St Dominic strikes out with zeal to win souls back for Christ
At the moment I am preparing the Pilgrim guide for our pilgrimage to Turin and Tuscany - it is taking up a lot of time, hence the few posts over the last couple of weeks. It also sees me up very late at night as I try to get the work done. We're off on the 21st of next month, so I have to get the guide to the printers. The guide will consist of biographies of the Saints we will be meeting, extracts from their writings, prayers, a little on the various places we are visiting and then a section on the Shroud giving the history of the relic and offering some meditations and prayers for our pilgrims for the time they spend before the Shroud.
One of the places we are visiting is Bologna, we have Mass at the tomb of St Dominic and, I hope, we might even have time to visit St Catherine of Bologna. Writing St Dominic's bio for the guide I am struck by similarities between his time and ours, and I found myself wishing he could come back again and perhaps spend a few years preaching in Ireland. As you all know, and as any Dominican will tell you, he was an extraordinary man. Such fire and zeal - and courage.
Dominic was a canon, a diocesan priest, and it was when he was travelling with his bishop to make arrangements for a marriage treaty between the King of Castile and the King of Denmark, that he passed through the south of France and saw the damage the Albigensians were causing through their heresy. Many of them were sincere people, but misguided. Few knew the Scriptures and had little philosophical knowledge to help them shift through the arguments the Albigensian preachers were making. All of them wanted to live good lives and sought reform in the Church and society as much as in their own lives. In one encounter Dominic spent a night with an Albigensian "deacon" who, he realised, had very little knowledge of the faith. By morning Dominic had converted him, but he realised that there was a need for a serious re-evangelisation to meet the heresy head on. After a few years discernment Dominic realised that he could do very little, if anything, as a diocesan priest, he needed to be free to go out and carry out this mission, and so the Dominican Order was born.
All of this gets you thinking about the Church's response to the ideologies that are out there today and leading so many of the faithful astray. Many of those who adhere to these ideologies are good people who want to live good lives, but ignorant of the Gospel and Church teaching (though many of them will have spent years in Catholic schools or catechism class) they embrace a secularist understanding of Christianity and they cross the house. So far, if I can be honest, the Church in the industrialized west has failed to win these souls back or even offer a serious challenge to the rise of these ideologies. Indeed sometimes I think some of the leaders of the Church have retreated to the trenches, raised the white flag and they are hoping they won't be noticed, just left alone and unharmed to quietly and unobtrusively live some form of inoffensive Christianity.
I think this is what Pope Francis is attacking when he speaks. He once told the bishops to make a mess in their dioceses - many commentators interpret this as creating unorthodox chaos, but perhaps it means something else - perhaps he is telling safe and comfortable pastors to get out there and preach the Gospel even if it stirs up a hornet's nest - even if people are offended! The Church in the west is often crippled because it is afraid to preach the truth lest someone is offended and the media jump on it to bash the Church. Francis is direct in what he says - not always prudent I believe, but he is certainly putting it up to the timid pastors and their flocks to say it as it is...just as Dominic did.
"Faint heart never won fair lady", nor do cowardly shepherds and cautious apostles ever win souls. Dominic's great virtue was zeal - he was on fire - his mother's dream-vision was indeed prophetic, we could do with some of that fiery zeal today. These thoughts will, no doubt, occupy me as I offer Mass at Dominic's tomb on the 28th April, and I will ask him to help us all in these times, most especially our pastors.
Today I was talking about this with the venerable Prior of Silverstream and he asked me: "Why didn't you become a Dominican - I can see you as a Dominican". They wouldn't have me! And St Teresa long ago claimed me for her own. But zeal is not confined to Dominicans, it is meant to be in all of us. Let us pray for each other, dear brothers and sisters, that we will be open to this fire, and have the courage to stand up and face the challenges of these times. We need to stick together, we need to talk and plan. We have yet to strike out in a real evangelical push to win souls for Christ and his Church, not apologetically, but with the conviction that the Church is the sacrament of salvation in the world and she is missionary for a reason.