It is often reported how St. Dominic, in the early days of the Order, dispersed his small group of newly-formed friars from the house in Prouille, France, sending them to university centers throughout Europe, in view of the missionary and universal vision which he had for the Order. This summer, all of the student brothers of our province have experienced something analogous, with the student master having sent us all out of St. Albert's to live in various Dominican communities throughout our province. This “summer of dispersion,” if we can call it that, is providing each of us with a chance to live for a few months in one of our smaller communities and experience life away from St. Albert's in a more ministerial setting.
Some of the brothers, in fact, are spending the summer enrolled in Clinical Pastoral Education – a hospital chaplaincy training program. Hopefully some of them will share a bit about their experience of this on the blog soon. And there are four brothers – Br. Richard, Br. Christopher, myself (Br. Chris), and Br. Tuan (with the Canadian Vietnamese vicariate) – who have begun or will soon begin a year-long “residency year” in which we live in one of our smaller communities for an entire year to gain more ministerial experience and to aid in our formation and discernment with the Province.
For my part, I have recently moved into Holy Rosary Priory in Portland, OR, for my residency year. Last Monday, after having completely moved out of my room at St. Albert's and shipping a number of my books to Portland, I drove straight from Oakland to Portland (which took about ten hours). I spent a bit of the week's remainder unpacking and settling in to my new, temporary home. Fr. Gregory Tatum, who is staying here at Holy Rosary for the month of July, was kind enough to give me a brief tour of a few parts of the city later that week – but as this is only the second time I have ever been to Portland, I'm still a bit unfamiliar with it and need to explore it a bit more.
In any case, this whole experience of moving out of one place and traveling to a new location is one that can feel both jarring and exhilarating – and is something Dominican friars must learn to accept; our Order began, after all, as a group of itinerant preachers. Thus this life requires a sort of detachment from any particular location, a willingness to uproot oneself and travel for sake of the Order's mission, for the sake of the Gospel.
I am reminded by this of a short conversation between a scribe and Jesus in the gospels: “And one scribe, approaching, said to him, 'Teacher, I will follow you wherever you will go.' And Jesus said to him, 'Foxes have dens, and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of man has nowhere to rest his head'” (Matt 8:19-20). There is a sense, indeed, in which every Christian, like Jesus himself, is “homeless” on this side of heaven, and must not remain too attached to particular possessions or places. This may seem, at first, a bit too “unearthly”, or aloof from a genuine human existence. After all, who does not long for a stable home, a safe place in which one can consistently retire each day, a haven and refuge from the busyness and stress of the outside world? Who does not value a home to which one is attached? What can it mean to be constantly “detached” from such genuine goods of this world, if not simply to be perpetually disoriented and unstable? How is such a life, in any meaningful sense, “healthy”?
To make sense of this, we should keep in mind a general truth which is essential to the Christian life: we are all pilgrims – pilgrims who have not yet arrived at our true and final home. While this world was created good, it is but a foretaste and preparation of that for which we were created and redeemed – dwelling in glorious communion with the Triune God. Thus any attachment to the things of earth which hinders our approach to the Heavenly Jerusalem will not do us any good; we must be willing to “let go,” to “move on” as God draws us onward and upward toward our celestial home. It is not that we should not have any affection or love for the good things of this earth; quite the contrary: to despise what is good, in so far as it is good, is to despise Goodness himself. But our love, much like our homes, must be “in order,” and properly arranged: we must love most only what is best, and love the lesser in view of the greater. Our love for God must be first; our love for the lesser things – for country; for home, family, and friends; for career and leisure; for food and for sex – must all be subordinate to divine charity, the love of God which has been poured out into our hearts by the Holy Spirit (Rom 5:5).
And this is what this “summer of dispersion” causes me to remember: God's love for us is greater than any other good or pleasure we can experience or imagine on earth, and we must, therefore, let our love for Him – itself a divine gift – transcend all other loves that move our hearts. The alternative is the restlessness which we all fear. So the choices are simply these: abiding in divine love, or drifting in perpetual restlessness. And, paradoxically, unless we see ourselves as wanderers on earth, we will not be able to rest in the bosom of the Father. For that is the only place the Son rests his head (cf. Jn 1:18), and the only place in which we, his Body, can find our true home.