Principles and Practice
DOMINICAN LIFE is APOSTOLIC
The general end of the Dominican Order is the sanctification of its members through contemplation; its special end is the salvation of souls through preaching. These two ends are not contradictory; in fact, they are one. The second implies the first. Preaching is the fruit of the life of prayer. Through contemplation the Dominican loves God so much that he must love his neighbor and become an apostle. He cannot rest until he proclaims God’s glory to the whole world.
Contemplation Makes the Apostle
The Order’s vocation is sublime. It enables the friar to fulfill the two supreme precepts of the law: “Thou shaft love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart, and with thy whole soul, and with thy whole mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. And the second is like it, thou shaft love thy neighbor as thyself” (Matt. 22: 37-39). It is God first, and then the neighbor.
This order of love is seen very well in the life of St. Catherine of Siena. She first became a contemplative, then an apostle. In the first part of his life of Catherine, Bl. Raymond of Capua describes her prayer life — how she learned to love God by retiring from the world, even as she continued living at home with her family. She had her little cell and was happy in her life of prayer with God, content to continue so until her death. But then Our Lord appeared to her, telling her that she would become an apostle:
Your heart will burn so strongly for the salvation of your fellow men that you will forget your sex and you will change your present way of life. You will not avoid the company of men and women as you do now, but for the salvation of their souls you will take upon yourself every kind of labor.
Later in his volume Raymond relates how this happened. After Catherine reached the heights of the mystical life and had received the grace of spiritual marriage, the Lord brought her out of her retirement, compelling her almost, to become an apostle, to have dealings with other people, yet not depriving her of His company: “Go, it is dinner time and the rest of the family is about to sit down at the table. Go and be with them and then come back to Me.” Catherine protested: “No, Lord, it is far from the immense perfection of your goodness to order me or anybody thus to be in any way separated from Thy goodness.” To this protest Our Lord replied:
Be quiet, sweetest daughter. It is necessary for you to fulfill every duty so that with my grace, you may assist others as well as yourself. I have no intention of cutting you off from me. On the contrary, I wish to bind you more closely to myself by means of love of neighbor . . . I want you to fulfill these two commandments. You must walk, in fact, with both feet, not one, and with two wings fly to heaven.
This text is a perfect description of the Order’s life — contemplative and apostolic. In this instruction to St. Catherine, Christ shows the friar that if he pursues his apostolic work in the right spirit it will not separate him from God.
The Dominican apostle imitates both Christ and St. Dominic. Both were contemplatives. Jesus spent thirty-three years on earth; thirty were devoted to his hidden life, three to his public life. St. Dominic lived about fifty years; approximately the first ten years of his priesthood were devoted to contemplative prayer, the last sixteen to the apostolate. These facts and figures teach a great lesson: The contemplative life must precede the active life, not necessarily in time but always in importance. Contemplation is more important than action as it is the source of action.
Dominic’s contemplation made him apostolic. Jordan of Saxony speaking of the Founder’s years at Osma, describes his singular gift of compassionating sinners, the wretched, and the afflicted:
Spending the nights in prayer, he was accustomed to pray to his Father most constantly behind closed doors. Occasionally during his prayers, from the groanings of his heart, he would let slip cries and words; nor was he able to contain himself, so that bursting forth he could be clearly heard from a distance. It was his frequent and special prayer to God to deign to grant him charity that was efficacious in caring for and working for the salvation of men. He considered that he himself would only then become truly a member of Christ, when he would have spent himself wholly, to the extent of his powers, in gaining souls; like the Lord Jesus, the Savior of all, who gave Himself totally for our salvation.
He prayed thus for zeal, an essential requisite for the apostle; when God answered his prayer, calling him into the apostolic field, he was ready.
Dominic found his new vocation his first night in Toulouse when he met the Albigensian innkeeper. Moved with compassion for this lost sheep, he spent the night persuading him of his errors. His years of prayer at Osma bore their first fruit as the morning dawned, when he gained the man’s conversion. This conversion was a turning point for Dominic too. His craving for souls could no longer be satisfied. All the remaining years of his life he spent seeking them. Pons, Cistercian Abbot of Boulbonne, spoke of this zeal during the canonization process at Toulouse: “He thirsted for souls and was fervent in prayer and preaching. The sins of men crucified him and it could be said of him what was said of Paul the apostle, ‘Who is weak and I am not weak'”(II Cor. 11:29).
