Saint Dominic – Domingo Guzman – was a contemporary of Saint Francis. Like his contemporary he saw the necessity to preach the Gospel while living in poverty and simplicity.
Dominic began his ministry in southern France, where the dualist Cathars had attracted many, especially by their simple way of life. Dominic saw preaching effectively should include a simple way of life. He and his bishop preached barefoot and did not travel in the fancy carriages of other preachers. They also established a house for women which became the source of the Dominican sisters.
Eventually Dominic and male followers established the Order of Friars Preachers, first with diocesan approval and then later with the approval of the pope.
In one sense Francis sought to personify the Gospel by his life and his preaching, which we witness especially in the stigmata which he bore in the last two years of his life.
Dominic, on the other hand, sought to preach the Good News and saw his followers as disciples and missionaries. For this task, he saw the need for study, something that distinguished him from St. Francis.
But both Francis and Dominic saw the need to live poorly, to witness to the Gospel in the way their friars lived – wandering about preaching, living simply, and begging.
Dominic’s legacy includes great theologians, like St. Albert the Great and St. Thomas Aquinas. The mystic St. Catherine of Siena was a lay Dominican. Bishop Bartolomé de las Casas, the great advocate of the indigenous in the Americas, joined the Dominicans, probably in part because of their strong preaching against slavery. In our days, the liberation theologian Gustavo Gutiérrez joined the Dominicans after many years as a diocesan priest in Perú.
Preaching the Gospel does not only demand knowledge of the scriptures. It is not only nurtured by careful study. Preaching the Gospel demands a simple life, a life where poverty has a part.
As he lay dying, Dominic addressed these words to his brothers, as cited in Richard McBrien’s Lives of the Saints :
My dear sons, there are my bequests: practice charity in common, remain humble, stay poor willingly.
Robert Ellsberg, in All Saints, has a slightly different version:
All my children, what I leave to you: have charity, guard humility, and make your treasure out of voluntary poverty.
If we would follow these words, our witness and our preaching would be much more credible. Perhaps that is why Pope Francis is so inspiring.
But such ministry must also be based in deep prayer.
In the Dominican friary of San Marco in Florence, Fra Angelico and his students painted frescoes on the walls of the friars’ cell. In the bottom of a fresco of the Mocking of Christ is found the image of Dominic, sitting, meditating on the Scriptures.
In the sight of the suffering Christ, we are called to meditate on God’s Word – listening to the voice of God.
With this base, we can live the Good News as Francis and Dominic did – in the light of God’s love for us.