Here we are again at St. Dominic’s feast day, one of my favorite days of the year! I hope it has been a blessed and joyful one for everybody–especially my fellow Dominicans!
I had the good fortune to attend a very pleasant and educational celebration at the University of Dallas sponsored by the UD Alumni. Several of my fellow Lay Dominicans were in attendance, and we enjoyed a talk and Q&A with Dr. John Sommerfeldt, Professor Emeritus of History, about St. Dominic and his world and his Order of Preachers.
One thing Dr. Sommerfeldt spoke about was the fact that we really know very little about St. Dominic. There are some writings and testimonies about him, but they are more hagiographical than biographical. We have even less that is from and by the saint himself. It’s rather strange, isn’t it–that the man who founded the Order of Preachers should be such a quiet figure!
And yet, by the fruits of his labor, we know him. The Order he founded not only outlived the Albigensian heresy it was founded to confront–it has outlived everything since, right up to the present moment. It is approaching its 800th year! 800 years and an unbroken succession of Christian men and women who joyfully and lovingly call ourselves Dominicans, after our spiritual father. Many of them have become saints themselves: Albert the Great and Thomas Aquinas… Catherine of Siena and Rose of Lima… Martin de Porres and John Macias… Pope Pius V and Louis de Montfort… these are just a small selection of Dominican saints.
Prayer and preaching were the two foundations of St. Dominic’s life. Contemporaries said that he always spoke with God or of God. St. Dominic must also have been a very practical man. He knew that in order to preach effectively, one must be dedicated to study. In order to study, one must have things like access to books and a roof over one’s head. And so, he sent his friars into all the cities of Europe and had them establish Dominican houses close to the newly-flourishing universities, where they studied and not long after began teaching. These intellectual friars also attracted students and teachers to join the fledgling Order.
But of course, the growth and flourishing and survival of the Order was, and is, and ever will be largely a result of its founder’s prayers and sacrifices–all of the great works he did in secret, during the night. His life and his mission and his Order were never about him. He cared more about ensuring the future of the Order. He wanted it to live long after he was gone.
Even in death, he probably would have been content to work behind the scenes, in ways fully known only to God and himself. He died on 6 August–the Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord. He would have been content to have his own feast day eclipsed by a feast of the Lord. But the Church treasures her quiet light, and so we commemorate him on 8 August.
Pope Benedict spoke of St. Dominic and his deep prayer life in his Wednesday Audience today. Read about it here.