Category Archives: Prayer

Aquinas & “the old woman”


-by Br Isidore Rice, OP

“A little old woman now knows more about what belongs to faith than all the philosophers once knew.” (See here for the full text)

“No one of the philosophers before the coming of Christ could, through his own powers, know God and the means necessary for salvation as well as any old woman since Christ’s coming knows Him through faith.” (Full text)

“Is it not correct that a charity with knowledge is more eminent than a charity without knowledge? It seems that it is not, for then a wicked theologian would have a charity of greater dignity than a holy old woman.” (Full text)

“Unlike the many philosophers through history who tended to absolutize philosophic knowledge and denigrate the simple faith of their less scientifically enlightened neighbors, St. Thomas clearly has a deep respect for the “holy old woman”. However, he also firmly values knowledge. Responding to that last quote, St. Thomas shows that knowledge, of a certain sort, can and does enrich charity: “what is discussed here is a knowledge which exerts its influence. For the force of the knowledge stimulates one to love more since the more God is known, so much the more is He loved.”

The knowledge which makes charity more splendid is not the breadth of knowledge of facts that leads to … victory. Knowing what a certain theologian said about God, the chapter and verse of various Bible passages, or the years of the eccumenical councils can be quite helpful, but the aim of theology, as well as the little old lady’s meditations, is not to know a wide breadth of opinions and facts related to God, but to know God Himself, with depth.

‘The most elementary truths of Christian faith, such as those expressed in the Our Father, are, we find, the most profound truths when we have meditated upon them long and lovingly; when, through the years, we have lived with them, while carrying our cross, and they have become the object of almost continuous contemplation. To be led to the heights of sanctity, it would be enough for a soul to live intensely but one of these truths of our Faith.’ – Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, O.P.

Love,
Matthew

Any weapons to declare? Yes, I do!


-by Br John Mark Solitario, OP

“As Mother Teresa passed through the airport security checkpoint, she had to endure that embarrassing procedure that is part and parcel of our troubled times: “Any weapons on your person?” Unexpectedly, the childlike yet remarkably bold sari-clad woman replied in the affirmative! She did have a weapon. She then indicated the Rosary beads dangling from her hand.

This story is told as one of many insightful accounts in Marian Father Donald H. Calloway’s recently published Champions of the Rosary: The History and Heroes of a Spiritual Weapon. Many Dominicans throughout the world have endorsed this book for its historical and practical value. Fr. Bruno Cadore, successor to St. Dominic and Master of the Order of Preachers, hopes that it will help form “fervent and enthusiastic apostles of the rosary for our times.” But how?

Fr. Calloway presents a careful and very readable history of the Rosary’s development and its significance in the spreading of the Gospel. He traces it back to medieval accounts of prayer beads used by monks and soldiers to recite the “Angelic Salutation” (cf. Lk 1:28) and the “Our Father.” This led to the more widespread popularity of the “Psalter of our Lady,” some 150 “Hail Mary’s” mirroring the monastic chanting of the Psalms. Then came the Dominican innovation: pre-existing prayer beads met the friar-preacher’s desire to instill the saving mysteries of Christ’s life in the hearts and imaginations of the faithful. From St. Dominic onward, the “Hail Mary” became “a weapon and a rose” to defend faith in the God who became man and to draw close to the Mother who leads us to salvation in her Son. And the prayer became immensely popular!

Champions of the Rosary traces the spiritual impact of this “Gospel of Jesus Christ on a string of beads,” worn and prayed by countless priests, brothers, nuns, sisters, and lay confraternity members over the years. Indeed, it appears that Christian civilization was advanced at several crucial junctures through the faithful praying of the Rosary. Victories that saved Christian Europe at Lepanto and Vienna, the devotional intuition of suffering indigenous peoples in America and Asia, and apparitions of the Blessed Virgin especially prevalent in recent times all testify to the power of this prayer. In addition to praising its many virtues, Fr. Calloway addresses the challenges that this very Catholic devotion has posed to various figures and times, from Martin Luther to the scientific concerns of the 20th century. Most of all, this book boldly fosters zeal by reflecting on the lives that have been transformed through praying the Rosary.

