Homily at the Opening Mass of the General Chapter of the Dominican Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart, Strahlfeld, Germany
Readings: 1 Corinthians 2:1-10; Luke 9:57-62
In serving the kingdom of God there are to be no ‘buts’ Jesus says in today’s gospel. He meets people who say they will follow him ‘but first …’, they will come after him ‘but only when …’, they would like to live according to his way ‘but later…’ We want also to follow him and which of us can say that we are doing it without some ‘but’, without some hesitation or qualification somewhere in our lives. The call is to entrust our lives completely to Him without any ‘but’ or hesitation or qualification. So we need to ask again and again for the gift of the Spirit to continue to transform us, to make us people who are simply and completely given to the following of Christ. We want to be on fire with Christ, transforming all – so the chapter motto says – but the first to be transformed will be ourselves, so we need perhaps to think twice before committing ourselves to it. What might the price be for us, the price of this desire for the transformation of all, beginning with ourselves?
I would like to bring in another companion for our journey at this chapter and that is St Paul. There are a number of reasons for doing so. The Church is currently celebrating a ‘year of Paul’ and this chapter is taking place during that year. The motto of the chapter itself is supported by a key text from Paul, ‘the love of Christ overwhelms us … for anyone who is in Christ there is a new creation‘ (2 Corinthians 5:14,17). We are told that St Dominic’s favorite reading, among the texts of the New Testament, was the gospel of Matthew and the letters of Paul. The early sources tell us that he knew these so well he could practically recite them by heart. Of course he read the rest of the New Testament but he had a preference for these texts. These are texts particularly concerned with community building, with the requirements of leadership in the Church, with mission, and the preaching of the Gospel, with care for the community.
I would like to suggest that Dominic and Paul, both followers of Christ, lived in many ways parallel lives. And so from time to time I would like to look across at Paul, to make links between his experience and his mission, and those of Dominic, and therefore with our own as well.
One such parallel in their lives is the experience of a ‘call within a call’. This was how Teresa of Calcutta spoke about her life, beginning as a Loreto sister and then experiencing a ‘call within a call’ that led her into ways she never anticipated, becoming the foundress of the Missionaries of Charity. So too with Paul, he was, so it seemed, completely given to his vocation, a Pharisee, zealous for the law, faultless as regards the righteousness that comes through the law. His encounter with the risen Lord on the road to Damascus transformed all. Paul, we can say, remained a Jew, completely dedicated to his faith in the God of Israel, in the law given to Moses, and in the promises of the prophets. But he came to believe that that law and those promises had been fulfilled in a way beyond his expectations, in a way he could never have imagined, in what God had done through Jesus of Nazareth. ‘What no eye has seen nor ear heard’, he says in the first reading, the mystery that had been revealed to him and of which he became the preacher.
So too in the life of Dominic we see a ‘call within a call’. He was settled and content in his life as a canon of the cathedral of Osma. For another reason he came into the south of France with his bishop Diego but was so disturbed by what he encountered there, so troubled by the Albigensian heresy, that he stayed and his life was completely transformed. He became a new man, we can say, not that he rejected his earlier way of following Christ but saw it being taken in a direction he would never have imagined or anticipated.
That on which Paul and Dominic based their lives – their faith in Christ crucified and His calling of them – will seem weak and foolish to those who do not believe. We cannot establish our following of Christ on our own strength and wisdom, on political prudence or economic resources or intellectual ability. It must be based instead on this revelation of a mystery hidden before all ages, the wisdom and the power of God, the overwhelming and transforming love of God, the love of God revealed in Jesus crucified and risen from the dead. If we want then to be on fire with this love – to be preachers of this mystery of God’s love – we must allow its power and wisdom to transform our lives continually, to continue to call us, to continue to overwhelm us.