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Associates – More Than a Partnership

[caption id="attachment_3810" align="alignright" width="200"]Blog by Associate Marie Russo Blog by Associate Marie Russo, OPA[/caption]

Associate life is more than a mere partnership with the Dominican Sisters of Peace

Webster's Dictionary defines the word associate as a "partner, ally, or affiliate." In fact, a mere dictionary definition limits our Dominican charism. The Holy Spirit, not Webster, defines us as Associates. The four pillars of Dominican life are prayer, study, community and ministry, and these four elements characterize us, not in a secular partnership, but as a community in a sacred relationship.

Prayer - "All things flow from the depths of prayer."

clasped-hands-541849_640It is no accident that prayer is the first of the four pillars. What is more essential to communication than speaking, listening and spending time with God? St. Catherine of Siena says, "All things flow from the depths of prayer," and she is one of the quintessential examples of what prayer can achieve. Prayer is not limited to the chapel or the church. The altars of prayer are everywhere. We construct them in the kitchen where we wipe a dish or pick up a fallen object from the floor, when we give someone the right-of-way in traffic, or step aside in a store line to let someone else get ahead. These are the prayers that can lead us to holiness, our ultimate goal. In the Canticle of Our Blessed Mother, we read, "If you hunger for holiness, God will give it to you in great measure and overflowing." We should be marked by a hunger for holiness, a hunger for holiness that is the ultimate goal of prayer. Fr. Jacques Philippe, in the book Thirsting for Prayer, one of the most quoted books on prayer in modern times, calls prayer "wasting time with God." "Prayer," he writes, "develops that conversation which makes us intimate friends with God. God ardently desires to enter into communion with us." And St. John of the Cross says, "The person who flees prayer is fleeing everything that is good." The simplest prayer just requires our presence, our loving awareness of God. The Curé of Ars, St. John Vianney, was asked, "Curé, what do you do when you sit there in front of the Blessed Sacrament?" His response: "I look at Him and He looks at me." How much more intimate can we be with God than to be totally aware of His Presence?

Study - Finding peace in study

book-1209805_640Study in the Dominican tradition focuses on Scripture, theology, and the lives of the saints. Besides our reading all of these privately, we share and discuss them in our study groups. In these groups, when we think we have nothing to say, the Holy Spirit miraculously intervenes, and sometimes we are unstoppable.


Concerning Scripture , I remember what my Jewish friend once told me: "When the Jews study the Torah, they sometimes spend 45 minutes or more on one sentence to try to get the deeper meaning. They read, discuss, and sometimes disagree on meaning, but try not to lose sight of the real reason for their labor. 'Very religious Jews,' she added, "find peace in their studies." For us, Scripture offers peace while it challenges us to seek the Prince of Peace through the Holy Spirit.


Concerning the next element, Theology, we need only mention St. Thomas Aquinas, our Dominican scholar, to have our model of what the study and practice of theology produces. G. K. Chesterton, citing Thomas Aquinas and the role of Theology, wrote, "In an age when religion threatened to make men mad, theology kept man sane."

Lives of the Saints

The third aspect of study is reading about the lives of the saints. The saints are our spiritual ancestors; what they thought, said, and did is as important as what our wise parents told us. Their heroic pursuit of God inspires us to imitate a passionate love of God. When Blessed Bishop Fulton J. Sheen was a seminarian, he heard the story of a brave Chinese girl who stole into the church for 28 nights to consume each of the 28 hosts strewn on the floor by the Chinese Boxers. The night she consumed the last Host, she was caught and beaten to death. Her acts were witnessed by a jailed priest. That unnamed girl's heroic love of the Eucharist inspired Fulton Sheen to spend one hour, every day of his life, on his knees before the Blessed Sacrament. This devotion, I suspect, was the secret to his famous, passionate sermons.

Community and Ministry - "Encourage each other daily, while it is still today."

oxford_assocThough they are separate, I unite Community and Ministry because they are wedded to each other. Community means that the members share attitudes, interests, goals in common. It goes a step further: sharing oneself, which is the beginning of Ministry and proceeds from it. One ministers first to the members of one's own community, then to the members of the larger church community. A classmate of mine provided a good example of this kind of ministry of sharing oneself when she told me that on her way to our 50th class reunion, she prayed, "Lord, let me bring joy to my classmates." This was her expression of love for all of us and a reminder of the ancient Romans who used to say, "See the Christians how they love one another." Like my friend, we strive to share our unique gifts and graces with others while we are still able to do so. In the Invitatory of The Liturgy of the Hours we read, "Encourage each other daily, while it is still today." On one of my first days in Calcutta many years ago, I walked down the street utterly bewildered, and the question came to me: "What made a young religious in her 30s take on a monumental task in a city of poor and destitute people?" In the following weeks the Holy Woman, gave me the answer: "I see," she said, "Christ in the poorest of the poor, and in everyone I meet." This I am sure brought her in total communion with her ministry. When Associates of the Dominican Sisters of Peace pray, study, participate in community and minister to our fellow human beings, we are fulfilling our vocation as Dominican Associates. Then when God calls us, it will be, as St. Martin de Porres, said, "A wondrous mercy! A coming home! A divine welcome to a well-loved child!"

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