November 29, 2010

St. Dominic and Standing in Prayer

One reader who has been following these posts on St. Dominic's Nine Ways of Prayer raised an important concern about the habitual nature of bodily posture in prayer.  It is true that this kind of prayer inclines toward the habitual - as it should.  We have all kinds of bad bodily habits - the habit of prayer for the body has something to commend itself in this regard.  The problem is when our bodily gestures become mindless and empty.  A mindless sign of the cross or genuflection when we walk into Church does not help our faith or build up the body of Christ or give glory to God.  But this also happens with our words as well.  The problem is not with the gestures or the words, but with the lack of heart, the lack of attention to the Lord.  The only safeguard is a deeper devotion to Jesus Christ, a devotion that grows as our loving knowledge of Him increases.  This is why contemplation is a key to the Nine Ways - beholding the Lord in faith keeps that devotion alive that makes our bodily movements in prayer a true act of worship.

Standing in deep contemplation is one of the ways St. Dominic battled the human tendency to be mindless in prayer.   It was a posture of deep engagement with the Word of God.  It is not that he would actually have a Bible in hand.  Instead, he held his hands as if a Bible were there and would recite to himself from memory passages of the Holy Scriptures.  He was fully engaging the texts that he knew by heart.  It was an intense conversation with God.  It is this kind of conversation that saves our gestures, our posture, from being meaningless.  Such conversation is profoundly open to contemplation - a listening with our spiritual ears, a seeing with the eyes of the heart.  It is also the posture of someone ready to act on what he has heard.

Today in our liturgy, at Mass, when the Gospel is read, we stand.  Standing carries the idea of "taking a stand."  We stand at the proclamation of the Gospel because when the Gospel is read in the Liturgy, Christ is present to us in a powerful way, teaching us here and now in mystery just as He taught his disciples in history.  Standing is our total response to his teaching, and to his person.  We stand in solidarity with Him.  We stand to honor Him.   On his words, we stake our lives, our honor, all that is of any value to us in this life.  We also stand to listen to Him. We stand taking up our Cross to follow him.  This too his how Dominic stood - in his holy conversation with the One whom he loved and who loved Him even more.