“St. Dominic as a Complete Man of the Gospel”
(8/4/2020, Dominic’s feast day in old Dominican Rite)
Fr. Ignatius John Schweitzer, OP
The Lord Jesus tells us that we are to be the light of the world and the salt of the earth. Our Gospel today suggests that there is to be a completeness to this, a wholeness. We are to preach the whole message of God, even when it’s salty. And our whole lives are to be the witness to the truth, the Truth who is Jesus, reflecting His light. The Lord says “not an iota, not a dot will pass from the Law,” and we are not to let the least of His commandments be forgotten (Mt 5:13ff). He also says that, as the light of the world, it’s our good works that will shine before all and cause them to give glory to our Father in heaven. So there’s a completeness here in being the light of the world and the salt of the earth, integrity of life and integrity of doctrine.
We see this well in Acts 20, where St Paul says to the church in Ephesus, “I am innocent of your blood, for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God” (20:26-27). The whole counsel of God. This includes the difficult words too and not just that which tickles the ears. Salt that loses its saltiness should be thrown out. Paul also says to the church in Ephesus, in Acts 20, “You yourselves know how I lived among you the whole time from the first day that I set foot in Asia, serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials that came about” (20:18-19). Light that does not shine out has given way to darkness. There’s a wholeness to being the light of the world and the salt of the earth.
The completeness that we are called to is captured in the beautiful words said of our holy father, St. Dominic. “Everywhere, in word and deed, he showed himself to be a man of the gospel” (#104) Vir evangelicus. An evangelical man. A man of the Gospel. Not a man whose part of his life or part of his being is directed to the Gospel. But quite simply “a man of the Gospel,” whose whole humanity is taken up in the Gospel. In an age when it was not common, St Dominic always carried on his person the Gospel of Matthew and the Letters of St Paul, and he enfleshed them. A complete man of the Gospel. This captures St. Dominic and this is what Dominican life is to lead us to become. This is what a Dominican parish is to lead the lay faithful to become. Men and women of the Gospel…in wholeness and completeness.
St Dominic lived what he preached in completeness and integrity of life and he preached the whole counsel of God. Jordan of Saxony, in explaining how Dominic was a man of the Gospel says, “He had an abundant supply of edifying stories, with which he directed people’s minds to the love of Christ and to contempt for the world” (104). Contempt for the world, the saltiness of contempt for the world. That’s part of the Gospel and that’s part of love of Christ.
And as light shining in the world, his life reflected this love of Christ and contempt for worldly ways. Already as a young priest it was said of Dominic, “At once, among the canons, he began to shine as a special star. His humble heart and extraordinary holiness made him an odor of life unto life among them and as sweet-smelling frankincense in summertime” (12).
To become men and women of the Gospel takes time and effort, but more fundamentally it takes grace, an abundance of grace. The Dominican emphasis on grace, I think, helps this striving toward the wholeness and fullness of the Gospel from degenerating into legalism. Not letting “one iota or dot” of the Law pass by is not meant to be scrupulosity. We live under the New Law of Grace, which “is the grace of the Holy Spirit,” as Aquinas tells us. Life in the Spirit. It’s about not letting “one iota or dot” of a prompting of the Holy Spirit pass us by…not letting “one iota or dot” of love of God and neighbor pass us by.
St Dominic has bequeathed us external observance, the regular life, to help form the whole man into the new man of Christ. But he keeps us focused on the essentials. He keeps us focused on what the external observance is ordered to, namely becoming men and women of the Gospel. For instance, with Dominic, the Rule does not bind under pain of sin and there is a willingness for dispensation for the sake of what is more essential (Fundamental Constitution VI). It’s the call to be men of the Gospel, free men of the Gospel. It’s about the freedom of the children of God, where the working of the Holy Spirit from within us empowers us, so we respond freely and wholeheartedly to the imitation of Christ and the glory of the Father. Free to respond fully to the love of God. Our Rule of St Augustine insists, “you are no longer slaves under the law, but a people living in freedom under grace” (7.4).
