A regular question posed to me is: 'what are the people who seek to join the Order looking for?' An interesting question indeed! Of course, it is unhelpful to generalise, but for me there are clear and distinct trends emerging in answer to this question.
It is important to state, in the first instance, that the generation who are now potential enquirers and postulants are very much of a post-Vatican II culture. This culture is one with new convictions and new desires. The following is a provisional analysis of the desires and convictions expressed by those I come in contact with. It is by no means a full and exhaustive analysis.
1. The desire for identity and community. It is evident to me that enquirers need to know about the strong identity of the Order, who is in it, and that they themselves want a clear identity to share with the Order. So, they are drawn by the identity of the habit we wear, by the fact that we pray communally and that there is a regular and visible religious life being led. The Dominican tradition of study remains a strong identifiable reason why people present themselves for acceptance into the Order. In this context, they like the semi monastic qualities of our life and do not feel the need to shake off monastic customs in order to be apostolic religious.
2. The desire for clarity. Those seeking to know more of the Order and become serious candidates want to connect with they consider to be the wisdom of the Catholic tradition, which they believe an older generation has betrayed. They identify this tradition in very visible forms, such as devotional practice. There is a liking for clear authority and a dislike for liberal attitudes. My sense is that they have a deep desire for the authentic and ultimate truth which is found in Jesus Christ.
3. The desire for connection. Enquirers want to be connected to an immediate and identifiable group. Naturally, they want and desire to help others - but in a direct way through generous service to people rather than through campaigning groups. It appears to me that they are hungry for authenticity and for personal and meaningful experiences of religious life.
Like all young people, they challenge the culture that raised them, which in the case of the Church means the post Vatican II culture. If the baby boomers of our generation are the renewal people, then those who are seriously contemplating life in the Dominican way are post-renewal people. It seems to me that the post Vatican II renewal aimed to strip away, to ask questions and to challenge structures; by contrast, this post-renewal generation wants clear identity and immediate connection.