Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Translation of our Holy Father Dominic

 2 Timothy 4:1-8 / Matthew 5:13-19

We are right to care about last wills and testaments. How someone wants to dispose of his goods after his death, how he wants his legacy to continue, should not be set lightly aside simply because a man is now dead and buried, alive perhaps unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord, but not reliably able to make his will known in this vale of tears. Indeed, we are generally and rightly disheartened by attempts to manipulate the will of one who has died, whether by contesting a legitimate will out of greed or conniving to have someone less than competent produce a final will before his death that does not represent his true or best desires.

So, this celebration by the Order of Preachers may well seem more than a little out of place. Saint Dominic, after all, was quite clear to the brethren. He wanted to be buried "under the feet of his brothers" in the choir at the convent of San Nicolò delle Vigne, and so indeed he was. However, not long after his death on 6 August 1221, his successor, Jordan of Saxony, ordered in 1233 that the body of the founder of the Order of Preachers be put in a simple, but public marble sarcophagus, located in the main church for public veneration. Nor was that the last departure from Dominic's wishes. Given the large crowds, and so as to make the holy founder's relics more accessible, a shrine was erected in 1267, decorated by the great artist Nicola Pisano, and then embellished over the centuries, including additions by Michelangelo and Filippino Lippi. The final Arca di San Domenico, while lovely to behold, and not simply for the friars of the Order of Preachers, but for the faithful in Bologna and from across the world, is without a doubt a refusal to follow the dying wishes of Saint Dominic himself.

Yet, in many ways, this translation of Dominic's relics from the floor of the choir under the feet of the brethren to a public and adorned space for the veneration and inspiration of the faithful echoes a pattern seen throughout Dominic's life. From his very first voyage out of Spain, Dominic had been seized with a desire to live as a missionary, and such was never his lot. Again and again, Dominic was asked by the friars of the Order he founded to remain their Master, and again and again Dominic yielded to their wishes. He knew that there was a wisdom in the brethren gather together in prayer greater than his own preferences and desires. He knew his obligation was not to follow merely his best ideas of how to fulfill the Lord's command, but rather, guided by the common good of the Order and the Church, to preach the word and be instant in season, out of season. It was in this way, in yielding to his deeper desire to serve the Gospel, that Dominic, never a foreign missionary, was able to say with joy and without regret, along with Saint Paul: I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith.

And what was this wisdom of the brethren? The brothers knew that, however holy the Order of Preacher may be collectively, it needed not only the structures and constitutions set up by Saint Dominic, nor even merely his example as something past, but, as he himself promised on his deathbed, it needed his help from heaven even now, which would be of more use to them than his presence here on earth. In other words, they saw that his earthly desire to decline, to be out of the public eye, to remain humbly with the brethren, needed to be refused even as they had refused his desire to cease leading the Order as its Master. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father, who is in heaven. The brethren knew that the Church needed not only the Order Dominic founded, not merely a share in his charism and mission, but they needed him, his personal presence, to accompany them in their preaching and teaching, instructing and exhorting, arguing and cajoling, until and even into that time when men will no longer listen to sound teaching. It is Dominic, the man, the saint, the Light of the Church, Doctor of Truth, Rose of Patience, Ivory of Chastity, who would be with then and endure as a faithful witness for all eternity.

Laudes ergo Dominico personemus mirifico, voce plena
Clama petens suffragia, ejus sequens vestigia, plebs egena.
Sed tu Pater pie, bone, pastor gregis, et patrone, prece semper sedula,
Apud curiam summi Regis, derelicti vices gregis commenda per sæcula.

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