“Francis is the easiest saint to understand and love, while Dominic is the most difficult,” thus saith Chesterton.
This is sadly true for many Catholics and non-Catholics alike. When we think of St. Francis of Assisi: a joyful ever-smiling beggar standing in a lush garden, surrounded by birds, rabbits, and a tame wolf. Everything about Francis has been positive: his preaching to the birds, Canticles of the Sun, and even the newfound love for Pope Francis has propagated this pleasant image of the humble saint.
But then, there is St. Dominic. Who is he? Many, many people have no idea. Isn’t he that stern-faced preacher wearing a regal black-and-white robe who always carries a book? Didn’t the start the Inquisition? He must have been a real piece of work. Maybe he was pretty smart and all, but he doesn’t sound like a real great guy. Was he?
Unknown to many, St. Francis and St. Dominic were, in reality, contemporaries and friends. Surprise!!!! We read the following story:
One summer night in 1215, during his stay in Rome, Francis had a vision: he saw Our Lord prepared to unleash the most terrible chastisements upon the world. His Most Holy Mother was making an effort to placate Him, asking His mercy and forgiveness. For this purpose, she presented two men who would labour for the conversion of the world and return a countless number of lost sheep to the fold. Francis recognised himself as one of these apostles. He did not recognise the other one, however.
The following day, he was in one of the churches of Rome when suddenly an unknown person came up to him, embraced him, and said: “You are my companion, we will work together, supporting one another toward the same end, and no one will prevail against us.” Francis recognised him as the other man in the vision. It was St. Dominic, who had also received a similar vision before the meeting. When he saw Francis in that church, he immediately went to greet him, inspired by the Holy Spirit.
While in reality Dominic loved peace and the poor as much as Francis did (Dominic sold his expensive and rare theology books to feed the victims of famine!), and both had a profound Marian devotion, Francis and Dominic were indeed two very different personalities, and consequently they infused these different characters into their respective orders. The Franciscan Order is known for their simplicity in approach to life and faith. The great conversions of the Franciscans came about through the consideration of the Wounds of Our Lord, His Passion, His poverty and spirit of sacrifice. They preach with zest directly from their fiery souls, for they aim to move the will through the heart.
Meanwhile, the Order of Preachers, the Dominican Order, is the “scholarly order”; to his friars Dominic always emphasised study, because he believed that solid evangelisation wouldn’t be possible if they hadn’t studied first. The Dominican mission is an intellectual work, that is, the study and teaching of philosophy, theology, and apologetics. St. Dominic was known to spend sleepless vigils poring over his books, and later in life these study sessions transformed into nights of thorough preaching and conversions. Indeed, the Dominicans move the will by appealing to the mind.
A great similarity leads to friendship, but so also does a great dissimilarity when it is not the dissimilarity of opposition, but rather one that is complementary. One had something that the other was lacking. Together they constituted a harmonic ensemble. For this reason, they admired one another. These two holy men embraced each other and were enthusiastic for each other’s mission, because although they had different approaches, their end was essentially the same: the conversion of souls and the building of the Kingdom.
To this day, the two orders enjoy a unique and special relationship. The Franciscans celebrate St. Dominic with a Feast, and likewise the Dominicans honour St. Francis of Assisi in their calendar of saints. A Dominican event can be led by a Franciscan friar, and likewise a Franciscan ceremony may be led by a Dominican. Even in the Litany of the Saints: the names of St. Francis and St. Dominic are mentioned together!
Today, we as a Dominican Order not only celebrate our father, St. Francis, we also celebrate our centuries old friendship with the Franciscan Order. We wish you all a very blessed Feast Day!