Bishop Noel Jones
Of the August saints, consider Dominic, Priest and Founder of the Order of Friars Preachers, otherwise known as the Dominican Order, and whose commemoration falls on 8 August. Although attracted to the monastic life, he became interested in missionary work amongst pagans, and this led him to develop gifts of teaching and preaching.
These skills came to the fore in the battle with the Albigensian heresy which presented a formidable challenge to Catholic doctrine by declaring belief in two gods, by holding that all matter was evil, that sacraments were unnecessary and that there was no resurrection of the body. With this motivation Dominic had, by 1215, founded a permanent community of preachers in Toulouse, after a period of promoting itinerant mendicant preaching following the example of the Apostles.
This new religious community was given the title ‘The Order of Preachers.’ I like the definition given in the Order’s Constitution declaring that it exists for ‘the ministry of preaching and the good of souls.’ Dominic was the inspiration for this emphasis. His intense zeal for preaching was matched by his fearlessness and love of people, and by his devotion to prayer.
There are a multitude of heresies milling around nowadays, together with a monumental ignorance of the Christian faith and the doctrines of the Church. Not only do we suffer from secularization and indifference without, we are also rocked by rampant liberalism and downright bad theology within. Dominic has much to teach us. Not everyone can be a gifted preacher, but surely those who are given the responsibility of preaching should work hard to improve their skills, refusing to dish up those dreadful, boring, scantily-prepared, badly-delivered, seven-minute sermons which many Sunday congregations have to endure.
Dominic’s passion for the ‘good of souls’ gives us the inspiration we need, for in conjunction with the Sacraments, the Ministry of the Word provides nourishment and spiritual growth. It is an activity in which both priest and people can engage by becoming living sermons, witnessing to the faith which governs and motivates us, and to the Word of God which inspires and directs us.
During my diaconate, I recall a mid-week Mass when my incumbent, inexplicably, did not turn up. It was not a parish with the tradition of the reservation of the Blessed Sacrament, so I did what I could as a deacon by conducting what might be termed an ante-communion. As the faithful filed past me at the door afterwards, I said to one elderly lady, ‘I’m so sorry that I could not give you your spiritual food.’ ‘Don’t worry,’ she replied, ‘You’ve given us food for thought.’
We need to entreat Dominic to pray for us and to inspire the laos today to speak and preach boldly about the faith of Christ crucified and the mission of the Church, and to determine to give people food for thought – for the good of souls.