The friars who lived in close association with the Founder emphasized this zeal.
He had a burning zeal for the salvation of souls, not only of Christians, but also of Saracens and infidels, and he exhorted the brethren to be like-minded. Dominic’s love for souls was so great that he wanted to preach to the pagans and, if necessary, give his life for the faith. He planned to do this as soon as the Order was well established.
John of Spain testified that Dominic “. . . preached constantly and, in every way possible, exhorted the brethren to do the same. Sending them to preach he begged and admonished them to be eager for the salvation of souls.”
St. Catherine of Siena’s zeal matched that of St. Dominic. Raymond of Capua relates how her love for souls developed. At the ago of seven, after she had made the vow of virginity, Catherine began to long for souls and had an especially strong love for saints who had labored for their salvation. About this time she discovered that the Order of Preachers had been founded out of zeal for the faith and the good of souls. From then on she conceived such a high idea of this Order that whenever she saw any of the preaching friars going past her house, she would watch where they had put their feet and when they had passed by, go and kiss their footprints in a spirit of great humility and devotion. An unquenchable longing to become a member of the Order and join in its work of helping souls arose within her.
How did St. Dominic become an apostle? By keeping the Rule of St. Augustine and the Constitutions of the Canons of Osma. The Rule of St. Augustine, patterned on the life of the apostles, powerfully develops the apostolic spirit in those who keep it. The community life prescribed by Augustine wonderfully prepares the soul to work for souls. When Gregory IX was ready to declare St. Dominic a saint, he told the priests who had come to petition for the canonization: “In Dominic I knew a man who lived the rule of the apostles in its totality.” Yearning for souls and burning with zeal, he does not surprise us by founding an order of preachers whose special duty was preaching for the salvation of souls.
Expansion of the Order’s Apostolate
If this is the purpose of the Order of Preachers, how can Dominicans justify the multiple ramifications and developments of the original apostolate? How can they arrive at the heart of what the Founder did? He established an apostolic Order to continue the work of Christ who came to save souls, died for them, and sent the Apostles to prolong his mission. Their primary duty was to preach: “Go into the whole world and preach the Gospel to every creature. He who believes and is baptized shall be saved, but he who does not believe shall be condemned” (Mark, 16:15-16). Their chief work was to propagate the faith and save souls.
Preaching is proclaiming the faith. We can do this in a classroom as well as in a pulpit; we can preach by good example as well as by broadcasts and books. Every action which teaches truth, which reveals the person of Christ in one way or another, can be considered the work of a Dominican. Father Vincent McNabb was so impregnated with this truth that he wanted even his corpse to preach. Calling for a plain funeral, he said:
I don’t want a shaped and polished coffin such as they usually provide, nor should I like to have a brass factory-made cross on it nor be labelled with a brass label. I want an ordinary box made of the same sort of wood as this floor.
A large cross and an inscription in black should be painted on its lid. His body should be hauled to the cemetery on a builder’s truck with coffin, acolytes, and cross bearer sitting in plain view. When Fr. McNabb had completed these instructions, he continued:
Of course, I know what some people will say: “That’s McNabb and his tomfoolery, McNabb and his publicity, showing off.” But it isn’t that, my dear Father, it isn’t that . . . All my life I have preached and when I am no longer alive I shall still preach. I shall preach even with my dead body . . . .
The Constitutions have long recognized that preaching could be interpreted in a wide sense. Since 1505 the successive editions have always bracketed preaching and teaching: “. . . it should be our chief concern to be useful to the souls of our neighbor. With this particular end is closely connected teaching and defending the truths of the Catholic Church both by word in the schools and by different kinds of teaching.” Should St. Dominic, who used all the avenues that were open to him to spread the faith, return today, he most certainly would urge his children to enter the educational field and use audio-visual and the many other new methods of reaching souls.
