St. Francis and St. Dominic were reputed to be friends and so it is beautiful that the first Pope named after St.Francis has sent this in this Letter a gift of warm fraternity to the brothers and sisters of St.Dominic, on the 800th anniversary of his death. The Holy Father begins by saluting Dominic as the “Preacher of Grace”. The foundational expression of this grace was the fraternity of Dominic’s Family, which from the beginning consisted of friars, sisters and lay people. This spoke to a world in which the old vertical hierarchies of feudalism were crumbling and the cities were filled with strangers. It speaks to our world today which is undergoing a similar radical transformation as we find ourselves natives of a new and barely known world, the digital continent.
Dominic’s spacious family is not just our home in an uncertain time but a small sign of the Kingdom, in which all are called to discover each other as Christ’s brothers and sisters. So we are impelled outwards in every generation to find unknown brothers and sisters, as when the first band of friars went to the Americas and vigorously defended the dignity of the indigenous people, whom Bartolomé de Las Casas saw as Christ crucified a thousand times. To what new brothers and sisters are we now sent? The pandemic brings sharply to light how in times of crisis, the rich nations are tempted to draw narrowly the circle of those whom we recognise as our own.
Dominic stands both in the centre of the Church – in medio ecclesiae – cherishing the saving truths of the faith, but despatches us to the ‘peripheries’ to study, to teach and to learn. Unless we think with the Church, we have nothing to say, but unless we are close to those far from the Church, sympathetic to their experience and open to their questions, we will be unable to share the good news. Often it is artists who preach most powerfully a word that is new and old.
Pope Francis draws attention to the “synodal” government that Dominic left the Order. It holds in unity those who are unafraid sometimes to disagree, forming them to listen to each other in the search of a more spacious truth. This may be an inspiration to the Church as it ventures on the synodal path at a time when fruitful debate is often hindered by mutual incomprehension.
When St. Dominic was dying, he assured his brethren he would of more use to them praying for them in heaven than with them on earth. May he give us now the courage and freedom to preach with courage and creativity!
Brother Timothy Radcliffe, O.P.
Master of the Order, 1992-2001