Dear Listeners and Volunteers,
August is a month of holy days and holidays, although for most of Christian history we wouldn’t have distinguished between the two. The word holiday derives from holy day and gets its contemporary meaning from the fact that these special holy days were days to set aside work and labour, a bonus Sunday, so to speak. It would be good for us to make the link once more.
For most of the Church there are two great solemnities this month, the Feast of the Transfiguration and of the Assumption, and, for Dominicans, there is a third the Feast of St Dominic, our founder.
One theme that might be seen to unite all these three holidays is the holiness of the body. That’s a very necessary theme to proclaim in our world: we exalt the body, we degrade the body, we objectify the body, but rarely do we think of it as holy.
There’s an old joke about which is the greatest religious order. A questioner asks whether it is the Jesuits or the Dominicans, to which he receives the reply, ‘Well, the Dominicans were founded to counter the Alibigensian heresy and the Jesuits to counter the Protestant revolt.’ But the questioner, still unsure, says, ‘But which is the greatest order?’ and the respondent says, ‘Well, have you ever met an Alibigensian?!’
And, whilst, as a Dominican, I’d love to say, ‘Well, yes, that settles it!’, the reality is that there are many more Albigensians then there are people in Albi. Because Albigensiansm is the heresy that says that the body is not truly good, that only the spiritual truly matters. It got its name because so many people from Albi bought into this lie; I’ve no idea whether many do now, but certainly around the rest of the world they do.
The life of St Dominic was dedicated to preaching the holiness of the body, not least because to do so is necessary to preserve the goodness and the reality of the Incarnation, and without that everything we hold true, good, and beautiful falls away. The great solemnities of the Transfiguration and the Assumption both show the goodness of the Incarnation.
In the Transfiguration we see the divinity of Jesus manifested in the radiance of His body, and the Assumption shows us that He came to save us completely and not just spiritually, Mary is assumed body and soul into heaven. This, surely, corresponds to our deepest longings? Which of us when we think of those we have loved and lost would be content with just the idea of a spiritual reunion?
I want us to imagine what a world might like where the body was considered holy again, where sex became sacred once more, a world in which the body was no longer objectified, no longer mutilated, nor worshipped, but a world in which the body was seen once more as the sacrament of the human person, the visible manifestation of the human person made in the image and likeness, the human person made a partaker in the divine nature. Imagine if we thought of ourselves like that, imagine if we thought of others like that?
Fr. Toby Lees OP