Saint Francis and Saint Dominic

July 25, 2012

Two Saints for Today.

  In 1215, when Saint Dominic went to Rome for the Lateran Council, it is believed that Saint Dominic met Saint Francis of Assisi. Both of them would establish a new kind of religious life,which is mendicant and apostolic. Members of both Orders call both saints “Holy Father.” For centuries, it has also been the custom for Friars Preachers to invite a Friar Minor to preach on the feast of Saint Dominic, and vice versa. Pope Innocent III was inspired to approve these new Orders because he saw in a dream one or the other of these saints reaching up to support the tottering Church, lest it fall to ruins. Today in Saint Peter’s Basilica, colossal statues of Saints Francis and Dominic flank both sides of the Chair of Saint Peter. In Rome, Bishop Foulques and Saint Dominic petitioned Pope Innocent III for the right to establish a new Order of Preachers. Until that time, preaching was the proper function of bishops. The bold prospect of having an order whose priests cross diocesan boundaries to preach as needed would be a great privilege, yet clearly the time had come for such a development, and Dominic was worthy of the responsibility. So, the pope told him to return to his brethren, and with them, to choose an existing rule. Hence, after the council, Dominic and his companions chose the Rule of Saint Augustine. To this short monastic rule, constitutions were added. Therefore, the preachers would be generically monastic, yet specifically “friars” not always bound to a particular cloister nor to manual labor. For the friars, even the monastic elements of their life acquired an apostolic thrust; for instance, the Liturgy of the Hours was celebrated more succinctly so they could get on with study and the preaching of truth. At the same time, Pope Honorius III succeeded Innocent III. Dominic set out, nevertheless, for Rome to complete the foundation. He arrived in September, but did not receive the papal bull of confirmation until December 22, 1216. In a second bull issued the same day, Honorius said, “We, considering that the brethren of the Order will be the champions of the faith and true lights of the world, do confirm the Order in all its lands and possessions present and to come and we take under our protection and government the Order itself, with all its goods and rights.” The pope wanted Dominic to stay at the Lateran for awhile, so Honorius appointed him to be the Master of the Sacred Palace, that is, a theological advisor to the pope, a teacher of the papal court and a censor of books. Since then, the position has traditionally been held by a Friar Preacher. While in the Eternal City, Dominic made pilgrimages to the great Christian shrines. Once, while praying in the old Saint Peter’s Basilica, Saint Dominic saw a vision. The Apostle Peter handed him a staff, and the Apostle Paul handed him a book. Together, they spoke to him, saying, “Go and preach, because you have been chosen by God for this work.” Immediately, it seemed to Dominic that he saw all his children preaching two by two throughout the world. From then on, Saint Dominic was often seen on the road carrying a walking stick and the Epistles of Saint Paul. He also carried the Gospel of Saint Matthew, and could recite these Scriptures by heart. The Founder was allowed to return to Toulouse in May of 1217, but the reunion was short. By August, our Holy Father planned to send his sons far and wide on the feast of the Assumption. They protested because it seemed that their small number would be too diffuse, but Dominic replied, “Do not oppose me, for I know very well what I am doing. The seed will molder if it is hoarded up; it will fructify if it is sown.” In time, his prophecy proved true. Instead of dissipating, the Order grew rapidly, and its fruit likewise multiplied. By January 1218, Dominic had walked back to Rome. Around that time, an important canon lawyer, Blessed Reginald of Orleans, wanted to follow Dominic but became bedridden with sickness. Our Lady came to anoint him and to show him the full habit of the Order of Preachers. Reginald recovered and the Order soon adopted the addition to its habit, which was probably the scapular. Saint Dominic too had seen visions of Our Lady. Once he saw Her in the dormitory sprinkling the brethren with holy water as they slept. Therefore, today, the prior or prioress in every Dominican convent sprinkles the community at night prayers (Compline) during the Hail, Holy Queen (Salve Regina). Dominic, having received a revelation from God, called the brethren to the chapter room to announce the proximate deaths of four friars, two physically and two spiritually. Soon thereafter, his prediction proved true, for two men died, and two others left the Order for worldliness. The community at San Sisto had grown very numerous. One day, Dominic was informed by the procurator that their begging had produced almost no food. He ordered the brethren, nevertheless, to gather at table for their meal. He then prayed and suddenly two young men or