St Dominic’s Day in Newcastle
St Dominic’s feast day (8 August) falls on a Sunday this year, but our parishes and churches which have St Dominic as their patron are able to keep the feast as a solemnity. fr Lawrence Lew OP who is serving as a deacon in St Dominic’s Parish in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, preached the following homily this weekend:
Readings: Isaiah 52: 7-10; Psalm 96; 2 Timothy 4:1-8; Luke 10:1-9
On the very day that Saint Dominic died – 6 August 1221 – the Dominican friars, in their distinctive black and white habits, first stepped onto the shores of England. Eighteen years later, in 1239, when they had come to maturity in this land, they arrived in Newcastle. And so the distinctive colours of black and white were first brought to the streets of this great city by the Black Friars, and those colours are still so prominent in Newcastle, thanks (it is said) to Dominican influence!
Whenever I see the people of Newcastle in their black and white habits during a match day, I feel the city comes alive with excitement, and above all, there is a sense of urgency in the movements of those who are heading over to St James’ Park. And who can forget the eruption of joy when each goal is scored? The whole city resounds with it!
Excitement, joy, and above all, urgency are three elements that we find in today’s readings. And it’s not just during the football season, or any other kind of season, but every day. So, St Paul says, “be urgent in season and out of season”. The image used in the Gospel is also striking … imagine fields and fields of crops ripe and ready to be harvested, and if this is not done quickly and efficiently, then the crops would spoil, rot, and be wasted. So, there is an urgency about the task at hand. In fact, the task is so urgent that nothing must get in the way, neither luggage nor even other people. Think of the urgency of people rushing to get to the stadium for the kick-off.
The Gospel’s urgency is not a chilly single-mindedness, like you might get on the Metro at the rush hour. Neither is there a sense of stress, or weariness, perhaps like harassed mums who have to rush their kids from school, to rugby practice, to music classes, while fitting in the shopping in between. No. There is an air of excitement, anticipation, and joy in our readings today, just as you might find on a match day, and the prophet Isaiah encourages us to shout, and sing for joy, like those football fans whose team has just scored a winning goal.
But there are three questions that you might ask, just as I did when I first came to Newcastle and there was a game on at St James’ Park. Why this urgency? What’s all the excitement about? And why should we celebrate like we’ve had a little too much Brown Ale?
Firstly, there’s urgency because there’s a real hunger, and a great need in our world, and yes, in this very city, this parish, today. And when someone is in desperate need, it would be heartless to just dilly-dally. St Dominic saw in his time that people were being misled by all sorts of false ideas that de-humanized them, and denigrated the goodness and holiness of God’s creation. He experienced for himself the real need for well-trained, sound teachers of the Truth, and he saw how desperate people were for the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The Good News, that should be heard, and preached, and experienced by the world as Good News! And I’m sure you’ll agree that there is still the same need today. This is not because the first Black Friars were unsuccessful, but because each age has different challenges, temptations and difficulties, and each generation is called to respond to the needs of the day, and to preach the Word of God in that situation.
In our internet and media-dominated age, we rightly rejoice in the freedom of information, but a lot of that information is also de-formation. Like St Paul in our second reading, St Dominic saw that people just believed what suited their desires. Now that we’re becoming more conscious about healthy eating, and a healthy lifestyle, we know that what we desire is not always what we need. We need to eat well, and choose well; avoid junk food, and choose the healthy alternative. The same is vital not just for our body but for our whole being. We need to be conscious of the ‘healthiness’ of the things we feed our minds; what we read, and see, and the ideas we have. Some ideas, are objectively good and universally true, while other ‘junk’ ideas are ultimately rotten for us as individuals, and as a society. Except that the Gospel is not merely a healthy alternative. It is not an option. The Gospel is the answer to humankind’s needs, to our hunger and restlessness, and our deep longing for love.
So, the need to preach salvation in Jesus Christ is as urgent as ever. For what do we mean when we talk about salvation? The word comes from the Latin ‘salus’ which in day-to-day Latin just means ‘health’. So, our whole being – body and soul – needs to be healthy: our minds are starving for truth, our wounded human nature cries our for healing by God’s love, and our souls yearn for the grace of the living God, who is active in the sacraments. Our generation, here, today, now is being called to share the Good News with our peers, families, friends, colleagues, that Christ is God’s answer to our deepest human needs. The need is great, and if we can perceive this need, how can we be so heartless as to dilly-dally, and not sense the urgency of it?
The answer to the second and third questions – why is there such excitement, and joyful celebration? – is related to this urgency. There’s excitement because although the need is great, the answer is even greater. And those who would preach the Gospel, the labourers in God’s vineyard, know this. They know that God’s grace is powerful and the Truth of the Gospel is beautiful. And they know this because they have experienced it firstly in their own lives. No one recommends a wine without first tasting it himself. So, an effective preacher doesn’t just preach truths about God, but he or she preaches a wine of truth which they have actually savoured themselves, and which they have drunk with living faith and joy. This image of wine and drunkenness was loved by the early Dominicans because they were inebriated by the love of God – by the Eucharist and the Spirit of Pentecost – and so they could not help but rush out to proclaim the Gospel, and Christ’s teachings in the Church, to be Good News.
This excitement and joy, and an awareness of the urgency of the mission is what caused St Dominic to send out his brothers even into hostile territories, “like lambs among wolves”. So they came even here to the limits of Hadrian’s Wall, and then beyond. And these men first walked the streets of Newcastle in their black and white colours with a buzz of excitement, urgency, and resounding shouts of joy. They shouted with joy that God had comforted and redeemed his people in Christ, and that because of Jesus, the kingdom of God, God’s salvation, had come to humanity.
We still shout this out every time we gather for Mass! And by God’s grace, may we also become drunk on the wine of Christ, so that we will follow in the footsteps of our Holy Father Dominic and our ancestors, and each in our own way proclaim the Good News in word and example; in a way that answers the urgent needs of our contemporaries