August 4, 2019: The Solemnity of Holy Father Dominic - Pastor’s Corner
Happy Feast of St. Dominic! As we celebrate our patron, we hear Jesus tell us in the Gospel that “we are the light of the world.” Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to shine for others. St. Dominic was a light in his own time. There is an ancient Dominican chant titled the “O Lumen Ecclesia” (O Light of the Church) which we sing at compline every evening before we close the church and retire for the evening. It is a wonderful reminder that St. Dominic brought the light of Christ alive and it is an inspiration for us to follow.
In considering the ways in which St. Dominic illumined others with the light of Christ, we remark on one of his nicknames: “the joyful friar.” The early biographers of St. Dominic highlighted the joy that seemed to follow him wherever he went. Whether he was preaching the Gospel, spending time with his brothers, or simply journeying through the countryside chatting with fellow travelers, he exuded joy. When you met Dominic, you could not walk away from the experience without being touched by and lightened by joy.
It is important to remember that joy is not simply an emotion. Joy is the fruit of the Holy Spirit, which comes alive when we experience the presence of something or someone we love. Joy is not a feeling, nor is it synonymous with an optimistic personality or rosy outlook on life. We can have joy even in the midst of sufferings and trials. Joy is effect of a choice. When we choose to love, or act in loving ways towards others, joy is born. St. Dominic chose love, to love God and others, and because of this he was the joyful friar.
If we want to celebrate St. Dominic’s feast well, let us choose to be people of joy. Yet this is not always easy. One of the most common and destructive habits which diminish joy is complaining. It is estimated that in a daily ten-minute conversation, on average, people complain three times. We all complain. In some ways, it is healthy to release frustrations and sorrows in appropriate and constructive ways. Yet, complaining can easily slip into becoming habitual, and when this happens, it can be destructive. I was recently reading a study from Stanford about the deleterious effects of complaining for body and mind. The study found that, when you complain, your body releases the stress hormone cortisol, which, in elevated amounts, is toxic for the body. Moreover, complaining harms the brain. When we complain certain cerebral neurons fire and when they do so repeatedly, they are wired together. (This explains one of the favorites phrases heard at neurological cocktail parties “Neurons that fire together, wire together.”) This rewiring can be scary because in a particular way it has been shown to shrink the area of the brain, the hippocampus, that’s critical to problem solving and intelligent thought. Damage to this area of the brain is scary, since it is the same primary area which Alzheimer’s disease erodes. It is not an exaggeration to say that complaining leads to brain damage, and it doesn't stop there. If we look to the Scripture, we see that complaining harms our spiritual life. After the fall, when God asks Adam and Eve for an account of what happened, they begin to blame and complain about each other. After God rescues his people from slavery in Egypt in the Exodus, there is a brief moment of joy and celebration. Yet, this joyful moment is short-lived. At the prospect of diminished provisions during a month’s sojourn in the desert, the people begin to moan and groan. This complaining begins a downward spiral into spiritual darkness and, ultimately, they wander the desert for more than 40 years! Complaining harms our body, mind and spirit. Complaining kills joy.
The motto for our parish is to “Radiate the joy of Gospel in the heart of the City.” This is an expression of both who St. Dominic was and who we are called to be. One way we might choose to live this joy is to notice and curb our daily complaints. When we find ourselves complaining, balance it with a moment of gratitude or encouragement. Choose joy by enacting love. When we choose to love in all of its creative ways, the Spirit’s joy will be ours. In this joy, you will be light to the world.
~ Fr. Michael