Pray, Learn, and Be Charitable — By Fr. Reginald, O.P.
Friends, this Tuesday, August 8, the Church remembers St. Dominic, founder of the Order of Preachers, who serve you here at St. Thomas More. With that in mind, I would like to share a bit about our great founder and the legacy he has left us. Dominic’s life can be summed up in three major themes: his spirit of prayer, his love of learning, and above all, his charity. Though he lived many centuries ago (1170-1221) we can still find much to admire and imitate in his life.
A Spirit of prayer. From a young age in his native Spain, Dominic’s family could see that he was drawn to piety and learning. His parents sent him to his uncle, a priest, for his education, and he became a Canon Regular (a kind of priest-monk) in the city of Osma. This meant many hours of prayer and meditation, along with daily celebration of Mass and chanting of the Psalms in the Liturgy of the Hours.
Dominic surely would have been happy to live out his life in this contemplative way, but as it happened, while traveling to Denmark with his bishop on an errand for the king, he was troubled to meet an innkeeper who was influenced by a heresy that was infecting parts of Europe in those days. This was the Albigensian (or Catharist) heresy, which denied the goodness of the material world, and therefore rejected Catholic belief in the Incarnation and the Sacraments. Dominic realized that this way of thinking went against Christianity because it would do away with the belief at the heart of our faith: that God himself entered our world in the person of Jesus Christ and continues to be present to us through the sacraments.
Learning. Dominic gathered a group of brothers to preach Catholic truth against this heresy. In order to accomplish his goal, he knew that his preaching band would have to excel in learning, and so he sent them to the universities, first as students and then as professors. He knew that if his preachers could instruct people in the deep truth and beauty of Catholic teaching, then they would be much less susceptible to the falsehoods promoted by groups like the Albigensians. Later Dominicans took up Dominic’s emphasis on learning, and the Order has produced some of the great theologians of the Church, especially St. Thomas Aquinas.
Charity. At the heart of all of his activity was Dominic’s great charity and zeal for the salvation of souls. As much as he valued learning, it is well attested that once, while a student, he sold his books (hand-copied and very valuable in those days) during a famine to help the poor. He was known to be a cheerful and personable man, but he was also observed weeping in prayer and asking, “What will become of sinners?”
With all his apostolic labors, Dominic never lost his contemplative spirit. He continued to spend long hours in prayer, whether on the road or in community, and he made it a priority to celebrate Mass every day when possible.
Although he lived many centuries ago, we can see parallels between Dominic’s day and ours. Today, we find ourselves in a world that has lost sight of the value of prayer and has embraced strange ideas of truth and charity. And so I challenge us all this week, in memory of St. Dominic: to pray the Rosary (a devotion very beloved in the Dominican Order); pick up the Catechism and learn something more about our faith; and to perform a work of charity, especially for the poor.
Blessed Father Dominic, pray for us!