Br Todd Aquinas van Alstyne OP

Have you ever had such great news that you just had to tell someone? You find yourself so overwhelmed that whether it is a close friend or complete stranger you simply cannot contain it. The telling of the news has a way of filling you up even as it comes out of your mouth. It is a rush. For the preacher the experience of proclaiming the gospel (the great news) is just this. As a young man learning that the word evangelism translates into “reporting the good news” excited my imagination. I thought of myself as a television anchor whose job was simply to report: to report the good news that Jesus had been raised from the dead! He had conquered it! And because he did, we would also! It was not my job to convince but to proclaim: “Christ has died, Christ is Risen, Christ will come again”!

My passion for the news was so contagious that at as a preteen the consistory of my Dutch Reformed church called me before the Elder Board. They shared with me that they not only sensed a calling on my life to enter the ministry but that they were considering ways how I might preach—even from the pulpit. The tradition that I grew up in was not a sacramental one. Sure, the Lord’s Supper was celebrated…maybe once a quarter. For us, preaching was seen a sacramental. It was a means of grace and the power of the word “rightly preached” was the true mark of the church. We believed that we were heralds and if only women and men would hear this news, they could naturally come into a saving relationship with God, would repent of their sins and the kingdom of God would be realized.

As my own journey evolved from evangelical to mainline Protestant to Anglo-Catholic, I found in the Episcopal Church a better balance. While I loved the proclamation of the word, I yearned for more of a sacramental expression and found it in the Eucharist…in the Mass. I love that our Anglican tradition is a balance of words and pictures. Like any good children’s book, we need both to fully understand the story. It is in this catholic tradition that we read and hear tons of scripture, that the word is solemnly processed down the aisle and that with some ceremony, the gospel is brought among the people, often with torches and incense. Jesus, the Word, truly comes among us as powerfully for me as during the Eucharist. That is really good theology.

As I discerned whether or not becoming a clergy person was my calling, I came to the conclusion that while the sacramental life of the church was key to my own piety and sanctification, my first love of preaching is what I felt the most called to… and as a Dominican Friar, able to do it as a layman.

Life as a Dominican Friar gives me an opportunity to do what I am called to do. While the Order of Preachers has both ordained and lay members, I am able to live into my preaching vocation without the administrative and sacramental duties of the ordained. It has also offered me to opportunity to do my non-church “day job” in government finance and economic development. This is not unique among our Dominican family. Dominicans are professors and scientists, justice workers and lawyers and yes, even priests. Dominicans are curious about the whole world and seek to proclaim the gospel in every sphere of our life and work.

For over 800 years the Order of Preachers has had but one chief concern: the salvation of souls. Like our earliest sisters and brothers we are dispatched to call people back to the holy, catholic and apostolic faith and to evangelize those who have not heard the good news. My own mission field is New Orleans, Louisiana. New Orleans is a mix of all kinds of ancient and contemporary spiritual practices. It has a history of animism, voodoo, vampirism and astrology as well as Christian traditions. It is a true mix of secular and sacred.

The life of a Dominican Friar or Sister is built on a foundation of four pillars: Community, Prayer, Study and Preaching (and corporal works of mercy). We are a contemplative order. As our Dominican brother St. Thomas Aquinas reminds us, preaching is the fruit of our contemplation. We make three promises/vows in our life together: Purity, Simplicity and Obedience. Our habit is the same whether we are ordained or lay. We wear a white alb, black hooded capuche, black scapular, a pectoral Dominican cross and black cincture with three knots that remind us of our three vows. Members may also wear a black zucchetto. In non-liturgical settings members wear a street habit which includes black skirt/pants and white shirt with optional black vest. Members may also wear a black clergy shirt with Moravian collar.

Saint Mary, Our Lady: Pray for us. Saint Mary Magdalene, the evangelist: Pray for us. Saint Dominic de Guzman: Pray for us.

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