Fr. Calloway turns to a host of personal witnesses to complete his case for the authenticity and power of this devotion. Twenty-six “champions of the Rosary” (including St. Dominic, Bl. Bartolo Longo, and St. Teresa of Calcutta) have remarkable stories about the Rosary and its role in advancing the Gospel and crushing temptations to doubt and despair. He devotes special attention to examining Rosary artwork in order to show the prevalence and beauty of this devotion. Finally, a section with Scripture-based meditations, explanations of relevant indulgences, and information on joining associations devoted to the Rosary gives us what we need to take up this much-used tool of Christian holiness.

It has been said that the Rosary is refreshment for spiritual giants and food for beginners in faith. As much as we desire peace in this tumultuous world and want harmony in our own lives, we might be anxious to find anything that can lead us toward that for which we thirst. Fr. Calloway’s book joins Mother Teresa in suggesting a “weapon” more powerful and penetrating than any blade or pistol: “Peace will come into the world through Mary. But first in our hearts. Pray the Rosary with faith.””

Love,
Matthew

Aug 8 – St Dominic’s Nine Ways of Prayer

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St Dominic, founder of the Order of Preachers, to which I belong now joyfully as a layperson, having been a novice after college, but called by God to my current state, to serve Him in His plan, “left no writings on prayer, but the Dominican tradition has collected and handed down his living experience in a work called: ‘The Nine Ways of Prayer of St Dominic’… and each one — always before Jesus Crucified — expresses a deeply penetrating physical and spiritual approach that fosters recollection and zeal. The first seven ways follow an ascending order, like the steps on a path, toward intimate communion with God, with the Trinity…the last two positions… correspond to two of the Saint’s customary devotional practices. First, personal meditation…Then come his prayers while traveling from one convent to another. He would recite Lauds, Midday Prayer and Vespers with his companions, and, passing through the valleys and across the hills he would contemplate the beauty of creation. A hymn of praise and thanksgiving to God for his many gifts would well up from his heart, and above all for the greatest wonder: the redemptive work of Christ…St Dominic reminds us that prayer, personal contact with God is at the root of the witness to faith which every Christian must bear at home, at work, in social commitments and even in moments of relaxation; only this real relationship with God gives us the strength to live through every event with intensity, especially the moments of greatest anguish. This Saint also reminds us of the importance of physical positions in our prayer. Kneeling, standing before the Lord, fixing our gaze on the Crucifix, silent recollection — these are not of secondary importance but help us to put our whole selves inwardly in touch with God…the need, for our spiritual life, to find time everyday for quiet prayer; we must make this time for ourselves…to have a little time to talk with God. It will also be a way to help those who are close to us enter into the radiant light of God’s presence which brings the peace and love we all need.”Pope Benedict XVI, August 8, 2012

These ways of prayer were written by an anonymous author, possibly a Dominican friar, who had most probably received this information from a Sister Cecelia of the Monastery of St. Agnes at Bologna (who had personally received the habit from Saint Dominic) and other people who had known him personally.

The Nine Ways of Prayer of St. Dominic presume a connection between the body and the soul, devotion and prayer. Each of the ways speaks to the importance of what is called “vocal” prayer. Such prayer goes beyond words that are said out loud. Bodily though it is, such prayer reaches for that true and total spiritual worship advocated by St. Paul in Romans 12:1-2. It takes up gestures of the body which move the soul with devotion so that the grace-filled and Holy Spirit imbued soul might move the body in true worship to make Christ-like sacrifices of love:

1. The bowing of one’s head and heart with humility at the beginning of prayer before the crucifix, at the altar, in the Name of the Trinity;
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2. The throwing down and prostrating of one’s whole body with tears of compunction for the sins of others when one can find no more tears for his own;
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3. The welcoming of all the physical difficulties and the patient endurance of all kinds of bodily discomforts during prayer as part of prayer itself, as a way of offering one’s body to God in praise;
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4. The fixating of one’s gaze on Christ crucified while kneeling and standing with bold petitions filled with confidence in the indescribable goodness of God and sober acceptance of one’s own weakness;
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5. The raising of one’s hands to heaven with eyes wide open in the ancient orans of the first Christians;
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6. The stretching out of one’s arms cruciform with a cry for help in heartbreaking situations;
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7. The standing strong with hands folded in prayer like an arrow shot into the heart of God;
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8. The sitting in holy reading and contemplation – that ancient practice of lectio divina; and
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9. The frequent quest for solitude in which one resists fantasies and evil thoughts like flies and prepares for spiritual battle against diabolical malice by the sign of the Cross.
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Love & prayer,
Matthew

Bring back the Rosary

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-by Rev. Daniel Berrigan, SJ

This article appeared in the October 1978 issue of U.S. Catholic (Vol. 43, No. 10, pages 24-25).

