Editor's Note: Today's piece covers one of the greatest films of all time and comes to you from Michael Ware. You can follow him on Twitter @thecatholicgrad and on the interwebs at catholicgrad.blogspot.com.
Above: An awesome statue of St. Dominic from Malaga (I think, all rights reserved for whoever took the photo) (St. Dominic was from Spain)
Few can argue the fact that the Catholic Church is one of (if not the) the oldest institutions on the planet; along with this, Catholic Charities is one of (if not the) largest charitable organizations on Earth. When it comes to religious orders, the Order of Preachers is one that is unique; Francis focused on poverty and simplicity, Benedict prayer. Yet, the Dominican Order is one that is an incredible synthesis of both; Dominic understood that it was important to be active, to preach the Gospel as Christ told us. On the other hand, Dominic also knew (and loved) that it was important to spend time in contemplation, in prayer studying the scriptures. As Thomas Aquinas said "For even as it is better to enlighten than merely to shine, so to it is better to give others the fruits of one’s contemplation than merely to contemplate." Such an expression embodies the movement that is the Orders Preachers.This is a world that is in desperate need of Truth; this is a people who have made the comment of Pilate their battle cry “What is Truth?” or as Aquinas stated “What is God?” Both of which are good questions, but require complete thinking (to quote Chesterton); because of the rapid pace of our society, with its soundbite information, it becomes impossible for us as rational, human creatures to even form a coherent thought, let alone a coherent sentence. Yet, it is important to remember that Truths do not change; opinions, on the other hand, do.
In case you are expecting a biography of St. Dominic (whom I affectionately nickname Daddy Dominic), you’re not going to get one here; however, if you really don’t know about him, I recommend this http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/05106a.htm. Like Our Savior, he didn’t write much if anything (in fact, the only real quote we have was his last will and testament). However, he had a simple mission, which was to Praise God (Laudere), to Bless God (Benedicere), and to Preach (Predicare) the Gospel.
Collectively, the Dominican order celebrates 800 years of this mission; therefore, I felt it appropriate to look at some of my favorite Dominican saints (and there are a lot of them!). First, let’s look at Aquinas; I feel a connection to him on a number of levels. First, he struggled with chastity (or at least, he was forced into situations where it tested his limits). Second, he was a thinker; I love studying and writing (that's whole point of this blog!), and one thing Aquinas embodied was being a complete thinker. This is what I mentioned earlier; we really don’t have complete thinkers anymore, even though we’re capable of it. Let me give you an example; in politics, whenever a politician says a Truth (Shocking!) it is called a "gaffe" (kind of like a Freudian slip). When this happens, the politician is then psychoanalyzed by everyone on social media as well as all the newstations. Why? Because it is most likely a Truth people do not want to hear, and it requires them to change their lifestyle. His masterpiece, the Summa Theologica, is one that explains Christianity, as well as Catholicism, from the best perspective possible; if anyone is interested in learning how to debate, read any section of the Summa; Aquinas lays out the argument of his opponent, and carefully breaks it down showing where there are faults or misconceptions that make their Truth (in reality, it’s not that they’re wrong, it’s only that they might have a half truth, like a half baked kernel of popcorn. They also could have followed the wrong line of logic). If you’re scared of the Summa, don’t be! It really is pretty clear once you dive in, just start at the beginning (if you really are intimidated by it, then I recommend the Compendium Theologiae, which Aquinas wrote toward the end of his life as a way to boil the Summa down even further). There are a lot of other reasons why I consider Aquinas a patron of mine, but that is another blog post.
Let’s move to St. Catherine of Sienna; as I mentioned in a previous post, this was a tough lady. In reality, she was a Mother Angelica before we had one. She had to deal with not being accepted completely by the local Dominican sisters because she was too young and too beautiful (as a result, she remained a tertiary). I don’t want to diss the order in anyway, because I myself wished to be a Lay Dominican (I still do); however, I think that one thing that needs to begin is allowing members to be accepted with tools such as Skype or even FaceTime; yes, it is possible for one to travel from one part of the state to another (at least for the United States), but one reason why Dominic’s Order has survived is because of its flexibility. Does it not make sense then, that members who have a serious desire should be allowed to join in whatever way possible? Sadly, such an idea is still a dream, but hopefully will come true soon. All in all, St. Catherine of Sienna is an amazing and hard headed lady that persevered in the toughest of situations.
Another saint we’ll talk about is Bl. Margaret of Castello; if we ever have a patron for Autistics or anyone with a disability it's her. She was born in beautiful surroundings, but because she had several deformities (blind, crippled and a midget), her parents tossed her aside (almost literally, they locked her up in a room and left her!). She was looked at with horror, and her parents were accused of being blasphemers as a result of her birth. Despite this, she did acts of charity and prayer, and was later adopted by several Dominican sisters, where she remained a tertiary the rest of her life.
