Fr Anthony A. Akinwale, OP
You have invited me to speak on the spirituality of lay Dominicans and the positive social transformation it can engender. It is right and fitting that the word “spirituality” as it is used in this intervention be explained.
By spirituality is meant here how we desire, relate with and manifest the presence of the Holy Spirit in us and in our social engagement. The Spirit is the bond of communion of the Father and Son. Our spirituality is how we desire to enter into the life of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and how this desire to be in the union of the Trinity animates, that is, gives life to our social engagement. In concrete terms, the theme of this reflection, as you have formulated it, invites and challenges us to interrogate ourselves in the following terms: how does our desire to enter into the communion of the three divine Persons manifest itself in our social engagement as Dominicans?
Furthermore, it is proper that we order this reflection by moving from the general to the particular. Our first step is to understand, albeit briefly, the spirituality and mission of the laity in the Church in general, our second step is to particularize our understanding of the spirituality and mission of the laity in the Order of Preachers, and this will lead us to our third step, which is, to attempt to articulate how lay Dominicans can be agents of positive social transformation.
The spirituality of the laity in the Church in general
The special vocation of the laity is strongly emphasized in the documents of the Second Vatican Council. And, if this special vocation is strongly emphasized in the documents of the Council, an even stronger emphasis is found in the fourth chapter of the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium, and in the Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity Apostolicam Actuositatem.
According to Lumen Gentium,
Everything that has been said of the People of God is addressed equally to the laity, religious and clergy. Because of their situation and mission, however, certain things pertain particularly to the laity, both men and women, the foundation of which must be examined owing to the special circumstances of our time….by reason of their special vocation it belongs to the laity to seek the kingdom of God by engaging in temporal affairs and directing them according to God’s will. They live in the world, that is, they are engaged in each and every work and business of the earth and in the ordinary circumstances of social and family life which, as it were, constitutes their very existence (Lumen Gentium, 30 and 31).
This special mission of the laity would be incomprehensible without a spirituality, that is, without a way of relating with and manifesting the presence of God within us, in the Church, and in the world. The Christian’s relationship with God in the word of God and in the sacraments, beginning with baptism, is the root of his or her social engagement. In this respect, the social engagement of the Christian is not reducible to an engagement in the name of a political party or ideological camp. The special vocation of the laity is rooted in the dignity that all Christians share in common, that is, the dignity that flows from the sacrament of baptism. It is the dignity that flows from the font of baptism, “from their rebirth in Christ, a common grace as sons and daughters, a common vocation to perfection, one salvation, one hope and undivided charity” (Lumen Gentium, 32). By virtue of the grace received at baptism, the laity share in the salvific mission of the Church. By virtue of their special vocation, it pertains to the laity to make the Church present and fruitful in those places and circumstances where it is only through them that she can become the salt of the earth. Thus, every lay person, through those gifts given to him or her, is at once the witness and the living instrument of the mission of the Church itself “according to the measure of Christ’s bestowal” (Lumen Gentium, 33; Eph 4:7).
The sacrament of baptism incorporates the Christian into the body of Christ who is priest, prophet and king. The vocation of the laity is to be instruments in the hands of Christ for the fulfillment of his priestly, prophetic and kingly office in places and circumstances where they find themselves.
According to the Second Vatican Council, sharing in the priestly office of Christ, the lay faithful offer spiritual worship for the glory of the Father and the salvation of all men and women. Hence, the laity, dedicated as they are to Christ and anointed by the Holy Spirit, are marvellously called and prepared so that even richer fruits of the Spirit may be produced in them. For all their works, prayers, and apostolic undertakings, family and married life, daily work, relaxation of mind and body, if they are accomplished in the Spirit—indeed even the hardships of life if patiently borne—all these become spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. In the celebration of the Eucharist these may most fittingly be offered to the Father along with the body of the Lord. And so, worshipping everywhere by their holy actions, the laity consecrate the world itself to God (Lumen Gentium, 34).
