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A Perfect Storm: St. Dominic

by Fr. Ambrose Criste, O.Praem.

 

“A stormwind came from the North, a huge cloud with flashing fire enveloped in brightness … [and] from the midst of the fire, something gleamed like electrum.”

This is how Ezekiel’s prophecy begins. He is that unbelievably vivid prophet from just before the Babylonian sack of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple. He gives us his gorgeous depiction of his encounter with God, with the four living creatures, with the cherubim, and he’s one of those prophets who even acted out in his own life the things he prophesied, a sort of Old Testament “holy fool.” But what’s striking about the beginning of his prophecy is that it comes out of the most ordinary of things—a specific storm on a very ordinary day. He even tells us exactly which day it was (“the fifth day of the fourth month of the fifth year of King Jehoiachin’s exile”); there he is, a storm blows in, and all of a sudden he’s swept up by the presence of God.

“Heaven and earth are filled with your glory,” we pray in the psalm. The prophets have a particularly keen ability to penetrate the ordinariness of everyday life and to witness the presence of God breaking through. But God’s presence is always and everywhere penetrating your life and mine too, my friends, in the ordinariness of our lives, even if God isn’t choosing us specifically to be His prophets in the same way that He chose Ezekiel. In other words, today, this very day, heaven and earth, your life and mine, are filled with God’s presence and His glory, His providential designs, His fathomless love, and His grace. Right now He is moving us and speaking to us, directing us toward the end He has in view for us. Right now, even if there is a storm brewing on some horizon, God is busy about His lovely work of making us into the saints He so wants us to be.

And there are storms brewing! The world is a mess, our political climate is a disaster, our holy religion is assailed on all sides, and I’m sure you could enumerate a long list of storms. It’s almost like we’re there with the prophet Ezekiel by the river Chebar while that firestorm is blowing in from the North. If you’re anything like I am, when you look around and consider the threatening storms, you might wonder, “How on earth are we ever going to get out of this alive?”

Well, the great St. Dominic teaches us how to face the storm. He says that the best way to do it is with genuine humility and a life of devout prayer. Genuine humility and devout prayer—it’s a pretty simple recipe, but for St. Dominic, humility and prayer put us into alignment with God’s holy will and set us on a path to greater holiness in the midst of the storm. When he became aware of the storm of heresy assailing the South of France—the widespread and pernicious errors of the Albigensenians—he discovered that God was calling to him too in the midst of that disaster. He writes, “Heretics are to be converted by an example of humility and other virtues far more readily than by any external display or verbal battles. So let us arm ourselves with devout prayers and set off showing signs of genuine humility and go barefooted to combat Goliath.”

So that’s what he did. He took what was best from our own primitive Premonstratensian Order, our monastic discipline and our early statutes, that is, genuine humility and a life of devout prayer, and he allowed these to serve as the bedrock upon which he built his own new foundation of Friars Preachers, to push back that Albigensian storm.

What storm is looming on your horizon? Maybe you face the challenges of preparing for another academic year; maybe you are steeling yourself for a few weeks of the hard manual labor of general cleaning; perhaps the prospect of packing up and moving away to Toronto or to Rome (or to San Pedro, or to Santa Paula) makes you uneasy or afraid. St. Dominic would encourage you and me to fortify ourselves against the storm with genuine humility and a life of devout prayer. Then he would have us cling to our rosary and look to our Lady, because in the midst of that storm we just might, like the prophet Ezekiel, hear the voice of the Lord and see angels, and even the Queen of the Angels, glorious there on high. From that place, so glorious and so filled with God’s presence, they are calling to us and assisting us here in the midst of our own very ordinary storms. They just cannot wait for us to join them there on high, where the clouds will break, that new eternal day will dawn, and together we will forever praise the name of the Lord, for His majesty is above heaven and earth.

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