Many of you sent supportive and encouraging notes regarding a recent publication of our New Priory Press: “Growing in Friendship with God: The Joy of Lent,” a compilation of Lenten reflections written several years ago by Dominicans of our Central Province. It was my privilege to accompany these with prayers and “calls to action.” Ironically, compiling reflections of my Dominican brothers and the time spent in prayer as a result became the joy of my Advent/Christmas season. After all, I only discovered them mid-December, leading one person to ask, “Why, with such a short window of time before the beginning of Lent, did you feel so compelled to pull them together?”
I surprise myself with the only answer I can truly give: obedience. Obedience to us friars is simply to “live listening to God,” to borrow Benedict XVI’s description of true religion. At that deepest level, I felt the strongest prompting: God wanted me to spiritually serve you whom we call our friends and benefactors, always of paramount concern to us. For our Dominican family to nourish you presented an especially rich opportunity during this challenging, intense spiritual season of Lent. In addition, I wanted to fashion an historic record honoring the words of my brothers, living and deceased, who have given their lives to the ministry of preaching.
As a spiritual practice, obedience is a daily intentional and attentive listening to God through the events, efforts and encounters of our day. It’s the very virtue we want to grow this Lent as we continue to be inspired by Jesus, who listened to his Heavenly Father, seeking His will in all things. He ministers out of that “listening” and eventually suffers and dies for that listening. He also opens a new, eternal life for us as the One raised to resurrected life Himself. In the resurrection lies our ultimate peace.
Technically, Obedience is the only public vow we Dominicans profess. Poverty and Chasity are not off the table, of course, but covered under the Constitutions of our Order of Preachers, one of many things to which we profess obedience. In fact, we rest our hands on the Dominican Constitutions as we profess our vows.
For the religious and all committed Christians, obedience is not a robotic submission of one’s own will to another’s authority. It is a free laying down of one’s life in the spirit of Jesus’ own words: “No one takes my life from me, I freely lay it down,” (Jn 10:18). That free act of faith rightfully acknowledges God as my Creator and Jesus as the Lord of my life.
Visiting my parents in Aurora recently, I saw an article in the local newspaper that underscored this point. It told of a priest leaving his beloved parish for assignment to a brand-new ministry in Rome. In talking of the challenge, he said this: “It comes down to obedience. If you try to do what God wants, you are going to find happiness.” He further waxed eloquent on years of new ministerial assignments: “When people are unhappy and angry, it is because they don’t know where they want to be. The Army’s slogan: ‘Be all you can be,’ is an OK slogan, but if you keep it out of context with what God wants you to be, the two must come together. Every day you should get up and ask: ‘What does God want me to do today?’ That’s what Christian life is all about. When you do things with obedience, you are free.”
As we enter the final weeks of Lent and follow Jesus’ agonizing yet triumphant journey, take a moment to reflect on one of the most compelling texts in all of scripture. Following the Last Supper, Jesus and his disciples, as they were accustomed to doing, went for a walk to the Mount of Olives. It is there, and in the days to follow, Jesus shows us what true obedience means. “Father, if you are willing, take this cup away from me; still, not my will but yours be done”(Lk. 22:42).
We will face many challenges. We will be tempted to turn away. We will not always be perfectly obedient. Yet, Jesus’s words leave us all we need to understand about obedience. “Not my will, but yours be done.” What a perfect summary of Lent. What a perfect prayer to make each day.
These words, too, describe the journey each of our nearly 20 men in formation make with your prayers and financial support. Please continue to be generous with both as these young men listen to God’s will in each of their lives. On their behalf, my deepest thanks for your help.
In the spirit of St. Dominic,
Fr. Andrew Carl Wisdom, O.P.
Director the Society for Vocational Support & Vicar for Mission Advancement