Monday, August 7, 2017

Novena to St Dominic - Day 9

St Dominic's Charity and Humility

On this the final day of our Novena in honour of St. Dominic and as we are about to celebrate first Vespers of this special solemnity, I would like to focus this reflection on St Dominic as a man of prayer , with particular emphases on his humility and charity.

Jordan of Saxony tells us in the Libellus that the conferences of Cassian figured amongst Dominic’s favourite reading. Cassian tells us that humility, simplicity and charity are the foundations of all prayer. St. Dominic practised all these to a heroic degree.

Take for example humility: when the Bishop of Osma made him a canon regular in his church, we are told that “he was the lowliest of them all in his humility of heart, but he was their leader in holiness.” ( Libellus No. 12) His first and second Ways of Prayer, are based on humility of heart , as in his first Way of Prayer he “ bowed as low as possible before the altar, as though Christ, whom the altar represents  were present there really and personally” and in the second Way of Prayer,     “ throwing himself flat on the ground, face down, where he was moved to sorrow in his heart and reproved himself and on occasion came out so loud that that phrase of the Gospel, ‘ O God, be merciful to me a sinner’,  was heard to come from him”. At his final Chapter in Bologna, he did not want to be re-elected as Master of the Order but to be given the freedom to be an ordinary friar and to go and preach to the pagans in the East. He was neither ambitious nor power hungry but humble, living a simple life as he spent himself entirely in preaching for the salvation of everyone, “haunting the church by day and by night, devoting himself ceaselessly to prayer”.( Libellus 12)

Dominic’s deepest source of inspiration was his profound love of Jesus Christ, a love which overflowed in his charity for others. “He certainly did not lack the greatest form of charity that a person can have, the charity to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. The story goes that when he was urging one of the unbelievers, with loving encouragement, to return to the true faith, the man explained that his association with the unbelievers was prompted by his worldly needs, because the heretics gave him the necessary funds, which he could not obtain in any other way. Dominic was so moved by sympathy that he decided immediately to sell himself and relieve the poverty of this endangered soul with the price of himself. And he really would have done it had not the Lord made other arrangements for meeting the man’s needs.” ( Libellus 35)

Dominic succeeded in reconciling his intense practice of prayer with the new requirements of the apostolate: the preaching mission entrusted to him by the Pope. As Sr. Barbara Beaumont OP states in her book: Keeping Faith with the Preachers, - “Dominic made real the originality of the Order he founded, the apostolic ideal rooted in contemplative prayer. The means to this end were to ensure that prayer in Dominican life must serve as a source for:

1.     Knowledge of self such as one is, and knowledge and love of others as they are.
2.     Conversion to Christ and a personal relationship with him.
3.     Joy in community and labour in the Church at the service of humankind.

Dominican spirituality is simply, in the manner of St. Dominic, to allow oneself to be seized by the mercy of God revealed in the Incarnation and in the Scriptures, to gaze on God with the eyes of the heart, and to gaze equally on people in order that they may be saved.

Through the intercession of St. Dominic and all our Dominican Saints may all of us be given these special graces.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Novena to St Dominic - Day 8

St Dominic, The Transfiguration, & Truth

On this feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord: a feast in which we celebrate the Light that Jesus is;  the Light He radiates on all who believe Him; the Light that He wants to shine on all humanity, even on those who do not yet know Him – it seems appropriate to consider St Dominic and one of the mottoes of the Order – possibly a lesser known one – that is Veritas, or Truth.

The importance of such a motto in the early days of the foundation of the Order of Preachers is unquestionable.  Heresies which denied the goodness of the physical world and the intrinsic goodness and worth of the human person were increasingly popular, and are popular even now.  St Dominic – in seeking to combat these, together with his brethren and the support of the prayers of the nuns whom he had associated with their mission – was seeking to re-present the truth which Christ Himself had taught so long ago; the truth He had entrusted to the Church for all time.  It could be observed that in fact what St Dominic founded the Order for, was ‘nothing new.’  Yet, he must have had an extra-ordinary, single-minded faith and trust in God, to be able to establish his Order at the time he did; and to disperse the brethren in order to preach the Gospel, so soon after having gathered them together.

Today, when we celebrate the mystery of the Transfiguration of the Lord, it is possible to see why St Dominic was so attracted to Jesus.  Dominic, like us, was a pilgrim throughout his life; constantly and tirelessly intent on living according to the truth, and he found it in Jesus, who Himself confessed that He is the Truth … and the Way … and the Life.  Our own searching: our journey towards discovering the meaning and value of our lives and our purpose in life, can only be realised if it is a search for truth: a truth that is unchanging and is not diluted by momentary fashions and opinions.

