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?
**This post was originally published on August 8, 2017**
As we begin this month of August, we trudge into another month of Ordinary Time in the liturgical calendar. That doesn’t mean, however, that we don’t have much to look forward to with feast days this month. August is filled with feast days from saints who lived less than a century ago, all the way to saints from the early Church—from religious to laity, from saints I’ve learned about my whole life, to saints I had never heard of before. Let us take time throughout this month of August to learn about the Christ-filled lives of these powerful saints.
Saints who Founded Religious Communities:
There are many saints this month who founded religious communities—all of which have had a great impact on the Church. St. Dominic founded the Dominicans, also known as the Order of Preachers, which is a religious order known for their preaching and rich intellectual history. St. Clare of Assisi worked with St. Francis of Assisi and helped found the Poor Clares, a group of contemplative nuns and the second branch of the Franciscans to be founded, just after the Order of Friars Minor. Back in the time of the early church, St. Augustine wrote the Rule of St. Augustine, which became the foundation for the Augustinians. In the 12th century, St. Bernard of Clairvaux helped spread the Cistercian Order, an order of monks and nuns that branched off from the Benedictines and remains strong today. St. Cajetan helped found the Theatines which became a religious order with many bishops and intellectuals in the Church. With the help of St. Francis de Sales, St. Jane Frances de Chantal founded the Visitation Order which was a religious order open to women who had been turned down from other orders for poor health or similar reasons. The French mystic St. John Eudes founded two religious orders in the 1600s, both following St. John Eudes’ special devotion to the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary. More recently, in the 18th century, St. Alphonsus Liguori founded the Redemptorists, a religious community with a special devotion to Our Lady of Perpetual Help. In the 19th century, French priest St. Peter Julian Eymard helped found two religious orders, both with a special devotion to the Blessed Sacrament.
At first, I found this list quite overwhelming. These saints founded and/or helped spread their religious orders, something I can’t even fathom, especially in our pandemic-affected world today. But then I recognized the beauty that comes to the Church as a result of this wide range of religious communities. Each community is called to follow their own unique charism, all while growing closer to Christ and bringing Him to others. After sitting with this, I realized that there is beauty in the lives of each of these saints and in how the Church works in many ways, through many charisms, to help lead everyone to a life of holiness.
Martyrs in the Month:
In a six day stretch next week, we will celebrate three well-known martyrs in the Church. Back in the early Church, St. Lawrence was killed and is famous for his quips as he was being grilled to his death—showing his faith in Christ to the end. Much more recently, St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross was a Discalced Carmelite nun who was killed at the Auschwitz concentration camp during World War II because of her Jewish heritage. Similarly, St. Maximillian Kolbe was martyred at Auschwitz, giving his life in place of another prisoner, and was thus bestowed the title “martyr of charity”. While we may not face martyrdom like these saints, we can learn from how they trusted Christ and pray for their intercession in our lives.
Saints and Their Country:
Later this month, we will celebrate the feast days of three saints who are known by their primary locations: St. Stephen of Hungary, St. Louis of France, and St. Rose of Lima. These saints all lived incredible lives, all very authentic to the community in which they lived. As we progress through this month, these saints can serve as role models for us in how we can follow Christ and bring others to Him in whatever region we find ourselves.
As we walk through this August, let us look to the lives of the saints to learn to be saints right where God has called us to be through whatever charism He calls us to.
To learn more about the saints, visit our Catholic Feast Days Website by clicking here.
To view a calendar of the feast days in August, and each month, click here.
“Don’t forget to call your mother!”I’m often prompted by my family, especially my mom, whenever I call home. In remembering to take the time and effort to do so, I strengthen our relationship through this simple sign of love and reaffirm my devotion to her and the rest of the family. No matter how my life is going at any particular time, it is an immense comfort and relief to be able to call upon her and share with her my struggles and shortcomings that I’m otherwise tempted to keep suppressed within myself. While not everyone is blessed to have such a grounding in their family life, they can always turn to their Heavenly Mother with petitions and struggles, in times of strength or trial. One of the most widely recognized ways of doing this is through the recitation of the most Holy Rosary, traditionally believed to have been devised by St. Dominic after experiencing a vision of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
An optional devotion, the Rosary has nonetheless been instrumental for countless Catholics in the formation of their prayer lives and spirituality as a whole. It is wonderfully beautiful, not only as expressed in the many styles a Rosary is made in, but in the simple order of its composite prayers and the non-necessity of having to recite it in a specified space or time. Each decade of the Rosary invites us to reflect on and participate in a mystery in the ever-joined lives of Christ and His Mother--in the words of St. John Paul II, “it has all the depth of the Gospel message in its entirety.”
