FAUSTO GOMEZ, OP
How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news (Is 52:7)
Brothers in Bologna were sad and crying when Dominic was dying. Our Father repeats to them: “I shall be more useful to you and more fruitful after my death than I was in my life” (Ventura’s testimony in Canonization Process). This is the central idea of the lovely O Spem Miram. Dominic continued: “Have charity, practice humility, and embrace voluntary poverty.” When he was dying, “he lifted his hands towards heaven,” and the brethren were praying “Come to help him, you saints of God and receive his soul” (Witness Rudolph of Faenza, in Early Dominicans, 68 and 78). It was August 6, at about noon, in the year 1221.
After our Father Dominic was buried, the people became aware of miracles that took place at his tomb and started having especial devotion to him. Apparently, his children who were busy – as he wanted them to be – preaching the Gospel of peace, did not seem to mind the devotion of the people or the miracles they attributed to their Father and Founder. Some years later, the ecclesiastical authorities and the superiors of the Order decided to move the remains of our Father to a better tomb and place in the same Church of St. Nicholas in Bologna. The first translation of his body to the new marble sepulcher was done with great solemnity the night of the 23-24 of May (1233), which is the feast the whole Dominican Order celebrates on May 24. Pope Gregory IX canonized our Father Dominic on July 3, 1234. In the year 1267, the remains of our Father were moved to the present tomb.
There is a Chinese saying that goes like this: “When drinking water, remember its fountain.” Easter reminds Christians every year that they have to go back to Galilee: everything started there. The Jubilee 800 invites us to go back to our origins. To our Father Dominic: this whole Dominican “thing” began with him! The Order’s celebration of the Jubilee 800 invites us to go back to Dominic, back to the birth of the river where the water is pure and clean; back to Dominic to be strengthened, re-charged, renewed; back to Dominic to know him better and love him more.
Who is St. Dominic for us?
Unorthodox etymology of the Dominicans: “Domini cani”, that is, the Lord’s dogs. Still our connection with “dogs of the Lord” has a popular ring: when Dominic’s mother, Blessed Juana de Aza, was pregnant with Dominic, she had the vision that a Benedictine monk interpreted thus: she bore in her womb a puppy with a lighted torch in its mouth; coming out of her womb, the puppy puts the whole world on fire. St. Dominic, indeed, was called by God to be an itinerant preacher of his word and inflame the world with the fire of Christ, the Spirit of Love.
St. Dominic was born in the noble town of Caleruega, Burgos, in Castilla, Spain around the year 1174 (not 1170). His parents, Felix and Juana were pious and compassionate. He had two brothers: Antonio, who became a priest, and Manes, who joint Dominic in his project of the Order. At six, he begins his instructions under his uncle priest Gonzalo de Aza. When he was about thirteen or fourteen years of age, Dominic is sent by his parents to the famous school of Palencia attached to the Cathedral (some years later it will become a university) where he pursued diligently the studies of liberal arts, including philosophy (6 years) and especially theology, which was centered on Sacred Scriptures (4 years), which he loved. Most probably through his years as a theology student, he decided to become a priest; he was ordained when he was about 25 years old. Through his student years, Dominic had three loves: study, prayer and the poor; three loves that will ground his future life and mission.
Three Stages define Dominic’s life: Dominic as the contemplative canon regular; Dominic, the active apostle of Christ, and Dominic, the contemplative-active Founder and Father of the Dominican Family.
(1)Dominic, the contemplative canon regular (1196-1204). By 1196, we see Dominic at Osma, where he becomes a canon regular at Osma Cathedral. The group of canon regulars (“cabildo”) was attuned to “the winds of the movement of evangelical and apostolic renewal” (Vito-Tomás Gómez García, OP, Santo Domingo de Guzman, Edibesa, 2011, 114). Under the Rule of St. Augustine, the group of canon regulars dedicated themselves to common life, celebration of the liturgy, study, silence and meditation, some monastic observances, and the administration of the Sacraments. Dominic, like the others, made his “profession” of poverty and chastity, prayer, charity, study and penance. The first office of our Father was sacristan and the second, around 1201, Sub-Prior (the Prior was Diego de Acebes, who later became bishop and chose Dominic to accompany him on his journey to Denmark through the southern part of France). A witness says that Dominic “showed himself kind with all – rich, poor, Jews, gentiles, who abounded then in Spain” (In Vito-Tomás Gómez, 119). In the 12th Century, the canon regulars were considered religious but not monks.
