Monday, July 12, 2010

Pope Benedict's Homily During Recent Visit to Dominican Cloister

"You Were Consecrated to Jesus, to Belong to Him Exclusively"

The following is the homily of Pope Benedict XVI during his visit to the Dominican cloistered nuns of Santa Maria del Rosario in Rome's Monte Mario district. He lightlights the values and importance of our contemplative life. (

Dear Sisters,

I address to each one of you the words of Psalm 124 (125), which we just prayed: "Do good, O Lord, to those who are good, and to those who are upright in their hearts!" (v. 4). I greet you above all with this wish: the goodness of the Lord be upon you. In particular, I greet your Mother Prioress and thank her from my heart for the kind expressions she addressed to me in the name of the community. With great joy I accepted the invitation to visit this convent, to be able to pause with you at the feet of the image of St. Sixtus' acheropita Virgin, now protector of the Roman convents of St. Mary in Tempulo and of St. Sixtus.

Together we have prayed the midday prayer, a small part of this Liturgical Prayer that, as cloistered, marks the rhythm of your days and makes you interpreters of the Church-Bride which unites her, in a special way, with her Lord. With this choral prayer, which finds its culmination in the daily participation in the Eucharistic Sacrifice, your consecration to the Lord in silence and seclusion becomes fecund and full of fruits, not only for the path of sanctification and purification, but also for the apostolate of intercession that you carry out for the whole Church, so that it can appear pure and holy in the presence of the Lord. You, who know well the efficacy of prayer, experience every day the many graces of holiness it can obtain in the Church.

Dear Sisters, the community you make up is a place where you can dwell in the Lord; it is for you the New Jerusalem, to which the tribes of the Lord go up to praise the name of the Lord (cf. Psalm121:4). Be grateful to Divine Providence for the sublime and gratuitous gift of the monastic vocation, to which the Lord has called you without any merit of yours. With Isaiah, you can affirm "the Lord formed me from the womb" (Isaiah 49:5). Even before you were born, the Lord had kept your heart for himself to be able to fill it with his love. Through the sacrament of baptism you received Divine grace in yourselves, immersed in his Death and Resurrection, you were consecrated to Jesus, to belong to him exclusively. The way of contemplative life, which you received from St. Dominic in the form of cloister, places you, as living and vital members, in the heart of the Lord's Mystical Body, which is the Church; and as the heart makes the blood circulate and maintains the whole body alive, so your hidden existence with Christ, interlaced with work and prayer, contributes to sustain the Church, instrument of salvation for every man whom the Lord redeemed with his blood.

It is this inexhaustible source that you approach with prayer, presenting in the presence of the Most High the spiritual and material needs of so many brothers in difficulty, the strayed life of all those who separate themselves from the Lord. How can one not be moved by compassion for those who seem to wander aimlessly? How can one not wish that in their life they will encounter Jesus, the only one who gives meaning to existence? The holy desire that the Kingdom of God be established in the heart of every man, is identified with prayer itself, as St. Augustine teaches us: because of this, as fire that burns and is never extinguished, the heart remains alert, it never ceases to desire and it always raises a hymn of praise to God.

Recognize because of this, Dear Sisters, that in everything you do, beyond the personal moments of prayer, your heart continues to be led by the desire to love God. With the Bishop of Hippo, acknowledge that the Lord has put his love in your hearts, desire that dilates the heart, until it makes it capable of receiving God himself (cf. In. O. Ev. tr. 40, 10). This is the horizon of the earthly pilgrimage! This is your goal! This is why you have chosen to live in obscurity and in the renunciation of earthly goods: to desire above all that good which has no equal, that precious pearl that merits the renunciation of any other good to enter into its possession.

