Tuesday, November 29, 2011

'Ears to Hear' - Irish Dominican Students

'Ears to Hear' is a series of reflections prepared by the student brothers of the Irish Dominican province. The series will have two online broadcasts per week, each consisting of a short reading from a spiritual classic , itself preceded by a brief introduction.

'Ears to Hear' begins with the season of Advent and is the result of the desire of our Dominican student brothers to make some spiritual classics of the Christian tradition accessible to those willing to listen over the internet. The first four weeks of 'Ears to Hear' will contain excerpts from the Church's cycle of formal prayer - from the writings of the saints and other Christian writers rather than from the Bible.

In launching 'Ears to Hear' the student brothers explained that the series would contain writings from a great variety of spiritual greats, from the Rhineland mystics to Saint Augustine of Hippo, from Saint Gregory Nazianzen to the many anonymous poets and preachers who have witnessed to the Truth.

To learn more about 'Ears to Hear', please visit the website of the Irish Dominican students here.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Questions and Answers on Discernment.....

Many people who make contact with the Dominican friars in Ireland often ask what vocational discernment is about. For most enquirers it is a completely new experience. So, in answer to those who ask what discernment of a vocation is, I will try to answer in a question and answer format. I hope readers will find it helpful.

What is a vocation?
Vocation comes from the Latin verb 'vocare' which means 'to call'. It is a calling from God who made us, loves us and has a plan for each of us. Vocational discernment then is not just about making a lifestyle choice or a career path - instead it starts in faith where God is acknowledged as the source of a vocation. Fundamentally, discernment of a vocation involves God in the decision making process in two ways: prayer and listening (to God's will).

Does God give vocations to everyone?
In brief, yes. It is important to state at the outset that God desires our happiness. Those trying to understand vocation can find this hard to believe - sometimes fearing that God will ask us to do something that we will either hate or will not be able to do. The church reminds us that we are fulfilled as human beings through self-giving. So, vocation is not just something given to us by God, but also something we freely give to God and to others.

Am I turning away from God if I do not follow my vocation?
Discernment of a vocation helps a person to understand that because a vocation is something we give to God, then we must be free to make this choice. In our lives, God gives us a multiplicity of choices - marriage, religious life and the single life. We have the freedom to pursue all sorts of career paths. If we are not in a place in life where we are free to commit to a vocation (for example because of immaturity, or fear, or addiction) then we must face up to that knowing that the Lord will help us through the process. It is important that we must not believe, as many people in discernment do, that God will reject us if we make the wrong choice. While God does really call us to vocation, God also respects our freedom and never abandons us.

How will I know that God is calling me?
Many of the great spiritual people in the history of the church, including the saints and others, remind us that spiritual growth begins in self-knowledge. God will make us holy through our vocation - in other words, God will sanctify us. Generally, the grace of our vocation will build upon this nature. When we become aware of our gifts and talents and our weaknesses - these can help us in our understanding and insight of what type of vocations are possible and those that we should not pursue. Also, through prayer and other means, it is important to listen to our hearts and to be attentive to those relationships and activities that give us both a sense of peace and joy. Our desires and motivations are also quite significant - they can sometimes be the manifestation of the Holy Spirit showing us how to respond to God's call.When we are attentive in prayer and when our hearts are open, then we will heard God calling us more clearly.

What is the best way to prepare for discernment?
 Authentic Christian vocations are always rooted in Jesus Christ. In order to know as best as we can what God's will in our life is, it is of the highest importance that we first come to know Jesus Christ and begin to model our lives on Him. Those who wish to enter more fully into discernment must also encounter Jesus in the sacramental life of the church. So, regularly participating in the Mass and the sacrament of reconciliation are two ways in which to prepare for discernment. Before we are apostles, we need to be disciples!

Will my being active in the life of the church help discernment?
Yes. Very much so. It is of great benefit if an enquirer is involved in his/her faith community or parish or chaplaincy. It is by taking part in the life of the church that will inform, support and help a discerning person to naturally respond to the call of God.

Can I undertake vocational discernment alone?
No. You should really contact a vocations director - someone who has some training in assisting people discern their vocation. Also, friends and family members will always be able to give important insights and support. In fact, the more support the better in entering such an important process. Occasionally, the help of a spiritual director can also be helpful if deemed appropriate by the vocations director. Discerners should never forget calling on the saints in their prayer for assistance either!

Am I worthy?
This is the most frequent question posed by enquirers and those who enter into the process of vocational discernment. The simple answer is that nobody is. We are all very well aware of our sinfulness. The church reminds us and scripture tells us that whatever we have done in the past, God still can use us for his purposes. When you find yourself doubting and questioning your worthiness, consider who Jesus called around him. You will find yourself in good company!