“Religious devotions are a little like lost-and­-found objects. Something gets lost, at least in the sense of losing sight of it. And then we come on it again, unexpectedly perhaps, lying there at our feet. It had been there all the time. But now it has about it a kind of glow, a patina. It is something like an old coin, the gospel says; we have every right to rejoice in finding it again.

All sorts of arguments can be lined up against the above. The rosary, it will be adduced, went out with the other immigrant clutter. And good riddance. It belonged to a former state of things, to a partial understanding of what was central and what merely hung around at the edges. More, it was another weapon in the arsenal of the gargoyles who held us captive on perches, chattering the tunes, and ringing the changes of Baltimore Catechism Number One.

Something like this occurred in the course of my benighted childhood. We lined up for the rosary as we lined up to take our cod-liver oil. In both cases, unpleasant medicine was considered a specific against world, flesh, and devil. Religion was medicinal; you took your medicine. I think I was too habitually low in spirit even to question the diagnosis or to revolt at the cure.

Well, things changed, but not much. In the novitiate they gave us a rosary, a huge one this time. It was to be looped around one’s cincture—some said to form the letter M for Mary; others said no, it was a sword. In any case, this enormous, chained object was neither lost nor found, but sternly, gratuitously conferred, like an Immortal soul. It could also, unlike a soul, be flipped around the neck; there it hung, every day, as we wandered the acres reciting the mysteries. Huge cocoa beads, a linked chain of such impregnability that today it might serve in the streets of the Big Apple, to protect one’s parked bicycle from felonious hands. Indeed, this was no kid stuff, but a formidable engine of salvation. Some Jesuits around our time discarded the Big Fifteen. This was serious; we were warned against backsliding. Indeed, Our Lady had confided to some saints that wearing the rosary and reciting it would ensure one’s vocation, for good and forever.

All of which “makes to reflect,” as the French say. When things get urged too hard in this matter of salvation, they usually end up getting discarded too easily. There’s always that little gyroscope in the soul trying to keep a balance. It took most of us not more than five years to scuttle the rosary for good. The act, I think, was a perfectly wordless argument against the big pitch. We simply let it all go. It didn’t mean we gained a great deal; indeed, it might be argued we lost considerably. But I think we were asserting our self-respect in one of the few ways open to us; in those days, we would make our own way in prayer and symbol, for a change.

Still, rosary or no, it is important that faith commend itself, make sense to those who profess it. Very little else in life makes sense today, or is designed to, once we get beyond the tawdry chatter. But the faith has a public calling. As the culture creaks along and breaks up, the importance of a public faith, a living (and kicking) tradition, only grows. What else do we have by way of resource or sanity? In such circumstances, I think the faith is called to raise very hell—if we are not all to end up in hell. I mean here and now, in this world, where official insanity has concocted the ultimate weapon (the ultimate symbol of the culture): a bomb that will leave buildings intact and wipe out the only expendable thing around—people.

So here we are. We are not going to get far in this business of survival without all the help we can muster. That means Jesus and Mary. And Joseph even. And all that cloud of witnesses who in one way or another hearkened their own voices and visions, were stubborn kickers against Caesar’s goal, refused to lie down and die at the behest of Big Huff, or walked to their own drummer. Their crime, as I understand it, was to stand at the opposite moral pole from the neutron bomb. That is to say, they valued people over property. That made criminals of many among them. That ought to make criminals of us to the degree that in the eyes of the Big Mastiffs the phrase “criminal church” would even be redundant.

How then do we get that way, which was the way of Jesus and the saints? At its deepest, there isn’t any “how.” There is only the way.