Prophets bear witness to the word of God. In the same vein, the lay faithful fulfil the prophetic office of Christ by bearing witness to the values of the Gospel “in the daily family and social life” (Lumen Gentium, 35). It is by making the values of the Gospel present in the world that they evangelize the world. As instruments of Christ’s prophetic office, they are agents of transformation in the world.
As instruments of Christ’s kingly office, thee laity spread the reign of God by ordering the whole of creation to the praise of God. Therefore, says the Council, even by their secular activity they must aid one another to greater holiness of life, so that the world may be filled with the spirit of Christ and may the more effectively attain its destiny in justice, in love and in peace. The laity enjoy a principal role in the universal fulfillment of this task. Therefore, by their competence in secular disciplines and by their activity, interiorly raised up by grace, let them work earnestly in order that created good through human labour, technical skill and civil culture may serve the utility of all men and women according to the plan of the creator and the light of his word…
In the light of what has just been quoted, the Second Vatican Council exhorts:
By uniting their forces, let the laity so remedy the institutions and conditions of the world when the latter are an inducement to sin, that these may be conformed to the norms of justice, favouring rather than hindering the practice of virtue. By so doing they will impregnate culture and human works with a moral value. In this way the field of the world is better prepared for the seed of the divine word and the doors of the Church are opened more widely through which the message of peace may enter the world.
Because of the very economy of salvation the laity should learn to distinguish carefully between the rights and the duties which they have as belonging to the Church and those which fall to them as members of the human society. They will strive to unite the two harmoniously, remembering that in every temporal affair they are to be guided by a Christian conscience, since not even in temporal business may any human activity be withdrawn from God’s dominion (Lumen Gentium, 36).
The fourth chapter of Lumen Gentium concludes with this admonition:
Each individual layman or woman must be a witness before the world to the resurrection and life of the Lord Jesus, and a sign of the living God. All together, and each one to the best of his ability, must nourish the world with spiritual fruits. They must diffuse in the world the spirit which animates those poor, meek and peace-makers whom the Lord in the Gospel proclaimed blessed. In a word, “what the soul is in the body, let Christians be in the world” (Lumen Gentium, 38; Epistle to Diognetus, 6).
Now, if the layman or woman is to “diffuse” the spirit of poverty, meekness and peacemaking in the world, it has to be borne in mind that, as the saying goes, “nemo dat quod non habet.” We cannot give what we do not have. We cannot diffuse the spirit if we do not have the spirit. We cannot have the spirit if we have not been open to the spirit. We cannot be open to the spirit if we do not desire the spirit. After all said and done, spirituality is about how we desire the Spirit of the living God, how we open our lives to the same Spirit, how we allow this same Spirit to possess us so that, as Christians, we can, in the words of the Epistle to Diognetus, truly be in and to the world “what the soul is in the body”.
What has been considered so far is in general terms must now be considered in the particularity of how it is true of the lay fraternity in the Order of Preachers.
The Laity in the Order of Preachers
When St Dominic founded the Order of Preachers in the 13th century, he gathered men and women to form a family of preachers of the word of God. Here, we need to recall what was said earlier that spirituality is how the presence and action of the Holy Spirit, who is bond of unity in the Trinity, are desired by and manifest in us, in our relationship with God and in our inter-personal relationship, in our social engagement. St Dominic’s desire to form a family of preachers points to spirituality so conceived.
Spirituality is life in the Spirit who is the bond of communion of the Father and Son. The spirituality of the Order founded by St Dominic prioritizes communion with God and with others in community. The opening words of the Rule of St Augustine, the Rule St Dominic adopted for his Order, clearly points to this priority of common life: “The chief motivation of your sharing life together is to live harmoniously in the house and to have one heart and one soul seeking God.”
The words allude to the common life of the earliest Christian community described in the Acts of the Apostles: “When Pentecost day came round, they had all met together…” (Acts 2:1). y desired and received the Holy Spirit in unity, and, as the narrative continues throughout the Acts of the Apostles, they, in their preaching engagement, bore common witness to the presence and action of the Holy Spirit. This is further spelt out when the narrative said of the early Christians: “se remained faithful to the teaching of the apostles, to the communal life, to the breaking of bread and to the prayers” (Acts 2:42).
