Homily for St Dominic’s day

Homily for St Dominic’s day

The Regent of Studies of the Province of England, Fr Simon Gaine OP presided at Mass on 8th August, the feast of our holy father St Dominic, this year. Below is his homily on both the compassion and the love for truth exemplified by St Dominic.

Preach the word, says the second letter to Timothy: be urgent in season and out of season, unfailing in patience and in teaching. But what can motivate us to be so urgent in preaching, so unfailing in teaching?

Dominic’s motivation was clear. It was his compassion, something that characterized him in all sorts of ways. We know that when he heard how some people had been captured as slaves by the Moors – Dominic wanted to sell himself into slavery to gain their release – and other people had to stop him from doing this. But his compassion had been aroused by the plight of these captives. There were great saints the time, John of Matha and Felix of Valois, who founded a whole religious order to obtain the release of captives by raising money to pay their ransoms. But Dominic’s compassion worked in a different way: he founded a religious order not to ransom captives, but to free people who were held captive by falsehood, by lies. Dominic’s order was to be an Order of Preachers, and that tells us something about the special character of Dominic’s own compassion. It was not that Dominic necessarily possessed a more intense or keenly felt compassion than the founders of orders that tried to help captives. Rather Dominic’s compassion was different because it was fed by a certain insight into those who were enslaved by false teachings.

We see this compassion at work when Dominic was on a diplomatic mission from Spain to northern Europe. He passed through the South of France, where many people had abandoned the Catholic faith for the teachings of the Cathars. Dominic stayed at an inn, where the innkeeper was a Cathar. It was out of his compassion for this man that Dominic spent the whole night trying to persuade him of the Christian truths of God and creation. Dominic easily perceived that Catharism was mistaken about these things, but he also saw how dangerous its errors could be for people. While Christianity taught that this material world, including our bodies, were good, the creation of one good God, Catharism taught that there were two gods, one good and one evil, and that this material world was created by the evil god, and so this material world was in itself evil, through and through. Marriage and having children were then evil, because they enclosed good spiritual souls in evil material bodies.

I suppose Dominic could have just noted these ideas as interesting, and respected those who sincerely held them, leaving it at that. But Dominic’s compassion was greater, because he realised how dangerous such ideas could be for people who were created to be truly happy only by knowing and loving the truth of the one God. Dominic’s compassion had been aroused by the evident needs of people who had been captured by pirates.

But in Dominic we also see compassion also at work in a manner that is not so immediately obvious, a compassion which was enlightened by Dominic’s grasp of the truth about God and his world. Dominic’s compassion was illuminated by this special insight, and it made him reach out in love to all who did not know true Christian teaching but whose minds and whole lives were held captive by falsehood. If we are not so motivated to reach out to people in this way today, it could be because we lack compassion; but maybe not. I wonder whether it is because our compassion is in need of the illumination, the special light that Dominic’s compassion had; and I wonder whether this is why study is so much at the heart of the religious way of life that Dominic founded. St John and St Felix had to raise money to pay the ransoms of captives; and Dominicans have to study to know the truth that sets us free.

So compassion for others who have need of the Gospel should drive us to study of some kind, so that we really know the liberating truth of God that we can then proclaim. But it’s not just that compassion leads to study; study should also lead to compassion. Because in learning about our faith we gain insight into what is truly good for men and women made in God’s image; through study we learn what is bad for them, bad ideas as well as actions; and we learn why falsehood can so often be attractive, as well as dangerous. And there is much to learn in a world of so many conflicting ideas, where some people even doubt that there is truth at all. But through what we learn, our compassion for others can be nourished and fed, as we learn how much falsehood harms us and how much the truth can set us free. If our compassion is not enlightened by knowledge, we will probably never grasp the need for preaching, and so others may not benefit from the Gospel; again, if we have a grasp of the truth but no compassion, our efforts may do harm, turning easily to violence and compulsion. Instead we must follow neither compassion alone nor truth alone, but walk in the spirit of St Dominic, where knowledge enlightens compassion, and compassion enlivens knowledge, and gives birth to wisdom, the wisdom that comes from above which, as St James says, is kind and considerate, and makes for peace.

Pilgrims to the Rosary Shrine venerating a relic of St Dominic on his feast day.

