Happy Feast! Our Holy Father Dominic…

Today is the feast day of St. Dominic, founder of the Order of Preachers.  So, how much do you know about this Preacher of Grace?

 St. Dominic’s legacy began prior to his birth.  After the birth of her first two sons, St. Dominic’s mother, Bl. Jane of Aza, went to the Monastery in Silos and prayed a novena to St. Dominic of Silos.  At the end of the novena, St. Dominic of Silos appeared to her and told her she would bear a son who would be a light of the Church and terror of heretics.  Sometime thereafter, she had a dream in which she gave birth to a dog who, with a burning torch in his mouth, leaped from her womb and seemed to set the world on fire.  This why St. Dominic is often depicted with a dog holding a torch in its mouth.

 We have very few writings by St. Dominic, but his friars, nuns and other contemporaries left us many descriptions and stories about him.  He was always joyful and had a great love for sinners.  He was reputed to only talk to God or about God.  While traveling, he would often sing songs to the Blessed Virgin Mary or would drop behind his company to pray.  He would spend his days preaching, but always stopped for the liturgy of the hours.  He would spend his nights in prayer and was heard crying out to God, tears flowing, “What is to become of poor sinners?”  One of the nuns, Bl. Cecilia, left a detailed description of his appearance, the only way we know today what he looked like .

 During his early years in Spain, he was known to be a gifted and serious student.  But even then, he showed great tenderness toward those in need – his tender generosity is exemplified by an account that he sold his books to give the money to the starving poor of Palencia, Spain.  Eventually he was ordained a priest and served as a canon regular at the Cathedral in Osma, Spain.  Canons regular are priests living in community, sharing property in common, but they are distinct from monks in that they are not cloistered – the purpose of their life is to engage in public ministry of liturgy and sacraments, bound to a particular community and place, and to pray publicly the Liturgy of the Hours.  St. Dominic was called upon by the bishop of Osma to help reform the canons regular there, and was eventually appointed as superior prior of that chapter.  As a canon of Osma, he spent nine years of his life hidden in contemplation, rarely leaving the chapter house.

 In 1203, the Bishop of Osma was sent on a mission by the pope to assist in negotiations regarding a royal marriage.  For his travel companion, the bishop, Don Diego, chose St. Dominic.  Passing through Toulouse in the south of France, Don Diego and St. Dominic witnessed with surprise and sorrow the havoc wreaked on the local people by the Albegensian heresy.  Albegensianism taught, in part, the spiritual world was good and the material word was evil.  People were essentially spiritual being trapped in physical bodies and anything a person could do to shun bodily and materials goods was to be applauded.  What’s more, due to economic conditions, many families were compelled to entrust their daughters’ care and education to the “Perfect” – the leaders of the heresy.  This helped propound the heresy, as the daughters grew, married, and began to teach their children the heresy. 

 The monks and clergy who had been sent to address the heresy were largely discounted – they arrived on horses, with many indulgent creature comforts the people could not afford and the heretics preached against as evil.  Don Diego and St. Dominic urged the monks to adopt a more austere way of life and as they did, the number of converts to the Catholic faith increased.

 The Perfect also used theological arguments to sway people to the heresy.  So, Don Diego and St. Dominic wasted no time in engaging in theological debates with them.  This too, eventually served to convert many, as the heretics could not answer all the arguments presented by St. Dominic, nor counteract the influence of his preaching.

 Having been approached by a group of women converted from heresy, and recognizing the need to provide a safe place for women to go to be protected from the heresy and its effects, on the eve of the feast of St. Mary Magdalene, St. Dominic went to the top of a hill overlooking Prouille, France to pray.  A star appeared over a small chapel in disrepair.  With the permission of the local bishop, he had it repaired and established a convent there in 1206.  This was the first monastery of what would be the nuns of the Dominican Order. 

 There are many more stories and miracles that followed: men from all backgrounds and privileges leaving everything to share in St. Dominic’s life and work as a friar preacher, even one of his brothers, Bl. Mannes became a friar.  Miracles of multiplying wine, food provisions, healings…  But most importantly, the conversion of many, many souls – a legacy carried on by St. Dominic’s sons and daughters to this day.  In every cell at the Monastery, below a crucifix, hangs a little picture in black and white – an image of St. Dominic and an encouragement from him, uttered shortly before he died:

Behold, my children, the heritage I leave.  Have charity for one another, guard humility, make your treasure out of voluntary poverty.

 The following, which is said to be from St. Dominic, is recorded in a manuscript kept in the Dominican Monastery of San Tomaso in Perugia, Italy.  While there may be some dispute as to whether it is really from St. Dominic, it is nonetheless a good reflection for today.

 My dearest children, I have no earthly goods to leave you, because, as you know well, I have renounced all things; but I leave you something of greater worth, that is to say, the blessing of God and my own. I pray you, and as far as possible, command you to love one another and to remain always united having your hearts and wills conformable to that which Our Savior has taught you and which our Holy Rule imposes upon you and of which our Constitutions remind you. Do not allow yourselves to be made vain by any grace whatsoever God may bestow on you, whether temporal or spiritual, but with profound humility seek to recognize the obligation under which His benefits place you, which with the same humility you should endeavor to preserve…

The goods which I leave you, oh my children, are not gold and silver, treasures or other temporal wealth. They are the treasures of eternal salvation; the wealth of heaven; divine merchandise and an inheritance which ends not at death. I leave you first, Charity, the eldest daughter of the grace of God. With this gift, you will be zealous in the service of God, ardent in promoting the salvation of your neighbor, and never among yourselves will discords and dissensions arise. Charity will unite you to God, and you will receive therefrom those favors which the true friends of God are accustomed to enjoy. In persecutions you will be intrepid, and many of you will not hesitate to shed your blood for the faith.

I leave you, secondly, Humility. She is so pleasing to God that for her He descended to earth and enclosed Himself in the Virgin’s womb, beholding “the humility of His handmaiden.” With this gift, if it continues with you, you shall be well pleasing to God and He will bestow on you His grace. By this virtue you will endear yourselves also to those around you, who, seeing in you that gentleness and patience which are the fruits of humility and considering the many services that you render them, will, in return, be unable to do less than love and assist you. Humility will remove from your heart all false pretension, free from all proud ambitions and relieve them of the heavy weight of temporal dignities. Through her you will become receptive of much divine light whereby to obtain a true understanding of the Holy Scriptures and great freedom and finally, you will enjoy great tranquility and peace, since he who is humble performs more willingly the will of another than his own. Cultivate, therefore, this holy virtue.

Lastly, I leave you Voluntary Poverty, that which, although she may indeed appear less comely outwardly, yet is the more fair and precious interiorly and well endowed with spiritual wealth, since it is certain that her merit cannot be paid with the price of this earth, and therefore is the Kingdom of Heaven assigned as her reward.

By this virtue you will be liberated from all the entanglements of worldly interests and set loose towards all cares of this earth and towards all temporal affections. By her aid you will be exemplary in preaching and in the ministry of the Church. By her will you be loosed from earth and tend upward toward the sky. Be not disturbed if through poverty you shall find yourselves in manifest necessities, because the Heavenly Father, Who loves you more than any father whatsoever, will soon provide with generous hand nor will He who feeds the humblest beast of the earth suffer them to die of hunger who faithfully serve Him…

In closing, I remind you of your obedience to the Roman Church and to the Vicar of Christ, whom both, all you and those who shall succeed you are to love, honor and obey.”

So ends my Testament.

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