We put an offer down on a lot to build a house! The words came in an excited email from my sister—an email I received in Surabaya, Indonesia, where I spent my summer months living with Dominicans while being involved in a variety of ministries. My sister and brother in-law, who have been married for two years now, are beginning to build a life together. The first years of their marriage have been focused on stability. Now that they are a bit more established, they have begun focusing on the “next things” of married life—a permanent house to call home and (one potential uncle-friar hopes) fill with children. A place to leave their mark, designed with present comforts and future dreams in mind. A place with spectacular views of the Sandia Mountains and the city of Albuquerque. It’s a healthy statement of hard work and achievement, and a natural move which helps to solidify a young marriage. This house is something that they will look at and say, “Look what we built together. ” It will become a symbol of stability and achievement as they continue life as a family. A new house, established stability, a landmark of achievement, a family—all things which I myself, as a Dominican, will never have.
My smile quickly faded into the Surabaya afternoon heat as the little voice inside my mind reminded me of this fact. Having taken vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience in an itinerant order,
I have freely surrendered the possibility of someday building a house to call my own. Along with those vows came the surrender of permanent stability, marriage, and a family of my own. Most men and women who have taken these vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience will admit that, at times, they hurt. As is true in any life, this one has its difficult moments, too. I didn’t stay down for long, though. My smile began to return when I remembered exactly where I was: in Surabaya, Indonesia…at home.
The story of the rich young man in the Gospels has been used as a source of inspiration for many who have professed to live the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity, and obedience. In the story, a rich young man approaches Jesus and asks what he must do in order to inherit eternal life; Jesus responds by listing off the commandments. When the young man tells Jesus that he has lived these commandments since his youth, Jesus responds with “Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me” (Mk 10:21). The rich man leaves sad due to the immensity of the challenge that Jesus has offered him. The inspirational up-turn to this story comes when Peter, often the voice of humanity within the Gospels, chimes in to remind the Lord that he and the other eleven had given up everything to follow Christ. Jesus then replies, “Amen, I say to you, there is no one who has given up house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands for my sake and for the sake of the gospel who will not receive a hundred times more now in this present age; houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and eternal life in the age to come” (Mk 10:29-30). These are incredibly inspiring words—but do they hold true in this present day?
As I mentioned, my smile returned when I remembered that I was at home in Surabaya. This trip marked my first experience of being among Dominicans outside of the United States. Despite being halfway around the world from my home province and everything familiar, I felt very much at-home in each and every Dominican house I stayed in during my time in Indonesia. The friars and sisters who graciously received us were strikingly similar to those in my own province. Each Dominican house we entered displayed a picture of Fr. Bruno Cadoré, OP, current master of the order and successor to St. Dominic—the same picture which hangs in each house within my province. Seeing Fr. Bruno’s
picture was a subtle reminder that, as a member of the Order of Preachers, the house that I was in was, in a way, my house as well. While my vows prevent me from ever building or owning a house of my own, they also tie me together with thousands of men and women around the world in the same situation. Our vows bind us so that, while none of us owns any one thing, we share all that we do have in common for the sake of both our common life and our mission of preaching. I was most surprised by how quickly these Dominican houses in Indonesia began to feel like home. It is an experience which cannot be fully explained, and is particular to religious life in an international order.
My reflections on what home means in the context of this life continued as I returned to St. Louis—to the familiar comforts of St. Dominic’s Priory which has been home for me since December. Returning to the place which I currently consider home was special in its own way. Being greeted by a big hug from a friend, raiding the kitchen for left-overs, praying on the chapel balcony, sleeping in my bed after ten weeks of absence, climbing the stairs in the cloister for that early morning cup of coffee—these small things add up to form the experience of day-to-day life at home at St. Dominic’s Priory. These are the everyday comforts of home.
Three days after returning to St. Louis, I boarded a flight to Albuquerque, New Mexico—the place where I grew up, and a place which I will always consider home. I spent two weeks in the house I grew up in, enjoying family, friends, Lebanese and New Mexican food, and a big black Labrador Retriever who knows nothing but love—all trademarks of my Albuquerque home visits. No matter where I go, Albuquerque will always be a special place for me to call home.
I was one of the final students to arrive back in St. Louis after
our home visits. I got back to St. Dominic’s Priory just in time for Evening Prayer. As we began to chant the psalms of Evening Prayer for the first time as a full community in nearly three months, I was filled with the feelings of peace and comfort which come with being home. After a summer of experiencing new realities of home and reflecting on old ones, I had finally returned to the home I had left.
In my life as a Dominican, I will live in many places which I will call home. I will most likely be moving around the province (and potentially around the world) every six to ten years. I have given up house and brothers and sisters and mother and father and children and lands for the sake of the gospel and the mission of preaching. I may never own a home—but no matter where I live, I will always, in one sense, be home.