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Against the established order – St. Dominic, Reformer

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August 9, 2016 by eneubauer

St. Dominic

St. Dominic

This week we celebrated the life of Saint Dominic, founder of the Order of Preachers (Dominicans).  I have a personal affinity for the order as I attended a Dominican run parish during my formative years as a Catholic.  While I attended St. Mary’s in New Haven, Connecticut, I was extremely impressed by the passion they exhibited for the Church and their powerful preaching.

As I read excerpts about the life of St. Dominic, the message within this one paragraph jumped out at me.  It can be found at American Catholic and here’s how it reads,

Dominic sensed the need for the Church to combat this heresy (Albigensian), and was commissioned to be part of the preaching crusade against it. He saw immediately why the preaching was not succeeding: the ordinary people admired and followed the ascetical heroes of the Albigenses . Understandably, they were not impressed by the Catholic preachers who traveled with horse and retinues, stayed at the best inns and had servants. Dominic therefore, with three Cistercians, began itinerant preaching according to the gospel ideal. He continued this work for 10 years, being successful with the ordinary people but not with the leaders.

As noted, St. Dominic was living in troubled times as the Albigensian heresy gained popularity among the people.  It is interesting to note “why” this particular heresy gained ground.  It wasn’t that “ordinary” people were buying the Albigensian heresy whole cloth  (e.g. denial of the Incarnation of Christ and the sacraments), but they were impressed by the simple lifestyle and quest for purity among its leaders.

Contrast this description with that of the Church leaders and you will find a wide chasm.  The Church leaders are described as traveling with a large entourage of advisors, staying in the presidential suites of five-star hotels and had servants attending to their every need.

Think what you want but one thing is clear – the “ordinary” people could not relate.  They did not have a pastoral, personal, or spiritual connection with the very Catholic leaders assigned to protect and pass on the message of Jesus.  The outward appearance (lifestyle) of these leaders was disconnected from the message of Jesus and the life of many Church members.

When I was reading this passage I couldn’t help but to reflect on the fact that in much the same way the Catholic hierarchy struggles with the same problem.  They have the right message but often the wrong messenger (or the wrong attitude).  The lifestyle of the leader does not reflect the Biblical  vision of Jesus nor the Gospel message.  The byproduct, Church leaders struggle to make a pastoral, personal and spiritual connection with the “ordinary” people they are charged to lead.

God is giving us a similar message, if we choose to hear, in the pontificate of Pope Francis.  First, he chose follow in the footsteps St. Francis of Assisi – a saint known for love of God and neighbor above all else.  This Pope sent another powerful message, shunning the Apostolic palace for room 201 in the Domus Sanctae Marthae.  Finally, this Pope has continuously shed the protective bubble of the papacy to stay (physically / spiritually) connected to those he is charged to lead.  The life and message of Pope Francis are intertwined…and if you listen carefully, he is calling us to embrace a similar pattern of living.

In conclusion, let me say this – I have a firm faith in Jesus Christ and the Catholic Church of which I am a humble and grateful member.  The Church has many, many great leaders – both men and women living holy and humble lives.  However, let us not be so blind as to ignore the very atmosphere, in certain quarters, that has led people to flock elsewhere.  The message of the article is clear – the “ordinary” people were right and when they encountered the likes of St. Dominic and St. Francis what did they do?  They flocked and followed these humble and holy leaders.

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