The sons and daughters of Saint Dominic are blessed with the opportunity to celebrate two jubilees. The first started last month with the launch of activities marking the 800th anniversary of the Order of Preachers. The second began this week, when Pope Francis opened the Holy Door of St. Peter’s Basilica to commence the Jubilee of Mercy.
For Dominicans – particularly for lay Dominicans – the timing of these celebrations is auspicious. The jubilee praising 800 years of Dominican life in the world urges the Order of Preachers to renew itself in the spirit of our Holy Father Dominic and to re-nourish our Gospel witness. To Pope Francis, the upcoming year also is a time to “rediscover the infinite mercy of the Father who welcomes everyone and goes out personally to encounter each of them.”
The earliest assemblies of the Dominican laity can show us how to bring each of these missions together. In fact, the first documents we have on record from the Order of Penance – the precursor to today’s Dominican laity – and from the various confraternities that formed in the spirit of Saint Dominic looked toward God’s mercy as a source of salvation.
This is most explicitly stated in the Statutes of the Congregation of Our Lady, Arezzo, 1262, written just 41 years after the death of Dominic. This lay fraternity of St. Mary of Mercy gathered in the Tuscan city of Arezzo “on the advice and encouragement of certain sensible friars of the [Order of Preachers]” in order to perform “works of mercy” so that its members “might obtain God’s mercy in this present world and in the world to come …”
The preamble to these statutes, which are reproduced in the Simon Tugwell-edited Early Dominicans (Paulist Press), abounds in its praise of mercy:
The Lord, who is compassionate and merciful, whose compassion is on all that he has made and whose mercy fills the earth, wanting no one to perish, but to bring everyone back to the way of truth, decreed lovingly in the law of his gospel and established it as an inviolable precept forever, that anyone who wants to obtain his marvelous mercy in this world and in the world to come must follow his most sacred example with regard to mercy, in this time which he has granted for the salvation of men, and must love mercy and devote himself zealously to the works of mercy.
With God’s mercy as its foundation, this congregation of pioneering lay Dominicans sought to “relieve the various needs especially of the embarrassed poor, and of widows and orphans and also, in times of urgent distress, to help religious houses, poor monasteries, hospices and recluses, to foster charity and love and harmony …”
In other words, their Gospel witness and their reason for joining the family of Saint Dominic was in answer to the call to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, and care for the sick and imprisoned (Matthew 25:35-36). This animated the Dominican vocation to “bring everyone back to the way of truth,” as written in the preamble above, while responding to the call of our Lord to be “merciful, even as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:36).
Let this witness inspire our apostolate today as well. May the Blessed Saint Dominic and all the Dominican saints intercede for us so that we might obtain, and bring others to, God’s mercy.
Written by: Mr. Adam Emerson - Candidate for Lay Dominicans del Espiritu Santo