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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.

(Photo: statue of St. Dominic at the priory of Santa Sabina, Rome – by Flickr user Lawrence OP)

Happy feast day to my dear father, St. Dominic!

A blessed day to all my Dominican family and to all.

May the light of Truth, which was his guiding star,

illumine our souls and lead us to our heavenly home.

St. Dominic statue, Hawkesyard, Staffordshire, UKHappy feast day to my beloved spiritual father, St. Dominic!

Appropriately, I will be on retreat today with my Lay Dominican chapter, praying, studying, fellowshipping.  What better way to spend our founding father’s feast day?

There are two things that struck me early on about St. Dominic, and still today spring to my mind whenever I think of him: courage and trust in divine providence.  Probably because they are two lessons that I most need to learn!  Here are a couple of quotations from Dominican Spirituality : Principles and Practice by Fr. William A. Hinnebusch, OP.

An example of courage:

With courage he traveled through the Albigensian country. At times he knew his enemies were planning to kill him, yet he continued on his way. Once they took him, but seeing that he offered no resistance, they asked: “What would you have done, had we carried out our plans?” “I would have begged you to put me to death in the slowest possible way, to cut me to pieces bit by bit so my martyrdom would be prolonged for the good of souls.” Realizing how much he wanted martyrdom, they did not kill him. He was a martyr by desire.

A martyr by desire.  How many of us can say that about ourselves?

On his trust in divine providence:

The very fact that Dominic was willing to found a mendicant Order, one that owned no property and had no revenues, indicates his mighty trust in Divine Providence. He relied on the free-will offerings the faithful would give him. He so believed in God’s help, that he did not want the brethren to store up more food than they needed for a day. That is why they sometimes went hungry. But his faith was rewarded, more than once, by the miracle of the loaves. Both in Bologna and in Rome there were days when the early friars, unknown newcomers, did not get enough from their begging tours. Then they found a bare refectory. There was nothing to place before them. But the Founder had them offer the grace and take their places just the same. At Rome the angels came and distributed a loaf of bread to each friar. This was the answer of Providence to Dominic’s trust.

The sad thing about my having to constantly learn to trust divine providence is that… I know I can trust in it!  I because it has come through for me time after time after time.  Maybe not via the miracle of the loaves, but still in some pretty marvelous ways.  And yet… I still need to work on it.  Why, why is it so easy to lose sight of things like that?

At least I am in good hands.  If anybody can help me master it, it’s St. Dominic.

May his prayers and blessings be with you all… especially my fellow Dominicans!  :)

(photo by Flickr user Lawrence OP)

I’ve mentioned before that I would like very much to produce some sort of work about St. Dominic.  It’s a thought that has remained constantly in my mind, my heart, and my imagination–perhaps at the back of my mind, but there nonetheless.  I have turned to Father Dominic in prayer, asking him what he would like me to write, or what I should know about him.  And over and over, one person has come into my mind, right beside Father Dominic–namely, Father Dominic’s brother, Blessed Mannes de Guzmán.

Bl. Mannes (or Manez, or Manes) was a priest who went after St. Dominic to France to help preach to the Albigensians, and then became one of the very first Dominican friars.  Based on that, one might assume that Bl. Mannes was St. Dominic’s younger brother, but that is not so; he was quite some years older than St. Dominic.  And one might assume that an older sibling being outshone by a younger sibling might harbor some envy or resentment.  But that was not the case with Bl. Mannes and St. Dominic.

Bl. Mannes appears to have been a most humble man, who genuinely supported his younger brother.  In fact, he may, perhaps, have felt quite content to be a bit obscured by the supernova-like brilliance of St. Dominic, for he seems to have had a more retiring and contemplative personality.  He was known as a very gifted preacher as well, of course, and he went forth with several other friars to Paris to establish the Dominican presence there.  St. Dominic later sent him back to Spain, to attend to a community of nuns in Madrid.  He outlived St. Dominic, and may have lived to see his brother canonized; one source says that he returned to their hometown of Calaruega, Spain, to ask for a church to be built in honor of the Saint.

There really isn’t that much known about Bl. Mannes… but he strikes me as a really interesting person!  He and St. Dominic must have had a wonderful relationship.  I imagine that his presence and especially his prayers provided St. Dominic will much encouragement and support.  I get a very strong sense that he was very important and very dear to his more famous younger brother.

