The Future

Sometimes in the post-Vatican II crisis, as at many points in its long centuries, it has seemed as if St. Dominic's Order might have no future. The Church has been promised the future by its Lord, but religious orders come and go in the service of the Church. Yet, today, the need of an Order to preach the Gospel and to encourage and assist others in preaching it is still urgent. The survival of the Order of Preachers depends primarily on the generosity of young women and men in perceiving this need and responding to it. Our numbers have dwindled before the onslaught of social change but are still far greater than at other crisis points in our history, and the activity of the Order is global and intense.

Two ways seem open. One is to return to Jandel's romantic dream of a revival of the Order in all its original details of strict observance as a challenge to the spirit of the modern world. The adoption of the Constitutions of 1968, while returning to the spirit of the founder, as Vatican II had demanded, did not take that way. It is not likely we will go back to Office at midnight, woolen underwear, and flagellation. The ideal of "strict observance" to be logical must be consistent, and that would mean really living the thirteenth century in the twenty-first.

The other is to accept Lacordaire's principle against Jandel, that the essential thing in the Order is its mission, adjusted to the circumstances of the times, and its life must be adjusted to the demands of that mission. This is the way proposed by the new Constitutions and actually coming into effect almost everywhere in the Order. Yet, Lacordaire loved the Order's identifying traditions as much as Jandel did and modified them only reluctantly.

Since now it seems clear we are living in a post-modern era of global plurality, it is also obvious that these modifications must be more radical than Lacordaire could have foreseen. We must "preach the Gospel to every creature" "in season and out of season" as did its first preachers. This implies several things about our life.

First, it means that community life cannot usually be that of large houses living an unchanging monastic regime, but for that reason, must consist of smaller communities living a more intensely fraternal life in order to support and give identity to its members, even to those who must for a time live and work alone. As Cormier said, "Some Dominicans live out of community, some merely in it, some off it, and, happily, some for it." More of us must live for it and for each other in intense communication, exchange of ideas, cooperation. And there must be room for diversity of community life to fit local circumstances.

Second, it means that our study can no longer have the uniformity of the marvelous synthesis of St. Thomas Aquinas' thought, although his wisdom remains one of our precious resources. Rather our communities must be able to sustain the dialogue, often the difficult debate, of competing ideas, in a pluralistic world, if the Gospel is to be preserved and communicated integrally. There has to be a new asceticism of the mind, for nothing is more painful than to maintain charity alive in the midst of genuine argument about serious issues.

Third, our prayer has to remain contemplative and liturgical in a world of activity and change without isolating itself from that ever shifting stream of events. It must be liturgical, because our contemplation must be in and for the Church, not lost in mere individualistic psychological "experiences." To be this it must be supported by a serious asceticism of the body as well as of the mind. We must remain truly religious, authentically celibate, genuinely poor, intelligently obedient in a world of consumption, possession, selfishness. There can be no illusion that we can simply adopt the middle-class life of modern professionals and still be contemplatives. Our traditional forms of asceticism still have much to teach us, but they too must be intensifed not abandoned. For this the nuns of the Second Order must remain a constant source of inspiration, not isolated from the rest of the Family, but central to its life.

Finally, our work of preaching must not lose its definition in the multiplicity of the media we use and of the other good works by which it is supported. We must keep before us the words of St. Paul, "If I preach the Gospel, this is no reason for me to boast, for an obligation has been imposed on me, and woe to me if I do not preach it" (I Cor 9:16).

The active Sisters of the Order and the Dominican Laity share in this same obligation but they, in particular, need today to rethink, as Catherine did, what their opportunities are. In some ways more possibilities are open to them than to clerics, who are tied by the very nature of their office as priests to certain primary sacramental tasks. But it is even more difficult for them to find and express the Dominican identity in the world of which they are so much a part. They must decide with courage exactly what their relation is to the Dominican Family, and the friars must be open to supporting their decisions and cooperating in its fulfillment to meet the needs of the times.

I hope this sketch of what has been done in the past and this even briefer peering into the future will stir up in young hearts a sense of the call that Dominic heard and to which he responded heart and soul, "Come after me and I will make you fishers of men and women" (Mk 1:17).