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August 29, 2021: The Twenty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time - Pastor’s Corner

Until Death Do Us Promise

(This week, we conclude our 4-part series on the life and legacy of St. Dominic with a reflection on his final words and actions. Thanks for all the wonderful feedback and suggestions from folks who read with interest!)

Over the past month, we have seen how St. Dominic’s compassion for those in spiritual need lead him to strain every fiber of his being to bring Christ alive through prayer and preaching.  In summarizing his life, Dominic’s successor in the leadership of the order, Blessed Jordan of Saxony, gives a wonderful portrait of St. Dominic in the text of a famous prayer: “Inflamed by zeal for God and supernatural ardor, by your limitless charity and the fervor of a vehement spirit, you consecrated yourself wholly with the vow of perpetual poverty to apostolic observance and to evangelical preaching.” It is in fact this essential feature of Dominic's witness that is underlined: He was a man of veritas, truth.  He always spoke with God and about God.  In the life of saints, love of the Lord and of neighbor, the seeking of God's glory and the salvation of souls always go together. 

St. Dominic’s heroic life is reflected in his final moments. In fact, his death is woven into the spirituality of his Order in various ways.  First, Fr. Ventura, Prior of Bologna, was present and from him we have a detailed eyewitness account of St. Dominic’s last moments.  St. Dominic died at Bologna, August 6, 1221, at midday. Fr Ventura recounts: “Father Dominic returned from Venice about the end of July. Although very weary with traveling, he conversed on the affairs of the Order with me till late. I begged him to rest that night, but he prayed in the Church till Matins at midnight, and then was present in choir. Afterwards he complained of his head, and his last illness began.  Lying on a straw mattress, he called the novices around him and exhorted them to fervor with cheerful words and smiling coun­tenance. After being carried to a hill not far off, for better air, he preached to his brethren and was then anointed.  Fearing that he would not be buried ‘under the feet of his brethren,’ he was carried back to the convent.  There, having promised his spiritual children that he would be of greater assistance where he was going, he left them his last will and testament: “Behold, my children, the heritage I leave you: have charity for one another, guard humility, make your treasure out of voluntary poverty.”  After this, the brethren re­cited prayers for a departing soul. When they came to the words, ‘Come to his help, ye saints of God; hasten to meet him, ye angels of the Lord: receive his soul, and offer it in the sight of the Most High,’ having lifted his hands to Heaven, he gave up his spirit.”

         St. Dominic’s promise to be with his followers and to aide us in our efforts for the salvation of souls is at the heart of Dominican spirituality.  Just as we might think that the world be better if Jesus still physically walked the earth, we Dominicans might estimate that our Order would be more fruitful if St. Dominic were still alive.  But the reality is that, just like Jesus, St. Dominic is alive.  He promised to be helpful (in fact more helpful) in our mission to preach, since he is in the eternal presence of the living and loving Triune God.  Because of this deep connection with St. Dominic’s last reassuring words and the blessings which enriched the life of the Order after his death, there is a rich tradition of prayers for and to the Dominican’s who have gone before us.  The particular prayer which recalls St. Dominic’s promise and asks St. Dominic to give us the virtue of hope in the midst of life’s discouragements is called the O Spem Miram (O Wonderful Hope).  It is perhaps my favorite Dominican chant, blending haunting melody with heartfelt prayer.  I invite you to pray the O Spem Miram in moments when hope seems lost.

O Spem Miram

O wonderful hope
Which you gave to those who wept for you
At the hour of your death,
Promising that after your decease
You would be helpful to your brethren.
Fulfill Father what you have said
and help us by your prayers.
You shone on the bodies of the sick
by so many miracles,
bring us the help of Christ to heal our sick souls.
Fulfill Father what you have said
and help us by your prayers.

Also, in the course of writing the short story of St. Dominic’s life and legacy, I have been asked to recommend books about his life.  Though there are perhaps more scholarly works available, some titles that I have read and can heartily recommend are:

St Dominic Biographies

The Life of St Dominic by Augusta T. Drane.  Published by TAN Books (May 1, 2009), 256 pages.

St. Dominic by Sr. Mary Jean Dorcy, OP.  Published by TAN Books (January 1, 2009), 173 pages.

The Life of St Dominic by Fr. Bede Jarrett, OP.  Published by Image Books (1964), 160 pages.

Saint Dominic by Simon Tugwell. Published by Editons du Signe (1995), 56 pages.


  ~Fr. Michael

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