In a culture where having structure and taking one’s time are abnormal, the Rosary makes no sense. I’ve heard it said once that instead of moving us quickly from one end to another end without pause, the Rosary, by contrast, forces us to take our time in our contemplation before ultimately ending up where we started (at the beginning of the circle)! The repetition of each “Hail Mary”is a unique expression of love for our Mother. As Bishop Sheen noted in “The World’s First Love”:
The beautiful truth is that there is no repetition in, “I love you.”Because there is a new moment of time, another point in space, the words do not mean the same as they did at another time or space. Love is never monotonous in the uniformity of its expression. The mind is infinitely variable in its language, but the heart is not. The heart of a man, in the face of the woman he loves, is too poor to translate the infinity of his affection into a different word. So the heart takes one expression, “I love you,”and in saying it over and over again, it never repeats. It is the only real news in the universe. That is what we do when we say the Rosary, we are saying to God, the Trinity, to the Incarnate Saviour, to the Blessed Mother: “I love you, I love you, I love you.”Each time it means something different because, at each decade, our mind is moving to a new demonstration of the Saviour’s love.
Like many others, when I first began praying the Rosary, I was disheartened by its length and repetition and so did not fully grasp all of the spiritual benefits it offered. As I sought to deepen my prayer life, however, I gradually dedicated myself more fully into its recitation, and only then did I start to understand the weight of each word I uttered. In honoring Mary, we honor Christ; through Mary we receive God’s graces and our intercessions pass. Especially during October, the month of the Rosary, let us maintain this great weapon of the Faith in our spiritual battles, keeping it at our side--in our pockets--and praying it with devotion, patience, and humility always.
During the month of May, we especially honor Mary and her devotion to our Lord. While prayer beads have been used throughout the centuries by various religions, some believe the Blessed Virgin Mary gave us the prayer of the rosary back in the 13th century when she appeared to St. Dominic. The rosary assists us in growing a deeper appreciation for the mysteries of our Lord’s life and the witness of our Blessed Mother Mary. The mysteries help us to unite our life more closely to our Lord’s. Today, I’m sharing the story of a parishioner at my church who has a particular connection to Mary and the rosary.
Sharon Zahner began making sterling silver rosaries as a 12-year-old in a rural town that had a small Catholic community. She saw her grandmother making rosaries and wanted to learn how to make them too. Throughout grade school and high school, Zahner continued making rosaries and delivering them to the First Communicants in her town each year.
After high school, Zahner focused on her college studies and did not make rosaries as often. When she moved to Jacksonville, FL with her husband, she saw in the church bulletin where a nun needed folks to help her make rosaries for missions overseas. Zahner signed up to help. She encouraged her mother to help her out as well. Her mother gathered a group of 5-6 women in her retirement community, and they made hundreds of rosaries each week for the missions.
Zahner became inspired by her mother’s success and started making rosaries when she moved to her new Tallahassee parish, Good Shepherd Catholic Church. At first she started making them for children and teens going through their First Communion and Confirmation. Then she made rosaries for the hospitals, then Good Shepherd’s prison ministry, and then church retreat attendees. In addition, she now makes them for children at two other low-income parishes in the Tallahassee community.
Whenever visiting priests or seminarians come to Tallahassee, Zahner supplies them with her hand-made rosaries. A visiting priest to our parish comes every summer from Africa. At first, Zahner provided him with about 60 rosaries. Father Remy asked for more on his next visit, and now it’s a tradition. Even a mission in Belize received about 150 rosaries from Zahner when they reached out to parishes around the world with the same parish name asking for rosary donations.
“If you make a rosary,” Zahner said, “you just feel good. You’re helping somebody connect with the Catholic religion. I like to know that I’m connecting someone with Jesus through the Blessed Virgin.”
