The end of this past summer saw the second annual occurrence of a new tradition involving the whole of the Dominican friars’ presence in Italy. The student friars of the three Italian provinces of the Order of Preachers, those of St. Dominic of Caleruega, St. Catherine of Siena and St. Thomas Aquinas, met on the outskirts of Rome. The brothers assembled for a weeklong spiritual retreat in preparation for the coming academic year. Held for the first time last autumn at the monastery of Bose, this annual gathering continues to prove its value not only on a spiritual level, but also in fostering friendship and future collaboration between the three provinces. Serge-Thomas Bonino, OP, was the impetus for this profound spiritual event experienced together by the student brothers. At the opening of the retreat, the Master of the Order of Friars Preachers, Brother Gerard Francisco Timoner III, OP, visited and spoke to the retreatants.
On the afternoon of 18 September 2023, in the conference room provided by the “Casa per Ferie M. D. Barbantini” in Rome, the Master of the Order gathered together for the first time in decades with all the Italian Dominican student friars and formators. He took the opportunity to give a brief but impelling reflection on the character of the Dominican vocation.
In his address, the Master recalled the role of the preacher in today’s world: he often needs not only to go in search of a single “lost sheep” but to recover almost the whole flock. The Master underlined the true aim of evangelisation: the authentic conversion to Jesus Christ. The preacher’s first audience is himself. He is called every day to seek and deepen his communion with God. Only if he, himself possesses this relationship can he hope to give it to others.
In speaking of the unique characteristics of Dominican preaching, Br. Gerard compared and contrasted two famous Gospel images. The proclamation of the Gospel, he said, can be related both to the figure of the shepherd and to that of the fisherman. Both allude to the task of leading every man to Christ, yet there is a difference in stance between the two. The shepherd is more passive, focusing on the care of the flock with parental concern. His duty is to ensure a safe and prosperous path for souls who, having already been touched by the Truth, might, were it not for him, be lost. The fisherman’s approach is different. He is a hunter, someone who acts with a certain aggressiveness and whose end is a catch that separates the fish from what is familiar to him. The image of the fisherman is not that of patient care, but of someone who does not hesitate to use every effort or cunning to free brothers and sisters from the darkness of the waters in which they live. The fisherman bears death, that is, the end of an existence without Christ, but from that death he brings forth a new life, as unexpected as it is full of light.
The friar preacher is first and foremost a fisherman and only thereafter a shepherd. Both the regular common life and his commitment to prayer and study find their meaning and ultimate goal in becoming instruments of that divine fishing which saves both the fish and the fisherman. The Dominican always lives in this tension, in this propensity to break into the lives of his brothers and sisters with all the violent and sublime attraction of the Gospel of Christ. But he is also a humble worker, just like the fisherman. The preacher works with no guarantee of success, which depends also on factors beyond his control. He experiences very early on the frustration born of the freedom of others, of that right guaranteed by God himself, by which every human being can say “no” to even the most refined arguments.
The Master of the Order’s invitation to the student friars was to view their spiritual growth as essential both for the courageous work of their ministry as heralds of the Gospel as well as for fraternal life as the means and support for this arduous task. The Master’s words are an invitation to strengthen the bonds of friendship beyond the sometimes too closed confines of our respective provinces. Thus united in affection and a common goal, we can possess a truly universal identity.
As we commit ourselves to follow the Master’s wise recommendations, we, the student brothers of the Italian friar preachers, entrust to the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary and of St. Dominic the intentions and work of Br. Gerard, with confidence in his loving and faithful support.