Contemplata aliis Tradere

A meagre contribution to the mission and work of the Order of Preachers: my reflections, thoughts, ideas and the occasional rant on matters mainly theological, philosophical and ecclesiastical, drawn primarily from my reading and experience of life and the world. Striving to be always Catholic, firmly Christian and essentially Dominican, flavoured with dashes of Von Balthasar.

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A son of the English Province of the Order of Friars Preachers (Dominicans); born in Malaysia but have lived in the USA, Singapore, the UK & the Philippines for varying durations. A pilgrim and way-farer, a searcher for Truth on the journey of Life... "Wherever the Catholic sun doth shine, There’s always laughter and good red wine. At least I’ve always found it so. Benedicamus Domino!" - Hilaire Belloc

Thursday, July 28, 2005

A Precarious Vocation

Being in a place like Dagat-dagatan, which is on one of the frontiers of Dominican preaching today, is a stimulating place; it raises many questions. Present in my mind is the need to grapple with the nature and challenge of the Dominican, and indeed Christian, vocation in a place of dire poverty like this. How is one to be a preacher of grace, of hope, of joy and love in this situation, this place?

Two days ago, I quoted fr Chrys McVey, OP's reflection on preaching and compassion which was approved by the General Chapter 2004 in Krakow. I wish to quote him yet again, this time from a document called 'The Dying that is Mission' which was appended to the Acts of the General Chapter 2004. It is full of insight and a beautiful but challenging reflection but one which I think will be fruitful if we attend to it with prayerful attention. It certainly speaks to me as I find myself here in Manila (even if only for 2 more weeks) and reflect with my fellow Dominican Volunteer and the Dominican Fathers here.

"The Latin word, precarius, the root of the word, ‘prayer,’ refers to something ‘obtained by begging.’ Our word, ‘precarious,’ from the same Latin root – since it suggests dependence on the will of another person – has the added note of insecurity and risk. What we religious do, at our ‘profession,’ is openly declare that this is the kind of life we want to lead: dependent, insecure, and at risk.

Our brother, Claude Geffré, has defined Christianity as ‘a religion of otherness,’ and he sees today’s challenge of religious pluralism as inviting us ‘to return to the heart of the Christian paradox as the religion of the Incarnation and the religion of the kenosis of God.’ This is a challenge that invites us to return to ourselves, to our true identity as people for others. It is a challenge that is stimulating, provocative, and demanding. Most significant is how this emphasis on the ‘otherness’ of Christianity, even before affecting our theology and how we think about mission, can – and indeed, must – affect the way we relate to others.

To be oneself is to be for others. This ‘being for others’ is what we Dominicans are supposed to be good at doing. Dominic was inspired to respond to real needs. He was a great ‘weeper’ and his tears and groanings over what would happen to sinners were so loud that he kept the brothers awake at night. Described as a man of great compassion, Dominic wept – and the Order was born! Honorius III, acknowledging our origins, declared the Order established ‘to be useful’ to others. For us, then, there is this demanding criterion: everything is for the sake of these others; everything is for the sake of the mission.

‘Like Dominic, we are not afraid to listen to God’s Word as it unfold in today’s changing world. We are called by our preaching to aid in the building of a culture of truth and relationship to replace a culture of lies… to discern what is dying and what is coming to life, what is salvation and what is not, what is truth and what is illusion or lie.’ The chapter ‘accepts the consequences of living dialogically in a pluriform world…’ and recognises study of this world to be of utmost necessity: ‘It is a world that invites us…’ For an American, these words about truth, illusion and lies are particularly apt now, when, as in George Orwell’s great prophetic work, 1984, three slogans dominate society: ‘war is peace, freedom is slavery, and ignorance is truth.’ We Dominicans have many examples of the price one pays for speaking the truth...

Christians go to church precisely to put our lives at risk – otherwise the Eucharist makes no sense at all. This is our life too, but it is a life, as Yves Congar wrote, that ‘necessarily tears us apart. This is its pain and the source of its fertility. For the Word of God, whose life the apostles share, reaches out to all that is farthest from God and embraces it… The life of God is stretched open to find a space for all that we are; he becomes like us in all things but sin. He takes upon himself our doubts and fears; he enters into our experience of absurdity, that wilderness in which all meaning is lost. So for us to live the apostolic life fully is to find that we too are torn open, stretched out. To be a preacher… is to bear within our lives that distance between the life of God and that which is furthest away, alienated and hurt…We have no word which offers meaning to people’s lives, unless we have been touched by their doubts and glimpsed the abyss.’

Jesus becomes Saviour out of compassion, by embodying the hurts of all those others: ‘He himself bore out infirmities and took upon himself our diseases’ (Mt 8.17). This is so prominent in Jesus’ ministry that the work he hands on to us has this same characteristic of paraklesis, of ‘comforting appeal.’ I have often thought that the best description of mission is found not in the commissioning passages at the end of the Gospels of Matthew and Mark, about ‘going into the whole world to preach and baptize all nations…’ but rather in a passage like 2 Cor 1.5-7: ‘All praise to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. He is the source of every mercy and the God who comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When others are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us. You can be sure that the more we suffer for Christ, the more God will shower us with his comfort through Christ. So when we are weighed down with troubles, it is for your benefit and salvation!’"
Perhaps this is enough for today! It's definitely very challenging but inspiring, these words of Fr McVey. Finding myself here in the mission that is San Lorenzo Ruiz Parish in Dagat-dagatan, I believe his words have much to say to those who wish to preach - not just to the poor but to the world, a world broken and hurt, riven by terrorism and uncertainty.


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