Today, August 8th, is the feast day of St. Dominic de Guzman, founder of the Order of Preachers—the Dominicans.
St. Dominic was born around the year 1170, and he came from a noble and devout family. After studying at the University of Palencia for ten years and becoming a priest, Dominic eventually went to southern France to fight the Albigensian heresy. While there, he determined that a return to the preaching style of the Apostles in the time of Christ—to engage with individuals, to go where the Spirit led them, and to live simply—would most effectively preach the Gospel message and bring heretics and converts back to the faith.
After spending several years evangelizing and preaching, Dominic had acquired a small band of followers. With them, he founded a religious order, basing it on the Rule of St. Augustine and giving it the mission of “preaching and the salvation of souls,” with an emphasis on the importance of spiritual and intellectual formation. The Order of Preachers was officially recognized by Pope Honorius III in late 1216.
In a time when opposing sides often resorted to violence, St. Dominic chose to combat the Albigensian heresy through open dialogue rather than bloodshed. By having a deep understanding of Scripture, tradition, and philosophy, and by engaging with individuals on an intellectual and moral level, he was able to bring back into the faith many of those who had fallen into error. The Order of Preachers that he founded continues to embrace these principles by preparing preachers who are “intellectually informed and pastorally competent.”
St. Dominic chose to settle the first members of his order in university cities so that they could gain the intellectual training they would need to become engaging and morally compelling preachers of God’s word. The Order of Preachers, to this day, still heavily emphasizes the importance of spiritual and intellectual formation in preparation for their pastoral work. The Dominican House of Studies in Washington, D.C. continues in the Dominican tradition of establishing communities of Dominicans near universities. Dominicans residing at the House of Studies teach at nearby at The Catholic University of America, assist with Masses at parishes in the Archdiocese of Washington, and produce a journal.
Reading about the origins of the Dominicans and their continued success reminds me of the important place that religious study ought to hold in even the layman’s spiritual life. While we cannot all get degrees in theology, feeding the intellectual curiosity about our faith can lead us deeper into our relationship with God and to a better understanding of his truth.
Reading more about our faith, or about the lives of the saints we wish to emulate, can also better equip us to evangelize when the opportunity arises. While we may not be reading the Summa Theologica or the Catechism cover to cover, there is a plethora of material—from papal encyclicals and the core documents of Vatican II, to letters and diaries of the saints—available for us to deepen our own understanding of the faith and to be able to share it with others.
I myself have been inspired by reading about the life of St. Dominic de Guzman and the work of the Order of Preachers. As a result, I have decided to further engage my faith through more rigorous spiritual reading. I think a good place to start is with a course of study on one’s vocation—for me, that means marriage and parenthood, and thus my “to read” list includes Three to Get Married by Fulton Sheen and the papal encyclicals Castii Conubii and Humanae Vitae.
What will you read to engage more deeply with your faith?
Question for Reflection: How can the life of St. Dominic and his emphasis on intellectual formation help you deepen your spiritual life?
Helena Romano is an editing associate at the Catholic Apostolate Center.
This past week, 48 members of the Society of the Catholic Apostolate (Pallottine Fathers and Brothers) serving in North America gathered for a biennial week of reflection and study. We considered our response to God, Infinite Love and Mercy, through our social-charitable work in light of the charism of St. Vincent Pallotti. We were also inspired by and reflected on the call of Pope Francis, in his teaching and action, to care for those on the peripheries. Pallotti believed that we Pallottines together with all those who follow his charism as part of his association, the Union of Catholic Apostolate , are called to revive faith, rekindle charity, and form apostles. The connection between faith and charity in response to our experience of the love of Christ was a central one in the teachings of St. Vincent Pallotti.
This same connection between faith and charity (inclusive of the care, protection, and advocacy for the life and dignity of the human person) is summarized by Pope Francis in his apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel). This connection was a central focus of the unprecedented USCCB Convocation of Catholic Leaders: The Joy of the Gospel in America. It is also found in a new document of the U.S. Bishops on evangelization, Living as Missionary Disciples: A Resource for Evangelization. As missionary disciples (apostles), we are sent out into the world to accompany others and help them encounter Jesus Christ in and through his Church. We do this through our witness in word and in deed, not simply in the Church, but especially in the world. There is much work to be done as Pope Francis reminds us:
"Even if many are now involved in lay ministries, this involvement is not reflected in a greater penetration of Christian values in the social, political and economic sectors. It often remains tied to tasks within the Church, without a real commitment to applying the Gospel to the transformation of society. The formation of the laity and the evangelization of professional and intellectual life represent a significant pastoral challenge" ( Evangelii Gaudium, 102).
Let us take up this challenge even more fully! The Catholic Apostolate Center offers all many resources to help us live as missionary disciples.
May the charity of Christ urge us on!
Fr. Frank Donio, S.A.C. is the Director of the Catholic Apostolate Center.