These are strange times. Our country and our Church appear more polarized than ever. On the political level, Obama is loved by some, reviled by others, and each side is entrenched in their views. On an ecclesial level, we are either dismantling Vatican II or correcting the misinterpretations of it. And the fireworks really begin when the political and spiritual worlds collide. We have access to more information, at the touch of a few buttons, than we have ever had before. But, in some ways we know even less about what is really important. We have a much greater number of ways to stay in touch, and yet some would argue we are more isolated than ever. We are living longer than ever before, but we hear reports that these “golden” years are not really that golden at all.
We seek to remove moral discussion from modern political day issues, relegating faith as anachronistic at best, a delusional set of fairy tales at worst. And yet when a horrible event like the shootings in Aurora, Colorado, or a troubling diagnosis like an aggressive cancer hits our lives, we are shaken enough to search for meaning again.
This is not to be cynical, but is rather an attempt to discuss aspects of the present age in which we live. And I am not pessimistic about the current age in which we live, but rather hopeful and optimistic about what opportunities it provides. So too was Dominic. Perhaps when he first ventured outside of Spain, and encountered people not at all like him, he was as overwhelmed as we can be about the paradoxes of our current age. But he quickly came to “read the signs of the times” to use a Vatican II phrase, and understood an overwhelming need for more informed preaching in ways that were accessible to people.
Things are not that much different today. A person could be forgiven if they believed the only issues of importance today were abortion, homosexuality and artificial birth control, since the bishops speak about this often, and the press covers it often because controversy sells. But while I am not suggesting these are not important issues, but I believe there are deeper spiritual questions that the average person questions and seeks answers from God about.
So, since Dominic was empowered to preach, an act that was in his day reserved to bishops, let me be so bold as to suggest the life of St. Dominic provides a life that may need to be more imitated today. Perhaps we also need to emphasize these fundamental ideas more. What spiritual issues underlie the current state of things?
First, I think we must be called to imitate Dominic by finding a more appropriate balance between action and contemplation. We live in a fast paced world, with a flurry of activity, with things that could distract us twenty four hours a day, seven days a week. It is now common to accept that people can be addicted to the internet, that technology, which was supposed to make our lives easier, has in fact, lengthened our work day and taken away relaxation, because we can now always be reached, and that in the name of keeping our kids out of trouble, we sign our children up for as many activities as possible. It is said that Dominic either spoke “to God or about God.” This was only possible because of the balance he carved out between contemplation and action.
When do we find the time simply to relax, let alone enter into that meditative prayer that provides the gateway to make sense of it all? On many levels, we have bought into (literally) a mentality that calls us to work more and more, but to experience less and less? Professed Dominicans are not immune from this temptation. Far too often we are engaged in active ministry at the expense of contemplative prayer. We too have bought into the western obsession with production, preferring to see what we make, rather than to focus on who we become.
So, firstly, I think Dominic is challenging us to say, “Enough!” This is time for God and God’s people. “Be still.”
Second, I think Dominic would challenge us to be people of community. Namely, to seek out how we can become more connected to the people that should and do matter to us. Families need to deliberately carve out that time away from television, computers and video games. Parents need to work less, and spend time together more. Employers and employees need together to acknowledge that life cannot simply be about work. And we professed Dominicans, and indeed all in ministry, need to imitate more the person of Jesus who sought out those out of the way places.
Third, we need to inform ourselves about the faith. How often do we hear, “I do not agree with the Church”, and yet when pushed, people really do not know where the Church taught this or where they even heard it. Dominic lived in an age of tremendous ignorance, not simply the people he encountered, but the clergy too! It was why study was to become so important for him, and his community. Preachers must be informed. In so many ways the challenges still remain.
Whatever we feel about the Second Vatican Council, we owe it to ourselves, at least once a year, to reread the documents of the Second Vatican Council. If we are discouraged for whatever reason, we need to read a little Church history. We Americans are not strong on history. We do not understand that in the words of the Bible, “there is nothing new under the sun.”
Lastly, we need to be close to the sacramental and prayer life of the Church. We are spoiled here in the United States. Many of us have easy access to more than one parish. We can seek out the parish family that helps us to find God. Whether it is communal prayer, the sacraments, or the devotional life of the Church, we must make efforts to make it a part of our regular lives.
But perhaps most importantly, we need to develop the attitude of Dominic. The world is a good place, and creation provides the means to help us come to know God. For God is indeed knowable. And we are redeemable. We are not, in the words of Martin Luther, no better than manure covered with a little grace, but rather are good, even though we commit sin as well. But God has overcome sin and death!
The reason this is so important is that we live in a world that both needs to be challenged, but at the same time, needs to be reminded of the limitless hope is has, because of the grace of Christ and the tremendous gift he has given to the Church.
If we can begin by embracing the aspects of Dominic’s life I suggest, I am confident we will be more able to live simply, not having more than we need. If we embrace these aspects of Dominic’s life, we will find it easier to have that type of trust that allows us to be obedient to the will of God. And if we embrace these aspects of Dominic’s life, all of our relationships will mirror THE relationship, our relationship with God.