Let me begin by saying that you may not find anything very new in my presentation. It is my personal sharing, and I would like you to accept it as such. Given the relevancy of the topic, I do hope that it will be sufficiently stimulating so as to lead us into serious discussion.
I will speak about the Laity in general, about the Lay Dominicans and finally about the place of Lay Dominicans in the Order.
* before and after the Vatican II
* the place of the laity in the Church, in the world
and in the Order
2.) Lay Dominicans – definition
* The four pillars
* To whom we have to preach
* The requests on the preacher
3.) Lay Dominicans and the Order
* the Lay Dominicans and what they are expected; their right place
* the life in the Order as the life in the Family
a) Before Vatican II
Before Vatican II the laity was only an “anonymous body” that served under the leadership of the clergy and the hierarchy. Greater esteem and collaboration was accorded to the spiritual and religious vocations than to that of the Laity. All, which was expected of the Laity, was passive obedience. The Laity were grossly underestimated (while in contrast the hierarchy was over-estimated). For such lack of a mutual interaction, the Laity took on an attitude of indifference, and kept a distance from the clergy and hierarchy.
b) Vatican II
Vatican II brought in a new dimension, a greater understanding and, consequently, new challenges for both – the religious and laity. There is an abundance of references to this new approach toward the role of the Laity in several council and post-counciliar documents, such as: LG, AA, EN, CHL, CT…
c) After the Vatican II
The Church after Vatican II began to consider itself as the ‘people of God’ comprising the hierarchical and the universal priesthood.
The Laity consists of all believers, excluding the members of the clergy and religious institutes, who are united with Christ through baptism and participate in the Priestly, Kingly and Prophetic ministry of Jesus Christ – IN THEIR OWN SPECIAL WAY.
The typical feature of the Laity is their “secular character”. According to the Gospel, they are sent into the world as leaven in the dough, so as to penetrate the environment and to impact it.
The place of the laity in the Church: in the world and in the Order.
Presently, the Laity are invited and entrusted with many special and important tasks. They are present in every strata of society. They acquire a variety of much-needed and practical experiences. Being in constant touch with the joys and the sorrows of the people they live with and encounter, they are better equipped to respond to the needs of and to empathize with their fellow-beings. In many cases they are the first witnesses of the joy, hope and truth for the present world, opening the “closed doors and closed hearts” for Jesus.
The Church is fully aware of the irreplaceable role of the Laity in her apostolate and mission.
2.) Lay Dominicans
Who is the Lay Dominican?
The Lay-Dominican is a lay man/woman who has accepted God’s invitation to become an apostle, a “professional” preacher of the Good New, for the salvation of souls, according to the inspiration and example of St. Dominic. He/she preaches both by the Word of God and by his/her everyday life, which bears witness to the Truth.
The four pillars
There are four basic pillars that support and characterize every Lay Dominican: Prayer, Study, Preaching and Community. (As Jerry mentioned earlier), these pillars are like the four legs of a chair. In order for the chair to be kept in balance the legs must all be of equal height. Otherwise the chair will collapse. Similarly, the fours pillars must be given equal importance – neither overestimated nor underestimated.
To whom do the Lay Dominicans preach
Who are the “recipients” of our preaching, our target audience?
1.) Firstly – the members of the Church who are “full of life”; strive genuinely and seriously to follow Jesus and in actively serving Him. We address this group for the simple reason that we need to encourage each other and to share our experiences.
2.) Secondly – the “registered” Christians; those who were baptized, and perhaps received the initial sacraments, but do not practice their faith. Jesus refers to them as “the lost sheep of Israel”. These need a “new awakening”; they need to hear God’s loving invitation again.
3.) Thirdly – the people around us, whom we encounter in normal life.
The effectiveness of the preacher will depend on the following:
a) Personal, human qualities;
b) Practical knowledge and communicative skills;
c) Intimacy with Christ – through response to God’s Word and the sacraments;
d) A willingness and readiness to be the Holy Spirit’s instrument;
e) Creativity, and the ability to offer the genuine truth to one’s surrounding – in an acceptable manner.
3.) Lay Dominicans and the Order
I suppose there is no need to spell out the history of Lay Dominicans. We know, there were many levels and forms of their way of life. I’d like to emphasize only one aspect – which unfortunately appears to be out of focus these days. I am referring to an exaggerated “priest’s dependence” and the lack of self-involvement. This reality can be envisaged as carriages (wagons) standing “motionless” at a railway station – until the locomotive is attached to them.
All of the Laity in the Church, and mainly the Lay Dominicans are challenged to set things into “motion” on their own initiative. They must keep their eyes wide open and their mental faculties very alert to the reality around them. They must respond immediately when a need arise, and not wait for instructions from or to be motivated by a priest.
What are the role and mission of the Lay Dominicans
Lay Dominicans are one of the original three branches of the Dominican Order. Together with the friars and the nuns – they are an inseparable part of the Order. They originated way back in St.Dominic’s era. This goes to show that they have their own specific place, role and mission.
Just as the other two branches, they are inspired with Dominic’s zeal – to work for souls – using as their main instruments the same as the other two, namely, Prayer, Study and Repentance – so as to strengthen their apostolic preaching. The only difference is the manner in which they carry out their mission – as is typical for the Laity. That is, they preserve and develop their identity as the “Lay identity” without confusing it with that of the religious one.
From time to time there have been some Lay Dominicans who considered themselves “semi-religious”. That is, they did not identify themselves with the other Laity in the Church but considered themselves as belonging to a “middle state” – between the Laity and the religious. They wanted to adopt the external signs of the religious (for example. the wearing of the habits, praying the whole Liturgy, being dependent and attached to the monasteries and convents). They, in fact, misunderstood the real purpose of the Lay Dominican whose rightful place is in the world, among their family and in their work place. They are expected to take active part in public life, be it in culture, or politics, so as to make an impact on public opinion, in the human rights, through parish activities, etc.