May you be able to pronounce every day your "yes" to God's designs, with the same humility with which the Holy Virgin said her "yes." May she, who in silence received the Word of God, guide you in your daily virginal consecration, so that you will be able to experience in obscurity the profound intimacy she lived with Jesus. Invoking her maternal protection, together with that of St. Dominic, St. Catherine of Siena and of the many men and women saints of the Dominican Order, I impart to you all a special Apostolic blessing, which I willingly extend to the persons who entrust themselves to your prayers.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Our Preaching Story - Nuns of the Order of Preachers

The following is a presentation by one of our sisters at a recent Dominican Family Day

Our preaching story both differs from, and incorporates the preaching stories of the other branches of the Order. “As the friars, sisters and laity are called to preach the name of our Lord Jesus Christ throughout the world; the nuns are to seek, ponder and call upon Jesus in solitude so that the word – (the saving- word, the grace-filled word) proceeding from the mouth of God (and preached by you our brothers and sisters)may not return to him empty, but may accomplish those things for which it was sent.” (Is 55:10)

Our Constitutions tell us that St. Dominic in founding the Nuns wanted us “to be free for God alone” and he associated us with his “holy preaching” specifically through our prayer and penance. They also tell us that we are ‘commissioned by God primarily for prayer'. The Constitutions of the Friars, LCO 142, states that “St. Dominic intended the nuns of the Order to dedicate themselves wholly, in the contemplative religious life, to that communion with God, which nourishes the apostolic life of the brothers and of the other branches of the Dominican Family, the nuns providing a witness of prayer, silence and penance.” Three weeks ago on the 31st May 2010, Sr. Niamh made solemn profession and I would like to quote a little part of this ceremony as it is very beautiful and emphasises our place in the preaching mission of the Order:

By this solemn profession you have given yourself to God and to His will: God Himself, therefore, has consecrated you to Himself through the ministry of the Church, to be associated, through a life of prayer and penance, with the ‘holy preaching’ of St. Dominic, so that you may be His own heritage and that He may be your heritage forever.

And the prayer with the blessing of the veil reads;

Lord, bless this veil which Sr. Niamh Muireann wears for love of you and your blessed Mother Mary, ever Virgin, as a sign of her consecration to you. Through your help and protection may she always preserve the purity of heart it mystically signifies. In wearing it may she be recognised as a house of prayer and a temple of intercession for all people. Clothe with your grace her entire being, so that she may love you with all her heart. May she always live in this love and be introduced one day to the joy of your kingdom, through Christ our Lord.

‘A house of prayer and a temple of intercession for all people.’ Prayer really is our life and is always intimately and essentially connected with love - God’s love for us and our response in love - however fragile that response may be. “In the midst of the Church our growth in love, is mysteriously fruitful for the whole people of God,” - which means that our vocation in not for ourselves alone but transcends the limits of the monastery and is of benefit to the Order, the Church and the whole world.

Due to limited time I will focus only on personal prayer.

Prayer is a gift of God that we receive. It is fundamentally not what we do but what God does in us, how God loves us, addresses us, looks at us, enlightens us, forgives us, heals us, purifies us and eventually transforms us – if we let Him! We are on the receiving end. In prayer God gives us Himself in love and God’s love is total and unconditional:

‘I have loved you with an everlasting love and so I am constant in my affection for you’(Jer 31:3)

‘You are precious in my eyes and I love you’ ( Is. 43:4)

Words cannot express the Reality of God or the lived experience of praying - of communing with God in the silence of our hearts. God will always remain the great Mystery, Awesome, Transcendent, and Incomprehensible – beyond words, ideas and images. Yet, thankfully we have Jesus, the revelation of the Father and through baptism it is in him that we ‘live and move and have our being’(Acts 17:28). Union with God is not something we have to acquire; God is already the ground of our being. ‘God is your being and what you are you are in God’ – as the author of the Book of Privy Counselling assures us. It is more a question of realising this in our lives and living out of the truth of this realisation.

For many years now I have been very taken with, and influenced by Ruth Burrow’s understanding of prayer and the mystical life. (she is a contemplative Carmelite nun and writer) In her book, Essence of Prayer, she says:

‘The mystical life is the human person becoming more and more receptive to the inflowing of divine love, which as it enters, of necessity, purifies and transforms.’
– but the mystical life is not basically other than the Christian life, says our own Fr. Marie-Dominque Chenu OP.

