A day in the life of the Dominican Studium

When talking about the vocation to religious life, and specifically the Dominican way of Religious Life, one of the recurring questions is what a day in the life of a Dominican Brother is like. So we took a camera into our Studium in Dublin to give a taste of what the day in the life of a student brother of the Dominican Order typically looks like.

Naturally the daily routine for the brothers who have completed their studies is slightly different as they go about their own ministries. But the general structure, where communal prayers form the hinges of the day, would be what constitutes the fundamental aspect of a day as a Dominican brother.

Our Studium, the place where we do our theological formation, is located in St. Saviour’s Priory, Dublin 1, Ireland.

If you would like to know more about the vocation as a Dominican, contact the Vocation Director on vocations@dominicans.ie.

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He was crushed for our iniquities

crossA Reading from the Prophet Isaiah:

A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; One from whom men hide their face
He was despised, and we did not esteem Him. Yet ours were the grief He bore, our sorrows He carried; He was crushed for our iniquities; All of us like sheep have gone astray; But The Righteous One My Servant will justify the many and bear their iniquities.

 

Some of the most dramatic images we have of Mother Teresa reveal a saint who reached out to those truly on society’s fringes in Calcutta – the suffering and destitute. Here was a woman who brought Christ’s love and mercy into the lives of those the world seemed to abandon, transforming lives marred by fear and anguish through disease and extreme poverty.

In seeking to understand the awesome and life-giving reality that is Good Friday – this group of people I have been describing are a very good place to start. For no distant God of ideas or mere rules could speak meaningfully of life, hope and love to those who suffer. Only a God who himself tasted the bitter word and stigma of public shame and rejection could hope to touch the minds and hearts of those who have themsevles suffered so. This is where we begin to glimpse the essence of what Good Friday is – A day when Christ himself entered into the extremes of suffering and death. A day, when God assured us that His love and mercy knows no limits, no boundaries, but rather, seeks to reach out and save a suffering humanity even amidst the very depths of pain or sin.

The great Swiss theologian Von Balthasar wonderfully saw in the Cross, an act of love so great, it is beyond anything humanity could ever have imagined. This was the work of a God who – out of love – had already sent his only Son, at the Incarnation, all the way into the depths of our humanity. Jesus’s own earthly life speaks to us of a divine love which sought always to reach out into the depths of human existence, most especially towards those on the fringes. For Jesus searched out the God-forsaken.

A Friend of Tax-collectors and sinners, Jesus’ response to the pride and righteousness of the Pharisees in Luke’s Gospel, gives us a vivid insight into His mission of love and redemption – for he tells us that he comes “for those in need of a physician – sinners in need of repentance.” The lost, the sick, the suffering – it is such people that Jesus found, healed and restored.

So why did Jesus, God-made-man, seek out the fringes, and those in the extremes of sin and suffering? Our lives show us that both sin and suffering are inevitable human realities – for the atheist as much as for the saint. We can surely recognise the meaningfulness of a suffering God for those who themselves physically suffer. In reality, however, it is sin which makes us suffer most – it is sin alone which possesses the power to push any of us to the true fringes of existence.

For in wilfully turning away from our true good – that is, following Christ and His example, we ourselves bear a stigma that burdens the heart and mind. It is sin which darkens our own horizons, diminishing us far more than any poverty or physical disease ever could. Our goal, our earthly journey towards Truth, Goodness, Beauty and love itself, is blocked and ends in death, only through sin. The great mystery of God’s redemption, however, is that, it is the utter tragedy of such sin, man’s felix culpa, which drew down, our divine physician.

This is what brings us back to that First Good-Friday. For on that day, we saw most clearly, upon the Cross, and in that passion evoked so eloquently by the Prophet Isaiah, the unimaginable depths that God’s love will descend to in order to reach the sinner. In the extremities of evil, sin and death which Christ embraced and conquered on that day, we truly witness the value even the lowliest sinner possesses in God’s eyes. For it is the immensity of God’s love, mercy and forgiveness for each and every one of us, that drew Christ to the Cross that fateful day.

The most awesome reality this Good Friday, and indeed every day, is that such love and forgiveness -the full power of Christ Himself is still flowing, through that Church He instigated. The forgiveness and promise of paradise, offered to the repentant thief, in those final moments upon the Cross, is ours now- active with no less force- in the boundless mercy of Confession.

That divine Body – love, truth and goodness itself – given freely upon the Cross, is still offered each day for us- upon the Eucharistic altar. So we see that passion, that divine love displayed so vividly on that First Good Friday endures for each of us to this day. That is why Good Friday remains forever so, very, very Good.

Ongoing Formation

Formation in the Dominican tradition does not end with the conclusion of our initial studies.

Every Dominican friar is expected to continue studying theology and other disciplines throughout his life.

Study is, after all, one of the four pillars of the Order.

However, ongoing formation for every aspect of his life and work are encouraged.

