Today is the feast day of St. Dominic de Guzman, the founder of the Order of Preachers, popularly known as the Dominican Order. This year, Dominicans all over the world commemorate his 800th death anniversary, remembering his promise before he died: “Do not weep, I promise that I shall be more useful to you where I am going than I have ever been in this life.” That the Order of Preachers continues to flourish in many parts of the world is a palpable proof that St. Dominic has been true to his word.
Admittedly, St. Dominic does not enjoy the public adulation enjoyed by his contemporary, St. Francis of Assisi, who chose to spend most of his life serving the poor and the sick, a ministry that is romanticized by many as the best expression of Christian discipleship. St. Dominic, however, devoted himself to a lonely and often unrewarding apostolate: the assiduous study and preaching of truth.
St. Dominic believed that helping the poor should not be absolutized as the only authentic ministry in the Church because intellectual and spiritual poverty are a greater evil than material deprivation. He therefore founded the Order of Preachers, composed of men and women dedicated to preaching the saving truth taught by Jesus Christ. He was convinced that this is the sure path to liberation from all the evils that afflict us.
He must have had such a conviction because he was born in the last quarter of the 12th century, a time when people in Western Europe were greatly enriched through the Crusades. People were more traveled, pleasure-loving, and fast becoming skeptical about religion. They were captivated by the seductive influence of humanistic and secular arts and sciences.
St. Dominic saw how priests and bishops failed as models for emulation. Having become feudal in structure, the Church was largely involved in the affairs of the state. Bishops often neglected their proper pale of activity because they were too engrossed in administrative routines. Preaching was neglected, and the clergy spent most of their time in worldly activities, forsaking their obligation to study. While lay people became ever more learned, many priests hardly knew Latin, prompting one Church council to enact this decree: “Priests should learn how to read correctly, at least the words of the Canon of the Mass.”
Biographers narrate that St. Dominic often spend the night crying while he prayed. His tears flowed out of sorrow for his sins and those of others. He also wept out of compassion for the poor and suffering. While still a student, when a terrible plague ravaged Spain, he sold all his precious books and used the money to alleviate the suffering of those who were afflicted.
But above all, he wept for those who persisted in their ignorance, or clung to wrong beliefs and despised the truth. He would often shout at night, in tears: “What would become of them?” He felt in his heart the urgency to preach the Gospel. He covered great distances, preaching tirelessly, and engaging in serious dialogue with apostates and heretics. For him, preaching is a grace, an answer to human need, a potent way by which God breaks out into the present.
If we come to think of it, what would have happened if St. Dominic had abandoned his intellectual and preaching ministry and instead established an orphanage, home for the poor, the sick, the aged, and the dying, like Mother Teresa had done? He might have been as famous as St. Francis, but he would have been untrue to his vocation.
For, without those who dedicate their lives to the study and preaching of truth, the world would be inhabited by people who are slaves of false beliefs and false values, and tyrannized by leaders who are ignorant of and hostile to truth.
St. Dominic, pray for us.