Master’s Visit Brings Jubilee Year to a Close
Fr Martin Ganeri OP, Prior Provincial, reports on the visit of the Master of the Order, to conclude our 800th Jubilee Year celebrations.
We were delighted that the Master of the Order, Fr Gerard Timoner III, was able to come to the United Kingdom from 21 to 24 May, as we celebrated the end of our Jubilee year marking the 800 years since the establishment of the Dominican Order in Britain. During this year, we have celebrated the history of the Province, the last province to be founded by St Dominic before his death, sending a small band of friars from Bologna. And so we started with the re-enactment of the pilgrimage walk which the first friars made from Kent to Oxford in order to establish the first priory there. The four friars who made this re-enactment were joined by so many people able to walk with the friars each day. A moment of freedom, of joy and of hope as we emerged from the first set of lockdowns. Throughout the rest of the year, we have also celebrated the present and future work of the Province in the different priories with exhibitions, publications, and with talks and reflections in person and online. The visit of the Master of the Order, who is Dominic for us now 800 years on, brought this year to its fitting completion by celebrating the feast of the Translation of St Dominic in Oxford on 24 May.
The Master began his visit to our country with a Mass in the Priory Church of St Dominic and Diocesan Shrine of Our Lady of the Rosary, packed with a congregation that included members of the Dominican family – friars, sisters and lay Dominicans – from around the country, and those who worship at St Dominic’s or come to the Shrine on pilgrimage. The Mass was followed by a magnificent banquet prepared by members of the Filipino community who contribute so much to the life of St Dominic’s and the Shrine, and who were delighted, in this way, to welcome our Filipino Master.
During the celebration of the Mass, Fr Gerard reflected on our Dominican vocation to preach as an act of love that draws its strength and meaning from the antecedent love that God has shown us. ‘The only way’ he said, ‘by which a preacher can show his love for Jesus is by nurturing His people with the Gospel. And we must not forget that Jesus fed us first, because he loves us.’ (Homily at St Dominic’s Priory & Rosary Shrine, 22 May 2022)
The following day the Master went to the Priory of the Holy Spirit in Oxford, the present and third of the priories established there since 1221. The Master first met with members of the Lay Fraternities of the Order from England, Scotland and Wales. In that meeting we reflected together on the preaching work of the laity. Fr Gerard pointed to the first preaching that takes place when parents first teach their children to pray, a preaching mission in which the proclamation of the Gospel can take so many forms as it extends from families to workplaces, to the wider communities in which we live, and within the Church.
The Master drew the Jubilee year to a close with a Mass on the Feast of the Translation of St Dominic. Although the ‘translation’ of St Dominic properly refers to the transferral of his relics from the priory cloister to their shrine in the church in Bologna, the common understanding, Fr Gerard said, of ‘translation’, as rendering words from one language to another, did point us to a deeper significance that the feast should have for us, reminding us that the work of the Order is to find ways of communicating the Gospel that are meaningful to each and every generation. ‘The Translation of the relics of St Dominic,’ he said, ‘is significant and meaningful only because his charism and memory are, in a certain sense, translated in the different cultures and languages of the worlds even until today.’ (Homily at the Priory of the Holy Spirit, Oxford, 24 May 2022. Text follows below the photo gallery.)
Homily at the Priory of the Holy Spirit, Oxford, 24 May 2022: Translation of St Dominic.
Fr Gerard Timoner OP, Master
We are present in this Eucharistic gathering, in this assembly of thanksgiving, to give praise and thanks to God for the grace of the 8th Centenary of Dominican presence and preaching here in the United Kingdom. In his allocution on August 15, 1921, for the celebration of the 7th Centenary of the arrival of the Dominicans here in Oxford, Cardinal Aidan Gasquet recalled how the sons of St Dominic were welcomed as teachers by many bishops in Europe, inspired by the example of the Pope who appointed a Dominican as teacher or master in his pontifical household.
Many years ago, I attended a gathering of brothers and sisters in initial formation from different religious congregations. I proudly introduced myself as a Dominican. In jest, one participant replied: ‘Dominican? You are medieval!’ I riposted with a smile: ‘We are not medieval, we are classical!’ A ‘classic’ is at once timeless and timely. It is timeless not because it lies beyond the vicissitudes of history, but because it becomes an event of meaning in every moment of history. St Dominic embraced a mission that is timely, because he saw a world in dire need of a new evangelisation; yet the same mission is truly timeless, because every generation is in want of a new evangelisation, i.e., the preaching of the God who is ever ancient, yet ever new. Indeed, St Dominic has ‘something to say’ to all times and places because the Gospel that formed and transformed his life is classical. Medieval yet contemporary — that is St Dominic — truly classical!
A Jesuit friend who works at their General Curia in Rome asked me last year: ‘what is your hope for the Dominicans today?’ I said, ‘I hope we Dominicans would do what Ignatius of Loyola did!’ He thought I was joking. But I pointed out to him that exactly three hundred years after St Dominic died, Ignatius of Loyola read the lives of St Francis and St Dominic and experienced the grace of conversion. That is my hope for all of us Dominicans, to re-read the life of St Dominic and be renewed in our vocation as preachers of Grace!