He would even be pleased with the singing apostolate of Sister Sourire, whose recordings bring “light music with a message.” Her collection of gentle folk songs (she is composer, lyricist, and soloist) poignantly demonstrate that the things of God are gay not gloomy, that no earthly thing is alien to his service. Her “Dominique” is the most popular of all her songs:
Dominic, Oh Dominic,
Over the land he plods along
And sings a little song,
Never looking for reward
He just talks about the Lord
To bring back the straying liars
And the lost sheep to the fold,
He brought forth the Preaching Friars,
Heaven’s soldiers, brave and bold.
Grant us now, O Dominic,
The grace of love and simple mirth,
That we all may help to quicken,
Godly love and trust on earth.
When told that her album had become an international best-seller, the Singing Sister replied:
I’m glad, because it carries a message to the world outside our walls. In Fichermont our religious life is not as strict and stifling as people think. We laugh, we smile, we sing, and I guess my songs prove that.
Although St. Dominic dealt with the conditions of the early thirteenth century and could not have foreseen how his Order would develop, he did not want it to stagnate. His own spirit was progressive. He did not scruple to make innovations to meet the problems of his time. The whole concept of his Order with its worldwide preaching mission and many of its means, such as the use made of the powers of dispensation, the abandonment of manual labor, the strong reliance on doctrine and study, the adoption of strict poverty, the development of a centralized, yet democratic, government, were new. Dominic’s spirit was as broad and Catholic as that of the Church.
This Catholic quality and the Christlike character of the Founder were impressively illustrated in a vision accorded to St. Catherine of Siena. God the Father himself compared Dominic to Christ and Dominicans to the Apostles:
The holy Virgin asserted that she saw in a vision the Supreme and Eternal Father producing from His mouth, His co-eternal Son, who was clearly shown to her in the human nature which he had assumed. And while she was contemplating him, she saw the Blessed Patriarch Dominic come forth from the breast of the Father, surrounded with light and splendor, and she heard a voice come forth from the same mouth, saying: “Beloved daughter, I have begotten these two sons, one by nature, the other by sweet and tender adoption.” Now as Catherine stood amazed at this comparison so elevated, which rendered equal, so to speak, a saint with Jesus Christ, he who had uttered these surprising words explained them himself.
. . . Just as this My natural Son, as eternal word of my mouth, spoke openly to the world whatever I charged him to say, and bore witness to the truth, as he himself said to Pilate, so too my son by adoption, Dominic, preached openly to the world the truth of my words, both among heretics and among Catholics, and not only while he lived, but also through his successors, through whom he still preaches and will always preach. For just as my Son by nature sent His disciples, so my son by adoption sent his friars.
The comparison of our holy father with Christ need not stop at this point; we can carry it further. When Our Lord died, the Church was in its infancy but he had given it all it needed to grow. The Apostles had received their preaching mission. Today the Catholic apostolate has evolved in thousands of ways. Never did the Apostles realize all the things the Catholic Church would be doing in the twentieth century. Yet no one asks whether these activities are a legitimate development of what Our Lord intended, despite the fact that preaching was the primary commission given to the Apostles. If the pope and bishops approve an activity, we know that it is Catholic and apostolic.
In 1221, when its Founder died, the Order of Friars Preachers was an infant Order; it had three monasteries of nuns, perhaps twenty-five priories, and about 250 friars. But in founding it, Dominic had given it all it needed to grow. Above all, he had given his sons their preaching mandate. Today, contemplating the Order, we see that this mission has unfolded in hundreds of ways. We do not question whether this is legitimate. Rather, we look back through the pages of history and witness how the Order, guided by the masters general and the general chapters, adapted its apostolate, bringing it up-to-date in each new age according to the principles laid down by St. Dominic. This constant “aggiornamento” continues under the same enlightened guidance.
Let us examine a case to see how the early friars interpreted the mind of their Founder. In 1217 he sent eight of his disciples to study at the University of Paris. Less than ten years after his death, when the opportunity came to take a chair of theology at the University, the friars took it, becoming professors even though St. Dominic probably never considered this possible. Actually, the University itself was developing. In 1221 no one could have predicted the tremendous intellectual changes that would take place there. Dominic’s sons, especially under the leadership of Jordan of Saxony, Dominic’s successor, Humbert of Romans, Albert, and Thomas, carried the Order into the heart of this expanding academic universe. This evolution was a natural growth from the seed the Founder planted in 1217.