The feast of the Lord’s Transfiguration is a feast of Light and Life and the wonder that the truth we long for is not an unattainable dream or ideology – but is in fact a person – a Person who is both God and Man: a Person who is Love.  It seems, then, that St Dominic’s vision for the order he established is one that is as timeless, as eternal one might say, as the Person on Whom he constantly fixed his gaze; and with Whom he ceaselessly conversed. 

The Light and the Life: the Love and the Truth that Jesus is, is not mysterious, such that we cannot know it – but it is something which He wants to reveal to all the world, as He revealed Himself to Peter and James and John on the holy mountain.  St Dominic was on fire with the desire to share what he had come to know; and he sets the example for us who follow in his footsteps, to have that same passion for the truth, for the Lord, so that all may know the salvation which was won for us upon the Cross. 

Pope Benedict once observed that: “In ancient times the really terrible thing about prisons was that they cut people off from the light of day and plunged them into darkness.  So, at a deeper level, the real alienation, unfreedom, and imprisonment of man consists in his want of truth.  If he does not know truth, if he does not know who he is, why he is there, and what the reality of this world consists in, he is only stumbling around in the dark.”  Today’s feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord is truly a Dominican feast – it is a celebration of the Light that has been revealed in the world as the Truth, and the Truth is Christ.  So we are set a tremendous challenge – by the Lord and by St Dominic – ever to strive to be heralds and lights of that Truth.  To quote again Pope Benedict:  “The church’s real contribution to liberation, which she can never postpone and which is most urgent today, is to proclaim truth in the world, to affirm that God is, that God knows us, and that God is as Jesus Christ has revealed Him, and that, in Jesus Christ, He has given us the path of life.”

May St Dominic continue to intercede for us that we may be faithful to the wondrous gift we have received, and that we may not keep it to ourselves but proclaim the Truth in all that we do and say and pray.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Novena to St Dominic - Day 7

St Dominic and Prayer

As we continue our Novena to St Dominic, I would like to reflect on St. Dominic’s  Prayer.

So deeply was Dominic moved by the LOVE of Jesus Christ Crucified that he strove in all things to imitate Christ, passing the day in apostolic work and the night in prayer.
Prayer was the breath of St Dominic’s Life and the light on his pilgrim path. He prayed always and He won more souls by his prayer than by preaching or miracles.
Fervent and humble prayer was the sling and stone with which he overthrew the Goliath of Heresy.

St Dominic’s methods of prayer known as “The Nine Ways of Prayer” were various. He made abundant use of gestures, genuflections, prostrations and other postures where his soul in prayer used the different parts (members) of his body to foster its own loving ascent to God.

In his Seventh posture of prayer, St Dominic was often found standing erect stretching his whole body upwards with his hands joined and raised towards heaven, often he would open his hands as though in receipt of something from heaven.  And it is believed that at such times he received an increase of Grace, obtaining from God the gifts of the Holy Spirit for himself and his brethren.

In all labours and disquiets, in hunger, thirst, fatigue, his heart turned always to God.
The Friars would hear him praying aloud reciting Psalm 27: V1-2
By word and example he taught the brethren always to pray like this, using verses from the psalms. (For example the PS 133 VERSE 1-2 ,the  PS 140 VERSE 1-2)
His Prayer drew him upwards to God.   He reached out to the Gift of God towards the promise of his Kingdom.

In today’s Gospel passage St Matthew tells us to be ready to give up all for the sake of the buried treasure or the priceless pearl.  The Gift of knowing God and his Son Jesus is the treasure that outshines all other things, for through God we enter the kingdom of heaven. Even now we participate in the kingdom even though life is full of good and bad.  We can trust that in the end good will prevail and evil will perish. The treasure we will find is eternal life with God.

More than anything the Nine Ways of Prayer of St Dominic points us to the fact that the pursuit of worldly things is futile and that the primary importance for Dominicans and all humankind is to pray for the Grace of Christ that is sufficient for each of us. This is the pearl which is worth everything, the hidden treasure that we should REJOICE over. This Grace will guide our prayer towards things that really matter, towards love of God and acceptance of his will.

And we should never cease making intercession with the GOD OF OUR SALVATION for the precious souls He gives to us, so that all men and women might be saved. This is great service for the kingdom of God.