(2)Dominic, the active apostle of Christ (1204-1215). Through the Languedoc Region in Southern France, Dominic, with the group of preachers founded by Bishop Diego de Acebes (1207), preached the Word of God, the true doctrine against the heresies of the Cathars and Albigentians. When Bishop Acebes died like a saint on December 30, 1207, the group dispersed. Dominic continued preaching and some others followed him. These ten years in Dominic’s life constitute the preaching adventure of Dominic and some companions.
(3)Dominic, the contemplative-active Founder of the Order of Preachers (1216-1221). Dominic founded the first community of preachers, without official recognition, in Toulouse in 1215. Led by Dominic, the members of the group lived as a family consecrated to God for the salvation of souls. Dominic and his band of itinerant preachers prayed, studied and proclaimed the Word, following closely the footsteps of Jesus and his apostolic community. Dominic not only gave prominent importance to preaching, but to an original preaching rooted in common life, prayer and study, and practiced from poverty – from a simple life style.
Dominic founded the Dominican Order, or the First Regular Order in 1216. It was officially approved or confirmed by Pope Honorius III on December 22, 1216. At that time they were 17 friars: 8 French, 8 Spaniards and 1 English. Earlier, on November 22, 1206 Dominic had founded the Convent of Nuns at Prulle, which became later on the Second Order of Preachers, or the Nuns, with the intention of backing him and his team with prayer and penance. Around 1120, he founded the Third Order of Penance, whose members were lay persons committed to defend the Church and fight heretics.
With his companions, Dominic wanted to go back to the roots of faith, to the Gospel, and to imitate Christ as closely as possible. It has been said that the intense love of Dominic for Jesus and all men and women is the fountain of the foundation of the Order for preaching and the salvation of souls. In his religious project, Dominic gave radical significance to prayer, poverty, common life, and study. These essential elements were ordered to his goal: preaching of the Word – the Truth – for the salvation of souls.
Dominic was indeed “vir evangelicus et apostolicus.” Dominic was an evangelical and apostolic man, who followed closely the life of the apostles of Christ and thus committed himself and his followers to proclaim the Gospel, the good news of Jesus. His – and the Order’s – apostolic life was modelled in Luke chapter 10.
Dominic was also a great devotee of Mary and of the Rosary of Mary that he contributed greatly to found and establish as the Marian devotion par excellence. He placed his apostolate and that of the brethren under her motherly protection. Once he had a vision of heaven: he saw many religious men and women of other Orders in heaven, but no Dominican in heaven! Our Father was sad. Our Lord told him: “I have entrusted your Order to my Mother Mary.” Then he saw under the cape of Mother Mary many Dominicans. I saw the original painting in our convent in Bologna. Brother Domenico explained the painting to me. I told him that I saw four similar paintings at La Santa in Avila: Mary’s mantle covered Dominicans, Jesuits, Carmelites and Franciscans. His wonderful comment: “They copied us” (Bologna, May 13, 2000).
Some Important Characteristics in the Life of Dominic
Every saint is a close follower of Christ, and point to him as the only way to God and man. There are, however, different paths in the following of Jesus and different saints (no saint can exhaust the different ways of following Jesus).
Dominic was, the early chroniclers tell us, “Patient, kind, compassionate, sober, loving, humble and chaste, and he was always a virgin. I never knew anyone to compare with him in holiness of life”; “He rarely spoke except with God or about God in prayer and he encouraged the brethren to do likewise” (Witness Paul of Venice).
Salient virtues of Dominic: Humility: He turned down the episcopacy twice or thrice. He wanted to resign as Master General of the Order at the first General Chapter. Reason: “I deserve to be removed, because I am useless and lax.” Everything he did never pointed to himself, but always to God and to the neighbor.
Love of God and Neighbor: The night is for God, and the day for the neighbor, because God has made the night for thanksgiving and the day for mercy, he said. Above all, love of God: “He just talks about the Lord.” Dominic talks only with God or about God. His whole life was prayer and preaching.
Poverty: “Never asking for reward…” Poor in spirit and in fact, a mendicant, Dominic lived on alms and was sober and austere. He proposed poverty not just as a vow but as an overarching attitude of every Dominican, a conditio sine qua non to preach the Gospel effectively. He used to repeat to his brothers, especially the last two years of his life: “Preach the Gospel in voluntary poverty.”
Obedience: He obeyed the Pope, the bishops, the Rule of St. Augustine and the Constitutions and authorities of the Order. His obedience to the Church connected him with the apostolic tradition. While the heretics practiced poverty – often better than bishops and official and papal legates (these could only have 30 mules in their entourage!) -, they were not in communion with the apostolic tradition.
Chastity: He was always a virgin. Pure in body and soul! Chastity is for the love of God and the love of all neighbors.