When does vocational discernment end?
It ends when after a period of prayer, practical experience, information gathering, regular meeting with the vocations director and personal reflection have led a candidate to make a mature decision on whether to pursue a religious vocation or not. The majority of those who enter into vocational discernment do not end up entering religious life or seminaries - but the process of discernment leads them to a better understanding of where God is calling them to in their lives. For those who do opt to pursue their religious vocation, they enter into a process of admission into the order and congregation. Many who enter discernment do so looking for assurances, clarity and certainty. They will not find this but will find the necessary tools to help them come to an informed decision.

What topics are covered in vocational discernment and how long does it all take?
There are five primary areas that a vocations director should help you with. (1) Personal history and background. This will help and inform candidates and the order/congregation about the one who wishes to join. (2) Motivation - this is a wide area covering the spiritual, human, emotional, intellectual and psychological spheres. (3) Faith, God and the spiritual journey - this is a vast undertaking but is at the core of vocational discernment. (4) Information - the vocations director is responsible for making the Order/congregation known to the discerner by means of dissemination of information, regular visits to the communities and getting to know individual members and groups within the Order/congregation. (5) If discerning religious life, discernment will include an understanding of the vowed life and those core principles of religious life.

The time spent in discernment varies from person to person, but ordinarily it takes on year and occassionaly longer - depending on circumstances.

There are many other topics on discernment that could be dealt with, and I hope to address them in subsequent posts on this area.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Dominican Family Ireland - Calendar 2012

The vocation promoters of the four branches of the Dominican family in Ireland (friars, contemplative nuns, lay Dominicans and apostolic sisters) have for the third successive year produced a calendar. Each year a particular theme is chosen to highlight the life of the Dominicans and any other important church events during the calendar year.

Next year, Ireland and the capital city Dublin will host the 50th International Eucharistic Congress. It will be a major event in the life of the Irish church and will draw visitors from all over the world. The Dominican family calendar for 2012 therefore has a strong emphasis on the Eucharist and its important place in our lives.

The calendar is beautifully produced and we are very grateful for the immense work carried out on behalf of the Dominican family in Ireland by our contemplative nuns at Siena monastery in Drogheda who are primarily responsible for its production. Copies of the calendar, which is free, will be distributed to all Dominican centres throughout Ireland in the coming weeks. If readers would like a copy, send me an email to frgd@eircom.net and I will forward one to you.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

The Nine Ways of Prayer of Saint Dominic

Saint Dominic was a man of prayer, both formally and informally. We are told that his nights were given to God in deep prayer. Dominic stood in prayer with his arms extended as if he were on a cross. During the days and more informally in the evenings, Dominic lived his prayer in service for others, always keeping in mind the reason why the Order was founded the salvation of souls. In the brief explanations below to the various ways in which Dominic prayed, we might remember that our own prayer lives, as Dominicans and those who would consider following the Dominican way, must extend beyond formality and into the practice of life situations. In attempting to do this, we incorporate the Gospel into our life's work and leisure so that our whole life is prayer.

The first way of prayer of Saint Dominic
Saint Dominic's first way of prayer was to assume a humble posture before God, one that emphasised his own lowliness before the greatness of God. Here we see Saint Dominic inclining his head before the altar of God.
The second way of prayer of Saint Dominic
The second way of prayer was for Saint Dominic to life face down before the altar of God reciting the verse from Saint Luke's gospel (18:13): 'Lord be merciful to me a sinner.' It is said that Dominic taught the young friars that if they were unable to weep for their own sins that there were many in need of God's mercy
The third way of prayer of Saint Dominic
Saint Dominic's third way of prayer was to perform penance by disciplining himself with an iron chain. The practice of this type of discipline may seem odd or extreme in our modern world but clearly self-discipline is needed and vital to mature spiritual growth. 
The fourth way of prayer of Saint Dominic
Saint Dominic had this fourth way of prayer that sees him remaining before the altar looking at the Cross with frequent genuflections. He had a deep confidence in the mercy of God for himself, for sinners and also for the young friars that he sent out to teach and preach. 
The fifth way of prayer of Saint Dominic
Saint Dominic's fifth way of prayer was to stand before the altar in contemplation with the palms of his hands turned inwards. Then he would clasp his hands and raise them to his shoulders all the while in fervent prayer. Again, he taught the friars by his example of prayer. It is said of Dominic that when he was travelling on the road that he would steal away, and standing still utter a word from sacred scripture.
The sixth way of prayer of Saint Dominic
Saint Dominic often prayed with his arms outstretched in the form of a cross. He would often quote scripture appropriate to this posture: 'O Lord, the God of my salvation, I have cried in the day and night before you....' It is said that he practiced this method of prayer on special occasions and also this way of prayer is the one remembered when he restored the life of a young man in Rome.
The seventh way of prayer of Saint Dominic
Saint Dominic was often found standing erect stretching his whole body upwards with his hands joined and raised towards heaven. Often he would open his hands as though in receipt of something. The friars would hear him praying aloud saying: 'Hear O God, the voice of my prayer when I pray to you, when I lift up my hands to your holy temple.' (Psalm 27)
The eighth way of prayer of Saint Dominic
Saint Dominic's eighth way of prayer involved thoughtful reading of scripture or scripture commentary. He would lose himself both intellectually and emotionally in this reading, sometimes whispering questions posed in the text. When reading the Gospels, Dominic would sometimes lean forward, make the sign of the cross as if thanking God for some spiritual insight. He would often weep as if overcome with the beauty of the word of God.
The ninth way of prayer of Saint Dominic
Saint Dominic practiced his ninth and final way of prayer while travelling, losing himself in prayer, meditation and contemplation as he walked. 
This is a brief introduction to the 'Nine Ways'. They show Saint Dominic as one who was zealous in his prayer and who had a simple and ascetic lifestyle. He responded to physical discomfort by praising God and made austerity into a form of prayer. More than anything these nine ways of prayer of Saint Dominic points us to the fact that the pursuit of worldly things is futile and that the primary importance for Dominicans and all of humanity is our spiritual union with God.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Vocations Ireland AGM 2011

