January 13, 2011

St. Dominic and Praying Cruciform

The ancient Dominicans describe seeing their founder standing upright, with his hands and arms completely stretched out, extended like a cross.  This cruciform posture of prayer was not uncommon among the saints.  There are similar descriptions of St. Francis of Assisi and St. Francis Xavier at prayer.  It seems to be a posture of intercession which imitates the prayer of Christ on the Cross.  The psalms describe holding one's hands outstretched in intercession and connect this gesture with the soul's thirst for God (Psalm 143:6).  Elijah also prayed in this way and worked great miracles (1 Kings 17:21).  In Dominic's case, this form of prayer was reserved for special occasions, those moments when he was particularly prompted by the Holy Spirit to reverently ask for a great miracle, like restoring someone back to life.

There are times in our lives when we feel moved to pray for a miracle.  Sometimes, miracles happen.  When such prayers are granted, a profound joy and awe comes over everyone involved.  It is as if our thirst for God, to be reassured that He is at work among us, matches his thirst for us, his desire that we have confidence in Him.

We tend to think of miracles as events that go against the natural flow of things.  But these Divine works are actually special manifestations of God's loving power, the One by whose hand the whole world is held together.  Because this power is hidden, we have a tendency to doubt it, especially in the face of great evil.  That is why one of the hardest things to profess in the Creed is the very first article, that God is almighty.   It is because the Lord knows how we struggle to hope in the face of calamity that He will sometimes allow a little glimpse that He is still there - as is the case when someone defies the odds and recovers after mortal injury or else is discovered to be cancer free even if previous tests showed this impossible.

The reason why the early Dominicans described this kind of prayer was because they saw St. Dominic as a model for reverent people who sometimes are also moved to pray for miracles.  They believed that this was how the great prophets prayed, how the psalms teach us to pray, and how Christ prayed from the Cross.  So when those we most love are struggling for hope in the face of horrific tribulation, the example of this great preacher suggests humbling ourselves and reverently asking the Lord for what seems to be impossible, and then to hope in God who alone can satisfy the deepest yearnings of the human heart.