Br. James Dominic Rooney, O.P.
Dominican Friars, Central Province, USA
John Cleese (of Monty Python fame) made a very powerful set of advertisements some years ago for the American Philosophical Association. One of my favorite goes:
Philosophy seems so harmless. And yet, in dictatorships, philosophers are among the first people to be silenced. Why have dictators bothered to silence philosophers? Maybe because ideas really matter. They can transform human lives.
There is a deep power to ideas. The ideas of universal freedom, equality, and human rights have led to the founding of our own country, the United States. The Gospel itself is, aside from everything else, an idea. It is something we can communicate to other people through speech and it enters into their minds and ears before it enters (hopefully) their hearts. The vocation of we Dominican friars, the Order of Preachers, has always been to open those ears and minds to the light of Christ shining in our midst.
How often do we find people today questioning whether religion is merely a kind of fanaticism that leads only to violence and bigotry? Our mission to preach the Truth and to save souls is helped by the study not only of theology, but of philosophical truth whether in ethics, political philosophy, logic, or metaphysics. Each of these is a way to ground our preaching and our theology in reasonability and credibility. Saint Thomas Aquinas, patron of theologians and our brother Dominican, remains our model for the service philosophy can render to theological thinking. Even today, people are converted to the faith just by reading his writings, so well did he imbibe the Gospel and continues to make it credible to people.
But, despite the reasons why philosophy is useful to our neighbors, philosophy helps clearly see and think about the Wisdom behind all humanly wisdom (1 Cor. 2:7). Our spiritual life as Dominicans involves study not only to accomplish something, but to lead us to silent contemplation of God Himself. You can’t love God if you don’t know Him, and you can love Him more dearly the more clearly you know Him. Reading and writing philosophy papers, presenting at conferences, working out complex arguments, teaching students and grading papers are just some of the ways I live out my prayer.
I hope personally to begin a doctoral degree in philosophy this fall. As with all of our studies, I will be getting the degree to be of service to the brothers and our preaching mission; I will likely spend my time teaching philosophy in our studium or elsewhere. This task is not a small one; our Order has had many brothers over the years excel in philosophy, teaching it to the younger friars, and it has contributed in large part to why our preaching remains distinctive. My hope is to follow in the large footsteps of some of our esteemed brother philosophers, such as Frs. Benedict Ashley, Cyril Fabian, or (an old professor of mine) Kurt Pritzl, and help make a little contribution to helping others listen to the Word speaking to them.