Walk into any Dominican space and there is a good chance that you will see some variation of the words, “Prayer,” “Study,” “Preaching,” and “Community.” These four words on their own are seemingly insignificant, but together they are the root, or pillars as the Dominican Family calls them, of the Dominican Charism that has been part of my life for the past few years.
At the beginning of the year, I was working in the living room of my community when S. Christina and four other sisters were participating in a virtual assembly with the larger Sinsinawa Dominican congregation in Wisconsin. Bits and pieces of the presentation piqued my interest, but it was the words of one sister in particular that stuck with me and began to change my perspective on these pillars.
Sister Pat Siemen (an Adrian Dominican) expressed that Dominicans need to consider a better word to illustrate these four Dominican ideals. The word “pillars” present a rigid view of the ideals, rather than as action words meant to guide and transform our lives as Dominicans.
Jesus laid out a pretty good blueprint for leading by example for us. The sisters I have ministered and lived with over the past two years have likewise laid out a blueprint for turning the Dominican Pillars into the Dominican Verbs. I’d like to take you through each “verb” and they ways I’ve learned to make them a part of my life.
These drawings by Sean demonstrate a new prayer style he has learned as a Dominican Volunteer.
Before my experience with Dominican Volunteers USA, my prayer life had always been one of private and “traditional” prayers. I’ve learned that there is so much more to prayer than the words that our rich Christian tradition have laid out for us. Meditation, Taize, Lectio Divina, Liturgy of the Hours, Coloring, etc. have all been prayer forms that I have been exposed and opened to over the past few years. The sisters have taught me how to pray with my whole body, mind, and soul and to be open to the ways the Spirit is moving in me and those gathered in prayer. Truly, “For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.”
Every time we sat down to dinner last year it seemed we were living out the “verb” of study. We would discuss the issues facing our local community, our nation, and our church. The rich disputatio (a method of debate designed to uncover and establish truths in theology and in sciences) we engaged in helped me realize that one doesn’t always have to have their nose in a book to be studying. This year S. Christina has challenged me to better understand who I am as a son of the creator and how I can best serve the students I am a catechist for.
Some call it service, others mission – what really matters is what it’s all about – ministering to God’s people. Catherine of Siena reminds us that we must walk on two feet: love of God and love of neighbor. Through the countless ministries these sisters have been involved in, they have found new ways to preach. S. Gina Fleming, OP, the Director of the Dominican Youth Movement USA where I served in 2017-18, constantly reminds students to preach with their lives as it’s the only pulpit they truly need.
From the monastic communities of men and women to sending his preachers out two by two, St. Dominic understood the power of community. Today, that same sense of community and sharing in life through the other three Dominican “verbs” is at the heart of the Dominican Chrism. Dominican communities reflect the larger Church community, as, “The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ.” (Corinthians 12). Take a moment and think about the communities we, the members of Dominican Volunteer USA, may live in. There is no other situation that I can think of that it is common in which college aged students are living with women/men religious who are often 40-60 years their senior. One might question, how does it work? My honest answer: the Spirit. We each responded to God’s call to serve, we have a deep and profound love for Jesus, and we share an understanding that a little faith can move mountains. God wanted us here, together, for a reason.
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Sean Puzzo is a volunteer with Dominican Volunteers USA and a CVN Serving with Sisters Contributor. This blog series is sponsored by our VOCARE Initiative, thanks to the support of the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation.