The Grace of a Dominican Vocation

We give thanks to God for the 7 men who began their novitiate year on August 8 2023, the Solemnity of St. Dominic!

The Grace of a Dominican Vocation
By Fr. Sebastian White, O.P.

Fifteen years ago this month, in a small chapel in Saint Gertrude Priory in the Cincinnati neighborhood of Madeira, I and ten other young men were clothed in the black and white habit of Saint Dominic. The ceremony, known as “vestition,” took place, as it still does, on August 8, the feast of Saint Dominic, and constituted the formal beginning of our novitiate, the first year of formation as a Dominican friar.

God’s perfect providence

I was in the chapel that day due to God’s wise and gentle providence, which spans the world from end to end, Scripture says, and governs all things well (Wis 8:1). I had just returned to the United States after living for four years in Austria, first as a grad student and then working for Franciscan University of Steubenville’s study-abroad program. Though I had not foreseen it when I moved there in 2004, God used those years to prepare me for my vocation.

To begin with, one of my professors in the first semester was a Dominican from the priory in Vienna. As I attended his classes, served Mass for him, and listened to his preaching, his wisdom and prayerfulness made an impression on me. Eventually, when I needed to learn German better, he allowed me to spend the summer with his community in Vienna while I took a language course. I was given a cell in the cloister and a cubbyhole near the chapel to keep my breviary in. I joined the friars each morning and evening for prayers and Mass and ate with them in the refectory. The young brothers in the community treated me as if I were one of their own, often inviting me to go for a walk or to get ice cream in the square nearby.

Though a vocation is ultimately “a mystery of divine election,” as John Paul II once said, one way I have described the process is that it was a bit like falling in love. Rather than a technical and overly cerebral period of discernment, I gradually realized that something had taken root in my heart: the more I spent time getting to know the Dominican order and praying before the Holy Eucharist, the more I wanted to give my life to God as a Dominican priest. And though I would ultimately join the Province of Saint Joseph in the eastern United States, I remain close to the Austrian friars—especially Pater Rupert, my former professor—and will not forget their kindness. Last year on a Magnificat pilgrimage I was blessed to return to Austria for the first time in fourteen years, and I could thank God in the very places he had first planted the seeds of my Dominican vocation.

Mercy all around

In the fifteen years since my vestition, I have found it helpful to recall the ceremony from time to time. For example, it began when the prior, the local superior, asked us: “What do you seek?” Our answer, though prescribed by the ritual, was sincere: “God’s mercy and yours.” We did not, in other words, come expecting to be famous preachers or brilliant authors. We were seeking only the mercy of God and the mercy of a particular Dominican priest, the man who was receiving us into the order and would be our first superior.

The next part of the ceremony, considered an examination, required us to answer a few more questions about whether we were firmly resolved to live the religious life faithfully. Each time, we answered, “I am, with God’s help and yours,” for a religious vocation is a gift, not something we had earned or deserved.

The final thing the prior said to us before clothing us in the habit was a prayer: “May the Lord who has begun this good work bring it to completion.” And even though I made final vows eleven years ago—and was ordained nine years ago—I continue to ask God to bring his work to completion by sustaining me in this life until the day I die. I cannot foresee all the particular crosses and demands he will place upon me, but I know that in each assignment I have, I can remain confident that he is with me.

Surrendered to God

I want to conclude with a quotation, one that has often consoled and encouraged me, from a beloved Dominican of another generation: Father Walter Farrell, O.P. Though he died in 1951, he remains a good example of a faithful friar who persevered until the end: one in whom the Lord brought his work to completion.

I have read the following quote from Father Farrell innumerable times, especially when faced with challenging situations. It is both charming and profoundly true. (After you read it, if I may suggest, read it through again and replace the word “Dominican” with “Catholic,” for I firmly believe that by God’s grace it can be every bit as true for you as it is for me.)

“Let God tend to the hopeless-looking things. You are a Dominican, a foreigner to worry and a close friend of gaiety. It seems to me quite entrancing to be able to pile into bed realizing there is someone as big as God to do all the worrying that has to be done. Worry, you know, is a kind of reverence given to a situation because of its magnitude; how small it must be through God’s eyes. You can’t get everything done in a day, nor can you get any part of it done as well as it could be, or even as well as you’d like it; so, like the rest of us, you putter at your job with a normal amount of energy, for a reasonable length of time, and go to bed with the humiliating yet exhilarating knowledge that you are only a child of God and not God himself.”

Originally published in the August 2023 edition of Magnificat. Used with permission.

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