Benedict XVI on the feast of St Dominic at his general audience at Castel Gandolfo


Dear brothers and sisters,
Today the Church celebrates the memory of St. Dominic de Guzman, priest and founder of the Order of Preachers, the Dominicans. In a previous catechesis, I already illustrated this noble figure and the vital contribution he made to the renewal of the Church of his time. Today, I would like to bring to light an essential aspect of spirituality: his life of prayer. St. Dominic was a man of prayer. In love with God, his only aspiration was the salvation of souls, especially those who, at the time, had fallen into heresy; in imitation of Christ, he radically embodied the three evangelical counsels uniting the proclamation of the Word with witness to a life of poverty, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, he progressed along the path of Christian perfection. In every moment, prayer was the force that renewed and rendered fruitful his apostolic works.

Blessed Jordan of Saxony (who died in 1237), his successor as head of the Order, thus writes: "During the day, no-one was more sociable than he…conversely at night, no one more diligent in keeping vigil in prayer. He devoted his days to others, but the night he gave to God "(P. Filippini, Domenico visto dai suoi contemporanei, Bologna 1982, p 133). In St. Dominic we can see an example of the harmonious integration of contemplation of the divine mysteries and apostolic activity. According to the testimonies of those closest to him, "he always spoke with God or of God." This observation indicates his deep communion with the Lord and at the same time, a continued commitment to lead others to this communion with God. He did not leave writings on prayer, but the Dominican tradition collected and handed down his living experience in a work entitled: The Nine Ways of Prayer of St. Dominic. This was composed between 1260 and 1288 by a Dominican friar, it helps us to understand something of the Saint’s inner life, it also helps us in all our differences to learn something about how to pray.

There are therefore, nine ways of praying according to the Saint, and each of these was always carried out in front of Jesus Crucified, and express a corporal and spiritual attitude, that intimately interpenetrating, favor recollection and fervor. The first seven ways follow an ascending line, like the steps of a journey, towards an intimate communion with God, with the Trinity: St. Dominic prayed standing, bowing to express humility, lying prostrate on the ground to ask forgiveness for his sins, on his knees in penance to participate in the sufferings of the Lord, with his arms open staring at the crucifix to contemplate the Supreme Love, with his gaze directed towards the heavens feeling himself drawn towards the world of God. Therefore there are three forms, standing, on ones’ knees, lying prostrate on the ground, but always with our gaze toward the Crucified Lord.

However, I would like to pause briefly on the last two ways which correspond to two forms of piety that the Saint normally practiced. First, personal meditation, where prayer acquires a more intimate, fervent and soothing dimension. At the end of the recitation of the Liturgy of the Hours, and after the celebration of Mass, St. Dominic prolonged his conversation with God, without any time limits. He would sit in an attitude of quite recollection and listening, reading a book or staring at the Crucifix. He lived these moments of his relationship with God so intensely that his reactions of joy or tears were outwardly perceptible. Thus he assimilated this through the reality of faith. Witnesses say that at times he would go into a sort of ecstasy, his face transfigured, but immediately afterwards he would humbly resume his daily activities recharged by the power that comes from on High. Then prayer while traveling between one monastery or another, he would recite Lauds, Sext, Vespers with companions, and, crossing the valleys and hills, contemplate the beauty of creation. At such times a hymn of praise and thanksgiving to God for so many gifts would gush from his heart, especially for the greatest wonder of all: the redemption accomplished by Christ.

Dear friends, St. Dominic reminds us that at the origin of witnessing to the faith, which every Christian should give in the family, at work, in society, and even in moments of relaxation, is prayer, a personal contact with God; only this real relationship with God gives us the strength to live every event, especially the most suffered moments, intensely. This saint reminds us of the importance of external attitudes in our prayers. That to kneel, to stand before the Lord, to fix our gaze on the Crucifix, to pause and gather ourselves in silence, is not a secondary act, but helps to us to place ourselves, our whole person, in relation to God. Once again, I would like draw attention to the need to find moments to pray quietly everyday for our spiritual life, we particularly have to take this time for ourselves during our vacation, to have time for this attempt to talk with God. This is also a way to help those who are near to us to enter into the luminous rays of the presence of God, who brings the peace and love that we all need.