Throughout my studies at The Catholic University of America, I had the opportunity to witness and participate in the sacred traditions and rites of various religious orders I would never have encountered back at home. A great blessing of my place of study was the constant flux of various clergy, seminarians, and religious throughout campus who were undertaking a degree program or simply passing through campus in their respective ministries. God bless the Franciscans, Little Sisters of the Poor, Marians, Sisters of Life, Sisters Servants of Mary Immaculate, Pallottines, and the Missionaries of Charity, to name a few, who joyfully lived out their vocations—inspiring observers to get to know them and their spiritualties and facilitating an encounter with the Lord.
In God’s providence, I frequently found myself at the Dominican House of Studies at the far side of campus and was able to join the community of brothers and priests in their night prayers and certain liturgical celebrations which were open to the public. Personally, I found the house to be a commanding presence and a bit daunting on the inside: the intellectual prowess of the Order of Preachers and its faithful carrying out of its mandate to preach conveyed a certain spiritual seriousness which drew me in all the more. How striking were the resonating, unified, and almost haunting tones of the sacred chants of prayer, together with the corresponding gestures and postures and the dimmed lights! And yet, in wonderful moments of levity, the very same Dominicans could be found performing excellent bluegrass music as “The Hillbilly Thomists”!
Before Dominic’s mother conceived him, she dreamt a dog leapt from her womb and set the world on fire. Dominic went on to become a priest and ultimately founded the Order of Preachers—the Dominicans. The Dominicans rose to the forefront of the intellectual life of the Middle Ages as they announced the Gospel, combatted heresy, gave quality spiritual and scholastic instructions, and contributed unmatched gifts to schools of theology and philosophy. They are lovingly nicknamed “the hounds of the Lord.” The Order has raised up many saints and conferees who ministered to every corner of the world, advocating for the rights of Native Americans, standardizing the liturgy of the Mass, compiling the Church’s canonical laws, composing timeless sacred hymns, caring for the poor, advancing the correlation of faith and science, and promoting the holy Rosary. Western civilization owes a debt of gratitude for the contributions of Dominicans such as Saints Thomas Aquinas, Albert the Great, Pope Pius V, Catherine of Siena, Rose of Lima, Louis de Montfort, and Martin de Porres.
Participating from time to time in the life of that religious community gave me a lovely insight into the incredible mysticism of the Order and of the Church Universal. Such a powerful instrument of personal and theological devotion is not the closely held property of one religious order or vocation, but a gift available to anyone who seeks to enhance their personal spirituality with deeply historic and touching methods. This involves realizing the soul as something more sacred than just consciousness; the soul is able to love which helps to better relate to God, who is Love incarnate, emotionally and ecstatically rather than merely intellectually. And you don’t need the philosophical and theological background of a Dominican to similarly enhance your own prayer life! You can begin by quietly placing yourself in the holy presence of God and focusing on the love He offers and the ways He is being loved (or not) in return. Going deeper, it could be beneficial to read the thoughts and reflections of various Dominican saints who embraced a similar spirituality.
How good God is to have called upon Saint Dominic hundreds of years ago to begin such an incredible religious order committed to promoting Truth and the mandate to praise, to bless, and to preach (In fact, that is one motto of the Order!).The work of the Dominicans is especially needed today in our society of moral relativism and secularism. Let us pray that many more answer God’s ongoing call for holy religious and priestly vocations. And may we, as lay people, continuously support the Church which offers so many varied spiritual treasures for our sanctification.
“Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while.” (Mark 6:31)
The Apostles had been sent out by Jesus and reported back all that they had done (Mark 6:30). He knew that they needed to care for themselves, so they set out in the boat to go and rest. But, what did they find when they arrived? Over 5,000 people waiting to be fed both spiritually and physically. Despite their probable fatigue, they continued to minister to the needs of the crowd. Their rest was not long, but they did have time together in the boat away from the crowds. They also rested in the Lord as he spoke to them and the crowds. Self-care, therefore, does not mean long periods of time, but that which is needed to move us into fuller service for Christ.
