All baptized members of the Church are called to evangelize. We among the laity are accustomed to evangelizing primarily through the performance of the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. As part of the Dominican Order, we are called in a special way to share in the preaching ministry. But how do we do this as lay men and women? And what makes our evangelizing different from that of other Christians?
Once, I asked a Dominican priest to tell me about St. Dominic. At first I was annoyed when in response he gave me a rather lengthy description of his own life. But later I realized that despite having read several books on the life of the founder, my understanding of him and his mission was mostly based on my experience of the Dominican friars that I knew. Just as I come to understand St. Dominic’s mission through the preaching and life of the friars, the Dominican charism given to me is developed through my experience of community in the parish and the chapter. I see that the members of the Lay Fraternity act as the reverberation in the world of our fathers’ preaching. In other words, in order to perform the apostolate in a specifically Dominican manner, we are first fed by Dominican preaching and through the counsel and guidance of Dominican priests in confession. In this way, we are incorporated into the community in that we share the fruits of their contemplation and can bring these benefits to those outside of the order.
Here is an example. A certain Dominican preacher I knew would often repeat certain catch phrases both in his preaching and when he was instructing us in groups. For a long time I thought he was merely an old man who tended to repeat himself. Then one day, I was having a conversation with a fallen-away Catholic. He complained about the sinfulness and hypocrisy of some individuals in the Church. Immediately I replied using our Friar’s catch phrase, “It’s that fallen human nature.” Then I knew that Fr. B’s words and explanations had become my own.
Lay Dominicans are not, of course, mere parrots of the friars. This is another beautiful thing that I have noticed about the Dominican Order, and I believe this is one reason that the Order has been such a strong influence in the Church for so many centuries. Being lovers of truth, Dominicans love conversation about God and holy things. And Lay Dominicans often share our experiences with the friars. It is this exchange and the blessing of confession that I believe enriches the friars’ preaching.
But Lay Dominicans also are called to pray, to study, and to share the fruits of our own contemplation in the world. What is specifically Dominican about our way of evangelizing is that it is the expression of our Dominican spirituality, rooted in the study of the Word of God. Lay Dominicans are called to pray the morning and evening prayer, preferably with other Dominicans, and to recite the daily rosary. Nourished by God’s Word, we are better equipped to respond to the needs that present themselves to us throughout the day. It is this regular prayer and study which keeps us well grounded theologically and firmly connected to Christ through the sacramental life of His Church.
So in short, what is it that makes our apostolate characteristically Dominican, whether we’re teaching a catechism course, serving food in a soup kitchen, praying with someone searching for a job, or burying the dead? It is the fact that all that we do flows out of the love that we experience in the community of our Dominican parishes and chapters and it is fed through Dominican prayer and study. It is an expression of our Dominican Fathers’ courage and joy in preaching and the support and example of parishioners and chapter members in living the challenging call of the Gospel.
miss Jan Edmiston, O.P.