The habit out of the closet again!: A day of study at Louvain, Belgium

A day of study at Louvain, Belgium

On Friday the 16th December 2016 a group of about 120 brothers, sisters, lay Dominicans and friends of the Dominican family from the Netherlands and Flanders (Belgium) gathered for a workshop (a day of study) in Leuven . The day had been organized by three entities: the Faculty of Theology and Religious Studies in KU Leuven and the Dominican family in the Netherlands and in Belgium. The theme of the workshop was: “The habit out of the closet again: A clash or an encounter between generations seen in view of Dominican life”.

Eight persons presented papers: two theologians from the Faculty and six members of the Dominican family. From the first speaker, fr. René Dinklo, prior provincial of the Netherlands, a call was made to a renewed consciousness of the undercurrent that truly unites the different generations of Dominican brothers. This does not imply lack of the sometimes inevitable clashes between generations.  Nevertheless it is the care for the good of the common project for the community that will energize and drive all the friars. In his talk Fr. Bernard De Cock (of the Flemish vicariate) looked back at a difficult time in the priory where the novices were living (1967-68). There were different views on the format of the common life and prayer. Fr. Bernard observed that “the commitment to prayer and the openness for the evangelical truth have avoided a real rupture”. So we can learn from each other!

The prioress general of the Dominican Sisters of Bethany (Venlo), Sr. Sarah Böhmer reminded us that in difficult times the sisters have continued to keep in mind some fundamental ideas. These include: being always open to the other person, and never allowing desperation among others. Sister referred to the inspiration of Fr. J.J. Lataste, who reminds us of the dedication of St. Dominic, as the energy that still leads their congregation.

What are people saying when they speak about a “Dominican theology?” Fr. Olivier Riaudel presented several propositions for reflection, in connection with texts of other Dominicans as well of the Masters of the Order. It is evident that we can speak about a “Dominican theology”. This theology is a theology of preaching. This theology stresses the necessity of helping people to appreciate the mystery of God. Dominican preaching is also a “preaching of Grace” just as it is also a “preaching which is done in the format of a dialogue”.

Br Richard Steenvoorde, a student brother of the Dutch province, explored the different possibilities of answering the question: What can a Dominican brother offer to the actual society? He observed that St. Dominic can enlighten us in this regard. Firstly, Dominic was always open for new challenges of the life, secondly he started his preaching by contemplation, and thirdly he personally went out to the people in order to meet them! In a time when many people feel uprooted we have a duty to understand their situation and try to open again the richness of the Bible and the tradition to them. We should strengthen our “intellectual network” and really live our method: “contemplare et contemplata aliis tradere”.

If somebody wants to understand well the theology of Fr E. Schillebeeckx, he should realize that the Dominican formation asks for the spiritual and intellectual life. Professor Stephan Van Erp of the Faculty of theology in Leuven did explain this in his presentation on “The equilibrium/balance in the fraternal life: The graceful equilibrium of the theology of Edward Schillebeeckx”.

A young Flemish theologian, Anton Milh, is looking out for ways in which the Dominican spirituality can apply for pastoral care among young people. Inspired by the theology of Fr. Schillebeeckx, he refers first of all the personal “encounter with Christ”. Further on he recalls study of Fr. S. Gillet on the transcendentalia (truth, beauty, goodness) in order to see in what way these values can be helpful for young people. And he recalled also that St. Dominic could convert the innkeeper through a meeting and a dialogue in a pub…

Erik Borgman, professor of theology and a lay Dominican concluded the presentations by reflecting on the text, “Do not take a bag/case for your trip”. For him “We have to look at the Dominican life as a life that is always renewed”. By the witness of his own life he said: “without the Dominican friars, I would never have been able to realize my theological work in this way”. The Dominican vocation is a vocation, which asks us to always start again, and to “keep in our heart a concern for the kingdom of God”.

The Master of the Order, Fr. Bruno Cadoré has written an introductory letter for the book with the texts:   «Stephan van Erp & Anton Milh (red).  Het habijt weer uit de kast. Botsing of ontmoeting tussen generaties in dominicaans perspectief. Dominicanen Leuven, 114 pages, 2016. A French edition will be published later on.


(30 December 2016)