!Dominic, a man of the 13th century… but also the 21st!
« Praying like Dominic » with Catherine Aubin from the Roman Congregation of St Dominic; a family experience in this 800th!
The Dominican Nuns of Shawinigan hosted, during their annual retreat, sister Catherine Aubin from the Roman Congregation of St Dominic and a guest professor at the Institut de Pastorale, who came to speak to them about Dominic’s way to pray. With the generosity that characterizes them, they opened wide the doors of their cloister to their neighbors the Dominican Sisters of the Trinity and two local lay fraternities including mine, Jeanne d’Aza.
Do you know St Dominic’s “nine ways of praying”? Despite my 25 years of monastic proximity, I thought Dominic was first and foremost a “preacher”. Of course he had founded Prouilhe by converting his first Cathars from 1206 entrusting them a mission of prayer, but how was he praying himself? I invite you here, in a very personal way to share in my findings. For objectivity, I refer you to four websites that will give more breadth to this text.
What struck me?
Firstly, the importance of symbolism in these nine ways of praying. The number nine is a sign of fertility: nine months to bring a human being into the world, nine steps to give Christ to humanity! In both cases, the required time must be respected. Since taking time to pray is essential to the gift of preaching, Catherine Aubin divides these nine ways of praying into 3 steps following a progression: the WELCOMING (the first four), the MEETING (the following three) and the GIFT (the last two).
Another key to understanding Dominic’s ways of praying: it is not a matter of exercises which need to be done but gestures leading to an inner life. Thus, inclination leads to humility. Much time was granted to the first icon, humility being the foundation of all prayer, an “inner relaxation” as would say Catherine Aubin. We bow at the Office, we bow in obedience, as Christ bowed his head on the cross in accordance with the will of his Father.
A piece of advice? Pay attention to hand gestures: to which sign of inner life do they lead? You may be drawn to observe them more attentively in art work from the Middle Ages but also those of contemporary artists. I discovered quite suddenly those prayerful hands in the stained glass of the monastery. Eloquent! Besides, emphasized Catherine Aubin, wasn’t God first represented by a hand in a circle for a millennium?
The entire project of Dominic in the nine ways of praying…
One is never quite close enough to those one loves! This course allowed me to get closer to Dominic in his intimacy with the crucified Christ, through his prayer. He allowed me to witness the generosity of his WELCOME in the first four ways. I saw him first connect with his humility by bowing before the cross (first icon), then accept surrender, lying completely on the ground (second icon), then enter with Christ in his suffering through self-flagellation which Catherine Aubin proposes we transpose into daily pains (third icon). Finally, I saw him transition from kneeling to the standing station, that of trust (fourth icon).
As one who loves to study (what has always drawn me to the Dominicans is this reassuring perspective of Saint Albert the Great and Saint Thomas Aquinas that it can be a path to faith), I experienced much joy in viewing Dominic opening his book at the time of Lectio (eighth icon). This is the first step towards study; we know to which extent Dominic frequented Matthew and Paul. But beware! Let us observe in this icon the huge window open to the outside. Study leads to faith and not to confinement; it opens wide windows to the next step, towards the other! This will be the ninth icon where Dominic chooses to disperse his brothers in response to his openness to the world, the stage of the GIFT.
What has brought me even more closer to Dominic: his relevancy!
I have found in this session by Catherine Aubin, not only a way to intellectually know a precious document about the life of our founder but especially what I would call a personal encounter of Dominic. I got closer, in a more intimate way, to a humble man who accepts his vulnerability, who listens as he rises to the invitation of Christ and finds in the Word, through Study, the ability to open up to others, our brother, our sister, of all countries.
In this 800th anniversary of the Order, in this era of globalization, Christianity is experiencing difficult days and we are particularly affected in the West. Perhaps the 9 ways to pray are more than ever an answer to anxiety? A source of hope!
Fraternity Jeanne d’Aza (Shawinigan)
November 30, 2015
For more objectivity … To become acquainted with Catherine Aubin, see the icons and enter her class…http://www.crsdop.org/Les-neufs-manieres-de-prier-de-Saint-Dominique-1ere-meditation?lang=fr
For those who are more zen, here is a video accompanied by music from the Middle Ages (10 minutes) which will allow you to relax as you learn.