When moments of self-care such as prayer, study and spiritual reading, appropriate times of rest and relaxation, or time with friends and family are neglected, living as an apostle who accompanies others into deeper life in Christ can become challenging. Self-care is not self-focus; it is not self-serving. Very often caregivers, especially of the elderly or infirmed, become ill themselves because they have not set apart time for self-care. It is understandable. They want to give fully to their loved ones. Those in ministry or the apostolate want to do the same for the beloved of Christ. In both instances, though, great damage can come to the caregiver—leaving them unable to care. Self-care is meant to assist in becoming more other-focused, more self-giving.
In many ways, the great founder of Western monasticism, St. Benedict, whose feast day is today, understood well what is at the heart of Christian self-care – ora et labora – prayer and work in the context of a stable community life. When either are neglected, then one is not able to give fully for the Lord. Life in community, whether in a religious community such as a monastery, or in the community of faith, gives one a stable place to be accompanied, to grow in the spiritual life, and to rest with Christ, especially in the Eucharist. Relationships can be built in trust and burdens can be shared. Peace that comes from the Prince of Peace can then be found. It is this peace, love, and mercy that we share with others as his apostles.
In the last months, a former student of mine discerned that he is called to live as a Benedictine, another discerned that he is called to the Dominicans, another as a diocesan priest, and two others that they are called to marriage. Prior to these decisions, there was much prayer, but also a bit of a lack of inner peace. Accompanied by many, these young adults came to peace in their decisions as their way to follow Christ as his apostles. Please pray for them. Pray also for those, especially in ministry and apostolate, who are not properly caring for themselves. May we accompany them to care for themselves so that they may better care for the People of God.
May the Charity of Christ urge us on!
For more resources on Self-Care in Ministry, please click here.
“Then Jesus said to His disciples, ‘If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it’” (Matthew 16:25).
For about three months, culminating on Easter Sunday, I took part in a spiritual program for Catholic men focused on prayer, ascetism, and fraternity. During this program, men ‘unplug’ from the world, deny themselves, and live in a specifically intentional way for the Kingdom of God.
This journey requires men to participate in fraternity with other men, read Scripture and reflections each day, spend at least 30 minutes in prayer with the Blessed Sacrament, and then other things, including: no social media, no computer or phone if not for work or other mandatory tasks like paying bills, taking a cold shower every morning, no sweets, no snacking between meals, no alcohol, getting at least 7 hours of sleep each night, no watching sports, and fasting and abstaining from meat every Wednesday and Friday.
This is a journey through the Book of Exodus alongside Moses and the Israelites as they escape slavery in Egypt and learn how to live in true freedom in the Promised Land. The Book of Exodus is a brilliant metaphor for the modern man, called to a freedom rooted in the ability to choose the good for the sake of God and His Kingdom as opposed to a having a ‘false freedom’ and being a slave to desires and passions.
Receiving screen time reports on my iPhone each week made me realize how much of a slave I am to my cell phone – to social media, to sports, to instant gratification. I desired to free myself from my phone in a radical way, which this program helped me achieve. This is just one example of how this journey invited me to restructure my day and rid myself of lazy habits.
This journey was hard: the first few weeks were hard; the last few weeks were hard. I wasn’t perfect at maintaining all of the disciplines of the program. I can recall starting the cold water for the shower in the morning and letting it run for 5 minutes trying to pump myself up to jump in. This happened many times. But after 3 or 4 weeks, I was jumping right in. The old adage is true: First we make our habits, then our habits make us. The more we exercise true freedom – denying ourselves and making choices that counter our desire for comfort – the easier it is to live in freedom.
Feeling much more liberated, I still do not have any social media apps on my phone, I take a cold shower from time to time, and prayer time is a staple of my daily routine. Making these types of continued choices is not easy, and that is why participating in community with the Body of Christ – much like the disciples did— is essential to continued spiritual growth. Though each choice and discipline of this program is deeply personal, a community of like-minded men working through the same disciplines in their own right was a crucial element of this process. This community allowed me to give and receive motivation and encouragement and ensured that the disciplines were being completed in a physically and spiritually healthy way. This is why the Church, in her wisdom, has encouraged the formal development of many religious communities – such as the Dominicans, Franciscans, and Pallottines. I believe this is also why the Church today is stressing Collaboration and Co-Responsibility in ministry. The journey to heaven is not one that should be walked alone. I would encourage you, in whatever spiritual journey you undertake for God and his Kingdom, to do so in community.
