“Jessica or Phillip Phillips?”
Every Filipino student-brother asks my opinion on the most recent season of American Idol. Who did I prefer: southerner Phillip Phillips, or Filipina Jessica Sanchez? They don’t even use her last name; just say “Jessica”, and everyone knows who you mean.
I also have a confession to make: I watch American Idol. I hope you’re not offended.
It was surprising to discover that seemingly every student-brother here in the Philippines watches American Idol. I immediately have something in common with them. The more time I spend with my Filipino brethren, the more commonalities I discover.
Our formation is very different. Most of their entrants come directly from high school, around age 16, while ours must have a college degree. They have three years of pre-novitiate. We have three weeks. They live separate from the senior friars. We are intermixed among senior friars and could not imagine a day without conversing with them. They have three meals and two snacks per day prepared by the kitchen staff. Our cook only prepares a single meal, six days a week. A screeching bell wakes them in the morning and reminds them of prayer times. We simply mosey over to the chapel on our own, hopefully at the appropriate time. One of their primary apostolates is education, whereas one of our primary apostolates, Campus Ministry, is almost unheard of. There is a plethora of cultural differences, not to mention the completely different diet.
Yet, despite these differences, it’s really our commonalities I notice most. We’re part of the same Order, but from completely different cultures; how similar could I expect the brethren to be? One quality we frequently mention in our province, and which vocation candidates often notice, is our joy. That same joy is present in this house, the Studentate of the Province of the Philippines. They laugh as much as we laugh, they chat and joke like we do. It’s sometimes hard to find silence because the house overflows with the joy of community, just like our house. It’s familiar. I can feel at home and comfortable, despite the lack of hot water and all manner of paper products.
The purpose of my summer in the Philippines is to experience poverty that cannot be found in the United States. Soon I’ll be living with a foster family, sharing in their life and their struggles, as well as their blessings. I’ve been thinking about and preparing for that experience. But now, before I experience real poverty within the Philippines, I’m discovering the second, less anticipated purpose of this summer: I’m observing the Order outside my province and gaining insight into its universality. While there is great variety among the many provinces of Dominicans throughout the world, and it is enlightening to see the varied work and priorities of this province, I am excited to discover a familiar temperament, that joy for living in community, that joy for praying and contemplation, that joy for study and learning about our Lord, that joy for preaching the Word of God.
While we come from completely different contexts, different families, different cultural attitudes, and different relationships with the Church and culture, the men living here are my brothers. We are all sons of our Holy Father Dominic, and that tie is immediately evident and moving. The Church as a whole, and our Order in particular, is universal. It has been meaningful to see that union with our distant and unknown brothers and sisters in Christ, to notice the same Spirit moving and uniting us. The yearning for the love of Christ, as lived out by Dominic and the Saints, is undoubtedly a deep reality of the human experience throughout the world.
By the way, I prefer Jessica.
Br. Raphael Christianson, OP is currently at the Dominican House of Studies in the Philippines, where he will be spending the summer engaging in social justice ministries of the Dominican Province of the Philippines.