From the founding of the Dominican Order in 1216, skilled, professional, and holy men have been called to put their training and gifts to use for the mission of preaching. Why are cooperator brothers essential to the Dominican charism?
#1. Cooperator brothers emphasize a fraternal versus a paternal presence.
Dominicans are called to serve one another as brothers in charity as practiced and modeled by Jesus and the apostles. The Gospel of Luke reminds us that “the one who is least among all of you is the one who is the greatest,” (9: 47-48). In the Dominican Constitution, friars are reminded that all brothers are directly linked first by profession. The cooperator brothers remind us all of what we share in our vows as consecrated religious.
#2. Brothers help maintain a sense of balance for the Order.
The brothers have been models throughout Dominican history of service, prayer, and charity. They have been models of prayer and stability in the contemplative structure which St. Dominic radically instituted. Brothers help us to remember that what we do is not as important and impactful as who we are. As important as sacramental ministry is to those chosen to be ordained and as vital as that ministry is to the Church, profession of vows and life in the community are first.
#3. Cooperator brothers increase the diversity of our Holy Preaching to the world.
As St Paul states so clearly in 1 Corinthians 12, we need many diverse parts to make up the body of Christ. From a ‘non-clerical’ view of the world, brothers have been able to reach people often found on the fringes. Brothers are particularly itinerant in their preaching as they seek out the marginalized and go directly to the need. Further, we must focus on the very identity if who we are as Dominicans – Preachers. Preaching is the mission of the Order. It is why Dominicans exist. How we view the impact, effect, and influence of the cooperator brothers in the preaching mission is the heart of the issue. We preach as a community, not as individuals. Dominican preaching begins with a communal rather than an individual focus. It begins with an internal sense of who we are as brothers rather than highlighting individual external ministry.
For Dominicans, who we are as community and how we live as community is primary to what we do. What kind of brother I am speaks louder than any individual homily pronounced, book written, or class taught. Dominican preaching grows within our communal prayer and contemplation. The preaching is then brought to and enlivened by the prayers of our contemplative nuns. When Dominican friars preach, people hear first the sense of love in community life and the integrity of our communal prayer before they hear our words. If Dominican preaching is not affected by the presence of the brothers, then maybe the Holy Spirit is saying it is time for the brothers to fade into history. If, however, the Dominican preaching is influenced by the presence of our brothers, then this changes how all Dominicans see the decline in brother vocations. The “cooperator vocation problem” is a problem for every Dominican.
Joyfully recall that St Dominic instituted the role of non-ordained brothers among the friars by summoning Oderic of Normandy as one of the original sixteen. Joyfully recall that Holy Mother Church has blessed the brother vocation and declared 4 cooperator brothers as saints and over 70 as martyrs. Joyfully pray that the Order be renewed in the founding spirit of Dominic and as the Dominican constitution demands.