instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Monday, August 13, 2007

A useful question

If you ever want to stump a Dominican, say, "I know what Franciscan spirituality is, and Carmelite spirituality, and Ignatian spirituality. But what's Dominican spirituality?"

It's a tough question -- maybe even a trick question, since at least some who should know have said that there is no such thing as "Dominican spirituality."

Sherry Weddell has posted an essay at Intentional Disciples in which she describes how she prays, and how she doesn't pray:
The prayer of quiet, as described by the Carmelite masters of spirituality, was simply incomprehensible to me. The pursuit of spiritual union, of mystical marriage, which seemed to be the Catholic ideal of holiness, seemed utterly beyond my desiring, much less my grasp...

It was my Dominican pastor who gave me the first indication that there was a way out of my dilemma. He told me that there were historic Catholic spiritual paths to holiness that were primarily centered around mission rather than mystical marriage. Dominican spirituality was such a path, centered as it was around the apostolic mission of preaching and being useful to the souls of others. I now know that many of the ways in which I pray are typically "Dominican".
Sherry mentions the idea of study as contemplation and St. Dominic's own habits of prayer on the move as fitting her own temperament. She concludes:
I now understand that to be of use to others is nucleus of my own spiritual path and therefore of my prayer. The miracle is, that under the Mercy, even my walking and my wondering have been transformed into real prayer.
The study prescribed by the Order is intended "to be useful to the souls of our neighbors," to quote the prologue of the Friars' Primitive Constitutions. And I personally have jokingly adopted Semper Opifer -- Always Helpful -- as my motto.

But that's "usefulness" as a standard for what Dominicans do. I hadn't thought of it as a standard for what Dominicans are.

That would, though, explain why Dominican spirituality is so tough to describe. A style of prayer that is useful for one may not be useful for another. No one needs to adopt all nine ways of prayer of St. Dominic (or even any) to have a Dominican spirit.

Maybe another way to attract vocations, in addition to asking, "Habesne veritatem?," is asking, "Have you always wanted to help?"