In the Beginning Print
Written by Sherry   
Wednesday, 28 May 2008 06:33
My mental fog is beginning to lift a little - although it is foggy here. What we call round here "a Seattle day" - a day when you can't see the mountains. Very rare around here and a good morning for strong, hot, Yorkshire Gold tea, I think. Let's see if I can manage a bit of blogging before turning to the day's work.

Fr. Michael Sweeney, (the original Fr. MIchael who founded the Institute with me) and I have just been asked to offer a graduate course in the theology of the laity at a major seminary. (Since the dates have not been finalized, I won't identify the seminary yet). Fr. Michael already teaches a similar course at the Dominican School of Philosophy & Theology where he now serves as President.

Thinking about it brings back a lot of memories of the early years of our collaboration - and a good place to begin talking about the theology and history of the lay apostolate.

In the mid 90's, Fr. Michael and I were just getting to know each other (which was rather like watching two dogs meet, circle and sniff each other in a park. Foe or friend???? Hmmmm.)

He was my pastor at Blessed Sacrament in Seattle, I had just finished grad school and had worked my way through by working 12 hour weekend shifts at a local hospital, so got a dispensation to attend Mass on weekdays. The result was, I had little sense of Fr. Michael except through my friends, like Mark & Jan Shea and Dave & Sherry Curp, who raved about him.

Fr. Michael has always had a gift for relating to young adults and our gang of friends was simply entranced. Here was a priest who was brilliant, took the Church's teaching very seriously, channeled John Paul II, and simultaneously was not intimidated by the culture (and remember we were in Seattle - none land".) Nor was he angry or embattled. His cheerful, playful confidence in the Holy Spirit's work in and through the Church - including the Second Vatican Council - had a stunning effort on us. In our brief lives as Catholics, we had not met anyone like him.

I made an appointment with him to introduce myself and brought my cherished Master's thesis on the discernment of vocation for him to look at it. He skimmed it and returned it to me with a distinctly unenthusiastic "that's nice." I could take a hint - and didn't speak to him for the next two years. (Fr. Michael always insists he didn't know I wasn't speaking to him. Hmph!) But our friends kept urging us to try again because we were always talking about the same things.

By the time, he asked me to speak at the first gathering of pastors of the province in the fall of 95, we had gotten past those false steps and had begun collaborating informally. Which was how I, nearly fainting with terror at the prospect of facing 35 priests in white (I'd never seen that many priests together before. Fr. Michael, of course, found it all most amusing.) came to give this 30 min talk: The Strategic Role of Lay Catholics in the Dominican Mission

When I spoke these words

When you entered the Order, you spent years being educated and formed for your vocation. But I, too, am a preacher of the gospel in my own right - and where is my house of formation? Your parish is my St. Albert's, the only house of formation I may ever have to prepare me for my vocation as an evangelizing change agent in the world.

I can still remember the intense silence in the room and the wide eyes of a number of the OPs present.

Seven months later, Fr. Michael gave a related speech, Collaboration With the Laity, to the Assembly of the whole Province:

I am struck by the remarkable similarities which seem to pertain between the age of St. Dominic and our own age. St. Dominic faced a Church which appeared to be institutionally moribund in the face of the Albigensian heresy, much as our institutions, whether of diocese, parish, or Newman Center, seem inadequate in the face of the growing atheism and even paganism of modern culture. Dominic witnessed the remarkable success of the Poverello movements of the Middle Ages which, though separated from the communion of the Church, nevertheless were inspired by a genuine evangelical zeal and a desire to follow Christ, much as we are witnessing the growth of evangelical Protestantism. In the Albigensian heresy Dominic perceived, not just a false doctrine which was to be exposed, but a whole movement, as much cultural as it was religious, which threatened the whole fabric of medieval society, much as we are witnessing the defection of our own culture from its Christian roots.

Dominic's response was, if we can be both playful and honest, theft on a grand scale. Dominic stole from the Albigensians their zeal and their poverty, to reclaim it for Christ and his Church. He stole from the Poverello movements their evangelical zeal and their literal application of the evangelical counsels, in order that they might be placed, once again, at the disposal of the Church. He stole from Augustine his rule to accommodate his new Order, and stole from the cathedral canons their education and its place in their lives. Most significantly of all, he stole from Christ his sending of the disciples by twos, to proclaim the advent of the kingdom. The result of his thefts was the Order of Preachers.

I would like to suggest some thievery of our own. The one thread which is common to New Age, Protestant Evangelism and similar contemporary movements, is that they have mobilized their membership. They form intentional communities, with conscious and specific agenda; and no matter how little we may appreciate their ends, we should nonetheless be impressed by their means. In truth, we were there ahead of them: the single-minded zeal of the Evangelicals bears a great resemblance to the early Order. The only theft which it is really necessary for us to engage in is from the riches of our own tradition. We can mobilize our Catholic laity, and thereby play a significant role in the renewal of our Church, simply by applying our own tradition.

Both are still worth reading, I think, - especially Fr. Michael's. They set the stage for the work of the Institute - and for the series of posts I am going to try and begin this week on the history of the lay apostolate.