Thursday, August 4, 2011
August 4: The Feast of St. Dominic
Dominic Guzman, born in Spain, opposed the disorders of the Albigenses. He founded the Order of the Friars Preachers, propagated devotion to the Rosary, and save the Western Church from heresy and anarchy. He died in 1221.
St. Dominic was a very influential man in the history of the Church. As such, there is so much to say about him that, initially, I didn't know where to begin. He was charitable, sincere, pious, intelligent, austere, persistent, resilient, and intuitive. His life was remarkable and he left the Church with a Order of preachers and nuns that is still strong and traditional today, in spite of the incredible loss of faith and modernism that has crept inside the Church. He was known to sacrifice himself and his needs for those living in poverty and slavery. During the Crusades, he fought a dangerous heresy that was threatening the Church and promising to overtake Europe. All of these accomplishments, of course, are why St. Dominic is so dear to the Church. But, today, when I meditated on his life, my heart only thought of one thing—the Rosary.
My first introduction to the Rosary was at the home of my previously-mentioned, high school friend's grandmother. Mrs. G prayed a Rosary every night. On the rare occasion that I got to stay over with my friend at "Granny's," we were both expected to pray along. "Granny" had a tiny little basket full of these beautiful, shiny beads with a crucifix attached to the end. I always followed along, but the only prayers that were familiar to my Protestant ears were the "Lord's Prayer" and the "Gloria." Though I had heard the Apostle's Creed, I didn't really know it and I found the Hail Mary offensive. I had never really been taught praying the Rosary was wicked, but later on in some of my Protestant circles I understood that, since the Lord didn't give it to us or since it wasn't in the Bible, then we shouldn't pray it.
Upon my eventual conversion to Catholicism, I wasn't taught much either about the Rosary. Oh sure, some people prayed the Rosary before Mass, but those were just the old "blue hairs." In some of the Churches I attended, there was a group, one-decade Rosary for vocations or to end abortion but these, too, only contained the afore mentioned prayers. I probably, also, heard somewhere that it was St. Dominic who "gave" the Rosary to the Church. But my devotion to the Rosary and my understanding of the Rosary came this last year as our family transitioned to Tradition.
St. Dominic was born in Spain about 1170 to Felix and Joanna Guzman. Both of parents were members of Spanish nobility and their family was incredibly pious, claiming among them many saints. There is much to be said about Dominic's life to exemplify his piety and sanctity. From the age of seven he studied under the care of his uncles. He became quite learned in religious matters and he was devoted to his life of prayers. Those who knew him recognized his soft and charitable heart, especially concerning matters of the poor. He attempted, on more than one occasion, to sell himself into slavery for the liberation of other slaves. But Dominic's most recognizable talent seemed to be that of preaching. He had a tenderness about him that drew people to him. He loved them, they listened, and many people were converted. Although the information regarding his ordination to the priesthood is not available, it is clear that by 1203, St. Dominic was traveling with a missionary entourage across France and Spain during the Crusades.
The Church has a long, interesting history on fighting heresy. Many of these heresies were, at times, unknown due to the expansion of Christianity throughout Europe. Many heresies and heretical groups lived and prospered for decades or centuries without any challenges from the Church. Many of the men and women who the Church declared Saints, particularly during the Middle Ages, were people who fought diligently to save the Church from the heresies that were spreading throughout the lands. While St. Dominic was on one of his travels, he discovered that most of the Christians in France had adopted many of the heretical beliefs and teachings that had come to them from the Orient. The heresy called Catharism had taken a stronghold over the region and its adherents had grown very hard-hearted and close minded to the Truth. I hope at a later date to write specifically about the Cathars, their beliefs, and their similarities to certain practices in modern times.
In his wisdom, St. Dominic began to notice something peculiar about the nature of this heresy and how it had become rooted into French culture. It seemed that the women in the community had become particularly drawn to it and were convincing their husbands to follow and were also teaching their children. St. Dominic found this especially troubling but was unsure of how to tackle this problem. Since he had a special devotion to the Blessed Virgin, St. Dominic opened himself to her in prayer, asking for her intercession. As a sign to him, She presented Herself to St. Dominic in several visions. From one of the visions, St. Dominic understood that, since the promulgation of the heresy was being initiated with the women, the solution must come through them as well. This led him to found his Order of Preachers, or Dominicans, and Order for both men and women.
In spite of the help from the Dominican friars and nuns, the Cathar heresy continued to spread through France. And St. Dominic continued to pray. One evening in 1208, while St. Dominic was in prayer in his chapel, Our Blessed Mother appeared to him again. He continued to ask for her aide in helping to fight this horrible heresy that was infecting the Church and leading souls to ruin. This time Our Lady answered him by saying, "Pray My Psalter and teach it to your people. The prayer will never fail." Initially, St. Dominic was a bit confused, but through her continued words to him, he began to understand what She was asking. We are not certain how long it took for St. Dominic to collect his thoughts or how Our Lady directed him, but we are certain that he did what She asked. St. Dominic taught the brothers and sisters of his Order to pray what Our Lady called the Rosary and, through this action, the Cathar heresy was completely defeated and expelled.
St. Dominic went on to live several more years in unexhausting devotion to Our Lord and His Church. He spent his life traveling, preaching, teaching, and fighting for the Truth. After one of his travels in 1221, he contracted a serious illness and died three weeks later. His life was one of such exemplarily virtue, goodness, and charity that Pope Gregory IX declared St. Dominic a saint in 1234.
After St. Dominic began to teach it, the Rosary became one of the most treasured prayers of the Church. Catholics since that time have had a particular devotion to the Rosary to fight of sickness and evil. In times past, the Rosary was a common prayer in Catholic Churches and homes. Catholics carried them everywhere, in their purses and pockets, and were often spotted counting their beads or kissing their crucifix. Today, like other Catholic practices, devotion to the Rosary has fallen out of favor. Some Catholics pray the Rosary every day, others occasionally, some during Lent, and some not at all. In fact, many modern Catholics don't even know what the prayers are or why we pray the Rosary anyway. Many people would say this is just symbolic of our increasingly secular culture. I don't believe that. I believe that Catholics don't pray it because the Church doesn't teach us too.
What is the Rosary anyway and why should Catholics pray it? The Blessed Virgin Mary promised St. Dominic that if he taught his people to pray it, then heresies would be extinguished and the True Church would be triumphant? Based on tradition, it would seem that the Church believed this for much of her history. Wouldn't the Rosary be especially important for today's Catholic Church when heresies abound and have taken root in the forms of Protestantism, Modernism, Feminism, Liberalism, Communism, or any other –ism out there? Why aren't Catholic Churches hosting Rosary campaigns or round-the-clock group Rosaries? Maybe it's long past time devotion to the Rosary is restored.
The Rosary is a beautiful and powerful way to meditate on the Mysteries of Our Lord's life, death, and resurrection. Since it will take a certain amount of time to explain it properly, I will leave that for another post, perhaps later this week.
St. Dominic, pray for us, that we are able to fight the heresies that have taken root in our modern Church and society.
St. Dominic, pray for us, that the Rosary can become a devotion once again in every Catholic home across the world.