A Gift of the Holy Spirit to St. Dominic

From the foreword by Fr. J. Augustine DiNoia, O.P. to the booklet Holy Dominicans (Dominican Province of St. Joseph, 1997).

“There is no better way to grasp the distinctive charism of a religious institute than by looking at the lives of its holiest members—saints and blesseds—as we do in this little booklet about holy Dominicans.

But what is a “charism”? A recent apostolic exhortation on the renewal of the religious life in the Church by Pope John Paul II helps us to understand what a religious charism is. In Vita Consecrata (“On the Consecrated Life and its Mission in the Church and in the World”), the Holy Father wrote of the need that each religious community has for “fidelity to [its] founding charism and…subsequent spiritual heritage.” He went on to affirm: “It is precisely in this fidelity to the inspiration of the founders and foundresses,” an inspiration that is itself a gift of the Holy Spirit, that the essential elements of the consecrated life can be more readily discerned and more fervently put into practice” (Vita Consecrata, § 36).

What this means is that the particular “charism” of a religious community—Dominicans, Franciscans, Jesuits, and the like—is first of all a gift of the Holy Spirit to the founders of these communities—St. Dominic, St. Francis, St. Ignatius, and others—which they sought to embody in the distinctive forms of Christian life that they established and sought to hand on to future generations. Religious institutes or communities are organized forms of consecrated life, recognized and approved by the Church, in which the fullness of the following of Christ’s way can be found and pursued.

Thus we can say that being a Dominican is not something in addition to being a Christian; it is a way of being a Christian. The Dominican charism captures all of the essential elements of Christian life, but shaped according to the distinctive grace, vision, genius and example of St. Dominic. By giving her approval to a religious institute, the Church in effect guarantees that whoever is called and subsequently undertakes to follow Christ in this community will find the way well, but distinctively, marked out.”