angels, looking mysteriously alike, came into the refectory to dispense a portion of bread and wine to each friar. The same procurator told of a similar miracle on another occasion. Dominic then traveled through France to his Spanish homeland, and then as far as Paris by June of 1219. For a few days, German pilgrims, who traveled on the same road, fed him, so he prayed for the ability to speak their language, and the gift was given to him. Neither language nor locked doors could obstruct him. More than one porter wondered how he got beyond their gates. After establishing houses along the way, Dominic returned to Italy, stopping at Milan, Bologna, Florence and Viterbo. He was in Rome for Christmas. The pope then asked Dominic to reform and organize the more or less independent nuns of the city. By February of 1220, he gathered many at San Sisto. The diplomacy he exercised to overcome protests and achieve this unfavorable organization must have been inspired. He called Mother Blanche from Prouille to take charge of the monastery. The friars meanwhile moved to the ancient Basilica of Santa Sabina, another donation from the pope. For centuries, the Masters of the Order have managed the Order from there. Dominic is a saint because of his great charity, not because of his miracles, yet the greatness of his miracles is a sign of his love. Of all his well attested prodigies, the most remarkable are the resuscitations of the dead. Our saintly Father once rescued a workman who was crushed by a fallen wall at San Sisto. Another time, the nephew of a cardinal fell from his horse and suffered mortal injuries. Almost immediately, Dominic celebrated Mass. Hours passed before he raised the man to life, with all his wounds healed. In another case, a woman went to hear Dominic preach at San Marco in Rome, but later she returned home and found her little boy dead. She rushed the child to Dominic who brought him back to life. When the pope expressed his desire to publicize the miracle, Dominic threatened to leave town. People were already clipping bits of his habit for relics. The first General Chapter of the Order was held in Bologna around Pentecost, 1220. Centuries later, the democratic principles of the Constitutions of the Order of Preachers would influence nations. The Founder recommended that all economic matters be handled by the lay brothers, but the Chapter Fathers voted against him. Dominic preached throughout Italy for a year until the second General Chapter, once again in Bologna. By then, his health was declining, yet he continued to walk from town to town preaching. By mid summer, he had spent his strength. Heaven had warned the “Athlete of Christ” that his life was about to end. His work was bearing fruit. Already the Order had grown to eight provinces: Spain, Provence, France, Lombardy, Rome, Germany, Hungary, and England. By the time he reached Bologna in August, it was very hot and humid. The heat compounded his fever. He could no longer stand, but refused to be put on a bed. He lay on the floor of a borrowed cell, in a borrowed habit, for he had none of his own. He had bequeathed to his children this testimony: “Have charity one for another; guard humility; make your treasure out of voluntary poverty.” He then emphasized poverty, saying, “May my malediction and that of God fall upon him who shall bring possessions into this Order.” When asked about burial, he expressed his wish to be “under the feet of the brethren,” that is, under the feet of those who bring Good News. He assured them, “Do not weep, my children; I shall be more useful to you where I am now going, than I have ever been in this life.” Near the end, he told the elders, “Till this day, God, in His mercy, has kept my virginity pure and unstained. If you desire this blessed gift of God, hold yourselves apart from everything that can conjure up evil, for it is by watchful care in this that a man is loved by God and revered by man. Be eager in your service of God; strengthen and widen this newborn Order; increase your love of God and your keen observance of the Rule; grow in holiness.” Only a few more words were exchanged. After his confession, he directed his sons to begin the Commendation of the Dying. During its recitation, he stretched his arms upward and died. It was Friday, August 6, 1221, about 6 o’clock in the evening: fittingly the Transfiguration, a feast regarding prophets and apostles. Saint Dominic had lived 51 years. Miracles followed and devotion to the saint grew, so the church building needed to be expanded and Dominic’s body moved. Hundreds of people of every rank attended the Translation on May 24, 1233. When the stone covering his remains was lifted, a gentle aroma, like a sweet perfume, filled the air to the delight of all. The sacred relics have since been revered in a sepulcher befitting his glory. Within a year after the Translation of the Body, after collecting depositions and testimonies, Dominic was canonized a saint. His feast is celebrated on the eighth of August.

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