During the Master-generalship of Jordan, while many of Dominic’s earliest disciples were still living, the Order took on the following works: university teaching, foreign missions, and the Inquisition. Dominicans were soon solving social problems, reforming monasteries, visiting dioceses for the pope, helping to found other Orders, serving as confessors to kings and advisors to bishops. They were aiding people to make wills, acting as ambassadors and arbitrators. Though the Order regretted seeing so many friars engaged in work of this kind, because it feared that preaching would fade into the background, it did not stop them. If Jordan of Saxony or the first disciples had thought that these activities were against the will of their holy father, they would have had to protest and forbid them. On the contrary, when new ways of saving souls opened to the friars, who did not interpret preaching in the narrow sense, they entered them.
The Order’s Flexibility
Such expansion of the Order’s works was possible because the Founder had made his Order apostolic, giving it the adaptability that enabled it at all times to achieve its end — the salvation of souls through preaching. He attained this effect by embodying the power of dispensation in the Constitutions, authorizing the prior to dispense from monastic observances when any of them stood in the way of “preaching, study, or the salvation of souls.” The eminent Franciscan historian, Archbishop Paschal Robinson, stressed the importance of the power of dispensation in an address he delivered in 1916, during the seventh centenary celebration of the Order of Friars Preachers:
I would point out another novel feature which stands out in Dominic’s rule and which is quite peculiar to his Order, namely: the principle of dispensation. At the head of the Constitutions the principle of dispensation appears jointly with the very definition of the Order’s purpose, and is placed before the text of the laws to show that it controls and tempers their application — a thing quite unknown under that form in the older religious rules. This system of dispensation, properly understood, may be called truly the masterpiece of Dominican legislation. It has, in a great degree, enabled the Order to bend itself to new needs and to preserve its unity. It is also a perfect instrument of the ascetic spirit, entailing, as it does, a surrender at all times of small views and low aims.
A Dominican, therefore, is never scandalized when superiors grant dispensations. They are not intended primarily for the good of the friar (except when he is sick or incapacitated) but for the good of the apostolate. When given for that purpose they do not weaken the religious spirit, for they are then unselfish and motivated by zeal.
The history of the Order in the United States proves that Dominicans in the New World understood the spirit of their Founder. When the welfare of souls called, they were quick to enter new fields of labor. Father Edward Dominic Fenwick, an American member of the English province, brought the Order to the United States with the cherished hope of establishing a college in Maryland. Priests were badly needed everywhere in the new Republic, and he hoped that his school would be a nursery of many vocations. But Bishop John Carroll pointed across the Allegheny Mountains to the missionary fields. Thus a century-long struggle began on the frontier. Vocations were few and the hardships great. The priests of the province covered the old Midwest and Northwest on horseback with their Mass kits in their saddle bags to keep faith alive among the scattered Catholic settlements. Fenwick himself became the Apostle of Ohio. The tremendous increase of vocations and development of activities after 1900 may be a divine reward for the labor and sacrifice of the early fathers.
The toil of the frontier did not mark the limit of the province’s sacrifices. Fr. Bernard Walker describes vividly the Order’s contributions to the Church in the United States.
During the sixty years (1807-1867) the Province of St. Joseph was developing . . the total number of those who entered the Order in America, and made profession, was less than one hundred; . . So hard was the life that eight students died before ordination; twelve who attained the priesthood survived less than five or six years on the missions; and ten more gave their lives ministering to the plague-stricken in one or other of the epidemics so frightening and fatal in those days. There were never more than forty priests at any one time in the Province . . . . And yet six of those early brethren were chosen for the episcopacy before the Civil War . . . Only one other religious institute in America gave so many of its subjects to the hierarchy in the period under discussion. It may truly be said that the interests and development of the Order were sacrificed for the good of the Church in our country for nearly a century.
