Community: The Fourth Pillar

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The fourth pillar of Dominican life, and the one that ties all of the rest together, is community: living a life in community with other Dominicans.  One Dominican by him or herself is something of a contradiction in terms.

For Dominican friars, sisters, and nuns, living in community is literally that: living together in the same communal home.  Friars live with other friars in friaries; sisters live in convents, and go out to minister to the community, often as teachers; and nuns live enclosed in monasteries.  All of them pray the Divine Office in community; all study; all preach in one way or another.

Living in community goes back to the earliest days of the order.  Before he found the Order of Preachers, St. Dominic was a canon of the Cathedral of Osma in Spain.  We don’t hear much about canons these days, though I gather they still exist; they are similar to monks, living in community, but instead of living out in the countryside in a monastery, they are associated with a city cathedral.  Most live according to a rule that goes back, ultimately, to St. Augustine of Hippo.  Dominic was tapped to go on a journey with his bishop, Diego of Acebo, during which he found his vocation as a preacher of the gospel.  When he founded the Order of Preachers, he based his Rule on the Augustinian Rule (by way of the Norbertine or Premonstratensian Rule—say that five times fast), and having gathered a group of friars he boldly sent them out to preach all over Europe—not one-by-one, but two-by-two.  And everywhere they went, others joined and took the Dominican habit.  Instead of sending his friars out into the void and losing them, Dominic soon had living communities all over Christendom.

Lay Dominicans, living as we do in the world, with jobs, families, and so forth, do not generally live in homes with other Lay Dominicans.  In my own Chapter, there are indeed two members who live communally together—but that’s only because they are married to each other, and have been since long before they became Dominicans.  Instead, we meet once a month for prayer and study, and to simply spend time together.

Community is the pillar that I struggled most with during my initial formation in the Order.  (For a Dominican, formation is a life-long process.)  Every year, as I discerned whether to continue and the chapter council discerned whether to let me continue, I’d be asked, “Why do you want to be a member of this chapter?” And to some extent it was a puzzlement.  I came to the Order to begin with because I loved St. Thomas Aquinas and wanted to be a Dominican like him.   I was already praying the Divine Office each day, and often the Rosary as well.  When I came, it was after much study—I was excited to learn all I could about the Catholic faith. I wanted to share what I was learning and thinking with others: to preach, in fact.  I was already living three of the pillars in my daily life, just as a normal mass-going Catholic.  What was added by joining the chapter?  I could continue doing all of these things “on my own”, just as a normal parishioner.

Let me be clear: I wanted to join the chapter.  That wasn’t the issue.  But when they asked for logical reasons, I was kind of stumped.  I wanted to be a Dominican like Thomas, and that was that.

Over time, though, I have discovered that community is not only the question, it’s also the answer.  To be a Dominican is to be in community with other Dominicans.  I could have a Dominican spirituality “on my own”, but not actually be a Dominican.  And the rewards are significant.

First, my brothers and sisters in the chapter are my companions on the journey.  We have a shared spirituality; we are serious about the Faith; we can talk to each other and be understood.

Second, we pray for each other.  Not only are we keen to “run the race to the finish,” as St. Paul says, but we lift up our brothers and sisters in prayer, so that we may all do so.  I am not always good at remembering to do this; I need to work on it.

And third, their presence helps me to be faithful.  When I made my first profession, I promised to follow the Rule of the Lay Fraternities of St. Dominic.  In form, I made that promise to the Master of the Order of Preachers; practically speaking, I made that promise to my brothers and sisters in my local chapter.  If I do not keep my promise, I am letting them all down.

When I my first profession, I was still in the first flush of enthusiasm as a serious Catholic, the joy familiar to anyone who takes up a new activity.  Everything about the practice of my Catholic faith was a joy to me.  But these enthusiasms naturally pass, as Uncle Screwtape noted; and when they do, my promise, a promise made not just to the God I can’t see but to my brothers and sisters I can, is a support, and an encouragement to persevere not only in my prayer, study, and preaching, (LINKS: my last three posts) but in my faith altogether.  Dryness will come; it’s good to have companions to help you through it.

What does your community look like?

photo credit: wildxplorer via photopin cc

Copyright 2014 Will Duquette

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