Father God, Let us pray that St Dominic be the light of Christ to us all and like St Dominic,  that we can strive as God’s COWORKERS in the Reign of his Kingdom. Amen

Friday, August 4, 2017

Novena to St Dominic - Day 6

St Dominic and the Rosary

[Extract from the book: ‘The Life of St Dominic’ by Bede Jarrett OP]

The crucifix, Mass, the Blessed Sacrament, the gospels and epistles, anything that conjured up to him most vividly the personality of our Lord, were to [St Dominic] the easiest means for helping him to pray.

It was for this reason that the devotion of the rosary found in him its keenest apostle. His own way of prayer, consisting … of vocal expression of love and adoration, was intermingled with silences; it passed from speech to contemplation as it fixed itself on to the character of our Lord. All these elements are united in the rosary. It was contemplative and vocal. It comprised the saying of Our Fathers and Hail Marys which were checked and noted by a string of beads, a contrivance, of course, older even than Christianity, and already widespread over Europe before his time. St Dominic did not invent these things, though it would seem that he popularised them. To him, however, a papal tradition points as the originator of the division into decades or groups of ten, separated by larger beads called ‘Paternosters.’ Under the influence of the Order these chaplets, at this date, spread widely over Christendom, and are to be found carven on tombs, and are from St Dominic’s time increasingly alluded to in devotional literature.

But the mere recitation of prayers would be of no use unless these could be accompanied by a consciousness of God’s presence and of that converse with him that alone gives them a value and makes them efficacious. Hence it was necessary to add the idea of some sort of mystery, some act or scene of our Lord’s life, and present it vividly to the imagination so as ultimately to stir the heart to love and worship. … These, therefore, were scenes carefully chosen out of our Lord’s life as pictured in the Gospels or as revealed in tradition, while the lips repeated the most familiar of all prayers, the oldest and simplest of Christian salutations, the mind was supposed thereby to become better able to hold on to the truth of the scene and gather its full significance. The recitation became almost a mechanical aid to reflection, and the thoughts were thereby freer to concentrate, to abstract themselves, to look before and after. The purpose of the rosary was, therefore, to produce the effect that St Dominic had in view in all his prayers, an intense application of the human soul to the divine personality of Christ.

Finally, it is to be noted that the rosary allows for that pause or silence which Dominic considered essential to prayer. … The action of prayer in his view should never be considered as though it were limited to the human agent, as though man alone was the active partner in it. It must include the silent consciousness of the divine Presence. … For this reason, therefore, Dominic added to this simplest of prayers the practice of quiet and silence.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Novena to St Dominic - Day 5

St Dominic's passion for the salvation of All

[Extract from a letter by Damien Byrne OP (Master of the Order 1983-92)]

Dominic’s burning passion for the salvation of all left a powerful impression on those who were his closest associates. The young William of Montferrat tells us that ‘Dominic was filled with a greater zeal for the salvation of all than anyone else I have ever met.’ ‘So we both agreed and even promised each other that when Brother Dominic had organised his Order and I had studied theology for two years, we would go away together and do all that we could to convert the pagans, in Prussia and in other lands of the North.’

Statements such as these are to be found in many of the depositions made at the process of canonization. Jordan of Saxony echoes them in the ‘Libellus’ when he says:
With all his energy and with passionate zeal, [Dominic] set himself to win all the souls he could for Christ. His heart was full of an extraordinary, almost incredible yearning for the salvation of everyone.

Jordan also tells us:
He had a special prayer that God would grant him true charity, which would be effective in caring for and winning the salvation of all; he thought he would only really be a member of Christ’s Body when he would spend himself utterly with all his strength in the winning of souls.

Dominic never achieved his ambition to be a missionary to the non-Christian world but he directed the Order to this path. At the Chapter of 1221 it was decided to send bands of Dominicans to three different territories beyond the frontiers of Christendom. Those who were sent with Paul of Hungary asked to go to the Cumans, thus fulfilling Dominic’s ambition. It was the Chapter that made these decisions but the inspiration came from Dominic.

And so, we pray that Our Father Dominic will obtain for us an increase in that true charity and zeal for souls which he had. 

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Novena to St Dominic - Day 4

St Dominic and St Francis

[Extract from the book, “Saint Dominic: the grace of the Word” by Guy Bedouelle O.P.]

