St Dominic of Silos

(northern Spain) Abbot (entered heaven on December 10th, 1073)

Dear Dory,

The great Solemnity of Christmas draws near.  Are you getting ready?  The Lord is, you know; he’s hoping to come in a new way into your life, and he’s looking forward to it.  Are you?  I hope you are, even though your last notes have showed some indications that your attention is, sadly, far away from Christ.  What indications?  Well, your complaints, of course.  No doubt your current situation is far from ideal, but is complaining really the best way to deal with it?  To answer that important question, I defer to today’s saint.

He is one of Spain’s most popular, which is understandable, considering the virtues he exhibited.  He started out as a peasant, tending sheep as a boy and young man, in the harsh but endearing climate of Navarre, in northern Spain.  (It’s remarkable how many saints started out as shepherds – it’s a great way to learn the lesson of Psalm 23, I guess.)  There he discovered his calling, and entered a nearby Benedictine monastery, where he threw himself into the grueling and liberating schedule of “work and prayer”.  Soon he was ordained a priest, then he was appointed instructor of novices, and finally he was elected Prior.  That’s when things started getting interesting.

First of all, King Garcia of Navarre (Spain was not a united kingdom back in the 11th century) ordered the humble monk to turn over to him the monastery and its property (monasteries were economically self-sufficient in the Middle Ages, so they usually had large tracts of fertile land worked by the monks).  So what did this former peasant and shepherd do, humbly acquiesce to a greedy and sacrilegious demand?  Not at all.  He simply refused.  Imagine that!  A peasant flatly contradicting his king, in the middle ages, in Spain!  It shows the power of Christ.  But I digress… So the king drove him and his faithful monks from the monastery, taking by force what eluded him by justice.

Dominic sought protection from King Ferdinand of Old Castille, who offered him to take up residence in a run-down monastery in Silos.  Only six monks lived there, and the place was thoroughly dilapidated: financially, physically, and spiritually.  He set to work and reformed the entire institution.  He raised money to rebuild the structures (still standing today, and considered one of Spain’s great architectural treasures), breathed fresh enthusiasm into the monks’ spiritual exercises, and fostered industry of all kinds – book design, art, gold and silver work, and even ample charitable activity (he didn’t just raise funds for his monastery, he also raised them to ransom Christian prisoners from the Moors).  In short, he transformed a dying star into a brilliant galaxy of Christian virtue and joy.

That, in my opinion, is a more impressive miracle than any he performed on the sick and needy (and they were many) before and after his death, and it’s also the crux of his lesson for you.  Imagine if he had limited himself to complaining – he certainly had the right to do so.  King Garcia treated him unfairly, and King Ferdinand didn’t do much better.  He didn’t deserve the hardships that came upon them.  But instead of letting them stifle his faith, love, and spirit of initiative, he turned them all into opportunities.  His motto wasn’t, “Why is all this happening to me?” (a natural question, but even so, it doesn’t deserve any attention at all) but “How can I turn this to advantage for the Kingdom?”  If he had been in charge of the Inn at Bethlehem, you can bet he would have found some space for Mary, Joseph, and Jesus.  That, my talented niece, ought to give you some food for thought.

Your loving uncle,


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