About the image: Meeting of St. Francis of Assisi with St. Dominic, Josep Benlliure y Gil.
A man curious about Catholicism approached a Dominican monk.
He asked the Dominican about various subjects and eventually the conversation turned to religious orders. “So you are a Dominican?”
“What can you tell me about the Dominicans?”
“Well, in short, we were founded by St. Dominic in the 13th century, in part to counter the Albigensian heresy.”
“I see. What about the Jesuits I keep hearing about?”
“They were founded by St. Ignatius of Loyala in the 16th century, in part to counter the Protestant Reformation.”
“Hmmm … so which is the greater order?”
The Dominican pondered this question for a moment and then replied: “Well, when was the last time you met an Albigensian?”
Today we celebrate St. Dominic, the founder of the Dominican Order. It struck me that we hear a good bit about these various religious orders, but for most of us it simply comes down to monks and nuns, but they are different and each group has a specific calling. So I thought I would take the four largest ones and share briefly their particular mission. They are: Benedictines, Jesuits (the only one that does not have orders in the Episcopal Church), Franciscans, and Dominicans.
St. Benedict is regarded as the founder of western monasticism, so the Benedictines are first. They live in community and take as their motto ora et labora; Prayer and Work. Benedict believed that a balanced life was a holy life, so he ordered that those who follow his rule spend time each day in prayer, study, and work. The seminary I attended, Nashotah House, is based on this model (with a large emphasis on study – or at least so the professors believe). They are known as the Black Monks because of the black robes / habits they wear.
The Jesuits we discussed last week were founded by St. Ignatius of Loyola. They are not required to live in community and often hold what we would consider to be secular positions. Their motto: Ad maiorem Dei gloriam; For the Greater Glory of God. They are required to make a vow of obedience to the pope, so they are known as the “Black Popes” a title of prestige. The Jesuits have always been some of the greatest missionaries and teachers. You can recognize them by their black cassocks (known as the “Blackrobes” to the natives they ministered to) which is tied with a cincture.
Franciscans were started by St. Francis of Assisi. You’ll recognize them by their brown hooded robes and white cinctures. The motto Pax et bonum; Peace and the good indicates the type of life they lead, the “good” being reflected in the tremendous work they have always done for the poor. They are a mendicant order, so those who are cloistered live off the charity of others.
Finally, St. Dominic and the Dominicans, they are the order of preachers with a primary goal “to combat heresy and propagate religious truth.” Their motto is Laudare, Benedicere, Praedicare; To Praise, To Bless, To Preach. When the popes sent out the Inquisitors – “Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition” – they most often selected a Dominican because of their level of education and virtue. Their dress is very distinct: a black cape over a white robe.
There are of course other orders, some of which are splinter groups. Cathusians, Carmelites, Poor Claires, and so on, but each was established as means to draw more deeply into a relationship with God and to put to use the gifts that he has given each, but ultimately, they all had a singular goal. St. Paul wrote: “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him? And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” Ultimately, the members of these various orders had a goal of being the ones with beautiful feet. They are the ones who shared the Gospel with the world.
However, this task does not belong to them alone. It is for all of us and we take vows to that effect: “Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ? I will, with God’s help.” Therefore, like those in religious orders, use the gifts that God has given you and fulfill your vows to the Most High.