“We do not pretend to be friars, sisters or nuns”

Testimony of a Polish lay Dominican

A few years ago my husband and I made a profession to live according to the Rules of the Lay Fraternities of Saint Dominic. For some of our friends and relatives, this decision was unintelligible and incomprehensible. For our parents, they had to be reassured that our decision would not deprive them of the hope of having more grandchildren since they associated the Order mainly with celibacy. Even our friends who are familiar with the Church were surprised because of our young age - Polish fraternities usually consist of elderly people.

Zbigniew Nosowski, who is a friend and at one time a consultant to the Pontifical Council for the Laity once asked us: “Why do you need to search for your identity and spiritual fulfillment in the Order when the Second Vatican Council has elevated the lay vocation in the Church as an equal way of sanctity”. Unlike before, today, it is clear that lay people achieve perfection exactly by immersing themselves in their world. Why then do we need the Order now?

In the past, there was no better way of living than to imitate consecrated men and women. Today however, our participation in the Order is absolutely not an attempt to pretend to be consecrated brothers, sisters or nuns. We are perfectly fulfilled in our lay vocation, which enables us to realize our desires and give our hearts completely to God.

I am writing this during the octave of Christmas, still having our family’s Christmas crib before me. There God incarnated in our everyday life. This year, I have been touched in a particular way by the humility of His revelation – in the "ordinariness" of Mary's tiredness, the cry of a Newborn waking up His Mum, maybe still suffering the effects of child birth, dirty nappies, Joseph's concern for his Newborn Child and wife – a concern known so well to me from my husband’s dear face. Jesus is here, in this ordinary, simple gift of love, therefore in the hardship, responsibilities and discreet beauty of everyday life.

The life of Dominican brothers, sisters and nuns is different from those of lay Dominicans. Since the spirit and charism of St Dominic is universal, we are all living out different aspects of it. For me, I live out my Dominican life as a wife, mother and teacher (my profession). As lay people, we have a special mission to preach the Word today. It is time for us to  abandoned the divisions into saints and sinners, believers and non-believers etc, it is time we turned from our tendency to separate to the tendency to invite and offer closeness to today’s Zacchaeuses.

Salt added to a pot of soup can only influence the taste after dissolving in it. We have to fully participate in the world, we must not pretend that we are different or separated because we are not supposed to be. In living out my life as a lay Dominican, my apostolic outfit consists of a tasteful dress and make-up. If I am supposed to proclaim the truth, that concerns the truth of femininity, which I am privileged to express.

Our documents recommends that lay preaching shall draw from two sources - study and contemplation. Study enables us to satisfy the needs of contemporary society, which has the right to finally hear, from a workmate, a neighbour or a sister-in-law, in a simple and competent manner, why contraception is wrong. I give this very example on purpose, because according to the Rule, Lay Dominicans shall have the dignity of life and family particularly at heart. Contemplation makes our hearts become channels of God's tenderness for our brothers and sisters. God's love gets the opportunity to spread among people through the praying heart. It is extremely important to me that the Order does not replace our lay life, it only enriches it.

In our fraternities, we meet once a week. Each of us have our individual lives and through that we radiate our Dominican life. Very importantly, when we meet, we share our common prayers. In my family, after our second child passed away before birth, we were anxious about our ability to have another. Then, brothers and sisters in the fraternity, the friars, sisters and nuns all surrounded us with prayers – especially the prayers with “St Dominic’s belt”. St Dominic's belt is a prayer for woman who want to conceive or who are pregnant and anxious about the safety of their pregnancy; the prayer is accompanied with a belt, made of white ribbon, on which the initial words of the prayer "O spem miram..." are inscribed. It is very popular in Poland. Soon after, our daughter was born. Now we are awaiting the birth of yet another child.

Our Fraternity is dedicated to Bl. Jordan of Saxony and Diana and we have been attached to the Dominican Monastery of Szczecin since 2004. We are a unique Fraternity because we are made up of mostly young people (8 young couples, 2 mothers, 4 singles and 4 seniors). We meeting to share the Eucharist with Agape, to Adore the Blessed Sacrament, for Lectio Divina and for formation. We work in the parish and also collaboration in most Dominican initiatives. We help with the “School of Faith”, the Dominican Fête, parish magazine, VERITAS Foundation, liturgical music and pastoral care of youths and students.

While some of us undertake our apostolate by assisting with pastoral work, other do theirs by raising their children faithfully, carrying out their professional career in the Dominican Spirit and in faithful intercession. There is always the individual respect and freedom which enable each person to recognize for himself the possibilities of activities and involvements. It is obvious that our vocation is in everyday life in the world, in the family and the environment. This is where we need to lives with God.

Małgorzata Wałejko
(translated by Joanna Duda)