Friday, September 2, 2016

Friendship and kindness and always fostered in dialogue

The text below is the address given by Dominican priest Paul Lawlor at the Mass of the Holy Spirit on the occasion of the opening of the elective chapter of the Irish Dominican Province on Monday. Every four years Dominicans meet in general assembly to plan for the future and to elect a provinical. The meeting is called a chapter.

This is an excellent address and engages the reader in so many issues pertinent to the life of Christianity in the world today.

Highly recommended reading and great material for interesting discussion.

It is a privilege to publish the address on this blog.

Thank you Paul.

Paul Lawlor
At the beginning of this assembly and chapter we pray that our hearts and minds may truly discern God’s will.  We pray for His Spirit of compassion and courage as we work together in the coming days seeking to find ways to respond to the needs of those around us in a manner that is in accord with the life and mission of the Order.  We pray that we may - truly listen, carefully discern and courageously decide.

Coming back from Tehran one is struck by the many changes that have taken place around us in these past years.  It is true that there are things that make one very concerned about the future but it is also striking to see so much positive energy and generosity of spirit.

Something of the remarkable change which is taking place came home to me during a visit earlier this year.  I stood outside the door of Holy Cross Church in Tralee after the 12 o’clock Mass to meet some friends.  A group of people passed by and one of our collectors said to me “Refugees from Iraq.”  Surprised, I went over to say hello.  Smiling one of them said “Abuna (the Aramaic for “father”) we are Suryani.”  It was awesome.  Here were Christians of the ancient Assyrian/Chaldean Church from the area of Mosul in Iraq attending Mass at the Dominican Church in Tralee.

Dominicans have been ministering to this Christian community in Mosul since 1750.  Our sisters and brothers have done heroic work and have had an amazing impact across the region. The old liturgical books used by the Chaldean/Assyrian church in Tehran were printed by this Dominican community of Mosul. The present archbishop of Tehran, bishop Ramsi was educated in their school.

Today the Dominican church of Mosul is no more.  In April of this year the Daesh Islamic group destroyed what remained of the church and priory.  Not long before they had destroyed the great library of the house containing over a 100,000 books and manuscripts.  Most of the people are now scattered across the world and some of them had made their way to Tralee.  

The complex world of the Middle East is among us.  For so long we were barely aware of the region and the horrors that have taken place there in recent years.  Now this ancient Christian people and their Muslim country men and women have come among us.  Will they be recognised? Who will talk to them? Will they be welcomed?

Among the people coming out from the 12 o’clock Mass in Holy Cross that sunny Sunday there were also many young families. They seemed so bright and cheerful, with a blessed freedom from the formality that used to go with attending Sunday Mass in years gone by.  However, the majority of people emerging from the church were of an older generation.  The expression “the faithful” is so aptly applied to them.  An older generation who continue to come with fidelity to pray in our churches, to pray with us at Mass.

How can we in turn remain faithful to these friends who have shown such loyalty to the Lord and the Dominican Order over the years?  With our changing province we cannot maintain in all our churches the kind of presence and quality of care for which we were known and loved.

How to balance our present situation with the demands of fidelity and loyalty is a great challenge for us now.

There weren’t so many young people coming out from that 12 o’clock Mass.  Many no longer feel either the necessity or inclination to attend church on Sunday.  Yet meeting this generation in our families and among friends, one finds a great generosity of spirit, their kindness. 

The Lord is present in some new way among them.  A few weeks ago at the World Youth Day in Poland there was the great gathering of young people who attended Mass with Pope Francis.  He told them that he saw in them a conviction that it is possible to create something wonderful in our world of today.

Pope Francis affirmed their dream for a new humanity which overcomes barriers and hatred, a dream of a people who cherish their own traditions without being self-centered.  He recognised and encouraged their great enthusiasm, dedication and energy, a power which comes from their mercy and compassion.  He called on them to be open to the Lord, who shows them how to live the life for which their hearts are yearning.

There are reasons to be really concerned, we cannot be blind to the dangers that threaten but we also see the courage and vitality of the young, the great fidelity among the old and a new unexpected Christian presence among us.

We have to ask how the changes are influencing ourselves; how do we see ourselves and the work before us, what is real community apart from just living together,  how can superiors keep their humanity while exercising authority, how do we relate to each other and those around us.  So many questions! In the Assembly and Chapter our hearts also,  must be open to the presence of the Lord who shows us how to live the life for which our hearts are yearning as we look to the road that lies before us.   How are we to begin to find a way to continue our mission?

