In the beginning of my conversion, God brought me from anti-Catholic to Catholic – and no one was more surprised than I. The fishing-line of the Rosary first snagged me, but St. Thérèse of Lisieux reeled me in after I read her autobiography, Story of a Soul.
After Jesus got me safely into his Church, he seemed to hand my formation over to St. Albert the Great (1200-1280), mentor of St. Thomas Aquinas. God knew I needed that much help!
On a gloriously sunny feast of St. Albert in 1990, I was received at a Mass in the Dominican House of Studies (DHS) in Washington, DC, by Fr. Norman Fenton, OP. No doubt this was a relief to Father, who, as my spiritual director, had patiently put up with my cluelessness and defensive questions during the months God was trying to make a Catholic out of me. Now, I was officially in. When my mother relayed the event to the Presbyterian minister who baptized me, he said, “Well, at least she’s something.”
Before long, though, I told Father of my worries that old patterns of thought and behavior would come back, despite my best efforts to be like the saints I read about. He then told me about religious “third orders” for single and married lay people living in the world: Dominican, Franciscan, Jesuit, and Carmelite among them.
Dominican? We’ll see. Franciscan? Franciscans are very nice people and I’m not that nice, so that was probably out. Jesuit? I was born on the feast of St. Ignatius Loyola, but the action-oriented Jesuit vocation might only encourage my borderline work addiction. Carmelite sounded like the best choice.
Two attempts to connect with a Third Order Carmelite group fell through, so maybe God was nudging me toward the Dominicans after all. I mean, he gave me one for a spiritual director, didn’t he? I’d been received into the Church in a Dominican seminary on the feast of St. Albert, hadn’t I? Hint, hint!!
Making of a Dominican
At my first Lay Dominican meeting, I met people who loved to learn, loved to take action, and had deep prayer lives. It seemed the perfect combination of Martha and Mary. As an inveterate Martha and Mary wanna-be, I realized this was the best of both worlds, the perfect balance: action flowing out of a deep connection with God in prayer and contemplation of the Truth.
At our monthly Lay Dominican meetings in the early nineties, we discussed the Catechism and two encyclicals: Fides et Ratio and Veritatis Splendor when each was hot off the press. In the following years, we studied the Summa Theologica of St. Thomas Aquinas, which the chaplain of our group practically knew by heart.
Meanwhile, I was attending a five-year study group at the DHS reading the 2,400 pages of the Summa from front to back. This solidified in my heart that the Dominican vocation was right for me. The love of God coming through Thomas’ theological writing brought tears to my eyes and the way his writing reinforced the truth of the Faith convinced me that the more we learn, the better the Catholic Faith holds together and the more we know about God, the more we love him.
The Dominican Moment
Today, faithful communities of Dominican nuns in several states and Dominican Friars in the Eastern Province, where I live, are being flooded with so many vocations that their novices are sometimes living two to a room because monasteries can’t be expanded fast enough for the influx.
It’s been called a “Dominican moment” because the culture of lies and death is ascendent, just as it was in St. Dominic’s time, and we need the same remedy: Truth.
When St. Dominic de Guzmán (1170-1221) preached to the Albigensian heretics of southern France, he preached the gospel of life and the goodness of the material world as a creation of God, who is goodness itself. The Albigensians had adopted a form of first-century Gnosticism (which showed up as Manichaeism in the time of Augustine), believing that there were two gods of equal power: a “good” god of the spiritual world and an “evil” god of the material world.
Therefore, if matter was evil, it was just fine to commit suicide or do anything with your own body because the body was evil anyway, so you might as well forget marriage, have orgies, and even kill your children if they got in the way of your fun.
Finding a “Preaching” Style
Dominicans are known as the Order of Preachers. Lay Dominicans “preach” according to their gifts and circumstances. For years, I shared the Good News by creating calligraphic artwork on spiritual themes pointing to the glory of God and the joy of Christian life.
Then, one day as I lounged in a cushy chair in a retreat house library, God planted a new seed that grew into my current calling.
Flipping through The Catholic Encyclopedia, I saw the word “hypocrisy” and wondered whether the definition matched the one our mom gave us: “Thinking one thing and doing another.”
The definition was, “Pretending to have a virtue we don’t have.” I asked myself, “Why didn’t I know that?” After all, one-third of the Summa is on virtue and vice. Still, I couldn’t define “hypocrisy” off the top of my head. And if I couldn’t do it, how much more those who don’t even care about virtue? If they knew what the virtues were and the life-changing benefits of practicing them, would they strive to live differently? My brush with St. Thérèse made me want to be a saint. Could I help others develop that desire, too?
Eventually, I realized God was calling me to let others know what the virtues are – and the benefits, now and forever, of cultivating them. After a decade of study, prayer, and Dominican formation, I was ready, with God’s help, for my new apostolate.
Vatican II proclaimed a universal call to holiness, a call that Jesus gave us in Matthew 5:48: “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.” This call lay dormant for many people who had come to think that only priests and religious had a call to sainthood. The rest of us would get to heaven on their coattails.
Through the work of, for example, St. Josemaría Escrivá promoting a saintly life for lay people and the writing of Dominican theologian Servais Pinckaers that helped reclaim virtue as the way to be happy instead of being just a list of do’s and don’ts, the universal vocation to holiness reached the ears of the Vatican to become one of the Council’s primary messages (see Lumen Gentium, chapter 5).
By the time I started VirtueConnection.com in 2014, the lay call to holiness was strong in the bloodstream of Catholic thinking. Having been inspired by the Summa and the saints to transform my vices into virtues, my mission would be to pass along saintly inspiration to be holy, aided by practical ways to change habits gleaned from the latest research in psychology and neuroscience.
It’s my joy to help people know what the saints know: that cooperating with God to grow in virtues like patience, forgiveness, and gratitude helps confessed vices like anger and resentment fall away because our new good habits leave a lot less room for the bad ones.
My Dominican vocation is central to maintaining a joyful commitment to spiritual growth and sharing the power of the virtues. The example and support of my brothers and sisters has been irreplaceable as we walk together to heaven – bringing as many people with us as possible – following in the footsteps of St. Dominic.