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?
Only one block behind one of the most famed and architecturally impressive structures in all of history lays the body of a woman who shook the souls of those who encountered her. St. Catherine of Siena’s body (her head is at the Basilica of San Domenico in Siena) is underneath the high altar in Santa Maria sopra Minerva, a minor basilica that belongs to the religious order to which she dedicated her life to, the Order of Preachers. Her body is approximately three kilometers away from the historic center of Rome as well as approximately three kilometers away from St. Peter’s Square in Vatican City. There could be no more precise a location for the body of the woman who single-handedly restored the papacy to its rightful home. No person understood more profoundly the inseparable nature of Church, Tradition, the West, and Rome.
Beyond her saving negotiation skills to restore the papacy to the Eternal City when three “popes” competed for supremacy, St. Catherine of Siena reached spiritual heights that ought to be strived for. Not only a mystic, but one who experienced the gift of tears and understood the saving power of interior suffering, she was also named Doctor of the Church by Pope Paul VI in 1970. Although “Catherine knew great suffering” (Benedict XVI, General Audience, November 24, 2010), she shined with a joy that reflected the intensity to which her heart was conformed to the heart of Christ. Fr. George Rutler explains the joy of those sanctified, “The culminating evidence of sanctity is a joy that is not of this world. Saints always suffer in various ways as a consequence of their heroic virtue, which pits them against the ‘wickedness and snares of the Devil,’ but there is no such thing as a sad saint. The saints are proof of the existence of God and his mercy by their very lives, which are testimonies greater even than miracles or the logic of natural theology.” St. Catherine of Siena is the exemplary model who proves that holiness is happiness.
Her holiness came from nothing other than her devotion to the Eucharist. In his Apostolic Exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis, Pope Benedict writes that “the Eucharist is at the root of every form of holiness.” He then offers the names of many saints that have inched toward perfection because of their Eucharistic devotions, among them St. Catherine of Siena. The Eucharist motivated each and every one of her actions and was the source of her supernatural joy.
Every word and teaching of St. Catherine of Siena ought to be read in light of her Eucharistic faith. Zealously, she once said, “Lord, I treasure your knowing how to give the world a kick” (Letter T360). St. Catherine of Siena believed, rather she knew to be true, that the Lord’s Supper, the Crucifixion, and Holy Mass are all one and the same and that the remarkable mystery of Christ present each and every day to the world in Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity is the life-giving reality of which anything is possible, but most importantly, the salvation of souls. This is the kick the Lord gives to the world. It manifests itself in many forms, but always originates from the Eucharist.
St. Catherine of Siena, ora pro nobis!
Tyler Lomnitzer is an undergraduate student at The Catholic University of America and is a member of the Knights of Columbus at The Catholic University of America.