I Loved Jesus in the Night. The title immediately grabbed me when Sr. Helen Mary suggested I read it when we met in Nashville. It is written by a Dominican (Paul Murray, OP) about Mother Teresa (a woman I grew up revering) and her struggles in faith. Everything about the book and the woman recommending it indicated that I would love reading it, which I did. To be honest, though, I really only read it because of the title: I Loved Jesus in the Night. That sentence probably means so many different things to anyone who reads it; what captivates me is the idea of loving Jesus when I just don’t know anything else. It is a simple and honest description of faith.
I probably could have heard that title at a different moment of my life to a significantly smaller effect, but God has a funny way with timing. It came in the midst of my continued discernment about Dominican life when I had no idea what God was asking of me. This year has solidified my call to be a Dominican, but it also raised many questions. How am I called to be a Dominican? As a priest? As a brother? What will I do? In what ways will I serve? Can I really do this? Do they even want me? Who am I actually?
Silent and unseen, Christ was present in all these questions, always leading me. I know I am not alone in feeling that discerning your vocation can be a walk into a night of uncertainties. Even Mother Teresa wrote “Where is Jesus?” not because he was lost, but because she couldn’t see. Following God simply does not “feel good” all the time, and it rarely takes you where you plan on going. The best thing we can do is learn to rest in the hands of God and follow humbly.
For me, this has all been a part of coming to love and be united with the God of the living. My life is more alive, filled with questions and stimulated to growth. This growth takes us beyond ourselves into what we didn’t know before. Some things I thought I knew were really only the beginning (I have a sneaking suspicion that life in Christ is always like that). Today I know that the path I came here on is not going where I thought it was. I entered the Dominicans to become a priest, but I will be taking my first vows in August on the road to being a Cooperator Brother. It’s not the road I thought I was on, but it is indeed the one I am walking.
Now, I am willing to bet that the term “Cooperator Brother” is a bit confusing to many people, given that I didn’t understand it a year ago. In fact, I probably would have entered on this track had I really known what it was. One of the beauties of discernment is that God uses whatever he can to lead us where we cannot imagine. I saw priests growing up, but never brothers. I had met a few cooperator brothers briefly before entering, but I didn’t really understand their life. I still know only so much. But I can share what I do know and invite you all to ask whatever you would like.
To begin with, the vocation of all Dominicans is rooted in our baptismal call and communal life. The fundamental call of each and every baptized person to live a holy life and seek union with God is why we are here. Christians live out that call in many ways, but for a Dominican it begins in community. Our life is modeled after the early church in the Acts of the Apostles, holding all things in common and being of one mind and heart. We pray, eat, live and work together. The good that one does is the good that we all do. Lived well, the Dominican life is radically different from our individualistic culture. We are a family in the truest sense of the word because none of us can do the good we long to do on our own, we need each other. This is the ideal of course, but it is what we strive to be: brothers in Christ.
It is so important to understand communal life because priest, brother, sister and nun are all sharing in that one family. I believe that this family is absolutely where I belong. Whether I become a priest or brother, I am first a Dominican. This means we work together in the ministry of preaching, of sharing the good news with the world and inviting everyone to known Truth. Our province does this in campus ministries, parishes, schools, preaching missions and social justice. Being a priest or a brother means you work in different ways within those fields, but it is our work in cooperation. I still hope to teach theology, work in campus ministry, maybe even work in a foreign mission and whatever else God has in store.
So why a brother? I wish there were a simple answer for you. This year I set out to know myself, to know God, and to learn Love. What I have found in me is not a call to be a priest. I don’t have a desire to say the Mass, to administer the Sacraments or to be a pastor. Maybe I could be very good at those things, but that doesn’t mean I am called to do them. I feel called to live in community, to serve passionately, to minister within the sheepfold rather than as the shepherd.
Priests do these things as well, but they are also called to be the shepherd and to take on a distinct role in the church. While this is difficult for me to explain it is easy to see. When my brothers here talk about their longing to say Mass or to be confessors, I just do not have that desire. It is like listening to a friend explain why they love their girlfriend or wife, when you obviously don’t have those same feelings. She is his vocation, not yours. I have my own love, for serving as a brother. I have always been a brother in a large family and it seems to have stamped its seal on me.
It seems an injustice to describe my vocation so poorly, but it is still mine. I do not claim to be 100% certain about this decision, nor is it unchangeable in the future. Yet in the darkness of doubts and insecurity, there is also great peace. This decision is the fruit of much prayer and reflection. I have prayed daily that I may know myself better, and this is what I have found. Now it is time to trust that my prayers are not in vain and that what my eyes have been opened to is true.
This is not a completely new thought for me either. When I was first discerning with the Dominicans I asked about being a brother, but it was hard to grasp it with such little interaction. As the old saying in theology goes, “you can’t love what you don’t know.” Well, you certainly can’t discern what you don’t know. So I put it aside at the time and decided to follow as best I could with what I did know. Now, I know enough to follow God deeper.(And since I know many people will ask, I am still moving to Saint Louis in August for graduate school in theology and still have many years of formation.)
In the midst of all the nights this discernment has brought, God has never wavered. With the assurance that “those who seek shall find” we are always challenged to discard fear. I hope and pray that each of us will follow what God is asking, but we cannot live in fear of making the wrong choice. We are not free from doubts and questions, but enlivened by faith to live boldly for Christ. It is with faith, humility, and love that we say with Mother Teresa, “My key to heaven will be that I loved Jesus in the night.”
Br. Joseph Trout, Dominican novice
Click HERE to read Br. Joseph's previous reflection, published at the beginning of the novitiate.