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.