The contemplative ‘only one with God’ friar monk, with tattoos and a sharpened cold steel U.S. Marine Corps Ka-Bar fighting knife in his cloister cell, was waiting to speak with his Superior.
The young friar had already put in some hard time while contemplating his existence as a member of a ‘band of brothers’. This time, he’d been adopted by another group of brothers, except these brothers in the ancient Roman Catholic religious order wore robes instead of camouflage fatigues.
Shortly after two military stints of honourable service, the young man with worn eyes had gone on a brave quest for spiritual freedom in ‘the land of the free and the home of the brave’. He’d invested his mind, body and soul in the Dominican Order of Friars.
When he joined the Order, he’d renounced the world and even his name. In his robe, he was known as Brother Augustine. As a younger man, Augustine had gotten a taste of deep fraternal brotherhood in the U.S. Marines, but now he’d joined another tribe and had left the barracks for a monastery cloister.
A band of brothers
The Dominican Friars are one of the oldest bands of brothers. They don’t bear arms, but they carry books to do intellectual battle in the war zones of philosophy and theology. This group is an intellectual fighting machine that ruled the complex debates of the Middle Ages.
These friars are not in a Kevin Costner Robin Hood movie eating meat pies and laughing with the merry men. These friars aren’t the brown-robed, animal-carrying Franciscans. Dominican Friars instead carry books in order to save the world by piercing the minds of others.
The young friar had a metanoia (“transformation” in Patristic Greek) when he decided to join the Order, and this transformation couldn’t be interrupted by the Babylonian harlot of the French Quarter, or by those a la mode cosmopolitan femmes in the stacks of Yale’s Sterling Memorial Library. Young Augustine chose a life beyond the coneventional existence seen on the pages of Town & Country magazine.
The meeting with the Superior was about to begin. There was no formal ritual for this meeting and no mandate from Rome, at least not yet.
Nonetheless, Father Marty, the Provincial Superior, and Augustine finally met. Friar Augustine had been under Father Alberto Rodriguez for seven years before Father Marty became Provincial. Augustine missed the Havana Club rum-filled chats about religious anthropology with the Pablo-Neruda-sounding Cuban friar.
And yet, Augustine had a deep love for Father Marty. Father Marty had an endearing presence. And now, he was the Superior. He oversaw monastic houses from Johnny Cash’s church in Texas to houses in the Louisiana bayou.
Father Marty had no easy task. He was in charge of the Order’s rebels. At one time, there was a friar who carried a pistol. This Father didn’t have the ‘champagne problems’ to deal with, such as sending a friar to residential treatment for binge eating.
Father Marty shared his fraternal words with the young friar. There was a polite, stoic smile that exuded a mild intimacy. “Is there anything the Order can do?” he asked.
A 600-year-old ancient Roman Catholic Order flashed into Augustine’s mind. Nostalgia flooded the young friar full of wonderment and exploration. A sudden Buddhist-like bolt of enlightenment then hit Augustine, and the depth of it burned within him. He felt the space between two distinct hearts loving the same story of tradition and brotherhood.
There was a looming fact: Both Augustine and Marty had found freedom in one of the deepest fraternities in human history.
The vows of the Order weren’t chains. The challenging lifestyle for friars was liberating for Augustine, as he found great peace in praying four times a day with his community. He found great freedom in books and in many dusty libraries, and was liberated by his reading desk in his cloister cell.
Augustine felt that his freedom was also tied to a deep contemplative tradition. Hey, we all choose what makes us happy, right? Augustine found his freedom in the Dominicans.
This tight spiritual fraternity uses the motto “Veritas” (“Truth,” in Latin) and used it long before it became a Harvard trademark. Before Harvard, this deeply contemplative group pioneered the fields of philosophy, education, the humanities, international law, art and science.
The black-hooded friars have a legacy tied to the knights of the Crusades. They even pioneered the words of love: Where do you think Shakespeare got the idea of Romeo and Juliet? A Dominican friar had written the story long before Shakespeare got a hold of it.
Augustine and Marty knew that they were part of something beyond themselves.
I gave up my freedom
The Superior responded, “Yes, you will always be a Dominican Friar, your name is in the Book of Friars and you have a home.”
After Marty’s endearing words, I left the Order. I gave up my freedom. I left an experience of true love for the badlands of Iraq. I returned to the military and traded my robe for a rifle.
I left a freeing love for sporadic intrusive thoughts of two dead Iraqi boys. I am shackled to two boys every night.