August 8th is the feast of St Dominic Guzman, founder of the Dominican Order. This year St Dominic’s feast is special because we are celebrating the eighth centenary of his entrance in heaven.
As a Franciscan I cannot not rejoice in this beautiful feast day! In an interesting reflection regarding the life of St Dominic and the Order of Friars Preachers, Br Lawrence Lew O.P, a member of the English Province of the Order of Preachers, gives the following comment about the friendship struck between the two founders to the two great mendicant orders, the Franciscans and the Dominicans:
Tradition holds that during Dominic’s second visit to Rome, in 1216, he met Francis of Assisi in one of the churches there. Both were negotiating with the Holy See through their mutual patron, Cardinal Ugolino, later Pope Gregory IX, to obtain papal confirmation of their respective orders–the Order of Preachers and the Order of Friars Minor. Having seen Francis in a vision the night before, Dominic recognized him and rushed to greet him. A close friendship sprang up between the two, and to this day Dominicans and Franciscans exchange visits on each other’s founder’s feast days as a sign of unity towards a common goal. The mutual influences of Dominic and Francis can be seen in the development of their orders: Francis may have influenced Dominic to expand the practice of the vow of poverty, and the Friars Minor adopted the Dominican constitutional system as a result of their turbulent history after Francis’ death.
Saint Dominic has to be seen not as a separate entity, but a brother – within the Dominican dream the Holy Spirit gave both to the Church and the world. In a recent address Br Timothy Radcliffe O.P, the former Master General of the Order of Friars Preachers, views St Dominic story intertwined within a tradition.
Shortly after his death when all the founders were beginning to die, they realized they had to preserve the stories of the beginning, but they did not write a life of St. Dominic. They wrote something called the Vitae Fratrum. They did not give Dominic a private story, his story. It would have made no sense to do that because he refused the identity of being the “great founder.” He created space where people could be brother and sister. So to write the story of Dominic would be to continue what his life was all about. His gift was to create a space where lots of people could have their stories.
In his letter addressed to Brother Gerard Francisco Timoner O.P, Master General of the Order of Preachers for the VIII Centenary of the death of St Dominic of Caleruega, of 24 May 2021, Pope Francis celebrated St Dominic as God’s gift of creating a space where lots of people which appertain to the great Dominican family wrote their stories.
First, in this loving holy space Dominic invites us to reach the people who are at the periphery and share with them the life-giving gospel of Jesus Christ. Dominic encourages us to do this by responding to the needs of our time. Pope Francis writes:
In the Apostolic Exhortation Guadete et Exsultate I expressed my conviction that “each saint is a mission, planned by the Father to reflect and embody, at a specific moment in history, a certain aspect of the Gospel” (No. 19). Dominic responded to the urgent need of his time not only for a renewed and vibrant preaching of the Gospel, but, equally important, for a convincing witness to its summons to holiness in the living communion of the Church. In the spirit of all true reform, he sought a return to the poverty and simplicity of the earliest Christian community, gathered around the apostles and faithful to their teaching (cf. Acts 2:42). At the same time, his zeal for the salvation of souls led him to form a corps of committed preachers whose love of the sacred page and integrity of life could enlighten minds and warm hearts with the life-giving truth of the divine word.
In our own age, characterized by epochal changes and new challenges to the Church’s evangelizing mission, Dominic can thus serve as an inspiration to all the baptized, who are called, as missionary disciples, to reach every “periphery” of our world with the light of the Gospel and the merciful love of Christ. In speaking of the perennial timeliness of Saint Dominic’s vision and charism, Pope Benedict XVI reminded us that “in the heart of the Church, a missionary fire must always burn” (Audience of 3 February 2010).
Second, in this loving space Dominic exhorts us to be merciful. Thus writes Pope Francis: Dominic’s great call was to preach the Gospel of God’s merciful love in all its saving truth and redemptive power. As a student in Palencia, he came to appreciate the inseparability of faith and charity, truth and love, integrity and compassion. As Blessed Jordan of Saxony tells us, touched by the great numbers who were suffering and dying during a severe famine, Dominic sold his precious books and, with exemplary kindness established a center for almsgiving where the poor could be fed (Libellus, 10). His witness to the mercy of Christ and his desire to bring its healing balm to those experiencing material and spiritual poverty was to inspire the foundation of your Order and shape the life and apostolate of countless Dominicans in varied times and places.
Third, in this holy loving space Dominic helps us unite charity and truth. They are the two hands which support one another. Pope Francis explains:
The unity of truth and charity found perhaps its finest expression in the Dominican school of Salamanca, and particularly in the work of Friar Francisco de Vitoria, who proposed a framework of international law grounded in universal human rights. This in turn provided the philosophical and theological foundation for the heroic efforts of Friars Antonio Montesinos and Bartolomé de Las Casas in the Americas, and Domingo de Salazar in Asia to defend the dignity and rights of the native peoples.
Finally, in this holy loving space Dominic inspires us to unite our words with our Christ-like example. This is what Pope Francis tells us in his letter:
Together with Saint Francis of Assisi, Dominic understood that the proclamation of the Gospel, verbis et exemplo, entailed the building up of the entire ecclesial community in fraternal unity and missionary discipleship. The Dominican charism of preaching overflowed early into the establishment of the varied branches of the larger Dominican family, embracing all the states of life in the Church. In succeeding centuries, it found eloquent expression in the writings of Saint Catherine of Siena, the paintings of Blessed Fra Angelico and the charitable works of Saint Rose of Lima, Blessed John Macias and Saint Margaret of Castello. So too, in our own time it continues to inspire the work of artists, scholars, teachers and communicators. In this anniversary year, we cannot fail to remember those members of the Dominican family whose martyrdom was itself a powerful form of preaching. Or the countless men and women who, imitating the simplicity and compassion of Saint Martin de Porres, have brought the joy of the Gospel to the peripheries of societies and our world. Here I think in particular of the quiet witness given by the many thousands of Dominican tertiaries and members of the Dominican Youth Movement, who reflect the important and indeed indispensable role of the laity in the work of evangelization.
Lord may our lives write the values of mercy, solidarity with the excluded, harmony between charity and truth, and Christlike example. St Dominic pray for us!
What a great and beautiful Dominican dream this is!