From His Mother’s Womb, Saint Dominic Was Called to Spread the Light of Christ and Set the World Ablaze!
The Life of St. Dominic
As Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist, we claim a sharing in the best of the “old” and also of the “new”. As members of the Dominican Family, we partake abundantly in the incredibly rich Dominican heritage of almost 800 years, living our Dominican life in the context of the New Evangelization in this third millennium – thus the “new”.
Our Dominican roots can be traced back to a dynamic man of the Gospel – who, in many respects, remains a more “hidden” saint behind his more well-known contemporaries. This dynamic father and founder, to whom a special charism was entrusted by the Holy Spirit to found an Order for the building up of the Church and sanctification of its members, is Dominic de Guzman, often called the Doctor of Truth.
The Life of Our Holy Father Saint Dominic: Called from His Mother’s Womb
In the image of Christ, Saint Dominic was a light to the world and possessed a fiery zeal for souls, to set the world on fire for Christ. (cf. Luke 12:49)
Our Holy Father, St. Dominic, was born in 1170 in the little village of Caleruega, Spain. His birth was preceded by an unusual dream on the part of his mother, Jane of Aza, who is also beatified and celebrated by our Order’s liturgical calendar. An important early source from a first-hand witness to St. Dominic’s life, the Libellus, written by Blessed Jordan of Saxony (successor of St. Dominic) relates the content of this dream:
“Before his mother conceived him, she saw in a vision that she would bear in her womb a dog who, with a burning torch in his mouth and leaping from her womb, seemed to set the whole earth on fire. This was to signify that her child would be an eminent preacher who, by “barking” sacred knowledge, would rouse to vigilance souls drowsy with sin, as well as scatter throughout the world the fire which the Lord Jesus Christ came to cast upon the earth.” Excerpt from the Libellus
This dream proved to be an effective foreshadowing of the unique mission to which God called St. Dominic in the thirteenth century, and which all Dominicans, including our community, continue to participate in at the heart of the Church.
St. Dominic: An Outstanding Apostle and Extraordinary Contemplative
A glimpse into the early sources on the life of our Holy Father, St. Dominic, reveals not only an outstanding apostle but an extraordinary contemplative. Many of his early disciples testified to the fact that “he spoke only to God or of God” and that he dedicated his nights to prayer and worship and his days tirelessly to souls. St. Dominic truly possessed an apostolic heart. He was passionate about God, and desired that the cause of the Gospel be advanced through the teaching and preaching of Truth.
These same characteristics can be discovered in the countless Dominican men and women who have been officially recognized by the Church as Saints and Blesseds over the centuries, finding expression in the unique circumstances in which they found themselves and through distinctive, unrepeatable personalities.
Our Holy Father’s own thirst for Truth was brought about in part through sacred studies as a Canon Regular of Osma, where his priestly life began and his contemplative and fraternal life were initially shaped.
St. Dominic would purposefully incorporate many of the elements of his life as a Canon when he founded the Order of Preachers years later, combining the “best” of this “old” in a distinctive new religious order of contemplative apostles.
St. Dominic’s Thirst for the Salvation of Souls Led to Encounter with Heresies of His Day
Miracle Testifies to the Truth of St. Dominic’s Doctrine — The Truth of the Gospel of Christ
After several years as a Canon, St. Dominic was exposed – through a series of providential and decisive historical events – to the rampant heresy of Albigensianism plaguing Southern France and other European places at that time. His sensitivity was also heightened to the countless souls in the north who were pagan and had never heard the name of Jesus. St. Dominic thirsted for these souls’ salvation.
The following story related in the Libellus attests to our holy father’s zeal in this way and is expressed in this description:
“One day a famous disputation was being held at Fanjeaux and a large number of the faithful and unbelievers had gathered. Many of the former had written their own books containing arguments and authorities in support of the faith. After these books had been inspected, the one written by Blessed Dominic was commended above the others and unanimously accepted. Accordingly, his book and that produced by the heretics were presented to three judges chosen with the assent of both sides, with the understanding that the side whose book was chosen as the more reasonable defense should be regarded as having the superior faith.
“After much wrangling, the judges came to no decision. Then they decided to cast both books into a fire and, if either of them was not burned, it would be held as containing the true faith. So they built a huge fire and cast the books therein. The heretical book was immediately consumed by the fire, but the one written by the man of God, Dominic, not only escaped burning, but, in the sight of all, leaped far from the fire. For a second and a third time, it was cast into the fire, but each time it leaped back and thereby openly testified to the truth of its doctrine and the holiness of the person who had written it.” Excerpt from the Libellus
St. Dominic’s Courageous Decision to Disperse the Brethren for the Sake of the Gospel
Saint Dominic truly could not rest in the face of so many souls needing to be awakened from their ignorance or nourished by the fullness of sound doctrine, and was stirred by the Spirit of God to take a leap of faith. He set out, guided by the Holy Spirit, and with the blessing of the Church, to begin a new venture, a new religious Order, and he indeed “cast out into the deep”.
Between 1215 and 1217, a strong band of disciples gathered around St. Dominic, and the Order was born, receiving official recognition as the Order of Preachers with a universal, worldwide mission territory! Today, our Dominican Sisters share in this same mission of teaching the Truth, formed as contemplative apostles through Mary before the Eucharist and through a rich liturgical life.
A decisive event on August 15, 1217, in the Order’s early years, sheds dramatic light on the character and depth of this magnanimous, wise Father and Founder of our Order.
Often called “the dispersal of the Brethren”, Blessed Jordan describes the event in the following way: “After invoking the Holy Spirit, [Dominic] assembled the brethren and announced that, in spite of their small number, his heart’s desire was to send them throughout the whole world and that they would no longer live together in their present abode. Although they were all surprised at the announcement of this unexpected plan, yet, because his evident authority of holiness animated them, they easily agreed to it in the hope that it would result in a good purpose. For he knew that grain bears fruit if sown, but, if stored, it rots.” (F. 31). Excerpt from the Libellus
St. Dominic acted courageously, sending his new brethren out to various cities in Europe, that the Gospel might be preached and the Truth taught. He did this in the face of much criticism from others who felt it was too early to send out the group he had just gathered.
St. Dominic’s undaunting zeal and fidelity to the Holy Spirit was blessed in that these “small seeds”, not hoarded or stored, but dispersed generously in various places, were fruitful beyond measure – fruitful in the souls who were reached through their preaching, fruitful in the holy lives of the brethren who were sent and the witness they gave, fruitful in the plenitude of vocations that were subsequently attracted worldwide. This early event captures the spirit of St. Dominic, and the same spirit inspires our new Dominican Foundation in the New Evangelization.
Our foundresses have this same desire that St. Dominic possessed – to spread out and sow the seed of the Gospel through a new convent and foundations of Sisters, setting the world on fire. While our Holy Father was called home on Aug. 6, 1221, his impact on the world was lasting, and his spirit finds dynamic expression in the communities and lives of Dominican men and women who tread in his footsteps, bringing the Truth of Jesus Christ to all the corners of the earth!