Question for Reflection: Have you ever participated in a spiritual program, conference, or retreat that had a positive impact on your faith?
Today, August 8th, is the feast day of St. Dominic de Guzman, founder of the Order of Preachers—the Dominicans.
St. Dominic was born around the year 1170, and he came from a noble and devout family. After studying at the University of Palencia for ten years and becoming a priest, Dominic eventually went to southern France to fight the Albigensian heresy. While there, he determined that a return to the preaching style of the Apostles in the time of Christ—to engage with individuals, to go where the Spirit led them, and to live simply—would most effectively preach the Gospel message and bring heretics and converts back to the faith.
After spending several years evangelizing and preaching, Dominic had acquired a small band of followers. With them, he founded a religious order, basing it on the Rule of St. Augustine and giving it the mission of “preaching and the salvation of souls,” with an emphasis on the importance of spiritual and intellectual formation. The Order of Preachers was officially recognized by Pope Honorius III in late 1216.
In a time when opposing sides often resorted to violence, St. Dominic chose to combat the Albigensian heresy through open dialogue rather than bloodshed. By having a deep understanding of Scripture, tradition, and philosophy, and by engaging with individuals on an intellectual and moral level, he was able to bring back into the faith many of those who had fallen into error. The Order of Preachers that he founded continues to embrace these principles by preparing preachers who are “intellectually informed and pastorally competent.”
St. Dominic chose to settle the first members of his order in university cities so that they could gain the intellectual training they would need to become engaging and morally compelling preachers of God’s word. The Order of Preachers, to this day, still heavily emphasizes the importance of spiritual and intellectual formation in preparation for their pastoral work. The Dominican House of Studies in Washington, D.C. continues in the Dominican tradition of establishing communities of Dominicans near universities. Dominicans residing at the House of Studies teach at nearby at The Catholic University of America, assist with Masses at parishes in the Archdiocese of Washington, and produce a journal.
Reading about the origins of the Dominicans and their continued success reminds me of the important place that religious study ought to hold in even the layman’s spiritual life. While we cannot all get degrees in theology, feeding the intellectual curiosity about our faith can lead us deeper into our relationship with God and to a better understanding of his truth.
Reading more about our faith, or about the lives of the saints we wish to emulate, can also better equip us to evangelize when the opportunity arises. While we may not be reading the Summa Theologica or the Catechism cover to cover, there is a plethora of material—from papal encyclicals and the core documents of Vatican II, to letters and diaries of the saints—available for us to deepen our own understanding of the faith and to be able to share it with others.
I myself have been inspired by reading about the life of St. Dominic de Guzman and the work of the Order of Preachers. As a result, I have decided to further engage my faith through more rigorous spiritual reading. I think a good place to start is with a course of study on one’s vocation—for me, that means marriage and parenthood, and thus my “to read” list includes Three to Get Married by Fulton Sheen and the papal encyclicals Castii Conubii and Humanae Vitae.
What will you read to engage more deeply with your faith?
Question for Reflection: How can the life of St. Dominic and his emphasis on intellectual formation help you deepen your spiritual life?
Tomorrow the Church celebrates St. Catherine of Siena, a 14th century tertiary Dominican and Doctor of the Church, who is renowned for her ardent prayer, peacemaking, and writing. Her life is filled with stories that reflect a transparent faith in the power of God’s intervention, her desire for unity within the Church, and her gifts in healing and touching the lives of others.
I discovered St. Catherine a few years ago when I read this passage. She writes these words with the same devotion and absolute trust with which she lived her life by:
“I don’t want you to yield to weariness or confusion, no matter what may trouble your spirit. No, I want you to keep the good, holy, and true faithful will that I know God in his mercy has given you. Be glad…celebrate! Without any slavish fear take courage. Don’t be afraid, no matter what has happened, no matter what you see coming. Take courage for perfection is very accessible” (excerpt from her Letter to Br. Raimondo of Capua at Avignon).
