Saturday, August 8, 2009

God's Dog

"It seems peculiar that in the case of Saint Dominic—a man who became world-famous for his words from the pulpit and his teaching—no written word of his own survives except for two purely formal letters and one letter of exhortation to the Dominican nuns in Madrid. From dozens of other sources, however, information about Dominic is copious, to the point that we can actually ascertain almost his exact location on almost any given day of his adult life." (Fr. John Julian, OJN, Stars in a Dark World)

There is a legend that before the birth of Domingo de Guzmán (or de Osma), between 1173 and 1175, his mother dreamed that a dog leapt from her womb carrying a torch in its mouth, and "seemed to set the earth on fire." In all likelihood this story was perpetuated after St. Dominic initiated his Order of Preachers, also known as "Dominicans" (Latin: "Dominicanes", "Domini" + "canes" = "the Lord's hounds/dogs").

Who of us from the 1960's era could forget the popular Belgian song,"Dominique", sung in French by guitar-strumming "Soeur Sourire" ("Sister Smile") -- in real life a Dominican nun, Sister Luc-Gabrielle -- also known as "The Singing Nun". It literally took the nations of Belgium, France and the United States by storm! Noel Regney wrote the English version of this simple ditty about Dominic, Spanish-born priest and founder of a rapidly growing order of friars and nuns. The song reached and stayed at #1 on both the U.S. pop chart and "easy listening chart" for four weeks in December, 1963. It was the second foreign language song to hit #1 during 1963, the other being "Sukiyaki" by Kyu Sakamoto. To this day "Dominique" is still the only Belgian number one hit single in the American Billboard charts.

Dominique" is remembered chiefly for its refrain, and for its frequent repetition after each verse:

"Dominique -nique -nique s'en allait tout simplement,
Routier, pauvre et chantant.
En tous chemins, en tous lieux,
Il ne parle que du Bon Dieu,
Il ne parle que du Bon Dieu

Dominic, nic, nic, over the land he plods
And sings a little song
Never asking for reward
He just talks about the Lord
He just talks about the Lord

The song goes on to recount a few of Dominic's exploits as he travelled in southern France, trying to refute the Cathar and Albigensian heresies which threatened the Catholic faith. A miracle attributed to Dominic is related and the song ends with a simple prayer to St. Dominic:

"At a time when Johnny Lackland
Over England was the King
Dominic was in the backland
Fighting sin like anything

Now a heretic, one day,
Among the thorns forced him to crawl
Dominique with just one prayer
Made him hear the good Lord's call

Without horse or fancy wagon
He crossed Europe up and down
Poverty was his companion
As he walked from town to town

To bring back the straying liars
And the lost sheep to the fold
He brought forth the Preaching Friars
Heaven's soldiers, brave and bold

One day, in the budding Order
There was nothing left to eat
Suddenly two angels walked in
With a loaf of bread and meat

Dominic once, in his slumber,
Saw the Virgin's coat unfurled
Over Friars without number
Preaching all around the world

Grant us now, oh Dominic,
The grace of love and simple mirth
That we all may help to quicken
Godly life and truth on earth

The popularity of "Dominique" endured well beyond the 1960's, in a surprising number of forms. It was used in the 1990 film Mermaids, starring Cher. The Cuban artist La Lupe, and the Mexican artist Angelica Maria recorded Spanish language versions of the song. The Brazilian singer Giane recorded a Brazilian Portuguese version. Even Spike Jones recorded a version in which he first gave it a jazz-like interpretation, with trumpet and banjo, then melded it with "When the Saints Go Marching In", giving the song an entirely different sound. Sandler and Young revived the song in late 1966, a version which appeared on the Billboard easy listening chart. The performance was a medley including other religious-themed songs including "Deep River" and "Nobody Knows The Trouble I've Seen". The song was referenced in The Simpsons episode "Bart's Friend Falls in Love" (1992), where Milhouse van Houten visits his girlfriend in an all-girls convent school. A nun playing guitar and singing "Dominique" passes along, followed by several equally happy little girls. The musician Poe used a sample of the song in her album Haunted, on the track "House of Leaves". Debbie Reynolds starred in The Singing Nun movie which has an English version of this song. Finally, in 2009, the song was used in the third series premiere of British teen drama Skins.

I suspect that St. Dominic might have been quite pleased at the enduring influence of this song in his honor! The simplicity of the message of "Dominique" has obviously struck a chord in the hearts of many folks over the past almost 50 years. Today's Collect for the feast of St. Dominic speaks of his perception of "a famine of hearing the word of the Lord", moving him and his companions "to satisfy that hunger with sound preaching and fervent devotion..." It implores the "God of the prophets" to "make your this and every age, attentive to the hungers of the world, and quick to respond in love" to those craving for that true love found only in the Word which inspired Dominic's life: Jesus Himself, the Word of God.

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