Happy Feast of St. Dominic

8 Aug

Today is the feast of St. Dominic and my son’s feast day as well. In honor of St. Dominic, I’m reposting a post about his nine ways of prayer, useful to any Catholic seeking to find a deeper (or just different) mode of prayer. Enjoy!

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The human person is both body and soul, and it is our goal to take care of both. Ideally, a healthy body will help us do the things that lead to a healthy soul. And a healthy soul will naturally relieve the anxiety, etc. that can lead to an unhealthy body. After 50 days of working out, I came, rather unexpectedly, to see the genius in the nine ways of prayer of St. Dominic in their integration of body and soul.
St. Dominic’s nine ways were introduced to me during my novitiate with the Dominicans. The basic point to the ways of prayer is that we are a union of body and soul, and need to engage both to worship God. This idea comes rather naturally to Catholics. Ours is a very tactile religion. We use many physical signs to convey spiritual realities. When you walk into Church, you bless yourself with holy water. When you enter the pew, you genuflect out of reverence for the Real Presence in the tabernacle. So, it is only natural that we would extend these bodily motions to our private prayer as well. By integrating body and soul, we give back to God everything that He gave us–and in the way that He gave it to us.
Dominic’s nine ways of prayer was not written by Dominic himself. Rather, it was a collection of observations about how St. Dominic prayed. Dominic used his body to express the longings of his heart, and to pursue the goods of the soul. As St. Thomas notes,
For man’s being consists in soul and body; and though the being of the body depends on the soul, yet the being of the human soul depends not on the body, as shown above; and the very body is for the soul, as matter for its form, and the instruments for the man that puts them into motion, that by their means he may do his work. Wherefore all goods of the body are ordained to the goods of the soul, as to their end. Consequently happiness, which is man’s last end, cannot consist in goods of the body.
Summa Theologiae, II.I q.2, a. 5
The soul does not rely on the body for its existence, but the body is the instrument that allows us to do God’s work. Thus, the goods of the body are ordered to promoting the goods of the soul. And so too the movements of the body in prayer help to express our inward desires. The nine ways of prayer include many different ways that St. Dominic expressed his soul to God. Let us imitate these methods in our own prayer and spirituality.
First Way: Profound inclination
Dominic recognized the presence of Christ not only in the Eucharist, but also in the altar of the church. He humbled himself before the altar and the image of Christ with a profound bow, expressing his humility before God. Dominicans still make this profound bow when reciting the Glory be.
Second Way: Prostration
“O God, be merciful to me, a sinner” Dominic would recite as he prostrated himself before the altar. He likened this action to the Magi who came to worship the Christ child: “When those devout Magi entered the dwelling they found the child with Mary, his mother, and falling down they worshipped him. There is no doubt that we too have found the God-Man with Mary, his handmaid.”
Third Way: Penance
St. Dominic was very aware of his own sinfulness before God and sought to share in the Lord’s passion through the discipline of penance. Today, Dominicans recall St. Dominic’s action by reciting the De profundis before taking the evening meal. There should be in our lives too a sense of sin that leads us to fall on our knees and say “Out of the depths, I cry to You, O Lord.”
Fourth Way: Genuflections
There is something powerful about remaining before the crucifix, gazing at the pierced One and contemplating the mystery of the Cross. To this contemplation, St. Dominic added the act of genuflecting before the Cross. Repeatedly, Dominic would kneel before the Lord and give Him praise, acknowledging that he knelt as a sinner before the One Who died for his sins. Let us too gaze at the Cross and see the love the Father has poured out in giving us His only Son.
Fifth Way: Contemplation
One way to define the Dominican mission is through a familiar Latin phrase: contemplare et contemplata aliis tradere. To contemplate, and to give to others the fruits of that contemplation. Dominic knew the power and importance of contemplation in the spiritual life. He would remain sometimes for hours standing before the Lord, meditating as if reciting Scripture. This was Dominic’s time to be still before the Lord, to listen to all that God had to say to him and to fill up the well of his soul to do God’s work.
Sixth Way: Cruciform

In order to recall the power of the crucifixion, it only makes sense to stretch one’s arms to imitate Christ on the Cross. This method of prayer was for St. Dominic reserved for moments that required particularly powerful intercession. Through this form of prayer, Dominic prayed for God to raise a boy from death, which He did. Imitating the prophets of old like Elias, Dominic called down the power of God to transform His people.

