Fr. Mark Wedig, O.P. was recently installed as the new president of Aquinas Institute of Theology in St. Louis, MO.
We decided to sit down with him and to talk about how he integrates God and Study as a Dominican.
Hear from two brothers finishing up their time at Aquinas Institute about the Dominican emphasis on Study.
I see my own life of study as taking place both in initial formation and in how I use my leisure time. Although, I am currently working towards Masters’ degrees in Theology and Divinity, this is but a small part of my life of study.
I also read books on my own; books on history, theology, science, art, and the lives of noteworthy people, as well as books that encourage my imagination and reflection skills. Study takes place when I engage in reflecting upon my life experiences and my interactions with people in ministry and on the street. Lastly, prayer can be study, for through prayer, I come to understand God and myself better.
However, in all three modes of learning, it is only study when I pass on this knowledge of the world, humanity and God to others through my preaching, writing, conversations, and living out of my life as a religious. “Our studies should tend principally, ardently, and above everything, to make us useful for souls.”
I know that in a few months (God-willing) I will have completed my studies, written my thesis, passed my comprehensive exams, graduated, and been ordained, but does not signify that end of my life of study, but rather just the beginning of a life of study.
After initial formation, I am responsible for my studies, for continuing to grow in my knowledge of God and His people. I am accountable to myself and the people of God to continue to grow in my skills in pastoral ministry, preaching, theology, sacramental work, and in comprehensive of the greater world.
My study must continue so that I can be useful to souls.
-Rev. Br. Christopher Johnson, O.P.
As Dominicans we have a number of aphorisms that come up again and again. If you’ve hung out with us you’ve heard, “contemplate and share the fruits of your contemplation,” “if you’ve met one Dominican you’ve met one Dominican,” and “never deny, seldom affirm, and always distinguish.”
One that I haven’t heard as often but is of principal importance in my life as a student is, “the wood of the desk is the wood of the Cross.”
In our lives as Dominicans we hear again and again of the value of study, the need to learn and think through the problems of our day, and that we, as Dominicans, are working with the mind of the Church. Clearly, study is one of the most important aspects of our lives.
We are called to study but our study is not self-serving; we don’t chase titles, adding lists of letters to the end of our names.
Instead our study is intimately linked to our mission, the salvation of souls. Study enriches our prayer, our community life, and our preaching.
Through our study we cultivate a desire for truth, and we bring that desire for truth to others.
Our Constitutions state this clearly, “Study enables the brothers to ponder in their hearts the manifold wisdom of God, and equips them for the doctrinal service of the Church and of all people.
They ought to be all the more committed to study because in the Order’s tradition they are called to stimulate people’s desire to know the truth.”
Our study ends up being one of our great gifts to the Lord in service to His people and His Church.
-Rev. Br. Joseph Paul Albin, O.P.
Pictures of a Studious life
There are a lot of ways and methods of getting into prayer and starting a conversation with God. A huge piece of discernment is developing that relationship through regular, daily prayer. Here are 20 different methods with a few of of our favorites in bold.
1. Amen – This simple prayer means “I believe.”
2. The Sign of the Cross
3. Do a prayer walk and pray for your neighbors as you pass by each home.
-I love this one. We will often take walks around the priory or further into the surrounding neighborhood, simply praying the Rosary and asking for the Lord to watch over those within the different houses. It's also a great witness when as a Dominican in habit you wander the area, praying for those near us.
4. Listen to Christian music. Let the lyrics lead you in prayer
5. Set an alarm to remind you to pray every day at 3pm. This is the Hour of Mercy. “Eternal Father, I offer you the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Your Dearly Beloved Son, Our Lord, Jesus Christ, in atonement for our sins and those of the whole world.”
6. Choose to fast from something (music, food, technology) for the day
7. Sit outside and adore the beauty of God’s Creation
8. The Hail Mary
9. Make a box to store prayer cards and holy cards. Pull one out when you need to pray
10. The Apostles Creed
11. Meet a friend for a Prayer Date or gather several people, and pray together.
-We can often try to throw ourselves into ministry and work and forget that prayer is the heart from which all the lifeblood of our life flows. Prayer is one of our Dominican pillars of life and it is from this contemplation of God that everything else comes from.
12. The Our Father
13. Create a list of all the things you are thankful for and praise God for His goodness
-I cannot praise this type of prayer enough. We forget so often that everything in our life comes from God. As Dominicans who live a life of poverty this is especially important, we by necessity have to hold our hands out to God and have faith in His fidelity. Gratitude for all that we have been given is one of the pillars of the Christian Life.
