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					TEN YEARS OF THE DOMINICAN LAY COMMUNITY IN THE NETHERLANDS:

TEN YEARS OF RICH FRUITS.

On 24 October 2009 the Dominican Lay Community in The Netherlands (DLN) celebrated its
tenth anniversary. Lay Dominican Jan van Hooydonk offers a personal reflection: the
foundation has been laid.

One of my bookshelves still exhibits the beautiful congratulation card sent by our Dominican
sisters of ‘Voorschoten’ to each of the nineteen people who, on 24 October 1999, were the
first to take their profession as members of the Dominican Lay Community in The
Netherlands. The card has a text from St.John’s gospel (15,16): “You did not choose me, but I
chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit – fruit that will last”. Ten years later I can
say with deep conviction: so far the journey has proved more than worth the effort, it has
borne rich fruit. Rich fruit – first of all - for me personally, but also within the larger
Dominican movement.

Identity

“When asked about the meaning of life”, Hungarian author György Konrád says, “each
person tells his or her personal history”. Part of my personal history is that, studying at
Nijmegen University in the middle of the seventies, I got into contact with the Dominicans
who lived in the Albertinum monastery. As a ‘free bird’ I took intensive part in their
community life. I got to know the Order in its majesty – in the beauty of its monasteries and
churches, the wealth of its liturgy, the warmth of its brotherhood (later also its sisterhood), the
liberating strength of its theological search for truth. But in those years I also got to know the
Order in its limitations and poorness – for the Albertinum community lived in a too spacious
building, was often torn apart by opposing views on religious life, and in many respects was
at its last gasp. Then, from 1979 till 1987, I was a member of the Dominican community of
the Parkstraat in Arnhem (DGA). This mixed community – professed and lay, women and
men, straight and gay – in all respects became a school for life that still marks my existence. I
am very fond of the people of this DGA. During the following five years I was a member of
the Dominican community ‘M.- D. Chenu’ in Nijmegen: a period of fascinating exchanges
and again new friendships. The Albertinum, the DGA and ‘Chenu’ do no longer exist. From
1992 onwards I have lived on my own.
In 1999 my relationship with the Dominican movement could best be qualified as ‘believing
without belonging’. The Order still inspired me, I had many Dominican friends, I believed in
the Order, but did not really belong to it. Until this 24 October of 1999, when I took my vows
as a lay Dominican and member of the DLN. It felt like coming home. One of the rich fruits
of a decade of membership is, in my experience, first of all that this real membership of the
Order provided the language and the concepts with which to understand myself. Whoever
commits oneself to the order is given an identity. When asked about the meaning of my life,
my answer is: I am a (lay)Dominican.

Community

For me profession means: I am no longer alone and relying on myself, I have handed myself
over to – as an ancient Dominican formula has it – ‘the mercy of God and the mercy of my
brothers and sisters’. Some contemporaries of mine call this creepy, and I admit it is
sometimes like that. But for me the dependence we explicitly choose for at our profession is
first of all a liberation. Our modern society sets high value to personal autonomy and self-
determination, to ‘becoming yourself’ and ‘becoming somebody’. The tradition of the
religious, which is also ours, offers a different perspective, a different way of looking at
identity and experiencing it. It is a way of looking and experiencing which does not present
self-determination and personal autonomy as the ultimate values, but takes its starting point in
community. Community makes me who I am. To quote African theologian John Mbiti: “I am
because we are”.
Identity and community: these are the two important fruits I could harvest in ten years of
DLN membership. But there is more. DLN is a very variegate community – also as regards
individual professional and intellectual competences. Sometimes for me the differences
between members are checks or obstacles. But basically this variety is a great joy for me. As
members of the DLN we are each others’ brothers and sisters. This was not our own choice,
but because as sisters and brothers we were given to each other. For to each of us this applies:
“You did not choose me, but I chose you”. Therefore: living for ten years in the DLN means
being a pupil in a school which teaches me how to cope with differences, and not to see the
difference between me and others primarily as a threat, but as a challenge and an enrichment.
Being such a school, I assume, will remain the task of DLN for the years ahead.
Fundamentally our vocation is to live out together what God said to Catharine of Siena: “I
could easily have created mankind in such a way that everyone had everything, but I preferred
giving different gifts to different people, so that they would all need each other”. And we
might add: so that they would learn what love is.

Attractiveness

Ten years of DLN did not only yield rich fruit for myself but, I am convinced, also for the
Dominican movement as a whole. To start with, in these ten years the membership has grown
from 19 to 53 professed people. The numbers as such are less important than the fact that the
Dominican ideal as we experience it in the DLN proves to be attractive. At its start the DLN
was mainly formed by people who knew the Dominican men and women, their monasteries
and convents, their projects and chapels, but in 2009 our community increasingly recruits
people who have no knowledge of this. They often live in places without any Dominican
presence. Some of them are protestants. The new members sometimes found the DLN via
surprising routes – often digital tracks (without the website religious life is unthinkable).
Ten years after its start the DLN turns out to have developed an attractiveness of its own. New
and committed people are coming from unexpected corners and join the ranks. In their
personal ways they, too, find their identities in living as lay Dominicans. We can indeed call
this a rich fruit. But at the same time this is a challenge: to present our DLN and open it to
people who are looking for authentic religious and Dominican life. The DLN has something
to offer: ‘believing and belonging’.

Mission

Real Dominican life certainly includes: taking part in the Order’s mission. In various ways lay
Dominicans lead preachers’ lives. First of all, of course, in the places where they are living
and working and in the middle of the people with whom they live and work. They tell others
that God is looking after people, that love is stronger than death, that openness and
compassion are paramount virtues, that it makes sense to work for more justice and peace in
our world. The good message carried by the Gospel is made visible by the lay Dominicans in
the life with their partners and children, in friendships, in classrooms and editorial offices, in
control centres and laboratories, in libraries, sheltered workshops and consultancy agencies, in
parishes or wherever they are active. They spread this good message in preaching, writing,
charity and care. ( I myself am chief editor of the ecumenical periodical VolZin and preach
sermons in the Ecumenical City Pastorate in Nijmegen). As housemates, assistants,
parishioners, musicians, sacristans, board members, editors and so on many lay Dominicans
are closely engaged in the so-called Dominican projects, in religious houses and Dominican
communities, often closely cooperating with brothers and sisters from other Dominican
groups. This intensive participation in the Order’s mission ‘for the salvation of souls’ is
clearly a rich fruit of the ten years of DLN. Hearing or reading what some DLN sisters and
brothers are doing in the field of mission, I often feel a little boy. And at the same time I feel
proud to be one of them. To vary the Gospel phrase: “I thank you, Lord, that I am like him or
her….”.

The foundation has been laid

As Dominicans were are members of a mendicant order. We live on what we are given. In the
past ten years I, as a lay Dominican, and we as the DLN have been given rich fruits. It really
was a blessed time. What this time has also certainly taught us, is that institutions like the
DLN, with their statutes, rules and rituals, are vital both for the development of our personal
religiosity and for the progress of the Dominican mission. Thanks to the establishment of the
Dominican Lay Community of The Netherlands we, lay Dominicans, have outgrown the
noncommittal phase.
Time goes on and our profession is for life. Nobody can foretell what the DLN will look like
in about ten or twenty years. We can be sure we will be confronted with new and unknown
challenges. Will we be able to meet them? In any case, the foundation has been laid. And for
the rest: in the future, too, we will need God’s and each others’ mercy.

Jan van Hooydonk (1954) is a dutch lay Dominican. He studied political science and theology
and works as a journalist and editor. He lives at Nijmegen. (Translation: Ruud Bunnik)

				
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