Yesterday's reflection, while a much needed airing of concerns, did not do justice to all the various components to the question about the current status and the future reality of religious brotherhood in the Church and the Dominican Order of Preachers,--indeed, that is beyond my ability. I tried to address one major problem related to religious brotherhood--the problem of clericalism, and I looked at how clericalism has two very powerful modes of manifestation within the Christian community: 1) the power to define and 2) government structure. My major claim was if male religious life is going to see a renewal, it has to begin with all religious--lay and ordained--rediscovering the very nature of religious life, for which priesthood is not the raison d'etre.
Lest I give a false impression, however, I want to clearly state that I do not think that the problems facing religious brotherhood are solely the fault of priests. (And this is not a blame game, but an exploration of context.) The laity, too, has a share in the fault, as they perpetuate this image of second-class status of religious brothers when they say things like "your just a brother" or "only a brother", and when they ask questions like "why aren't you going to be a priest?" and "could you become a priest later?" These statements and questions all reveal that many in the laity do not see the real value of lay religious life for men.
Brothers, too, may share a portion of the blame for allowing clericalism to go unchallenged for so many years, and for allowing others to tell our stories for us. Dominican Cooperator Brothers of today are called to be humble, but not to be humbled by others. We owe it to Brother Oderic of Normandy, the first lay brother of the Order, and to all the rest who have gone before to speak our Dominican Vision and to live it with courage as preachers.
Okay...so that's what I was getting at yesterday. It's an incomplete analysis, yes, but it's rooted in sincerity.
Why do I remain a Dominican and what does being a Dominican friar mean to me?
Given all that has been said yesterday, it should come as no surprise that every year of my Dominican life as a cooperator brother has presented challenges that often made me consider leaving the Order. After all, why should I stay in a supposedly "clerical order" when I could join a community of lay religious only?
The question has two roots: 1) The model of "lay brother" from Dominican history does not fit my understanding of my religious vocation, and 2) The Dominicans don't seem to have an appreciation for religious life as it exists apart from priesthood (which is why cleric brothers don't understand what they have in common with cooperator brothers). This second one is a big claim, and I'm sure it's not completely true--but it's an impression that has been given by some.
In these moments of trial and questioning, I turned to the Holy Spirit for the answer. After all, it was the Holy Spirit that led me to the Dominicans. I figured it ought to be the Holy Spirit who tells me to stay or leave. In prayer, as often as I have asked if I ought to go, I have been told to stay.
The answer, simply put, is that despite all of the baggage that comes with "cooperator brotherhood" or "lay brotherhood", I am a Dominican friar because I am called by God to be a preacher for the salvation of souls. The life of St. Dominic de Guzman speaks to me profoundly, since I see renewed in it the Pentecostal and Apostolic zeal of the great saints Peter and Paul. Dominic's vision seems so in line with what the Messiah intended and what the Church's root mission is, that I can't help but to cast my lot with him, rather than with anyone else. Furthermore, the four pillars of Dominican life--study, prayer, community, and ministry--are fundamental to my understanding of the way religious life ought to be led on the daily practical level.
So what is the vocation of Dominican Cooperator Brother from my point of view? I have written of it before like this:
Cooperator brothers are men whose love for God and desire to serve the Church has led them to seek to live as vowed religious. They are freed by the vow of poverty to give what they have to others; freed by the vow of obedience to do what the Church, through the Order, asks of them; and freed by the vow of chastity to love all those they encounter. With the support of their community of fellow Dominicans, they go about their prayer, study, and ministry with joyful hearts. And though they are not priests, their lives are rooted in the sacramental life of the Church.
In prayer, I have said it this way:
Lord God, you called me as a cooperator brother, to join the Dominican family in its preaching work for the salvation of souls. You gave my heart the desire to leave all behind in order to lead a chaste, poor, and obedient life modeled after the life of your son, Our Lord Jesus Christ. Send the Holy Spirit to help me today to keep more perfectly the evangelical counsels, and teach me how to study, contemplate, and share your saving truth with others. Help me, also, to grow in my love for my neighbor, especially strangers, becoming a true brother to all I meet, preaching the Gospel through my work, my prayer, and my love of you. Amen.
I include these two texts only because I think that, with the discussion of the "power to define" in the last posting and above, it's important for people to read how a brother sees his vocation. I hope what both of these definitions reveal is that cooperator brothers are not "exceptions" to the rule of religious life--their vocation is what religious life is all about: consecrated living, the praise and worship of God, and the ministry to the Church. They are fully religious, and equal in every way as religious to religious who are also called to be priests. In this way, they are not auxiliary, cooperators, coadjutors, etc., they are religious brothers. Accordingly, if it is true that we (friars) are united by profession, and not ordination, our Order's definition and its government structure should reflect that.
Are there two types of friars?
This question is a fair one, and I pose it, because I often hear cleric brothers say that the cooperator brother vocation and the priest brother vocation are two different vocations--as if they were more different than they are alike. To me, however, there seem to be three possibilities of understanding the relationship between lay and ordained friars:
1)They're essentially completely different vocations, which only intersect on the level of community living and profession of vows. This means, wearing two different habits is appropriate, doing very different ministries is appropriate, living in different parts of the house is appropriate, etc. (Emphasis is on difference.)