Whenever I read these words, they indicate to me that St. Catherine must have experienced trials herself and had her faith tested. Don’t we all struggle with weariness or battle the armies of confusion? St. Catherine doesn't want us to get caught up in the messiness of our sins and plights but rather in the will of God that will lead us through our struggles.
The reason we should "be glad and celebrate" is because God's will is there to guide us through the midst of it all. And this, as St. Catherine reminds us, is a wonderful gift of God's great mercy, which is able to penetrate into our past, present, and future experiences.
God’s will can sometimes seem so hard to understand, a mystery that is more hidden than it is found. Many often ponder, "What is God's will for my life? and ask, "Lord, what is your will…what should I be doing?” But St. Catherine knows God's will is more simple and apparent than we think. He doesn't hide it so much as reveal it or deter us so much as lead us to it.
We should “take courage” because God has revealed everything in the perfection of Christ his Son, who lived among us and entered into the human experience. He is so near, so accessible.
What is God’s will for us then except to grow into the perfection of Christ? St. Paul reminds us that, “God has called [us] through our Gospel to possess the glory of Jesus Christ.” (2 Thes. 2:14) Every day we are invited to grow towards sanctity and heaven by rising with Christ in the midst of our circumstances. We are to mature in love so as to become ourselves fully in Christ. If we strive for this first, God will surely lead us down the narrower paths of our lives.
God is always at work in us if only we open ourselves to him. I invite you to think and pray about your own life. How have you grown in virtue over the years? This is evidence of God’s grace alive in your heart and mind! St. Catherine points directly to Christ, the Fountain of Life that is never depleted of its mercy and compassion! In him we really can do anything.
Let us then “take courage” in our lives and “celebrate” Christ and the mercy of God! We need not be afraid!
Thank you St. Catherine for your life and example! Pray for us, that we can fight the good fight and become ourselves fully in Christ. May we experience deeper the reality of God’s great mercy.
For more resources on the Jubilee Year of Mercy, click here.
It was the Second Vatican Council which decreed, "From the very beginning of the church men and women have set about following Christ with greater freedom and imitating him more closely through the practice of the evangelical counsels, each in their own way leading a life dedicated to God." It is on this observation that I write in commemoration of the close of the Year of Consecrated Life, which Pope Francis inaugurated on November 30, 2014 (the First Sunday of Advent) and concluded on February 2, 2016 (the Feast of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple). Addressing all consecrated people in an Apostolic Letter, His Holiness expressed three aims for this great year: first, “to look to the past with gratitude;” second, “to live the present with passion;” and third, “to embrace the future with hope.” Similarly, he called upon the laity, “who share with them the same ideals, spirit and mission,” and the whole Christian people to become more aware of the gift of consecrated men and women, “heirs of the great saints who have written the history of Christianity.”
Growing up, I was blessed to have been taught, mentored, and befriended by a number of consecrated religious, namely the Sisters of the Resurrection and the Lasallian Brothers. When I arrived at The Catholic University of America, however, my exposure to consecrated religious expanded to include the Order of Friars Minor (Franciscans), the Order of Preachers (Dominicans), the Little Sisters of the Poor, the Servant Sisters of Mary Immaculate, and the Pallottines (and their Apostolate Center!), to name a few! As I got to know each of them, I became more aware of the joy and the grace inherent of their living out their respective Order’s charisms and spirituality, be they involving education, service, contemplative prayer, or dogmatic theology. In spite of the differences between each order and the varying reasons each member had for professing, there remains one commonality: desiring to follow Christ and seeking to imitate Him more closely in a life dedicated to God. Of course, there are many ways of doing this— each religious order accomplishes this in accord with its unique spiritual character and gifts— as St. Vincent Pallotti encouraged, “Seek God and you will find God. Seek God in all things and you will find God in all things. Seek God always and you will always find God.”
