There are many mottos of the Order. “Truth”. “To Praise, to Bless, to Preach”. But the motto that most exemplifies Dominican Spirituality is contemplare et contemplata aliis tradere (“To contemplate and to share with others the fruit of one’s contemplation”).
To contemplate. The first act of a person striving for holiness is to communicate with God. Contemplation is a long, loving, look at the beloved, whether that be your significant other, or the Significant Other. To study, to ponder, and wonder about the created and uncreated order. It is asking, “Why Lord, did you give us a leaf?” or boring into it and discovering how cytoplasm works. Contemplation is the first step of Dominican Spirituality – to gaze lovingly into the created and uncreated order and finding yourself yearning for more knowledge.
But it does not end there. Dominicans by our nature must share the fruits of our contemplation with others. In a manner of speaking, contemplation is not an end in itself—prayer is an instrument towards the greater good of preaching the Word made Flesh.
Indeed, the Liturgy of the Eucharist teaches us the same thing. The last words we hear from a priest during Mass is “Go in peace” or something similar. Go. Go out, proclaim the Word, share with others what has been handed onto you and given to you as gift.
For the Dominican, the fruits of contemplation that we had received are useless unless we share it with the world. Whether by liturgical preaching, teaching in the classroom, doing works of mercy and justice, or living an impassioned and flourishing life, the fruits of our contemplation must be used for the good of preaching the Word Made Flesh.
Contemplare et contemplata aliis tradere is actually made manifest in the formation of the Order. In retrospect, Holy Father Dominic knew that the only way his preaching was going to bear fruit was if, and only if, someone was praying for its success.
The contemplative nuns—like the ones at Corpus Christi Monastery on Oak Grove Avenue in Menlo Park—were founded in 1206, ten years before the friars. The nuns play a crucial, yet hidden, role in the preaching of the Order. Their lives are darkly entrenched in the waters of contemplation. They have a number of holy hours a day, they gather between 7-9 times daily for prayer. They pray through their own work, rosaries, Eucharistic Adoration, own spiritual readings and study. Meanwhile, the friars, though we too have our own rigorous prayer life, have a number of university campuses, parishes, retreats and sacramental ministries to accomplish—sharing the fruits of our contemplation whenever we possibly can.
In short, the Contemplative nuns are the contemplative aspect of the Order. Though entrenched with our own contemplative rigor, the friars, sisters and laity hang onto the scapulars of the nuns, actively handing on the fruits of the Order’s contemplation to those who need it most.
The Body of Christ is dynamic and alive. Because the Order is one by our baptism and our vows, we rely on the fact that the active and contemplative elements of the Order to made manifest in the very design of the Order—the very contemplative nuns, and the active-contemplative friars, sisters and laity.
According to Dominican Saint Thomas Aquinas, one must know a thing in order to love a thing. In knowing God, in contemplating God, you love it. Knowing leads to loving. Contemplare is not only spending time in silence or in Eucharistic Adoration—though that indeed is a share of what we mean. When Dominicans talk about contemplating things, we are talking about the things we study as well. If God is the first and final cause of all creation, then God is—by His nature—Master of all creation. Studying leads to knowing which leads to loving. God is the Master of Physics, Mathematics, Music, Psychology, Human Biology, Linguistics. As long as the Dominican—or anyone—is studying something that is true, then he or she is thus studying Truth and Love.
It is easy to compare calendars and compete on how little sleep we are getting. But if our action is not leading to contemplation, and our contemplation into action, then we must ask about the quality of our life.
If the things we study are not leading us to a better understanding to the Ultimate Truth, who is God, then we ought to pause. If the things we study are not leading us into a deeper, more profound relationship with the Great I Am, the first and final cause, then I would challenge us to discern why we are doing what we are doing.
At the foundation of contemplare et contemplata is deepening our personal relationship with He Whose Name is Love. We study in order to know. We know in order to love. May we contemplate our God and each other, knowing and loving as Christ calls.