Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Catholic Book Club: Dominican Life

Happy Wednesday everyone! Today is our official Catholic Book Club installment for September, which is Dominican Life, by Fr. Walter Wagner, OP. You all know that I am a Third Order Dominican, so this is a topic near and dear to my heart. Go get your tea, let's get started!

*procures hot water*

This book is actually a compilation of retreat talks that Fr. Wagner gave to a community of Dominican nuns in Summit, New Jersey. The nuns transcribed and edited his presentations, aiming to retain Father's conversational style with only minor edits for readability. Each talk is its own chapter, and begins with a quote from the Rule of St. Augustine, which is what St. Dominic chose as the guiding precept for his order. Following that, Fr. Wagner expounds upon the selection, discussion the content a bit before moving on to its applicability to Dominican life. It's a very interesting and encompassing Table of Contents (you can see the full sample via the "Look Inside!" feature on Amazon), and therefore I think worth including here:

The Purpose of the Rule
The Rule as the "Other"
To Be Rich
The Sharing of Wealth
The "Special" Religious
Dominican Liturgy
Abstinence in Religious Life
The Contemplative Gaze
Work in Religious Life
The Dominican Habit
Dominican Chastity
Dominican Correction
Dominican Identity
Dominican Bodiliness
Dominican Dysfunction
Dominican Authority
Dominican Freedom

As a Dominican, I found this to be fulfilling spiritual reading. The chapters aren't lengthy (the total print book length is 222 pages, so not a heavy lift in terms of size), which I see as a positive thing. Ideal for a short bit of contemplation each evening before bed. Fr. Wager indeed has an engaging and personal style that comes across nicely in the text.

The thing that I *didn't* love about this book is that I personally find it jarring to read something that feels more like a speech rather than a book. It does indeed read like a transcript. There is still good content there, but I found it a bit distracting. The other thing is that although a layperson can certainly glean lots of good wisdom in these pages (as I in fact did), it does feel like content that was aimed at a target audience of religious. Not everything in the book applies to laypeople. So, that too left me wanting a bit more.

I think that the best way for laypeople to get the most out of this book would be to read it in very short increments, perhaps even less than a single chapter at a time, to really reflect on the material and how it could apply to to a lay lifestyle. As well, the material that is more clearly relevant to the nuns is simply very interesting information for laypeople, an inside glimpse into life within a Dominican monastery.

As a Kindle download, this is only $7.99 and I do think it is a worthy addition to ones queue of spiritual reading, taking the things I mentioned above into consideration. For Dominicans, it really is an essential read, I think. Has anyone else read this book, or perhaps a related book on Dominican spirituality? Chime in in the comments! How can Dominican spirituality be applied generally to all of us in the pews on Sunday mornings?

Do check back in tomorrow for the saint spotlight feature that Cristina and I collaborate on, The Church Triumphant. And next month, Catholic Book Club looks at a new book on devotion to the Sacred Heart, with Sacred Fire: Practicing Devotion to the Heart of Jesus, by Philip Michael Bulman.

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