Assumption Day Homily

Assumption Day Homily

Deacon Toby Lees OP, who is resident in St Dominic’s during the summer months, preached the following homily at the Conventual Mass on the feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary (15 August):

“You’re very blessed to worship in this Shrine. I say that not because you get to look and listen to me . . . you can make up your own mind about that . . . but rather because not only does the beauty of this Shrine lift our hearts and souls to contemplation of the things of God, but because the very walls preach to us. As I sat in the Chapel of the Assumption last night praying for some inspiration for this homily, I felt that what I contemplated before me was a homily in stone.
One of the first things that might strike you if you were to walk round the chapels of the glorious mysteries in their proper order is how similar this Chapel of the Assumption is to that of the Ascension only two chapels further down.
However, there are differences and they are important ones.
The most crucial difference is that when we look at Jesus in the Ascension he rises unassisted whereas Mary is surrounded by angels bearing her on up to heaven. We speak of Jesus ascending, but Mary being assumed. Mary does not ascend to heaven by virtue of her own power: she is the most perfect of creatures, yet she is not divine.
Jesus is the way, He paves the way for our eternal happiness in heaven, but Mary is the perfect disciple. She of all created men and women shows us most perfectly what to follow the way of Christ looks like.
And what Mary shows us is a life that points to Christ, a life that looks to the strength of the Lord, a life open to the will of God, a life that trusts that God seeks to work great things through us.
We see this in the Gospel this evening. Elizabeth showers Mary with praises and calls her blessed. And what we see from Mary is true humility and true magnamity. She does not deny what Elizabeth says to her, for she is truly blessed among women, not does she seek to run from the greatness which God is calling her to. No she acknowledges all this but in doing so she turns it into a beautiful hymn of praise to God and to all that He works in His creation.
We see in the Magnificat that the greatness of Mary can never be separated from the greatness of God: she cannot carry out her work alone, but nor does God intend to do His work of redemption apart from her or in spite of her.
Mary’s life might be characterised as one complete and continous ‘yes’ to God, and this is what we’re called to, there is no other sure path to heaven.
If we turn back to the chapel of the Assumption, if you’re not familiar with it you’ll note that underneath the altar the apostles are gathered round an empty tomb. Mary’s yes shows us the glory of life beyond the tomb, the eternal life that we’re called to, but each time we say no to God we choose the tomb over the glory opened up for us.
Saying ‘yes’ to God with our whole lives is rarely easy, but it is always worth it. We know that we cannot make that yes alone and we know that at times the magnitude of what is asked of us can seem impossibly daunting. But this is when we turn to Mary, we ask for the intercession of one who knows the cost of the yes, but also its beauty.
And in our most frequent prayer to Mary we have not only a great prayer, but also a great lesson. We pray ‘Holy Mary Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of death. And this teaches us that there are only really two moments of ultimate significance in our lives. This moment right here, right now, and the moment of our death . . . and what’s more we know that there will come a day, a time, when these two moments will become one, and if at that moment the yes which we say with our presence at Mass this evening is still on our lips, then we will have some share in the glory of Mary which we celebrate this evening.”

Homily for the 150th Anniversary Mass

Homily for the 150th Anniversary Mass

Archbishop Malcolm McMahon OP has kindly given us the text of his Homily preached at our 150th Anniversary Mass on 7 October 2017, which we are pleased to reproduce below:

50 years’ ago I remember receiving a copy of the Priory Post celebrating the centenary of St Dominic’s Parish community.  At the time I had just moved to Manchester to start university, and a lady who I used to help sell newspapers in the repository on Sundays sent it on to me.  Where does time go? Of course the parish that many of you and I grew up in has long gone, and there is a new type of community worshipping here at St Dominic’s.  The stories that I was brought up on – like Fr Bertrand Pike and Antoninus Maguire (Cliff and Jim) visiting Litcham Street (now Athlone street) together because even the police worked in pairs in that part of the parish are long forgotten.  Fr Vincent McNabb who died in 1943 was still in the minds and prayers of many people for his preaching and his holiness, and others like Brother Joseph Gillespie, sacristan for many years between the wars, were often talked about.  Fr Austin Rooke, the first parish priest–and after working elsewhere returned as parish priest until his death–was thought highly of by fellow priests and bishops. I think it was Cardinal Manning who described him as his best parish priest, but he probably said that to them all. Fr Dominic Aylward who worked in the mission at Kentish Town, a musician and hymn writer and moved from there to Haverstock Hill to be among the first of the Dominican community here.  These men and many in between like Fr Bede Jarrett, who was more known for founding the 3rd Hampstead Scout troop and Cub pack than being the great writer, preacher, and provincial that others know him for, laid a foundation that has lasted a century and a half.  The people were proud of their priests, and they loved them very much.

