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Quodlibet 39: Religious Life, Youth Ministry, and Evangelisation

Wednesday, February 05, 2020
Quodlibets | A series of questions on what might be missed after taking vows, keeping in touch, and evangelising the young.

What elements of life do brothers miss after they've taken their vows? 

This is probably a question that would be answered very differently depending on who you ask and when you ask them. To take our vow of poverty, Dominican life attracts a wonderful variety of people, and so for some it may mean a simpler quality of life to what they were used to, for others perhaps more comfortable living standards. In the noviciate it’s quite usual to miss family and friends, and adjusting to an asceticism of not being able to choose who you spend most of your time with. Later in life some might miss particular places, being asked to live and work in one city but actually preferring life elsewhere. 

Hobbies and interests remain a very important part of our lives, as do friendships outside of the community, so it’s certainly not the case that the start of religious life means pressing a complete reset on everything you ever knew. That being the case, the vows we make and the life we have chosen necessarily entails saying no to certain good things for the sake of ordering all of one’s life to God alone.

How do you ensure you remain in touch with the people around you? When does tradition become problematic or even alienating? 

Remaining in touch with those around us is an important concern for every preacher - you can’t engage with someone you know nothing about. That of course underscores the importance of family and friendships, including those outside the community. 

Our life is not one defined by strict enclosure, unlike some monastic orders, and what was so radical about St Dominic’s mission was having religious who lived and prayed together in community but whose work was outside the walls of their priory, they were to go out into the world and preach. This means that for every Dominican there is always at its most basic level a healthy tension between the contemplative life of prayer and the apostolic life of preaching: we are called to live both and have to find a way of fruitfully combining them. So staying in touch should never become a difficulty, and always comes in the context of our mission as expressed by those words of St Thomas: to contemplate and pass on the fruits of contemplation.

In terms of tradition, tradition with a small “t” is only alienating or problematic when it is sought as an end in itself, and not ordered towards the only true and final end, God. To take liturgical music as an example, as soon as a particular type of music is sought for its own sake it can become problematic, but when it is chosen as a means of leading us in prayer to deeper union with God then there shouldn’t be a problem.

How are you actively trying to engage with the youth of today? 

As a province we have a number of different apostolates for young people, principally centred around our work in various parishes, schools, and university chaplaincies. The Dominican Youth Movement organises Lent and Advent study weekends, pilgrimages abroad, and the annual study week each summer, each providing time for spiritual growth, community, and theological formation. These are run by a mixture of Dominican priests, sisters, and student brothers. We also try to evangelise online in various ways, including on this blog. Part of the aim behind many of these apostolates, as well as others such as the weekly Aquinas Group in Oxford, is to equip those that come to us with a strong intellectual formation so that they can evangelise their peers and confidently face contemporary issues.

Image: Lawrence Lew, O.P

Br John Bernard Church O.P.

Br John Bernard, raised a Catholic by an English father and Dutch mother, first encountered the Dominicans at Blackfriars while studying Classics at the University of Oxford, and entered the noviciate in 2018. An attraction to religious life initially grew out of time spent working with the Missionaries of Charity, which then crystallised into a Dominican vocation through a desire to integrate the contemplative life with preaching and study. Based on his recent reading, he looks forward to delving further into St John of the Cross and the Carmelite mystics, as well as combining his preaching vocation with a love of the outdoors. | john.church@english.op.org

It was customary in medieval universities twice a year to subject expert theologians to questions of the students’ choosing. The responses to these sometimes fiendish points of controversy were recorded in collections of so-called Quodlibetales – from the Latin, “ask what you like”. Following in that tradition, and reprising an old series of this blog, the student brothers invite you to put them to the test with your own questions. This you can do here.


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