On reflecting on today’s readings at Mass and on St. Dominic during this novena in his honour, I was struck by how closely Dominic resembled Jesus – how Christ-like he was.

In the Gospel this morning, Jesus, needing to be by himself with his disciples to mourn the violent death of John the Baptist, put aside his own needs for the sake of the crowds who followed him. Experiencing compassion for them, he preached the good news to them, healed their sick and fed them – giving them both temporal and spiritual sustenance – caring for the spiritual, moral and physical needs of the people.

Dominic, likewise, put the needs of others before his own. In fact ‘Dominic’s life was shaped by the needs of others,’ Simon Tugwell says. This idea of Dominic’s life been shaped by the needs of others and the reality behind it has stayed with me – sometimes to ponder with admiration Dominic in his own person and the mission of the Order and sometimes too in the challenges it poses for me, as I direct this question to myself. Is my life shaped by the needs of others? – or do I live an individualistic, selfish existence? I like the phrase coined by Timothy Radcliffe when he says:

“Dominican Spirituality is about living in God and for others”.

The Gospel message is clear and consists in giving one’s life for others as Jesus did and as the greatest expression of his love for us: in the text:

“And the bread that I shall give is my flesh, for the life of the world” ( Jn 6:51)

The Eucharist is actually prefigured in today’s Gospel with the taking, blessing, breaking and giving of the five loaves to the people. Jesus not only gave his life for us but continues to live in us, loving us, strengthening and sustaining us by his presence and grace.

From the beginning to the end of his life we are given proof that Dominic’s life was indeed shaped by the needs of others. “Dominic was a man unusually responsive to the world around him. A realist as much as a visionary, he stood out among his contemporaries not only as a man of God, but also as someone notably quick, flexible and generous in his response to the immediate demands of history”( p.15 Preachers at Prayer – Paul Murray O.P.)

That sense of openness to the world is a marked characteristic of many of the great Dominican preachers, ‘When I became a Christian,’ noted Lacordaire, ‘I did not lose sight of the world’. And, in a similar vein, Vincent McNabb remarked once to some of his brethren: ‘The world is waiting for those who love it…If you don’t love men don’t preach to them – preach to yourself’!  (p.16 Preachers at Prayer – Paul Murray O.P.) Dominic had this tremendous, genuine love for people – he cared deeply for them. We are told that “his heart was full of an extraordinary, almost incredible, yearning for the salvation of everyone”. (Libellus 34)

These are just some of the ways he put the needs of others before his own:

  • As a student he responds to the needs of others by selling his precious books to help relieve the distress of famine victims.
  • He stayed up all night and argued powerfully and passionately with an innkeeper who was a heretic and brought him back to the faith.
  • He changes his whole way of life in a dramatic way from being a Canon Regular to an Itinerant Preacher.
  • He heals many people and performs other miracles in his lifetime.
  • He founds an Order for ‘preaching and the salvation of souls’ – totally directed towards the needs of others, towards their salvation – their greatest need.

How did this come about? – that Dominic’s life was shaped by the needs of others? Because, as Vicaire tells us, his deepest inspiration was his love of Jesus Christ.

Another historian William Hinnebusch, reinforces this attribute of Dominic, when he says:

‘Endowed with a charm and compassion that drew both men and women

            into the orbit of his love, his dominant trait was a priestliness that was

            marked by a profound love of Christ and the Eucharistic Mystery.

 Dominic’s profound love of Christ could only be a response to his awareness of God’s love for him and very much aware of that love lavished on himself by God, he shared it with others.

 Reading through the early accounts of his prayer-life, what immediately impresses one is the place accorded to others – especially to the afflicted and oppressed.

In this regard Jordan of Saxony writes of Dominic:

“God had given Dominic a special grace to weep for sinners and for the afflicted and oppressed; he bore their distress in the inmost shrine of his compassion, and the warm sympathy he felt for them in his heart spilled over in the tears which flowed from his eyes”

Paul Murray O.P. in his book, The new Wine of Dominican Spirituality. A Drink called Happiness, has a beautiful passage in reference to this special grace, given to Dominic. He says:

“the wound of knowledge that opens up Dominic’s mind and heart in contemplation, allowing him with an awesome unprotectedness to experience his neighbour’s need, cannot be accounted for simply by certain crowding memories of pain observed, or by his own natural sympathy. The apostolic wound Dominic receives, which enables him to act and to preach, is a contemplative wound.”

My prayer is that through the intercession of St. Dominic, all of us might receive this contemplative wound, this same special grace, which will deepen our love for Christ and our communion with the Blessed Trinity, allowing our lives to be shaped by the needs of others, especially through ceaseless prayer and the humble and loving service of our sisters and brothers.