For non-Catholics, Francis is the easiest saint to understand and love, while Dominic is the most difficult, once remarked Chesterton. If the abundance of Francis-emblazoned garden decorations and the world’s new-found devotion to Pope Francis—whose namesake is the beggar friar of Assisi—are a reliable indication, the statement is undoubtedly true. The endearing vagabond stigmatist of Alverna, known for his love of creation and his sympathy for the poor, easily captures the hearts of multitudes, Catholics and non-Catholics alike. In contrast, many written or artistic depictions portray Dominic as the black-and-white clad, crusade-preaching, stern-faced Spaniard of the un-holy Inquisition. Even today it seems this unfortunate caricature of Dominic abides, as many find Saint Dominic difficult to love and to others he is completely unknown.
Perhaps some would feel drawn to Saint Dominic if his great sympathy for the poor was spoken of more frequently. As the records of his canonization recall, when he was a student of theology, he sold his books to feed the poor of Palencia. But the great saint lived this solidarity with the poor his entire life, even dying in the bed of another friar—since he had no cell of his own. To witness to the authenticity of his preaching, Dominic crossed the countryside walking barefoot (in great contrast to the official papal preachers of his day, travelling as they did in luxurious caravans). A further glimpse of his absolute dedication to poverty is offered by contemporaries of Saint Dominic who attest they only ever saw him wearing the same one habit, covered in patches.
Could it not also be hard to admire Saint Dominic because of the hidden nature of his life of prayer and study? With a reputation for sincerity and dedication to his work of learning, the young saint was known to spend many long nights poring over his books. Later in life these sleepless vigils became nights given over to the work of prayer for the conversion of souls. The fruits of these kinds of efforts, though, are all-so-often veiled from our prying eyes.
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