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November 22, 2019, Adrian, Michigan – U.S. Dominican Friars, Sisters, Nuns, and Associates gathered at Weber Retreat and Conference Center in Adrian in October for a regional Dominican Preaching Colloquium. The gathering gave members of the Dominican family the opportunity to discuss their call to preach and ways to pass on the preaching mission to the next generation of Dominicans.
The Colloquium included a keynote address by Father Anthony Gittins, CSSp, Professor Emeritus at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago and a noted speaker and author. He spoke of “Evangelization in the Mission of Jesus and in our Mission as Church.”
Father Anthony noted that evangelization is not only proclamation of the Gospel but “it’s everything that Jesus does.” As disciples, he said, we are to be “co-missioned into the mission of Jesus, brought down to Earth 2,000 years ago, but needing to be embodied by us here in the 21st Century.” He noted that Jesus did not just proclaim the coming Kingdom of God through his words but primarily through his actions in four ways: encountering people one-on-one; table fellowship, eating with all people, even “tax-collectors and sinners;” foot-washing, offering humble service to all people; and boundary-crossing, cutting through barriers of exclusion and privilege which demean people.
Participants reflected on how they live out Jesus’ four ways of preaching the Good News of God’s love. Father Anthony reminded participants that all of the baptized have the “vocation of discipleship,” yet many parishioners do not have that understanding of their own call.
Finally, he noted that God – not the Church – is the subject of mission. “The mission has the Church,” and God managed well before the Church was established, he said. “The mission has the Dominicans – and before the Dominicans God was happy with the mission. The mission has you and the mission has me. I don’t have the mission – so I can die in peace because God is in charge.”
Ann M. Garrido, DMin, former Professor of Homiletics at Aquinas Institute of Theology in St. Louis, Missouri, presented the results of 20 interviews she had conducted with 10 older Dominicans and 10 newer Dominicans. “Dominicans are all across the board in how they see preaching,” she said, noting that some see their ministry as the preaching while others confine preaching to proclamations from the pulpit.
She saw differences among Dominicans in many areas, and focused much of her time on equipping participants to hold “difficult conversations” with one another on issues in which they disagree. She urged them to still their own “inner voice” during conversations so that they could truly listen and find common ground.
During the Colloquium, participants had the opportunity to get to know one another through meals and social time, to pray together, and to attend Mass together.
Adrian Dominican Sister Sara Fairbanks, OP, one of the organizers, said that global colloquiums have been organized by the Dominican preaching institutes at Aquinas Institute in St. Louis, Missouri; in Cologne, Germany; and in Manila, the Philippines. The first global preaching colloquium for Dominicans was in 2016 in St. Louis. The next was in Manila in 2017, and last year’s colloquium took place in Cologne. Dominicans who attended the global gatherings set in motion the regional gatherings this year in all three areas.
“We’re trying to collaborate as a Dominican family on our preaching mission and talk about the challenges,” Sister Sara said. Participants in each region focused on the particular issues that they face, she explained. “In the United States, there’s a lot of polarization in the Catholic Church and within the Dominican community. How do we think about the future of our preaching mission together as an Order without taking a look at the things that divide us, as well as what unites us? If we don’t have relationships with one another, it’s really hard to collaborate.”
Sister Sara said that Ann’s presentation on “difficult conversations” gave participants some effective tools, ways to “understand where the other party’s coming from and why they hold the position that they do, and to just be more able to talk to each other.”
Collaboration and group sharing was also at the heart of evening communal reflections organized by Sister Sara, in which participants gathered at tables, listened to the Word of God, contemplated in silence, and shared their reflections with one another. “For me, as a planner, I wanted us to experience this idea of communal preaching, where we actually come together as a community and sit in small circles and reflect on the Word together,” she said. “That’s very powerful. Not only are we enriched around the Gospel, around the Word, but we are also enriched by each other and what we’re sharing.”
Sister Sara noted the establishment of Preaching Promoters for each Mission Chapter of the Adrian Dominican Sisters, and their communal service to the Congregation as members of a Preaching Commission.
“I think our Congregation in the past 30 years has more and more identified [ourselves] as preachers – and you preach with your life,” she said. “We have certainly claimed that identity. I think we could do more. We could do a little bit more in terms of relating our justice work with the mission of Jesus.”
The next Global Preaching Colloquium will be in Manila, the Philippines, in 2020.