Stories Seldom Heard
St Dominic: A Model for Contemporary Disciples
Welcome to Stories Seldom Heard. The month of August is always a
special month for us Dominicans since we celebrate St. Dominic's Feast
Day on August 8th. Even though Dominic founded the Order
over 800 years ago, his ability to read the signs of the time and
respond to the needs of the people is a relevant invitation for us today
whether we are official Dominicans or not.
Like us, when Dominic was a young man he had no idea what God would ask
of him. He was born in Caleruega, a small village in the region of
Castile in Spain. No doubt he thought he would stay there for the rest
of his life. But a few years after his ordination, Bishop Diego asked
Dominic to travel with him to Denmark to find a wife for the son of the
King of Castile. At least that’s what Bishop Diego and Dominic thought
the goal of their journey was, but like our lives, the project they
embarked on became more complex.
What they saw as they traveled into southern France shocked them.
Barbarians were pillaging small villages. Land was stolen from those who
did not have armies to protect themselves. Poverty was stripping people
of their humanity. The countryside was seeded with heresy. The religious
institutions were divided and the laity were disillusioned by the
scandalous lifestyle of the clergy and the paucity of good preaching.
The economic, social and religious situation of the region was tragic.
As we look around our nation and world, we too see many of the same
injustices: violence and war forcing people from their homelands,
scandals in government and religious institutions and a growing sense of
desperation. These situations are so overwhelming it is hard to know
what we can do to change them. However, as we reflect on St. Dominic’s
life, he offers us some ways to proceed.
First, Dominic was a man of prayer. As he walked throughout the
countryside, he carried the Gospel of St Matthew. As he meditated on the
scriptures his eyes and ears became more aware of the needs of those he
met. Dominic’s daily intentional practice of prayer also opened his
heart to God’s presence in his life. Dominic didn’t know what each day
would bring or how he was going to help those who were suffering, but he
trusted God to guide his choices each day.
Many of us have Dominic’s practice of daily prayer. Each day we read
the scriptures of the day and reflect on them in silence for ten to
fifteen minutes. Listening and praying with scripture helps guide our
choices. It also opens our hearts so we can become more compassionate
to those who are in pain. Meister Eckhart, the great Dominican saint
and mystic reflecting on the power of prayer, put it this way: “The end
of all prayer is compassion.”
Some of us might feel it is an impossible task to pray and reflect each
day given our many responsibilities. So even if we can’t sit quietly
and reflect on the daily Mass readings, we can listen to them as we do
our daily chores. Unlike Dominic, we have computers and iPhones. Each
day on the “web” Dominicans from around the world--women, men, laity and
ordained--offer a ten-minute audio preaching. We can listen to it on
word.op.org as we attend to our daily duties.
When we finish listening to the preaching we might ask God for a gift:
the gift of wisdom to know what to do, the gift of perseverance to
continue doing the works of mercy and justice we have begun, the gift of
awe to appreciate the wonders of nature that inspire our gratitude and
nourish our spirits, the gift of inner peace so we can be a safe refuge
for those who are confused or fearful.
Second, Dominic believed in the power of community. As Dominic
preached, many people heard the Word of God in a new way and were
converted. During his time in southern France nine Cathar women
converts came to Dominic because they had no shelter or protection.
Because of their new-found faith they were excluded from their homes
and families. It must have been a time of great fear and confusion for
all of them.
This first group of nine women, Dominic named the “Holy Preaching.”
Together in community, they listened to the Word of God. It was a place
of strength and grace for all of them. Through their presence and
prayers together, they began a new way of life. The women became the
first Dominican community. Dominic began envisioning a new way of being
a priest and preacher. It was out of this community prayer, study, hard
work and chaos that Dominic’s band of preachers began to take shape.
Like us, Dominic knew he did not have all the answers to the problems he
faced. For Dominic and us, this realization is a grace. Each person,
whether lay or ordained, woman or man, has gifts to contribute to the
mission of Jesus. Growing in our ability to become gospel women and men
of prayer and action is a challenge that needs the support and insights
of a community of believers. But how do we find or build this community
of prayerful, gospel people in our lives today?
Many parishes have developed small faith communities. Other parishes
offer renewal and adult formation programs. Building on these
opportunities to form intentional faith communities could be a way to
begin. On-going study must be a part of the structure of the community.
Otherwise the discussions and/or reflections might drift off into casual
conversation or a “coffee-klatch” type dialogue. Another way to address
our hunger for prayer, conversation and community is to contact the
sisters in your area. We, the Dominican Sisters of San Rafael, offer a
weekly study and discussion group on a current book and a weekly rosary
for the people of Aleppo and Syria in the chapel at Our Lady of Lourdes
Convent. We also offer Days of Reflection, weeklong retreats at our
Santa Sabina Retreat Center and information evenings on a variety of
topics: the mystics, healing of relationships, prayer and socially
responsible investing - to name just a few. Over the years we have
developed an on-going study, prayer and reflection group called “Friends
of the Sisters.”
I know that many of you are not geographically close to San Rafael, CA,
but there are many congregations of sisters that offer similar events.
In fact, many congregations have associate members and other
organizations that are open to women and men who would like a stronger
connection with the sisters and/or pursue a deeper spirituality. Who
knows what a phone call or visit to a local convent might initiate? It
might be what you have been praying for: a community of prayer and
The month of August usually is a “slower” month with fewer pressures. As
we approach the Feast of St. Dominic, we might want to reflect on our
deep hungers for community, a deeper relationship with Christ and the
ability to know how to respond to the needs of those we meet. As we
approach the Feast of St Dominic may we be blessed with the wisdom to
ask for what we need and the gift of tenacity to pursue it. Happy Feast
Special thanks to Mary Ellen Green and Maria Hetherton who have helped
in editing this article. "Stories Seldom Heard" is a monthly article
written by Sister Patricia Bruno, O.P. Sister is a Dominican Sister of
San Rafael, California. This service is offered to the Christian
community to enrich one's personal and spiritual life. The articles can
be used for individual or group reflection.
If you would like to support this ministry, please send your
contributions to: Dominican Sisters of San Rafael, c/o Sister Patricia
Bruno, O.P., 2517 Pine Street,
San Francisco, CA 94115 Thank
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email@example.com. Thank you. Bob McGraf