In today’s Gospel, we hear Jesus preparing the disciples for his forthcoming Ascension: ‘Now I am going to the one who sent me’. The mystery of the Ascension means that Jesus took on a new type of presence, thereby transcending the spatial and temporal limits imposed by bodily existence. At his ascension, Jesus’ presence is no longer fettered to his visibility. There is a big difference between visibility and presence. A prior of one of our convents complained that they have a friar who is visible but not present! The apostles know that even if Jesus is no longer ‘visible’, they know by faith that he will always be present among them. They are assured by the comforting promise of the Lord: ‘know that I am with you always; yes, to the end of time’ (Matt 28:20). And the world recognises the perennial presence of Jesus in the world when we obey his command: ‘Go, therefore, make disciples of all the nations; baptise them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teach them.’ Preaching and teaching people so that they become a community of disciples are the very same mission St Dominic bequeathed to us.
I learned of the celebration of the Translation of St Dominic when I was a novice. I knew the Spanish word traslacion which means to transfer something from one place to another; but the English word ‘translation’ meant, for me at that time, the ‘interpretation or rendition from one language to another’. So I was wondering then, why do we need to ‘translate’ St Dominic? Is the May 24 event in the Dominican calendar a celebration of ‘Dominic’s translation into other languages?’
Human life is like the inverse of the mystery of the Incarnation i.e., the Word becoming flesh. It is some sort of a reversal because we are first flesh, then, when we die in this world, we become a memory, in a certain sense, our flesh becomes a word; literally, our life as friars is summed up in an obituary that is published in the Analecta of the Order. Our life as Dominicans is not reduced to ashes and bones in cemeteries. We become part of the memory of the Order that is kept in the Archives of the Order! But Dominic’s life and charism are ‘dynamic words’ that become flesh and real in the lives of Dominicans all over the world (synchronically) and in history (diachronically). In a broad sense, the words that describe Dominic’s life and charism are ‘translated’ into different languages and cultures. Today’s feast, the Translation of the relics of St Dominic is significant and meaningful only because his charism and living memory are, in a certain sense, being translated in the different cultures and languages of the world even until today. But just as there are good and bad translations, we pray that the way we live our Dominican life today is faithful to the original text, that is, the original inspiration Dominic received from our Triune God.
Today, here in Oxford, we give thanks to God as we celebrate 801 years of the ongoing dynamic, living and effective ‘English and Scottish and Welsh translation’ of St Dominic’s life and charism. If we are to be preachers and teachers of God’s Word, we first need to realise that we cannot speak unless we have heard. In fact, most mute people cannot speak not because something is wrong with their tongues but because they are deaf. One cannot produce a meaningful sound without hearing any. I have witnessed some years ago, in the University of Santo Tomas, Manila, hundreds of hearing-impaired patients who were given free hearing aids. I personally witnessed how the innocent faces of deaf children lighted up in amazement as they entered the world of sound! Then they are taught to produce their first syllables: ‘Ma-ma, Pa- pa’ Their capacity to speak words depends largely on their capacity to listen to words. As preachers of God’s word, we ought to speak in God’s name. But we can only speak in His name if we first listen in attentive obedience to His Word. For how could we speak rightly if we have not heard correctly? Sadly, there are some who claim they speak on behalf of the Church when they do not even listen to what the Church teaches. Some claim to speak about God or in the name of God when they do not even listen to God in prayer or in the contemplation of Scriptures. Ben pointed out yesterday that on the site where the first Blackfriars was built 800 years ago now stands the Oxford Deaf & Hard of Hearing Centre. In a sense, that place has helped countless people to hear and to listen so that they may speak. But Blackfriars, no matter where it is located, is a place of learning and listening, a place of prayer and contemplation, so that its professors, students and graduates may faithfully teach the Truth and preach God’s holy Word. And today after 800 years, Blackfriars has expanded its mission with the addition of the Las Casas Institute and the Aquinas Institute.
Last year, we celebrated the 8th centenary of St Dominic’s dies natalis with the theme: ‘To be at table with St Dominic’. Yet to be at table with St Dominic is first of all to learn how to be at table with Jesus. In the Gospel of John we read: ‘One of his disciples – the one whom Jesus loved
– was reclining on the chest of Jesus [εν τω κολπω του Ιησου; in sinu Iesu]’ (John 13:23). At the table of the Last Supper, John reclined on the chest of Jesus, at the prodding of Peter, to know the name of the betrayer (John 13:25). Yet it seems John seeks to know more than a name, for at the beginning of the same Gospel, we read: ‘No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is in the breast of the Father [εις τον κολπον του πατρος; in sinu Patris], who has made him known’ (John 1:18). This striking parallel — at the chest of Jesus and at the chest of the Father conveys clearly the message: The one who leans on the chest of God can make Him known, can bear witness to Him. To lean on the chest of Jesus is to listen to the rhythm of his heartbeat and the vibration of his voice, to know him closely and personally. As the beloved disciple leaned close to the Lord, his ear was close to the heart of Jesus while his eyes were gazing outward to the world. Listening to the heartbeat of Jesus and looking towards the world, this is Dominic speaking with God and speaking about God. This is the most profound sense of what it means to be ‘at table with Dominic’.
- Analecta Ordinis Praedicatorum 1921, 381.
- Hans-Georg Gadamer, Truth and Method by Joel Weinsheimer and Donald Marshall (New York: Crossroad, 1989), pp. 285-288.