August 8th is the Feast of St. Dominic. I am taking this opportunity to share with you a brief overview of the Dominican Order and a quick glance at Dominican spirituality.
The Order of Preachers (better known as Dominicans) was started in 1216 by a Spaniard, named Dominic de Guzman (1170-1221). Dominic was known for carrying the Gospel of Matthew with him and it is likely he contemplated the Parable of the Sower (Mt 13:1-23) that we recently heard on the Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time. Dominic envisioned a group of religious men devoted to preaching and living the truth of the gospel. Dominic knew that God’s grace was at work and that it was God’s grace that would work in his life, in the friars’ preaching, and in the people who heard their preaching.
Responding to signs of the times and the needs of a constantly changing church and culture, Pope Honorius III (1150-1227) gave life to Dominic’s vision when he entrusted him and his followers with the official task of preaching. At the time, there was a desperate need in the church for educated and well-trained preachers to oppose the false teachings of the Albigensians. The Albigensians were small groups of heretics whose powerful influence misguided the practice of religion and politics in the region where they lived. There is a story that while on a trip to Toulouse, Dominic stayed at an inn and debated with an Albigensian innkeeper throughout the night. When the sun rose, the innkeeper was convinced to return to the orthodoxy of the church.
Soon the Dominican Order began to flourish and many joined the band of preachers in Spain, France, and Italy. To the monastic practices of prayer, common life, study, and ministry, what are called the four pillars of Dominican life, Dominic added mendicancy, a commitment to be people of simple means, and itinerancy, going wherever preaching was needed.
For Dominicans, prayer is centering our lives in Jesus Christ and being open to the guiding presence of the Holy Spirit who radiates God’s healing presence in our world today. Dominicans contemplate God’s Word as heard from sacred scripture, celebrated in the Eucharist, and experienced in everyday life. Dominicans sing the Liturgy of the Hours together and are dedicated to praying the rosary either alone or with others. Although Dominic never wrote anything about prayer, within years after his death, his followers had compiled The Nine Ways of Prayer describing how Dominic prayed with his body, mind, and heart to be in total union with God.
For Dominicans, common life is living together in community where all things are held in common. Living in community challenges us to be of one mind and one heart and sharing a common vision for the ministry of preaching. In practical terms, it means sharing the same checking account, discerning together what and how things are done, and dividing the household chores according to each friar’s ability. Dominic believe so strongly in common life that when his health began to fail and death was fast approaching, he asked to be buried in the priory beneath the feet of his brothers.
For Dominicans, study is an essential part of preaching. Dominic sent the friars to the medieval universities in Paris, Bologna, and Palencia to study, to teach, to preach, and to establish new places for learning. Dominicans believe that study opens our hearts and minds more fully to the human condition and enables us to build on a rich history and tradition whose ultimate purpose is the preaching and teaching of the gospel. Dominic released friars from the obligation to pray and to be present with the community. But no brother was excused from study.
For Dominicans, our prayer, our common life, and our study are all for the sake of preaching. For us preaching takes many forms. We preach from the pulpit during liturgy and at retreats, but teaching, writing poetry, composing music, creating pieces of art, working with digital media as well as various other kinds of pastoral care are ways in which we bring the healing Word of God to bear on the lives of those we serve. Our preaching ministry takes us to parishes, university campuses, and retreat centers and to food pantries, shelters for the homeless, and other places where people are financially as well as spiritually poor.
Dominicans have grown into a family of priests, brothers, active sisters, cloistered nuns, and laymen and laywomen. During 800 years of preaching, the Dominicans have maintained a profound commitment to the four pillars of prayer, community, study, and ministry. These are the foundation of the life that Dominic envisioned for his followers whose motto is “Laudare” (to praise), “Benedicere” (to bless), “Praedicare” (to preach).
Here are a few names of the many women and men who are members of the Order of Preachers whom you may recognize: Thomas Aquinas, Pope Benedict XI, Catherine of Siena, Albert the Great, Fra Angelico, Meister Eckhardt, Margaret of Hungary, Pope Pius V, Rose of Lima, Martin de Porres, Alphonsus Navaretta and companions, Pope Benedict XIII, Angela Sansbury, Vincent Ferrer, Edward Dominic Fenwick, Henry Suso, Catherine de Ricci, Samuel Mazzuchelli, Mary Walsh, Mary Jean Darcy, Bob Kelly, and many, many more!
Fr. Bob Kelly