Pope Benedict has dedicated these past Wednesday Audiences to teaching about the great mendicant friars, St. Francis and St. Dominic. These two pillars of renewal were called by the Spirit to transform the “dramatic and disquieting situation of the Church at that time, with her superficial faith that neither formed nor transformed life, her clergy little committed to its duties,…and the interior decay of her unity due to the rise of heretical movements”.
At last week’s Wednesday Audience Pope Benedict dedicated his catechesis to St. Francis of Assisi, referring to him as “a true giant of sanctity who continues to enthrall many people of all ages and religious beliefs”. The Holy Father mentioned Pope Innocent III’s dream in which he saw the Basilica of St. John Lateran about to collapse, but a ‘small insignificant friar’ held it up to prevent its fall. Pope Innocent recognized the friar to be Francis. “Innocent III was a powerful Pontiff, who possessed profound theological culture as well as great political power, but it was not he who renewed the Church. It was the ‘small and insignificant’ friar, it was Francis, called by God. Yet important to recall that Francis did not renew the Church without the Pope or against the Pope, but in communion with him. The two things went together: Peter’s Successor, the bishops and the Church founded on apostolic succession, and the new charism that the Spirit had created at that moment to renew the Church”.
At today’s audience Pope Benedict heralded the life and legacy of Saint Dominic, founder of the Order of Preachers. Shortly before his birth in Caleruega, Spain in 1170, his mother, Bl. Juana of Osma, dreamed that a dog leapt from her womb carrying a torch in its mouth and seemed to set the world ablaze. Dominic “distinguished himself for his interest in the study of Sacred Scriptures and his love for the poor”. After his ordiantion to the priesthood and election as a canon of the cathedral of Osma “he did not consider this as a personal privilege, nor as the first step in a brilliant ecclesiastical career; rather, as a service to be rendered with dedication and humility. Do not career and power represent a temptation to which even those who have roles of leadership and government in the Church are not immune?” the pope asked.
Upon traveling on diplomatic missions St. Dominic became aware of “the existence of peoples still un-evangelized,…and of the religious divides that weakened Christian life in the South of France, where activity of certain heretical groups created disturbance and distanced people from the truth of the faith”. Dominic was asked by Pope Honorius III “to dedicate himself to preaching to the Albigensians” and he “enthusiastically accepted the mission, which he undertook through the example of his own life of poverty and austerity, through preaching the Gospel and through public discussions”.
It was Dominic’s itinerant apostolic life, rooted in “solid theological formation”, “founded on Holy Scripture but respectful of the questions raised by reason” that sparked renewal in the Church. Pope Benedict teaches that “Christ is the most precious treasure that men and women of all times and places have the right to know and love! It is consoling to see how also in today’s Church there are many people (pastors and lay faithful, members of ancient religious orders and of new ecclesial movements) who joyfully give their lives for the supreme ideal of announcing and bearing witness to the Gospel”. He encouraged everyone, “pastors and lay people, to cultivate this ‘cultural dimension’ of the faith, that the beauty of Christian truth may be better understood and the faith truly nourished, strengthened and defended. In this Year for Priests, I invite seminarians and priests to respect the spiritual value of study. The quality of priestly ministry also depends on the generosity with which we apply ourselves to studying revealed truths”.
Pope Benedict concluded, “With his sanctity, he shows us two indispensable means for making apostolic activity more incisive; firstly Marian Devotion, especially the praying of the Rosary which his spiritual children had the great merit of popularizing, and secondly, the value of prayers of intercession for the success of apostolic work”.
Pray for all Franciscans and Dominicans, an increase in vocations to their consecrated life, and a renewed fidelity to their great founders’ calling to make the most precious Treasure known, loved and defended.
Saint Francis and Saint Dominic pray for us!