As Lay Dominicans, however, they pledge themselves to an added responsibility and commitment – that of prayer. Moreover, though actively involved ‘in the world’, they also keep in touch with the other branches of the Order, and seek their collaboration when needed. Their presence and involvement serve as a challenge to the other orders.
I am sure most of you, if not all, will have a store of examples and experiences, in this regard. I suppose you will share these during the discussion that follows.
It is true that nowadays we face many difficulties not only in our own fraternities, but also in the Order. There are many complaints among the friars – sisters and lay – of mutual misunderstanding, the lack of willingness to collaborate, the lack of the needed qualities. There are ups-and-downs in the relationship, times when we are close and times when we move away from each other either or because of some personal lethargy.
How can we improve upon our mutual relationships? There is no wonder drug or universal solution to our problems! Neither does any pre-packaged advice exist. Since we come from unique and different backgrounds, the issues we have to deal with vary and call for specific responses. Nevertheless, we can find some general guidelines, which can be adapted to specific situations.
The 20th century has often been referred to by the Church, as the century of Lay movements. Several new Lay movements came into being – Focolare, Neocatechumenate, Taize Community, The Charismatic Renewal in the Holy Spirit, the Beatitudes Community, the Arch, The Emmanuel Community… and others. All of them have been making their special contribution towards renewal in the Church. Thus, the Laity, preserving its proper lay identity and character, became the Holy Spirit’s instrument in the needed reform of the Church. These movements had their impact also on priests and religious and in many cases they helped the latter refresh their relationship with God.
The same applies to the Dominican Order. In some countries there were Lay Dominicans who initiated the needed renewal of the Order. They were constantly providing new ideas, inspirations and suggestions on how to work together, how to make the Order’s presence in the world more useful. This is evident in certain crucial areas like Human Right’s, Education and Charity, as well as in the preaching apostolate among the varied layers of the population – the prisoners, the sick, the prostitutes, the refugees as well as among the students, the intellectuals, politicians and others.
So this is the real challenge for us, as the Lay Dominicans: We must discover, protect and save our own identity as lay people and remain faithful to it, so that we are able to enrich the Order, the Church and the World around us through the richness of our vocation.
The life in the Order as the life in the Family
And now, permit me to speak about this theme, paraphrasing the Timothy’s letter: “The mission of the Dominican Family”. I trust you all are very familiar with it, so I will only remind you of some of the important messages for us.
The Dominican Family is where we all feel at home. That means we do not have to justify being there, but feel at ease. Each feels accepted just the way he/she is.
In the past we used to belong to the First, Second and Third Order…but now, after the General Chapter of River Forest in 1968, these grades do not exist…. Together, as one united family, we must find ways to build that common home, which should be an “open home” – freely welcoming new people, new groups, new ideas and inspirations.
From the beginning Dominic gathered together a family of preachers, men and women, lay and religious, contemplatives and preachers who took to the road.
We proclaim that all the members of the OP Family are equal and that we share a common mission. There are lots of beautiful documents, which speak about the common mission; we hear wonderful stories of a new collaboration. The sad fact is, all this appears to be happening somewhere else, and not where we are!
Let me give you a concrete example: there was the enthusiastic International Dominican Family meeting in Manila in 2000, which elicited very little response.
At the Bergamo meeting in 2002, the representatives of the individual branches were present, to search for the new ways of mutual collaboration within the Family. But there has been no follow-up. Why?
I will not suggest any answers on purpose; I wish only to provoke your reactions…
When fray Munio de Zamora OP drew up the first rule for the Dominican fraternities in the 13th century, he invited them to be not just penitents – as was the tradition then – but people of the truth, “true sons of Dominic, filled to the utmost with strong and ardent zeal for Catholic truth, in ways, keeping with their own life.” It is that truth that we must seek together – as a Family.
Let us consider one of the specific present-day instances of collaboration – the Norfolk community. Its members are the prisoners, discovering the invitation to new life, and who in collaboration with some friars, sisters and laity continue their preaching inside the prison…
As the members of the same family we must to accept each other’s authority, experiences and opinions. We must be open to the authority of a sister because she speaks from the truth of her experience as a woman or perhaps as a teacher, or a theologian. We must give authority to the lay Dominican who knows much more about the social or married life, … we must respect the authority of the friar, who speaks and shares his knowledge, who understands the matters of the souls’ guiding…
If we recognize each other’s authority then we will be truly a Family of preachers. Together we will exert an authority which none of us has individually. We must find our common voice .
We will only flourish as a family of preachers if we make each other strong and give each other life. This means – no rivalry or competition, but mutual boosting and support.
We have a model in St Catherine of Siena who preached through her speaking and writing, but more especially through empowering others: the discouraged pope, the panic-stricken Raymond of Capua, the criminal condemned to a death etc.
We need not look far out for examples… I trust that among you there will be many who will have similar experiences of collaboration within the Dominican family to share.
These are only a few ideas from Timothy’s letter, which I purposely wanted to emphasize, in order to encourage us, Lay preachers, to accept and to develop our place in the Order.
As I mentioned earlier, there are so many experiences and evidences in the history of the Church and the Order, that the Holy Spirit flows as He wishes… that many times He inspired even lay people and started His monumental work of renewal and reform just through them …
Let’s use this event of being together here, in Walberberg, as an opportunity to encourage each other, to open ourselves for the work of Holy Spirit and for His inspirations, so that we become a new, enriching and re-juvenescent force within the Order and the Family.