At almost the same time that Dominic, in the Church of Our Lady of Prouille at the foot of the Pyrenees, laid the foundations of his Order, Francis was preparing his at the Church of Our Lady of the Angels, at the foot of the Apennines. An ancient sanctuary of the Blessed Virgin Mother of God was for each the humble and sweet cornerstone of their edifice. Dominic cherished Our Lady of Prouille above all other places; Francis reserved for the small plot of land sheltering Our Lady of the Angels a special affection, within the immensity of a heart detached from all visible things. Each began his public life with a pilgrimage to Rome; each returned there to beg the sovereign pontiff’s approbation for his Order. Innocent III at first rebuffed them both, and the same vision persuaded him to grant them both a verbal and provisional approbation. Dominic, like Francis, included within the austere flexibility of his Rule men and women religious and laymen, making of three Orders a single power to fight for Jesus Christ with all the weapons of nature and grace; only Dominic began with women, Francis with men. The same sovereign Pontiff, Honorius III, confirmed their institutions by apostolic bulls; Gregory IX canonized them both. Finally, the two greatest doctors of all centuries have done honour to their memories, St. Thomas for St. Dominic, St. Bonaventure for St. Francis.

Yet these two men, whose destinies created such admirable harmonies for both worlds, heaven and earth, never knew each other. Both were in Rome during the Lent when the Fourth Lateran Council met, yet it seems that neither had ever so much as heard the other’s name. One night Dominic, at prayer according to his custom, beheld Jesus Christ looking upon the world in wrath and his Mother presenting two men to him to appease him. He recognised himself as one of them but did not know who the other was. Fixing his gaze on him he tried to memorize his features. The next day in some church – no one knows which – he saw, clothed in the habit of a mendicant, the figure revealed to him the night before. Running up to this poor man he embraced him with holy affection and said: “You are my companion, you will go with me, let us stay together and nothing shall be able to prevail against us.” The embrace of Francis and Dominic has often been presented and stylized to illustrate the theme of ‘holy friendship.’

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Novena to St Dominic - Day 3

St Dominic & Moses

In his Libellus, Blessed Jordan tells us that “everywhere Dominic showed himself to be a man of the Gospel in word and in deed” – a man who brought good news and indeed like Christ, his Divine Exemplar, embodied in his own person the good news of the Gospel.

No doubt Dominic’s apostolic zeal sprang from his deep interior relationship with God - we are told that he spent long hours, often the entire night, in prayer and always spoke only “to God or of God”. While reflecting on this aspect of Dominic’s life, the first reading at this morning’s Mass caught my attention.  There, we see Moses being enveloped in the cloud, symbol of God’s mysterious Presence and speaking to Him “face to face as a man speaks to his friend.” But this intimate relationship was not solely for the benefit of Moses himself – rather God wanted to use Moses for the work of leading his people from slavery to freedom. God reveals Himself as a “God of tenderness and compassion, slow to anger, rich in kindness and faithfulness, forgiving faults, yet letting nothing go unchecked.”  So Moses has the courage to invite God to accompany them on their journey, to forgive them their faults and sins and adopt them as His own heritage although he admits that “they are a headstrong people.”

When we examine Blessed Jordan’s description of Dominic’s character we find similar traits as those of Moses which I have just mentioned.  As a young man he developed a passionate appetite for God’s word- we get the picture of him imbibing Sacred Scripture with eager longing and storing it in the deepest recesses of his mind but like Moses this pursuit of wisdom and intimate relationship with God was never a purely private affair or solely for his own personal advantage but his love of piety fertilised what he learned, so that it brought forth fruit in the form of saving works – we know that he communicated the tenderness and compassion of God, which he imbibed in prayer, to all and sundry alike.  We are told that in loving all he was beloved by all.
Dominic’s memory was a kind of “barn” for God to fill while his external behaviour and actions publicly broadcast the treasure that lay hidden in his holy breast.  He warmly accepted the Lord’s commandments and his will welcomed the voice of his Lover with loyalty and pleasure – in his contemplation he was able to penetrate the mystery and then communicate it to others through his preaching and his actions.

Dominic’s promise of being more helpful after his death than during his life ought to fill us with confidence - we can rely on his intercession to obtain for us the grace of always following in his footsteps – so that, through our life of prayer and sacrifice we may allow the seed which is the Word of God to grow in our heart by the power of the Holy Spirit and in so receiving it may we be interiorly renewed and more closely conformed to Christ so that we can truly be nuns of the Order of Preachers.