When the pioneering period of St. Joseph’s Province closed with the end of the Civil War, preaching became the dominant activity of the fathers, especially in conducting parochial missions, a work that brought them to the great cities and back to the Atlantic seaboard. Their mission bands were unmatched in this apostolate, so reminiscent of the age of St. Dominic. Men like Fathers Charles Hyacinth McKenna, Clement Thuente, and Ignatius Smith drew overflowing crowds into the churches when they entered the pulpits.
Father Walter Farrell, in a sense, began a new era. Primarily a teacher, he labored most of his priestly life in the houses of study, but alongside this academic work he developed a busy career as writer, lecturer, retreat master, confessor, and director of souls. He is best known for his four-volume work, A Companion to the Summa, an eminently successful adaptation of the Summa theologiae of St. Thomas to the modern age. Father James M. Gillis, C.S.P., himself a great preacher and journalist, expressed his pleasure in discovering,
. . . in what is at once a translation and a running commentary of the Summa, wit and humor and epigrammatic expression. They are there . . . wit, wisdom, humor. And the marvel of it is that as the author says (he is an author though he might call himself only a translator and expositor) “the whole work is not a book about the Summa” but the Summa itself reduced to popular language.
The career of Fr. Farrell, perhaps exemplifies the many accommodations American Dominicans have made to modern needs. Beginning with their pioneering days, moving through the stage of parochial missions, entering into the foreign mission fields in China, Pakistan, Nigeria, Chile, Peru, and Bolivia, and terminating in the educational and Newman Club work of the current period, the fathers have attempted to keep abreast of the changing scene.
Dominican sisters [See: The Order of Preachers in the U.S.] have joined them in making these adaptations. Father Thomas Wilson, prior of St. Rose, Kentucky, knew how to evoke a spirit of sacrifice in Catholic young women. He appealed to his congregation in February, 1822, for vocations to the sisterhood. Katherine Burton describes the result:
He was not prepared for what followed his plea. He had hoped that two or three would answer his appeal for he had noted that several of the young women present were listening intently. He was not prepared to have eight volunteers.
Together with Angela Sansbury, one of the volunteers, Father Wilson founded the first congregation of Dominican sisters in the United States. Mother Angela also founded a second motherhouse in Ohio. The Kentucky experience was duplicated by Father Samuel Mazuchelli, who established a community in Wisconsin. In 1853 the American sisters were joined by a heroic band of volunteer Second Order nuns who came from Regensburg, Germany, to aid in the work of education. A dozen Third Order congregations have sprung from the foundation they made in Brooklyn. Dominican sisters stood, indeed, in the vanguard of the American Catholic educational apostolate. Most of the thirty motherhouses devote themselves to education.
Dominican sensitiveness to current needs continued to be manifested. Mother Alphonsa (Rose Hawthorne Lathrop, daughter of Nathaniel Hawthorne) and Mother Mary Welsh entered the apostolate of mercy. Describing the aims of the Dominican Servants of Relief for Incurable Cancer she had founded, Mother Rose wrote:
I am trying to serve the poor as a servant. I wish to serve the cancerous poor because they are avoided more than any other class of sufferers; and I wish to go to them as a poor creature myself, though powerful to help through the openhanded gifts of public kindness, because it is by humility and sacrifice that we become worthy to feel the holy spirit of pity and to carry into the disorders of destitute sickness the cheerful love we have gathered from the Heavenly Kingdom for distribution.
Mother Mary Welsh established the Dominican Sisters of the Sick Poor. They pursue a home missionary apostolate centered in nursing the sick poor in their own homes regardless of race, color, or creed. Both communities find many opportunities of ministering not only to the physical but also to the spiritual needs of the poor.
The Maryknoll Sisters were the first to carry American Dominicans into the foreign mission field. The Dominican Mission Sisters, founded in Chicago in 1955, have chosen catechetical and social work in the United States and foreign missions all over the world as their apostolate. Their first missionary bands have gone to the understaffed missions of Latin America.