All that has just been said—the opening words of the Rule of St Augustine adopted by St Dominic, and the reference of those opening words to the description of the earliest Christian community in the Acts of the Apostles—points to what St Dominic intended as spirituality of the Order. It is a spirituality of communion in which preaching is rooted.
Preaching is rooted in and nourished by a common life animated by the presence and action of the Holy Spirit, the bond of the Father and the Son. The spirituality St Dominic intended to foster is beautifully encapsulated in two ways. The cry of the Dominican preacher, the barking of the Domini canes, is a longing for communion with God and with neighbor. It certainly has something to do with ability to communicate effectively. But it is even more than that. Preaching is a longing for God inviting others to be attentive to the natural desire for God that is in every human being. A dog barks to call attention of the household to something. The Domini canes bark to call the attention of the household of humanity to the fact that beneath our one thousand and one preoccupations is a longing for infinite truth, infinite goodness, infinite love. Human existence is one lifelong longing to see the face of God. Human beings, quite often, are inattentive to this longing. The office of the preacher is to invite people to be attentive to this longing. But, “nemo dat quod non habet”. The preacher must first be attentive to his own longing before he can call the attention of others to their own longing, their own desire for God.
The longing for God about which I speak is seen in the life of St Dominic himself. And, what is found in the life of St Dominic is articulated in the writings of St Thomas Aquinas, in this instance, in his writing on the relationship between contemplation and action.
Of St Dominic it is said: “He seldom spoke except with God, and to others about God, and in this matter he instructed his brothers.” Corresponding to this description of the personality and spirituality of St Dominic is what St Thomas Aquinas said about contemplation and action in Dominican life, which inspired the motto, “Contemplare contemplata aliis tradere.” To contemplate is to long for union with God, to preach is to tell others about this longing and about the union, the fruits of the union. Contemplation expresses the soul’s longing to be united to God, the way the bride in the Song of Songs longs for the groom. This longing is the cry of the Psalmist when he says, “Like the deer that yearns for running streams, so I yearn for you, my God” (Ps 42) and, “God, you are my God, and I long for you, my whole being desires you…” (Ps 63).
The life of a Dominican is meant to be a lifelong longing for God manifest in preaching. St Dominic, in what is said of him that he spoke with God, manifested himself as model of this contemplative dimension of Dominican life. And, in what is said of him that he spoke to others about God, manifested himself as model of sharing the fruits of contemplation, the fruits of union with God in preaching. To contemplate is to be animated with the desire to speak with God, to preach is to share with others the fruits of contemplation. To contemplate is to be inclined to know the truth. But the truth we desire to know is God himself. refore, contemplation is a desire for God himself.
In the Prima pars, St Thomas explains that God himself is the measure and cause of understanding. Therefore, not only is truth in God, God is truth itself, God is the sovereign and first truth. Since God is the sovereign and first truth, truth itself, it follows that God is the truth the intellect desires to know. Or, to put it differently, the intellect attains its goal when it knows God. Consequently, the desire for truth that contemplation is, is a desire for God. This is illustrated in the famous story about St Thomas when our Lord asked him: Thomas, you have written so well about me. What would you have as your reward?
“Nisi te,” replied St Thomas. Nothing but you, Lord. All he wanted was God. All he longed for was God. All he wrote was to express this longing, and to invite others to be attentive to this same longing hidden in the depths of our being, so hidden that it is quite often forgotten.
This understanding of contemplation is not only consistent with what Aquinas says about truth in the Prima Pars, it is influenced by what St Gregory the Great says about contemplative life. That Aquinas understands contemplation as desire for God is clearly evident in his quotation of Gregory the Great who wrote: “the contemplative life is to cling with our whole mind to the love of God and our neighbourur, and to desire nothing beside our Creator.”
