"Wherever the Master was, he always spoke either to God or about God."
– Brother Paul of Venice, at the canonization proceedings for St. Dominic (1233).1
As friars in formation with the Order of Preachers—also known as the Dominican Order—we are inspired by the example of our founder, St. Dominic de Guzmán (1170-1221), who was so devoted to God that he was well-known for always speaking either to God in prayer, or about Him to others.2 As followers and sons of our Holy Father Dominic, we are learning to follow in his footsteps by living lives which are centered in our prayer to and with God; in our common life together as religious; and by our study. From our common and personal encounter of praying to God, we then share with others the fruits of our contemplation by our preaching, in which we speak about God.
But—you may be wondering—how did this Dominican way of life begin, and what do our lives, as student friars, look like today?
The Dominican Order
Nearly 800 years ago, St. Dominic —a Catholic priest from Spain—founded this religious order of preachers in southern France, an order whose mission was to preach the Truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, particularly to those whose souls were jeopardized by many misunderstandings and errors which had become popular in his day. Dominic deemed it necessary to establish this Order which joined various elements of monastic life—such as living in a religious community and praying the psalms and scriptures together—with those of a preacher. He also placed an emphasis on rigorous study which would not only help the preacher in his own prayer life, but would also help him proclaim the Word of God convincingly to his contemporaries.
Since its founding by St. Dominic, the mission of the Order has been that of preaching for the salvation of souls. This mission has been articulated in several "mottoes": Contemplari et Contemplata Aliis Tradere (to contemplate and to hand on to others the fruits of contemplation); Laudare, Benedicere, Praedicare (to praise, to bless and to preach); and, mostly concisely, Veritas (Truth). Our mission of preaching for the salvation of souls is carried out by our unique way of life, rooted in the "four pillars" of the Dominican charism: preaching, study, common life, and prayer.
Thus, the sharing of our contemplation of Truth we call preaching, a word that may conjure up for our readers a dry Sunday homily or the diatribe of a sidewalk evangelist. Preaching, for us, however, does not carry such negative connotations. Rather, it is the outward expression of an inward encounter with the Living God. Such expressions have taken shape in many ways over the 800 year history of our Order: the itinerant evangelism of our founder—St. Dominic; the passionate love for truth and the intellectual clarity of Sts. Albert the Great and Thomas Aquinas; St. Martin de Porres' evangelical love for the poor; and St. Catherine of Siena's ministry of reconciliation and reform. In spite of this diversity of ministries, the lives of all these great Dominican saints, including Dominic himself, were rooted in prayer, common life, and study; and they all spoke about God only after having spoken to Him in prayer, and having listened to Him in contemplation.
The Studentate of the Western Province is inspired by these models of holy preaching and we desire that our own lives, and this blog, will further the Dominican mission: Laudare, Benedicere, Praedicare — To Praise, To Bless, To Preach. We are Dominican friars of the Province of the Most Holy Name of Jesus (covering the western United States) who are currently in formation as "student brothers". After one year as a novice (a one year "trial period" without any formal commitment), we each spend about seven years in formation as students, during which we are integrated into the Dominican way of life, and are prepared to serve the Church as Dominican friars through prayer, community, study, and preaching. During the academic year, most of the student brothers live at St. Albert's Priory in Oakland, CA, and study at our school, the Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology, in Berkeley, CA. During our residency year (a year of pastoral ministry), and often during the summer, we live in one of our other Dominican communities in the Province; these include numerous parishes and campus ministries of our province spread throughout the western United States in California, Washington, Oregon, Utah, Nevada, Arizona, Alaska, as well as a mission in Mexicali, Mexico.
After our formation is complete, we are normally assigned to one of these communities to serve full-time in one of its ministries. Some friars also pursue further studies and serve the Church and the Order in academic settings, such as at our Dominican school or another Catholic university or college. We have friars in teaching positions around the world, including at the Angelicum in Rome; the theological faculty at the University of Fribourg, Switzerland; and Providence College, Rhode Island. Our province also has numerous other ministries: a team of itinerant preachers; the Rosary Center; St. Benedict Lodge retreat center in McKenzie Bridge, OR; and numerous specialized ministries such as at the St. Therese HIV outreach center in Las Vegas, and a chaplain/apologist for Catholic Answers in El Cajon, CA. Feel free to read more about our province's many ministries from its own website.
St. Dominic, as mentioned above, was known to always speak either "to God" or "about God" (cum Deo vel de Deo). In the spirit of our founder this blog will be a medium for this to take place: having spoken to God in prayer, sought truth in study, and having lived in Dominican community, we will share with you our reflections and insights, that the beauty of the Gospel and the complelling nature of Truth might lead others to a deeper encounter with God. This blog, however, is not a one-way means of communication: in addition to reading our blog posts, you can also add comments to our articles, and even submit your questions for us to respond to, or ask us to pray for any particular intentions you have have. You can also stay up-to-date with our blog by following us on Facebook and Twitter, or subscribing to our RSS feed.
If you have not already done so, please take a look at our latest blog posts, where you can find examples of our preaching, reflections on our life as Dominicans, meditations on Scripture, news about our studentate, and other posts which we hope you will find to be both interesting and thought-provoking. You may also be interested in looking at our Province website, or other Dominican websites.
Are you considering a religious vocation, and wanting to learn more about our Dominican life? Please see our vocations page, or contact our vocations director, whose job is to help you in your discernment. He can all also arrange visits to our house of studies.
May God bless you on your spiritual journey. Holy Father Dominic, pray for us.
1. The Latin depositions from the canonization proceedings record Brother Paul's testimony: "Item dixit, quod ubicumque esset dictus magister, de Deo vel cum Deo semper loquebatur..." (emphasis added). The full Latin text can be found in "Acta Canonizationis S. Dominici," chapter 2 ("Zeugenverhoer von Bologna") in Monumenta Ordinis Fratrum Praedicatorum Historica, XVI, 2 (Institutum Historicum FF. Praedicatorum: Rome, 1935), 161. The English translation above is adapted from Saint Dominic: Biographical Documents, ed. Fr. Francis C. Lehner, OP (Thomist Press, 1964), chapter 3, § 41. Available at http://www.domcentral.org/trad/domdocs/0003.htm. Here is the fuller statement in this English translation:
"Wherever the Master was, he always spoke either with God or of God, strongly urged his brothers to do this and had the practice written into the legislation of the Friars Preachers. Asked the source of this information, he replied that he had lived with Dominic for a long time and thereby saw and heard these things. He never saw him angry, upset, or troubled, even when tired out by traveling; he never gave way to passion, but was always calm, joyful in tribulations, and patient in adversities."
As in that translation, the Latin phrase "cum Deo, vel de Deo" is translated accurately as "with God, or of God." But in English it is also often translated as "to God or about God." Prayer of course, involves two dimensions: our adoration, petitions, praise, and confession to God, and God speaking in return to us: this two-way directionality is implied by the phrase "cum Deo", more explicit in the English phrase "with God". In English, however, we sometimes talk of "speaking to someone", but also imply a two-way conversation. This meaning is intended here and in our blog title. [Go back to reading] [Go back to top]
2. Brother John of Spain, for example, spoke at Dominic's canonization proceedings in 1233, saying that the saint "rarely spoke, except with God, that is, in prayer, or of God; further, he urged the brethren to act similarly" (Ibid, § 41). Brother Stephen said:
"And it was his custom to speak always either of God or with God, whether he was in or outside the house, or on a journey. He strongly urged the brethren to act similarly and had the practice inserted into his Constitutions" (Ibid, § 37).