As a house, we are currently studying St. Dominic: The Story of a Preaching Friar by Donald J. Goergen, OP. In the most recent chapter we read, Fr. Donald writes:
road to cynicism, for it is not a question of whether we will be disappointed in life, but
rather how we address it. This challenge will be either the beginning or the end of a
profound spiritual journey.
One of the reasons this quote stood out to me is because St. Dominic is known as the joyful friar. Given this fact, I have a feeling there is a lot St. Dominic taught the people he interacted with about what it means to gracefully, and joyfully, handle disappointment. This leads me to a question I will never be able to have a direct answer to, but is still fun to ponder: What advice would St. Dominic have for us novices who are living a canonical novitiate experience that looks very different than it is designed to be? With ministry, the Intercommunity Novitiate (ICN), and Catholic Theological Union classes all being virtual and with itinerancy experiences being stifled by an inability to safely visit different mother houses or head to Racine for long weekends with our ICN peers, there has been a lot of letting go that has needed to happen this year.
One of the first pieces of advice I have a feeling the joyful friar might have for us is perspective. Perspective helps me see where my suffering fits within the context of the rest of the world. For example, in a recent Zoom class on contemporary issues in/and religious life, we talked about the reality of the different connections someone might have during a traumatic event (the one experiencing the trauma, being a family member of the person going through the traumatic event, being their coworker, etc). The reality is, my situation is very disconnected from the ways many others, including those who have sadly lost a loved one to COVID or who are directly caring for COVID patients, are experiencing this pandemic (putting them more at the center of the battle than me). With this perspective, I am better equipped to pray for the needs of the world while also carrying my own disappointments. I have a feeling St. Dominic would also remind us that gratitude helps a great deal with keeping things in perspective and staying joyful.
This leads me to the next piece of advice St. Dominic might have for us: lean on the hope Jesus gives in the midst of suffering. As our conversation came to an end, I have a feeling St. Dominic’s last piece of advice would be very specific to the realities carrying disappointment as a canonical novice: this year is about interior work and discernment, take advantage of the increased level of quiet that comes with less time with others to get to know God and ourselves better. Dominicans are called to contemplate and then share the fruits of our contemplation after all, and it’s hard to share the fruits without first taking the time to contemplate.
If you had a chance to sit down with St. Dominic and talk about a current situation in your life, what advice do you think the joyful friar would have for you?