Dominican preaching is the fruit of the desire for God that is in us. When therefore St Dominic founded the Order, he founded a community of persons who imitate him in his desire for God, manifest in his desire to speak with God, a community of persons whose contemplation bears fruit in preaching. The one who contemplates falls in love with God and shares with others in preaching the experience of falling in love with the Creator.
Not only lay Dominicans but all members of the family of Dominic are called to be men and women who desire to cling to God in their speaking with God, and whose desire to cling to God bears fruit in preaching. They bear witness to the God who has already put himself in human beings by the very fact of their desire for God. It can, and it needs be said, that the Dominican family is a community of persons who imitate St Dominic in his desire for God, his desire to constantly converse with God, and in the desire to tell others about the God who is encountered in contemplation.
This speaking with God offers nourishment to the capacity of every member of the Dominican family to share in the preaching mission of Dominic. Speaking about God in preaching finds its constant nourishment in speaking with God. Dominican spirituality is the spirituality of preachers. Preachers, like prophets in the Hebrew Bible, are people who speak for God. And, here again, as it is with Biblical prophets, the word must be received and conceived in the interiority of the human being before it can be spoken, before the preacher can be judged credible. Speaking with God must always precede, always accompany, and always nourish speaking about God. Like prophets of the Hebrew Bible, the Dominican conversation with God in a community of prayer and in study must precede, accompany, nourish and sustain speaking to others about God. From St Dominic we learn that preaching is speaking about God flowing from speaking with God. In this respect, we can already draw the conclusion that when Dominican preaching takes the form of social and political engagement, such engagement must be fruit of contemplation. A Dominican becomes a noisy agitator if his or her social and political engagement is not rooted in a desire for God. But there is a particularity that we must not overlook when it comes to lay Dominicans.
St Dominic began the Dominican family to be communities of persons who contemplate and share with others the fruits of their contemplation. In this respect, it has already been said, community life is integral to Dominican spirituality. But, lay Dominicans do not live in Dominican communities, in priories or convents. They live within their homes and families. Some are married, they are fathers and mothers, some are single. A question therefore has to be addressed, and that is, can one speak of community life while speaking of lay Dominicans? In response to that question, it is important to point out that our understanding of community here is not restrictive but inclusive. That is why we can speak of a Dominican lay fraternity.
A community of shared Dominican ideals
A community is not to be understood here in the exclusive and restrictive sense of a group of persons living under the same roof or within the same building. community may mean more than just a location. In this respect, even though you do not live under the same roof, you may form and live in a community of ideals, a community of aspirations. Such is the case with lay Dominican fraternity. The Dominican laity is or ought to be a community of men and women who, though not resident in a Dominican priory or monastery, and though not subject to the regular life and discipline of a Dominican priory or convent, are affiliated to the Dominican Order by being a community of persons who espouse and Endeavor to live the Dominican ideal of preaching rooted in and nourished by contemplation, that is, of bearing witness to the Gospel wherever they find themselves. The community to which lay Dominicans belong is not built of cement, bricks, concrete and metal, but of shared core values. That is why it is fittingly called a fraternity. In fact, if the community were to be built of cement, bricks, concrete and metal, these would be the values you share in common. nd the values you share in common are Dominican.
Yours is a community of laymen and women who are conscious of and nurture the natural desire to see God that is in every human being, and who strive together to deepen their understanding and appreciation of the Dominican way of life, who identify themselves and each other with the Dominican way of life, and who Endeavor to live this way of life in the Church and in the society. Such a community of ideals and values is possible because there is a communal dimension to our lives as human beings.
No one is an island. And, from this statement that no one is an island, I wish to state and explain the following:
First, every human being, by nature, lives with others in a network of relationships. Secondly, it is by sharing our lives with others that we are able to actualize our potential and thus fulfil our aspirations. Thirdly, the Dominican laity, as a community of shared Dominican ideals, exists to enable you to fulfil your spiritual, intellectual and moral aspirations guided by the ideals, the spirituality of the Dominican family, that is, the Dominican way of relating with God and neighbour as disciples of Jesus the Son of God. Yours is to be a community of men and women who seek to be good disciples of Christ, accompanied by Christ and led by Christ, and good citizens guided by the Dominican way of being disciples, all this along the way of prayer and of study in a life shared in common, even when we neither share the same roof nor dwell within the same building.
