An unexpected trip to Yanhuitlan, my hometown in Oaxaca, Mexico, helped to revive the meaning of memory and fidelity. About twenty minutes north of Yanhuitlan, there is a very beautiful town named Yucunama. I had to go there for bread. One feels welcomed at the very entrance to the place. There is an arch made of stones and embedded with indigenous symbols. Among the symbols that represent their identity, there was an image of Santo Domingo de Guzman.
Dominicans began the evangelization to the indigenous people from the southern Mexico to Central America. Following the “Dominican Route,” you will find majestic church buildings like the one in my hometown. After over five hundred years of evangelization, in the seemingly smallest of places, the image of Domingo is still represented and claimed as part of the identity of the pueblo.
I had the opportunity to meet the artist who designed and directed the construction of the arch. A regular, simple, hard worker and creative thinker, he mentioned something about Domingo and his dog: “The dog is always with its master.” Domingo’s image always must have a dog. The dog at the feet of the master, following wherever and whenever the master wants. That is a powerful image. But what if we saw things with the eyes of the poor? What is in the heart of both the “master” and the “dog” is that one understands the other, and the other responds. Who is the dog, and who is the master?
The next day, I attended the Sunday Liturgy in another town. There was good conversation afterwards with the priest and seminarians who served the parish community. One of them, after hearing my experience about the arch, said: “Yes, as my professor used to say, we are indebted to the Dominicans, they began this work.” The seminarian was correct. But we know better. The Spirit of God has been all over this journey. Yes, the first Dominicans who came to this land did their part and made mistakes. But the Good News is God’s work, right?! My dear friend Jose Marins attributed to John Chrysostom this phrase: “The Spirit does the work, and we do the sweating.” The Spirit of God has done, is doing, and will be doing, again and again, all over, while we respond with sweating!
What is the Spirit of God Telling Me and Why?
Oaxaca is one of the poorest states in Mexico, and Mexico is one of the poorest countries in the world. A dog that sits at the feet of Domingo … what could that possibly mean regarding the poor, their “formation,” their “evangelization”? Who is the “formator,” and who is the “formed”? The “evangelizer” or the “evangelized? In Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis suggests that it is the poor who evangelize the wealthy, calling them to metanoia. Programs of formation, in the style of Paulo Freire, are so necessary in poor communities. That is what we Dominicans are called to with the stubbornness of dogs! Formation in the model of ver, juzgar, and actuar is the call of the Dominican community as we accompany the poor. But it must be remembered that we “form” so the God’s Spirit forms us. We form communities of the poor who, in turn, form us through the Spirit of God.
And what of the dog? She sits at the feet of Dominic. Our feet are washed by … Jesus! The dog reminds us of kenosis, God’s total self-emptying. Can we say that hidden in the dog, the lowliest of animals, is the presence of the Spirit?
Our efforts are dog-like, small, insignificant. The dog with torch in mouth has traditionally been the Dominican symbol for the Word. Dietrich Bonhoeffer says that Jesus comes and “hides” in what we hardly ever notice. When we look at the image of Dominic, it is not the dog that first comes to mind. But perhaps that is what we should see first!
Dogs are stubborn. Dogs are faithful. Dogs are insistent. Have you ever seen a dog who wants to play catch with a ball? They do it again and again. It is not the dog who gets tired. We do! Have you seen how a service dog so faithfully cares for a person in need? A blind person can have “eyes” because of the service dog. They are animals who care for us, nurturing us in so many ways. Depressed people are often known to seek the aid of a service dog who has been specially trained for this work. Dogs rescue people!
Kenosis is incarnated when we look at the dog at Dominic’s feet. The dog invites us to care for the poor, to open our hearts to be formed by the poor, to be evangelized by the poor. I remember hearing a Dominican preaching in a community of migrant poor that the real reason why they were in the United States was to evangelize this country. It is in this Spirit that we serve the poor, richly as our God places the plate of the Word in front of us so that we might eat. The eating is not directed to our nourishment. It is so that we can give “bread to the poor.” Jesus is the living Bread “come down from heaven … so that we eat and never die” (see John 6:51 – 58). We “give” bread to the poor in the Word, and they in turn feed us with bread and food for the journey (cf 1 Kings 17:1–15).
Domingo, like all of us, was called to respond to God’s initiative of pure grace.