Life on the Chrism Trail

Homily for the Memorial of Saint Dominic – Mass for the Convocation of Teachers of the Schools of the Diocese of Fort Worth

August 8, 2022
St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Catholic Church
Keller, Texas

1 Corinthians 2:1-10a
Psalm 96:1-2a, 2b-3, 7-8a,10
Luke 9:57-62

In our first reading today, Saint Paul writes to the Church in Corinth, “Yet we do speak a wisdom to those who are mature, but not a wisdom of this age, nor of the rulers of this age who are passing away.” In a recent editorial published in the Los Angeles Times, the author puts forth the position that there “is an inverse relationship between a society’s religiosity and its measurable well-being.” The author continued, “Places like Japan (with no history of Christianity) and Scandinavia (historically Christian but predominantly nonreligious today) take better care of their elderly and have lower murder and poverty rates than the United States of America.”  

The primary point of the editorial is that if we as individuals in society would adopt his enlightened position that religious doctrine, especially that of Christianity, is a hindrance to tolerance and peace in society, we could then free ourselves from the indoctrination that has so burdened us with poverty and has caused violence within our world.

While the author of the editorial makes a favorable comparison of Japan (a culture pristine and free of the alloy of Christianity) with Scandinavia, a region that has historical ties to Christianity, he overlooks the fact that Scandinavia is no longer an example of a Christian culture, but of a culture that now has a significant history of secularism with an organized and systematic rejection of Christianity — the very type of post-religious (post Christian) utopia that the author is advocating. This is an example of the type of ideology that dominates what passes for the academic and intellectual life of the elite in our nation that is quickly coercing us as a people from a position of indifference to Christianity, to ignorance of Christianity, to hostility to Christianity. The author articulates a position that is too easily accepted as true among too many people who through faith and reason should know better.

            While the fact that such ideologies have taken on a particularly aggressive approach to believers in an attempt to set an imbalance among every one of our structures of organization including civil government, the military, the Church, and the family for the sake of acquisition of power among a few should concern us, our readings from today’s liturgy and the feast that we celebrate — that of Saint Dominic — should give us hope and encourage us in our mission of Catholic education in the Diocese of Fort Worth.

Saint Paul clearly reminded the Corinthians that his approach in preaching and teaching them had been one of truth, not simply his subjective experience and not preoccupation with persuasive or flattering speech as so many other itinerant philosophers and preachers had employed as they passed through the busy marketplaces of Corinth. Saint Paul does not invent a new religion or foment the rejection of any religion, “I did not come with sublimity of words or of wisdom. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified. I came to you in weakness and fear and much trembling, and my message and my proclamation were not with persuasive words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of spirit and power, so that your faith might rest not on human wisdom but on the power of God.”

Saint Paul is not ashamed of his weakness or the uncertainty of his public speaking style. Saint Paul’s primary concern was the truth of the Paschal Mystery of Jesus Christ, that is, the Incarnation, the preaching and ministry, the Passion, the death, the Resurrection, and the Ascension of Jesus Christ, truly and fully God, and fully and truly Human, Jesus Christ, truly a man conceived and born of the Blessed Virgin Mary — truly a woman — His Mother, not an amorphous person self-identified with the capacity to give birth.

St. Paul continues, “We speak God’s wisdom, mysterious, hidden, which God predetermined before the ages for our glory, and which none of the rulers of this age knew; for, if they had known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.”

With self-sacrificing love and total commitment and obedience to His mission entrusted to Him by His Father, Jesus handed His life over and accepted the fact that His public ministry had frightened the civil and religious elites in Jerusalem. The fact that Jesus is the truth, loved the unlovable, and wanted to make them whole and free from sin, seemed to challenge the status quo so profoundly that those with power had wanted to silence His voice and remove His example from daily sight.

Centuries later, Saint Dominic established his community of priests, sisters, and associates among the laity, to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ by word and example to guide people away from the destructive, heretical teachings of the Albigensians who taught, among other things, that the human body and the physical world were evil because they were created by an evil god, whereas the spiritual realm was created by a good god.

They consequently rejected the physical world including the human body as coming from the principle of evil. They even refused marriage and went to the point of denying the Incarnation of Christ and the sacraments in which the Lord “touches” us through matter, and the resurrection of bodies. They taught that one should deny and do violence to the human body, that physical differences between human beings, including male and female, were of no consequence to life, and that the physical dimensions of human beings were to be overcome so as to be liberated to live according to the spiritual world which they understood, by contrast, to be purely good and highly individualized.

Saint Dominic was very deeply troubled by the hostility of the people to human nature because it developed into a hostility to Christ and His Gospel. The people had first grown indifferent to Christ, then ignorant of Him, and finally hostile to Him because they had not been adequately taught and introduced to Christ by authentic Christians. Saint Dominic had compassion on the people. The medieval laywoman, Saint Matilda of Magdeburg described Dominic’s personality beautifully: “Dominic taught the wise that they should temper their knowledge with Divine simplicity; to the simple he taught true wisdom; the tempted he helped to bear their sorrows privately. He taught the young to keep much silence that they might be outwardly modest and inwardly wise.” All of this is the fruit of prayer.

There is nothing new under the sun. As it was for Saint Paul and Saint Dominic, it is true for us today. Our teaching is a work of grace, not of eloquence born of the autonomous initiative of unaided human effort and, hence, is to receive its effectiveness through prayer. It flows from the gratitude for what Christ has done for us. Yet, we should learn from the example of Saint Dominic who not only began and ended everything with prayer to Christ but did not see that prayer alone was sufficient to prepare his preachers and teachers for their mission of the saving Gospel of Christ. Saint Dominic counseled the study of disciplines like rhetoric, science, mathematics, philosophy, and literature to explain the truth in a manner accessible to all.

Yet, if we do not begin and end with prayer and thanksgiving to Christ, we run the risk of relying on human wisdom alone and ignoring Christ — precisely what Saint Paul and Saint Dominic did not do. We cannot teach our students and their families oppressed by the ideologies and wisdom of this age if we do not begin and end with Christ who is the alpha and the omega. Without the truth, compassion, and mercy of Christ imbued in our ministry — without Christ Himself — Christianity soon becomes reduced to another ideology in the chaos of today. If we neglect prayer, we neglect Christ. If we neglect Christ, we promote indifference, ignorance, and finally hostility to Christ among our students, their families, and the wider society.

It is our privileged and graced responsibility to share the truth with love as Saint Paul did and as Saint Dominic did, to welcome all, to give real help in every need, to possess the holy wisdom of Divine Truth, and to cherish the authentic power of His Holy Church who is Christ Himself.

In a few moments, we approach the altar again and receive the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus Christ in the consecrated elements of bread and wine. Our bodies and our souls are nourished as one through the reception of Holy Communion. Jesus comes to us and transforms us. Let us ask Him for an even greater clarity of His truth and an even stronger love for His people that we might be instruments of both for the sake of peace and the salvation of everyone in the world beginning with ourselves, our students, and our families.

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