Study as Asceticism

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 four pillars: prayer, study, community, and preaching. Study is one of the most important aspects of our lives. We are called to study. 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.


It can be challenging to spend so much time with books. Surely Christ did not come to bring us books, but instead the good news, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15). The urgency of Christ’s message is hard to overlook. Being a bit impulsive, I want to drop everything, go out and live among the marginalized and preach the Word. Instead, I’ve found myself at my desk reading Irenaeus of Lyons, St. Augustine, Plato, Aristotle, as well as Dei Verbum and Fides et Ratio. I assure you, this can be an asceticism for some of us.


“The wood of the desk is the wood of the Cross.” While I am grateful for study, it is the rich prayer life, both communal and private, that vivifies and gives meaning to my life as a friar preacher. Prayer gives me the grace to put the rest of my life in context. Recently while prayerfully pondering the life of Jesus I began to think about those first thirty years. Our Lord spent 30 years of his life preparing for three years of itinerant preaching. If my Lord who called me to this life as a Dominican spent thirty years working, reading, and praying so that he could preach the Good News, I can spend some time at my desk trying to understand that. And if that challenges me or in the slightest way makes me suffer - I should be joyful. If my study can lead me to embrace the Cross at all, then it is worth it! It is worth it because through the grace of God it will lead not only to my salvation, but to the salvation of others. As Christians our desire for truth is our desire for God.