The Francis Effect: A Dominican Moment

Editor’s Note: This post was part of April Fools Day 2014

Posted by Br. Gabriel Torretta, O.P.

Like most readers of this website, when I first plowed through Pope Francis’ recent apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, I was simply amazed at how deeply the Holy Father understands the Dominican life. Here at last, I thought, is a pope who wants the whole world to be Dominican!

I imagine you had the same thought yourself, but humor me as I spell it out.

Pope Francis begins where St. Dominic began: the missionary impulse. From his earliest days of itinerancy and preaching, St. Dominic longed to travel and bring the Gospel to the people of every nation; he even started to sport a beard, so as to fit in with the hipster Tartar peoples on the border of Europe and Asia. The saintly friar was never able to fulfill his dream in person, but within one generation Dominican missionaries had taken the Gospel to much of the known world.

Next Pope Francis moves on to the need for constant conversion in the Church and the world, highlighting the ways the call of the Gospel can break open stagnant, decadent dimensions in modern life. The desire to shake things up, to act with the courage of the Gospel in the face of contemporary challenges, was a permanent mark of St. Dominic’s life. When other religious groups were still dipping their toes in the murky waters of urban living, St. Dominic plunged in headfirst, sending his friars to cities and universities all over Europe. Knowing that cities were where souls were being won or lost for Christ, he trusted the Holy Spirit to teach his Order how to live and breathe the air of the Gospel in these strange new seas.

At the heart of Evangelii Gaudium, the Holy Father stops being subtle about his love for the Dominican Order: sixty-five paragraphs on preaching? Pope Francis, you’re making me blush.

Flowing out of his enthusiasm for preaching, he next treats concerns of social justice and the Church’s pressing need to care for the poor. At this point, I’m pretty much convinced that he must have had a copy of St. Dominic’s biography at his elbow as he wrote the document, because what marked St. Dominic’s life more than a desire to be poor with the poor? Even before the founding of his Order, St. Dominic sold all his books to feed the hungry, and once tried to sell himself as a slave to rescue someone in need. A time-honored Dominican legend even puts on the lips of the dying saint a last will and testament that seems to have inspired Pope Francis as much as it has the Dominican Order: “Have charity, guard humility, hold fast to voluntary poverty.”

And then, just to top it all off, the document closes with an exhortation to mission under the patronage of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Was the Holy Father thinking about the Blessed Virgin’s gift of the scapular to her preaching friars, years before she extended the favor to St. Simon Stock and the Carmelites? Or the Dominicans’ beloved Marian title, Queen of Preachers? Or the rosary that Dominicans have spread throughout the world? I mean, there’s just so much to choose from.

I don’t know what else to say: the Francis Effect is so clearly a Dominican moment for the world.

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