion and sending that attracts and questions. A truly secular overture It appears from the studies on the beginnings of the Order of Penance of St. Dominic, in the name of the Rule of Munio de Zamora, that this movement has deep secular roots. Throughout the centuries and until very recently it was used (and still used) and uses a very religious vocabulary: name change, postulate, novitiate, first profession, final profession, the names of brother or sister use. This comes, of course, from a prejudice about the superiority of the religious-clerical state. The more one was close to this state, the more we would be close to perfection. Even without accepting it as it is, this mentality persists in time and mentalities. The rediscovery of laity as a true journey of holiness, supported even in our family by many holy examples of so many lay men and women, opens us to new understanding of the life and witness of the laity in the life of Church. Certainly, the lack of priests and ordained ministers brought the Church to the discovery of new ministries belonging to priests alone, there are only a few decades. But this can lead us to make mistakes: for example, we need lay people because we have not enough priests. Indeed we must always seek a way to preach, to testify in a different style. The Master of the Order in his letter on evangelization by the laity, reminded us that we must preach from experience in different ways of life. Sometimes I suspect that we want to clericalise laity. Preaching has to borrow a secular brand of his life, like mine had to borrow the marks of religious and community life, the rhythm of prayer and study which is his. Sometimes there is too secular discourse in religious persons and too clerical in laymen. To quote Saint Francis de Sales there is something wrong… Going back to the openness, I ask myself the question about the secular character of our fraternities in their language, in their apostolic options in how to pray and discuss issues. I ask you the question of language and uses that we should keep? Are they adapted to this secular dimension of living the Dominican vocation of yours, while not removing anything apostolic dynamism or critical contemplative dimension to our common vocation? Structure and openness I have often heard here and there, that we would need to change the rule. I do not share that view because I think it is quite open and also because it would require us to ask for permission to the Congregation for Consecrated Life to which you are subjected by your membership in the Order of St. Dominic. But there are probably some discomfort about structures … If we revise provincial directories, I think that we need to discover another dimension more adapted to our days. You know that many convents of brothers and sisters have become more and more meeting places, prayer and sharing. Many people, including people in difficult canonical situations find there, prayer and support in their journey of faith, sometimes so difficult and lonely. Can we consider this for our fraternities? I remember a very simple fraternity where some divorced women remarried found a community that welcomes and where, even without being formally members, participate in a common path of Christian life, study and prayer. I ask the question: are our fraternities open communities? Do we have activities where we invite others? Do we offer prayer experiences, reflection to others, Dominican or not, in practical tasks of preaching, service, etc.? I think that overture should not be theoretical but something very concrete. A difficult point is communication with new generations. I think, before we ask if they will take place in our fraternities in a kind of miracle, we could not work together in joint projects? We must not think of immediately attracting, but learning in concrete missions to share a project. Right now in Brazil, a young group of Dominican laity have offered to help the nuns in restructuring their place to receive persons. When we work together we learn to know and consider themselves more. In his letter, the Master of the Order reminded us that the Dominican Laity is very diverse, respecting certainly different levels of membership in the Order. In addition to knowing accommodate these different forms of Dominican lay vocation, without prejudice superiority or greater perfection in the vocation, (we have to accept them as members of our family), I’d like to offer another sign of openness on which think: the question of definitive promises. The European world is a world with new values to which we were not used to. To my poor example, when I made my first profession, I was 21 and for me, even though canon law obliged to remake a few years later my profession until death, I was inwardly convinced of the do for a lifetime. I was born and grew up in a world where stability in the family, at work, in the country was a highlight. Since very little time, everything changed, as we know. Submit a commitment for a lifetime to 30 years, even 40 years seems difficult to accept. It takes more and more time. Perhaps the Rule here, too modeled on the religious format could be more flexible, giving more time, accepting a longer duration of successive engagements. We must know wait a decision even if it takes longer, make more flexible commitment to brotherhood, accept without fear the turbulence of everyone’s life. I think that here as in Europe there is a flexible way to take face in the commitment to the Order and how to offer it, besides that there is, as I have already said, all religious language that most suits a secular vocation. It is time to finish. I believe that the vocation of the laity in the Church is defined primarily by the respect for diversity of shapes that life in the world arouses. Its structure must be flexible, adapting to the different circumstances need. I think that our fraternities are able to respond to this openness not only for vocations that can happen but because this openness is part of the challenge of the vocation of lay Dominicans.