It is said that Cardinal Wiseman, the first archbishop of Westminster, had a plan to put the religious orders on the hills around north London, to make foundations with large churches that would become cathedrals when the people of London returned to the Catholic Faith.  Well, it didn’t happen quite like that as we know, but if it wasn’t for that foresight, we would not have this beautiful church dedicated to our Lady of the Rosary.

The feast we celebrate today is depicted in the some of the windows  in the Lady Chapel which show the Dominican pope Pius V paying the Rosary to ask our Lady’s intercession to resist the invasion from the Turks.  They were beaten at the battle of Lepanto, and the great sea battle is to be seen in the stained glass, with the processions of the people in thanksgiving. Our Lady, our mother, to whom this great church is dedicated continues to care for her children.

The priory mission was opened in Kentish Town in 1861, just ten years or so after a handful of Dominicans met at Hinckley to plan for the closure of the province.  Within that short timespan the province had grown with foundations in Woodchester, and Newcastle on Tyne, as well as the old ones in Hinckley and Leicester as well as London. With help from France, Ireland and other provinces as well as a great influx of vocations there was tremendous growth and there must have been a buzz about the province, so Wiseman’s vision was not so outrageous or unreasonable.

The first church open for worship was the upstairs floor of what is now the Blackfriars Hall wing of the Priory.  The building of the church we are in today faltered due to lack of cash, and although it was started in stone, Fr Antoninus Williams finished it in brick.  He had come down from Newcastle where he had built the new St Dominic’s Priory in that great industrial city. Helen Tasker, a great benefactor of the diocese and the religious orders, gave most of the money needed to complete the task.

The Rosary is an inspired dedication for the church because it brings its worshippers right into the heart of the mystery of our salvation. It engages the senses in prayer, and this church with its many chapels does just that.  Words live in stone.  Just look at the third glorious mystery: the descent of the Holy Spirit.  In the top section is Christ adorned in glory sending forth his Spirit depicted in the reredos, and under the altar there are the disciples with Mary receiving that gift.  It is Jesus who makes us a family in this way, so that the Rosary is not just a prayer of or for the family but by entering into the mysteries we become family with Jesus our brother leading us to his Father under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

The wide side aisles in this priory church give room for the people of the parish to process, led by the cross to symbolise the unity of the God’s people on their pilgrimage through life. And that is why we are here today to celebrate 150 years of walking together as God’s family, his people.

Throughout hardship and times of plenty the Dominican fathers and brothers walked with their people.  Fr Simon Blake a great peace activist and educationalist walked in the first Aldermaston marches calling for the ban on nuclear weapons.  Fr Columba Ryan walked from this church with Simon and many laymen to Vezelay in France as an act of reconciliation after World War II.

Walking to Hyde Park on Sunday Afternoon to preach at Speakers Corner near Marble Arch was begun by Fr Vincent McNabb and continued by Donald Proudman, and Fr Alan Cheales (more likely on a bicycle).  Symbolically and actually the Dominicans walked with the people who worshipped here in families from generation to generation.  Some families, even in these days of declining congregations, have connections over five or even six generations.  The people came from all over the world; from Italy and Ireland as well locally, and then from the Caribbean, and still they come from the great continents of the world.  The mix of peoples at St Dominic’s has always been its best feature – I remember the joy expressed by all the parish when a terrific new statue of Blessed Martin by the Dominican Sculptor Fr Thomas McGlynn was installed – the play City of Kings on the life of St Martin was put on in the old Blackfriars Hall to packed houses by the Priory Players.  In fact it was revived later on when Blessed Martin was canonised.  Having a mixed race patron and brother is a great symbol of unity for St Dominic’s which has made this parish a place of welcome for everyone.

Geographically the parish is much smaller than when it was first founded.  The ‘carriage end’ toward Swiss Cottage and Fitzjohn’s avenue was lost when Swiss Cottage was founded and Camden Town took two more slices at different times, but there is still a lot left – two primary schools, a teaching hospital and the many, many people who are part of the parish family.  May God continue to bless us as we look forward in the certain hope that God will walk with us.  May our Holy Father St Dominic pray for us!

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