While traveling in Spain in June with Dominican friends, I visited Caleruega, the childhood town of Saint Dominic. There we celebrated Mass in the chapel that has been built over Saint Dominic’s boyhood home. We prayed in the medieval church where he was baptized and before the relics of his mother and other members of his very holy family. We drank from the well from which Saint Dominic drew water as a child, and visited the Cathedral in Burgos de Osma where St. Dominic began his priestly ministry and from which he started the Order of Preachers.
When I visited Caleruega, I had already received my assignment to Antioch and already agreed with Fr. Roberto that I would preach this weekend. So I brought you – Holy Rosary Parish - and your intentions in prayer to our Holy Father Dominic in his birthplace. I also asked our Holy Father to assist me as a preacher, to inspire me with a message to preach to you on this feast day this weekend.
Since my visit to St. Dominic’s birthplace, I have had many opportunities to reflect on the foundation of the Order in light of our coming 800th anniversary celebration. There are many remarkable aspects of St. Dominic’s preaching mission and the early work of the Order that can inspire our ministry of Preaching today. One of the challenges facing the Order in the 21st Century is helping all Christians to understand and participate in their own call to be preachers. YOU are called to Preach the Gospel! Every Christian is called to spread the Good news! By virtue of your baptism, YOU are called to proclaim salvation and reach out to those who have never heard the Saving Gospel of Jesus Christ. Many of the innovations introduced by St. Dominic can help us understand better our call to preach the Gospel in our own time.
1. For Example, St. Dominic believed that The preaching of the Gospel must always be informed by study
From the beginning, St. Dominic insisted that his followers be formed well in theology and scripture. He sent them to the best centers of study in Europe and was personally involved in the establishment of Study Communities at the new universities that were established at Paris, Oxford, Bologna, and Salamanca. Study was established as an important part of Dominican life but not study for the sake of study - study at the service of preaching the Truth.
If we are to be effective preachers of the Word today, we too must be formed intellectually by the study of Scripture and the teachings of the Church. The enemies of the Gospel are well educated and armed with well-formed arguments against our Faith, we must be prepared to counter their arguments with our own informed understanding and well-honed arguments for the Truth of the Faith.
2. Also, St. Dominic thought that The preaching of the Gospel was not entrusted solely to certain church officials
In the Middle Ages, preaching was seen as the work of Bishops. There were a couple of problems with this: 1) Bishops were burdened with the administration of the temporal affairs of the Church and had begun to neglect the work of preaching. And 2) this was never the model that Jesus intended for the Church/. The work of spreading the Gospel is the work of all the Baptized. Dominic sought permission for his new Order to be a community of Preaching Friars. Despite the objections of those who liked the way things were, this permission was given.
Too often today, Catholics think that preaching the Gospel is solely the work of bishops, priests, and deacons. Yes, within the liturgy, we have a particular preaching responsibility. But the spreading of the Good News of Jesus cannot be limited to me whose primary work is within the walls of the Church. The Gospel must be taken to the marketplace by those whose lives are there. Every baptized person, every disciple of Jesus is called to take the Gospel to his home, to his friends and family, to his office and his colleagues, his classroom, the shops where he practices commerce, to the fields of sport. There are not enough Bishops, priests, and deacons for this work. This work is too important for it to be limited to a few officials, it must be the mission of every Christian.
3. Saint Dominic also believed that The preaching of the Gospel could not be constrained with the walls of Church Institutions
One of the most important innovations that St. Dominic introduced in the establishment of his new Order was the idea of itineracy. Medieval monks and nuns lived their entire lives behind the walls of monasteries. They were well-educated and lived a beautiful spirituality; but their witness was limited to those who visited their monasteries. St. Dominic understood that those who professed the religious vows and lived the structure of religious life had an important witness to offer to the world. So he founded a new model of religious life. His followers would not be monks living behind the walls of the cloister. Instead, they would be itinerant FRIARS whose primary work would be out in the world.