Ives Congar has observed that “one of the graces of the Dominican Order” is “a certain mixture of truth and liberty” (Murray, Mystic of Fire, 105). A certain mixture of truth and liberty. Truth and freedom come together in our life and as a result they also echo forth in our preaching. Our preaching of the whole counsel of God is not about laying burden upon burden on people. This kind of thing is something Jesus condemns the Pharisees for.
It’s about calling people to fullness of life in Jesus. This fullness of life is demanding. It’s the challenging call to come into full accord with the truth, but with the grace of the Holy Spirit at work to help us and to transform us from within. It’s about helping to further the life of Jesus in other people so they live more deeply and more fully the life of Jesus. Right? That’s what the 3rd part of the Catechism on morality is entitled, “Life in Christ.” And being men and women of the Gospel we grow in this and help others to grow into fullness of life in Jesus.
Remaining true to the Gospel in all its fullness, in both word and deed is challenging. As the last part of this reflection, I wish to look at one thing that can help us. We heard in our epistle reading from 2nd Timothy these words from St. Paul:
“I charge you in the sight of God and of Christ Jesus who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: Preach the word. Be urgent in season and out of season, convince, rebuke, and exhort, be unfailing in patience and in teaching.” And at the end, Paul says, “For I am already on the point of being sacrificed; the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on the Last Day, and not only to me but also to all who have longed for his appearing” (2 Tim 4:1ff)
So it’s the fullness of the word in preaching and also the fullness of life—being that living sacrifice offered to God, that holocaust of one’s life offered in love, as Jesus’ life was. And Paul points out something to help us grow in this. Do all this “in the sight of God and of Christ Jesus who is to judge the living and the dead.” Do all this in light of Jesus’ coming and the Kingdom of Heaven. Do all this in light of, as St Paul says, “the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have longed for his appearing.”
We are to reach out toward the Eschaton, the Last Things, toward heaven where God will be all in all and everything not of God will be cast into the fiery furnace and Gehenna. St Dominic lived in light of eternity. And this impelled him to live his short span of years on earth in zeal for God and the salvation of souls. Not obsessed with secondary details, but ardent and zealous for eternal things that will last forever.
This helped him come to live fully as a man of the Gospel. Not fearful of human opinion in his preaching and not counting the cost of being a living holocaust in union with Jesus. Free to be a complete man of the Gospel. We see such things from some lines about St. Dominic in his 9 Ways of Prayer. They tell us that caught up in the things of heaven, he was able to live more fully in the gifts of the Holy Spirit and that central standard of Gospel living, namely the Beatitudes.
So I close with what the 9 Ways of Prayer say about this. In the 4th Way of Prayer, we read: Sometimes Dominic “spoke in his heart and his voice was not heard at all (1 Sam.1:13), and he would remain quietly on his knees, his mind caught up in wonder, and this sometimes lasted a long time. Sometimes it seemed from the very way he looked that he had penetrated heaven, and then he would suddenly appear radiant with joy, wiping away the abundant tears running down his face. He was in a stage of intense longing and anticipation, like a thirsty man coming to a spring of water (Ecclus. 26:15), or a traveler at last approaching his homeland.” (Let’s be like that traveler approaching his homeland! Men and women of heaven, radically oriented to the things of heaven)
And finally in a paragraph from the 7th Way of Prayer we read:
“Dominic had his hands stretched right up above his head, joined together or slightly open as if to catch something from heaven (as if to receive something from heaven). One would believe that he was receiving an increase of grace and was caught up in rapture, and that his prayer won from God, for the Order he had founded, the gifts of the Holy Spirit and, for himself and for his brethren, such delight and enjoyment in living the Beatitudes, that each one would consider himself blessed in the most profound poverty, in bitter mourning, in severe persecution, in great hunger and thirst for righteousness, in solicitous mercy toward all…. At such times the holy father Dominic seemed suddenly to enter the Holy of Holies and the third heaven (2 Cor. 12:2). And so, after this kind of prayer, he truly seemed to be a prophet (truly a prophet of God!), whether in correcting the faulty, in directing others, or in his preaching.”
St Dominic, Preacher of Grace, unite us with the Blessed! (from the O Lumen)