Thursday, August 8, 2013

Simon Tugwell on St Dominic

St Dominic (1170 - 1221) was born in Castile, Spain and ordained to the priesthood early in life. Two missionary trips to Denmark with his mentor Diego, Bishop of Osma, sparked in him a fervent zeal to  evangelise. Both he and Diego set off preaching in France, barefoot and begging for bread from door to door – just as Jesus said to those he sent out to proclaim the Kingdom (Luke 9:3), “take nothing for (the) journey, neither a staff, nor a bag, nor bread, nor money . . .”

For St Dominic, preaching was not so much standing on a street corner and admonishing passers-by to believe. Rather it was a revolutionary call to return to our Christian and Apostolic roots: to go where God’s people are and to be with them, sharing their lives. So, Dominic didn’t draw brothers and sisters away from the world and into seclusion; he believed that his particular charism was to bring brothers and sisters together to be equipped spiritually and intellectually for their vocation IN the world. And for him, preaching was not what one “does”; it was a complete way of living out the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Well known spiritual and theological author, Father Simon Tugwell OP, wrote these words in his Saint Dominic & the Order of Preachers:

“The Church, in the words of Psalm 44, has always been ‘clothed in variety’, not the least splendid aspect of which is the variety of her saints. Some become a kind of living image of holiness, attracting veneration during their life-time and becoming objects of cult as soon as they are dead. They leave behind them, in the imagination of succeeding ages, a vivid remembrance of what they were. The figure of St Francis, for instance, has haunted and inspired the Church ever since he died in 1226.

“Other saints are, as it were, more coy, and hide behind the works which live after them and the ideals which they prompted others to follow. Their individual personalities make less impression on the Church’s memory; like signposts, they point away from themselves. People may come to forget them as individuals, but they cannot escape for long from the ideals for which they stood.

“St Dominic is one of the coy saints. When he died in 1221, the Order which he had established buried him, sadly and affectionately, and then got on with the job he had given them. Unlike the Franciscans, they made no attempt to turn their founder into an object of cult; nor did they immediately start writing up his life to publicise his personal holiness. The earliest life that we have of Dominic is not called ‘A Life of St Dominic’, but ‘A Little Book about the Beginnings of the Order of Preachers’.

“In his life-time, Dominic had wished to be treated simply as one of the brethren, and his dying wish was that he should be buried beneath the feet of his brethren. It is quite in accordance with his own temperament that he should live on in the Church, not as a striking individual, but in the work of preaching the gospel, for which his Order came into being...

“In one sense, the life of Dominic in this world ended in August 1221, though his memory lives on in the hearts of his family of friars and nuns, sisters and laity. But in another sense, the world still hears his voice, even if it does not recognise it as his. As St Catherine of Siena says, ‘The voice of Dominic’s preaching is still heard today and will continue to be heard’ in the preaching of his followers.”

O God of the prophets,
you opened the eyes of your servant Dominic 
to perceive a famine of hearing the Word of the Lord, 
and moved him, 
and those he drew about him, 
to satisfy that hunger 
with sound preaching and fervent devotion:  
Make your Church, dear Lord, 
in this and every age, 
attentive to the hungers of the world, 
and quick to respond in love 
to those who are perishing; 
through Jesus Christ our Lord, 
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, 
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


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