Dear Father Angelo,
after a few days of reflection and reading of some questions on your website, I decided to write this email and to tell you, in summary, something about me.
I am a 22 years old and for some years I have been facing a certain spiritual crisis, or perhaps a spiritual re-cognition towards God. I state that I departed from religion, as a believer, in adolescence, at about 15 years, due to some readings which led me to question some aspects of the Doctrine. During the catechism I have always been interested in the theological questions of Christianity, and consequently I have sought answers in the joy of philosophy and literature. After contacts with certain readings I started to doubt Jesus. Unfortunately during the school years I have not always chosen to follow the path of wisdom and I have fallen back into the vanity of youthful customs which, alas, are, unfortunately, increasingly dissolute and deprived of reason. Having obtained my diploma, I decided to leave for England, more precisely London. After having lived for three years in that “Babylondon”, to use an expression of your brother Father Mcnabb, I noticed the ephemerality and nullity that society proposes especially to us young people, and its meaningless non-values which lead to annihilation and perdition. In those years of moral and spiritual disorder I felt a certain “call”, if we can say so, for Jesus, I went back to being lulled into the consolation of philosophy and the reading of the Bible, and as if by chance, but we know that nothing is by chance, I came across the Dominican Order. Moved by the love for philosophy and the hope of faith, I began to know St. Thomas Aquinas, who immediately fascinated and intrigued me about your order. Later I came across one of your confreres from…, father… I must say that I was struck by the charisma and the depth of all this. I started again to pray and to recite the rosary, however some days I find myself reluctant to this “force” that attracts me, I don’t know why. Although pondering this opposition, I would like to ask you for advice. Precisely, how to understand if what I feel is truly a call from God, how can I reconcile with Him? I am ashamed of all that time spent in debauchery away from God. I have a bitter memory of it. I wonder if God has me or will grant me his grace again.
Since I got home, I decided to devote myself to studying; I was thinking about enrolling in the faculty of philosophy at the university of …, or at the Dominican Studium, also in… Which of the two could you recommend?
Finally, I would like to know your opinion about my intention to join the Dominican order. I have been thinking about it for some time now, wishing to dedicate my life to God, to his knowledge. I have learnt the ways of the world and have found solace in my tears in the Word of God. This is why I would like to enter the order: to try to help people as God has helped me in realizing that I was walking a path to sin. For these reasons I would like to ask you if it would be useful first to undertake university study and then consider the possibility of entering the Order. I also wonder if I could be worthy of such an Order and live up to it. I hope God may hear my prayers.
I have tried to summarize the most fundamental traits, please excuse me for the long preamble to the few questions.
I thank you in advance for the time you will have to devote to the letter from this lost soul. I hope not to waste your time.
I offer you my most sincere and cordial greetings.
Thank you, Father.
1. Your long preamble is not useless because it gives me the opportunity to advise you more adequately.
In fact, the first piece of advice I give you is to consolidate your Christian life through regular sacramental practice (confession and Eucharist) and through prayer.
The life of prayer, thanks be to God, is already present with the Holy Rosary. Keep it up. Never detach yourself from this appointment with Christ and with Our Lady, that in my opinion resembles the encounter of God in human appearances with our parents in the garden of Eden.
There is always a sense of peace after that space of time dedicated to prayer and one gets the impression that, even if in the rest of the day not much had been achieved, nevertheless the prayer of the Holy Rosary was the highest and most profitable moment for ourselves and for the whole Church.
2. I would be happy if the sacramental life were already present together with the Rosary.
Because otherwise the conversation on vocation would simply be like one of those dreams that very often accompany new converts.
By sacramental life I mean Sunday Mass and confession made regularly and frequently (at least twice a month) always with the same confessor.
3. The sacramental confession is important in relation to the vocation because the confessor is ordinarily able to know the individual and to give the green light.
He is not the only one who makes the so-called vocational discernment, but the first opinion is up to him at least to say that there are no impediments on his part.
Others will then give better, more complete assessments.
In fact, if a person habitually lived in grave sin, it would be mere wishful thinking to want to follow the Lord more fully (plenius), more closely (vicinus) and more intimate (intimior) if he cannot even follow him in an ordinary way.
The three expressions I used are borrowed from the language of the Second Vatican Council which thus characterizes consecrated life within the Christian life.
4. Before answering your two specific questions, I would like to say a word about your vocation to the Dominican Order.
I think that your willingness to help people who are lost in nihilism and in the emptiness of atheism, as God has helped you, is a valid motivation.
Our Holy Father Dominic was eager to bring the fullness of life that a Christian can enjoy to people who at that time lived another form of emptiness and nihilism, even if motivated by religious connotations.
Our religious Order has an apostolic character.
The purpose of its way of life (community life with the evangelical counsels, community participation in the Liturgy of the Hours and in particular in the Eucharist, study and some observances such as silence, wearing the religious habit and living in a reserved place) is to bring God to men, especially to the most distant, and men to God.
5. After this long preamble (a bit like yours!), I come to the specific questions you asked me.
Since in your city there are both the faculty of philosophy at the State University and the Philosophy Studium of the Order, without any doubt I recommend that you attend our Studium for several reasons.
First, because the bachelor’s degree achieved at our Studium is recognized by the Italian state. For your future, in any eventuality, the degrees obtained here or at the State University have the same value. So it would never be a waste of time.
Secondly, because our philosophical courses follow a curriculum of studies necessary to deal with theology. If, on the other hand, you attended the State University, there would then be a need to integrate your studies with some courses. I am thinking, for example, of the courses in philosophical anthropology and metaphysics.
Thirdly, because in contact with Dominican teachers and students you would have the opportunity to discuss your specific call to Dominican life and its eventual tightness.
It is true that the State University offers a wider range of courses. But nothing prevents you from doing this right now because you are allowed to attend courses at both faculties. And it is especially allowed in the future if your ministry needs some additions.
6. Then you ask if it would be better to enter the Order immediately and then study philosophy or vice versa. Well, since you could not enter the Order immediately without having completed a year as an aspirant (in this year you continue to live at home and participate in the scheduled meetings), you should necessarily enroll somewhere in order not to sit idly by.
Therefore, even for this question the answer is easy: enroll immediately in the Philosophy course of the Dominican Studium. Once you have started this course, you can always choose to finish it as a layman or as a friar.
If you finish it as a Dominican friar, you will have to interrupt it for the pre-novitiate and for the novitiate, but in any case you would not waste time.
7. Finally, you ask yourself if you can consider yourself worthy of this Order and live up to it.
In this regard, I do not know if there is anyone who can claim to be worthy of entering such a glorious institution for holiness of life and doctrine.
In any case, if you enter the Order, the question that will be asked at the time of entering the novitiate with the religious vestition will be the following: What do you seek?
And you will answer as all the Dominicans have answered for 800 years now: God’s Mercy and yours (of the Order).
So you do not enter the Order because you are worthy of it, but by asking for the grace, the mercy, to be welcomed there.
Will you be worthy of it? The worthiness is not given by high-sounding titles or by the extraordinary nature of the ministry you will carry out, but by the sanctity of life.
How many Dominican Saints have carried out a humble ministry, such as that of the confessional and welcoming people!
But even the greatest Saints, such as St. Thomas, St. Catherine of Siena, St. Martin de Porres, without mentioning the Holy Father Dominic, were all very humble.
In fact, holiness finds its foundation in humility and is built in charity.
With the hope that the study of philosophy that you will shortly begin will help you to deepen your vocation and that you can become a confrere of mine, I assure you of my prayers and I bless you.
Translated by Chiara P.