Wednesday, August 8, 2012

St. Dominic and the Power of God's Word


One year in Cambridge, after a particularly grueling term, a friend and I went to Carcassonne because we got a cheap flight. It sounded like a fun trip—a few days of holiday after a difficult semester. When we arrived, Ben, who is fluent in French, asked the owner of our small hotel, “What is there to do in Carcassonne?” She replied that the tourist season had just ended the week before and that there wasn’t much to do. “You can acheter une voiture, ratisser les feuilles, ou d'un tricot.” (At least that’s what Google Translate thinks is French for “buy a car, rake leaves, or knit.” I still have no idea.) My friend chuckled and gave a puzzled look, but I, of course, had no idea what was being said. After he translated for me, we debated our options. Although raking leaves sounded mildly cathartic, we decided to tour the local castle instead.

Carcassonne was a center of the Cathar movement and is perhaps most famous for its role as a stronghold against the Albigensian Crusade, during which the Catholic Church sought to rid the world of Catharism. The castle was a military fort in which the heretics fought the orthodox to the death. Looking back, it’s Kind of funny, really. We don’t do that much in our church anymore.

I didn’t know it at the time, but St. Dominic, who founded the Dominican Order, was one of the theologians and preachers who tried to persuade those who in the Cathar sect to return to the faith. Dominic didn’t take up arms, but he did use logic and bare preaching to attack his enemies, and he was successful. His legacy, though, has less to do with Catharism and more to do with the power of preaching. His order became known as the Order of Preachers (O.P.) because he believed and demonstrated that the Word of God was the source of true power.

In the gospel lesson appointed for his feast day (John7:16-18), Jesus said to his adversaries, “My teaching is not mine but his who sent me. Anyone who resolves to do the will of God will know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own. Those who speak on their own seek their own glory; but the one who seeks the glory of him who sent him is true, and there is nothing false in him.” (Actually, that’s the whole gospel lesson. It’s really short.) Jesus knew that God’s Word is Truth (capital “T”). And he knew that who he was and what he said was Truth and would stand up to any scrutiny. Dominic knew that, too, and he let God’s Word speak for itself.

Sometimes we forget about the power of God’s word—the bible. Sometimes I forget that the reason we call the biblical text “the Word of God” is the same reason we call the second person of the Trinity “the Word of God.” Both are alive. Both have the power to transform lives. They are, essentially, the same—not the book itself and the Son of God but that which is spoken. God speaks and... That’s where the story begins. That’s where the story ends. Sometimes it’s nice to be reminded that I need to reimmerse myself in God’s word and let it speak to me afresh.

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