The rosary takes us along that “way” which the book of Acts uses as another word for Christianity itself. A series of mysteries. Moments in the life of that moving target, Jesus. The short stops of the long-distance runner, where we too may savor (share?) his loneliness.

I think we need that. My thinking of our need, of course, adds nothing and subtracts nothing. Yet I insist on it, our need. I long with all my cranky, double-dealing heart to belong to a reality that all my life long presses on me. The reality of Jesus, his life and death and comeback. Events that, far from shaking the world, bring it a far greater gift—rebirth.

I need to know that Jesus lived and died and the manner of his living and dying. Call it medicinal; call it antidote. I need an antidote to America. I need to live and die in a manner different from the way I am commanded to live and die in a tin-can culture, a culture which manages by a marvelous sleight of hand to be at the same time lethal, ridiculous, and immensely seductive.

Now the above, as I scan it, suffers from a defect. It is written in the past tense. But Jesus has no past tense. Who says he lived; who says he died; who says he rose from the dead? The 15 mysteries are a drama of the present, big as life, unfinished as today, untidy even.

But the neutron bomb, and all its malevolent ancestors and progeny, is pure past, passé. Bypassed. Not merely in the sense that the monkey wrenches will shortly concoct another even more lethal tin can to flatten this one. But from the point of view of existence itself, bombs are passé. Violence is passé. War is passé. If we discern the Mystery (Paul puts it always in the singular), we know this. Wars, bombs, slums are the junk of that junk culture which has simply withered away to allow us to get reborn.

Do we choose to get reborn? Or do we choose to wither away? According to the mystery of the rosary, we choose neither the one nor the other.

We can only choose to be chosen. That is all. Jesus chooses; the initiative is his. But that is already a great deal. So great a deal, in truth, that we shall spend our eternity dizzily, ecstatically trying to grasp it.

But to speak of the present, one thing seems fairly clear. (And given the American church, what follows is bound to be a minority, even a miniscule, opinion.) We cannot at one and the same time choose America and be chosen by Christ. We cannot serve God and mammon. “Mammon” here being a catchall word for that ball of snarls, that concatenation of money, sexism, racism, consumerism, appetite and futility and nausea, that fork in the tongue of authority, that tic of violence, that dread of neighbor, that night sweat at the presence of death—let us say, those 15 or so infernal “mysteries” to whose worship the culture summons us. To adore. To be depraved and deprived and degraded and disenfranchised. And then, to be transformed. In the image of that which we adore: stocks and stones and neutron bombs.

And finally, the whole thing explodes. As it was meant to do. That is to say, the ruling image and reality of our lives becomes a nuclear one. We cannot get things together, keep them together. Neither marriage nor friendship nor a reasonably sane sense of ourselves nor a modest place in the world. We are bombed out by the demons. All of which perhaps brings us back to our subject, to that non-nuclear, companionable, compassionate found object.

I don’t want to come on as a pusher for the rosary. We have too many pushers already—for almost every gimmick under the sun. Who needs gimmicks? We need only to be still, to resign from rat races where a few win and many lose and all, according to the metaphor, are reduced to rodents. We need our humanity, that lost object. Can the rosary help us? Will we one day cry aloud in exaltation like the woman Jesus tells of who found her lost coin? We, having found our precious, lost, squandered sense of ourselves? There is not one mystery of the 15 (now 20) that is not also a clue to who we are, to where we come from, to where we might go. In a night without stars.”

I, for one, NEED the Rosary. When praying it, I soar, I fly. (Not physically.) 🙂 No joke. I do. Praise God!!!  Come, fly with me!!!

Love,
Matthew

Jesus, my friend

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Last night was my monthly divorced fathers dinner in which I volunteer.  It is my least favorite evening of the month.  Last night was especially heavy in domestic violence.  Not fun.  These men are not monsters, but the hyper-sensitivity of the law and its profound and often objectively unfair and completely biased treatment of them only makes their crosses heavier and more eggregious.

No one is innocent here, but family court directly and obtrusively says by its behavior men are the root of all evil, and women are always innocent victims, never manipulating their advantages in the courts towards evil and selfish purposes.  Untrue.  I would be the first to defend women against domestic violence, but demonizing and truly oppressing a gender is un-American, or is it?  And, not the answer.

