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St Dominic – Man of Fire

St DomToday around the world Dominicans are celebrating the Feast of our Holy Father St Dominic. A celebration such as this is not just an opportunity to remember the life and legacy of our founder; it is also a gift given to us by the Church in her liturgy to help us on the road to continual conversion, through the pattern of life laid down for us by St Dominic.

In the short responsory from today’s Office of Readings we read that St Dominic is called a ‘man of fire.’ This fire that consumed Dominic was the fire of the Holy Spirit urging him on in the pursuit to win souls for Christ. How did our Holy Father communicate this fire to his followers if not through the pattern of life he left to them?

At its deepest roots the pattern of this life is described as the vita apostolica; an apostolic way of life, modeled on the early Christian Community.  The Friars were sent to preach the gospel in whatever situation they found themselves, convinced that the message of Christ had the power to heal and transform lives. The friars’ preaching needed to issue from an abundance of contemplation to be authentic and in Dominic they found the perfect example.

St Dominic wanted his sons to be contemplative apostles. Their life, like his, needed to be rooted in deep prayer, so that the message that they would communicate would come from the depths of their own relationship with Christ.In the process of canonization the early friars’ recount that Dominic rarely spoke except ‘about God or with God.’  This intensity witnessed by the brothers in the prayer life of Dominic inspired them to imitate their Father, because they realized that the fire that consumed Dominic was borne from his closeness to God; a closeness and intimacy that only comes about through an abundance of contemplation. The primary vehicle that would enable this closeness would be the Liturgy of the Church. For Dominic liturgical life was a way of life that would be the well in which his friars could draw water for holy Preaching. It was the constant flow of the breath of the spirit moving from side to side in the choir. This is why we are told he went feverishly from side to side exciting his sons to sing more bravely and fervently. He understood that to be authentic in preaching one had to be formed and immersed in the ocean of the word of God. The regular canonical life with its deep focus on allowing oneself to be penetrated by the word would be the essential ingredient that would give flavor to the mouth of the preacher and preserve the religious spirit at the same time.

In St Dominic we have a model for facing the challenges presented to us in the Church today. He experienced many disappointments in his evangelizing efforts before the grace of Christ started to open hearts. This is why a feast day is not just a nostalgic remembering. St Dominic shows us that drawing souls to Christ is a supernatural act that must first and foremost be rooted in a deep authentic prayer life – a communion with God that made him a ‘man of fire.’

St Catherine of Siena

 

Saint Catherine of Siena Receiving the Stigmata

Today is the great Feast of our sister in St Dominic, St Catherine of Siena. It is providential that the Church places before us for imitation this great Saint in the season of Eastertide. The Lord Jesus truly alive and risen was the source of her strength and faith. Catherine initially desired a life of seclusion and lived for many years in a small bedroom in the family home; yet, there came a time when God would call her out to spread the Gospel of Christ to the sick and infirmed of Siena and even to counsel Popes. What was the secret of her spirituality? In the Dialogue God the Father says to Catherine: “Do you know daughter, who you are and who I am? If you know these two things you have beatitude in your grasp. You are she who is not, I AM HE WHO IS.”

 

This is the secret of her sanctity. Catherine allowed this truth to truly take root within her and in it she could never be overcome by the enemy, because she knew that she was totally dependent on God. The saints are those who tread this path of humility and recognize their weakness in the sight of God and allow themselves to be transformed by Him. This is the pearl of knowledge hidden in that ocean of God’s love which we must discover if we are to progress in the spiritual life in the way that the Father desires. How radically different the virtue of humility is to the values of modern society which divinizes the exercise of self will, encourages self-promotion, and self-sufficiency.

 

Every single one of us has been created by a God who desires union with us, not only in the life to come but even now as we journey in grace through this life. Catherine knew the path that leads to this union. She walked the narrow path of humility; a path that would lead her ultimately into the heart of Christ who is ‘meek and humble of heart’ (Mt 11:29). From this heart which was burning with the fire of love for mankind Catherine drew her strength when she labored far and wide for the Kingdom of God.  Catherine participated to such a great degree in the life of Christ she was able to say, “My nature is fire.” It was her desire that this fire of love would consume all who came into contact with it.

 

What can St Catherine teach us today? She is a Saint for the New Evangelization in that she lived the contemplative life and the apostolic life, teaching us that all apostolic efforts must be watered with the grace that comes from a life of prayer. She teaches us that the humble recognition of our nothingness gives much more glory to God than the great efforts of a proud soul.

 

Let us all make that space within us to be silent before God amidst the busyness of our daily lives, so that He may teach us the science of self-knowledge.  St Catherine tells us that we cannot give what we do not have, therefore, may all our evangelizing efforts, all our external activities as Christians be an overflowing of a life which is first and foremost rooted in Christ.

 

 

 

The Perfume of Preachers

Fishers-of-MenSt. Dominic encouraged his brothers and sisters to “contemplate and to share the fruits of that contemplation.” This was how he imagined an Order of Preachers should preach the Gospel. We Dominicans are to look at God in the depths of our hearts in silence and prayer before going out to share what we see with others. It is no wonder then as Dominican students that when we come across passages of Scripture like today’s Gospel passage, we are so sensitive to this beautiful tension between the contemplative and apostolic demands of our vocation. It is a very real tension for us to get the balance right and yet at the same time it is truly beautiful; there is no doubt about it.

Amid the busyness of their active labour, Jesus calls Peter and Andrew as they are casting their net into the lake. In just the same way, he calls James and John as they are mending their net at a more restful pace. In this we can see Jesus reconciling contemplative and apostolic fervour, putting them both at the service of the fishing of men. In the language of today’s Gospel, Dominic’s vision might be translated into something like “to fish and to share the fruits of one’s fishing.”

To contemplate God is to fish in that great sea of love. To explore and discover; to fill our nets with treasures from the deep and to feed on them. In this vast abyss that is God, there is no possibility of over-fishing. There is more than enough for everybody. St. John of the Cross speaks of the depths of Christ as a “rich mine with many recesses containing treasures; no matter how men try to fathom them, the end is never reached.”

To share the fruits of one’s fishing is exactly that – to feed others as we ourselves have been fed. This was how the disciples became fishers of men. St. John Chrysostom believed that the disciples were to “catch others by those same words by which they themselves had been caught.” The disciples were first convinced in their hearts and then told to go and fish for others. All Christians share in this dual mandate. We are fish captivated by Christ and yet we are fishers of men for Christ; we are both contemplatives and missionaries. Pope Francis said shepherds ought to smell like their sheep. If this is so, we might as well reek of fish too in this new line of Gospel fragrances.

 

Gospel Reflection for the 3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year A (Matthew 4:12-23)