Penance: He fasted and mortified his senses. He disciplined himself at night thrice: one, for his sins; another, for the conversion of sinners, and the third for the souls in purgatory. Penance, he learned from St. Augustine, is needed to be able to have the body under the spirit and the spirit under God.
Dominic was always a free person – all the saints are! Cardinal Villot described our Father Dominic as “truly a free man”: detached, trusting in God and in people who fed him, and in his companions.
St. Dominic was also a great leader – democratic and Christian. As Christian: we considered authority as a service – a shared service to others in justice, truth, freedom and love, and for peace. When Reginald of Orleans – not yet a Dominican – was very sick in Rome, Dominic visited him and invited him to enter the Order, and told him: “you will proclaim the Gospel of Peace (Eph 6:15).”
St. Dominic was, above all, a preacher. Even before he founded the order, Dominic was known, according to the chronicles, as “Dominic Preacher.” His preaching was fed by prayer, was rooted in poverty and study, and was supported by the brothers and sisters. A characteristic of his moving preaching: He often wept “while preaching, which made the people weep too” (Bro. Rudolph of Faenza). In 1217, Dominic was back in Rome. One night he had a vision: the apostles Peter and Paul appeared to him. Peter gave him a walking stick (symbol of authority and itinerancy), and Paul, his Epistles. Both tell Dominic: “Go and preach, because this is the ministry to which you have been called.”
If we had to single out one characteristic of St. Dominic that appeals today in a very particular way that would be compassion! Dominic was “always joyful, except when he was moved to compassion by the sufferings of the neighbor” (Sor Cecilia Romana). He learned compassion from his parents, especially his mother Juana who was, as the chronicles say, compassionate, generous and pious. “The compassion of Dominic, like that of Christ, was nourished by the suffering of people – of sinners, the poor, the wretched, for whom he had a special grace of prayer (V. de Couesnongle, OP; cf. II Cor 11:29). He really opted preferentially for the poor: as a student of theology at the prestigious school of Palencia, Dominic decided to sell his books. Why? Dominic answers: “I will not study on dead skins while men are dying of hunger.” At that time – as in other times -, there was a great famine around. He not just gave alms: he founded an institution – a sort of a caritas house – to take care of “the poor, hungry, sick and pilgrims” (Vito-Tomás, 114).
The Work of St. Dominic: The Dominicans.
A great person, a famous writer is defined by his/her life and works, which are an extension of his/her life. Dominic’s work is the Dominican Family he founded – his Order of priests, brothers, nuns, sisters, secular institutes, and fraternities of lay men and women and priests.
From the beginning – as we read in the chronicles -, and “grounded on their religious life and committed to poverty,” our brothers and sisters “gave themselves totally to the Gospel” (Vito Tomas, 180).
The first Dominicans in Manila, Philippines (July 1587) and in Macau (September 1587) were told in Spain of the hardships that they would certainly encounter. They were asked to reflect prayerfully and deeply and afterwards sign a statement stating that they were totally free and that they committed themselves to live a strict Dominican life in the Philippines and elsewhere. Those who signed in Spain were asked: “Are you ready to live a life of penance, austerity and service?” They were substantially successful because they were faithful to their commitment. They were strict observers of religious life. The civil and ecclesiastical authorities were so happy with the first group of Dominicans that they – the Cabildo of Manila- asked the King of Spain to send them more, many (muchos). Why? “Because they live in these lands very much as sons of their Father Dominic.” Similarly, our brothers and sisters in the different countries of Asia lived and live as true sons and daughters of our Father Dominic. We are a cog in the long and wonderful chain of missionaries of our Province and of our nuns and sisters and lay faithful and priests on the wave-length of St. Dominic.
Who is a Dominican? A Dominican is a man or a woman of Dominic! This is the orthodox meaning of “Dominican”: being of Dominic, belonging to Dominic! We belong to St. Dominic our Founder and Father. The painter Matisse made a few drawings of Dominic. In them, Dominic has no face (only the siluette). When the great French painter was asked why, he answered: “Every Dominican must place his/her face over the one of Dominic; he/she must identify himself/herself with the figure of Dominic.”
Blessed Jordan thanks Jesus for giving us such a wonderful father “to form us by his religious training and to inspire us by the example of his resplendent holiness.” The Constitutions ask the brothers and sisters “to foster the cult of St. Dominic and true devotion to him, the mirror of our life” (LCO, 67, $ III). Authentic devotion to our Father entails imitating his life – the life of a preacher of the Gospel of peace and grace and mercy. Brothers and sisters, we are Dominic’s Family. We walk Dominic’s path. The journey continues!
How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, those who herald peace and happiness, who proclaim salvation… (Is 52:7).