On a journey through France with his bishop, St. Dominic came across people who espoused the Albigensian heresy. The Albigensians believed in just good and evil – there was no middle ground. For them, anything material was evil, which meant that they denied the Incarnation and the sacraments. On the same principle they abstained from procreation and took a minimum of food and drink. It’s important to see that while the ascetic practices they undertook were good, their ultimate conclusions were deeply flawed.
St. Dominic sensed the need for the Church to combat this heresy, and he was commissioned to be part of the preaching crusade against it. He saw immediately why the preaching was not succeeding: the ordinary people admired and followed the asceticism of the Albigensians. Understandably, they were not impressed by the Catholic preachers who traveled in luxury, stayed at the best inns and had servants. Dominic therefore, with three Cistercians, began itinerant preaching – living simply and depending on the goodness of others to support them – according to the gospel ideal.
One of the ancient histories of the Dominican order says of him, “Two or three times he was chosen bishop, but he always refused, preferring to live with his brothers in poverty. Throughout his life, he preserved the honor of his virginity. He desired to be scourged and cut to pieces, and so die for the faith of Christ. Of him Pope Gregory IX declared: ‘I knew him as a steadfast follower of the apostolic way of life. There is no doubt that he is in heaven, sharing in the glory of the apostles themselves.’” (Office of Readings)
Dominic continued his preaching work for ten years, being successful with the ordinary people but not with the leaders. Eventually, he founded his own religious order, the Order of Preachers, or Dominicans, that was dedicated to preaching the Gospel to ordinary people.
We too are called to preach to every person. We do that not just in words, but mainly by the way we live. When people see our faith at work in our actions, they may well be moved by our example to draw near to God who longs to draw near to them. As we approach the Eucharist today, may we all turn to God for the words to speak and the actions to do, that all the world may come to know that our God is merciful and the source of all grace.