At our Dominican Family Day, 2014 held in Newbridge College, Fr Rui Lopes OP spoke about the importance of preaching and “Allowing the breath of God to inspire our words”.
Here are some excerpts from his speaking notes:
The prophet Elijah in the mountain could discover the presence of God in a slight breeze. God comes not in powerful signs like an earthquake, strong winds or fire but in a slight breeze. This text is a real invitation to find the slight breeze or the breath that the Lord uses to come to reach us in our lives.
We need to have this contact with the Word of God. To be taken by the breath of the Word of God we must be transformed by God’s Word.
In the Middle Ages the first lay Dominicans were known as Brothers of the Penitence because the word preached by the friars had a strong impact on their lives. It was so strong that they made groups who took many initiatives to help the poor, but even more important, they sought to change their lives and their environment.
Let us question ourselves about the place of the Word of God in our prayer, in our lives and in our preaching.
Freedom and itinerancy
An important matter of this breath is the liberty that this breeze offers. One of the most important values of our vocation is liberty. In our Dominican family, we always consider liberty as part of our charism.
That liberty makes us conscious of our own responsibility in the development of our vocation: study, prayer, community life and preaching. My preaching and the way that preaching is prepared can be discussed with others. I must take my personal responsibility in the Word I say. In this year of the laity, we must remember the importance of our personal responsibility. The lay Dominican preacher must find personal responsibility in a special way.
There are so many places in the Church and outside where the Word of God must be preached with the liberty that those places can offer.
The Master of the Order in the letter he addressed about laity and preaching reminds us that preaching must be like a conversation. A conversation is a very important moment. In a conversation there are two important times: we hear and we speak and there is also a very important moment of liberty. The word of conversation goes deeper in our lives and can offer answers to many questions.
Many times our preaching doesn’t reach the lives of people because we don’t hear what people have to say to us. We speak about truth in our preaching but this can be too far removed from people’s lives. We must remember how Jesus proposed truth, not theoretically, but with words, concepts, images close to the context of their lives. His preaching was like conversation. Our preaching and lay preaching must be similar to the liberty and confidence that is used in human conversation.
For us friars and apostolic sisters, it’s more comfortable to stay where we are but this is often not faithful to our vocation. We must answer the call of Pope Francis and go to the margins. The challenge is to continuously find new places and new forms of preaching. Many things are changing in our world. There are new realities in our society: in family, in the business world, with the youth, even in the Church.
There are so many forms of openness possible, to help those who want to grow in faith and can’t find a place to achieve this or who wish to try new experiences of mission with young people or to propose times for prayer and reflection to other people.
This breeze of the word drives us to other places, to other people, to experience new challenges.
We also need to reflect today about what it means to be humble and poor. Dominic refused to help the Crusade against the Cathars. He wanted to help them to return in the Church through his poverty and humility. In the religious communities, we need to find a style of life in accordance with the Gospel. Our communities must be the one “santa praedicatio” by its simplicity, poverty and humility. The lay Dominican must find a style. A Dominican style should not just be in an intellectual sense.
We don’t think enough about the example of Saint Dominic and how he can inspire us today. Dominic had a way of preaching where the humility, the simplicity and the poverty have a very important place. It’s very important to preach but it is also how we preach with words, silence and acts.
We are preachers all the time, in different ways; friars, nuns, apostolic sisters and laity. We are invited to make our lives a continuous preaching where everything is the announcement of the Word of God.
When the prophet Elijah felt the breeze he experienced a sense of adoration. He felt God’s presence in the soft breeze. He could see the proximity of God. This breath asks us about our capacity to feel the presence of God all around us.
Our contemplative vocation is also our capacity to see the world in a deeper way, the problems all around our own lives and the lives of others. Our contemplative vocation is this capacity to discern the signs of the times. For us, the history and the present is a place to feel the presence of God.
To be preachers we must be contemplative, we must see the events all around with the eyes of God, to answer them with his love and his mercy.
We must feel the tender freshness of this lovely breath; this breath to preach must transform us. The Master in his letter for the laity speaks about the preaching and the experience. The word with capacity to convince is the word born from an experience.
To preach as a Dominican, we need to rediscover our contemplative identity. Just the experience of this breeze or the experience of being under the cloud of the Most High allowed the word be flesh in our lives, and made it possible to spread it with beauty and profundity.
It is important to think about our contemplative vocation. Being contemplative is about the experience of God in our lives. This inspiring breath transforms us and sends us to preach. To be contemplative is not a privilege for some, it is for everyone.
Rui Carlos Antunes e Almeida Lopes O.P