Being an older sibling myself, I perhaps feel a special fondness and kindredness for Bl. Mannes.  He’s a good example for all older siblings… if and when he is canonized, perhaps older siblings could be his patronage!  I have already begun to develop a personal devotion to him as such.

I also read somewhere that two nephews of St. Dominic and Bl. Mannes also became Dominicans… I don’t know any details about who they were, other than that they must have been the sons of a sister, given that the only other known sibling, the eldest brother, Antonio, was also a priest.  Perhaps, I can ask Father Dominic to introduce me…  ;)

I think that being acquainted with a Saint’s relatives really helps us understand that the Saint was a real person with an “ordinary” life.

Last night at my meeting with my Lay Dominican community, the subject of St. Dominic’s physical appearance came up.  So I thought I would re-post some information I found in Dominican Spirituality: Principles and Practice by Fr. William A. Hinnebusch, OP:  (with my emphases and comments)

Of all those who knew the founder, Sister Cecilia alone describes his physical characteristics and appearance. At the very end of The Miracles there is a fine verbal portrait of St. Dominic. Modern information helps to substantiate what she said. After World War II, Pope Pius XII authorized the Dominicans of Bologna to have the relics of the founder examined. … After the war, with the Pope’s permission, the Provincial of Lombardy had the relics examined by X-ray. He was not permitted to open the casket, but photographs from many angles were taken. Almost all the bones are still there after more than seven hundred years. Doctors and anthropologists were able to study them and give an accurate description of the skeleton and physical characteristics of St. Dominic.

[Sr. Cecilia's] description is proved reliable by the scientific examination. She said he was of medium height — the measurements show that he was five feet six inches tall. [About an inch shorter than me.] She said, “his figure was supple; his face handsome and somewhat ruddy; his hair and beard blond with a reddish tinge. He was not a bit bald [apart from the shaven tonsure], though here and there in his hair there was a touch of gray.” At the bottom of the reliquary, the examiners found some shreds of St. Dominic’s hair. It was exactly the color that Cecilia had said it was. “From his brow and eyes,” she continued, “there came a radiant splendor which won the respect and admiration of all; his eyes were large and beautiful.” St. Dominic’s remains show large eye-sockets that are widely placed, confirming the physical description of Cecilia. With the scientific measurements and Cecilia’s description an artist has reconstructed an image of St. Dominic [see below!]. At least in size, shape, and proportion it conforms to life. Cecilia added: “His hands were long and handsome and his voice powerful and sonorous, and he was always joyous and smiling, except when moved with compassion at the affliction of his neighbors.” There are very few saints of so long ago whose personal appearance is so well described.

From what I’ve been able to tell, the statue below is the image reconstructed from these descriptions. It was sculpted by Carlo Pini in 1946 and is in the Basilica of San Domenico, Bologna, Italy. That is also where St. Dominic’s remains are entombed.

St. Dominic statue in profile St. Dominic statue

I think this holy card may also have been inspired by the description; note the reddish hair and similar facial structure:

St. Dominic holy card

Pretty neat, huh?!  Great things can happen when history, science, and art cooperate.

Painting of St. Dominic

Today we remember St. Dominic de Guzman (1170-1221), the founder of the Order of Preachers, aka Dominicans, aka the Order of which I am a happy and proud member!  So naturally, this is a very special day for me and for all Dominicans.

One fun thing that people may not realize is that St. Dominic is Patron Saint of astronomy and astronomers!  To my knowledge, Father Dominic did not ever study astronomy himself, but at his baptism, his mother (Bl. Joan of Aza), saw a star shining from his chest.  In portraits, he often has a star on or above his head.  Given my lifelong love of astronomy (amateurish though it may be), that is one extra bond I feel with Father Dominic!

He is also Patron Saint of falsely accused people. I’m not sure where that comes from, and I think it’s a bit funny given that St. Dominic is often wrongly portrayed as a ruthless inquisitor.

Actually, most of his life was spent studying and preaching and thereby trying to gently persuade heretics back to the faith, forming and building up his Order, and pouring himself out in constant prayer and acts of penance not only for the welfare of the very first Dominicans, but for the welfare of all generations of Dominicans to come.  On his deathbed, he promised his sorrowing brethren that he would be even more help to them after death.  Nearly 800 years later, we find him true to his word.