A community engaged in social transformation
I propose that we understand our Dominican engagement for positive social transformation by examining each of these three statements, beginning with the one that says every human being, by nature, lives with others.
Every human being lives in a network of relationships.
Not only would life be impossible without others, our lives would be meaningless without others. Every living thing survives within its natural habitat. As human beings, our natural habitat is a network of relationships. Outside this natural habitat, our growth is imperiled and stunted, outside this habitat we wither and perish. Our life itself came out of a relationship. We began to be because God created us. We have no doubt about that. That is what our Christian faith teaches us. Yet, as we all know, none of us is a fruit of virginal conception. Our life began because of the relationship of a man and a woman—our biological parents. For these reasons, we live in communities.
We are familiar with the picture of St Dominic accompanied by a dog carrying a flame in its mouth. There is also a play on words in Latin, to which I have already alluded, whereby Dominicans are called Domini canes, that is, “watch dogs of the Lord”. It is a play on words that aptly describes what the Dominican is and what the Dominican does. Every Dominican is a watch dog, guarding the Church and ensuring that she is kept safe from erroneous teachings and erroneous teachers, guarding the society to ensure that society does not fall prey to ideologies that dehumanize. A dog walks on four legs, and Dominicans, the Domini canes, also walk on four legs, namely, prayer, study, the vowed life and common life. In their different states of life—friars, nuns, sisters, laity and youth movement, members of the Dominican family are also to be watch dogs especially in our time when we are confronted with the corruption of religion in general, of Christianity in particular, and the corruption of politics. Our society and our time are saturated with and suffocated by toxic fumes issuing from a deadly mixture of corrupt religion and corrupt politics.
To speak of community life is to speak of one of the four legs of the Dominican. Without any of those four legs the Dominican is like a dog that limps, probably demobilized. But, as I have just said, living in community is not peculiar to Dominicans, neither is it peculiar to religious who lived vowed life. Living in community is a very natural thing. This is what the Book of Genesis is teaching us in the story of creation. When it is reported that God said, “it is not good for man to be alone”, the “man” in question is not just the male. It is the human person, male and female. It is not good for the human person to be alone. In other words, it is unnatural for a human being to live in isolation. What the Book of Genesis is teaching us is that God created us this way when he gave the first man and the first woman as gifts to each other. Together, they formed the nucleus, the embryo of every human community.
It has also been said by the Greek philosopher Aristotle that man is a political animal. The statement is often misconstrued. Many misunderstand this as meaning the human being is to spend all his resources, intellectual, physical and financial, looking for power. But that was not what the Greek philosopher meant when he made that statement. is important to understand the meaning of that statement because such understanding will enable us to understand the importance of a life shared in common. What then did he mean?
In order to understand the meaning of that statement, we need to bear in mind that every human being desires the good because the good, by definition, is what everybody desires. All our plans, all our actions, are directed to the good as we understand it. The human being is a restless spirit. That is why we are constantly looking for the good, for the best way to live. Properly understood, the statement makes it possible for us to understand why our common life is of vital importance.
You may be wondering: if every human being desires the good, and if every human being acts for the good, why do some perform evil deeds? My answer: they perform evil deeds because they erroneously believe that the evil deeds they perform are good. We all seek the good. But we seek the good as we understand it. The one who performs evil deeds believes that what he is doing is good. He mistakes what appears to be good for the good. We all are seeking the good. But our misconceptions of goodness lead us to sin.
