The Success (and Failures) of Saint Dominic

Although Dominic had hoped to journey to barbarous grounds to preach and eventually to achieve martyrdom, this was denied him .~ from The Lives of the Saints, ed. Father Joseph Vann( 1954)

Baptism is about death. We disguise it as a cleansing ritual, and it is further camouflaged by white garments, candles and flame, and the sobbing of a cute child who doesn’t like to get wet. But Paul tells us in no uncertain terms that Christians are “buried together with him by baptism into death”( Rom. 6.4 a ). When the sea is poured over an infant’s head, and the baptizer intones the Trinitarian formula, that child is with the Lord in the mausoleum. And tomb signifies dead.

Of course, the Lord’s burial was followed by a Resurrection, and the baptized get to participate in that as well- something Paul himself goes on to acknowledge 😛 TAGEND

As Christ is risen from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we likewise may walk in newness of life-time( Rom. 6.4 b ).

And it’s totally understandable that we prefer to focus on baptism’s transmission of new spiritual live rather than the sacramental death that accompanies it. Nevertheless, there’s no get around the fact that the brand-new lifetime was won through a extinction, and that’s an unsettling reality we might prefer to downplay- especially when the baptized is still in diapers.

Yet my new godson is named after St. Dominic. That poses a problem when it comes to downplaying the demise back of the baptism equation.

When we think of St. Dominic, we think of white habits, and a religious order dedicated to preaching and education and academic chases. Dominicans are the’ Dogs of God, ’ after all, tenacious in their pursuit of truth and defense of the Faith.

But Dominic himself, it turns out, was a bit of a reckless nut in his heyday. I recently read up on my new godson’s namesake, and I was surprised to learn that the saintly founder had been a fiery young priest who are interested in set himself in harm’s way in service to the Lord.

The young Fr. Dominic de Guzman had been selected to accompany a bishop on a delicate diplomatic mission from Spain to southern France, and there they encountered the Albigenses- a limb of the dualist Catharite heresy. Following its concluding observations of their mission, the two clerics returned to the Albigensian stronghold of Languedoc to engage the heretics in further disputation and to exclaim the fullness of the Faith to the flustered multitudes.

This being the Middle Ages, the predominant approaching to settling disagreements was through armed conflict, and combating Albigensianism was no exception. Backed by the Pope, Catholic Lords waged conflict on religious revolutionaries of all stripes, and the Albigensian Crusade, while successful in diminish the rebels, wreaked havoc on metropolis, countryside, and the population.

But Dominic knew that fighting and force wouldn’t achieve true win, saying that the “enemies of the faith cannot be removed like that.” Instead, he recommended devotion as a weapon “instead of a sword; be clothed with humility instead of fine raiment.” And he necessitated this quite literally, choosing to live among the Albigenses, preaching the truths of the Catholic Faith whenever he had a chance, and moving about openly despite the many threats made against him. When asked what he’d do if he were cornered by his foes, Dominic bravely answered this way 😛 TAGEND

I would tell them to kill me slowly and painfully, a little at a time, so that I might have a more glorious crown in Heaven.

For the young St. Dominic, martyrdom wasn’t something to shy away from; it was something to be chased after! What better mode could he demonstrate his tremendous desire for Jesus? What could top dying for Him who had Himself died for the world?

Alas, it was not to be. Dominic eventually coordinated a group of like-minded adherents, and, in 1216, the Pope recognized the saint’s tries by approving a brand-new Order of Evangelist- now known as the Dominicans. Needless to say, the saint had charge of the operation, and, as it developed, he had to spend more and more time moving about, proving foundations, and guiding his spiritual sons in their apostolates of teach, preaching, and prayer.

So, in the end, Dominic became the consummate president, and he even provided briefly as a kind of chief of staff in the Pope’s own court. And thus, the brash young clergyman, intent on achieving martyrdom, became only another executive. He failed in his youthful quest. Sad, isn’t it?

Well, yes, sad, if that were the end of the story- if Dominic’s story was simply about a thwarted pious death wish. But that’s not what it’s about.

Instead, it’s the story of one who attempted out Jesus with his whole being; a tale of changeover and sanctification and conforming to Christ- truly the greatest escapade tale there could be, martyrdom or no martyrdom. And here’s a little secret: That’s likewise the story of all the baptized- including my new godson. “Having become a member of the Church, ” the Catechism teaches us, “the person christened belongs no longer to himself, but to him who have been killed and rose for us.” Little baby Dom, as of last weekend, has already died to self and risen with Christ, and who knows where that might lead? Martyrdom, perhaps. Something much more mundane, most probably. Who knows? In fact, who knows for any of us?

Only Christ knows, but in the meantime, we have to keep marching forward in sect, trusting the Lord to work out all the details along the way- just like St. Dominic did long ago. The saints are signs that the procession can come to a successful conclusion, and we look to them as frameworks for how to carry it out.

Yet, the saints don’t merely rest on their laurels- as if sanctity were air tickets to a cozy retirement in the hereafter. No, St. Dominic is now in a position to do something even more useful than arguing with Cathars and preaching the Gospel: He can join me in surrounding little Dom with prayer- indeed, I’m counting on it, based on what the saint himself told his confreres on his deathbed 😛 TAGEND

Do not bawl, for I shall be more useful to you after my death and I shall help you then more efficiently than during my life.

Perhaps the young St. Dominic was indeed disappointed that he was not chosen for a martyr’s crown, but his union to Christ was completed nonetheless. Martyrdom, in other words, was never the true goal, and Dominic always knew that. The goal was- and is- Christ Himself.

St. Dominic, pray for us.

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