Stories Seldom Told
Stories Seldom Heard
229th Edition August 2018
St Dominic: A Model for Contemporary Disciples
Welcome to Stories Seldom Heard. The month of August is always a special month for us Dominicans since we celebrate St. Dominic’s Feast Day on August 8th. Even though Dominic founded the Order over 800 years ago, his ability to read the signs of the time and respond to the needs of the people is a relevant invitation for us today whether we are official Dominicans or not.
Like us, when Dominic was a young man he had no idea what God would ask of him. He was born in Caleruega, a small village in the region of Castile in Spain. No doubt he thought he would stay there for the rest of his life. But a few years after his ordination, Bishop Diego asked Dominic to travel with him to Denmark to find a wife for the son of the King of Castile. At least that’s what Bishop Diego and Dominic thought the goal of their journey was, but like our lives, the project they embarked on became more complex.
What they saw as they traveled into southern France shocked them. Barbarians were pillaging small villages. Land was stolen from those who did not have armies to protect themselves. Poverty was stripping people of their humanity. The countryside was seeded with heresy. The religious institutions were divided and the laity were disillusioned by the scandalous lifestyle of the clergy and the paucity of good preaching. The economic, social and religious situation of the region was tragic.
As we look around our nation and world, we too see many of the same injustices: violence and war forcing people from their homelands, scandals in government and religious institutions and a growing sense of desperation. These situations are so overwhelming it is hard to know what we can do to change them. However, as we reflect on St. Dominic’s life, he offers us some ways to proceed.
First, Dominic was a man of prayer. As he walked throughout the countryside, he carried the Gospel of St Matthew. As he meditated on the scriptures his eyes and ears became more aware of the needs of those he met. Dominic’s daily intentional practice of prayer also opened his heart to God’s presence in his life. Dominic didn’t know what each day would bring or how he was going to help those who were suffering, but he trusted God to guide his choices each day.
Many of us have Dominic’s practice of daily prayer. Each day we read the scriptures of the day and reflect on them in silence for ten to fifteen minutes. Listening and praying with scripture helps guide our choices. It also opens our hearts so we can become more compassionate to those who are in pain. Meister Eckhart, the great Dominican saint and mystic reflecting on the power of prayer, put it this way: “The end of all prayer is compassion.”
Some of us might feel it is an impossible task to pray and reflect each day given our many responsibilities. So even if we can’t sit quietly and reflect on the daily Mass readings, we can listen to them as we do our daily chores. Unlike Dominic, we have computers and iPhones. Each day on the “web” Dominicans from around the world–women, men, laity and ordained–offer a ten-minute audio preaching. We can listen to it on word.op.org as we attend to our daily duties.
When we finish listening to the preaching we might ask God for a gift: the gift of wisdom to know what to do, the gift of perseverance to continue doing the works of mercy and justice we have begun, the gift of awe to appreciate the wonders of nature that inspire our gratitude and nourish our spirits, the gift of inner peace so we can be a safe refuge for those who are confused or fearful.
Second, Dominic believed in the power of community. As Dominic preached, many people heard the Word of God in a new way and were converted. During his time in southern France nine Cathar women converts came to Dominic because they had no shelter or protection. Because of their new-found faith they were excluded from their homes and families. It must have been a time of great fear and confusion for all of them.
This first group of nine women, Dominic named the “Holy Preaching.” Together in community, they listened to the Word of God. It was a place of strength and grace for all of them. Through their presence and prayers together, they began a new way of life. The women became the first Dominican community. Dominic began envisioning a new way of being a priest and preacher. It was out of this community prayer, study, hard work and chaos that Dominic’s band of preachers began to take shape.
Like us, Dominic knew he did not have all the answers to the problems he faced. For Dominic and us, this realization is a grace. Each person, whether lay or ordained, woman or man, has gifts to contribute to the mission of Jesus. Growing in our ability to become gospel women and men of prayer and action is a challenge that needs the support and insights of a community of believers. But how do we find or build this community of prayerful, gospel people in our lives today?
Many parishes have developed small faith communities. Other parishes offer renewal and adult formation programs. Building on these opportunities to form intentional faith communities could be a way to begin. On-going study must be a part of the structure of the community. Otherwise the discussions and/or reflections might drift off into casual conversation or a “coffee-klatch” type dialogue. Another way to address our hunger for prayer, conversation and community is to contact the sisters in your area. We, the Dominican Sisters of San Rafael, offer a weekly study and discussion group on a current book and a weekly rosary for the people of Aleppo and Syria in the chapel at Our Lady of Lourdes Convent. We also offer Days of Reflection, weeklong retreats at our Santa Sabina Retreat Center and information evenings on a variety of topics: the mystics, healing of relationships, prayer and socially responsible investing – to name just a few. Over the years we have developed an on-going study, prayer and reflection group called “Friends of the Sisters.”
I know that many of you are not geographically close to San Rafael, CA, but there are many congregations of sisters that offer similar events. In fact, many congregations have associate members and other organizations that are open to women and men who would like a stronger connection with the sisters and/or pursue a deeper spirituality. Who knows what a phone call or visit to a local convent might initiate? It might be what you have been praying for: a community of prayer and spiritual support.
The month of August usually is a “slower” month with fewer pressures. As we approach the Feast of St. Dominic, we might want to reflect on our deep hungers for community, a deeper relationship with Christ and the ability to know how to respond to the needs of those we meet. As we approach the Feast of St Dominic may we be blessed with the wisdom to ask for what we need and the gift of tenacity to pursue it. Happy Feast Day!!
Special thanks to Mary Ellen Green and Maria Hetherton who have helped in editing this article. “Stories Seldom Heard” is a monthly article written by Sister Patricia Bruno, O.P. Sister is a Dominican Sister of San Rafael, California. This service is offered to the Christian community to enrich one’s personal and spiritual life. The articles can be used for individual or group reflection.