Tuesday, August 14, 2012

St. Dominic Teaches Us How To Pray

Are we an angel on Sunday and
a devil the rest of the week?
Many, if not most, in today's world compartmentalize their lives.  They have their business lives, their family lives and their "spiritual" lives (At least some people have a spiritual life.  Far too many completely neglect this aspect of their lives).  They pray on Sunday (or at least a small percentage do) and then work and/or play the rest of the week.  They feel free to take part in almost any activity they want, never thinking of whether it is "right" or "wrong" in the sight of God because their spiritual lives, if such even exists, are completely disengaged from their every day lives.

This is a very dangerous way to live our lives because everything around us, including our very lives, is temporary.  Everything that we can see, touch, taste, smell and hear is going to fade away, and all we will have left is the spiritual  If our entire lives have been consumed with the physical and material, we will fade away right along with it.  Matthew 6:19-24 tells us:
19 Lay not up for yourselves treasures on earth: where the rust, and the moth consume, and where thieves dig through, and steal.
20 But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven: where neither the rust nor the moth doth consume, and where thieves do not dig through, nor steal.
21 For where thy treasure is, there is thy heart also.

22 The light of thy body is thy eye. If thy eye be simple, thy whole body shall be lightsome.
23 But if thy eye be evil, thy whole body shall be darksome. If, therefore, the light that is in thee be darkness, how great will the darkness itself be?
24 No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other: or he will sustain the one, and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon. 

Christ further warns in the the next chapter, Matthew 7:
21 Not every one that saith to me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven: but he that doth the will of my Father, who is in heaven, he shall enter into the kingdom of heaven.

22 Many will say to me in that day: Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name, and cast out devils in thy name, and done many wonderful works in thy name?

23 And then will I profess unto them: I never knew you: depart from me, you that work iniquity.

24 Every one, therefore, that heareth these my words, and doth them, shall be likened to a wise man, who built his house upon a rock.

25 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and they beat upon that house, and it fell not, for it was founded upon a rock.

26 And every one that heareth these my words, and doth them not, shall be like a foolish man, who built his house upon the sand.

27 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and they beat upon that house, and it fell, and great was the fall thereof.
How do we separate ourselves from this world so that we do not perish with it? It is only through prayer, through communion with God. The devil is actively pursuing you, and unless you are actively and constantly resisting him, you will fall prey to his trap. Our strongest weapon in the fight against the devil is prayer, unceasing communion with God. As St. Paul tells us in I Thessalonians 5:17, Pray Without Ceasing. The question is, how do we do that?

Pope Benedict XVI recently gave a wonderful talk on this very subject.  I have frequently posted the weekly talks by Pope Benedict XVI because I have found them so very helpful and inspirational.  He has been focusing heavily on prayer in his talks as can be seen here, here and here.  The Holy Father has also included several talks on silence, which is intimately linked to prayer as can be seen here and here.  He continues this theme from his summer vacation home in Castel Gandolfo in a talk he gave on August 8.  This was the feast day of St. Dominic, the founder of the Dominicans.  The Holy Father emphasized the importance of prayer in St. Dominic's life and how he incorporated it into everything he did, leaving us a strong example of how we should live our lives.

Here is the English translation of the transcript from his talk:
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.

* * *

Dear brothers and sisters!

St. Dominic
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.
St. Dominic, to whom the Blessed Mother
gave the Rosary to fight heresy
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 [click on the link if you wish to read about this]. 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.

St. Dominic in prayer
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.

Illustrations from The Nine Ways of Prayer from St. Dominic

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. [To separate God from one part of our lives is to be separate from Him in every aspect of our lives.  A relationship with God is an all or nothing proposition.] 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.
St. Dominic was one of the greatest saints of the Catholic Church.   But as with all other great saints, this did not just happen.  He completely gave his life to God.  Every moment was somehow in communion with the Lord, either talking about Him, meditating, reading and of great importance, praying.  He was so united with the Lord that everything he said and did flowed out of that relationship.  That is what it means to be a saint, and that should be the goal for each and every one of us.  "With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible."  (Matthew 19:26). 

Prayer - intimate communion with the Great Almighty God - is the most powerful spiritual weapon God has given us.  Let us not neglect it, as our Holy Father has exhorted us over and over. 

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