On Sunday 21st August, a Mass was held in RTE to mark Jubilee 800, Fr. Conor McDonough OP gave the following homily.
Brothers and sisters, just a few weeks ago, I had the joy of being ordained a priest along with seven other men, all of us members of the Dominican Order – eight new priests for the eighth centenary of the Order, since it was in 1216 that the Church gave official approval to St Dominic’s great project: an Order of brothers who would be poor, itinerant, studious, and energetic both in preaching God’s Word and reconciling sinners to Him. Alongside the friars preachers, were the sisters of the Order, who were central to the preaching project from the very beginning.
So this year is an anniversary year for us Dominicans, and for the whole Church. How best to celebrate an anniversary? Imagine a couple, for example, celebrating their golden wedding anniversary. Naturally, they think of past years, they reminisce. Maybe they look at their children and grandchildren with satisfaction, think of all their achievements over the years and give thanks.
After 800 years there’s plenty of scope for this kind of commemoration. Through eight centuries, the little shoot of preaching planted by Dominic has blossomed into an extraordinary variety of forms: Dominicans have been teachers and artists, parish priests and mystics, missionaries at home and abroad, writers, activists, philosophers and theologians.
So we have an extraordinary heritage to celebrate, but is this all there is to an anniversary? Should we give ourselves a pat on the back and say, ‘Job well done’? Should we may be put up the feet and start to wind down? 800 years is a very long time, after all…
Well, after hearing today’s Gospel warn against complacency, I’m fairly sure that’s not the best approach. The Dominican Order is fundamentally a mission, not a museum. If we focus only on the achievements of the past, like a heritage association, we would run the risk of being greeted by our founder, and by Our Lord himself, with the words from today’s Gospel, ‘I do not know where you come from’.
An anniversary can be more than just a trip down memory lane. Think again of the couple celebrating their golden wedding anniversary. They’re surrounded by their children and grandchildren, but during a quiet moment the husband might simply look into his wife’s eyes and see there the young woman he fell in love with, and fall in love all over again with the passion of a young man. The two are made young again in love – they have returned to the source of their relationship, and drunk again from those clear waters.
This is the kind of rejuvenation to which we Dominicans are invited in this great year of jubilee – to return to Dominic and his founding plan of preaching for the salvation of souls, to see behind Dominic’s plan the Lord’s eternal project of mercy, and to commit ourselves with new energy to this ancient project in our times.
Granted, we have experienced suffering and weakness but, as the letter to the Hebrews reminds us today, this is all part of our training, and it is time now for us to ‘hold up our limp arms and steady our trembling knees’ and ready ourselves for the mission that still lies before us.
What shape will our mission take in the ninth century of the Order? Who knows? St Dominic couldn’t have imagined all the forms that his Order would take in 800 years. The project was bigger than him and his imagination. After all, it was ultimately not his work, but God’s work through him.
Brothers and sisters, this jubilee is an opportunity for us Dominicans and all of us as Christians to regain a spirit of youthfulness. Where are our future mission lands? Where are our distant islands? What adventures lie before us? We simply don’t know, we can’t imagine. But if we look steadily into the eyes of our merciful Saviour and fall in love again with the One who began this great work, our ninth century of preaching will bear, we can be sure, unimaginable fruit.