Today, we too must understand the importance of taking the Gospel to the world. Many Catholics practically live our faith as a cloistered reality, a secret to be kept from the rest of the world. We believe the message of modernity and secularity that faith is deeply personal and that we should not bother other people with our faith. So we are okay with expressions of faith in our churches (after all, it belongs there) or in the privacy of our own prayer closets. But we would be uncomfortable to express our faith in public.
In the Gospel, Jesus warned us against this. He told us not to hide our lights under a bushel basket. Like Dominic, who liberated the preaching of the Gospel from Episcopal palaces and monastery cloisters, we too are called to take the Gospel from our Churches. Dominic understood that his 13th Century world needed to be set on fire with the light of the Gospel. We too must be willing to let others see our torches so that they can come to believe in the truth and goodness of the Gospel.
4. St. Dominic understood that the preaching of the Gospel must be supported in community with prayer, especially the Eucharist
Even though St. Dominic sent his Friars to preach in the world, he considered the houses of his New Order to be very important. They would not be “monasteries,” but rather “Convents.” The Latin word “Convent” means “to come together.” Convents would be the places where the preaching friars would “come together” for prayer, study, and rest. In the convent, they would be refreshed by fraternity and the common prayer of the Friars, they would be equipped to do the work of preaching. The center of this life of prayer would be the Eucharist, food for the journey and nourishment for road.
The modern preacher must also see the importance of the common life of the Christian Community, especially in the gathering of that community for the Sunday Eucharist. For so many of us, Sunday Mass IS our faith life. We go to church to be with God, but do not want to bother him, or more importantly, to BE bothered BY Him, the rest of the week. But like the medieval Convent, the Sunday Assembly should be an important part, but not the unique part of our Christian lives. Here we come to encounter the Risen Lord in Word, Sacrament, and Community so that we can be well-equipped to preach the Gospel in the World.
5. And St. Dominic knew that The preaching of the Gospel must be accompanied by Gospel lives – lives that look more like Jesus and his apostles.
When St. Dominic encountered the Albigensian heretics, he was actually inspired by their lives of apostolic poverty. He understood that they had rejected their local church officials because those officials lived like feudal princes and were more concerned with the administration of their lands and wealth than they were about preaching the Gospel and tending to the needs of their flocks. The leaders of the heretics embraced poverty to look more like Jesus and his disciples. St. Dominic embraced that same model for his friars. The simplicity of their lives would be an important preaching.
The lesson for us - when we agree to follow the path of discipleship; when we take on the task of spreading the Gospel, we must do so with our lives. It is not enough to say the words; we must also live the words. The enemies of the Gospel want us to stumble and will look for any misstep of ours. We cannot give them ammunition. The preaching of the Gospel begins with the reform of our own lives and the decision to live the Gospel so that our very lives preach louder than our words.
On this feast of Saint Dominic, let us implore the patron saint of Preachers to intercede for us, that we might be given the spirit and desire of preachers. The same spirit that inspired the ancient prophets, the Apostles and disciples of Jesus, Saint Paul and Saint Timothy, and Saint Dominic and his first followers, who, 800 years ago, founded a new method and new moment in the preaching of the Gospel.
Let us pray for the courage to allow our lights to shine before others, that, in our words and lives, they may see the Good work of Our Father and give him praise!
“How beautiful on the mountain,” the Prophet Isaiah said, “How beautiful on the mountain are the feet of him who brings Good news!”
This is my favorite reading from the Feast of Saint Dominic. Each year when I hear that text, I think of the beautiful feet of the Savior walking the desert roads of Ancient Israel, proclaiming the coming of the Kingdom, healing the sick and casting out demons. I think of the tireless feet of Saint Dominic walking the width and breadth of Europe, founding the Order, preaching the Gospel and Inspiring his brothers. How beautiful those feet must have been – those feet that bring good news, announcing peace, proclaiming salvation. And I pray, “Lord, give me the feet of St. Dominic. Please, give me the beautiful feet of a preacher.”
Fr. Bart Hutcherson, OP
Fr. Bart Hutcherson, OP is a Roman Catholic Priest & a Friar of the Dominican Province of the Most Holy Name of Jesus-USA. He is on the Pastoral Staff at Most Holy Rosary Parish in Antioch, California, and uses this page to post Homilies and Scripture reflections.