“Whilst he thus labored to make his own soul pleasing to God, the fire of divine love was daily more and more enkindled in his breast, and he was consumed with an ardent zeal for the salvation of infidels and sinners. To move the divine mercy to regard them with pity, he spent often whole nights in the church at prayer, watering the steps of the altar with abundance of tears, in which he was heard to sigh and groan before the Father of mercy, in the earnestness and deep affliction of his heart; never ceasing to beg with the greatest ardor, the grace to gain some of those unhappy souls to Christ.” – From the Chronicle of the Origin of this Order, compiled by Bl. Jordan of Saxony
The tears of our Holy Father Dominic never fail to move and challenge me. There is something haunting and mysterious at the thought of a man weeping in the solitude and silence of a sleepless night on the altar steps. Entering a church at night to find someone in such a state of fervent and distressing prayer is a moving and troubling experience. The state of crisis shatters the thin veil of our quotidian expectations to reveal the startling reality that we are still poor, banished children of Eve, living in the status viatoris, awaiting the glorious coming of Our Lord and the eternal beatitude of Heaven. The encounter with the soul in crisis reminds us of the reality of the cross that we are called to bear with Christ and with one another. Seeing another bearing such a burden awakens our Christian sympathy and draws us out of our private concerns to beseech the Lord of all consolation for his mercy and compassion.
But what is the crisis that confronted Saint Dominic as he wept in fervent petition at the altar steps? Our holy father was not suffering from the betrayal of a spouse, the loss of a job, or the death of a loved one. His tears were not shed over a personal crisis, but rather the crisis of the “infidels and sinners” who reject the obedience of faith and do not enjoy the salvation offered by Christ. When we encounter the tears of our father Dominic, we are confronted with the reality that those who are closed to faith are lacking the possibility of true and lasting friendship with God, a friendship which requires filial trust and a loyal heart. Saint Dominic was brought to tears at the thought of a soul rejecting such a gift. In Dominic we see the beauty of a soul transfigured by faith, hope, and love in a state of fervent petition; more, we see a participation in the redemptive mission of Jesus Christ.
These three features of Saint Dominic’s tears in some way characterize the mission of the Friar Preacher. To preach for the salvation of souls, the soul of the preacher must be elevated by grace through the infused virtues of faith, hope, and love. The preacher must be sympathetically aware of the true deprivation suffered by the poor souls who lack saving faith. And the preacher must see his preaching for the salvation of souls as a participation in the saving action of Christ Our Lord. May the same fire of divine love that burned within Saint Dominic be enkindled within us, that we may never cease “to beg with the greatest ardor, the grace to gain some of those unhappy souls to Christ.”
Image: El Greco, St. Dominic at Prayer