This Sunday is also the Feast of Saint Dominic. We won’t celebrate it liturgically, since the celebration of Sunday “wins” and Saint Dominic goes unobserved here. If we were in a parish named for him (which Washington has downtown, in southwest DC) we could celebrate him, but we aren’t, so we can’t.
I like to celebrate Saint Dominic because I studied in a Dominican university for three years while in seminary, the Pontifical University of Saint Thomas Aquinas, also known as the Angelicum, because Saint Thomas is called the Angelic Doctor. So did Father DeRosa, for that matter. Never having encountered Dominicans before then, the more I learned about the them, the more I liked them.
Saint Dominic, who lived at the turn of the 13th century, founded his community to preach the truth in the face of falsehood, hence their official name, the Order of Preachers. Their dedication to study of the scriptures and teachings of the Church is so that their preaching will be grounded in the truth, which is the motto of the order -- Veritas.
Eight hundred years later, the Order continues to serve the Church in many ways consonant with Dominic’s vision. Their commitment to study and teaching leads them to serve in many universities and even to operate some of their own, like my alma mater. The Papal Theologian, whose responsibility it is to provide the Holy Father with doctrinal support for his Petrine ministry, is always a Dominican. Currently, that office is held by a Polish priest who taught me a seminar my first year in Rome (I didn’t do very well in that one.)
There is no shortage of need for the Dominican commitment to preach and teach the truth, especially in our culture that has subscribed to Pontius Pilate’s cynical dismissal, “What is truth?” Though the Cathar (or Albigensian) heresy which first motivated Dominic to undertake his mission has long since died, today’s aggressive and destructive relativism requires a response from those who know Christ Jesus, who is the way, the truth, and the life.
Our local Dominican province is thriving, thanks be to God. Recent entrance classes to their novitiate have numbered in the mid-teens, to this year’s low twenties. That is a strong indicator of the community’s fidelity to their charism in the truth, and speaks of this generation’s hunger for that same truth.
One of the more robust communities of religious women in the United States, and perhaps the most robust, is the Dominican Sisters of Saint Cecelia, in Nashville. After repeated expansions of their motherhouse, and additions of new missions by their sisters, the Nashville Dominicans still fill every novitiate class, while being very selective about whom they admit.
The dogged commitment to the truths of the faith revealed in Christ Jesus has earned the Dominicans the nickname the Dogs of the Lord, a pun in Latin: Domini canes. Thanks be to God for the work of Saint Dominic, which continues into our own day, when the need is as great as ever for the truth to be proclaimed, and heard, and embraced. Christ is the truth, and the truth alone will set us free.