How one discerns entering religious life does not mean one has to force a change in his or her lifestyle; rather, it an acceptance of who one is and surrendering that to the God so loved since Baptism, thereby consecrating him or herself “more intimately to God’s service and to the good of the Church” (CCC 931). In my own discernment, I have found great relief in this understanding— that I can give myself to God as I am in love and He will help me to focus and purify that love in my heart which is to radiate from every action of Christian living. Similarly, the famed Trappist monk Thomas Merton expressed the relationship between discernment and the discerner:
Discerning vocation does not mean scrambling toward some prize just beyond my reach but accepting the treasure of true self I already possess. Vocation does not come from a voice “out there” calling me to be something I am not. It comes from a voice “in here” calling me to be the person I was born to be, to fulfill the original selfhood given me at birth by God.
As the Year of Consecrated Life concludes, let us remember that it concerns not only consecrated persons but the entire Church! Where would the Church be without the examples set by Saints Francis and Augustine, Ignatius and Dominic, or Vincent Pallotti and (soon-to-be-Saint) Mother Teresa and repeated in their respective Orders? The Church would no doubt be less effective in its charity and evangelization, as Blessed Pope Paul VI observed, “the ‘salt’ of faith would lose its savour in a world undergoing secularization.” Let us then respond to Pope Francis’s call to give thanks for the incredible work done by religious around the world and for their fidelity to their respective charisms while seeking to draw close to them in times of joy and trial and assisting them in their holy endeavors. Finally, let us continue to pray for God to send more numerous vocations among their ranks: may their discernments be a model for our own, that we may echo the words of the great Carmelite Saint Thérèse of Lisieux, “At last I have found my vocation: My vocation is love.”
This summer, as I drive home, I must pass it. At the traffic light its siren call implores me to come closer. Near the parking lot its gravitational pull draws me in. Often, even several times a week, I succumb, make the right turn, get out of the car, and enter the used book store.
Today the Church celebrates my fellow book lover, Saint Dominic. Dominic lived in the early 13th century, when the Albigensian heresy was entrenched throughout Europe. After several lay preaching movements had failed to quell the heresy, and fell into error themselves, St. Dominic formed the Order of Preachers (the Dominicans), an order of priests dedicated to studying and intelligently preaching the Catholic faith. Their studies required books, and thus references to books abound in early Dominican writings: rules for the sharing and care of books, stories of the miraculous recovery of books dropped into a stream, and measures to ensure that all friars are provided with “books and other necessities of life”.
Yet, as I’ve discovered through my addiction to the used book store, books can also present temptations. I’d be content to hide behind my growing stack of books for a lifetime. Instead of being charitable, I’d read about charity. Instead of being ready to “account for the hope that is in” me, I’d lift canned arguments from Apologetics books as my hope fades, for hope cannot continue when faith in the person of Jesus Christ is replaced with the mere acceptance of a number of intellectual propositions.
“I want the Church to go out onto the streets, I want us to resist everything worldly, everything static, everything comfortable, everything to do with clericalism, everything that might make us closed in on ourselves”. This was Pope Francis’ challenge to World Youth Day pilgrims, but it is the same command that St. Dominic gave to his friars in 1217. The Pope had finally approved the order and the friars probably looked forward to long hours of study, but Dominic had other plans. Against their objections, he sent his friars throughout Europe to preach, saying, “We must sow the seed, not hoard it”.
That is the key to Dominic’s charism. His studies were not for his own pleasure, but rather, as the primitive Dominican Constitutions put it, “study ought to tend principally, ardently, and with the highest endeavor to the end that we might be useful to the souls of our neighbors”.
Saint Dominic loved books inasmuch as they helped him to love God and neighbor. In a world plagued by heresy, charity led Dominic use his books to instruct the ignorant, but when famine stuck, Dominic did not hesitate to sell his books to feed the poor, for he “could not bear to prize dead skins when living skins were starving and in need".
In this year of Faith, we must follow Dominic by deepening our knowledge of the faith. Yet, more importantly we must look to Dominic’s example of how to live it.
Matthew Rice is a Junior at the University of Maryland, College Park. He is studying Materials Science and Engineering.