These examples are impressive proof that Dominican Sisters share in the apostolic mission of their Order. Every religious, indeed, by the very fact of taking vows becomes an apostle in spirit, desiring the salvation of all men. As His Excellency Archbishop Paul Phillipe, O.P., writes in his The Ends of the Religious Life according to St. Thomas Aquinas:
. . . Christian perfection comprises contemplation of God and love of neighbor; one cannot really love God, if one does not seek to know him and if one does not love his neighbor. Every religious, even the most active, must tend to and may attain the perfection of contemplation — the lives of the saints offer us many examples of great contemplatives in the active life. Likewise, every religious, even though exclusively contemplative and solitary, must desire the salvation of all men and can collaborate in it through his prayer and penitential life. In other words, contemplation and love of neighbor are part of the general end of every religious Institute, because they are elements of Christian perfection . . .
If this is true of members of every religious Order and Congregation, it is especially true of Dominicans. They belong to the Order of Preachers, an institute entrusted by the Church with the mission to preach, the supreme apostolic function. We can illustrate how its members contribute to this work by looking at the life of the laybrothers. They do not enter the pulpit, the classroom, or the ministry, yet they are apostolic because they are integral members of the Order of Preachers. By vow they belong to it and share its work. The brothers free the priests for study, prayer, and preaching by relieving them of many duties. They help with their own very efficacious prayers and sacrifices. It is said that when Lacordaire preached his famed sermons in the pulpit of Notre Dame, a brother sat beneath the pulpit praying his rosary. Perhaps in the eyes of God the brother’s rosary did more good than the preacher’s words. This is all implicit in the official name given the brothers as recently as 1958 by the general chapter of Caleruega. No longer are they to be known as laybrothers but as brother cooperators. This is what they have always been, but now are so in name as well.
Contemplative nuns, also, do not engage directly in the apostolate but by vow are incorporated into an apostolic Order. They “strive after Christian perfection; and by means of that perfection, implore for the labors of their brethren abundant fruits in holiness.” By their prayers and sacrificial lives they implore grace for their brothers and sisters working directly for souls.
Sisters of the Third Order and tertiaries also participate in the Order’s apostolate, helping by their prayers, sacrifices, and holy lives. In addition, the sisters actually teach Catholic truth. It is not necessary to stand in the pulpit to do that. Most priests spend far more time speaking to one soul in a confessional or parlor than they do preaching in the pulpit. A nursing sister may teach truth to a sick person in a hospital ward.
Sisters, as members of the laity, may not teach as bishops and priests do; nevertheless, schools and hospitals are places where the truth may be proclaimed. Furthermore, Dominican sisters, as members of a congregation ecclesiastically approved and incorporated into the Dominican family, are invested by the Church with a mission that carries with it a command and an office to teach. They fulfill a definite role, one that is official, juridical, and canonical. They collaborate with the hierarchy in carrying out its work of sanctification and government, not because they have the sacred powers of orders and jurisdiction but because their Congregation is definitely commissioned to instruct the faithful in Christian doctrine. This teaching is primarily the pastor’s office, but sisters, as members of an approved religious family, have a mandate to aid him.
In his Summa theologiae, St. Thomas discusses the special graces of which St. Paul speaks in his first Epistle to the Corinthians, such as the grace of working miracles or prophesying (Summa Theol., II II, q. 177). Among these Paul classes the grace of the word (gratia sermonis, et sapientiae, et scientiae) (I Cor. 12: 8). This is a preeminent grace given sometimes to the preacher, teacher, or writer, not for his own spiritual benefit but so that he may more effectively instruct those who listen to him, that he may move them to hear the word of God eagerly and with joy and that he may induce them to love his doctrine and carry it out. Women also, Thomas writes, even though they do not teach as bishops and priests do, may receive this grace when they teach the word of God; for example, a mother instructing her children or a sister exercising her spiritual motherhood in the classroom. But God does not always give this special apostolic grace. Why he does in some cases and not in others is a mystery. It cannot be merited. It is only possible for the preacher or his hearers to remove the obstacles to its bestowal by their prayers or good works. Moreover, once given, it may be lost in two ways: either through the fault of the speaker who seeks for glory or applause, or through the sin of the hearers who in some way resist it.
Even when it is not a question of this special grace, both the speaker and his audience must rely on ordinary grace: the speaker to prepare and carry out his assignment, the hearer to receive God’s word with fruit. It is one thing to proclaim the word; another to preach with spiritual fruit. It is grace which causes the words of preacher, teacher, or writer to fructify in the souls of those whom he reaches. That is why we give so much credit to Lacordaire’s laybrother. His prayers begged graces for both preacher and audience. “Unless the Holy Spirit fills the hearts of the listeners,” wrote St. Gregory the Great, “in vain does the voice of the teacher resound in their ears.”
