"Send out Your light and Your truth, that they may lead me, and bring me to Your holy hill and to Your dwelling." Psalm 43:3

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

A Saint for Today

O God of the prophets, you opened the eyes of your servant Dominic to perceive a famine of hearing the word of the Lord, and moved him, and those he drew about him, to satisfy that hunger with sound preaching and fervent devotion: Make your Church, dear Lord, in this and every age, attentive to the hungers of the world, and quick to respond in love to those who are perishing; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.
~Collect for Feast of Saint Dominic, Priest and Friar

Saint Dominic was born in Spain in the late twelfth century.  As the founder of the Dominican order of friars, he had a profound influence on the Church and world of the middle ages (the Dominicans, of course, continue as a religious order today).  But he is a timely example for our own day, as well.  The Dominicans, or Order of Friars Preachers, were organized in large part for the purpose of increasing the spiritual scholarship of the Church through study and devotion to the fundamentals of the faith, and then sharing the fruit of that study through preaching and teaching.  As a religious order, the friars adhered to a vowed rule of life, which was lived out within a dedicated community.

I believe that the Church today has a great responsibility to focus upon the same needs to which Dominic was called: the study and teaching of true doctrine, and the formation of Christian community.  The need for a focus upon learning and devotion to the essentials of our faith (both through catechesis and continuing formation) is ever present, but it seems especially critical now for the Episcopal Church.  I think it is difficult to argue with the opinion that in recent years there has been a consistent trend within much of the leadership of the Episcopal Church to downplay the place of Scripture and Christian tradition in favor of cultural relevance and experiential knowledge.  I don't wish to sound melodramatic, but I do believe the future of the Episcopal Church depends on a renewed devotion to the catholic, apostolic faith which we proclaim every week in our recitation of the Creed, but which I fear fewer and fewer Episcopalians are expected to understand or greatly value.

As for the need for Christian community, I believe this is one of the great challenges of our day.  Relationship is the reality for which humanity is intended.  Relationship lies at the very heart of God, the Ultimate Reality, as beautifully and mysteriously revealed in the doctrine of the Trinity.  It is into that relationship, and into relationship with every created thing, that God calls us.  In our world today, we pride ourselves on being more connected than ever before.  Through the marvels of technology, we can follow events on the other side of the globe in real time, and instantly chat with friends thousands of miles away.  And yet, how many of us know our neighbors next door?  I believe that the Church is being called to remind us of what we seem to be quickly losing in this most modern era.  The Church, which maintains that the greatest event of all time is not to be expected with the next Apple technology, but rather happened two thousand years ago in the coming of One who calls us into unity with God, is well suited to call us now back to the reality for which we were made: the love of God and the love of neighbor.  It is a call to meaningful, loving relationship in community, made to a world that is nothing if not busy.

Finally, it should be noted that Dominic did not simply seclude himself in an ivory tower, content to studiously delve the depths of doctrine.  He preached what he studied, and practiced what he preached.  Dominicans vow themselves not only to a life of study and preaching, but of poverty as well.  In the language of the prophet Amos, today's collect speaks of Dominic perceiving "a famine of hearing the word of the Lord," which references his call to preaching by alluding to another famous episode from his life.  While the young Dominic was a student at university in Castile, a severe famine struck the region.  In response, Dominic sold all he had, including his beloved books, for the relief of the suffering.  He is reputed to have said, "I will not study on dead skins when living skins are dying of hunger."

May God grant us grace and wisdom to partake of the riches of saints such as Dominic in our own day.


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