On this last day of the Novena, the eve of St. Dominic’s Day, I would like to speak on the humility of St Dominic. I have always admired Dominic’s humility- probably because I am so much lacking in it myself!

“We are told that in his lifetime, Dominic had wished to be treated always as ‘one of the brethren’- as simply ‘Brother Dominic’ and his dying wish was that he should be buried under the feet of his brethren. It is quite in accordance with his own temperament that he should live on in the Church, not as a striking individual, but in the work of preaching the Gospel, for which he instituted his Order. It is not surprising, then, that he has never been one of the popular favourites among the saints. Men and women do not keep returning to the thought of the man, Dominic, as they do to the thought of the man, Francis. It is rather to the idea of his Order, The Order of Preachers, that they keep coming back to.”

“ I do not read that Christ was a black monk or white monk, but that he was a humble preacher.” With these words a 13th Century Dominican Novice justified his choice of Order against some monks who wished him to join them instead. The essential model which St. Dominic pointed to in the thirteenth century was Christ himself, the humble Christ, wandering round with ‘nowhere to lay his head’, proclaiming the Kingdom of God. Dominic had an overwhelming love for Christ and the Christian faith. His great desire was to bring to everybody the truth of the faith, which would set them free and save their souls. While he was still quite a young man, he had prayed insistently and passionately that God would give him true charity, which would be effective in procuring the salvation of others, and he longed to spend himself totally in the service of the gospel, just as Christ had given himself even to death for the salvation of the world. Like Jesus, he had come to serve and not to be served.

The humble Dominic was not primarily concerned to find a way of life which would be convenient or even safe for himself, – no such thing as a comfort zone for him- nor was he concerned to realise any dream of his own perfection: what he wanted was to preach the gospel where it was needed most, in whatever way would make it most effective. In keeping with his humility he deliberately refused any position which would set him above others and give him power over them. I am not sure how many times he refused a bishopric but I think at least twice. In Dominic’s view, the preacher comes before people as a beggar, begging from God the word he is to speak, begging from people the bread which will keep him alive. Dominic had a overwhelming trust in God and in the generosity of men and women.

His deep humility is again emphasised when at the General Chapter in 1220, he tried to resign his position as head of the Order, though the brethren wisely would not hear of it. However, at the same time he insisted that it was they, not he, who must decide about the essential constitutional structure of the Order. On at least one point they disagreed with him, and true to character, he made no attempt to force his will on them. This incident concerned Dominic’s idea about giving the lay brothers full responsibility for looking after the material side of things in the Order, so that the clerical brethren could devote themselves entirely to prayer, study and preaching. The brethren turned this idea down.

“In 1220 or even 1216, he ordered the following to be put at the head of the instructions to the master of Novices, for those who would be his future preachers: Let him, the Novice Master, form them to possess humility of heart and body, and let him try to conform them to the words of the Lord: ‘ Learn from me for I am gentle and humble in heart’ ” ( Mt : 11:29)

We know that Dominic was familiar with the conferences of Cassion, who in turn learnt from the Fathers and Mothers of the Desert. To finish I will quote a couple sayings of Abba Antony, which might challenge ourselves or more to the point, challenge myself in the way of humility:

Abba Antony said: I have seen all the snares of the enemy spread out over the world, and I said with a groan , “ Who can get through such snares?” Then I heard a voice say to me, “Humility”

This following quotation is from a letter of Abba Antony: “ Except through humility in your whole heart and mind and spirit and soul and body, you will not be able to inherit the Kingdom of God.”

Through the intercession of St. Dominic and following his example, may we all receive this special grace of humility.