Today is the feast of Saint Dominic de Guzman. Ora pro nobis.
Dominic de Guzman was born at Calaroga, in Old Castile, c. 1170. His parents were Felix Guzman and Joanna of Aza, undoubtedly belonged to the nobility of Spain. Little is known of Felix Guzman. Regarding Joanna of Aza in 1828 she was solemnly beatified by Leo XII. Dominic brothers, Antonio and Manes, were distinguished for their extraordinary sanctity. Antonio, the eldest, became a secular priest and, having distributed his patrimony to the poor, entered a hospital where he spent his life ministering to the sick. Manes, following in the footsteps of Dominic, became a Friar Preacher, and was beatified by Gregory XVI.
Dominic’s infancy was passed amid ordinary circumstances. At the age of seven Dominic's parents placed him under the tutelage of his maternal uncle, a parish priest at the collegiate church of Gumiel d’Izan, not far distant from Calaruega. Here the young lad received his primary instructions, which, according to the medieval custom, consisted mainly in reading from the Latin Fathers. His piety was already intense, and he would wander into the church to listen to the chant, or when his mood so disposed, he would sit a long while gazing at the paintings in the church, which made their appeal to his religious instincts.
It is said as a student, he sold his books to feed the poor during a famine, and offered himself to ransom a slave. At the age of twenty-five, after taking the religious habit he became acting Superior of the Canons Regular of Saint Augustine in Osma, and was soon offered an episcopal chair at Compostella.
He answered as afterward he also answered many times: God has not sent me to be a bishop, but to preach. He accompanied his prelate to southern France on a commission for the king of Castille. There his heart was broken by the ravages of the Albigensian heresy, a variant of ancient Manicheanism, and the source of devastating wars in southern France. His life from that time on was devoted to the conversion of heretics and the defense of the Faith.
In the year 1199, while he was still a Canon Regular of Saint Augustine and was preaching near the Spanish coasts, he was taken captive by a band of pirates. They placed the prisoners in their galleys at the oars. When a furious storm broke, the young Saint exhorted the disciples of Mohammed to think seriously of their souls. They did not listen until his third exhortation, at a moment when it was clear the ship and passengers could not be saved. They swore to him then that if the God of Christians preserved them by the intercession of His Holy Mother, they would dedicate themselves to their service. Immediately the storm ceased, and the pirates kept their word.
In 1203 Alfonso IX, King of Castile, deputed the Bishop of Osma to demand from the Lord of the Marches, presumably a Danish prince, the hand of his daughter on behalf of the king's son, Prince Ferdinand. For his companion on this embassy Don Diego chose Saint Dominic. Passing through Toulouse in the pursuit of their mission, they beheld with amazement and sorrow the work of spiritual ruin wrought by the Albigensian heresy. It was in the contemplation of this scene that Dominic first conceived the idea of founding an order for the purpose of combating heresy and spreading the light of the Gospel by preaching to the ends of the then known world.
Their mission having ended successfully, Diego and Dominic were dispatched on a second embassy, accompanied by a splendid retinue, to escort the betrothed princess to Castile. This mission, however, was brought to a sudden close by the death of the young woman in question. The two ecclesiastics were now free to go where they would, and they set out for Rome, arriving there towards the end of 1204.
When in his 46th year, and with six companions, he began the great Order of Preaching Friars. In addition, Saint Dominic founded his Second Order for nuns for the education of Catholic girls, and his Third Order, or Tertiaries, for persons of both sexes living in the world. God abundantly blessed the new Order, and France, Italy, Spain, and England welcomed the Preaching Friars. Our Lady took them under Her special protection. During a debate with the heretics, a book by the Saint, defending Her Immaculate Conception, was thrown into the flames along with one by the heretics, to see whether one might be spared. Saint Dominic's was not injured, and many heretics were converted.
It was in 1208, while Saint Dominic knelt in the little chapel of Notre Dame de La Prouille, and implored the great Mother of God to save the Church, that Our Lady appeared to him and gave him the Rosary, bidding him to go forth and preach it. Our Lady told Dominic to tell the people how to say the prayers of the Rosary on the beads, while meditating on the 15 Mysteries. In the Office for the Feast of the Most Holy Rosary, it is declared that, “he was admonished by the Blessed Virgin Mary to preach the Rosary to the people as a singular remedy against heresy and sin.”
More than a dozen Popes have attested to this tradition, including Pope Leo XIII, who wrote: “The belief that to this form of prayer a special power has been accorded by the Queen of Heaven is justified, because by Her instigation and under Her patronage it was introduced by the holy Father Dominic, and it was spread in a time hostile to everything Catholic, much like our own, and as a powerful means of opposing the enemies of the Faith effectually…
During the famous battles in southern France against the Albigensians, with his rosary in hand he revived the courage of the Catholic armies, led them to victory against overwhelming numbers, and finally subdued the heresy. His nights were spent in prayer; and, though all beheld him as an Angel of purity, before morning broke he would scourge himself to blood. His words rescued countless souls, and three times raised the dead to life. At length, on August 6, 1221, at the age of fifty-one, he gave up his soul to God.
The life of St. Dominic was one of tireless effort in the, service of God. While he journeyed from place to place he prayed and preached almost uninterruptedly. His penances were of such a nature as to cause the brethren, who accidentally discovered them, to fear the effect upon his life. While his charity was boundless he never permitted it to interfere with the stern sense of duty that guided every action of his life. If he abominated heresy and labored untiringly for its extirpation it was because he loved truth and loved the souls of those among whom he laboured.
He never failed to distinguish between sin and the sinner. It is not to be wondered at, therefore, if this athlete of Christ, who had conquered himself before attempting the reformation of others, was more than once chosen to show forth the power of God. The failure of the fire at Fanjeaux to consume the dissertation he had employed against the heretics, and which was thrice thrown into the flames; the raising to life of Napoleone Orsini; the appearance of the annals in the refectory of Saint Sixtus in response to his prayers, are but a few of the supernatural happenings by which God was pleased to attest the eminent holiness of His servant. We are not surprised, therefore, that, after signing the Bull of canonization on 13 July, 1234, Gregory IX declared that he no more doubted the saintliness of Saint Dominic than he did that of Saint Peter and Saint Paul.