I think I have to write something about St. Dominic now.  I was looking for books to catalog, and happened across this beautiful little Spanish book:

La Villa de Guzmán : historia y patrimonio by María José Zaparaín Yáñez.

Of course, it mentioned St. Dominic, who is commonly known as Dominic de Guzmán; with my limited grasp of Spanish, I was able to make out that his father’s family came from that town. 

The book had lots of very beautiful photographs of the town and the surrounding countryside.  It looks like a beautiful, peaceful place.  There were photos of the town church, which is gorgeous, and it has a Guzmán family chapel, of which the centerpiece is a lovely statue of St. Dominic. 

I want to go to Spain now!

Anyway, I feel like I’ve received a writing assignment from Heaven.  I’m still not sure what I want to do with it.  But I probably won’t find any rest until I start something.  That’s generally how heavenly inspirations work.

I’ve been watching the classic British mini-series of Brideshead Revisted on DVD.  It’s so so so good!  It truly brings the book to life!  The casting, the acting, the settings, the faithfulness to the novel–simply excellent!  I finished the first two discs, and need to exchange them for the next two! 

I’ve begun reading St. Francis of Assisi by G.K. Chesterton.  I’m enjoying it immensely!  This little book wonderfully brings St. Francis and his world to life in a very realistic way.  I admit I’ve always found it a bit difficult to really appreciate St. Francis because there is so much sentimentality about him and so much exaltation that he hardly seems like a real person.  Chesterton captures all of his very unique, and indeed often very remarkable, characteristics, but grounds them in the real world and real humanity–in a real context.  I especially enjoyed the second chapter where Chesterton examines the way in which we moderns study–or rather, don’t study–history, and the meaning and purpose of The Dark Ages as a period of penance and purification to recover from the excesses and disorders of the pre-Christian world.

I’ve been feeling inspired to write something about my dear Father, St. Dominic.  He has sort of suffered the opposite fate as St. Francis in the popular imagination–he has been made a dark, cold, even malevolent figure, devoid of light, love, and joy.  Not very much a figure one can admire, much less love.  That’s not at all the St. Dominic I know… a very brilliant and learned man, very ascetic, very firm in standing against heresy… but very loving and compassionate toward mankind, perhaps especially so toward heretics.  He gave his all in every circumstance, emptying himself just as Christ did.  He was also extremely just and democratic, in an age when democracy was scarcely known.  Courageous and thoroughly trusting in God’s providence, he has many traits that all Christians would do well to imitate.  He promised on his death bed to be an even greater helper to mankind than he was when he was alive here… and I have found this to be very true.  So, I feel like creating a great tribute of some kind to him.  I’m not sure what form it might take… but I am thinking about it.

In the meantime, I’ve been doing a bit of work on my existing writing projects. 

I just finished reading Same Kind of Different as Me by Ron Hall and Denver Moore.  I read it for a book club.  It’s a true story about two very different men and a very special lady who brings them and many other people together.  Ron is a white man who has found his fortune as an art dealer.  Denver is a black homeless man, formerly a Louisiana sharecropper (essentially a modern-day slave).  Deborah is Ron’s wife who feels called by God to volunteer at a mission serving the homeless and especially to reach out to Denver.  This was a very interesting, moving, entertaining, heartbreaking, and ultimately very inspiring and uplifting book.  I was especially fascinated by Denver’s account of what his life was like, first as a sharecropper, then as a homeless person.  It truly helped me to see the world from a very different and very uncomfortable point of view, and I feel I am a better person for it.  I think the main theme of the book is God’s Providence and God’s wisdom–the way He always brings goodness and meaning out of even the worst, most meaningless tragedy and evil, and the way He always brings us to the right place at the right time, if we only believe in Him, trust Him, and follow Him.  The one thing that happened to me over and over again was that I kept forgetting it was non-fiction!  It was such an enjoyable read, and the story was so incredible.  Sometimes I felt it was almost too amazing to be true… but then, I can look over my own life and say the same thing.  Miracles abound if only we have the eyes to see them.

I got my first issue of First Things in the mail today.  I haven’t broken into it yet, but am very much looking forward to it!

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(Image from a painting at St. Catherine of Siena Parish, Metairie, Louisiana)

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