A retreat given at Stone to the community of St Dominic's Convent, Stone, by Fr Nicholas Crowe on Wednesday May 25th 2016
Fr.Nick chose to take a look at discipleship – and in particular, religious life - from its New Testament roots. We have a responsibility to look at fundamentals, because we have to ‘stand in the shoes’ of younger people who are searching for their way ahead.
Jesus summons people in three ways to follow him:
He summons some to be followers, but to stay at home, to continue their ‘normal’ way of life at the same time striving to put into practice all he has taught them and to live as he lived. Martha, Mary and Lazarus were close friends whose home he visited frequently, who appear to have provided him with a sort of ‘bolt hole’ against his exhausting way of life. Likewise, the man who provided him with a room for the Last Supper and, notably, the man with ‘the legion’ who, after his cure, wanted to go with Jesus in the boat but was sent back home to preach the good news in the Decapolis. These people, we would say, lived the ‘lay vocation.’ After Pentecost they became the majority among Christ’s followers; they are the Church and they support the mission of the Church.
Then there are those who Jesus called to “leave everything and come, follow me”, be with Him, learn from Him. These are to be a sort of extension of his presence – for example, the 72 disciples sent out to the villages to prepare the way. This arises from an intimate kind of friendship with the Lord, purifying, strengthening, healing, drawing out the potential for goodness – just as in many ways, any friendship draws out of us good qualities that perhaps we had not realised that we had! The difference is, that Jesus is a friend unlike any other. This has implications for us as ‘religious’ who have heard the same call. Religious communities, when healthy, create a space for contact with Jesus. They have the privilege of living in ‘the real presence’ through the presence of the Tabernacle in their house. As Jesus' friendship draws us out and changes us, so community life, the presence of our fellow religious calls out the good in us, healed and raised up by Jesus' loving friendship. As Dominicans we hand on/reflect that love, both within and, for us Dominicans, outside the convent. We are not just employees, but beloved friends, beloved children.
But both calls, lay and religious, have this in common: that their fulfilment is the enjoyment of eternal life with Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Something needs to be said about ‘odious comparisons’! It is frequently claimed that the religious life is harder, more sacrificial, than the lay vocation. Fr.Nick suggested that in fact this is not so. If life is rightly seen as a journey with Christ (to eternal life) during which we strive to unite ourselves more with him, desire to become more and more like him, one with him in friendship and love: then the advantage is definitely on the side of the religious. As already mentioned, they ‘live with’ the Blessed Sacrament; attendance at daily Mass is facilitated; time for prayer is part of the daily timetable, etc. The whole of life is ordered towards the knowledge and love of Christ.
[The problem comes if a religious community is NOT allowing us this ‘gift’)
We need to re-articulate the old idea of religious life as the ‘way of perfection’ (NOT the ‘way of the perfect’ !) Religious life can be seen as a highway/motorway in following Christ: “Prepare the way of the Lord! Make his paths straight.” - as compared with the more arduous way of the lay vocation. Religious life is a gift; and sacrifice can be seen as a thanksgiving. A religious of the Nashville sisters has described it as “trying to live the life of Heaven now.”
The third type of call is, of course, that of the twelve apostles and then their successors, the bishops. The bishops are ‘Christ in the diocese’ and must be ‘all things to all men’ and the priests are their extension or ‘limbs’.
Fr Stephen Wang has written that the parish priest lives in a kind of creative tension between the sacred and the secular, feeling “obliged to do everything at once without gaining the satisfaction of doing anything especially well”, but nevertheless finding holiness and joy in the ambiguity of his vocation.
This is where the priesthood (as ‘limbs’ for the bishop), can pose something of a dilemma for the brethren with regard to the Dominican charism.
We, Dominican brothers and sisters, cannot do what Jesus did; we are not perfect; but precisely as ‘the faithful’ we can in our different ways, represent Christ: we are the ‘limbs’ of his Body; the Church is his Body and we are the ‘limbs’, the ‘branches of the Vine’. Every religious group has its particular charism that enables it to represent a particular aspect of Jesus’ life – for us Dominicans, his preaching and teaching.
So we must be alert to our life as Dominican sisters: are we faithful to our anointing, our ‘call’? Are we ‘off charism’? We Dominicans are most alive when we are preaching and teaching and bringing others with us to love and be loved by Jesus.