The Readings for the Feast of St Dominic
Wednesday in the 18th Week of Ordinary Time (B2)
Dominic’s first and longest standing outreach was to the Albigensian heretics of Southern France. These were, essentially, a Manichean revival, teaching that physical things were bad. Physical here includes the body. Spirit trapped in a physical shell… this is a familiar teaching to many, but it is not Christianity. The Church teaches that humanity is a spirit-flesh hybrid, and that our physical selves are as important as our spiritual and mental makeup. This is why Christians believe in “carnis resurrectionem” and “resurrectionem mortuorum”, that is the resurrection of the flesh from the dead. Since they believed the flesh to be evil, the Albigensians did not believe in the physical resurrection at all. Bringing the Gospel to these folks was a lifelong process for Dominic.
So on to other word play. Matthew’s Canaanite Woman.
It’s important to know that at the time of this story there were no Canaanites because there hadn’t been a Canaan for thousands of years. It’s as much of an anachronistic misnomer as is calling Jesus as “Palestinian” for there was no province of “Palestine” at this time. Matthew’s well-trained Jewish audience would know who the Canaanites were and, since they spoke Greek, they would have enjoyed comparing the woman as a κυνάρια, kynaree-a (canine) and a Χαναναία, a kananaia (Canaaanite).
Equally wrong would be calling Jesus a racist because of this story. (I suspect Fr Martin has already lined up his Jesuitical tweets in this regard.) The lack of actual Canaanites in this time period means there’s more than an historical/literal point here. If Jesus is God he is setting up the scene, and everyone is falling into play: Jesus solicits a show of faith from the woman just as he does from others. At Matthew’s telling, Jesus uses wordplay to force his audience to listen again. “Did he just say that?”
There are other cases of word play in Matthew’s Gospel. I think they are important. Matthew’s community is being taught something that is lost on us, perhaps because we no longer need it in our preaching. Or because we are easily offended.
Yet there is something here.
Jesus is reaching out to the Gentiles very early and using them as examples of faith. Matthew’s community probably gets mildly scandalized here. Even more so when the Centurion’s servant is described in terms of pederasty. Matthew seems to want his community to see there’s nothing wrong with reaching out to the Gentiles who, in fact, can be better at this faith game than the Jews. And he uses word play to call them out.
So back to Dominic, whose Albigensian preaching became the first really good example of enculturating the Gospel. The preachers and teachers of the heretical movement were poor ascetics. The people could see in their leaders a holiness of life that they could not see in the wealthy Catholic prelates and even parish priests, with their huge carriages and houses and domestic staffs. Dominic knew that the first thing he’d have to have was a community of preachers whose lives reflected the poverty that these folks had come to expect of their religious leaders.
So the followers of Dominic became poor that they might reach the poor, and well educated to debate with the folks who were preaching the heresies. The dogs of the Lord begged for their bread crumbs and lived lives that the locals could see as holy.
They didn’t become Albigensians, but they did find in the heresy something good, something of value that they could carry with them to bring the Gospel more fully home to these folks. It matters not that they have to give up worldly splendor and comforts to preach. In fact, as it turns out, that’s one of the greatest goods of the Dominicans, their ability to move through the world unencumbered by the things of this world and although this is a clear teaching of the Gospel, they begin using it to combat its misuse among the Albigensian communities.
This is how the Gospel must be preached today: finding the good in things (even if it is misused) and calling it out to draw others deeper into the fullness of the Spirit.