Preaching is not just something we Dominicans do. Preaching is who we are. Preaching defines us; it is our identity.
First, some background. St. Dominic de Guzman of Caleruega, Spain is our founder. Dominic did not set out to found an Order of Preachers (our official title). In fact, he didn't set out to found anything, let alone an order! At the age of 24, Dominic left Caleruega, the city of his birth, to join the Canons Regular in nearby Osma. Canons Regular comprise members of certain bodies of priests living in community under the Augustinian Rule and sharing their property in common. Distinct from monks, who live a cloistered, contemplative life and sometimes engage in ministry to those from outside the monastery, the purpose of the life of a canon is to engage in public ministry of liturgy and sacraments for those who visit their churches (historically the monastic life was by its nature lay, whereas canonical life was essentially clerical). What was formative for Dominic was his itinerant ministry with his bishop, Diego of Osma, in their struggle against a heresy so prevalent in southern France. On a diplomatic mission to Denmark at the request of the pope, Dominic and Diego, traveling through the south of France, encountered the Cathars, a heretical religious sect. The main tenant of this heresy is that there is a god of good, who ruled over the spiritual realm, and a god of evil, who ruled over the material world. Everything material was innately evil thus the Cathars taught hatred for the body and the material world. Diego and Dominic saw the need to preach against this heresy by introducing the people to the one true God who fiercely loves all he has created.
Shortly after undertaking this mission of preaching, Diego died and Dominic was left to carry on. God is so in love with us that he keeps at us all time. In every circumstance God works to enable us to become who he has created us to be. When he became a canon associated with the cathedral of Osma, the idea of becoming an itinerant preacher was nowhere in Dominic's mind. But it was in the mind of God. Dominic left the cathedral in Osma and went to live in the small town of Fanjeaux, France infiltrated by the heretics. The Dominican order, then, grew out of the group of missionaries who joined Dominic in this endeavor. And guess what - the women came first! More about these women in the next blog.