We, Dominicans, call St. Francis of Assisi “our father.” As a novice, I was amazed to learn this simple yet eloquent fact. I suppose there is a real content in this title, I mean, it is not only a way of avoiding animosity between our two Orders, the Preachers and the Minors.
St. Thomas Aquinas in his “De Erroribus Graecorum” explains the term “father” from the fact of the one life that is communicated and then shared between parents and their offspring. To father is to produce a flow of life that goes from one being to another. That expression is most meaningful in itself: a flow of life! According to this, St. Dominic is “our father” because there is a flowing river of life that comes out from his prayers, his example, his apostolic ministry, and comes into our lives, enriching them, enlightening them, making them fruitful in a new way.
We are here to speak of St. Francis, though. Yet again we assure that his life is not only his. We testify that his way of life is not only his. We claim that something of his ardour in prayer, of his spirit of adoration and humble service has touched our lives and is actually alive within and among us.
Now, if you press me asking what exactly we do share and particularly receive from him, my only answer is: a contemplative sight towards the mystery of the Cross. Both Dominic and Francis were people able to engulf themselves in the mystery of the Crucified Lord. In the most famous picture of St Dominic beside the Cross, by Fra Angelico, the Father of the Preachers is actually reading. His eyes rest on the book. Nonetheless, and this is part of the greatness of that picture, Dominic is not absent: his reading, his intellectual effort, his missionary zeal do not prevent him from staying fully present to the mystery that happens so near to him.
Francis, on the other hand, so much loved the Cross that he was endowed with the gift of bearing the very wounds of the Lord. Those impressive wounds would be a permanent preaching of the mystery he had contemplated so dearly. Dominic carried his own wounds in a different manner. People would cry as they listen to his compassionate heart declaring God’s love in such a unique way. Dominic’s words were his wounds, signs that his contemplation left in his soul, all the same as Francis’s wounds were his words, the discourse that would tell the world what happens when we take Christ’s message with all seriousness.
As we remember these two great Heroes of Faith and Doctors in Divine Love, let us thank the Lord for our own vocation, and let us ask them to intercede for us before the Crucified and Risen Lord. Amen.