Every human being finds fulfillment by sharing life with others
I now come to the second statement—that it is by sharing our lives with others that we are able to actualize our potentials and thus fulfil our aspirations. Our need for community life is rooted in our natural desire for the good. But we cannot find the good alone. We cannot become good without others. We cannot remain in goodness without others. We cannot attain the good without the assistance of our friends. To search for the good is to search for the good together. n fact, we cannot know the good we are seeking alone. We need others to teach us about the good. We need community life to be able to know and understand the good we are to seek. Without the help of others, we can neither know nor find the good. Our need for common life, apart from being rooted in our constant desire for the good, is also rooted in the fact that we cannot find the good alone. We can only find the good we seek by working with others.
We desire the highest good, and the highest good is happiness. But human beings have different conceptions of what happiness is, and in what it is to be found. Some think happiness is to be found in pleasures of food and drink, or pleasures of hard drugs or pleasures of sex; some others think the greatest good is to be found in riches, others in fame, others in success, in power. While we may need some of these to be happy, it does not follow that once I have pleasure, or riches, or fame, or success or power, then I will be happy. There are human beings who have these in abundance, whereas they are very far from being happy. It is in fact the case that once any of these is obtained one is still looking for more of it. One serving of delicious food calls for more, one glass of pleasant drink makes one crave for more, one sexual act calls for another, one attains a position and looks for something higher. Those who are rich, even the stupendously rich, are never satisfied but look for more. None of the good things of life would satisfy the human soul.
Happiness is the fulfillment of all our aspirations. It is found in virtue, that is, in being good, in excellence. Our aspirations are not fulfilled simply because we have easy access to power, possessions and pleasure. Our human aspirations are fulfilled when we seek and attain virtue, that is, excellence in different areas of life. But we cannot attain virtue without being taught, and we cannot be taught without the help of others. We need to belong to a community of learners for us to be able to learn anything. Virtue is cultivated in friendship, that is, in a community of shared values and shared aspirations, in a community of persons who accompany and assist one another to actualize their potentials and fulfil their aspirations. If you want to attain excellence in doing anything, you will need to enter into friendship with those who have either attained excellence in doing that thing or are themselves striving for excellence in doing that thing. We form a community of friends, a community of those who seek happiness in virtue. We cannot find lasting happiness in any created thing. For created things do not last. Only God the Creator of all things last. Our happiness is found in our union with God.
But even when we speak of our relationship with God, it has to be in community. Our faith in God is passed on to us in and by a community of believers, that is, the Church. We cannot know God alone. We cannot sustain our faith in God without the help of the Church. We need the support of others in the Church so that we can know and live our faith. We relate with God in a way that is personal and communal. Yes, I am the one relating with God. But I relate with God in community. Faith in God is not a private enterprise even as it is personal. Religion is a virtue, and we cannot acquire a virtue without friendship, that is, without living in a community of persons who either practice the virtue of religion or are struggling to practice the virtue of religion. That is why I belong to a Church that teaches me what to believe about God and what not to believe about God.
Our happiness is the fulfillment of our aspirations, and our aspirations are fulfilled when we actualize our potentials. I speak here of aspirations and potentials in the plural. Our potentials are what we can do, the capacities in us to do good things. Our aspirations are fulfilled when we are enabled to do the good we can do and ought to do. But all of our aspirations in life can only be fulfilled in a network of relationships. The unhappiest person is the man or woman who has no friends, who has neither loved nor has been loved, who does belong to any network of friends who bring the best out of him or her. That is why we need common life for our personal growth. Just as the human body grows because it is a collection of inter-related cells, the human person is able to grow when he or she enters into relationship with others. And, just as the body becomes sick and begins to disintegrate when there are cells that do not relate with each other and no longer function together, the human being experiences a stunted growth or dies out completely when he or she is out of healthy relationships with others.
If, as has been said, happiness is the fulfillment of our aspirations in the actualization of our potentials, and if, as has also been said, no human being is an island, it follows that a person’s potentials can only be actualized within the actualization of our collective potentials, and our personal aspirations can only be fulfilled within the fulfillment of our collective aspirations. If I am sick the community is sick. If the community is sick I am sick. If I am healthy the community is healthy. If the community is healthy I am healthy. The good health or bad health of a person is a reflection of the good health or bad health of the community in which the person lives. In the same way, the good health or bad health of a community is a reflection of the good health or bad health of its members.
