Our Holy Father St. Dominic: 1172-1221, Celebration of the 800th Year of the Anniversary of His Death
These simple and reverent words, penned by the mystic Rabindranath Tagore, symbolize in many ways the impact of Dominic Guzman who left behind not only a fragrant word called Truth but also a way of life, a “garden” as it were, that would one day burst beyond Europe and seed itself over the entire world. It would continue not only to bloom but, in flourishing again and again, would also renew itself with greater and deeper meaning. It has now extended itself into this 800th year as we pause to reflect on Dominic’s legacy to the Order contained in nine simple words: Have charity, guard humility, make your treasure voluntary poverty. His “garden!” Simply himself, enfleshed in Gospel passion and with an urgency that both consumed him and blossomed within such a brief span of time!
Forty-nine years of life! That’s all! No elaborate documents! No diary! No book of rules beyond Canon requirements. Yet the summation of what Dominic achieved for the glory of
God, for the Church, for those hungry and seeking purpose in life, and especially for the common people of his day has carved itself into a monument of Gospel truth that has clearly stood beyond the test of time. And so we begin the international theme of this momentous year for the Order, “At Table with St. Dominic.”
Dominic’s brief but exceptional life gives us insights into his desires, his concerns, his focus, his travels, struggles, and ultimate achievements. Yet, the accounts written by others are the very treasures that we gather and that continue to inspire and motivate us as his faithful followers. Let us concentrate on just several elements that speak vividly to us today.
First of all, young Dominic the priest clearly read the signs of his times. His travels into Europe enabled him to see for himself and then decide how to counter the spread of heresy prevalent in his day, heresies that were both absorbing and confusing the common people. This awakened in him the need to establish a clear understanding of Scripture as It spoke in his time! This meant, in turn, for a renewal of the authentic Truths of the Christian faith. It was then that he began his search to gather Europe’s most profound, educated, and committed scholars for the task. Theirs would be the discipline to be learned by those who were beginning to join him in this quest. They would absorb the wisdom of authentic scholars with the lifestyle that Dominic envisioned: that of constant study, personal conversion, deep silent, inner prayer. These would bring forth and establish the ever new discovery of Gospel Truths which would overflow into authentic and compassionate mission.
In time, of course, this led to a second element: Common Life! Common Prayer! Human support! Gracious preaching must come from gracious preachers! Now begins for Dominic the task to establish those who both heard him and remained, and to prepare them for the daunting work of reformation. The strategy? To be grounded, yet ready to go forth, and to be committed to a home base where renewal, common prayer, rest, and community would always welcome them home. How typical it was, then, that near the end of his days when he himself fell ill while on mission, upon his dying request his brothers would carry him back home to die, a place where he could come full circle in having laid the groundwork for this quest.
Thirdly, Dominic was ever so wise as to seek leadership among the very women and men attracted to this lifestyle and to utilize their gifts for the good of the people and of the church. So opposed was he to any role of personal authority, even refusing an appointment as bishop, that, ironically, it was Pope Honorius III who made the decision to see that Dominic’s mission was to be organized into an Order. To this command, Dominic’s gift of leadership would bloom and spread. However, it would be the future that would hold the Alberts, the Thomases, the Cath-erines, the Raymonds, the Rose of Limas, the dePorreses, the Agneses, the Vincents, the Bartolomeos’, the de Montforts, the Peters of Verona, the Dianes and Cecilias, the martyrs and confessors and blesseds, the modern founders and foundresses, those yet to come, and on it goes. Dominic’s one desire was simply to lie beneath the feet of his brothers and sisters, those present and those to come, and allow the “torch” of Truth to be carried even farther than he had run with it.
What is it, then, that as preachers, we have not only said “yes” to but we also vow to live in the light of Dominic’s vision? Our Master General, Francisco Timoner, points out for us what seemed like obstacles in the minds of those whom Dominic sent forth. There is the commitment to mendicant poverty as they often traveled with less than even the bare necessities, yet remained assured that in their communities they would find the physical and emotional restoration that would renew and energize. There was the Word to be constantly studied, pondered, preached, and defended in a time of great turmoil, yet with an energy sprung from the courage of the contemplative soul. This is the place where in silence and darkness, tears are shed, secrets are unveiled, and truth is revealed. The answer for the true preacher, our former Master General Bruno Cadore reminds us, is “to be plunged into the Word, to be plunged into humanity, the two pathways towards holiness.”
So today, as we face our own humanity through this present pandemic crisis that has spared almost no place on our fragile planet, we turn to our father Dominic not for delivery but for assurance, for guidance, for courage to stretch ourselves in ways yet to be understood. Daunting questions fill our minds and hearts as we see the unraveling of political, religious, societal foundations that once held us so firmly.
Yet, we know OUR foundations! We know OUR visions! We know OUR stories! Our founders’ efforts, concerns, setbacks, and fidelity no doubt held more worries than joys in the written accounts of their efforts. Dominic could hardly have known what awaited him in his quest to step into a dark and forbidding world. But everywhere he and his followers traveled, there they were — the hungry generation waiting to hear the Truth, drawn to follow on this alternate path that Dominic preached and lived, and that led to a “garden” of beauty, of discipline, of purpose, colored with song and prayer and praise, and, yes, of tears for a broken world.
At this crucial time of world crisis, each of us has our own plot to till in the depths of our hearts. It is ours to plant the seeds and do the tending. What is it that each of us desires to bring forth? How do we want this plot to look for those hungry for meaning in such a confusing time as ours? How do we help to heal the pain and loss and despair? We are told that Dominic’s “plunge” into Scripture was the same as being plunged personally into the entire scope of humanity, that he could feel the pain and suffering of each individual, that he would be heard weeping loudly for them in the night.
We view these same tragedies on our national news night after night! What do we do with what we see? This is the all-absorbing question that we are given to ponder in each of our personal lives as we await an end to this scourge. How will it define us in the future as we live out our expression of Dominican life? Will those who long for meaning today find in our lives what drew so many to the magnet of Dominic’s very presence? Is this time of withdrawal from so many projects, activities, plans, and dreams helping to refocus our energies?
However, this year is also the time to simply pause in humble gratitude for this anniversary and invite all that Dominic stood for to be celebrated in the fullest measure. It is time to stop and reflect on all those thousands upon thousands who were inspired to walk ahead of us these past 800 years. We join them in adding to the Order our faithful prayer, faithful sisterhood and brotherhood, faithful attention to the pain and needs of our people, faithful common support in the midst of national/international turmoil, faithful attention to the education and personal care of God’s people, faithful, joyful service in the church, faithful imparting of Truth through education, spirituality, science, history, literature, art, music, preaching, healing.
All those who answered Dominic and responded are our ancestors! May we honor them by the ever-continuing sound of “holy preaching” through our daily, faithful rituals, encounters, labors, ministries, and celebrations that we call Dominican Life. Praise to you, Brother Dominic!
Sister Catherine Marie Bazar, O.P.
Dominican Sisters of Mission San Jose