The Chapter is taking place during the Jubilee Year celebrating the confirmation of the Order 800 hundred years ago by Pope Honorius the Third.  It has been an opportunity to renew in our minds the memory of how St Dominic gathered a band of sisters and brothers who would combine the life of prayer with the apostolate of preaching and teaching.

He did so in order to answer an urgent need where he saw lives being wrecked through distorted beliefs. In imitation of Christ who with his band of sisters and brothers from the lake shore of Galilee had reached out to the ends of the earth with the Gospel of God’s mercy, Dominic’s sisters and brothers set out among the people of his own time with the same mission.

The origin of the Order was in the prayer of the community of woman who came together in Prouille in 1207.  The Order was approved in 1216. In 1217 Dominic sent the brothers out like the apostles of old. The adventure had begun. Brothers arrived in Ireland seven years after Dominic had sent out the first groups; 70 years later they were in Iran. The Third Order was formed in 1285.  “Contemplata aliis tradere,” “Veritas,” “Laudare, Benedicere, Predicare” are the watchwords which are ever repeated to evoke the spirit of St Dominic, our father.

Clearly our celebration of the Order’s 800 years is not an occasion for basking in glory.  We give thanks to the Lord for all the sisters and brothers; those of long ago who left us their captivating story and those of more recent times whose lives we ourselves have shared.   Just as we remember those whom we have known; stories about our brothers and sisters were always part of our living tradition.   

From the earliest days of the Order we have “The Lives of the Brethren.”  The prologue states “Our purpose is that future generations may know the dignity of their Order and may see how perfectly earlier brothers, our fathers, lived and stood for the truth."  Humbert of Romans wrote “take note of the great care divine providence has had for the Order.  With this in mind you will be more and more strengthened to love it.”  In the same way we remember the Dominicans we have known; all those characters who lived famous or hidden lives and inspired us by their great love, dedication and sacrifice.  

Each of us has our own memory and experience in the Order. I joined in 1968 and remember with such vividness people who for many today are unfamiliar names.  What an extraordinary band of brothers and sisters we knew.  Some of them indeed seemed giants.  

In spite of their greatness, they were people of their own time and now some of their decisions seem shortsighted. This is something which should be a check on any overconfidence on our part and prompt us to listen to the other voices; the voices of those who see things from a different angle. 

What do we make of the province that we have known?  “By its fruits you shall know them.”  Was it a good tree that produced good fruits? St Paul lists the fruits of the Spirit in the letter to the Galatians: love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

Are these the qualities we remember?  I think we all remember days when we experienced something very far from such a spirit.  But really, in my memory, it is joy and kindness that stand out as the qualities that we met so often during our lives as members of the Irish Province.  A joy and kindness which was not a politically motivated politeness but rather an expression of the love which is the driving force of our lives.

On entering the Order we were asked “What do you seek?” We answered “The mercy of God and yours.”  Aware of our limitations we ask God’s compassion and we ask for the compassion of our brothers.  This is not something we do only at the beginning of our life in the Order but continues through all our days. “Forgive us as we forgive those who sin against us.”  When we forgive, whenever we feel compassion for those who suffer, when we care for those in need, we become more deeply aware of our own need for God’s compassion

As sisters and brothers of Dominic surely we must nurture a genuine respect and care, which avoids any contempt or hostility or cold indifference to the situation of a brother or sister.  We believe that we are united with the very life of God in our mercy. “Be merciful as your heavenly father is merciful.”  “Through mercy our sins are forgiven.”  “Blessed are the merciful for they shall obtain mercy.”  The mission which has been entrusted to us is to extend God’s compassion and mercy which we have received, to others.

In sending his blessing to the recent General Chapter, Pope Francis reminds us that this year is also the Jubilee Year of Mercy.

St Dominic, he tells us was a tireless apostle of grace and forgiveness, compassionate towards the poor and an ardent defender of truth.  He urges us that we who are his followers must bear witness to this mercy, be signs of the nearness and tenderness of God so that people today might rediscover the urgent need for Solidarity, Love and Forgiveness.

In addition to remembering the traditions and people we knew in the Order, we also draw on our own journey, our own apostolate however modest.  In my own case, for a few years I did some work in the study of what is known as Christian Archaeology. An unusual field but it too offers its own insights.

The work brought me into contact with a world of people who normally have little connection with the Church. There were the workers, craftsmen and restorers, there were historians, architects, archeologists and government officials.  St Dominic sent his brothers into the universities, into the places of learning, reflection, debate. Minds searching for understanding are today not only within the world of university but, questioning, the search for authentic life, is all around us, calling on us to be engaged, to travel with them on the road as friends who care about them.

