Dominican Life is a Mix of Action and Contemplation
The Order’s spirituality is complex and made up of many elements, but these elements are unified in a single goal that is sublime. All its constituents lead to a contemplation which seeks to fructify in the apostolate. This evangelical vocation vitalises all the other parts of Dominican life, carrying them upward to their highest development, which is exemplified by Christ and the Apostles.
Dominican Life is Contemplative
St Dominic founded an Order that is contemplative in all its branches. Any Dominican who is not eager to become a contemplative is falling short in his Dominican spirit. Contemplation is the chief purpose of the Order. The Dominican does not contemplate because he wants to become an apostle. Contemplation is so superior, that it cannot be subordinated to anything lesser. The Dominican seeks contemplation for its own sake, because contemplation unites him to God.
Contemplation and Preaching
Contemplation is the source of the apostolate – it is contemplation that fructifies the apostolate. A Dominican’s life is a life hidden in God with Christ, lived in the solitude and silence of the religious house. There he dwells alone with God while his exterior activity is the voice of cloistered silence. His motive in going out to work is obedience and the glory of God and the good of neighbour.
Things that are preached are learned in contemplation. The Dominican who appreciates the Divine generosity, will beg God incessantly for the higher spiritual gifts. Yet this prayer would be presumptuous if not matched by unending, vigorous efforts on his part to do everything possible to dispose himself for the higher graces. utmost fidelity to the prayer and the duties of his religious life are the providential means given to the religious to accomplish this work.
Dominican Life and Liturgy
In seeking to make its children contemplative apostles, the Order demands of them as an indispensable condition, a life of prayer. One of the means to attain to a life of prayer is the solemn chanting of the Divine Office in common. If a Dominican is not devoted to prayer and praise, he cannot contemplate; he cannot even hope to contemplate. Without prayer, he will never penetrate the truths of faith. For it is only through prayer that one finds a profundity of wisdom – a soul of prayer must constantly be meditating on the truths of faith. Meditating on the truths of faith over a lifetime causes a man to penetrate their inner meaning. Only then will he live in an atmosphere of prayer, having made a cell in his own heart.
The Dominican day thus gravitates around the liturgy. The supreme act of the day is the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, with the Divine Office both preparing one for the Mass and also drawing from it, carrying its graces into the entire day.
Dominican Life is Apostolic
The general end of the Dominican Order is the sanctification of its members through contemplation; its special end is the salvation of souls through preaching. These two ends are not contradictory but unified – for the second implies the first. Preaching is the fruit of a life of prayer. Through contemplation the Dominican loves God so much that he must love his neighbour and become an apostle. To be a true apostle, a Dominican must sanctify himself first. In all his endeavours, he returns to that starting-point, his sanctification.
The Grace of the Word
St Thomas explains this gratia sermonis as a pre-eminent grace given to the preacher, teacher, or writer, not for his own spiritual benefit but so that he may more effectively instruct those who listen to him, that they may be moved to hear the word of God eagerly and with joy, eager to love His doctrine and obey His will. It is grace that causes the words of the preacher to fructify in the souls of those whom he reaches. The personal life of the apostle, therefore, is intimately connected with his apostolic work. He must so live as to receive grace.
The Dominican contemplates, hoping that when he has gazed on the truths of faith and his heart has been fired with love for God, he may carry his knowledge and love to his hearers. It is this inner life which makes his apostolic life germinate. When the Sisters teach, they hope that their words, pregnant with grace, will bear fruit, so that the souls entrusted to their care may indeed hearken to the word of God and obey it.
The Holy Rule of St Augustine
The Rule of St Augustine, patterned on the life of the apostles, powerfully develops the apostolic spirit in those who keep it. The community life prescribed by Augustine wonderfully prepares the soul to work for souls. As the Rule admonishes us, the first reason why we are gathered together is that we might dwell together in harmony in the house, and there may be in us but one mind and one heart in God, so that we may be found perfect in charity. The Rule first ascends to the very throne of God to look on Him in loving contemplation; then it descends, bring His love to souls. Above all else, it urges the fulfillment of the two great commandments – love of God and love of neighbour.
The Active Apostolate
The Sisters of the Order of St Dominic participate in the Order’s apostolate chiefly by their prayers, sacrifices, and living holy lives. In addition, the Sisters also teach in schools, proclaiming the truth not just in the classroom but also by their good example. They collaborate with the priests in carrying out the sanctification of souls, exercising a spiritual motherhood over the children that have been entrusted to them.
Can One Be Both a Contemplative and an Apostle?
Some people hold that it is impossible to unite the contemplate and active lives, because each of these lives is so engrossing. The life of prayer claims all the attention of a person; activity claims all his attention also.
St Dominic founded a new kind of Order, one that pursed an intense life of prayer and yet embraced a general apostolic activity. He personally demonstrated that it is possible to be a contemplative of the highest type and also a zealous apostle. But these two lives can be united only when the apostle gives primacy to contemplation. It must be Christian contemplation, pondering the mysteries of our redemption – Christ’s desire to save all souls, His death on the Cross for the redemption of sinners, the Father’s love in sending Christ to us. That type of prayer becomes apostolic; the contemplative seeks the salvation of his neighbour, because, like the early Christians, when he “sees his neighbour, he sees God.”
Dominican life is the image of St Dominic. And that which especially characterised our Holy Father is the concord, the harmonious synthesis, of virtues, apparently the most contrary: gentleness with energy, love of study with love of action, genius for contemplation with the spirit of organisation. St Dominic was, as Pere Petitot says, a theologian, orator, apostle, ascetic, mystic and a saint.