Saint Dominic is a personal hero of mine. In fact, outside of the Biblical saints, St. Dominic ranks right up there with Saints Benedict and Francis as the greatest saints in the history of the world. Maybe it is just me. I also believe that the modern Church has a great deal to learn from St. Dominic. Keeping some of these lessons short and sweet, I will arrange them around what St. Dominic referred to as the Four Pillars of Dominican Life and Spirituality: prayer, study, community, and mission.
St. Dominic knew that prayer was absolutely essential for the life of any Christian. One of the earliest works of the Dominicans was a text called The Nine Ways of Prayer of St. Dominic. Each friar was required to spend time in prayer with God privately. They must regularly communicate with their Lord in order to have a relationship with Him. In order to draw nourishment from the well, one must regularly go to the well. Unlike the Jesuits of St. Ignatius of Loyola, St. Dominic required that his friars prayed together corporately. St. Dominic knew that Christianity is not an individual endeavor but a mass migration of people from exile to their heavenly home. He knew that as much as individual prayer is vital to the life of each Christian, corporate prayer is vital to the life of each Christian community. St. Dominic also desired that his friars partake of the Blessed Sacrament as much as possible. Dominicans are required to take Holy Communion on Sundays and should participate in the Daily Mass where ever it is offered. The sacramental prayers of the Holy Eucharist give Christians that sure and certain sign of the spiritual grace imparted through the Body and Blood of Jesus. Nothing reminds of more of Christ’s sacrifice than recalling the events of the Last Supper, His death and resurrection and remembering that Jesus Christ, the second person in the Holy Trinity humbles Himself to take on the form of simple bread and simple wine so that we might eat of His Flesh and drink His Blood. Finally, St. Dominic required that his friars regular partake of the Sacrament of Reconciliation. St. Dominic knew that we must frequently go before the Lord and confess how we have sinned and receive His forgiveness. I would venture to say that the vast majority of churches in a America neglect at least one (if not more) of these four aspects of prayer. To St. Dominic, all of them were vital and none could be neglected.
You might remember that the official name of the Jesuits is the Society of Jesus. Likewise, the official name of the Dominicans is the Order of Preachers. St. Dominic believed that the only way to overcome the heretics of his day, the Albigensians and Manicheans, was to effectively preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ to them. In order to accomplish that, St. Dominic knew that his men would have to attain more than just a passing familiarity with the Scriptures. He required his friars to spend hours studying the Holy Scriptures, commentaries and apologetic texts every day. He did this in order than his friars might be able to confront the heretics of his day and triumph over them in the square of the public oratory. Atheists and agnostics of our day are not ignorant ostriches who stick their head in the sand. In some cases, they are more familiar with the Holy Scriptures than many Christians. In order to convert them, we must not only show them the love of God and minister to them, we must show them, in their own language and using their own tools, how they are wrong. That requires a great deal of study. The battle is heavily slanted against us. The mass media works against Christianity. That matters little, however, since we have the truth on our side. Nevertheless, we must study and train to show ourselves approved in the days of the verbal battles.
The third pillar of Dominican Spirituality is community. In the twenty-first century our individualism has been taken to the extreme. We now hold such ridiculous concepts as individual truths! There are those who actually assert that what is true for one person may not be truth for another. While recognizing that each Christian needs to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, St. Dominic knew the importance of working together in community. His friars lived together in their houses and shared all of the labor between them. They lived together and worked together and they struggled together—sometimes because of each other. In their perseverance, they grew in the knowledge and love of God and of His Son Jesus Christ. We must come to think of our parishes as our families, people with whom we are stuck by God’s grace. All too often someone takes offense at a pastor’s message, whether that message is valid or not, and someone leaves. The local parish is our family and our community. We would do well to begin treating them as such instead of as a nice social club.
The final pillar of Dominican spirituality varies depending on which source on reads. In some cases, it is mission; in another it is preaching; in a third it is apostolate. For the Dominican it is all the same. The word “apostolate” means that group of people to which you are sent. Their mission, as the Order of Preachers, has always been to preach the Gospel. Mission, preaching, and apostolate are all tied up in one for the Dominicans. Our modern churches would do well to meditate and seek the Lord on the specific mission of each local parish. As each individual parish differs, so do those in need surrounding those parishes. A rural parish probably does not need to put a lot of energy into inner city renewal. To what ministry is your particular parish called? We cannot do everything? What is your apostolate? What is your mission? How will you preach the Gospel to those around you? Specific goals are far easier to meet then grand schemes.
One of the symbols of the Order of Preachers is a hound carrying a burning torch in his mouth. The legend goes that St. Dominic’s mother had a vision while she was pregnant. The Lord showed her that her son would be this hound who ran about the world barking and who set the world on fire as he ran. May we, like St. Dominic, set those around us on fire where ever we may go.
Almighty God, whose servant Dominic grew in knowledge of your truth and formed an order of preachers to proclaim the good news of Christ: Give to all your people a hunger for your Word and an urgent longing to share the Gospel, that the whole world may come to know you as you are revealed in your Son Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.