Today 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.’