Feast of Saint Dominic, August 8, 2022
"How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of the one bringing good news." In Sister Rose Marie Morris’s wonderful sketch, we see the bare feet of the itinerant preacher bringing good news. Dominic was such a preacher, a light in our world that did not hide under a bushel basket, a beacon of light who came to be called Lumen Ecclesiae, "Light of the Church."
Dominic is a monumental and dramatic figure, the great preacher who founded an Order of Preachers for a world in desperate need of truth— not unlike the world we are living in today. Men and women have been inspired to join their lives to his for more than 800 years.
When I imagine Dominic, I rather like the description by Simon Tugwell, the renowned English Dominican scholar, in his poem “Homage to a Saint” (1977):
He founded an Order, people say.
Say rather: friended.
He was their friend, and so
At last, in spite of themselves, they came.
He gave them an Order to found.
He “friended” the Order rather than “founded” the Order. And Tugwell wrote this more than 25 years before the phenomenon of “friending” on Facebook!
Dominic built relationships among his companions, always inclusive as he built a community of friendship and trust. He recognized and encouraged the gifts and talents of those who joined him and invited them to place those gifts at the service of the gospel. Dominic—and indeed our own foundresses Alice Mary Thorpe and Margaret Dowling— have "friended" us and given us a congregation to found daily, in our own time, placing our gifts and talents at the service of the gospel.
I’d like to say something about two attributes of Dominic that seem particularly needed in our work of “founding” in today’s world as we seek to give a solid rootedness to our congregation’s life and mission.
The first attribute was Dominic’s tears.
Tears may seem a contradiction to Dominic’s familiar title of Joyful Friar, but, for Dominic, joy was often accompanied by tears. Jordan of Saxony, Dominic’s successor, tells us:
“God had given Dominic a special grace to weep for sinners and for the afflicted and oppressed; he bore their distress in the inmost shrine of his compassion, and the warm sympathy he felt for them in his heart spilled over in the tears which flowed from his eyes.”
Dominic’s passion for Truth—Veritas—was his first love. He emphasized the importance of study and learning for his friars so that they could see clearly what is to be seen: not what we might want to see but what is really there, the truth of our world’s reality. But the goal is more than simply seeing: it is to be moved by what we see—by what is happening (or not happening). To be moved by a compassion that leads to action!
We have many examples of times when Dominic was moved to tears and to action: by the starving in Palencia (as a student he sold his books, his most precious possession, to feed the poor); by the innkeeper in Toulouse (he stayed up all night to help him see the truth and be freed from the burden of the teachings of the Albigensians); by the plight of some outcast women in Fanjeaux (he founded the first monastery of Dominican nuns for them in Prouilhe).
And as our late Dominican brother Chrys McVey said so eloquently, “Dominic’s tears flowed from the discipline of an open-eyed spirituality that did not miss a thing. Keeping one’s eyes open so as not to miss a thing—that can make the eyes smart!” Tears that flow from truth and compassion.
The other attribute I’m finding myself thinking about is actually the ordinary and undramatic expression of compassion: kindness. Perhaps a story would best illustrate Dominic’s kindness.
Blessed Cecilia, one of the first 2 Dominican nuns in Italy, recorded the following detail in one of her accounts of Dominic’s life.
“At one time on his return journey from Spain, St Dominic carried by way of a small present some wooden spoons, one for each of the sisters. One day, after preaching and other deeds of charity, he came when it was late to the sisters, and carried the spoons with him he had brought them from Spain.”
Spoons. Not rosaries, not an icon, not a manuscript. Spoons! It makes me ask why: did the nuns need spoons? were they of a special design that would give them joy?
And he carried them from Spain (this was not FedEx or an added charge on a luggage fee ). He carried them… on foot… from SPAIN!! From Spain to Rome! And from what I have read, the community in San Sisto may have numbered more than 40 nuns! That’s a lot of spoons to carry across Europe in one’s knapsack!
To me, this speaks of Dominic’s kindness and thoughtfulness: to bring a gift to the nuns to let them know they were loved and appreciated. This is a preaching that conveys God’s message of love in a way that is tangible and real. This a mode of preaching we can all embrace. Dominic, the joyful friar, a Brother who thought of his Sisters when he was far away and found a way to let them know they were cared about.
Is kindness not something our world is in short supply of right now? How are we being called to preach with kindness in our world today? Surely, this is something we can all do!
In our Mission Statement, we say that we are joyful women of prayer and compassion. Perhaps today we are being called to embrace Dominic’s tears that led to action for justice, for the oppressed, for the poor who suffered, and Dominic’s kindness. Let us ask our holy father Dominic to help us to continue to “found” our congregation, to preach in our daily living by a compassion that leads to action and by simple acts of kindness to others around us.
How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of the one bringing good news, the one who lets the light of love shine bright in her, who uses her gifts (even when they are limited) in the service of others in ways kind and loving.
– Sister Margaret Palliser, OP
Sister Margaret has served on the leadership team for the Sparkill Dominicans and continues to offer her expertise and her knowledge of Dominican Life to create a theological library in Dominican Convent in Sparkill.