Saint Dominic is the Holy Founder of the Order of Preachers (the “Dominican” Order) that serves the parish community of St. Vincent Ferrer and St. Catherine of Siena on New York City’s Upper East Side and offers particular service to the health care community in that area and beyond through Dominican Friars Health Care Ministry of New York. Saint Dominic founded the Order 800 years ago for the purpose of preaching for the salvation of souls, which remains the mission of the Order to this day. Preaching for the salvation of souls was Saint Dominic’s specific purpose. However, a major part of his preaching and that of his followers has to do with the salvation of bodies.
Saint Dominic preached against the Albigensian heresy, which denied that human bodies are created by the one true God, that Jesus had a true human body, and that human bodies will be resurrected and share in the life of the world to come. Opposing this heresy, Saint Dominic proclaimed that the human body is the good creation of the good God, is redeemed by the bodily sacrifice of Jesus Christ, and will share in the eternal salvation of God’s holy ones in heaven.
For eight centuries Saint Dominic’s preaching has continued in the order he founded. Dominicans have always proclaimed God’s saving purpose for the entirety of the human being, both soul and body. Saint Thomas Aquinas, Dominican friar and Doctor of the Church, taught the Church to understand the integral connection of soul and body. Saint Thomas shows us that, while our souls, being spiritual, continue to live when they are separated from our bodies at death, the life of a “separated soul” is incomplete until it is reunited with the body at the resurrection on the last day. Once again, God’s salvation is about the whole person, soul and body together.
In the spirit of Saint Dominic, health care ministry is properly ordered to the salvation of the whole person: soul and body. Those of us who minister on behalf of the Church have as our primary purpose the purpose of Saint Dominic and his Order of Preachers, namely, the salvation of souls. We are to serve as a reminder to the health care community – patients, families, professional caregivers – that healing is not just about the body and salvation is not only about this life. We preach this message most especially to the sick and the dying. We do this by visiting the sick and administering the sacraments to them: hearing their confessions in the sacrament of Reconciliation, administering the Anointing of the Sick, and offering Holy Communion. We also preach Christ’s saving message by listening to the sick and their families share their fears and pour out their grief, and by assuring them gently and compassionately of the truth of God’s love and our hope in the fullness of the salvation that God has secured for us in Christ.
For the seriously ill and the dying, the question of eternal salvation is especially practical. They are confronted with the reality of death, that moment when they will make a definitive offering of their life to God. To them and their families, preaching for the salvation of souls becomes something very concrete. By proclaiming the saving hope of the resurrection and administering the sacraments of Christ’s healing and sanctifying grace, we strive to be God’s instruments for the salvation of the souls for whom the decisive encounter with God is imminent.
The Church’s ministers of health care also fulfill the purpose of Saint Dominic by preaching the saving truth that God reveals to us in Christ. The truth about human flourishing and how we can cooperate in God’s saving plan for us is continually being challenged as technological advances in health care pose new questions about what is and is not consistent with God’s saving purpose. In the spirit of Saint Dominic, those of us who minister in the rapidly changing world of health care are called upon to answer the challenging questions of our day with the clarity of gospel truth.
Finally, while we who are the Church’s ministers rightly remind the entire health care community to be concerned with the soul as well as the body, we ourselves must show concern for the body as well as the soul. As Saint Dominic and his Order of Preachers has continually proclaimed, salvation is about the whole person. So while we labor for the salvation of souls, our ministry is also ordered to the salvation of bodies. In prayer, we call upon God, who is the source of all healing in this life and in the life to come. We beseech the Lord for healing both bodily and spiritual. We can also serve as God’s instruments for healing, most especially through administering the sacraments of God’s Church through which the Lord’s healing grace is unfailingly bestowed. Moreover, we seek to assist the professional healers among us by providing spiritual and ethical formation, enabling supportive communities, and proclaiming the truth about the goodness and salvific purpose of the healing vocation. The vocation, that is, to work in the spirit of Saint Dominic for the salvation of the whole person: both body and soul.