21 May 2017

The Dominican Option

6th Sunday of Easter
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Mt. Carmel/OLR, NOLA

The world cannot accept the Spirit of Truth b/c the world does not see or know the Father. The world does not see or know the Father b/c the world rejected His Christ – the only Way of seeing and knowing the Father. The world, those in the world, are orphans – bereft of mother and father, left without a family, a home, a place to be at peace. They call the world their home, but the world is home to no one. It lives and moves to serve its own perverse purposes, and eats alive anyone who makes it their god. You see, the world isn't a person or a place; it's a spirit, the living principle of rebellion and disease, the anti-Christ – the opposite of Christ. For us, Christ lived and died in love so that we might be made heirs to the Father's kingdom in the Spirit, so that we might dwell in the Spirit of Truth and find eternal life. The world offers false promises, dead-end deals, and baits us with the temptation of becoming gods without God. Christ frees us from sin and death, making us orphans of the world but not orphans in the world. When we abide in the Spirit of Truth, dwelling fully in the love of the Father and Son for one another, we come to know the freedom of the children of God. That freedom compels us – in word and deed – to bear witness to Christ and his works.

Now, we might be tempted to rest on our redeemed laurels and just wait out the end of the world. We might be tempted to sit pretty atop our pillar of righteousness and watch the world burn. We could say to the world, “We got ours. If you want yours. . .come to us.” This attitude is a recipe for whipping up a big bowl of arrogant pride. Christ did not command us to find our salvation in him and then sit back and wait for others to make their way to us hat-in-hand. His command – “Go out to all the world” – is unambiguous and final. There is no rest for us if we will be obedient to our Lord and remain in his love. Divine Love is diffusive by nature; that is, what Love is spreads around to all as a matter of Who Love Is. Our salvation through Christ is not a secret. It's not a treasure to be hoarded. It's not a priceless commodity to be dribbled out only to the truly deserving. We are left in this world as children of the Father so that we might be the living lights of His boundless mercy and love. We are not here to survive. We're here to thrive – to thrive as vocal, active, unrelenting witnesses to the power of the Father's offer of forgiveness to all sinners. Anyone who hears should hear. Anyone who sees should see. Our job is make sure that those who are of this world see and hear – from us – all that they need to come to the Christ. 
There's been a lot in the Catholic news lately about how we should prepare ourselves to become a cultural minority in the U.S. One option – called The Benedict Option from the founder of monasticism, St. Benedict – suggests that we should remove ourselves to culturally and religiously pure enclaves and ride out the secular storm. In this model, our task would be to preserve Christian culture as a sort of seed-plot, a remnant of true-believers who will emerge into a devastated world to begin again. Our communities will be something like the Benedictine monasteries of 9th and 10th century Europe – bastions of learning, culture, and religious practice. I understand the impulse behind his idea. We're losing battle after battle in the world, and our once stalwart Catholic institutions – universities, religious orders, hospitals – have surrendered to the Spirit of the Age. Renewal and reform from the ground up is beyond necessary at this point – we're teetering on the edge of cultural irrelevance and outright persecution. In some parts of the world, being a Christian is enough to have your head put on a spike. Retreating and regrouping is not only attractive but it might our only option in the years to come.

However, as you might guess, I'm inclined toward another option. Let's call it The Dominican Option. The Order of Preachers was found in 1216 by St. Dominic de Guzman to preach the Good News and care for souls. He founded the Dominicans as a hybrid order – part monastic, part diocesan – so that the friars might live in community like monks but serve in the world like diocesan priests. The Dominican option is faithful to Christ's command that we “go out to all the world” and at the same time allows us to maintain the boundaries of our Catholic identity without compromise. In effect, we come to see ourselves as Christ's Viruses, inflecting the world body with the Good News of the Father's grace and mercy. Viruses are adaptable when attacked. They evolve with the environment without ceasing to be what they are. Viruses are even capable of altering their environment when they reach a critical mass. What we bring to the world as Christ's Viruses is a 2,000 year old intellectual, spiritual, pastoral, and humane tradition of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty. The Church is not charged with preserving our tradition for the sake of tradition; we're charged with using our tradition for the sake of preaching of the Good News and the care of souls.

The Dominican Option for the Church takes Peter's admonition seriously, “Sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts. Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope. . .” It's not clear to me how we can give an explanation for our hope from behind a wall. The Christian's explanation for his/her hope must be given in the public square – at work, the mall, the bank, in the schools, at home, wherever a Christian happens to be, there the explanation must be given. If you abide in the love of Christ, your explanation will be the words and deeds of your daily life. The Spirit of Truth will abide with you and see that you are not troubled.
NB. I want to be absolutely clear here that I am in no way denigrating the monastic life. Dominic founded the nuns before he founded the friars b/c he knew that the friars would need some powerful spiritual support in their ministry. The options being discussed in the media are suggesting various ways that the whole Church might be reconfigured for reform. Turning the whole Church into a monastery is my target here.

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