‘I had always liked studying and thinking – so I was temperamentally suited to an Order that prizes thinking (sometimes even intelligently).’
‘The mind is, in a sense, all things,’ says St Thomas Aquinas. What he means by this cryptic saying, is that by coming to know and understand – and, in principle if not in practice, there is no limit to our knowing and understanding – the mind achieves a kind of union, conformity, and fellow-feeling with what it knows and understands. Every process of reflection draws us closer to the thing we reflect upon.
Exploring the Catholic faith as a teenager and then as a university student, I saw beauty in a number of different charisms and forms of Christian life. In a first flush of religious enthusiasm, I was fascinated with the radical simplicity of St Francis of Assisi, who lived for nothing but God. The image of the great Old Testament figures, Moses and Elijah, who came face to face with the Lord, was an inspiration to my prayer life.
St Ignatius and the missionary zeal of the Jesuits fired my passion for spreading the Gospel. At the same time, the liturgy of the Church nourished me and gave me a sense of wonder before the mystery of our salvation. I wanted to enjoy all these expressions of Christian faith.
Sometimes it is said that Dominicans have no spirituality, and it can be hard to define a unique charism of the Order – after all, shouldn’t every Christian in one way or another try to preach the Gospel and work for the salvation of souls? But Dominicans have always had their preaching go hand in hand with study.
We preach by reflecting on the truths of the faith, and expressing them in words: ‘to contemplate and hand on the fruits of contemplation’. I had always liked studying and thinking – so I was temperamentally suited to an Order that prizes thinking (sometimes even intelligently). But looking back, I can see that this specific function, this work of reflecting and communicating the fruits of our reflection, allows us to partake of all the varied expressions of the Church’s life.
Not everyone can be as poor as St Francis; not everyone can travel to foreign lands to preach the Gospel; not everyone is granted mystical experiences. But all these gifts are, really, for the whole Church – and by reflecting on these experiences and preaching about the good God who gives them all, being a Dominican, I can taste them all, and help my fellow Christians see that the Lord indeed is good.