Living the Common Life in the Dominican Tradition

A few weeks ago we promised you an ocassional series on something we call "Regular Observance". This is what you might call the nuts and bolts of living Dominican contemplative life.

When St. Dominic had to choose a Rule to be followed by his newly founded Order he choose the Rule of St. Augustine. First, because he was familiar with it, having lived under it for many years and secondly, because it is a rule for clerics living in community. Most likely he also chose it because it is a short, general rule, without many details, making it easy to adapt it to this unique way of life he was starting with these first men gathered around him for the work of Holy Preaching.

The rule of St. Augustine is based on the first apostolic community that we read about in Acts 3:32. "They had all things in common and distribution was made to each one according to each one's need." It's also good to remember that the Apostles were gathered around Jesus sharing all things in common and until recently, the "apostolic life" was understood as a community living together with our Lord as their center. Only now, when we talk about the "apostolic life" do people thing of communities engaged in works of mercy.

So the opening line of our constitutions, echoing that of St. Augustine's rule makes the bold statement that, "the FIRST reason for which we are gathered together in community is to live in harmony, having ONE mind and heart IN GOD." In God. That's the key. Living together in unity isn't simply a matter of "getting along" but of putting on the mind of Christ. Forgiveness has a key role to play in this transformation. St. Augustine asserts that the person who is often tempted to anger and forgives is actually better than one who doesn't very often get angry but finds it hard to forgive! (For many of us, this little paragraph is very encouraging!) He even makes the bold statement that someone who is never willing to ask pardon has no reason to be in the monastery!

St. Augustine sees a community united in God as an archetype of Trinitarian Communion. Just as the Persons of the Trinity give and receive love, so we too, gathered together are to love each other and become an icon, a window, into God's love. It's an awesome task, one that is never finished and one that is never perfectly achieved. We don't achieve it just by thinking about it, either! Each day brings innumerable opportunities for each one of us to express our love for our Sisters. It is often as simple as bringing out the trash, filling up the sugar bowl, or doing that little extra to help a Sister.

Of course we know that all Christians are called to this love. That's the point. Religious life isn't something alien to the life of holiness every baptized person is called to. What makes it different is that we promise and are consecrated to make this striving for Christian perfection the work of our lives. Consecrated totally to God, the unity that He gives us transcends the monastery and comes to its fullness in communion with both the Order and the Church. It is something bigger than ourselves.

This is one reason why Chapter has such an important place in our monastic life. In Chapter we come together to listen to the Word of God and ponder it in our hearts. We discuss important business, often practical things, that keep a monastery running smoothly. We also share and debate matters that effect the whole community. Calling on the Holy Spirit who is the source of all unity, we'll wrangle together on an issue, so that we can come to consensus on it, not just the agreement of the majority.

Another important part of Chapter is when we freely confess to each other our faults and ask forgiveness of the community. These aren't sins but failures against the common good. It's humbling and yet nothing so effectively binds us together.

Next time we'll share with you something about the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience and how we understand them as Dominicans.