The Last Will and Testament of St. Dominic:
Behold, my children, the heritage I leave you:
Have charity for one another; Guard humility;
Make your treasure out of voluntary poverty.
Saint Dominic died exactly 800 years and one day ago. About noon on August 6 the brothers gathered around him in his cell in Bologna and prayed him into heaven. I don’t know if they sang the Salve; I’m not sure when that became the tradition of greeting Mary at the time of death. I always thought it was for directions. When you get to heaven and don’t know what to do, go and find Mary. She’ll be glad to welcome you home and place you under her mantle – WE ARE DOMINICANS after all and that was Dominic’s vision of heaven.
800 years seems like a long time and yet we have four jubilarians this year who have lived Dominican life for 75 years each. Some time flies, some time seems to drag. Covid has given us a whole new realization about the speed of time.
When I was teaching trigonometry in Mt. Pleasant one young man asked if he could do a presentation about time. I think he read Einstein for fun and he probably works for Microsoft or Apple today. He was so excited I couldn’t turn him down. The two of us were probably the only people in the room who were interested in the topic and for his finale he pulled out a tape recorder and told us: “This is a recording of the last minute of the last hour of the last day of the year from the atomic clock in Boulder Colorado. Please count along.” One, two, three – the math students weren’t too impressed…thirty one, thirty two… the eyes started to roll … fifty five, fifty six, fifty seven, fifty eight, fifty nine, sixty, sixty one.” That caught their attention. Everyone knows that a minute only has sixty seconds in it. What happened? Mike explained that the earth is slowing down and every so often scientists have to add an extra second so that the earth will be at the same location on January 1. Time, whether centuries, or decades, or years is really important. Every second counts.
In 1969 I walked through the front doors of Marywood. There were 8 of us and after the changes of Vatican II we were called associates instead of postulants. (Associates became something new in 1992.) We started with 8 young women and I am the last woman standing. I came with one suitcase of clothes and two boxes of books. I was very surprised when the first thing I was asked to do after first profession was sign a will. I didn’t own anything, or at least not much.
In reading St. Dominic’s Will I guess he didn’t own much either. And I have to say I was surprised that he didn’t focus on the why and how of preaching. But the why of preaching we already know is rooted in Jesus’ command to “Go out and preach the Word to the whole world” and the how changes depending on culture and the times, the preacher’s personality and audience. But Dominic’s will provides the foundation of our preaching: 1. The support and love of community tells us that when one Dominican preaches the whole community preaches. My favorite comment about my preaching was “you say what we’re thinking.” 2. Our preaching needs to be rooted in humility, it’s an invitation into the Word of God, not judgment or condemnation. 3. Voluntary poverty reminds the preacher that none of us knows everything, or has all the answers, our preaching should evolve with life and love. It’s given as a gift.
Our Jubilarians have lived the Holy Preaching for most of their adult lives. They preached through feeding us, caring for the little ones at St. John’s home, nursing, serving in parishes and religious education and youth ministry, living and serving in Chimbote and native communities as well as doing social work, justice and housing outreach, visiting shut-ins and veterans, teaching students in kindergarten all the way through college classrooms and even a Military Academy and lots and lots of tutoring, sharing the gifts of music and art and quilting and crafts and card making, being a beautician, accepting formation and Leadership roles in the Congregation, in administration and consulting, helping us learn to age well and organizing the move to Marywood. It’s a long list. It’s the Holy Preaching: anything that needs doing that we can do. They have preached through their suffering in car accidents, cancer, broken bones and blood clots; the loss of parents and brothers and sisters and friends over the years. They are the last women standing.
And we recognize one of the pioneers in current Associate Life, 25 years as teacher, especially the French she learned from Sr. Helen Bolger and Montessori methods with Sr. Maria Tardani, working in children’s bookstores and her current volunteering in our bookstore and her care for family especially caring for her own Mother and Father to the end.
800 years ago Dominic looked to the future and envisioned us, a faithful community that would accept his heritage of living a preacher’s life. We are grateful for his vision and encouragement. We are the Holy Preaching today, through time – every second counts.
Diane Zerfas OP shared this message during night prayer on the occasion of the celebration of our 2021 Sister Jubilarians.