July 24, 2022 - 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time: Pastor’s Corner
This coming year, we will celebrate the sesquicentennial of St. Dominic’s Parish. In light of this coming celebration, over the course of the next month, I want to highlight the life story of our founder St. Dominic. Even though he is our patron, I am often surprised how little known and studied the life of St. Dominic is when compared to Saints like Francis and even other Dominicans such as St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Catherine. So I hope this series on the life of St. Dominic is both an introduction to his life and an encouragement to further inquiry!
Story of St. Dominic: Part II
At the tender age of six, Dominic’s parents sent him to be educated by a priest-uncle in a nearby village. At age 14, Dominic was sent to Palencia to continue his clerical education. During these formative years, Dominic developed a love of scripture, the Divine Office (the daily prayer of the Church also called the “Liturgy of the Hours”), and the celebration of the Mass. It was said at his canonization that he would often weep when he celebrated Mass.
Dominic developed a reputation for being devoted to study and prayer, even through the night, as well as for his asceticism and for his compassion. There is a story that during a particularly harsh famine in the region, when the authorities and the wealthy were not doing much to help the poor, Dominic sold his most precious possessions – his books – saying: “I will not study on dead skins [the parchments of his books] when people are dying of hunger.” On another occasion, when a woman pleaded for her brother who had been taken captive in a local conflict, Dominic offered to sell himself into slavery to be a ransom in exchange for the man.
At the end of his studies, Dominic was ordained a priest and, at age 29, was appointed superior of canons (priests living in community at the cathedral) in Osma. The next year, in 1203, Dominic’s life would change forever. The King of Castile commissioned Bishop Diego of Osma to arrange a marriage between his son and a Danish princess. Bishop Diego asked Dominic to accompany him and it was on this journey, as they passed through southern France, that Dominic witnessed the spiritual poverty left in the wake of the Albigensian heresy. In contemporary terms, the Albigensians might identify themselves as being “spiritual but not religious.” Contrary to the Catholic insight that God created the world in goodness and love, the Albigensians held that the corporeal, natural world (including the human body) is evil and thus must be purged. While this philosophy might seem superficially benign, Dominic realized that its implications are devastating. Accordingly, the Albigensians more than frowned upon such things as marriage and family, and even rejected the foundation of our faith, the Incarnation, God’s assuming a human nature in the person of Jesus Christ.
During the negotiations, the Danish princess died and the mission ended, but in witnessing the needs of world, the seeds of Dominic’s ultimate calling were planted in his heart. Moved with compassion and with the psalmist’s words, “my people die for lack of knowledge” ringing in his soul, Dominic returned to France to preach the gospel to the Albigensians. Next week, we will discover how this particular preaching mission exploded into a worldwide Order of Preachers.