A reader writes to inquire about the Third Order Dominicans, and asks particularly what it's like to be a Third Order Dominican. I thought this was a great question, coming especially as it does at a time when my year of postulancy is about to end, and I am getting ready to make my first profession. I like bullet lists, so here's a bullet list of observations about life in the Third Order Preachers:
-- It's about surprises. My first brush with the Dominicans was the not-very-nice nuns who ran my parochial school; I never had any idea of joining the Order that had apparently produced such sourpusses as these. That is, until last year, when I suddenly found myself swarmed with Third Order Dominicans. I didn't think I wanted to join until the day I was received into the Order as a postulant; but they wanted me, and God must have also wanted me in it, or I wouldn't be there! If you haven't found it yet, here is the story of how I became a Dominican. I never did anything in my whole life for which I deserve less credit.
-- It's about not leaning unto your own understanding. We have our own ideas about whom to associate with, and on what terms; but when God puts together a group of people, He fills it full of individuals who, left to their own devices, wouldn't necessarily pick each other to hang out with. But without these individuals we would never seek out on our own, or whom we might even go out of our way to avoid on our own, we would miss out on some great blessings. This is a mystery, the extent of which we may never fully appreciate this side of Paradise. There may be a brother or sister in St. Dominic whom we are inclined to ignore, or who drives us crazy sometimes; but that person may be drawing down unimaginable graces upon us. And this can only be so where we resign ourselves to God's will and let Him run the show, instead of trying to take over His part.
-- It's about being in the world but not of it. Lay Dominicans are not vowed religious: we are free to make a million bucks, marry, and have no religious superiors as such, though we owe obedience to the same rightful authority that all Catholic laity are bound to obey. We live and work in the world, and not in a cloister, but we must have a regular prayer life, and we must meet regularly. Penance is especially important, not only to atone for sin but also to keep us from becoming too attached to this world. Lay Dominicans have a share in the mission of the entire Dominican Order to praise, to bless and to preach; and as such, we also have a share in the merits and blessings of the Order. The Dominican Order is literally under the protection of Our Lady's mantle. I felt this, without realizing that's what I was feeling, the day I was received as a postulant, and for weeks afterward.
-- It's about being an outsider, sometimes even in the Church. For the last few years, my chapter has been holding its monthly meetings at the Cathedral -- fortunately for me, since that is how I came to join -- but I am sorry to say that we are really not wanted there, our good rector to the contrary notwithstanding. There is unfortunately a significant "spirit of Vatican II" faction that regards with suspicion any organization that is loyal to the Magisterium, and so a lot of folks seem to think we are a kookburger, sedevacantist-type rabble that the parish would be better off without. This sort of thing comes with the territory and does not make us unique among loyal Catholics.
-- It's about receiving a little taste of heaven on earth. We get heaven on earth every time we attend Mass and receive Communion, or visit the Blessed Sacrament, but I feel that I have received it in a very special way as a member of the Order. Sometimes, in gatherings of Dominicans, I have had a sense -- like peering at a bright landscape through a grimy window -- as though we are all safe in heaven together, enjoying each other's company forever, never again to be parted or to be distracted by our faults or by the sufferings of this world. We have a chapter house out in the sticks that is still unfinished, and that has as yet no electricity (and therefore no regular supply of running water); but even though the surroundings are far from luxurious, we have had the privilege of having the Blessed Sacrament out there for adoration during retreats. There is nothing to compare with sitting with Him in our tiny temporary adoration chapel at night, surrounded by candles, or sleeping directly upstairs from Him on a mattress on the unfinished bedroom floor, safe from the critters that roam nearby outside. I always hated retreats, and still refuse to go to many popular ones because of the proliferation of stupid, touchy-feely "ice-breaking" exercises that seem to me more about breaking down my (necessary) inhibitions than about bringing me closer to God; but I love a Dominican retreat, especially when we have the Eucharist with us. The end of one of our weekend adoration retreats feels like a departure from reality, and a return to a farce and an illusion.
And that, in a nutshell, is what it's like to be a Third Order Dominican. For more information about the Order of Preachers, check out our chapter website.