Now that the situation has already permitted and I am starting to carry out the visits I thought of accomplishing before the pandemic, here I am among the sisters of our filial houses, echoing the Church’s call to participate in the preparation for the Synod on synodality, at the same time, listening and reflecting on the sisters’ experience of synodality within our institute. This process raises questions that, in my opinion, require careful reflection at all levels: what does “walking together” mean to us? How can we nurture a true spirituality of communion and put it into practice through listening, dialogue and discernment, at the service of our institute and of the society in which we live?
In this context, remembering the life of our father St. Dominic becomes more significant because his person is a brilliant example of a synodal man. As a man of the Church, zealous for the “salvation of souls”, we can clearly see how he lived the three key words of the synod underlined by Pope Francis: communion, participation and mission”.
Our Father did not live isolated from the reality of his time, he did not settle in the comfort of his family castle, nor did he pursue a dream that revolves around himself. He was communitarian from his childhood, during his adolescence and youth, sharing and helping his companions as well as the needy people who crossed his path. When he finished his studies in Palencia, he did not establish himself in a simple parish, but continued to live in community like the other professors at the University of Palencia. When obedience led him to join the Canons of Osma, he lived his community life not only within the convent walls, but also in the small surrounding towns teaching catechism to ordinary people.
The reality that he encountered during his journey to northern Europe awakened in him a missionary zeal to defend the truth of our faith against heretics. Dominic left his country, his culture, his language, his customs. He left everything for one reason: that the word of God reaches all his brothers. He discovered the gift of missionary vocation by taking step by step what the Lord places along his path day by day.
Dominic’s restless heart led him to face all kinds of difficulties which he knew could only be responded by giving the best of himself, aware that he was participating in the great mission of the Church. The missions entrusted to our father were many and varied, such as: the evangelical way of preaching which was very different from the preaching style of the pontifical legates, gathering together young women who abandoned heresy to form with them the first convent of Cloistered Dominican nuns in Prouille, bringing together, by mandate of the Pope in Rome, those religious communities living in a dysfunctional way. And to consolidate this participation in the ecclesial mission, he founded the Order and had the audacity to send his brothers two by two in the style of the apostles to preach, found convents and study in the universities of that time.
Descriptions of St. Dominic’s character abound. He stood out for his compassionate spirit and sensitivity towards the other. He considered it his duty to rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep. He treated everyone finely, always proceeding along the path of simplicity; neither in his words nor in his works was the slightest vestige of fiction or duplicity observed. All men fit into the immense charity of his heart and, loving them all, he was loved by all.
What does the example of our father teach us so that we can “walk together” as an institute and be faithful to the mission that the Church has entrusted to us? Perhaps we should start by examining our attitudes, not to awaken remorse or find somebody to blame, but to discover what we need to improve and strengthen. Do they favor communion between us and with those who are different from us? Do they open channels of participation or opportunity to express oneself? Do they facilitate the mission?
Communion is a task and at the same time a grace that makes us transcend our narrowness, intolerance, selfishness and exclusiveness. It involves opening our hearts and embracing others despite their limitations, reaching out to the least and seeking the lost in order to lead them into the way of the Lord. It is getting out of our divisive and discriminatory attitudes, to build bridges instead of walls, to heal and not to hurt.
We promote communion among ourselves if we do not conform with feeling good with those whom we can relate easily, but rather when we are open and sensitive to those who do not belong to our circle, making each Sister feel welcomed and loved as she is. Hence, we can appreciate each one as an important part of the totality of our being as a congregation. The image of our institute is never complete without “me” and “you”. Aware of this, our participation comes spontaneously because we know that each one of us has something to contribute and no one can replace what we fail to share. Participation in our communities is favored when we sharpen our ability to listen and dare to open windows or doors so that new air can enter. All this will lead us to undertake our mission with enthusiasm because we can do nothing but proclaim what we have lived, that is, bear witness of God’s love in the midst of the entire human family.
The beauty of “walking together” arises in the readiness of each one to encourage each other so that we can all reach the goal. It implies the ability to be still and listen together the voice of the Spirit, to read together the signs of the times and thus shape our charism in a given context of time and place.
We speak of synodality as something new, but in reality, it is already reflected in the rule that St. Dominic chose when he founded the Order, the Rule of Saint Augustine: “…have only one soul and one heart in God”. Precisely, these same words describe the experience and way of life of the first Christian communities, the spirit that the Church wishes to revive in our time.
May our father and through the intercession of our Mother, our Lady of the Rosary, rekindle in us the courage to continue on this path.
Happy feastday of our father St. Dominic!
My fraternal embrace and prayer,
Sor Mª Asunción González, O.P.