The personal life of the apostle, therefore, is intimately connected with his apostolic work. Since he must rely on grace if he wants to produce fruit worthy of heaven, he must fear to place obstacles in the way of grace, fear to impede God’s generosity by a life that is lukewarm or poorly motivated. He must so live as to receive grace; he should pray for it and hope for it. He may even hope to receive, if God so wills, the grace of the word.
At this point we again contact the genius of the Dominican Order. The Dominican contemplates, hoping that when he has gazed on the truths of faith and his heart has been fired with love for God, he may carry his knowledge and love to his hearers. It is this inner life which makes his apostolic life germinate. When priests preach and sisters teach, they hope that their words, pregnant with grace, will bear fruit, that their audience will hearken to the word of God and obey it.
Sanctity Needed for the Apostolate
To be a true apostle, then, a Dominican must sanctify himself first. In all his endeavors, he must go back constantly to that starting-point, his own sanctification. “An apostolic message that has not been shaped in the sanctuary, in the choir, and in the cloister is never complete.” The Constitutions stress personal sanctification at their very outset:
As the Rule admonishes us, the first reason why we are gathered together is that we might dwell together in harmony in the house, and there may be in us but one mind and one heart in God, so that we may be found perfect in charity.
The road to personal holiness is the first thing that the Constitutions instruct the master of novices to teach his subjects:
Before everything else, let the master of novices teach them and assiduously recommend to them that they totally fulfill the precept about the love of God and neighbor which stands at the head of the Rule . . .
The Constitutions of the Second Order also emphasize personal holiness: “The Nuns of the Sacred Order of Preachers . . . strive after Christian perfection.” It is only then that their apostolic work is mentioned: “. . . and by means of that perfection, implore for the labors of their brethren abundant fruit in holiness.” The Constitutions of the Third Order are even more explicit:
The Order of our holy father St. Dominic was instituted for the sanctification of its members and the salvation of souls. The principal and essential end of our congregation is, then, the personal sanctification of the sisters.
Their Constitutions immediately link this primary aim to the apostolate. “The secondary or special end is the education of Catholic youth, care of orphans, the nursing of the sick, or the conducting of retreat houses.” Personal holiness is the source of the apostolate. A saintly life clears away the obstacles obstructing the graces needed for working among souls.
The means St. Dominic gave his children to make them apostles are identical with those that make them holy. This was to be expected, for the two ends are but one. The charity which leads the Dominican to seek union with God, prompts him to love his neighbor and work for his salvation. The means established by our holy Founder are, first, the vows of religion and the community life. Then come the liturgy, other prayers, monastic observances: fasts, abstinence, silence, and all the practices which Rule, Constitutions, and custom impose. These means fill their double purpose, sanctifying the member and preparing for the apostolate. Prayers implore God’s mercy, make reparation, and beg graces for sinners. When the Dominican steps from the sanctuary, choir, or cloister into the ministry, he has already prepared the way.
The means established by the Order enable the friar to help souls by living a sacrificial life. He imitates St. Dominic who offered himself through his vows as a holocaust, giving himself to be consumed completely in the Divine service. He continued to sacrifice himself daily by utmost fidelity to the observances of his religious life. After he became an apostle, he prized the observances not only for their sacrificial quality but also for their apostolic value. During his entire life as a preacher, he did his utmost to carry the recollection of the cloister with him, fulfilling as far as possible the monastic duties of his state, keeping the silence, reciting the canonical hours at the prescribed times, praying long into the night after his preaching day was done.
But even though the Order’s contemplative and apostolic lives are so well integrated, it is difficult under the hectic conditions of the twentieth century to carry the spirit of contemplation into the apostolate. Dominican sisters especially are making exceptional sacrifices to bear their heavy load of teaching. They give a considerable part of their day to classes, cutting deeply into their time for the community and prayer. They teach all day, have meetings, debates, plays. Then they come back to their convent and begin preparations for the next day. If only the load could be lightened — fewer classes, fewer extraneous activities, so there would not be so much rushing so little time for silence and solitude.
