instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Ongoing formation

The Rule of the Lay Fraternities of Saint Dominic states:
The purpose of Dominican formation is to provide for true adults in the Faith, so that they may be ready to welcome, celebrate and proclaim the Word of God. [n 11]
Now, what is the Word of God but His Only-Begotten Son? It can be said, then, that Dominicans are to be formed so that they may be ready to welcome, celebrate, and proclaim Jesus Christ.

The Rule goes on to identify "the principal sources to advance Dominican formation" as:
a. the Word of God and theological reflection;
b. liturgical prayer;
c. the history and tradition of the Order;
d. more recent documents of the Church and the Order;
e. awareness of the signs of our times. [n 13]
Here we pretty much have to understand "the Word of God" as referring to Holy Scripture (though of course Jesus has been known to speak directly to Dominicans on occasion, and was practically St. Catherine's formation director).

In short, the principal principal means by which Dominicans are made ready to welcome, celebrate, and proclaim Jesus is by reading the Bible. And I mean "reading" in a broad sense, to include both prayerful lectio divina and "assiduous study" (to use an expression found earlier in the Rule).

The "theological reflection" mentioned I take to mean, first, reflection on the Word of God as part of its assiduous study; second, reflection on the developed theology of the Church -- with St. Thomas as a primary touchstone -- which itself must always reflect revealed truth; and third, reflection on the created world as itself a reflection of God. This last aspect goes all the way back to St. Dominic's debates with the Albigensians, who regarded the created order as evil, but was cemented by St. Albert's scientific work and St. Thomas's insistence that truth could not contradict truth.

Liturgical prayer may seem like the odd one out in the list of sources for Dominican formation. We don't study liturgical prayer, as we do the other things on the list -- well, we could, of course, but that's not the intent of including it here. But if I say the Liturgy is the Church's participation in the prayer of the Son offered to the Father on our behalf, then its presence on a list of sources for making Lay Dominicans ready to welcome, celebrate, and proclaim Jesus is, not merely appropriate, but even essential.

Which brings us to the history and tradition of the Order of Preachers. If we don't know our history and tradition, we can't know if we're following in the footsteps of Saint Dominic. And that's important to know, not so much because St. Dominic's way is better than other ways, but because it is a good way, and the Church and the world would be worse off if no one were following it.

I'd say the last two principal sources -- recent documents and the signs of the times -- are directed mostly toward readying Lay Dominicans to proclaim Jesus (though I'd probably say "preach Jesus" if I didn't have the text of the Rule in front of me).

The old punchline about how successful the Dominicans have been in the mission for which they were established -- "Have you seen any Albigensians lately?" -- loses its punch when you realize that the Albigensian heresy is thriving today, in mutated but recognizable form. It's by studying recent documents and developing an awareness of the signs of the times that Lay Dominicans equip themselves to recognize, not just Twenty-First Century Manicheanism (though that would keep us fully occupied until the Twenty-Second Century), but many of the ills and errors of the world today.

And these ills and errors are not just doctrinal heresies. To quote the Rule again:
In today's world, the preaching of the Word of God must extend in a special way to defending the dignity of the human person, as well as life and the family. Promoting Christian unity and dialogue with non-Christians and non-believers is also part of the Dominican vocation.
To do this, we can't just know what happened in the past or within; we must also know what is happening now, around us.