On the Prayer of St. Dominic
“The day he dedicated to his neighbor, but the night he gave to God”
CASTEL GANDOLFO, Italy, AUG. 8, 2012 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of the Italian-language catechesis Benedict XVI gave today during the general audience held at Castel Gandolfo. This morning the Holy Father reflected on the prayer of St. Dominic.
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Dear brothers and sisters!
Today the Church celebrates the memorial of St. Dominic de Guzmán, priest and founder of the Order of Preachers, also known as the Dominicans. In a previous catechesis, I presented this illustrious figure and the fundamental contribution he made to the renewal of the Church of his time. Today I wish to highlight an essential aspect of his spirituality: his life of prayer. St. Dominic was a man of prayer. In love with God, he had no other aspiration than the salvation of souls, especially those who had fallen into the snares of the heresies of his day. An imitator of Christ, he radically embodied the three evangelical counsels, uniting to the proclamation of the Word a witness of a life of poverty. Under the Holy Spirit’s guidance, he advanced along the way of Christian perfection. At each moment, prayer was the force that renewed and rendered his apostolic works increasingly fruitful.
Blessed Jordan of Saxony (who died in 1237), his successor as head of the Order, writes: “During the day, no one showed himself more sociable than he … Conversely, by night, there was none more assiduous than he in keeping watch in prayer. The day he dedicated to his neighbor, but the night he gave to God” (P. Filippini, San Domenico visto dai suoi contemporanei, Bologna 1982, pg. 133). In St. Dominic we can see an example of the harmonious integration between contemplation of the divine mysteries and apostolic activity. According to the testimonies of the persons closest to him, “he always spoke with God or of God.” This observation points to his deep communion with the Lord and, at the same time, to his constant commitment to leading others to this communion with God.
He left behind no writings on prayer, but the Dominican tradition has collected and handed on his living experience in a work titled: The Nine Ways of Prayer of St. Dominic. This book was composed between the year 1260 and 1288 by a Dominican friar. It helps us to understand something of the saint’s interior life, and it also helps us, as different as we are, to learn something about how to pray.
According to St. Dominic, then, there are nine ways of prayer, and each of these — which he always carried out in the presence of Jesus Crucified — express a bodily and a spiritual attitude that, intimately interpenetrating, favors recollection and fervor. The first seven ways follow an ascending line, as steps on a journey toward communion with God, with the Trinity: St. Dominic prays standing, bowed down to express humility; prostrate on the ground to ask pardon for his sins; kneeling in penance to participate in the sufferings of the Lord; with arms outstretched gazing at the crucifix to contemplate Supreme Love, his gaze turned toward heaven, feeling drawn to the world of God. Thus, there are three forms: standing, kneeling, and lying prostrate on the ground — but always with one’s gaze turned to the Crucified Lord.
The two final ways, which I would like briefly to consider, correspond to two forms of piety the saint normally practiced. First, there was personal meditation, where prayer acquires a still more intimate, fervent and comforting dimension. At the end of the recitation of the Liturgy of the Hours, and following the celebration of the Mass, St. Dominic prolonged his colloquy with God, without placing any limits on time. Seated quietly, he would recollect himself in an attitude of listening, reading a book or gazing upon the Crucifix. He lived these moments in his relationship with God so intensely that even outwardly his reactions of joy and tears could be perceived. Thus, through meditation, he assimilated the realities of the faith. Witnesses recount that at times he entered into a kind of ecstasy, his face transfigured; but immediately afterward, he would humbly resume his daily activities, recharged by the power that came to him from above.
Then, there was his prayer during journeys between one friary and another; he recited Lauds, the Midday hour and Vespers with his companions, and as he crossed valleys and hills he contemplated the beauty of creation. From his heart there flowed a hymn of praise and thanksgiving to God for so many gifts, especially for the greatest wonder: the redemption wrought by Christ.
Dear friends, St. Dominic reminds us that prayer, that personal contact with God, is at the heart and origin of the witness of faith that every Christian must give within family life, at work, in social commitments, and even in times of relaxation. Only this real relationship with God gives us the strength to live each event intensely, especially the most painful moments. This saint also reminds us of the importance of exterior attitudes in our prayer: kneeling, standing before the Lord, fixing one’s gaze on the Crucified, pausing to recollect oneself in silence are not secondary; rather, they help us to place ourselves interiorly, with the whole of our person, in relation to God. I would like to recall once again the need in our spiritual lives to find quiet moments for prayer each day, to have a little time to speak with God. We should take this time especially during the summer holidays, and make a little time to speak with God. It will also be a way of helping those around us to enter into the luminous rays of the presence of God, who brings the peace and love that we all need. Thank you.