When I was considering my vocation to be a Dominican priest, one of the attractive qualities of the Order was its family dimension. In founding his Order Preachers, St. Dominic’s dream was not simply to gather a few fellow priests together in mission, but to establish a familial culture which would preach for the salvation of souls. The Dominican family is comprised of both men and woman, priests and brothers, religious and lay joined in the fraternity of Dominic’s dream to evangelize. Here at St. Dominic’s, both priest and brothers live together in the Priory, along with our four novices who are discerning this way of life. Down Pine Street, the Dominican Sisters of San Rafael live and have historically ministered side by side with the friars in education and now through community service. A few miles down the road, we have cloistered Dominican nuns in Menlo Park, who pray for the success of the preaching in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament. Finally, in our parish just a few weeks ago a number of parishioners made profession in our restored chapter of St. Dominic’s Dominican Laity.
As a religious family, the Order of Preachers celebrates certain annual festivals. This Sunday November 7 and Monday November 8, we remember All Dominican Saints and Souls. Just as last week, the Church honors All Saint and All Souls, so too as Dominicans, we have special days to remember the holy men and woman who have inspired us in our vocations.
The historical origins of these remembrances are rooted in the life of St. Dominic, particularly in the story of his death. In his final hours, Dominic was surrounded by the brothers, who were distraught, given that his Order was less than five years old. Without their fearless leader, the success of the mission hung in the balance. In this moment of sadness and distress, St. Dominic reassured his brothers by telling them, “Do not weep, I shall be of more use to you after death than I ever was in life.” Dominicans treasure this final promise of our founder. In the weeks and months after St. Dominic’s death, the explosion of vocations and miracles provided a shining signal that the words of his final will and testament were true. To this day, we entrust the success of our preaching endeavors to the intercession of the powerful Dominican men and women who have gone before us.
Just like any family, we have a variety of saints who inspired us in many walks of life. We have great preachers, like Dominic and Vincent Ferrer. There are the great scholars like Albert the Great and Thomas Aquinas. Catherine of Siena was a mystic and preacher of truth and reconciliation. Rose and Martin de Porres devoted themselves to prayer, but also served the poor and sick in the great New World City of Lima. Peter of Verona and John of Cologne gave the ultimate sacrifice of their lives for their faith. Agnes of Montepulciano and Catherine de Ricci devoted their lives to prayer. Antoninus shepherded the Church in Florence; Pius V shepherded the universal Church as Pope. And these are just some of the many saints of the Order. This holy fellowship recognizes that we are connected in time and space. Where they once were, we are now. Where they are now, we hope to be.
We also remember all those Dominicans who, in death, continue their journey towards that heavenly place prepared for them. One of the unique aspects of the Dominicans in the Western Province of the United States is that, with few exceptions, we are all buried in a common cemetery in Benicia. Whenever the province gathers together for Assemblies, we offer Mass in the cemetery surrounded by the friars and sisters with whom we form the communion of saints. At such moments, I’ll traverse down the grassy circle of headstones and reflect on the deceased Dominicans who inspired, challenged and encouraged me in my own vocation. I pray for them and ask for their continued support. On this feast of Dominican All Souls, I remember fondly how Fr. Felix would say, “We should pray for them, because when we do, they are helped to heaven where they can pray for us.” We are all called to be saints. During these days of Dominican family festivities, may we be reminded of who we are called to be, encouraged to pray for those who have gone before us and inspired to preach the Gospel in the spirit of St. Dominic!
~ Fr. Michael