Less than a week ago, the whole Church celebrated All Saints Day. Today in the Order of Preachers we celebrate All Dominican Saints. Are the Dominicans hosting some kind of exclusive afterparty? What is going on?
First and most essentially, we should ask: why does anyone celebrate the saints? In a sermon that appears in the Office of Readings for All Saints Day, St. Bernard explains that our veneration and celebration of the saints benefit not the saints themselves, but us here on earth. The saints are perfectly happy. The saints have won everything. Nothing we do in their honor will make them happier than they are now in heaven with God. But we on earth need help. We need all the help we can get, and celebrating the saints’ feasts does help us here below.
How does it help us? A goal is often easier to attain if we want it more. Pondering the intense happiness of the saints helps us burn with holy desire to be in their company with God. Moreover, to achieve a goal, it helps to have examples to imitate. We encounter in the saints’ lives heroic examples of virtue. And ultimately, we need God’s grace. We ask those who are with God to intercede on our behalf, to pray that we receive this grace.
Of course, everyone has a collection of their own patron saints they can best relate to: those who had similar vocations, had similar life experiences or the same hardships, happened to win our admiration, or who even just share our names. In the Order we celebrate All Dominican Saints because we are united to them through our vocations in the Dominican life. For this reason, they give us particularly good examples, and we have especially good reason to rely on their intercession for us and our ministry. What preacher cannot find an example in St. Peter Martyr or St. Vincent Ferrer, who reportedly won over thousands upon thousands of souls? St. Thomas and St. Albert might spur on students to study and above all to seek to know God. It is hard not to be encouraged by the boldness of someone like Blessed Anthony Neyrot at the end of his life. He was a Dominican friar who was captured by pirates, converted to Islam, and brought into the service of the caliph. Yet later, moved by the death of St. Antoninus, another Dominican saint who had previously been a mentor to Bl. Anthony, he returned to the Church. Then, wearing his Dominican habit he entered the palace of the caliph and professed the faith to him, who in turn had Bl. Anthony stoned to death. And of course there is St. Dominic, who “only spoke to God or about God.” There are many more; any list is incomplete.
Thus this day is important to all Dominicans, to those whom we serve, and to those who are close to us. It is a day to rejoice in the triumph of those saints who shared our vocation and to give praise to God for their victory. It is a day to imitate their heroism by clothing ourselves with their virtues. It is a day we renew our own commitments to preaching the gospel, proclaiming Jesus Christ everywhere and to everyone for the salvation of souls. It is a day we intensify our longing to join the company of the blessed, to be happy with God.
Image: Fr. Lawrence Lew, O.P., All Saints of the Order of Preachers (used with permission)