Dominic would be pleased to know that, in our sensitivity to promote justice and peace, the Dominican Sisters of Hope address social ills from the death penalty to genetically engineered crops. Can we aim even higher?
On August 9, 2015, the Dominican Sisters of Hope gathered with co-creators, associates, and friends to celebrate the Feast of Saint Dominic and the 800th year of the Dominican Order. They also celebrated twenty years since the Dominican Sisters of Newburgh, the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena (Fall River), and the Dominican Sisters of the Sick Poor (Ossining) came together to create a new entity now known as the Dominican Sisters of Hope.
The homily and photos* from the celebration are below. The homily was preached by Dominican Sister of Hope Louise Levesque, OP.
St. Dominic’s Day Homily, Dominican Sister of Hope Louise Levesque, OP:
Happy Feast Day! What a time to celebrate! Not only are we celebrating the feast of St. Dominic, but we’re also celebrating twenty years as Dominican Sisters of Hope! But there’s more: we may not look that old, but we are celebrating 800 years as a Dominican Family! If you are in the chapel today, you are either a Dominican or a Dominican at heart. So, to all of us, Dominican Family, welcome!
I believe that the prophet Isaiah had to be a Dominican at heart. Who else would proclaim the message of today’s first reading: “How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of the messenger announcing peace and the good news of salvation?” He was talking about us! WE are among those doing the Holy Preaching, aspiring to embody the Gospel not just in our words but with our very lives – often without words.
And it all started with Dominic! He was concerned about the confusion, scandals, and hopelessness of the people and their relationship to God. He felt driven to help them seek Truth through his gift of preaching. Having his finger on the pulse of the community kept him on target, dynamic, and popular. By today’s standards we would probably describe his success rate as falling in the 90th percentile. Truly a mentor for us.
We’ve been very fortunate through the centuries to have been given additional mentors for inspiration and guidance right from the family tree: Catherine of Siena, Martin de Porres, Albert the Great, Thomas Aquinas, Fra Angelico, Meister Eckhart, Rose of Lima, Vincent Ferrer, Savonarola, Lacordaire, Bartholomew de Las Casas, and countless others.
Even today we are inspired by the faith and courage of our Dominican Sisters in Iraq who have been displaced from their homes and traumatized by ISIS, yet remain faithful to the Dominican Mission of preaching the Gospel of Hope. With few materials, and no business plan, they are opening schools and medical clinics for their fellow refugees. Dominic believed in the powerful spiritual energy of women right from the founding at Prouille. These contemporary women do not disappoint.
What was it that captured the heart of Dominic? Could it have been God alone? What else would carry a person’s joy over the top? Known as a joyful friar, we’re told that as he walked from place to place, carrying his sandals, he would sing — usually a sign of a joyful heart.
Are we joyful? I believe we are. Look around – feel the joy around you, the sense of friendship, of community. The encouragement and the support we give one another are palpable in both our good times and bad. Sometimes we miss it ourselves, but then, friends or colleagues will bring it to our attention. Joy is contagious.
It’s very Dominican to be joyful, and it’s very Dominican to be contemplative. A contemplative attitude characterizes the Dominican spiritual tradition. Dominic intended members to be grounded in what he called an assiduous study of truth, and in a life of prayer and contemplation. The preaching mission of the Order integrated contemporary study and active ministry. In a nutshell, our spirituality is basic and has a long tradition: to contemplate and to share the fruits of that contemplation. Contemplata alliis Tradere.
As Dominican Sisters of Hope we cherish and carry on this tradition as individuals and as a congregation. Our assemblies are held within a contemplative framework. Each one of us shares the fruits of our contemplation through our varied ministries as teachers, social workers, pastoral counselors, cooks, administrators, preachers, nurses, secretaries, therapists, retreat directors, crafters, political activists, retirees, poets, artists, authors, and gardeners. Sharing the fruits of our contemplation is both an obligation and a privilege. How it all unfolds, however, remains a mystery.
Our entire Dominican Family, including the many women and men who pray with and for us, who minister with us, who share significant moments with us – all of these Dominicans at heart – share our charism, our gift of a joyful, loving, contemplative heart.
