Yesterday, for the feast of Saint Dominic, the prior and superior of Saint Albert's, Fr. Reginald Martin, OP, said and preached the mass. The following is the homily he gave. While this is not from a student brother, it might be considered one of the examples of preaching to which we aspire:
In the last couple of weeks, Fr. Augustine Thompson and I had the chance to visit a number of fabled cities built on hills. I confess, to my embarrassment, that I had hitherto, appreciated them for their scenic beauty, but this go-round Fr. Augustine’s scholarship helped me realize the immense responsibility citizens must be willing to embrace when they undertake to build their city on a hill.
The strategic advantages are obvious, of course, but once your life cannot be hidden, you must make all sorts of provisions and take all sorts of precautions that your more secluded neighbors don’t have to worry about. Noblesse oblige, after all, or – as we learned when we were growing up, beauty is, as beauty does.
Which is why no one lights a lamp to hide it. We may take light for granted, but it was extremely valuable – and costly – for Jesus and his contemporaries. It’s no wonder the ancients should have considered light an ordering principle, or that God should have created it first.
Physicists can tell us what light is, but we don’t need to be scientists to know what light does; it makes things safe and it makes them warm. But it does so by making them bright. When the Albigensians let their ears be tickled by a dualist fable that denied the Incarnation, St. Dominic countered with the light of his study. He got the Albigensians’ attention by studying their doctrine to understand it well enough to point out its errors.
The dictionary defines “study” as “the application of the mind to the acquisition of knowledge…by reading, investigation, or reflection….” St. Dominic didn’t invent study, but he invested it with a purpose that was wholly his own. Benedictines study a great deal. They may become smart along the way, but Benedictines study to become holy.
The Franciscans have produced great scholars, but legends say that St. Francis himself was suspicious of school. Fr. Augustine’s book will probably deny this, so let’s repeat it one last time. St. Francis is reported to have said,
The Lord told me that He would have me poor and foolish in this world and that He willed not to lead us by any way other than that.
A Dominican’s study is an act of piety ordered to an end outside of us. It may not make us holy, but it ought to make us smart – at least smart enough to cause the people we preach to, to think – and to call them to God. Study is our obligation, and everyone we preach to has the right to expect it of us.
How beautiful, Isaiah tells us, are the feet of the one who brings Good News. Notice, it’s the preacher’s feet that are beautiful, not the shoes. The light of Christ equips us to look beneath the surface of things, to penetrate to the truth. As St. Dominic did when the Albignesians said that matter and spirit are so opposed that God could never be united with something so fallen as this flesh, or reveal Himself in anything so corrupt as food and drink.
We are the light of the world, Our Savior tells us – a light that makes things bright, keeps them safe and makes them warm. Warmth may not be a quality we immediately associate with St. Dominic, but one of his peers wrote,
... the tranquil composure of the inner man was revealed outwardly by the kindliness and cheerfulness of his expression [which] easily won the love of everybody. Without difficulty he found his way into people’s hearts as soon as they saw him.
“As soon as they saw him.” Like that city on a hill. The life of our founder, no less than the example from the gospel, warns us, if we’re going to enjoy the prominence, we must be prepared to embrace the responsibility.