Readings: Isaiah 52:7-10; Ps 95 (96); 2 Timothy 4:1-8; Matthew 5:13-19 (or Matthew 28:16-20 or Luke 10:1-9)
As a young priest I was invited one year to preach for the feast of Saint Dominic at a Dominican Sisters convent in Dublin. I spent a long time preparing the homily, wanting to find something new, inspiring and exciting to say. There was a lot of old familiar stuff about Saint Dominic already available, and the nuns had heard it all before, so I wanted to be original, for their sake, and also to impress the sisters with what the new generation of Dominicans could come up with. So I gave much time to the preparation of the homily, reading, thinking, walking round the garden ...
Leaving my room on St Dominic's day I bumped into my neighbour on the corridor, Edmund (Ned) Wall. 'Where are you going?', he asked, in a tone of voice that implied that I was probably skiving off somewhere. 'I'm going to preach to the sisters for St Dominic's Day'. Grunt from Ned. 'And what are you going to tell them?' So I began to explain the original and slightly convoluted idea on which I had eventually settled ... I forget now what it was. But I've never forgotten his response to me. Interrupting my effort at explaining myself he said 'why don't you just tell them that St Dominic did what Jesus did, he helped blind people to see and deaf people to hear'.
It dropped like a radiant crystal before my eyes and forever displaced whatever it was I said that day. Ned, now dead, suffered greatly in the course of his life and I take it that this insight about St Dominic was refined in the lonely years of his illness. Along with many other gems of homespun wisdom that I still think about: 'A priest is not really a priest until he knows what it means to be a victim.' 'The priest should be like the fire brigade. People should know where to find him if they need him, but he shouldn't be parked outside their door.'
One of the gospel readings proposed for today's feast is the one about salt and light: 'you are the salt of the earth, you are the light of the world'. Ned often comes to mind when I hear that gospel, and not just for its connection with St Dominic's Day. Salt and light are, eventually, taken for granted, not noticed until they go missing. They are things that do not draw attention to themselves but are at the service of other things, at the service of life, and health, and enjoyment.
Saint Dominic himself was a bit coy in the way that we might think of salt, or light, or Ned Wall, as coy. He joined his own Order, for example, which does not always happen with the great founders of religious orders. Often they remain above them, like the king (or queen) outside the law which he promulgates for others. But Dominic became simply 'brother Dominic', a brother among his brothers, sitting with them in the chapters of the Order, and obedient with them to the decisions they made together.
Like salt, Saint Dominic disappeared into the Order. His greatest legacy is not in anything he wrote but in the constitutions he gave his Order, a way of structuring a shared life and mission that respects and includes each individual, that asks each one to take responsibility for all and asks all to be merciful to each one. He was a saint who enabled and empowered others, as Ned Wall effectively preached to me that day, helping the blind to see and the deaf to hear, helping the demoralised to take heart and the tentative to be courageous, helping the wayward to find the right road again, the doubting to have faith, the lonely to be loved.
Dominic is nowhere near as famous as his great contemporary, Francis of Assisi. Dominic is more ordinary, a Christian believer and preacher who gave himself completely to the loving service of the Word of God, praying it, studying it, celebrating it with his brothers and sisters, preaching it in the conversations, encounters, disputes, and arguments that measure out his life. In him we see fulfilled in a remarkable way what Jesus says about 'the salt of the earth'. We sing to him every evening as the light of the Church who freely poured forth the waters of Christ's wisdom. We pray on his feastday that the grace of Dominic in the Church (that is, the Dominicans) will continue to inspire and excite all whose lives are touched by that grace. As the preaching of the Gospel of Jesus must touch the lives of all who receive it. Nothing more original than that. Nothing newer or more powerfully creative than that.