Living in a fast-paced, hectic world and surrounded by information overload on every side from every imaginable and unimaginable kind of device creates a challenge to living out of a contemplative stance, even for Dominicans at heart. Healthy integration of body, mind, and spirit requires ongoing intentionality. As important as this is, I myself cannot sustain this ongoing intentionality without the prayer and the support of my extended Dominican Family.
Dominic spent hours in prayer each day. His own prayer involved his entire body, his intellect, his emotions, and his spirit. He believed that each one of us has a unique method of joining body and spirit in praise of God.
In today’s gospel we hear an invitation to several travelers: “follow me.” Such a simple invitation, but the responses were so complex. Each traveler had a plausible reason for not being able to do so – at least for now. Can we relate to these travelers as we jog our memories to recall times when we heard a call, or felt a nudge, but were tempted to respond on our own terms? I’ll bet Dominic heard and answered every call from Jesus without hesitation, never looking back.
Dominic was enriched by scripture as he answered the call to preach. To an inquirer who asked which book of sacred scripture he studied most, Dominic answered that he studied more in the book of charity than in any other. Not surprisingly, on his deathbed he bequeathed the following heritage to his disciples: have charity, hold to humility, make your treasure out of voluntary poverty. To this day, it is our heritage.
Dominic lived as poorly as he possibly could, and was known for his mercy and compassion. The experience of seeing people living in terrible poverty so moved him that he sold his prized and expensive books and gave the money to feed the people. When questioned about this, he responded, “I could not bear to prize dead skins when living skins were starving and in want.”
His own community was often in want. Among the miracles that Dominic performed, this is one that struck me way back in my novitiate days. It was time for dinner and there was no food in the house. Dominic did not inform the friars and had them come to the refectory (dining room) as usual. A decision like this one would have given me a full blown anxiety attack. But Dominic trusted. There, on the spot, he prayed asking for God’s blessing.
Suddenly, two angels in the guise of beautiful youths entered the room carrying loaves of delicious bread. Beginning with the youngest friar, they distributed the bread to all present. No one went hungry. We recognize a miracle like this one as analogous to the multiplication of loaves by Jesus. Both Jesus and Dominic show genuine concern and compassion for their community.
Today we walk in the footsteps of Dominic; however, we walk in a different world. The Twenty-first century reflects research and advancement in the fields of science, technology, and industry just to name a few. Insights from the new cosmology are transforming our knowledge, our beliefs, our imagination. Our fragile planet is threatened by global climate change. It cries out for sustainability and reverence for life. We are arriving at a new consciousness about the evolving universe and its essential harmony. Everything exists in relation to everything else. No domination. How will this new world view affect our lives as individuals and as Dominicans at heart? The challenge is ours to ponder.
Dominic addressed the heresies and the challenges of his day. We have no shortage of challenges in our day. Human rights are being violated all over the world. We live in an endangered global ecosystem. We face poverty, wars, hunger, unemployment, persecutions, racism, political tensions, trafficking, violence in the streets, sexism, and extremists of every ilk. We need prison reform, immigration reform, and the list goes on.
As followers of Dominic, we cannot in conscience simply sit on the sidelines. There are all kinds of preaching opportunities here, beginning with a simple click on the computer or tablet or smartphone to indicate support or not of an issue. Dominic would be pleased to know that, in our sensitivity to promote justice and peace, the Dominican Sisters of Hope have promulgated six corporate stances addressing some of our social ills from the death penalty to genetically engineered crops. Can we aim even higher?
Eight hundred years ago, curious listeners were transformed by the Hope given to them by the exemplary life and preaching of Dominic. Twenty years ago three Dominican congregations were transformed by Hope, and were united as one. It was a bold step by courageous, trailblazing women. Hope has become more than a name of us. It has become our very lifeblood, the common ground of our solidarity. Hope was, and still is, a gift from the generous Spirit of God.
We celebrate today because we still have the fire to ignite grateful memories of countless blessings given to us over the past twenty years. Very soon, we’ll begin again, courageously navigating the uncharted waters of the next twenty. Who knows what awaits us? God is full of surprises! Until then, we celebrate, appropriately recalling the eternal words of Dag Hammarskjold: “For all that has been, thanks; for all that will be, yes!”
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*Unfortunately, despite our best efforts, we were able to photograph some, but not all, of the attendees. We are grateful for everyone who joined us in celebrating!
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