Today we celebrate the fast of our Founder, St Dominic. On his deathbed, Dominic told his friars that he wanted to be buried under the feet of his brethren. He wanted them to walk over him.
In the middle ages it was the custom to bury people in the cloister. St Dominic did not want to be marked out as special in any way. He wanted to lie awaiting the resurrection with his brethren. For him fraternity stretched into eternal life.
But St Dominic also wanted to be of use. Whenever a friar is assigned from one house to another, the document that he receives from the provincial reads:
Taking into account the necessities of the province and the ways in which you can be useful in Christ's service
Dominicans are to be useful, not first to others but to Christ. It is in being useful to Christ that they can be useful to others. They have to clear the ground of their lives of those obstacles that prevent that usefulness from flourishing. That is why they are called to live in poverty, chastity and obedience.
This spiritual husbandry is a work of grace. St Dominic wanted his friars to be preachers, but he realized that words are cheap unless they are rooted in life. We can speak the truth, but unless we live the truth we are useless servants. Speaking the truth and living the truth is how we become holy, and to be holy is to become like to Christ.
Every saint resembles Christ in some way. This was particularly clear with Dominic who followed Jesus in everything.
Jesus was companionable. He made himself available and accessible. He entered into compassionate solidarity with sinners, and was open to receiving their questions and supporting them in their difficulties.
It was said of Dominic that nobody was more companionable. Because he loved everybody, everybody loved him. Give love and you will get love in return. Dominic was also deliberately and conscientiously poor; he had nothing of his own; he did not have his own cell; he did not have his own bed, he never slept in one; he did not even have his own habit.
Like his Master he used to spend the nights in prayer; he fell asleep with his head on the altar step when he was too exhausted to continue. Like the Saviour, who went away to a lonely place, to pray:
He went out into the hills to pray, and he spent the whole night in prayer to God. (Lk 6:12)
The following of Christ means for us the imitation of Christ and the putting on of Christ. This, in turn, is an expression of the martyr's calling. Following in poverty is the foundation of all of our ascetic endeavours, since it signifies our lack of belonging to place, to class, to a particular social outlook or to the good opinion of those amongst whom we live.
One of the prime features of Dominican life is that we do not belong to a locus certus, a secure place. We do not belong to a particular parish, we do not belong to a particular community or a particular town: we are to belong to all, as does Christ himself.
St Dominic shows us the path of usefulness and the way of belonging. Through belonging to Christ we can belong entirely to all of those whom he loves and longs for, to all those to whom he gives us as instruments of his truth.