In this Jubilee Year, I had rather hoped that you would invite some Dominican luminary to celebrate today’s Mass and preach an inspiring homily in true Dominican fashion. As it is, you have to make do with me, again! This is now the tenth time I have preached to you on the Solemnity of Saint Dominic – doesn’t time fly by when you’re having fun? And so, after ten years, if I start to repeat myself, I apologise; because I still feel a bit of a fraud, standing here expounding upon the life and virtues of Saint Dominic. You know much more about his holy life and witness than I could possibly ever preach about.
It’s strange, but when I think about Saint Dominic, I also think about Saint Norbert. In some ways they are very much alike. Both saints left us little or no personal writings. Like Saint Norbert, Saint Dominic seems to have been somewhat reticent to speak about himself and his own spiritual experiences. And again, like Saint Norbert, Saint Dominic’s character is very much revealed in the Constitutions of the Order and in the testimonies of the witnesses taken during the process of his canonisation. As you know, an important source for early information about Saint Dominic is the biography written by Blessed Jordan of Saxony, who although he hadn’t known Dominic long, carefully reported what he had heard from those who did know him well.
From these and from other sources we discover that Saint Dominic’s compassion for people in their varying spiritual needs fired him up with a consuming desire to preach the Gospel. We don’t know what his preaching was like, but those who knew him reported that it often moved his hearers, and indeed himself, to tears. He wanted his friars to preach effectively and encouraged them to study the Scriptures assiduously; after all, the basis of all preaching should be a sound knowledge of the Gospels. Dominic wanted nothing to get in the way of this task of preaching, and he unsuccessfully tried to turn the administration of the Order over to lay brothers, and to resign as Master of the Order. And sadly, this is where the similarities with Saint Norbert end; Dominic repeatedly refused offers to become a bishop, whereas Norbert jumped at the opportunity when he was chosen to be Archbishop of Magdeburg.
Saint Dominic was convinced that preaching without study or prayer would never be effective. We all know what it’s like to hear a dull preacher or someone who hasn’t properly prepared themselves. There’s nothing worse than having to listen to someone preaching off the cuff, or shooting from the hip, as our American cousins say.
On his death-bed Dominic promised to be of more use to his brethren in death than in life, and he left them as his legacy, these words: ‘Cherish love, preserve humility, possess only the poverty you have freely chosen.’
After Dominic’s death on 4th August 1221 his brethren understood very well that Dominic desired no cult of personality in his Order, and they resolved that the only appropriate way to honour his memory was to carry on his preaching.
Saint Dominic was canonised by Pope Gregory IX in 1234, only thirteen years after his death.
On this Solemnity, and in this Jubilee Year, we thank God for the life and witness of Saint Dominic, and we implore his intercession for the Order of Preachers throughout the world and in particular for his Sisters here.
Our Holy Father Dominic, pray for us.