Tomorrow, Saturday 5th November, I will attend the annual general meeting of Vocations Ireland. Regular readers of this blog will be aware that Vocations Ireland is the umbrella organisation for the religious vocation directors/promoters for the religious congregations in Ireland. The organisation also represents the missionary societies, contemplative communities and other religious institutes with a presence in Ireland. The organisation is responsible for assisting vocation directors by organising appropriate seminars and conferences during the year. It also deals with enquirers about religious life and tries to match them with appropriate orders. It promotes religious vocations at various events across the county during the year. During the past number of months it has promoted and supported the ExploreAway project. It has a wide remit.

Having attended the bulk of the annual meetings over the past decade or so, it strikes me that the religious vocations personnel in Ireland are a very optimistic group. In a sense they have to be. Despite the modest increase in enquiries across the board to male and female religious orders, it has not significantly impacted on the numbers of new members joining. It would be easy to be downcast, even fatalistic. Vocation personnel are a resilient lot, although there is a high rate of attrition among them. Clearly, an organisation like Vocations Ireland is important as a support system and network for all of us. I am aware that some, though obviously not all vocation directors do not get adequate support from their congregations. For those working full time in this ministry, they will be aware that it is a distinctly lonely job and support is crucial.

Comparing Vocations Ireland to other comparable groups in various parts of the world is a fruitless exercise. Ultimately the upkeep and running of the office is dependent on the goodwill and financial assistance of the religious in Ireland, so the organisation does not have limitless resources. In an ideal world, the religious vocations directors would be best served if Vocations Ireland could have the capacity to be more pro-active in the promotion of the religious vocation. It would benefit hugely from having serious research done as an aid and assistance to short, medium and long term planning and strategies. The membership would also be served well by having personnel who are well trained in dealing with the various media available and by extension be a clear voice for the promotion of religious vocations. But I sense that we are a long way from that.

In the meantime, keep these vocation directors in your prayers. They are in great need of them!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

November 3rd - feast of Saint Martin de Porres

It is the feast of Saint Martin de Porres. He is my favourite saint. He is the reason that I am a Dominican. For years in our home we received the devotional Saint Martin magazine and it was in reply to an advertisment about Dominican vocations in the magazine that I made my intial contact with the Order. I am covinced that it was no accident.

When people think of Saint Martin they often sum up his life with a few words about his healing powers and his love of animals. To sum up the life of this great saint would be to do a great dis-service.

Among other things Saint Martin is the patron saint of interracial justice. Looking at the problems of our contemporary world through the perspective of Saint Martin's life, I believe that we can find many insightful answers. Our world is littered still with many injustices - Martin modelled a response to the injustices heaped upon him because of his mixed racial background. He showed us that our most important heritage is that of children of God, a heritage in which we all share equally. He saw each person as a child of God and served each the same, from the beggar in the street to the highest church or civil leader. His humility and gentle spirit fianlly brought him not only acceptance, but also reverence from people in all walks of life. In the beginning he was condescendingly called the 'black dog' but he was later carried to his burial place by people in the highest positions in his native Lima.

For those considering a vocation in general or indeed a Dominican vocation - Saint Martin is a model of perseverance in this regard. He had to fight hard to be accepted into the Order - he was not always treated very well by his brethren either - we often make mistakes of turning away the Saint Martin's who ask to be accepted. We would do well to take another fresh look at how the great saint would interpret it all.

Saint Martin, pray for us.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

World Youth Day 2011 - A Look Back

Some of the student brothers of the Irish Dominican province accompanied over 50 young adults to the World Youth Day celebrations in Madrid, Spain during the summer. On the way to Madrid they visited some important sites of note, including places associated with Saint Dominic and the beginnings of the Dominican Order. The first video below shows some of the highlights of the trip while in the second video the student brothers reflect on a successful pilgrimage.