Fifty years later, Zahner continues to make rosaries for the Tallahassee and larger worldwide communities. When I asked her how many rosaries she makes a year, she said it had to be a couple thousand. She made 500 rosaries in January alone, just so she could have enough if someone needed them to share with others.
When she travels to military bases or other Catholic parishes, she brings rosaries with her. Her youngest son gave out more than 150 rosaries to Covecrest summer camp attendees each year while in high school. She even made an orange and blue University of Florida rosary for me when I was accepted to college!
Zahner teaches our parish children how to make rosaries as well. Recently, she helped out at a religious education class, teaching the students how to make rosaries to give to their mothers for Mother’s Day.
“Whenever I have a spare moment, I just pull out my rosary making materials and start making rosaries,” Zahner said. “People will come over to me and ask what I’m doing, and I tell them, ‘I’m making a rosary. Would you like one?’ And you know, the funny thing is, no one declines.”
It takes Zahner 15-20 minutes to make one rosary. In that time, she makes conversation with the inquiring individuals who share their stories and faith with her. Some people have admitted they don’t remember how to pray the rosary, and so she keeps rosary cards with her at all times.
“I have a tangible reminder that this symbol of our religion is going to someone and being put to good use,” she said. “I believe actions speak louder than words. This is my way of sharing my faith with others.”
Stories of everyday saints, like this one of Sharon Zahner, help inspire us in our daily activities and prayer life, bringing us closer to God. Zahner’s rosary making reminds us that sharing our faith can be fun and simple while still making an impact on the community.
I’ll close with the bible verse she includes on a sheet of paper with the rosaries she gives to First Communicants and Confirmandi: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:6-7).
Dana Edwards is a recent graduate of the University of Florida. She currently resides in Tallahassee, Florida where she works as a Digital Strategist, and volunteers as a lector and with communication outreach at her local parish, Good Shepherd Catholic Church.
This summer, as I drive home, I must pass it. At the traffic light its siren call implores me to come closer. Near the parking lot its gravitational pull draws me in. Often, even several times a week, I succumb, make the right turn, get out of the car, and enter the used book store.
Today the Church celebrates my fellow book lover, Saint Dominic. Dominic lived in the early 13th century, when the Albigensian heresy was entrenched throughout Europe. After several lay preaching movements had failed to quell the heresy, and fell into error themselves, St. Dominic formed the Order of Preachers (the Dominicans), an order of priests dedicated to studying and intelligently preaching the Catholic faith. Their studies required books, and thus references to books abound in early Dominican writings: rules for the sharing and care of books, stories of the miraculous recovery of books dropped into a stream, and measures to ensure that all friars are provided with “books and other necessities of life”.
Yet, as I’ve discovered through my addiction to the used book store, books can also present temptations. I’d be content to hide behind my growing stack of books for a lifetime. Instead of being charitable, I’d read about charity. Instead of being ready to “account for the hope that is in” me, I’d lift canned arguments from Apologetics books as my hope fades, for hope cannot continue when faith in the person of Jesus Christ is replaced with the mere acceptance of a number of intellectual propositions.
“I want the Church to go out onto the streets, I want us to resist everything worldly, everything static, everything comfortable, everything to do with clericalism, everything that might make us closed in on ourselves”. This was Pope Francis’ challenge to World Youth Day pilgrims, but it is the same command that St. Dominic gave to his friars in 1217. The Pope had finally approved the order and the friars probably looked forward to long hours of study, but Dominic had other plans. Against their objections, he sent his friars throughout Europe to preach, saying, “We must sow the seed, not hoard it”.
That is the key to Dominic’s charism. His studies were not for his own pleasure, but rather, as the primitive Dominican Constitutions put it, “study ought to tend principally, ardently, and with the highest endeavor to the end that we might be useful to the souls of our neighbors”.
Saint Dominic loved books inasmuch as they helped him to love God and neighbor. In a world plagued by heresy, charity led Dominic use his books to instruct the ignorant, but when famine stuck, Dominic did not hesitate to sell his books to feed the poor, for he “could not bear to prize dead skins when living skins were starving and in need".
In this year of Faith, we must follow Dominic by deepening our knowledge of the faith. Yet, more importantly we must look to Dominic’s example of how to live it.
Matthew Rice is a Junior at the University of Maryland, College Park. He is studying Materials Science and Engineering.