I’ve talked about St. Louis de Montfort and my hero Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati in other posts, but now let’s get serious; if this sounds like a repetitious soapbox (or anyway offensive) I apologize. For new readers, I am a twenty something with Autism (Aspergers specifically); I discerned a call to the priesthood for many years. On one occasion, I went to spend a weekend with the Friars of Dominic. I am generally a quiet person, primarily because I observe and make mental notes (very much in the style of Aquinas, it's why he was called the Dumb Ox!); on this occasion, I was awestruck (in a positive way) by what I saw, and drank everyone in. Unfortunately, Aspergers itself has not received the attention or research it should; in fact, it has been stereotyped for many years, and most if not all religious orders in the United States seem to brush those with such a label aside (the irony is that more people are diagnosed with it then they realize, and priests that are autistic seem to find out when they are well into their seminary formation).
A month after my visit, I received an email from the vocation director; he felt that due to my Aspergers, I would not be a suitable candidate for their order. He also felt that I was more suited to be a monastic (Fun Fact: Fra Girolamo, Pier Giorgio's name as a Tertiary Dominican, was a Dominican Monk, sounds like a perfect blend!). The irony of the situation was that I had visited the Benedictines (near where I live) only a few months prior. I felt hurt, and felt it was wrong that anyone should be treated that way. Despite the anger, hurt, bitterness and depression that swelled within me, I still felt Dominic was the order I relate with the most. With the rejection of both the Benedictines (which would have been a terrible match for me) and Dominicans, I felt that no one wanted me; in short, I felt I was a misfit (and in some respects, I still do).
Like Pier Giorgio, I feel that I can have a wider impact as a layperson (that is associated with a given order), and that my passion and zeal fits the Order of Preachers well. Perhaps it is simply a matter of impatience on my part (in which case, please pray I obtain it!). I hope that, someday (if not soon!), I can be considered for a novitiate soon; how I wish the Tertiary Dominicans would dress as they did long ago (which was a full habit). In reality, I still love Daddy Dominic and his order, despite the rejection. If I am a Hound of the Lord, then I am a bulldog; I will not let go of something until I get it. The Order of Dominic is so diverse, that I see no reason why Aspergers would be a problem. In fact, I feel that those with Aspergers, or on the Autism Spectrum, would be a perfect fit, because our interests and our personalities are so varied (Autism is like the name implies, a spectrum), just like the Dominicans saints themselves.
If I have to wait a few years so be it, but sometimes I wonder if those such as Francis, Benedict or Dominic would be embarrassed by the members of the order today. I feel that maybe sometimes my outspokenness can raise some eyebrows, and even perhaps label me as a "troublemaker"; yet, isn't that how Christ was seen long ago? In any case, I feel that those with a disability, whether it's intellectual or physical, can be connected to an order in one way or another (Bl. Margaret of Castello as an example). Should an order be started for those with disabilities? Possibly, but I feel like that would be a slap in the face to the Catholic Church (and if God was calling me to do something like that, I would not want to slap the Church in the face). Because those with disabilities (those with Autism the perfect example) vary in what they have as well as severity, perhaps a legal service could be started to help those who feel they have a call, but because of their disability are not permitted.
In my case, I feel I have a gift of writing, and that’s why I do this blog. I echo Thomas in that all I want is to carry my cross of Aspergers (as well as help others with theirs) one day at a time (to quote Thomas, Non Nisi Te Domine, Nothing if not You Lord). I also realize that whatever I do is a drop in the bucket; everything I do is more straw for animals, compared to my friends or even saints I love. Yet, I know that even doing this blog is better than nothing; St. Mother Teresa would say that even this drop in the bucket helps to make the ocean more complete.
Bl. Humbert of Romans, another Dominican, helped to really pump up the order after Dominic passed away (he was only 50!). He not only told us how we can preach (which is a lot of different ways), but that all of us are called to preach in one way or another. St. Dominic’s order has been seen as Hounds for the Lord; they don’t wait, they run out to lick the sores of those who need it. In my case, I feel more a pup for the Lord; I’ve been studying about the order and its saints for close to a year now, and I see myself more as a puppy getting milk; slowly but surely. I can only hope that the Order will allow members via Skype in the near future. We are all called to go and preach the Gospel; that’s what Dominic told us, and it’s what Our Lord commanded of us. How do we do that? That’s up to you.
Happy 800th to the Order of Preacher; go out to all the world, and tell the Good News!