Seventh Way: Supplication
Dominic would often stand before the cross with arms outstretched like an arrow. At these moments, it was as if he was caught up in some blessed state in which he experienced the full grace of God poured out to strengthen him for his work. Dominic lifted his arms as he lifted his mind and heart to God.
Eighth Way: Study
The ancient practice of lectio divina was something St. Dominic practiced regularly. He would contemplate the words of Scripture, often those recited during the Liturgy of the Hours, and seek to learn more from God in the silence of his cell. It is this way of prayer that is linked to the Dominican tradition of seeing study as prayer. As we go through our day, it is often difficult to see work or study as an act of prayer. But, because God’s truth cannot be contradicted by any other truth, when we are studying something that is true and good, we are in some way studying about an aspect of God.
Ninth Way: On a journey
While traveling, Dominic would fall behind his companions and pray to God, often reciting the words of Scripture that he had meditated on earlier. It was Dominic’s conviction that the Lord would speak “in the wilderness” and that St. Paul’s admonition to “pray always” took concrete form while on a journey. Dominic’s extensive knowledge of Scripture allowed him to meditate on these words even while he was without his books.

Obergefell v. Hodges

28 Jun

Supreme Court Preview

The Supreme Court’s decision in Obergefell v. Hodges–redefining “marriage” as a union between two people, regardless of gender–is one more step in the natural progression of our culture. We’ve been on the decline for a while now. But what was so unnerving about the Obergefell decision was the majority’s willingness to abandon any pretense of constitutional analysis in favor of reaching the end they desired and saw as inevitable. What is more, the majority does not even apologize  for their failure to provide a single, cogent reason for their decision. Perhaps they didn’t care. Or, perhaps, they have become so blinded to the Constitution as a result of the incessant call for “equality” and “justice.” As Chief Justice Roberts so accurately stated:

If you are among the many Americans—of whatever sexual orientation—who favor expanding same-sex marriage, by all means celebrate today’s decision. Celebrate the achievement of a desired goal. Celebrate the opportunity for a new expression of commitment to a partner. Celebrate the availability of new benefits. But do not celebrate the Constitution. It had nothing to do with it.

Whatever the majority’s motivation for issuing the “opinion” they did, it is now the settled law of our land that every state must recognize a same-sex union as a “marriage.” No more debate; no more votes. Maybe. We have no choice but to accept the decision for what it is, but we do not need to accept–indeed, cannot accept–the flawed underlying premises. Justice Kennedy’s attempt to make “liberty” a license to do anything collapses under the weight he asks it to bear. Justice Kennedy’s liberty knows no bounds, as he made clear decades ago in the “sweet mystery of life” passage in Casey:

At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.

Planned Parenthood v. Casey, 505 U.S. 833 (1992). With this foundation, liberty can mean anything you want. And to the unthinking observer, arguing against such a lofty concept as liberty seems indefensible.

But as Justice Thomas noted in dissent, the original concept of “liberty” was a negative one: the freedom from government intervention. Once “liberty” becomes the basis for positive rights (or governmental benefits and privileges), it risks becoming a concept so broad that it is rendered meaningless. Justice Scalia had criticized Justice Kennedy’s inchoate use of “liberty” in the 2003 decision, Lawrence v. Texas:

 I have never heard of a law that attempted to restrict one’s “right to define” certain concepts; and if the passage calls into question the government’s power to regulate actions based onone’s self-defined “concept of existence, etc.,” it is the passage that ate the rule of law.