What then are these aspirations I have been talking about? They are aspirations in four orders, four dimensions of human existence, namely, aspirations of the intellectual order, aspirations of the moral order, aspirations of the technical order, and aspirations of the spiritual order. In the order of the intellect, we desire to know the truth. In the order of morality, we desire goodness. In the order of techniques, we desire to work and see the result of our work. In these three orders, we are looking for the good, for the highest good, and God is the highest good. So, our religious or spiritual aspiration underlies and supports our intellectual, moral and technical aspirations. In a nutshell, our religious and spiritual aspiration is at the root of our aspiration for positive social transformation.
Lay Dominicans and the task of positive social transformation
The Dominican laity, as a community of shared Dominican ideals, exists to enable you to find fulfillment by sharing and living out the core values of the Dominican tradition. While you may not be living in priories as Dominican friars or sisters do, you need a life lived in common for your personal growth, for the actualization of your potentials and the fulfillment of your aspirations in life. This community of shared core ideals provides you with an invaluable means to share your aspirations, your hopes and fears, and a means to assist one another to fulfil your aspirations. You will accompany each other in your desire for what is true, for what is good, and for what works to enhance the quality of life, your life and the lives of others. Your companionship must be, first and foremost, for your spiritual growth, that is, your growth in your relationship with God, and your growth in maturity in the way you relate with your fellow human beings. This is what social engagement means for us: to love God and to love others because of God who loves them.
We live in a society where so many things are going wrong. We live in a society afflicted by a mixture of corrupt religion and corrupt politics. There is so much to confuse people about religion and politics. So it was at the time of St Dominic, at the time he founded the Order. He had to contend with an Albigensian heresy that corrupted not only religion but also the entire society. We have to contend with contemporary Nigerian religiosity.
Scholars of African traditional religions often point out that the African is notoriously religious. St Paul had alluded to the fact that this is not peculiar to Africans. The Areopagites with whom he conversed as narrated in the Acts of the Apostles, in their devotion to the “Unknown God” show that religion is inherent to human nature. The desire for God is real and natural. But it needs to be guided. And for us, in the Catholic tradition, our desire for God is accompanied and guided by the light of reason and the light of faith. Divine revelation is God’s gift to the human family through the Church. But it has to be interpreted. The Church has it as duty to interpret it. The Bible was not given to one person. It is given to the Church for authentic interpretation. When this does not take place, we end up in a cacophony of doctrines, in the corruption of religion, and, in fact, in the adoption of corruption as religion.
Religion is about love of God and love of neighbor because of God. But religion is preached as hatred, used to terrorize, and used to kill. In the society in which we live as Dominicans, corrupt religion has made God into an instrument for seeking power, possessions and pleasure. Used to grab power and wealth, corrupt religion profanes the name of God and uses the name of God to practice corrupt politics. For us, therefore, the greatest service we can render to Church and society is to bring the truth back into religion and morality back into politics. And this is where fidelity to the Dominican motto veritas comes in. This truth is learnt in contemplation, and our life as members of the Dominican family is to contemplate, that is, to love God ardently, and to share with others the fruit of our contemplation, the fruit of our friendship with God. Dominican preaching is the sharing of the fruit of our union with God.
As lay Dominicans, you share in the aspiration of the Dominican Order, an aspiration that is captured by the word veritas. We belong to a family that has a mission to bear witness to the truth of the Gospel. This truth is concealed today by popular preaching in Nigeria, this fake gospel is confusing many, and this fake gospel has invaded our Catholic space and psyche. The Gospel is good news. But corrupt religion presents fake news to our society. Our generation is dangerously exposed to this fake news, and, even as Dominicans, we are tempted to believe the fake news of “prosperity gospel”. This is mixed with the dangerous politics of identity known as tribalism. We saw it in the recent elections when everyone accused everyone of voting along ethnic lines whereas, in this rain of accusation and counter-accusation, the accuser and the accused look like identical twins. Our “righteous” indignation is selective and therefore lacking in authenticity. This is the state of affairs in the society we long to positively transform, and the positive transformation our society urgently needs is the detoxification of religion and politics. On our part, we have the spiritual and intellectual resources of our Dominican tradition, our life of prayer and study, prepare us for and assist us in this task of detoxifying religion and politics.
