How to Live Like St. Dominic
BOOK EXCERPT: ‘St. Dominic’s Way of Life’
Editor’s Note: The following excerpts of St. Dominic’s Way of Life (OSV, 2021) are reprinted with permission.
Saint Dominic offers us a way to be truly changed — as he was — by the Gospel. To bear wrongs patiently, to have a docile heart, to contemplate divine things, to love holy teaching, to thirst for justice, to hope confidently in God: This is a saintly way of acting. To follow his way of life means to become salt and light, transformed by having met Christ and lived by his grace and love.
Dominic’s way of life is not simply for the men and women in the Order of Preachers — nuns, friars, active religious sisters, priestly fraternities, and laity. His response to the gratuitous gift of God is truly encouraging for all and, for that matter, is worth copying! Dominic longed to give himself over completely to the project of divine love. In the daily sacrifices of his Gospel labors, he demonstrated the keys to understanding authentic friendship, discipleship, and evangelization.
Like Dominic, we must respond to God’s love with love. Making present in our lives the charity of Christ is not optional. In the New Testament, love is a command, not a suggestion. But we all know that the love of the saints takes many forms. Dominic’s way of life reveals the shape and nature of his love of Christ. Centuries after Dominic, we can and should adopt this form in our own lives.
Although first conceived of in the Middle Ages, Dominic’s way of life is ever new. The proof is in the vibrancy of the Dominican Order today. Dominic’s way of life is not a dying project. On the contrary, it is very much alive. His is a love that burns brightly still.
In this book, we will turn to the project of examining Saint Dominic’s way of life. We will gaze closely at his somewhat hidden sainthood. By considering the quality of his love, it is possible to discover that this great saint is not far from us after all. We can still study his teaching, learn from him, and honor him. In so doing, our love will be purified, as was Dominic’s love. Then our hearts will be bound with greater affection to God, who order and directs all things. ...
THE ATTRACTION OF HOLINESS
One characteristic that surfaces again and again in the accounts of Saint Dominic’s life is his attitude and demeanor toward all. Blessed Jordan of Saxony describes him in this way:
More splendid than the miracles were his sublime character and burning zeal, which indisputably proved him a true vessel of honor and grace, a vessel adorned with every precious stone. His mind always retained its usual calm, unless he was stirred by compassion and mercy; and, because a joyful heart begets a cheerful face, he manifested the peaceful harmony within his soul by his cordial manner and his pleasant countenance. … And, while the joy which shone in his features bore witness to a clear conscience, the light of his countenance was not cast down to the ground. This cheerfulness is what enabled him so easily to win everyone’s affection, for, as soon as they looked at him, they were captivated. No matter where he happened to be, whether on a journey with his companions or in the house of a stranger, or even in the presence of princes, prelates, or other dignitaries, his conversation was always edifying and abounded with allusions which would draw his hearers toward love for Christ and away from love of the world. At all times his words and his works proclaimed him a man of the Gospel. During the day, none was more affable, none more pleasant to his brethren or associates. (Jordan of Saxony, The Libellus, 76).
What stands out in Blessed Jordan’s description is that Dominic’s attraction and contagious personality drew people to him not for his own sake but for the sake of leading others to Christ.
In recounting his experience of Saint Dominic, Paul of Venice, a Dominican priest from Bologna, testified that he “never saw [Dominic] angry, upset, or troubled, even when tired out by traveling; he never gave way to passion, but was always calm, joyful in tribulations, and patient in adversities” (The Process of Canonization at Bologna, 129).
Ralph of Faenza, another Dominican priest who knew Dominic in Bologna, recounts, “[Dominic] was always cheerful and pleasant; a comforter of the brethren, he was patient, merciful and kind” (The Process of Canonization at Bologna, 120).
Time and again Dominic’s love for Christ, for the brethren, for his religious life, and for preaching defined and gave shape to his relationships. And as his sphere of influence began to grow, it shaped the way in which his friars and sisters would live the Dominican life.
Too often the path to holiness is thought of as something austere and oppressive, something that takes away our humanity and individuality. But nothing could be further from the truth. God’s grace is the source of holiness, and it is that grace that frees us from sin and brokenness and allows us to become the men and women God created us to be. And what is more, this life of holiness and freedom is eminently good and attractive. This is why people have been drawn to the saints throughout the centuries: They are examples of happiness and fulfillment. Holiness is contagious; it is compelling.