The Abiding Fruit of St Dominic
Solemnity of St Dominic | Fr Robert Verrrill reflects on St Dominic as “ivory of chastity” and asks that the Church is renewed in fidelity to Christ in the living out of this virtue.
Every night at the end of Compline, I pray the O Lumen:
O light of the Church, teacher of truth, rose of patience, ivory of chastity, you have freely poured out the waters of wisdom: preacher of grace, unite us to the blessed.
This prayer concludes with the response:
V. Pray for us, holy father Dominic.
R. That we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.
In reciting this prayer, I am reminded that I am a son of St. Dominic. Around the world, thousands of friars, sisters, nuns and lay Dominicans call St. Dominic their holy father, and after 800 years, St. Dominic still continues to bear fruit.
Now the shining example of St. Dominic’s fecundity is not something we should simply admire, but it is also something we need to imitate in a way that is appropriate to our state of life. Indeed, all Christians are called to be fruitful. Sadly, however, many in the Church have deeply failed in this regard. It is very sad that there are many examples of those in Holy Orders who have abandoned their resolve to remain celibate for the sake of the kingdom. How many Catholics have become disillusioned with their faith because of such behavior? How many vocations to the priesthood and religious life have been lost? Sexual infidelity is definitely not compatible with Christian fruitfulness.
It is in moments like this, when we struggle with the sin and infidelity that afflicts our Church and society, that we need to turn to the saints such as St. Dominic who exemplified true Christian fruitfulness. Throughout the Bible, fruitfulness is an expression of God’s favor. The very first thing God did after creating Adam and Eve was to bless them and say “be fruitful and multiply.” Likewise, God says to Abraham “I will indeed bless you, and I will multiply your descendants as the stars of heaven.” But these promises of fruitfulness have their true fulfillment in Christ’s incarnation.
On many occasions, Jesus expresses the desire for His disciples to bear fruit. This fruitfulness is manifested in the sacramental life of the Church. Indeed, at the Last Supper, Jesus describes Himself as the true vine; He goes on to tell His disciples “I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide.” These sayings from St. John’s Gospel account of the Last Supper express the true meaning of the Eucharist. It is in the Eucharist that Christ’s death on the cross is made present, and when we look to the cross, we are to make sense of it in terms of its fruitfulness. Indeed, in the moments before Christ died, with His mother and the beloved disciple standing before Him, He said to His mother “Woman, behold your son,” and to His beloved disciple “Behold your mother.” Thus, the Virgin Mary who brought Christ to birth in the Incarnation now brings Christ to birth in the beloved disciple and all who see her as their mother. This is indeed the fruit that will abide for eternity.
Those who are called to live celibate lives have a very special role to play in perpetuating the Virgin Mary’s fruitfulness, and the saints like St. Dominic who lived perfectly chaste lives have had an essential role in revitalizing the Church during times of stagnation. Those called to the sacrament of married life also have an essential role to play in sustaining the life of the Church. Married couples are fruitful in a very tangible way by having children, but if couples are to bear the fruit that abides for eternity, they need to actively engage in bringing Christ to birth in the world by educating their children in the Catholic Faith. If married couples are to undertake this role in true fidelity, then they should certainly not be conspiring to make their marital acts intrinsically fruitless. The Church therefore only endorses natural family planning in which the marital act is always open to new life. Natural family planning not only teaches husbands to treat their wives with true respect, but the periods of sexual abstinence required for natural family planning can also be seen as ways of mirroring the fruitfulness of the saints who lived celibate lives.
In the 50 years since the Church’s teaching on birth control was reiterated in the encyclical Humanae Vitae, it has unfortunately gone largely unheeded. It is no coincidence that over these last 50 years, so many parents have failed to pass on their faith to their children. Only when our priests and bishops have the courage to teach the contents of Humanae Vitae and live by what they teach, can we hope to see any revitalization in the Church. May St. Dominic, ivory of chastity, renew us in our zeal to bear the fruit that truly abides.
Readings: Jeremiah 31:1-7 | Matthew 15:21-28
Photograph by Fr Lawrence Lew OP of the Genealogical and Spiritual Tree of St Dominic from Santo Domingo church in La Laguna, Tenerife (detail).