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A message for Christmas 2006

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Saint Dominic,

The mystery of Christmas illuminates our life in a special way in order to remember always, each and every day, where we came from – our origins – and where we are going – our goal. At times, it might appear that violence is the only manner with which to express or “to export” ways of living, thinking or believing… However, faithful to our vocation, we celebrate Christ, our Peace. (Eph. 2. 14) For this reason, in the midst of the miseries of our times, the star of Bethlehem continues to shine, even in our days.

Having just started the Jubilee Year and, on December 22, when we remember the 790 years since the confirmation of the Order by Pope Honorius III, our thoughts and our peregrination are focused on each monastery of contemplative nuns of the Order. We do this with the simple joy of a family that gathers to celebrate.

Like people who are moved by the simplicity of the manger and the tree adorned for the feast, on reading our history we could reflect on the different notes or characteristics with which Providence has willed to “adorn” the Order in its eight centuries of life. In fact, there are several essential elements that continue to show all of Saint Dominic’s sons and daughters the final goal of our life and mission, even though these elements are there since the birth of our Order.

The Word made flesh, born in the poverty of the manger, invites us to contemplate an aspect of our life and mission on which we should, maybe, meditate a little: we are “mendicants”. This word may not mean much today nor is it attractive. Perhaps, it also needs an adequate historical explanation. Nonetheless, our human and spiritual frame of mind and the lifestyle we would like to incarnate are, surprisingly, very much alive today and spring forth from a foundational charism that lives in the very heart of the Church, from our origins as mendicants.

In our Order – even today and in its various branches – profession is made in the hands of the person who receives it. This very old gesture is an eloquent sign of mutual trust, fraternity, mobility and itinerancy. For this reason we can say that in the Order there is no other stability than that of our obedience inspired by the image of Christ who, being of divine condition, emptied himself and assumed the human condition (Phil 2, 7).

Like the magi coming from the East and the shepherds of Bethlehem, the gospel ideal of mendicancy impels us always to be “on the way”, and to cultivate a special docility open to divine providence that manifests itself in everyday life. To be a mendicant is to be available, always ready to go and meet the others because it is where the mystery of God manifests itself.

As mendicants we would like to live our “not belonging to the world” in a way that is always new, by living a regular life of the “conventual” type characterized by spaces and times that offer a framework or rhythm that are proper to our separatio mundi. The solitude of our cells and fraternal life in community; intimacy with the Lord in personal prayer and community celebration (Liturgy of the Hours and Eucharist); community meetings; a common table; our schedules and observances; the necessary silence and the different spaces reserved in enclosure; all of this, in a way, puts itself at the service of the word that is contemplated, studied and is announced outside the boundaries of the convent, in the immense “cloister of the world”. In fact, the desire to be near people in order to share their joys and hope, their sorrow and anguish, impels us to link community life with the apostolic and missionary ministry.

For this reason, the mystery of Christmas invites us to emphasize an incarnate spirituality that is marked in a special way by love for those that are most weak and poor. The mendicant is not so much the monachus (solitary), but the frater or the soror (with a special emphasis on the community). This is why we strive especially to incarnate the evangelical fraternity which should lead us to live amongst people in structures that are more simple and neighbourly. Since the beginning of our 800-year history, the life of our communities of nuns and friars of the Order of Preachers extended itself in the so-called Third Orders (regular and/or secular). This movement generated a vast and beautiful constellation of Congregations of religious sisters that are spread on all the continents, and which are examples of dedication, creativity and imagination put at the service of the preaching of the Gospel. New groups of lay associates and the Dominican Youth Movement were aggregated to the lay Fraternities.

The proclamation of the Word is still our proposal / response to a society in constant change and mobility. The renaissance of urban life in the 13th century was marked by the development of the corporations, guilds, communes, associations of students and professors, commercial federations, etc. These new expressions of communion and participation encouraged the involvement of all their members in decision making and, in a way, inspired our fraternal life.

Among other features – which come to us from these sources – one can highlight our system of government characterized by the election of the prior or prioress (“primus inter pares” [first among equals] and not an abbot or abbess); the periodicity of the functions of government (a precise timeframe for terms of office and responsibilities) and the importance of the chapters.

Faithful to the principle “quod omnes tangit ab omnibus decerni et tractari debet” (What touches all, must be discerned and dealt with together), our fraternal life has always privileged moments of community life so that, in the light of the Holy Spirit and of our laws, we could always revise, examine, discern, deal with and define how to be faithful to our vocation. This “capitular” style guarantees our search for evangelical unanimity (to have one heart and one soul) through the different meetings (chapters) in a variety of styles according to their proper goal: revision of our project for life and mission, study or ongoing formation, decision making regarding government and administration; various elections, etc. The “vote”, as a final commitment of obedience, gives us “voice and vote”. That is to say, it makes us permanently responsible for personal and community life.

The Order was born at a time of profound changes in social and economic structures. Such a transformation allowed the “new rich” and the “new poor” to appear, to whom our preaching gave priority. Analogically, these challenges and priorities present themselves again in our days. Our evangelical life would like to be prophetical, by denouncing sin in all its manifestations, the ever-increasing power of money and of many new “feudal regimes” (Is. 10, 1ss); by giving comfort to its many victims (Is. 40, 1ss) and by reviving the spirits of the dejected and of those who fear and hesitate. (Is 57, 15)

As a response to the system at times based on rents, benefices and tithes, mendicant poverty – both personal and as a community – not only implies a moral ascesis in order to guarantee the fraternal sharing of goods, but also becomes an institutional and personal condition to make present the Kingdom of God. From this perspective, the celebration of the mystery of Christmas, God-with-us, questions us about our way of living and our way of relating to things, goods and creation.

Changes also open up the way for new ways of thinking, new questions and new cultural concerns. This is the reason why study is important as well as a greater presence in universities, from where – in some way – thought develops.

Mendicant life is, first and above all, a mystical sign or witness, a visible expression of itinerant preaching and of the community of brothers and sisters who abandon themselves to Providence. This calls us to live spiritually and profoundly our dependence on God and gives us more freedom to preach the Good News. It continues to require from us – in a creative fidelity to the inspiration of St. Dominic – our laboriosity and our dependence on the people at whose service we want to put ourselves.

Even today, the star of Bethlehem continues to shine in the midst of darkness. It illumines our life so that we could discover more clearly those things which not only “contribute to the glory of God and our sanctification, but also bear directly on the salvation of humankind” (Cfr. LCO 1 § IV). Such a light also reveals the shadows that could obscure the beauty, that is always new, of the Dominican ideal. Mendicants of Truth and itinerant, we will be purified by being on the way.

During this Jubilee Year, may the monasteries of contemplative life of the Order – in the joy of the first love – help us to discover this beauty so as to feel encouraged to offer it to the others.

Fraternally in Saint Dominic and Saint Catherine

21st November 2006

Memorial of the Presentation of the Virgin Mary in the Temple

Pro Orantibus Day (dedicated to remembering cloistered religious communities- translator’s note)

Bro Carlos A. Azpiroz Costa op
Master of the Order.


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