Friday, June 6, 2008

Reflections on Vocations by the Masters of the Order

I have been reading the official acts of the General Chapter of the Dominican Order held in Bogota, Colombia last year. This meeting of brothers from the provinces of the Order throughout the world is charged with reflecting on the life, mission and work of the brethren and to legislate, when necessary, for the good of the Order worldwide.

Naturally, I am interested to read what the General Chapter has to say on vocations. In his letter on the 'state of the Order', the Master General, fr Carlos Aspiroz Costa (pictured above) reflects on the theme and speaks of the gift of vocations, the deep necessity to pray for vocations, the possibility of meetings of the friars involved in vocations ministry to meet together and share their experience. He encourages greater collaboration between the various branches of the Dominican family in encouraging new membership with a particular emphasis on the promotion of vocations by the friars for the contemplative nuns.

Fr Carlos also quotes his two immediate predecessors as Master of the Order on the theme of vocations. Firstly, he quotes fr Damian Byrne (Irish province) who was Master of the Order from from 1983 to 1992: 'For what do we want vocations? How are we going to form them? (...) How are we going to form ourselves so as to receive the new religious and how are we going to carry out the necessary changes in our life that will enable us to live with them in the peace of the Gospel and to bear their challenge and that of their world?' Here, fr Damian challenges the brethren to receive new members and to make the necessary changes to allow them to flourish - even if it means that the brethren have to form themselves to do so! His words are as important today as they were when he wrote them to the brethren at General Chapter in Mexico in 1992.

Secondly, fr Carlos quotes his immediate predecessor fr Timothy Radcliffe. The quote is from a letter to the Order written in 1994 entitled 'Vowed to Mission': 'Do we dare to accept into the Order young people who have the daring to face these new challenges with courage and initiative, knowing that they may well put in question much of what we have been and done? Would we happily accept into our own Province a man like Thomas Aquinas, who embraced a new and suspect philosophy and posed hard and searching questions? Would we welcome a brother like Bartolome de las Casas, with his passion for social justice? Would we be pleased to have a Fra Angelico who experimented with new ways of preaching the Gospel? Would we give profession to Catherine of Siena, with all her outspokenness? Would we welcome Martin de Porres, who might disturb the peace of the community by inviting in all sorts of poor people? Would we accept Dominic? Or might we prefer candidates who will leave us in peace? And what is the result of our initial formation? Is it to produce brothers (and sisters) who have grown in faith and courage, who dare to try and risk more than when they came to us at first? Or do we tame them and make them safe? These are challenging questions posed by our brother Timothy - reminding the Order that it has a duty to be challenged by its new members, and by new membership itself. And ultimately that we give to those who come to join us the opportunity to grow spiritually, intellectually, humanly and psychologically to be effective preachers!

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