We are in a culture which happily still observes birthdays. Although it’s not the biggest birthday this week (a certain Someone turns the big 2014 or so), I am happy to inform you that the Dominican Order turns 798 today. As they say, age ain’t nothing but a number, and despite our advanced age, I think some of our best years are ahead of us.
The Order of Preachers celebrates the day, December 22, 1216, when St. Dominic received the official recognition from Pope Honorius III establishing the Dominican Order.
The day of birth is a joyous occasion. Even more joyous is the traditional observance of the dies natalis, which is Latin for, you guessed it, “day of birth.” But it’s traditionally used to describe that second birth for which Christians hope: the day of the death of a saint, the day she or he enters eternal life, and the day on which we usually observe their liturgical feast day.
“Call no man happy before he is dead” (Sirach 11:28). This seemingly morbid phrase refers to the fact of life that we all have to die someday, and until we get to that moment of truth, we are free to make good or bad decisions. But thanks to the life-giving Resurrection of Jesus Christ, we no longer have to fear that day of death. Through his incarnation, life, passion, death, and resurrection, our last day on earth is now a day of new life. “O Death, where is thy victory? O Grave, where is thy sting?” (1 Cor 15:55)
This life is a mixture of tears and joys, but it should be seen in the context of something much greater. If we persevere, by the grace of God, in faith, hope, and charity, every tear will be wiped away. We will be happy, truly happy, living with God and the communion of saints: famous ones, lesser-known ones, family members.
The members of our Order have done some pretty great things, and still are working hard. But the race ends at the finish line, and it is a grueling pace, with obstacles and pitfalls to boot. Religious life is a great help for the salvation of souls and the promotion of a just and merciful society. However, the religious can never forget about the effort on the home front, namely the state of his own soul, and his brothers and sisters.
Here’s a brief story to illustrate my point: Anthony Neyrot was a 15th-century Dominican who was unsatisfied with his religious life. After being transferred several times due to his discontent, he was captured by Muslim pirates. He renounced willingly the Dominican Order and even the Catholic faith, took a Muslim wife, and was granted autonomy. St. Antoninus of Florence, his old superior, had died, and appeared to him in a dream. Anthony was cut deeply by this apparition, and decided to come back to the faith. He made a good confession to a Dominican priest, donned the Preacher’s habit, and announced his reversion to the Catholic Church at a public procession of the Muslim emir. Anthony was promptly stoned to death. Anthony’s dies natalis was April 10, 1460. His body was recovered and is now in Rivoli, Italy, and his soul is contemplating God in heaven. Anthony Neyrot was beatified on February 22, 1767, by Pope Clement XIII. Blessed Anthony shows how no soul can be taken for granted, nor can anyone still alive be too far gone to find God’s mercy.
So on our special day today, wish a Dominican “Happy Birthday!” Then say a prayer for the Dominicans, that we may finish the race and be crowned with the everlasting crown, rejoicing forever in the new life which God has prepared for those who love him.
Image: The Death of Blessed Anthony Neyrot