Kathleen A. McManus OP
A Dominican Theology seeks and proclaims Truth-Incarnate. It is personal, enfleshed, and ever-emerging in response to the signs of the times. A Dominican theology is one that counters the heresy of dualism that comes to new expression in every age; it participates in the ongoing creation of God’s one world, God’s reign. Above all, a Dominican Theology, like the Order itself, is forged amidst evolving constellations of relationship for the sake of the Holy Preaching.
My own journey as a Dominican Theologian began in the matrix of my congregation’s commitment to justice and ministry amongst the poor. My experience of ministry in the Bronx led me into countless scenarios of suffering where poor people of deep faith cried out “Why?” As I accompanied them on their pathways through the Paschal Mystery, I felt increasingly drawn to deeper theological study.
As I pursued doctoral studies, Edward Schillebeeckx’s theology informed my reflection on suffering and nurtured my approach to its ongoing mystery. Dominican theologians and preacher-companions closer to home formed a community that kept my intellectual pursuits grounded in the praxis that can never be separated from the Order’s commitment to study. A Dominican Theology must be ever responsive to the needs of the Body of Christ.
In subsequent years, the question of suffering in my work crystallized more and more into a focus upon the suffering of women, with concern for how dualistic elements in the Church reinforce that suffering. Women Religious in general are particularly attuned to this reality. As a Dominican Sister-Theologian, I believe that I/we have a distinct responsibility to claim the Order’s historic, revolutionary mandate to preach Truth in the face of heresy; in fact, to take on the global authority of the unprecedented Magisterial role accorded to the Order of Preachers in Toulouse in 1215. In the 21st Century, can Dominican Women claim our magisterial role for the sake of transforming the world and the Church? Can we do it from the margins while maintaining communion with the hierarchy? A truly Dominican Theology should make this possible.
Dominic felt compelled to “save the Gospel for the Church.” Today, we are compelled to do this by saving the Church for the world. So many people who feel alienated from the Church and its Gospel, so many who dwell in a world of pain, are actually in need of precisely what the Church has to give when she is acting out of her authentic being. Can we remove the obstacles to the fountain of healing grace that the Church most truly is? Can we “save” the Church in its sanctifying, unifying role? A Dominican Theology is one that is committed to saving the Church for the sake of the salvation and ongoing creation of the world.
Finally, for some time now, I have been engaged as a theologian with my own congregation in our visioning of our Congregational Future. We have come to realize that we are being called to a stance of hospitality to the Future, to God summoning and drawing near. Indeed, we have felt summoned to be a place of hospitality, a home for those who feel “homeless” in the Church. Initially acknowledging a situation of impasse as Women Religious, we came to recognize through deepening contemplative practice that the Spirit has been alive and at work in dark, nourishing depths. We felt the call to attend to the summons of a future seeded by our Dominican past and imagined in terms of our place in the evolutionary cosmos. In the process, we have been drawn into deeper relationship with Dominican Women’s Congregations across the U.S., and have discovered a deep resonance in the ways in which the Dominican charism, the Dominican Story, is evolving in us and through us. Together, we are being summoned to risk a leap to the next evolutionary rung, to move from the “I” to the “We” to the “One” in mission to a world fragmented by violence and in need of mercy. As a theologian in this context, I feel called to embrace the tension between our presence to suffering human victims of injustice on the ground and fidelity to our evolutionary consciousness. A Dominican Theology is one that poses no dualism between the two. As Pope Francis remarked repeatedly in Laudato Si, “everything is related.” A Dominican Theology is one that is committed to the dissolving of every boundary in bringing to fruition Jesus’ desire “That they may be One.”