Tag Archives: St. Dominic

Dominic in prayer

The Convento of San Marco in Florence has the most incredible frescos I have ever seen, painted by the Dominican friar, Fra Angelico, and his school.Saint_Dominic_(Detail_from_The_Mocking_of_Christ)

What is most remarkable is that the paintings are on the walls of the cells where the Dominican friars studied, prayed, and slept. They are aids to contemplation for these friars noted for their preaching. Preaching without contemplation is worth little.

In one cell there is a famous image of Saint Dominic, the founder of the Order of Preachers. He is attentively and carefully reading a book, in his lap. He is said to have carried with him the Gospel according to Saint Matthew and the Letters of Saint Paul.

But this image of Saint Dominic is only a small part of the fresco which features Jesus blindfolded, crowned with thorns, being buffeted by hands and spat upon by a disembodied head.

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Faced with this, Dominic is absorbed in contemplation, not looking at the mocked Christ, but still before God.

What could this mean for us?

My initial thoughts are that we are called to contemplate the suffering Christ but also the Word of God – so that we may absorbed in Him, in love. Not either/or – but both. Not just gazing at the wounded Christ, but trying to understand this mystery, with the assistance of the Scriptures. Most of all, this means sitting still – in tranquility.

“Be still and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46: 10)

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The dogs of God

Today the church celebrates the founded of the Dominicans (canes Domini – the dogs of God), St. Dominic of Guzman.

What is striking about his life of faith is how he saw the need of a serious intellectual life combined with a life of poverty and identification with the poor.

As a young man he sold his books in the face of a famine: “I will not study on dead skins while living skins are dying of hunger.”

When he accompanied his bishop in southern France, among the ascetic and world-denying Albigensians, he noted that the Cistercians had little effect on them since they traveled and preached surrounded by power and wealth. He also rejected use of violence to try to convert the heretics: “Arm yourself with prayer rather than a sword; wear humility rather than fine clothes.”

As he lay dying, he left a simple testament to his friars: “Have charity, guard humility, and make your treasure out of voluntary poverty.”

Though I find myself spiritually more a follower of Francis of Assisi than of Dominic, I find the two of them complimentary, offering us varied ways to live out our following of Christ.

There is a legend that Dominic met Francis one day after having a dream of an ill-clad beggar. They embraced and a tradition has ensued that the Dominicans and Franciscans visit each other on the feast of their founders.

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San Croce, Florence

Joy in the midst of suffering

Today the Catholic Church celebrates the feast of St. Dominic Guzman, the Spaniard who founded the Order of Friars Preachers, better known as the  Dominicans.

There is much to admire in Dominic. As a student he sold his books and furniture to feed the poor in a time of famine. As a missionary preacher among the Albigensians in southern France, he admonished the warrior Bishop Fulk that the weapons to convert these heretics should be prayer and humility, not the sword and fine clothes. As a preacher among the Albigensians he lived austerely,  traveling on foot, begging for sustenance in contrast to the papal legates who arrived in fine clothes and were aligned with the political powers of the day. As a traveling preacher he had more success with the austere and inspiring Albigensians.

But what struck me as I read about him this morning was his joy in the midst of suffering. As Blessed Jordan of Saxony, one his early followers, wrote:

 Nothing disturbed his equanimity except a lively sympathy with any suffering. A person’s face shows whether he or she is really happy. Dominic was friendly and joyful. You could easily see his inward peace.

This reminded me of a chapter in an inspiring and challenging book by Mary Jo Leddy, The Other Face of God: When the Stranger Calls Us Home, that I’m reading.

She writes, reflecting on her life with refugees in Romero House in Toronto. “To discern the presence of Christ we need to look for that mysterious gospel sign of joy in the midst of suffering.”

Reflecting on “The Smiling Christ” in Xavier, in the Basque region of Spain, she notes that the crucifix was fashioned in the midst of the Black Death and church corruption of the fourteenth century, “a time of great suffering and spiritual confusion.”

 And yet. And yet. Christ is smiling in the midst of his own suffering and the suffering of the dark age of Europe. When we can smile like that. we know we are where we are meant to be.

The spiritual life is not joy or suffering. It’s joy in the midst of suffering, allowing the suffering and the joy of the poor and marginalized we meet – Maria, José, Samara, Omin – to touch our hearts and reveal the joy that God has placed deep within us that can be unveiled in the often disconcerting presence of the other person whose suffering we share.

That is the mystery of the Cross and Resurrection – not joy alone, not suffering alone, but joy in the midst of suffering.

And I have been blessed with this grace here in Honduras.