In prayer, this emphasis on our participation through ‘ receiving’ leads to my own conviction that it is at the time of personal prayer when, as the psalmist instructs, we must try to:
‘ Be still and know that I am God’

when our bodies become still and our minds become silent, through whatever means is helpful to us, -that God can achieve in us the greatest purification and transformation that is so necessary through the inflowing of divine love – as I quoted earlier ’the human person becoming more and more receptive to the inflowing of divine love which, as it enters, of necessity purifies and transforms’. In allowing ourselves just to ‘be’ there for God, - not doing anything, not ‘saying’ prayers or making petitions (good as this is but not at this particular time) – just being silently aware of God’s presence and allowing Him to heal us and love us - receiving this love passively and surrendering our whole being to this powerful, silent, hidden, secret action of God - this type of prayer, I firmly believe, is of vital importance in all our lives. Fidelity to it and persevering in it is, as contemplatives, our greatest contribution to the preaching mission of the Order, the Church and the world.

True prayer means wanting God not self. Our own documents on the Contemplative Life affirms this when it says:
“withdrawal from the world for the sake of leading a more intense life of prayer in solitude is nothing other than a very particular way of living and expressing the paschal mystery of Christ, which is death ordained towards resurrection”(Venite Seorsum 1)

The more we pray, the more time and commitment we give to being with God, the more we are purified within and this inevitably is painful. Direct contact with divine love is deeply disturbing. The love of God, all self-giving, confronts our terrified self-protecting, would-be self-reliant, autonomous self and this produces deep pain. Accepting and surrendering to this pain, this process of purification, by staying with God in prayer, is a tremendous challenge and a great grace. It would be all too easy to avoid this painful encounter by distracting ourselves by doing things, becoming involved in projects that are good in themselves, multiplying contacts, etc but to do that in our life, to avoid this stark encounter with God during this particular time of prayer, would be a form of escape, - that is how I see it.

Meister Eckhart encourages us :
‘Do not waver from your emptiness’

Yes, prayer requires great poverty of spirit. It is helpful to remember that prayer takes place at the deepest level of our person and escapes direct knowledge and indeed is beyond our understanding; therefore we can make no judgement about it. Where it takes place, in our deepest self is God’s holy domain and we have to trust it utterly to Him. This is one of the principal ways in which we surrender control.

We must be ready to believe that ‘nothingness’ is the presence of divine Reality; emptiness is a holy void that Divine Love is filling. We must give up wanting assurances either from within or without. The inflowing of God into our secret depths of its very nature must remain secret as John of the Cross tirelessly insists: ‘…. it happens secretly in darkness, hidden from the faculties….so hidden that the soul cannot speak of it.’ But its effect on our life as a whole will be marked – chiefly by growth in love and selflessness.

On this subject of love Fr Anselm Moynihan OP has written;

‘The contemplative life is truly par excellence the vocation of love, that which gives the highest expression to our love for God and at the same time provides the greatest stimulus to the increase of that love. That is why it is so vital to the Church, for it nourishes the very heart of the Church, the life-spring of all its work of bearing witness to God’s glory and the saving of souls.’

In nourishing the heart of the Church it nourishes the preaching heart of the Order and indeed the heart of the world. In Pope Benedict’s Pastoral letter to the Catholics of Ireland (no. 14) he asks that monasteries organise periods of Eucharistic Adoration so that:
“through intense prayer before the Real Presence of the Lord, you can make reparation for the sins of abuse that have done so much harm, at the same time imploring the grace of renewed strength and a deeper sense of mission on the part of all bishops, priests, religious and lay faithful. I am confident that this programme will lead to a rebirth of the Church in Ireland in the fullness of God’s own truth, for it is the truth that sets us free.”

In response to this request by Pope Benedict, we have one hour each Friday, 4:45pm – 5:45pm of silent Eucharistic Adoration for this intention, when all the community are present and as many of the faithful as possible. The invitation is open to all.

I would just like to finish with a quote from letter IV of Blessed Jordan to Blessed Diana, which helps to explain how our preaching stories complement one another: Jordan writes to Diana:

“What you achieve in your stillness, I achieve by moving from place to place: all this we do for love of Him. He is our sole end.”

Indeed no matter what branch of the Order we belong to, we, like St. Dominic, whose deepest source of inspiration was his love of Jesus Christ, do all for love of Him. Love of Jesus is the source and goal of our lives.