Ongoing formation for Dominicans is designed to help a friar to maintain high levels of competency as a preacher of the Word of God. A friar is appointed to co-ordinate the process of ongoing formation in the Irish Dominican province.

Ordination to the Priesthood

Most of those who join the Order do so with the intention of being ordained priests –members of the presbyteral order.

The identity of priesthood is maintained in our tradition, while all the time being aware that it is our call to be Dominicans first and foremost.

Those who are to be ordained priests must follow a course of studies in philosophy and theology, and after making solemn profession prepare for the orders of diaconate and priesthood.

The Dominican priest always bears in mind the fundamental call of our Constitutions (or rules) that the Order was founded for preaching and for the salvation of souls.

Those who become priests in the Dominican Order share in a special way in the priesthood of Jesus Christ – who came that we might have life, and have it to the full.

The Dominican Brother

Some men join the Order without feeling called to the ministerial priesthood.

These brothers continue to live their Dominican vocation in the service of the Order and the church.

They are often called co-operator brothers, but traditionally they have been known as lay brothers.

Down through the years the Irish province has been blessed by the presence of co-operator brothers in our communities – most especially by their presence, witness, commitment and faithfulness to the Order and the people they serve.

The co-operator brothers in the Irish province give an essential and powerful witness to all of us Dominicans to be preachers of the Gospel in so many varied ways.

They are one of the great sources of strength and inspiration for our province – and their vocation is highly valued and esteemed.

The Vowed Life

As Dominicans, we live a vowed life.

On the day when a Dominican friar makes his first profession (at the end of the novitiate year) he promises obedience to God. Although only one vow is made, that of obedience, the obligation to observe poverty and chastity are implied by the vow of obedience.

Often, these vows are seen in a negative way – and it is true that we give up part of our lives when we place them in God’s hands and those of our superiors. However, in our tradition, we begin to see the living of the vowed life more in terms of freedom – being able to be free to serve the people entrusted to our care without the limitations that society and the world can place upon us.

Timothy Radcliffe OP, former Master General of the Order (1992-2001), speaks of these three vows in a liberating way.

He speaks of poverty as ‘freedom of heart and mind’, making the distinction that material wealth is not the most essential part of our lives, allowing us to identify with those who are poor materially and indeed poor in spirit. On obedience, he prefers to think of this vow as being closely linked to dialogue and fraternity – in order that each friar is acting responsibly in the pursuit and good of the mission of the Order.

Finally, on chastity Timothy explains that the vow of chastity ‘witnesses to the deep love that is friendship’.

In living out our vow of chastity, it is our hope that we are witnesses to the God who is love – all the time acknowledging that other people in different ways show the single mystery of love, by being married, single and as members of a religious order such as the Dominicans. On chastity, Timothy concludes ‘I am convinced that what is the hardest aspect of chastity is not the lack of sexual activity but, much more, the lack of intimacy – knowing that you have a unique importance for one person who has that same importance for you.’

The studentate

A novice, on successful completion of the novitiate, makes simple profession – normally for three years. He takes just one vow, that of obedience, but that includes the obligations of poverty and chastity.

He promises to be faithful to living the Dominican life, entrusting himself to the care and protection of the Blessed Virgin Mary and Saint Dominic.

He leaves the novitiate and then joins the student community, otherwise known as the ‘studentate’.

Here he commences the next stage of his initial formation during which he pursues a course of studies in the disciplines of philosophy and theology.

A Dominican student brother discovers and learns what it means to share everything in common with the other members of his community, what it means to receive direction and to serve the needs of the common good of the Order, and how to live as a celibate person in a way that is human, life-giving and fulfilling.

These years are a time of testing, of ongoing learning and discovering, of discussion and reflection, of discernment and decision. The master of students, with the support of others, helps the student brother to enter more fully into community life, to commit himself more deeply to prayer, to be hard working and assiduous in his studies, and to undertake pastoral activities that will prepare him to be a Dominican preacher.

After three years (or maybe a little longer), a brother makes solemn profession for life when he becomes a full member of the Order.

Novitiate

When men are accepted into the Dominican Order, they begin a process of initial formation that normally lasts about seven years. Formation begins in the novitiate community. The novitiate year is a time of probation during which the novice has the opportunity to reflect on his vocation, experience the Dominican way of life, be formed in the Dominican spirit in mind and heart, and to show to those entrusted with his formation how suitable he may be to embrace the Dominican way of life.

The Novice Master, with the help of others, plans a course of instruction as laid down by our laws and customs, through which the novice will begin to learn about sacred scripture, prayer, liturgy, the principles of the Christian life and priesthood.

It is a year in which special attention is given to the spirituality, history and laws of the Order. The reality of living together in community with men of varying ages and backgrounds, with different personalities, expectations and ideals provides the novice with the challenge of looking at his strengths and weaknesses and begin to learn what changes he may need to make in his life in order to grow and mature as a person who wants to follow Christ in the Dominican way.

This requires openness, trust, honesty, risk and a willingness to learn. It is a time of adjustment which can be demanding but it also a time of discovery and enrichment.