Bishop Kevin Doran of Elphin celebrated Mass today at the Dominican Priory, Sligo, to mark the 8th Centenary of the Dominican Order (Order of Preachers). In his homily Bishop Doran asked, “So what do we do? As a person of faith, how do you continue to be a witness to the truth of God’s love in a world that sometimes doesn’t want to know?”
Bishop Doran said, “Religion has to do with the practices we engage in like going to Mass, saying the rosary, going to the holy well, going on pilgrimage to Lourdes. These practices help to nourish our faith.
“But faith is deeper than that. Faith is a relationship with God, a relationship of trust; a relationship of gratitude. For us Christians, it also draws us into relationship with one another and with the saints, because we believe that we are, together, the people of God.”
Bishop Doran continued, “When we live by faith, our focus is not limited to the here and now. When we live by faith, we use the good things God has given us, but they are not our primary focus. We have possessions, but we are not possessed by them.
“In our second reading today, St. Paul speaks about Abraham and Sarah, who lived together in the wilderness with their sheep. They had no children when God first made himself known to them. They took God at his word and that trust allowed them to set out on a journey without knowing for sure where it might lead them. Most of their hopes were only fulfilled in the generations who came after them, “their children and their children’s children”. For St. Paul, they are the Classic people of faith.
“The first Dominicans were a bit like that. In a world which, in many ways, was just as confused and just as violent as our own world today, St. Dominic, like many others before and since, left his own home and his own country, eight hundred years ago, to preach God’s word. He settled in Toulouse and gathered some disciples around him, who were soon recognised by Rome as the Order of Preachers.”
Bishop Doran went on to say, “In Dominic’s day, people went to war about religion. Some years ago, I spent a few months on sabbatical in the South West of France in a region associated with the Cathars. They were a Christian sect who rejected the goodness of the material world. For them the only good was to be found in the mind and the soul. For the most part they lived good and disciplined lives. They were hounded and besieged and eventually many of them were put to death because they would not conform.
“Dominic and his disciples were committed witnesses to the truth of God’s love, but Dominic didn’t believe that the truth could be forced on people. People needed to be persuaded by reason and by the witness of a holy life. Unlike some of those who went around preaching in Europe at the time, Dominic and his companions lived a simple life. As the gospel reminds us: “where your treasure is, there your heart will be”. Dominic and his companions recognised the goodness of creation, but their “treasure” was not in material comforts. They devoted their energy to study and prayer so that they would be better prepared to engage in dialogue with unbelievers. One of the mottos of the Dominicans, as you possibly know, is “Veritas”, which means truth. It was their faith in Jesus Christ and in the truth of his word, that made it possible for them to set out, not knowing what might lie ahead of them.
“The Dominicans became associated with some of the first and greatest universities in Europe, and counted among their number great persuaders like
• St. Albert the Great, who taught in Paris
• St. Thomas Aquinas, a great philosopher and theologian, who was so humble and unassuming that, in his old age, he is reputed to have said that all his work was only straw and
• St. Catherine of Sienna, who fell in love with Jesus and became an advisor to Popes, even when they didn’t want advice.”
“In our own times, there are all sorts of opinions on the go. Some of them are variations on Christianity, and more of them are completely at odds with Christianity. In previous generations, there was a tendency to assume that everyone believed the same thing. Perhaps that wasn’t a very healthy situation, because it was sometimes more about conformism than about a personal relationship with God. It was too easy for people to take faith for granted. Faith seems to be stronger when it is tested.
“So today, we have a different mix. Alongside people of faith, who express their faith in religious practice, we have people who have rejected organised religion but who live the values of the Gospel in the work of justice, and then we have people who are outwardly religious but who have little or no faith in God or in their fellow human beings.”
Bishop Doran concluded, “So what do we do? As a person of faith, how do you continue to be a witness to the truth of God’s love in a world that sometimes doesn’t want to know? Many people, these days, prefer to keep their heads down and almost apologise for what they believe, in case it might offend others. Others want to gather the wagons in a circle and hope that we can survive “the next attack”. Some, in a misguided attempt to defend the faith, would seem ready to go back to the medieval practice of burning heretics at the stake. Those who follow the inspiration of St. Dominic would continue to bear witness to the truth in their words and actions, without apologising for it, but always loving and respecting those who do not share their faith.
“By any standards, it is amazing to think that, less than forty years after they received the approval of Pope in 1216, the Order of Preachers came to Sligo in 1252. They have been an integral part of the life of the city, in good times and bad, down through all those years. Today, we give thanks for their life and the ministry among us and we pray that, with God’s help the Priory may be here in forty years’ time to celebrate its 8th centenary, and perhaps, even in 240 years’ time to celebrate the millennium, even though, like Abraham and Sarah, it is most unlikely that any of us will be around to see it.”