Nuns at the Heart of the Preaching Family
S. Claire Marie de Jesus Rolf OP
An excerpt from a talk given at the Prioresses' meeting in Prague, Czech Republic.
We are enjoying trying to communicate in different languages, so I would like to begin with a little French lesson. The English word “Preacher” is “Precheur” in French. My mother language is English and when I first met Dominicans, while visiting France, I was just starting to learn French. When I first heard the name of the Order I understood it to be “the Order of ‘pecheurs’” My English ear could not yet hear that French “r”’. Pecheurs means “sinners” so, I had understood that this was the “Order of Sinners”. I was quick to realise my mistake and laugh at it but, I’ve always thought that there was a great deal of truth to it. I find it wonderful to be a part of an Order of Sinners who have personally discovered, and therefore preach, Gods’ mercy!
With time, I learned that the “Order of ‘Pecheurs’ (Sinners)” had a special veneration for Mary Magdalene, this woman of desire, who anointed the feet of Jesus with precious perfume: “her sins were forgiven for she loved much.” Even if there is some controversy among Scripture scholars about the identity of this woman in the various gospels, this woman, whoever she was, if she is anything like me, was, indeed, a sinner and knew the mercy of God. This was another reason for me to feel at home. The figure of Mary Magdalene has always touched me and awakened my contemplative heart. I sensed that I was being called as a Dominican nun “to sit like Mary Magdalene at the feet of Jesus and listen to His words” LCM§III. I was curious to discover how those who “make of their house, and especially of their heart, a place of silence” (LCM 46§2), could call themselves Preachers.
Where I came from, in day to day life the word “preach” had negative connotations. To preach at someone was to take a position of superiority and tell others what to think, what to believe or how to act. In church circles it meant to stand up at the pulpit and give a sermon.
How could I call myself a Preacher? I am not naturally a person of many words… in fact, as a child I suffered a disability that made expressing myself difficult. Talking in front of people was not my strength, (but “here I am Lord” for the love of my sisters and of our Order).
When my missionary heart learned that St. Thérèse of Lisieux was called the patron of missionaries, I was confirmed in my belief that there was a mysterious link between prayer and effective preaching. It dawned on me that a life of contemplative prayer could possibly be the most effective way that I had to be useful to a world that I so loved. For me this mysterious link is about “communion”. As the cry in the desert of the preacher, John the Baptist was preceded by the silence of Zachary, so my silence and prayer can mysteriously precede and accompany the preaching of others. Prayer is a work of mercy. It is apostolic. It is a labour of love with the intention of being effective “for the salvation of souls” (F.C.O §II).
Yes, I believe that the nuns have a vital and mysterious place in the heart of the Order. This place can be compared to the mystery of Mary who is at the origin and in the heart of the church. What was the place of Mary? She didn’t say much but what would the life of Jesus or the Church, be without her? She was present, receiving, believing, interceding, and holding in her heart all that she witnessed. She contemplated. She questioned. She tried to fathom the mystery of the incarnation. Mary was present, lovingly present, from the crèche to the cross. She was also there in the upper room with the disciples at Pentecost attracting the Holy Spirit upon the disciples. Dominican contemplative nuns are this loving presence at the heart of the Order of Preachers. Their faithful abiding in love contributes to the fruitfulness of the Dominican preaching mission. As St. Therese of Lisieux said: “in the heart of the church we shall be love”. Our place in the heart of the Preaching Family is really a question of love, crazy love.
We have to admit that, to “the world” (and to some Dominicans), the contemplative nuns’ vocation appears to be a bit crazy. It could be compared to the folly of St. Mary Magdalene wasting all that expensive perfume. Our lives, which are far more precious than perfume, are poured out in gratuitous love. Our lives provoke questions; they are a sign … a preaching. If God does not exist then it is complete folly, but, if you believe that God exists and if you believe in the power of prayer, then there is wisdom. , (“what is folly to men is wisdom for God” Cor 1:25). Our lives not only preach to the world the existence of God, but they say that God can sustain a human heart. He can be our source. He is enough. He is that priceless treasure for which we sell all. He is the essential. He is not only our destiny in heaven but also our joy in this present life. As our sister Catherine of Siena says, “All the way to heaven is heaven because He is the way.”
Yes we are preachers by our very lives.
You can read the rest of Sr. Claire Marie's talk here