In my home parish of St. Joseph in South Bend, we are blessed with the presence of the priests and brothers of the Congregation of Holy Cross, a religious order of priests, brothers, and sisters founded in France by Blessed Basil Moreau in the early 19th century to teach and preach the Gospel among people whose faith had been decimated by the horrors of the French Revolution. This little order eventually made their way to the hinterlands of northern Indiana, where Holy Cross Father Edward Sorin started a little school called Notre Dame in 1842, later establishing St. Joseph as the town’s first parish in 1853.
Different religious orders have sprung up throughout the history of the Church to respond to contemporary issues and to serve the work of evangelization. Each order has its own charism, or mission and way of life, often inspired by a particular individual who has defined that mission. Famous religious orders include the Benedictines (founded by St. Benedict in the sixth century), the Franciscans (St. Francis, 13th century), the Jesuits (St. Ignatius of Loyola, 16th century), and the Missionaries of Charity (St. Teresa of Calcutta, 20th century).
Just a few months ago, I was received into the Lay Dominican fraternity, beginning my process of formation as a member of the religious order started by St. Dominic in the 13th century, also in France, to preach the authentic Gospel among people who were assailed by false teachers of his day. Formally known as the “Order of Preachers,” Dominicans have given the Church many notable saints over the centuries, such as Catherine of Siena, Martin de Porres, and Rose of Lima, as well as Thomas Aquinas and Servant of God Bartolome de las Casas.
Lay Dominicans are men and women who are affiliated with the Order of Preachers, though we live in the world rather than in convents, monasteries, or priories. We are fully members of the order, while we remain married, single, or even ordained as our lives and vocations dictate. We participate in the spiritual life of the order as we are able and benefit from the prayers and work of the entire Dominican family, who consist of brothers, priests, nuns, sisters, and laity.
In day-to-day practice, being a Lay Dominican means that I make a deeper commitment to daily prayer, especially Mass, the Liturgy of the Hours, and the Rosary. I promise to pray for my brothers and sisters in the order, especially those who have died. I am encouraged to participate in regular days of recollection and to make an annual spiritual retreat.
Perhaps the most distinctive trait of Dominicans is the commitment to spend time each day in prayerful reflection and contemplation on truth. Sacred Scripture, divine doctrine, literature, even the hard sciences all reveal something about the God who creates, sustains, and redeems all things. But the Dominican’s study is not merely done to fill one’s head with facts: it overflows into preaching. One well-known motto of the Order of Preachers is “Contemplate, and give to others the fruits of contemplation.”
Daily prayer, contemplation, and preaching: there’s nothing too strange in this list of practices. Indeed, all Christians are encouraged to do these things as they are able. The benefit of doing them as a Lay Dominican is that I am spiritually bound to my brothers and sisters in St. Dominic as an additional support to persevere. Even when I fail to live up to my promises, their prayers and encouragement are a source of grace, calling me back to holiness.
It is said of St. Dominic that he “spoke only to God or of God.” This is an example that seems impossible to follow, so why would I want to invite comparison to St. Dominic when I so obviously am not someone who also speaks only to God or about God? Here, too, there is consolation for Lay Dominicans. In the fraternity’s rule of life, we are reminded that none of the promises are meant to bind Dominic’s followers “under the pain of sin.” The rule is meant to be an encouragement to holiness, not a set of guidelines that weigh us down.
God constantly calls all men and women to preach the Gospel of forgiveness in Christ, to witness to the power of grace to transform sinful lives, and to proclaim the Kingdom. This mission is common to all religious orders – indeed, common to every Christian, no matter how we identify ourselves. God empowers each and every one of us to be conduits of grace, to encourage one another. And He gives us the sacraments, especially Confession and the holy Eucharist, to restore our life of grace and to nourish us in our walk.
St. Paul wrote to the Romans that “none of us lives for himself, and no one dies for oneself,” while the writer of Sirach urged us to “think of the commandments, hate not your neighbor; remember the Most High’s covenant, and overlook faults.” These are reminders that our life of faith is not just “me and Jesus”; rather, we are a band of pilgrims on the road to the kingdom of God. As members of the Body of Christ, we are all connected so fully that together we can pray, “Our Father.” Let us each be an encouragement to one another in Christ.
St. Dominic, and all holy saints of God, pray for us!
Ken Hallenius is a syndicated radio host and podcaster living in South Bend.
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