Before going into dinner, I opened my little prayer book by Rev. Peter John Cameron, OP.  The next prayer up was in the theme of “Jesus, my friend”.  What is this silliness that faith is a lifestyle choice, and not simply the air we breathe, in all of their implied necessity?

Too, I have been asked and invited to join a ministry in a local hospice, to provide 24 hr bedside companionship when local family cannot be present, if any.  My training is in June.  Pray for me.  And, I opened our local news app here and saw the beautiful, youthful face of an 18 yr old young man, with just his name.  I know tragically what that means, and my heart breaks for him, for his parents.

“O Jesus, you are my true friend, my only friend. You take a part in all my misfortunes; you take them upon yourself; you know how to change them into blessings. You listen to me with the greatest kindness when I relate my troubles to you, and you always have balm to pour on my wounds. I find you at all times; I find you everywhere; you never go away; if I have to change my dwelling, I find you wherever I go.

You never weary of listening to me; you are never tired of doing me good. I am certain of being loved by you if I love you; my goods are nothing to you, and by bestowing yours on me, you never grow poor. However miserable I may be, no one more noble or learned or even holier can come between you and me and deprive me of your friendship; and death, which tears us away from all other friends, will unite me to You forever.

All the humiliations attached to old age, or to loss of honor, will never detach me from You. On the contrary, I shall never enjoy You more fully, and You will never be closer to me than when everything seems to conspire against me, to overwhelm me and to cast me down. You bear with all my faults with extreme patience. Even my want of fidelity and my ingratitude do not wound You to such a degree as to make You unwilling to receive me back when I return to You. O Jesus! Grant that I may die praising You; that I may die loving You; that I may die for love of You. Amen.”  St Claude de la Colombiere, SJ

“O my Lord, how You are the true friend, and how powerful!  When You desire, You can love, and You never stop loving those who love You!  All things praise You, Lord of the world!

Oh, who will cry out to You to tell everyone how faithful You are to Your friends!  All things fail; You, Lord of all, never fail!  Little it is, that which You allow the one who loves You to suffer!  Oh my Lord!  How delicately and smoothly and delightfully You treat them!  Would that no one ever pause to love anyone but You!

It seems, Lord, You try with rigor the person who loves You, so that in extreme trial she might understand the greatest extreme of Your love.  Oh my God, who has the understanding, the learning, and the new words with which to extol Your works as my soul understands them?  All fails me, my Lord;  but if You do not abandon me, I will not fail You.  Let all learned men rise up against me, let all created things persecute me, let the devils torment me;  do not You fail me, Lord, for I already have experience of the gain that comes from the way You rescue the one who trusts in You alone.  Amen.  St Teresa of Avila

Love & friendship,
Matthew

Let your heart be an altar

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O LORD MY GOD,
help me to be obedient without reserve,
poor without servility,
chaste without compromise,
humble without pretense,
joyful without depravity,
serious without affectation,
active without frivolity,
submissive without bitterness,
truthful without duplicity,
fruitful in good works without presumption,
quick to revive my neighbor without haughtiness,
and quick to edify others by word and example without simulation.

Grant me, O Lord,
an ever-watchful heart
that no alien thought can lure away from You;
a noble heart that no base love can sully;
an upright heart that no perverse intention can lead astray;
an invincible heart that no distress can overcome;
an unfettered heart that no impetuous desires can enchain.

O Lord my God,
also bestow upon me understanding to know You,
zeal to seek You,
wisdom to find You,
a life that is pleasing to You,
unshakable perseverance,
and a hope that will one day take hold of You.

May I do penance here below and patiently bear Your chastisements.
May I also receive the benefits of Your grace,
in order to taste Your heavenly joys and contemplate Your glory. AMEN.
St Thomas Aquinas, OP

Love,
Matthew

Aquinas on Prayer

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-by Rev John Sica, OP

“Prayer, St. John Damascene says, is the unveiling of the mind before God. When we pray we ask Him for what we need, confess our faults, thank Him for His gifts, and adore His immense majesty. Here are five tips for praying better– with the help of St. Thomas Aquinas.

