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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Location: Oxford, United Kingdom

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

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Truth and Compassion

While visiting a Dominican-run school today, I glanced at their 'Vision-Mission Statement' and was drawn to its commitment to teach students to have a zeal for Truth coupled with Compassion. Both these, according to the Statement, are at the core of the Dominican vocation.

I was particularly moved to reflect upon Compassion as a core value because over lunch today, mention was made of the recent spate of bomb attacks in London, Egypt, Iraq etc and I wondered aloud if perhaps we were sadly being numbed by these suicide-attacks happening on an almost daily basis. Someone said to me that it was natural to be numbed and I said that we should not allow ourselves to be... The person then replied that I had too high expectations, a comment which irked me somewhat. In response, I said that this is only to be expected of me because the Gospel calls us to high ideals; I can't just capitulate to indifference, like the rest of the world... I then mused (in my mind) over my lunch that Compassion is precisely that virtue which prevents us from feeling numbed and inured to the pain and sufferings of others.

It is all too easy, even if one were to live among the poor and suffering, to be immune to their plight; one has eyes and ears but neither sees nor listens to the cries of the poor. I recall a friend who came to Dagat-dagatan last year and as we walked about the parish, this friend seemed more interested in chatting with me and did not appear to take in any of the harsh sights that surrounded us. I felt this was extraordinary...

Another possible response, faced with difference in our lives and the great challenge that living in a place like Dagat-dagatan can bring, living with true poverty, is to become judgmental. I found myself doing that, thinking that my way was better, that my country or culture was superior or worst of all, I was superior. But as I read and re-read the Dominican Volunteers' Handbook and prayed and reflected, I realised this was not right. I also realised that what I could cultivate during my time in Dagat-dagatan was Compassion, which is quintessentially Godly. In particular, these words of Henri Nouwen, from his book, The Way of the Heart touched me:

"Compassion can never co-exist with judgment because judgment creates the distance, the distinction, which prevent us from really being with each other."

On the contrary, Compassion is not about distancing ourselves from others but placing ourselves along side and with others, in their hearts, sharing their joys, pains and concerns. It is profoundly incarnational for God loved us so much as to take on the human condition and become Man; this desire to share our condition, to be like us in every way but sin, to become one of us is essentially Compassion (misericordia). God's mercy and love extends to us from the very depths of His being; it moves Him to undertake radical acts of love.

In like manner, Compassion wells up from our hearts and moves us to action. In the case of St Dominic, he was moved to bring relief from error and sin to his contemporaries, to pray unceasingly for sinners and undergo physical mortification for their salvation. The Dominican zeal for Truth has its roots in Compassion. As Fr Simon Gaines, OP says:

"St.Dominic was just such a man, just such a preacher, known for his mercy and compassion, known for his devotion to wisdom and truth. When Dominic heard that people had been taken captive by the Moors, his compassion for them was so great that he wanted to go off and sell himself into slavery to obtain release for others. In the end, he had to be restrained from doing so. His desire to preach was equally the fruit of mercy and compassion. His desire was to obtain release for men and women bound by the chains of lies and falsehood.

Christ redeems us from sin; he liberates us from death and he frees us from lies. Anyone with a Dominican vocation is called to participitate somehow in the whole meaning of Christ's mission. Yet for us, as with all kinds of religious, there is some aspect of Christ's mission that leaps out at us for our special attention. And for Dominicans this is wisdom and truth, the liberation of captives from falsehood, the fact that it is truth which sets us free. It is compassion that motivates a Dominican calling to delve deeper into divine wisdom and truth, and to have it not just for ourselves, but for others."
Thus it is vital that the desire for Truth, for wisdom and knowledge is linked to Compassion. Otherwise, all one's learning can lead one down the path of self-righteousness, superiority or hubris; we become blind to the needs and concerns of the people we purport to preach to. As the current Master of the Order, fr Carlos Azpiroz Costa, OP said in 2002, in a letter outlining the Dominican way of Preaching:

"Only compassion can cure our blindness and make it possible that we see the signs of the times. Compassion brings humility to our preaching - humility for which we are willing to listen and speak, to receive and give, that we may influence and be influenced, to be evangelized and to evangelize. Compassion and humility come only from a profound union with God in Christ. We are united to God when we imitate the compassion and humble service of Christ. Compassion and humility are fountains from which emanate the knowledge of the signs of the times, pervading prayer and contemplation. This is how we contemplate God, who has revealed himself to us through Sacred Scripture and who manifests his will in the signs of the times."
Almost a year ago, I listened to Fr Chris McVey, OP read a beautiful meditation on preaching that was adopted by the General Chapter 2004 in Krakow. He shared this with the delegates of the 7th International Dominican Youth Movement (IDYM) Gathering in Caleruega, Philippines and the words scared me, challenged me and moved me to tears:

"To preach in this world is to share the life, the hope, and the promise that lives in the world of the other. To preach in this world is to walk on the frontier between sharing the lives of all those others and sharing the promise of salvation, bringing the good news of Jesus Christ to them and discovering that he has gone before us into Galilee.

In this world we will have something to say, but only if it is a word for which we have suffered, a word we have fought for, and a word for which we have prayed. And this response – like that of the trumpeter of Krakow, whose hourly call ends abruptly – might be a word that ends in silence as the only adequate response before suffering humanity or before the immensity of the mystery."
[The trumpeter, atop the tower, was the town watchman who warned of danger. This he did in 1241 when the Mongolian Tatars advanced against Krakow. As he sounded the alarm, he was struck in the throat by a Tatar arrow. In commemoration of this, from the 16th century, on the hour, the tune ends suddenly. It is also said only the Mongols know how the tune ends.]

It is precisely this kind of preaching - this Dominican love and desire for the Truth that sets us free, rooted in a deep seated Compassion that wells up into action for peace and justice, humbly listens to the poor and the needy and speaks the Word of God into their hearts - that moves me to join the Order of Preachers.

For without Compassion, "I am like a noisy gong or a clashing symbol" (cf 1 Cor 13:1), a learned speaker who may well speak the Truth but not a Preacher of the Word, who is Compassion and Love. And ultimately, it is Compassion that will open our eyes to the suffering and pain of the poor, the victimised and the oppressed around us and motivate us to reach out in Love. Perhaps by way of an ending, I may quote these words of Bishop Legaspi, OP who addressed us in Caleruega last year:

"As preachers, we cannot remain in ivory towers high above the reach of the joys and pains, the celebrations and disasters of men and women. Our word must also - take flesh."

I commend to you the entire text of his homily, found here.


Blogger Boeciana said...

Fr Simon Gaine! Yay! A Good Thing.

4:52 pm  
Blogger jordan said...

Wonderful post Paul! Thanks for writing this beautiful meditation.

4:22 am  

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