14. The Angelus
15. Pray as you do household chores such as dishes and laundry. Lift up the needs of the person you are serving through your task
16. Scroll through the contacts on your phone and pray for each name you come across
17. Go to Adoration. Sit with the Lord and enjoy being in His presence
18. Spiritually Adopt an Unborn Child and commit to praying for them over the next 9 months
19. Offer your day for a specific intention for a loved one, friend or stranger
20. Attend Mass as often as you can – our highest form of prayer
-The Eucharist is the summit and center of our Faith. Attending in and participating in Daily Mass is one of the easiest practices we can start to develop. And if you're considering religious life you better get used to going to Mass often!
Now another part of Discernment for Dominicans is what province you might be called to be a part of. Here in St. Louis we are brothers of both the Central Province and the Southern Province. For more about the provinces
These six “checkpoints” are for you guys who feel you are already “ready” to begin deciding which of the four American provinces you ought to join. For more about the provinces
Point #1. Always sufficiently “investigate” the province in which you were born or raised, or in which you lived a significant and formative amount of time. By “investigate” I mean, not just look online at their website, or process certain informations you have received by word of mouth, but actually contact the vocation director/promoter of your “home” province, and request a meeting/interview.
Point #2. Never “choose” a province based on what you believe to be a province’s “reputation.” Because, look, buddy, that’s not how it works in the Dominican Order. Firstly, you never know a province until you get to know it well. (One good way to get to know it well, is by developing a relationship with its vocation director/promoter.) Secondly, a Dominican province is a co-worker in a worldwide Order of sibling, thus equally Dominican, provinces. And thirdly, you may well be called to heroically re-shape, or strengthen, or re-focus, a given province’s so-called “reputation,” whatever it happens to be. Indeed, as we constantly embolden you to realize, God is calling you to heroic action, never to easy placement in the status quo.
Point #3. Remember that your “home” province consists of the kinds of persons God is calling you to serve. Provinces are “mission territories.” Therefore, you have to know the “language” (meant broadly) of the people you are called to serve, in order to serve them excellently,–and this means that your own “language” has to serve as an essential discernment tool for your deciding which province God is calling you to.
Point #4. The only way to accurately “discern” Dominican life is by entering the novitiate of the province that God is calling you to enter. THEREFORE: You, who have not yet entered novitiate, have to choose what is authentically your “home” province, and then use (and therefore, trust) this province’s capacity to form, inform, and prepare you for your future life in the Order, and therefore for your holy religious witness.
Point #5. Feel free to investigate all four provinces; or, feel free to investigate onlyyour “home province,” but this latter, only if there is only one provincial territory, or region, in which you have lived a substantially formative part of your life.
Point #6. If you have lived in more than one Dominican province’s territory for “a substantially formative” time, then ultimately you have to decide which province God is calling you to, among those geographies you know. Don’t worry, though, I’ve got some tips for you.
You properly discern when you:
(a) Communicate with each vocation director/promoter for the provinces in which you have lived, as above described;
(b) Foster a relationship with each relevant vocation director, sharing with him the details/issues surrounding your discernment, and seeking his input;
(c) Actively investigate every reason why God may be calling you to the provinces in question, and
(d) Make a decision based on certain self-knowledge, (which must be acquired through proper direction and prayer,) and only when this decision is primarily one made “toward,” rather than “against,” a given province. For discernment is always movement toward, not movement against.
Recently, I accompanied Fr. Jim (‘Jimmy’) Marchionda, the Prior Provincial of the Dominican Province of St. Albert the Great, and John Angotti, a well-known musician, on a parish mission at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Caledonia, Minnesota. St. Mary’s is a parish of about 3,000 people in rural Minnesota, which had hosted them for three previous missions, the last one six years ago. Here are a couple of my thoughts.
#1. The people of God are generous and spiritually hungry
St. Mary’s is not a very big parish. There are two masses every weekend, one held on Saturday evening, and one on Sunday morning. Attached to the parish is a grade school of about 100 students.
Despite its small size, it is a lively parish. The average attendee at the two weekend masses came to mass with several family members. Almost half of the families in attendance looked to have children high school age or younger.
The pastor, Fr. Stephen, was a warm, welcoming and gracious host, and the congregation really seemed to love him. This small but mighty parish came together to provide very generously for our physical and spiritual needs providing each of us with room and board.
Members of the parish’s Catholic Daughters of the Americas chapter took turns preparing lovely meals, including ‘Hot Dish’ – a Minnesota staple – on our last night there. In return, Fr. Jim and John doled out rich spiritual food for both Sunday masses and then for two evenings straight, and the people couldn’t get enough.
The theme, ‘Never Defined By Our Flaws,’ centered on God’s desire to use us, even in spite of our failings. It was brought to life by powerful preaching, moving music, and natural storytelling. As the mission progressed, people became more and more receptive and engaged.