A mere twelve years later, Justice Kennedy is at it again, exalting liberty as one’s right “to define and express their identity.” From that unprincipled starting point, Kennedy goes on to overlook two millennia of precedent for traditional marriage and to find four new principles that, in the majority’s mind, justifies the expansion of “marriage” to same-sex unions.

I’ll spare you the details of Justice Kennedy’s explanation, which reads like a high-school sophomore’s extemporaneous essay. What I want to point you to is Chief Justice Roberts’ dissent. Although all four dissents highlight different errors in the majority’s reasoning (yes, it pains me to dignify it that way), Chief Justice Roberts offers a chilling prediction for the future of believers in America (emphasis mine):

Federal courts are blunt instruments when it comes to creating rights. They have constitutional power only to resolve concrete cases or controversies; they do not have the flexibility of legislatures to address concerns of parties not before the court or to anticipate problems that may arise from the exercise of a new right. Today’s decision, for example, creates serious questions about religious liberty. Many good and decent people oppose same-sex marriage as a tenet of faith, and their freedom to exercise religion is—unlike the right imagined by the majority—actually spelled out in the Constitution. Amdt. 1.

Respect for sincere religious conviction has led voters and legislators in every State that has adopted same-sex marriage democratically to include accommodations for religious practice. The majority’s decision imposing same-sex marriage cannot, of course, create any such accommodations. The majority graciously suggests that religious believers may continue to “advocate” and “teach” their views of marriage.  Ante, at 27. The First Amendment guarantees, however, the freedom to “exercise” religion. Ominously, that is not a word the majority uses.

Hard questions arise when people of faith exercise religion in ways that may be seen to conflict with the new right to same-sex marriage—when, for example, a religious college provides married student housing only to opposite-sex married couples, or a religious adoption agency declines to place children with same-sex married couples. Indeed, the Solicitor General candidly acknowledged that the tax exemptions of some religious institutions would be in question if they opposed same-sex marriage. See Tr. of Oral Arg. on Question 1, at 36–38. There is little doubt that these and similar questions will soon be before this Court. Unfortunately, people of faith can take no comfort in the treatment they receive from the majority today.

Perhaps the most discouraging aspect of today’s decision is the extent to which the majority feels compelled to sully those on the other side of the debate. The majority offers a cursory assurance that it does not intend to disparage people who, as a matter of conscience, cannot accept same-sex marriage.  Ante, at 19. That disclaimer is hard to square with the very next sentence, in which the majority explains that “the necessary consequence” of laws codifying the traditional definition of marriage is to “demea[n] or stigmatiz[e]” same-sex couples.  Ante, at 19.  The majority reiterates such characterizations over and over. By the majority’s account, Americans who did nothing more than follow the understanding of marriage that has existed for our entire history—in particular, the tens of millions of people who voted to reaffirm their States’ enduring definition of marriage—have acted to “lock . . . out,” “disparage,” “disrespect and subordinate,” and inflict “[d]ignitary wounds” upon their gay and lesbian neighbors.  Ante, at 17, 19, 22, 25. These apparent assaults on the character of fairminded people will have an effect, in society and in court. See post, at 6–7 (Alito, J., dissenting). Moreover, they are entirely gratuitous. It is one thing for the majority to conclude that the Constitution protects a right to same-sex marriage; it is something else to portray everyone who does not share the majority’s “better informed understanding” as bigoted.

Time will tell just how correct Chief Justice Roberts is in his prediction. But it is only a matter of time. The persecution of those who do not kowtow to the new social order can expect to face some consequences.

But that does not mean that we are to shut our doors and hide behind some protective barrier, assuming we could even find one. It is not time to be a huddled remnant. It is, however, time to come together as a community of believers, to deepen our commitment to the faith and its moral order, and to resolve here and now to be saints. This is the time we have been given and we should all be hearing the call to use the gifts God gave us to help transform the society in which we live.


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