Studying early Christianity shows how the church became incarnate in different cultures.  In the West it developed in the world of late Roman civilisation. The church of the West became incarnate in the language, architecture, art, and the structures of that society.  But there is and always must be, a tension if the spirit of God’s kingdom is not to be confined by the ways and structures of the earthly kingdoms.  By the fourth century there were already problems of clerical power and privilege.  It is no coincidence that this was the period that saw the first flowering of monasticism which was described as the movement which “stamped eternity on the imagination of the West.”

In the later middle ages the humanistic dimension which was promoted by Dominicans saw theological abstractions brought down to the concrete and applied to the individual. It is a beautiful inheritance.  

But it is an inheritance which each generation must examine to see in what way it can communicate today the values of the kingdom preached by Jesus.  To do this we must be close to God and close to people, engaged in a continual process of renewal.  We are called to share a constant critical awareness of the culture in which we live our lives while we are engaged in our work of study, education, publishing, pastoral care, in caring for our people through the churches and communities of our Province.

Another lesson one learns from the world of archaeology is how careful one has to be in interpreting the evidence. How do we interpret what has been uncovered in excavation?  In archaeology we learn that we have an incredible capacity to fool ourselves into thinking that things are what we wish them to be.  Over and over again, the curved wall of a bathhouse was interpreted as the apse of a church and a bath was seen as a baptistery.  Very often it is non-believers who while they may have their own prejudices, confront our presuppositions and lead us to a deeper understanding of the situation before us.

“I am the Way, the Truth and the Life.” A “Way” and a “Life” are not static but like “Truth” speak of a journey made in trust.  We must surely learn to listen more, with respect, not just to our companions but also to those who see things differently.  We have indeed to beware of an arrogance of thinking that we have all the truth.

In the desire to be authentic and true, we continuously question our presuppositions and are on guard not to be trapped into the wisdom of this world which today is so conditioned by the ways of a managerial class which sacrifices people and values to the cause of respectability or some idea of economic pragmatism.

In Tehran, we face the challenges of dialogue with Islam. Here also there is an experience which is helpful. How is dialogue possible; not just dialogue with another religion but with the attitudes of a culture which is so different from our own familiar ways?  Friendship goes a long way.  Jesus showed us how to reach out in friendship and respect to those of different cultures and beliefs when he spoke as a friend with Samaritans, Roman military, tax collectors and sinners.  Dialogue involves respect that the other is in good faith, and a desire to understand and learn about each other’s beliefs.

This lesson in dialogue is of value when we come to face one of the challenges in the Province today.

We recognise that in some areas there are different ways of seeing the way forward among the brothers. It is not something new.  There were in the past deep divisions caused by different understandings about the true nature of the Dominican Vocation. There was the disagreement between groups called Conventuals and the Observants.

However through the tolerance shown by both groups, we avoided the divisions which occurred in other Orders. In the 19th century there were those who championed the rigorous reform in the Tallaght community against the life of “the Gentlemen of Denmark Street” who saw themselves in the tradition of those who ministered to an oppressed people in the penal days.

Rigidity in what constituted a Dominican vocation caused people to be hurt when they were treated as less than Dominican. This hurt often resulted in an abiding sense of low self-esteem and wounds that surfaced in other areas.   Surly we do not want this to happen again.

We recognise that at present there seem to be different emphases about how to be a Dominican but in the tradition of tolerance we are called to dialogue, to friendship and respect; never to be dismissive of the other.  We seek to balance our response to the needs we see around us while striving for a continuity in the way of life, to listen to each other in our desire to live the life inspired by our father St Dominic.

The opening lines of the rule of St Augustine tells us “the chief motivation for your sharing life together is to live harmoniously in the house and to have one heart and one soul seeking God.”  Gathering for the Assembly and Chapter we commit ourselves to live together in peace and friendship, with respect for the ideas and ways of others; committed to mercy, to work for the healing of each other and to the care of the people to whom we are sent.


Michael said...

Truly, a voice of hope. The stress on dialogue is interesting and inviting, in such stark contrast to the raucous shrieks of Alive which declines dialogues and admits only certainties. But the challenge lies ahead for the sons of Dominic in Ireland: advance in dialogue toward an uncharted future or retreat in dogmatic certainty to the sacristy and the safe.

gerard moloney said...

Excellent talk, and very much applicable to every religious and not just the Doms. Should be read by all Irish bishops and superiors.

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