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Celebrating 800 Years of Dominican Life

About 150 guests celebrated the Feast of St. Dominic with the Sinsinawa Dominican Congregation at Sinsinawa Mound Aug. 8. Sister Mary Ellen
Green, OP, preached the following to all in attendance:

The Order of Preachers*one of the few religious movements known by its mission rather than by its founder. That is so like Dominic, always about the mission. We are so blessed to be identified as the Order of Preachers*people who spend our lives proclaiming good news. God knows, the world needs to hear good news. We all need to know that we are light for the world, salt for the earth. We need to know that in spite of all the pain around us there is hope. There is truth. We need to be reminded over and over again that God entered into our world and became one of us and walked among us and laughed and cried and suffered and died for us because God loves us more than we can imagine*and that’s good news, isn’t it!

Dominic must have been a remarkable person to have grasped all that and shaped that intuition into an Order that for 800 years has carried on his extraordinary mission.

Dominic was so human. He was our brother. He came from a loving home where prayer and service and study and community, those four pillars that later became essential elements of his Order, were ingrained in him at a very early age. He was the kind of person who seemed destined for great things so it isn’t surprising that from his home in Spain he ended up in southern France fighting against the Cathar heresy with the weapon of preaching the Word of God.

Some of his first converts were women, nine women who turned away from Catharism and came to him in 1206, because they had no where else to go. Their families wouldn’t accept them and they had no resources. They were to become the first community in Prouilhe.

What did Dominic have in mind when he gathered these women, along with two other Catholic women, in that lonely place in the middle of nowhere? Prouilhe was already a sacred space, not unlike Sinsinawa Mound, even in appearance. It was a shrine made holy by centuries of devotion to Our Lady of Prouilhe, a site well known for spiritual and physical healing. It was to become the cradle of an Order not yet conceived.

The place that eventually became the Monastery of Prouilhe grew rapidly and reached its highest point in the middle of the 14th century when there were 160 nuns, 25 priests, 50 lay brothers, 30 volunteers, 173 servants attached to the farm, and 36 attached to the church they owned in nearby Limoux. They had a guest house and mills, even a pharmacist and two physicians, including a surgeon*close to 500 people in all!

When we speak of the Holy Preaching in that era we are not just talking about the mission of the friars or even their partnership with the nuns.

The term Holy Preaching in those days referred to the entire complex in the neighborhood of Prouilhe. Surprisingly, it wasn’t Dominic who called them the Holy Preaching. It was the people of that area themselves who called it that.

I can’t help comparing that reality in Prouilhe with our present reality here at Sinsinawa Mound. When I look around this assembly and beyond this assembly I see our vowed members, of course, and our Dominican brothers who share our preaching mission. I also see many, many women and men who are, without question, significantly involved in our Dominican mission. They are the ones who, through their faith and generous service, keep our mission alive. They are the ones who cook and clean for us, who maintain our grounds, who organize our publications and welcome our guests. We simply could not do it without you. Let no one be mistaken. Together we are the H oly Preaching. You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world, and a city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Together we participate in the building of a holy and just society*and we thank you from the bottom of our hearts.

I believe that the model of the Holy Preaching is more relevant than ever today. We are all about the mission of the Holy Preaching, no matter how that plays out in the work we do. To quote St. Paul: “Just as a human body, though it is made up of many parts, is a single unit because all these parts, though many, make one body, so it is with Christ.” (I Corinthians 12:12)

When Christ lived on this earth he preached the good news of his Father’s love not just by the words he spoke in the synagogues or by the Sea of Galilee or on the mountain top. He preached about love by living a life of compassion and forgiveness and healing. Every time he raised someone to life he was preaching good news. Every time he restored sight or hearing or wholeness to the handicapped he was preaching good news. Every one of his teachings was good news. His whole life was good news and that’s the Holy Preaching. That’s what we are called to be. No one can do everything, but we can each do something and together we are the Holy Preaching rooted in an 800-year old tradition as solid as the rock of Sinsinawa Mound. This is our call. This is our challenge. This is our privilege and our responsibility.

It all began in Prouilhe 800 years ago, but it didn’t stay there. The Word cannot be held down. We as apostolic Dominican Sisters find our roots in Prouilhe and at the same time the women in Prouilhe now and other contemplative Dominican nuns look to us to find their wings. When I was living at the monastery of Prouilhe a group of American Dominican Sisters spent a few days there on pilgrimage to the lands of Dominic.

The monastery community was glad to welcome them and one of the nuns remarked to me afterwards how energized she herself felt for her contemplative vocation, knowing that the others were out there “in the field” about the preaching mission. She said she was reminded of a story of St-Exupéry where a man is stranded in the desert and after walking for hours and not finding anyone he was tempted to stay put and give up. Then he thought of his wife and children back home and he said to himself, “If they are thinking about me now, they are imagining that I am walking and trying to come home. I must be faithful to their hope.” For the contemplative nuns, being with apostolic sisters was like being reminded of the hope to which they themselves are called. So, let us remember that even as they sustain us with their prayer*and they surely do*we sustain them with our ministry*and we surely do!


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