A Family of Preachers

The Dominicans: A Family of Preachers
by Mary Margaret Pazdan, OP

From The Preacher, 2010. Used with permission.

Dominic de Guzman (1170-1221) founded the Order of Preachers over 800 years ago to proclaim the gospel to all people. In 1206 he began with a small group of women in Prouille, France. He catechized these Cathars; they became Catholics. The Cathars held a dualistic world view through which they lived poor, simple lives and preached the gospel.1 In the next few years community members and buildings at Prouille grew to embrace the sisters, the friars, and women and men of the Dominican laity. 

According to Barbara Beaumont, “the sisters were part of its mission from the outset, and by no means just a pious adjunct. . . . Their prayers were complementary to the preaching mission in that they were in themselves efficacious for the salvation of souls. . . .”2  It is here at Prouille that the Holy Preaching, an early name for the Dominicans, became a foundation for the Dominican family.3 In 2010 the Dominican Order web page describes the family of Preachers,

Dominicans preach the Word of God. This is our one vocation, lived out in a variety of states of life: friars, cloistered nuns, apostolic sisters, and many different groups of lay people. We are a religious order within the Roman Catholic Church.

Dominican spirituality consists of four pillars, namely, prayer, study, community, and preaching.4 Contemplation, the first pillar, is the source of life and preaching. Ann Willits describes Dominic, "The primary source of Dominic's preaching was Dominic's contemplative relationship with God which gave him the silent strength, the joyful gusto, the profound peace to make the WORD his home."

A thirteenth century Dominican, Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274), described the Order, “We contemplate Truth and offer it to others through preaching and teaching. Contemplare et contemplata aliis tradere.5

Assiduous study is a second pillar. Here Thomas Aquinas lived study as a spiral that embraces and connects prayer to apostolic preaching, teaching and writing. Dominic emphasized study “as the vital tool for effectively preaching the Word of God and correctly interpret it for the salvation of God’s people . . . .6

Catherine of Siena, a Dominican lay woman (1347-80), contributes to Dominican life. After joining the Mantellate, a group of Dominican widows, she lived in a solitary within her family home in her room for three years. In her solitude, Catherine was wrapped in God. In her Dialogue, we hear of her profound mystical experience with God and revelation from God. Catherine was reluctant to leave her room. However, she learned through prayer that Christ had other plans. As she wept, she heard Christ saying to her,

Dearest daughter, remember that I have laid down two commandments of love: love of me and love of your neighbour. ‘On these two commandments,’ as I myself bore witness, ‘depend the Law and the Prophets.’ It is the justice of these two commandments that I want you now to fulfil. On two feet you must walk my way; on two wings you must fly to heaven.7

Catherine left her seclusion and spent many years in caring for the poor and victims of the Plague. She became a peace-maker for the warring Italian city states and restoring the papacy by bringing back Pope Gregory XI from Avignon to Rome. She formed her “family” of followers with whom she kept up voluminous correspondence. Her great love for the crucified and risen Lord moved her to seek the common good at no small cost to herself.

Community life is a third pillar. By living together members learn how to contemplate and study as well as how to be sister or brother to one another. Members share their joys and frustrations, their insights and limitations. They strengthen one another in daily living, in conversation, in study, in sharing meals and praying the Hours of the Church. Dominicans are sent out for their preaching ministry from a local community and return there to share the experience.

A story in the tradition describes the importance of common life as a basis for the fourth pillar, preaching. In 1510, Spanish Dominican Friars arrived in Hispaniola (Dominican Republic and Haiti). There they saw how Spaniards treated the Indians cruelly and unjustly. They considered them as less than slaves.The friars befriended many indigenous people. They shared life with them daily.When the friars complained to the authorities of their inhuman treatment of the Indians, the authorities patronized the Friars.

Finally, the friars knew they could not remain silent. They prayed, studied the gospel and wrote a homily together. They signed their names to the text.Antonio des Montesinos was chosen to preach in Advent, 1511.  His homily was based on, “I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness. . .” (John 1:23).

Montesinos preached,

I am the voice of Christ crying out in the desert of this island. Therefore, it would do you well to listen with all your heart to this voice which will be the most novel, the sharpest, the toughest, the most shocking and dangerous voice you have ever heard. . . . You live and die in mortal sin for the cruelty and tyranny done against these innocent peoples. With what right and by which justice do you hold these Indians in such horrible servitude? With what authority do you carry out such detestable wars against the people of these lands – people so meek and peaceful? – How can you hold these peoples so oppressed and fatigued? You kill them in order to acquire your precious gold every day. Are these not human beings? . . . . Are you not obliged to love them as you love yourselves?

Montesinos was asked to retract his homily. He did not. He died before there was any substantial change in the treatment of the indigenous people. 500 years later the new Master General of the Dominican Order, Bruno Cadoré, speaks of his attraction to the Dominicans because of their joyful community life and prayer. As a pediatrician he was sent to Haiti for two years. There he learned the gospel with the people. As Master of the Order, Cadoré will learn about the varied ministries of the Dominican family throughout the world.

One group is the Dominican Sisters International (DSI) that was established in May 1995. Their goals include: Supporting one another in living out our identity as women preachers; facilitating communication and networking; fostering a more compassionate world through promoting peace and justice, integrity of creation and human rights; exploring and fostering collaborating initiates among the Dominican family.

Another group is the Dominican laity of Austin, Texas. Since 1993, the Dominican Preaching Team formed fifty members in three communities (English and Spanish). They meet monthly for two hours for prayer, study, dialogue and decision making.  Each group lives the four Dominican characteristics, in particular, ministry of the Word, is at the heart of their lives. The Team encourages each member to define a preaching ministry before making permanent commitment to the Order. Some Spanish-speaking have given three-night evangelization missions in the eighborhoods to form small faith communities. Many accompany the Team in giving Parish Missions. Some present the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults in their parishes, others give reflections at wake services or while taking Communion to the sick. One member has been a street preacher for years working with drug addicts.8

The Dominican family has a long tradition of world-wide witness for the Holy Preaching.

Mary Margaret Pazdan, OP

Published in The Preacher (December 2010).

1 For more information about the Cathars, see http://www.cathar.info/
2 Barbara Beaumont, OP, “The Coming of the Preachers ”
3 Ibid.
4 Don Goergen, OP, In this article, he re-names the “pillars.”
5 Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, II-II, Q. 188, A. 7.
6 Joseph Ellul, OP, “Master DOMINIC and the Grace of  Preaching,”
7 Raymond of Capua, The Life of Catherine of Siena, trans. Conleth Kearns (Wilmington, DE: Michael Glazier, 1980), part two, chapter 1, section 121.
8 Helen Marie Raycraft, OP.

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