St. Catherine of Siena, the special patroness of Dominican sisters, has taught them how to overcome this difficulty and preserve their recollection. When her family deprived her of her room and made her “do all the menial work in the kitchen,” they took away both the time and place for prayer and meditation. Raymond of Capua relates how she solved her problem:
Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit she began to build up in her mind a secret cell which she vowed she would never leave for anything in the world . . . having made herself an inner cell which no one could take from her, she had no need ever to come out of it again . . . Catherine built for herself a cell not made with human hands, helped inwardly by Christ, and so was untroubled about losing a room made with walls built by men. I remember [Raymond continues] that whenever I used to find myself pressed with too much business, or had to go on a journey, Catherine would say again and again, “Make yourself a cell in your own mind from which you need never come out.”
Father Gerald Vann in his own inimitable way made a modern version of this same advice:
. . . to be contemplative means to be a prayerful person, and that means to be a person who is thoughtful before God. Now, this does not necessitate a great deal of physical stillness. Many saints have led lives of intense activity; and Brother Lawrence, the 17th-century Carmelite laybrother, describes how he learned to live quietly and continuously with God amidst the clatter of his kitchen.
To animate themselves for their apostolic burden, Dominicans should reflect that St. Dominic had to sacrifice the peace and quiet of his cloister for years of constant traveling and preaching. The real preacher would remain in the priory or the convent adoring God if his neighbor did not need him. Adoration is better than preaching or teaching, but the Dominican loves God so ardently that he leaves his community and goes out to preach and teach for the salvation of souls. St. Thomas describes his apostolic spirit:
There are some who have ascended to such a summit of charity that they even put aside divine contemplation, though they delight greatly in it, that they may serve God through the salvation of their neighbors; and this perfection appears in Paul (see Rom. 9:3 and Phil. 1:23). Such also is the perfection proper to prelates and preachers and whosoever works to bring about the salvation of others. Hence they are symbolized by the angels on the ladder of Jacob, ascending through contemplation, descending, however, through the solicitude they feel for the salvation of their neighbors (De carit., a. 11, ad 6 ) .
This is what the Dominican sister does daily when she enters the classroom. “Laying aside for the love of God the sweetness of the contemplative life, which she prefers, she takes up the occupations of the active life to obtain the salvation of her neighbors” (St. Thomas, Quodl. I, q. 7, a. 14, ad 2 ). This sacrifice is pleasing in God’s eyes, motivated as it is by love and obedience. She goes into the classroom to reveal the person of Christ, to teach her pupils to know and love him. He is with her when she goes to the classroom in this spirit. As she rises from her contemplation, Christ says to her as he said to St. Catherine of Siena: “I have no intention of cutting you off from me. On the contrary, I wish to bind you more closely to myself by means of love of neighbor. . .”
A natural mother gives birth to her child in pain and sacrifice. The religious sister experiences the pain of many hours of separation from her Eucharistic Lord. She feels the sacrifice she makes of her prayer life to make possible her work in the classroom. Are not these the pain and sacrifice of spiritual maternity? This sounds idealistic but is factual and real. There is a spiritual maternity. Who else but the sisters, under God, are doing so much for souls in the United States? Priests do something far greater in administering the Sacraments and saying Mass, but the cost is far less to them personally. The Mass and the Sacraments come from God. Contemplative nuns with their rigorous austerities and strictly cloistered lives are not called upon to make the contribution of nervous energy, to experience the constant tension, to make such unceasing efforts to remain recollected. The pangs of spiritual maternity are a reality.
The members of the Order love their vocation. Living it, they imitate both the hidden and public lives of Christ and St. Dominic. They prove effectively that they love God. “As long as you did it for one of these, the least of my brethren,” Our Lord said, “you did it for me” (Matt., 25:40 ) . When the Dominican serves his neighbor, wherever it may be, he is serving Christ. He fulfills the two great commandments of the law, the love of God and the love of neighbor. He remains faithful to his own Rule: “Before all things, dear brethren, love God and then your neighbor, for these are the chief precepts which have been given to us.”