A concluding proposal
I have attempted to explain that the Dominican laity is not a community in the sense of persons living within the same building and under the same roof. Rather, it is a community of values, of laymen and women who wish to associate themselves with the values, ideals and mission of the Dominican Order.
I have attempted to state and explain three statements—that it is in the nature of every human being to live with others in a network of relationships; that it is by a life shared with others that we are able to actualize our potentials and thus fulfil our aspirations; and that, the community of shared Dominican ideals that the Dominican laity is facilitates the fulfillment of intellectual and moral aspirations guided by the ideals, the spirituality of the Dominican family, that is, the Dominican way of relating with God and neighbor as disciples of Jesus the Son of God. It has been my intention to state and explain that it is in a life lived in common that human beings can attain personal growth.
In the light of what I have been saying, I now wish to conclude with a number of proposals for your discussions during this chapter. The proposals are actually built around one proposal, and the one proposal is a reiterated proposal. It is not new. It is what I have said in conversations with some of you on previous occasions: that you have a duty to assume the task of your own doctrinal formation.
Our Order has a doctrinal mission in the Church and in the world. You lay Dominicans have an important part to play in that mission. It is your own mission too. But to be effective in carrying out this mission, you must pay serious attention to your own doctrinal formation. Study the word of God together, study the Church’s interpretation of the word together by studying the doctrines of the Church together, and be familiar with the body of Catholic social teaching, with the four principles it promotes, namely, respect for human dignity, respect for the common good, subsidiarity and solidarity. Engagement in positive social transformation necessarily passes through and is guided by doctrine. There is no right action where there is no right thinking. Community life for you means preparing for this mission together, receiving formation for this mission together, and carrying out this mission together. You cannot carry out this mission alone. You will do it together, you will bear witness to the truth of the Gospel individually and collectively, and you will count on other members of the Dominican family to do this. Therefore, if you have not done so, you must design and implement a series of programmes geared towards making you enlightened lay Catholics, laymen and women who pray and study together, who assist each other in their personal growth by teaching each other to seek the truth together, to seek the good together, to find the good together, and to remain in the good together, and who engage in making the society a better place of justice, love and peace.
As a community of shared Dominican aspiration, teach one another, and support one another to know the faith, to celebrate the faith, and to live the faith. As a community of Dominican values, learn together what the Dominican tradition stands for, especially what the preaching mission of the Order entails in Nigeria today. Help each other to become good citizens and good disciples.
Watch over one another, especially by way of mutual correction which is an obligation of charity, so that you do not fall victims of corrupt religion and corrupt politics afflicting Nigeria today. We need such common life in a society that is being suffocated by this deadly mixture of corrupt religion and corrupt politics
As human beings, we relate with God personally and communally. That is why we need common life for our relationship with God. As members of the Dominican family, we witness to God as a family—we lead each other to God as a family, and we lead others together as a family. That was what St Dominic intended when he founded the Order of Preachers. By so doing, the Dominican family will be a much-needed prophetic movement witnessing to the possibility of unity in our world and in our country bitterly divided along ethnic, regional and religious lines, a unity rooted in and nourished by our communion with God in contemplation, and with one another.
Enlightened and nourished by the word of God, by the light of faith and by the light of reason, equipped spiritually, intellectually and morally to be good citizens, you will be in a vantage position to transform the Church and society for the glory of God and for the salvation of souls, the promotion and protection of the dignity of every human person.
Presented at the Second Elective Chapter of the Lay Dominican Fraternity in Nigeria, at the Dominican Priory of St Thomas the Worker, August 11, 2023.