A Reflection for the Memorial of St. Dominic
Find today’s readings here.
Moses himself was by far the meekest man on the face of the earth.
Today’s readings emphasize human weakness and the need for grace. However, the story from Numbers has always been memorable to me for a different reason, which is especially worth noting today on the feast of St. Dominic. It helps us to see why Moses was chosen for the extraordinary task of leading the Israelites from slavery.
His selection is in some ways rather perplexing. He doesn’t really seem to be what we would call a “natural born leader.” He is not a brash and brilliant tactician like King David. He shows none of the charisma of a Joseph or a Daniel. St. Paul could seemingly hold court for hours on end, keeping audiences spellbound. But when God first orders Moses to approach Pharaoh, Moses immediately objects that he’s a pitiful public speaker. He comes across as a somewhat cranky person, continually chastising the Israelites for their failures but rarely offering them comfort, sympathy, or inspiration. Apparently his siblings, Aaron and Miriam, also felt that their brother was an uninspired leader. They thought they might be better suited to taking charge.
Moses remained both faithful and humble. He let God have the glory.
It turns out Moses was superlative, though not in a way that we humans tend to notice or admire. As today’s reading tells us, he was the meekest man on the face of the earth. That is why he had the honor of leading his people to freedom, and why he alone among the giants of the Old Testament was permitted to speak to God face to face.
Considering the task for which Moses was appointed, it makes a kind of sense that meekness was an essential qualification. Throughout the Bible (and in the world around us), we can see how difficult it is for human beings to wield power and influence without succumbing to the temptations of pride. Moses worked stupendous miracles on a regular basis, and he received the Ten Commandments directly from God on Mount Sinai. It would go to almost anyone’s head. But apart from his one brief lapse at Meribah, Moses remained both faithful and humble. He let God have the glory.
Before St. Dominic was born, tradition holds that his mother, Blessed Jane of Aza, had a dream in which a dog was leaping from her womb with a torch in his mouth. The torch set fire to everything in the dog’s path. The name “Dominic” means “dog of the Lord,” which is why a dog is often pictured in icons and paintings of St. Dominic, and also why the Dominicans are sometimes referred to as “the hounds of the Lord.” Dogs are known for their loyalty and humble obedience to human masters. That meekness was essential for the early Dominican friars as well, because they were sent to preach to the Albigenses, a heretical sect that viewed the material world as evil. St. Dominic realized that it would be impossible to win the respect of such a people unless his friars lived very simply and humbly, with no opulence.