Free For God Alone, by Archbishop-Designate Augustine DiNoia, OP

Homily on the occasion of the celebration of the 800th anniversary of the foundation of the Dominican Nuns by our Holy Father St. Dominic in 1206.
Sometime In 1206, no one knows quite when, St. Dominic and Bishop Diego gathered a group of women to be the beginning of a community. They weren’t even all living together. Some of them were converts from Catharism. That same year, shortly before, when he arrived at the site of Fanjeaux and looked out over the vast territory which was the object of the preaching (the ‘holy preaching’ as it was called) he saw Prouille at the center of various roads going in different directions. At the time it was not inhabited but it had a chapel. Perhaps there, in the vision of the famous Seignadou he saw not only this great work of preaching, of bringing back this people from their error to the crucified Savior, but perhaps even more in his vision was the Order that he was yet to found and that he surely began in some way with those women - the nuns of Prouille - what we now understand to be the foundation of Dominican monastic life.

We all know that there is a great deal of research and controversy about what happened in 1206 and what it meant. But it doesn’t strike me as a great mystery. One has only to look at what St. Dominic did afterwards at Bologna, at Madrid and at San Sisto. As Blessed Cecilia said “They had no other master to instruct them about the Order.” He had a clear intention, a clear understanding of what he was doing, when he began that group in Prouille. Subsequently, by the end of the century, there were already 141 monasteries - 75 of them in Germany alone. Surely this is a sign of the clarity of St. Dominic’s original conception.

But what did St. Dominic intend? Care is needed here. There is an instinct in all of us to assign some practical purpose to monastic life. Surely it is correct to say that one purpose is to pray for the ‘holy preaching’. Thus the friars over these 800 years could rely on the nuns in their monasteries praying for them - as all the brethren have felt. The nuns were praying for us; and that we could count on that.

But I think that if we said that the purpose of Dominican monastic life, and what St. Dominic had in mind, was only that, we would fall short of the mark. What we have to say, and while this may sound a little rash, I think it’s defensible: Dominican Monastic life is that state of being to which the ‘holy preaching’ intends to bring its hearers. Listen to this passage from the Fundamental Constitution of the Nuns #5 and see if you don’t think I’m right: “It is God who now makes them dwell together in unity and on the last day will gather into the Holy City a people acquired as his own. In the midst of the Church their growth in charity is mysteriously fruitful for the growth of the people of God. By their hidden life they proclaim prophetically that in Christ alone is true happiness to be found, here by grace and afterwards in glory.” (LCM 1.V)

Now that is a description of the gathered communion of the faithful around God which in some sense, by being ‘free for God alone’, the nuns already live. If that is true, and I think it is, then we have to say that the Dominican nuns live in that state to which all are called eventually to dwell - to be together with God and with one another in that way.

Resist with all your might everyone who would like to give you a practical purpose, a reason to exist that they can grasp. Everybody says to me when I tell them about the nuns “Well, what are they doing? They should be doing something useful.” This is a terrible temptation, and history shows that some contemplatives have fallen for it. You must resist it. We count on you to resist it. We try to help you to resist it, but even we are tempted to give you a practical purpose - ours! Praying for the friars is a good purpose but it’s not enough. What did they say about St. Dominic? That he ‘spoke only to God and about God’. When he gathered women together in these various places it was very clear what these monasteries were supposed to be. Surely he didn’t think of them in some utilitarian or pragmatic way. What these communities remind us of is GOD. What we see in them is that to which we are all called, and to which the ‘holy preaching’ must lead others.

So on that day in 1206, when St. Dominic and Diego gathered these women together, this man, who ‘spoke only to God and about God,’ surely intended to found communities whose only purpose was to be ‘free for God alone’.

Special thanks to the Brethren for the photo of Fr. DiNoia.