On Monday night, the mission concluded with a powerful recitation of the Nicene Creed, capped by a thunderous, ‘Amen!’ Both preachers remarked on the drive out of town that they were amazed how fervent and receptive the community had been.
#2. There is ample room for the Dominican Preaching Mission
I was blown away by how eager the parishioners were for the Word of God. I was equally blown away by wondering how many parishes would have a similar reception to this kind of preaching mission.
In the Diocese of Winona-Rochester – not a particularly large diocese – there are 106 parishes including St. Mary’s. Winona-Rochester is one of 55 dioceses and archdioceses in the Dominican Province of St. Albert the Great.
I’ll leave the rest to your imagination
As a Dominican Friar, Lent is a special time. I’ve looked forward to it more every year as a Dominican; here are a few reasons why.
#1. Opportunity in Prayer
When I think about common Lenten resolution for many Catholics, attending mass more frequently or building in more time for prayer, I realize how blessed we friars are to have so much prayer built into our schedule, and to have a chapel with the Blessed Sacrament in our house.
There’s no magic pill that Dominicans take to make us more inclined to prayer: it takes intention and effort for us, just like it would with anyone else. That said, the structure of our life does make more intense Lenten prayer more doable.
#2. Clear Spiritual Purpose
First things first: Lent is for everyone. Every Christian who observes Lent is called to prayer, fasting and almsgiving for the sake of the Kingdom of God. Let’s make sure we grasp that essential truth.
Having said that, the life of a friar is geared in a special way to preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and the integral parts of Lent – especially prayer and penitential practice – are also integral parts of the Dominican life (See more hereand here).
All parts of a Dominican friar’s life are supposed to facilitate one’s becoming a more effective preacher. So when there’s a season specially dedicated to integral parts of our life, it makes sense that a friar’s mission during this season is clear: find ways to grow in virtuous prayer and in penitential practice. We Dominicans know what we are about during Lent.
#3. Intentional Growth Culture
One last neat thing about Lent in a Dominican community is that brothers’ penances tend to be more geared toward sustainable lifestyle changes than temporary sacrifices.
I’ve personally noticed that each year’s Lenten season tends to build on the previous year: that gives a sense of direction. I’ve heard Bishop Robert Barron compare Lent to baseball’s spring training; I like that analogy.
I’d also compare it to any intense offseason conditioning program: Lent is the time to build up the spiritual life for the year ahead, and it’s easier to sustain that in a supportive community.
Recently, I went with a couple brothers to talk to grade school students about life as a Dominican friar. Here are a couple thoughts.
#1. Young people are curious about life as a Dominican friar.
This struck me as good news, and I get the impression that such interest would extend to other religious life choices (priesthood, religious sisterhood, etc.). Kids knew that the life of a friar is different from a life outside the Order, and they wanted to know what makes it different. We got a lot of questions like, ‘What do you do during the day?’ or ‘Do you eat candy?’ or ‘Is there noise in the monastery?’ The questions sounded to me like they wanted to know why people would want to live this life. I’ve been inclined in the past to share ways in which our lives aren’t too different from the world outside, to seem more accessible. Talking to the grade schoolers has me thinking about sharing more readily the ways in which this life is different from secular life AND that it is much-needed.
#2. Young People Need Vocational Support
Visiting the grade school reminded me first-hand of the investment parents desire to make in the future happiness and success of their child. The school literature touts every learning resource a loving parent could want for their child; ample access to the latest technology, a new library, extensive resource learning for children in need of academic help, and a program to help gifted children further excel. This school is also intentional about its Catholic identity, and sees spiritual development as an essential part of its mission. I thought the grade school’s request for us to come and speak reflected an awareness of an aspect of spiritual care: the role which ‘Vocation’ has in the role of one’s spiritual life.
There are many people in the world who feel lost, and who do not know where God is calling them. This feeling can begin well before adulthood. My hope is that this ‘wandering’ does not describe the immediate experience of any of those students, but I would not be surprised if it did, especially for some of those in junior high school.
For Dominican friars, the preaching and promotion of all vocations – not just religious ones – is especially appropriate. We all gave the students advice to pray, make time for silence, cultivate their consciences to love the good, and to persist in asking God to guide them. My prayer is that the fostering of vocation among young people is fostered more and more in the years to come, and that Dominican friars are near the center of this effort.
Dominican Friars of St. Louis, MO
The Dominican Friars living at St. Dominic Priory in St. Louis, MO are members of both the Central U.S. Province and the Southern U.S. Province. Our student friars go through their formation together at the St. Louis Studium, otherwise known as the House of Studies.