2) They're mostly the same, grounded in the identity of profession and communal living, and the mission of the Order--therefore, the habit should be the same, formation should be the same, ministry should be the same. (Emphasis is on uniformity.)
3) In so far as their identity is rooted in religious life and the profession of vows, lay and ordained friars share a common vocation. In so far as they feel called to further the Church's mission of preaching the Gospel and bringing people into reconciliation with God through the sacramental and communal life of the Church, they share a common mission. But, as regards the modes of ministry lived, the two vocations may, at times, appear unique. And in so far as the priesthood entails an identify specific to itself, the two have differences. Habit may or may not be different, formation may or may not be different, ministry may or may not be different. (Emphasis is on what is shared.)
Is there more than one kind of "cooperator" brother?
I am aware that all of the above is playing into the problem of defining things. I am only one person, so this is only one friar's perspective. Being sensitive to that, I must note the fact that diversity seems the greater reality and of greater value than the idea of uniformity or the focus on difference. Even within the cooperator brotherhood itself there is not going to be a uniformity of manifestation. After all, the call to religious life does not necessitate uniformity of expression or ministry. It's basis in equality is not rooted in intellectual genius, sacramental faculties, or anything else besides the public giving of oneself through the profession of vows and living of those vows in community.
Therefore, lay religious life, including Dominican religious life, can certainly result in several manifestations. You can have cooperator brothers, for example, doing ministry that resembles that of priests in everything but sacraments. You can have cooperator brothers with PhD degrees and professional jobs as ministry. And you can also have cooperator brothers who do vocational work or domestic ministry.
You can have this diversity precisely because the Holy Spirit calls men of all backgrounds to the religious life. We should have an application process, a formation program, and a community ethos that respects this diversity. I have to say that I do not think that this is true at the present time. It seems to me that the vision of cooperator brotherhood of recent times is the one that emphasizes equality through uniformity. The application process and formation program is so heavily weighted toward the academic, that men called to religious life who are not called to the rigors of academic study are being left out. The classic rationale for this is "cooperator brothers have to get a degree in theology so that when they're at meals with clerics they will be able to keep up." Again, I find this argument scandalous and clericalism at its worse (a form of clericalism that some cooperator brothers buy into, by the way). Again, religious life is not for the educated elite, it is for those called by the spirit to give themselves to God and to serve the Church through prayer and ministry. If the Messiah did not disdain to sit down with people of different backgrounds and levels of education, how dare the Dominicans do so? All that this elitism has accomplished is the emptying of our communities of cooperator brothers.
In an effort to make up for the grievances of the past, we are making new mistakes. In short, there has to be a greater creativity and openness when it comes to the formation of cooperator brothers--one that recognizes the diversity present in the men attracted to the religious life. A key step forward would be to mandate that when there are cooperator brothers in formation, a cooperator brother in solemn vows will be selected to direct the formation process. And formation requirements, like the requirement that the cooperator brother earn a graduate degree in theology, must be abolished, since this discriminates against brothers called to more vocational and domestic ministries. And brothers who feel called to vocational and domestic ministries ought to be allowed to embrace that without having friars not called to that way treat them as inferiors or servants. Again, the Messiah's example must always be before us.
Furthermore, I think it would behoove the Order to have the cooperator brothers from all the provinces gather to talk about what needs to be done to renew and promote the brother vocation. This would be the time for them to discuss the promotion of the vocation, and the application and formation policies of their respective provinces as they relate to the brother vocation. (Maybe even discuss the old habit.) They could then collectively make recommendations to the Master of the Order and curia.
Is this the whole picture?
No. These two reflections, messy as they are in their reasoning and expression, are the result of the unusual occurrence of disappointment in my religious community experience. They reflect my general concerns for the Order as far as the future of the cooperator brotherhood goes, and are not my complete evaluation of the Dominican way of life. For the most part, my experience of Dominican community life has been wonderful, and I think that the Province of St. Albert the Great is doing a fantastic job of trying to facilitate the renewal of the cooperator brotherhood. I am a respected and valued member of the community here in St. Louis, and I hope to live the rest of my life as a Dominican friar.
I have only written so much, because the question of the future of the cooperator brotherhood and the treatment of the cooperator brother in community life is so close to home. The experience of having one's vocation denigrated is a heart-breaking one, and not something I wish upon anyone else. This simply must continue to change, and my hope was simply to ask questions and offer observations that might contribute to that change.
I would also like to note, as I'm sure the brothers I live with know, I have a great appreciation for and admiration for the priesthood. None of my concerns with clericalism are aimed at belittling the priesthood, the sacraments, or priests themselves, or the vocation of religious priests. I hoped to relate everything to the question of creating a more just internal ecclesiology rooted in the understanding of religious life for the sake of the renewal of the religious brotherhood.
Br. Paul, OP