“Dialogue as Mission: Remembering Chrys McVey”: The Messages and Presumptions of Chrys

A Review of “Dialogue as Mission: Remembering Chrys McVey”, edited by Prakash Anthony Lohale, OP and Kevin Toomey, OP
Dialogue as Mission: Remembering Chrys McVey

This volume celebrates Thomas Crysostom McVey, OP, a Dominican priest who served for four decades in Pakistan, in Rome, and then would die unexpectedly while traveling on the Washington D.C. Metro railway system. He had come full circle back to New York and what became his final assignment. Why would his Dominican brothers, Prakash and Kevin, gather his writings and find them so significant that they offer us this collection?

The title they chose for this volume is quite significant: Dialogue as Mission. Chrys believed that dialogue is indeed the mission of the Church. In its various educational forms, catechetics, the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults, teaching, homiletics and other forms of preaching, lectures, writing, art, and especially drama, the Church is engaged in evangelization. We are engaged in some form of “dialogue” with some “other.” This is the Chrys that the editors want to introduce to us, the Chrys that lived this dialogue with the other as his very identity. Chrys identified personally with the evangelical mission of the community Christ Jesus left to complete his own mission as the incarnate Word of God among us. Chrys lived and breathed this mission.

The Message

Drawing his insights from reflection on the very heart of Dominic, Chrys points to the compassion of the founder of the Dominicans. (21) “Dominic wept and the Order was born.” More specifically, he points out the concern of the Constitutions for the religious and human needs of the poor.(23) This emphasis does not distain the physical needs of those in poverty, for there are charisms that will attend to physical need. Yet the poor cry out for more than bread, and who will answer?

Bruno Cadore, OP, Master of the Order, comments on Chrys’ call to go to the “broken places” with “eyes open.”  (xviii) This gives a deep interpretation to the call to the “frontiers” issued at the 1986 Chapter at Avila. (25) Chrys reminds us also of Timothy Radcliffe’s challenge to probe the place of our vows as forms of preaching and witness. (30) Key to Chrys’ vision will also be the call to do all the above with “others.” (47) It is only by first listening to these others that we can properly witness. This basic humble stance models a “listening” Church, then prepared to be a “teaching” Church.

It is the Word, however, that is central to Dominican identity. The incarnate Word is not just to be imitated by the Dominican. The Dominican man or woman is to identify with the incarnate Word. As a Preacher, the Dominican is to be a living word.

With these broad themes weaving in and out of Chrys’ thought, none so seems to predominate so much as that of being Dominican in our day “outside the camp.” (65) His Pakistan experience largely forms the background for this conviction. By siding with other theologians who are calling for reversing the order in the Trinitarian sequence (Father-Son-Spirit, to Spirit-Son Father) Chrys acknowledges the active presence of the Spirit in faith traditions long before the arrivals of those who brought the Word to them. (70) He refers to thinkers such as Claude Geffre, OP, and calls for a thoughtful attention to Hebrews when it suggests a theology of hospitality, (71) of welcoming the stranger: “…by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it.” (13:2) Above all, Chrys will argue, this being who one is “somewhere else” is a choice. (86) It is a simultaneous acknowledgement of plurality in a deeper unity. (100)


What is Chrys presupposing in us, his listeners? To really hear what Chrys is saying to us, I suggest he presupposes a certain openness on our part. He presupposes

• That the vowed commitment of Dominican men and women is itself a preaching to the cultures of the world, witnessing to life that is non-consumerist, chaste, and deeply attentive to God-given human values (poverty, chastity, and obedience).
• That we understand our catholicity as broader than the boundaries of the institutional Catholic Church.
• That plurality can nest within a wider unity rather than being in opposition to it.
• That Dominicans can hold fast to their Christological faith convictions while being attentive to those in whom the Spirit moves without an explicit word being evident.
• That bringing the Word “outside the camp” of the institutional Church is the mission of the Dominican Order in our day as it was in its founding.
• That the Dominican Order is flexible enough to welcome new forms (in addition to the clergy, the nuns, active sisters, and Dominican Laity) such as associates and Dominican Youth.
Impact on Ourselves?
One does not read the thought of Chrys McVey, OP and simply move on. To understand the challenges of this deeply committed Dominican is to be changed. Perhaps we can at last grasp, at least a little more, the impact of religious vows as a cultural witness. Perhaps we can understand “others” as rooted in a common human pilgrimage into the Holy. We might even understand our Catholic identity as more far reaching than we thought. Maybe we can now see ourselves as Word-bearers to where the Spirit has already preceded us. Or maybe, just maybe, we might now understand Dominican spirituality as something already growing in a stranger, and just not named yet. Thank you, Chrys. May you be delighting in the sight of God.
Carla Mae Streeter, OP (November 28, 2016).

Dialogue as Mission: Remembering Chrys McVey  is available on Amazon.com



(6 December 2016)