5. Be humble.

Many people falsely think of humility as a virtue of a low self-esteem. St. Thomas teaches us that humility is a virtue of acknowledging the truth about reality. Since prayer, at its root, is an “asking” directed at God, humility is crucially important. Through humility we recognize our neediness before God. We are totally and entirely dependent on God for everything and at every moment: our existence, life, breath, every thought and action. As we become more humble, we recognize more profoundly our need to pray more.

4. Have faith.

It’s not enough to know that we’re needy. To pray, we also have to ask someone, and not just anyone, but someone who can and will answer our petition. Children intuit this when they ask mom instead of dad (or vice versa!) for permission or a gift. It is with the eyes of faith that we see God is both powerful and willing to help us in prayer. St. Thomas says that “faith is necessary… that is, we need to believe that we can obtain from Him what we seek.” It is faith which teaches us “of God’s omnipotence and mercy,” the basis of our hope. In this, St. Thomas reflects the Scriptures. The Epistle to the Hebrews underlines the necessity of faith, saying, “Whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him” (Heb 11:6). Try praying an Act of Faith.

“O my God, I firmly believe that you are one God in three divine persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. I believe that your divine Son became man and died for our sins, and that he will come to judge the living and the dead. I believe these and all the truths which the holy Catholic Church teaches, because in revealing them you can neither deceive nor be deceived.”

or, something close to that, so long as not heretical. Check w/your favorite, friendly, faithful, trained Catholic wonk.

3. Pray before praying.

In old breviaries you can find a small prayer that begins, “Open, O Lord, my mouth to bless your Holy Name. Cleanse, too, my heart from all vain, perverse and extraneous thoughts…” I remember finding this slightly amusing– there were prescribed prayers before prescribed prayers! When I reconsidered it, I realized that although it might seem paradoxical, it gives a lesson. Prayer is utterly supernatural, and so it is far beyond our reach. St. Thomas himself notes that God “wishes to bestow certain things on us at our asking.” The prayer above continues by asking God: “Illumine my mind, inflame my heart, that I may worthily, attentively and devoutly recite this Office and merit to be heard in the sight of Your divine Majesty.” The attentiveness and purity of heart needed to attain to God in prayer is itself received as a gift– and we will only receive if we ask.

2. Be intentional.

Merit in prayer– that is to say, whether it brings us closer to heaven– flows from the virtue of charity. And this flows from our will. So to pray meritoriously, we need to make our prayer an object of choice. St. Thomas explains that our merit rests primarily on our original intention in praying. It isn’t broken by accidental distraction, which no human being can avoid, but only by intentional and willing distraction. This also should give us some relief. We need not worry too much about distractions, as long as we don’t encourage them. We realize something of what the Psalmist says, namely, that God “pours gifts on His beloved while they slumber” (Ps 127:2).

1. Be attentive.

Although, strictly, we need only be intentional and not also perfectly attentive to merit by our prayer, it is nevertheless true that our attention is important. When our minds are filled with actual attention to God, our hearts too are inflamed with desire for Him. St. Thomas explains that spiritual refreshment of the soul comes chiefly from being attentive to God in prayer. The Psalmist cries out, “It is your face, O Lord, that I seek!” (Ps 27:8). In prayer, let us never cease to search for His Face.”

Love,
Matthew

More important than food…

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-Blackfriars, Oxford

Prayer allows me to participate in life. “Man does not live by bread alone…” (Mt 4:4) Finish it yourself.

-by Br Thomas Davenport, OP

“Words have a certain staying power. Most of them are in one ear and out the other, but every once in a while words seriously hit home and have a lasting impact. Jan 17 the Western Church celebrates St. Anthony of Egypt, the “Father of Monks.” As a young man, he walked into a church one day and heard the words of Jesus proclaimed in the Gospel, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me” (Mt 19:21). While he had probably heard these words many times before, something was different that time. He left the church with a firm conviction to do exactly what Jesus said. He sold all his possessions and became a hermit in the Egyptian desert.

While Christians relish the response of St. Anthony and the holiness of his life, we are not all called to respond in the same way to those words. Still, by the grace of God, the truth, even a truth we may be quite familiar with, has a way of giving us a much needed slap upside the head.

I can still remember a particular phrase that hit home for me. After a year of graduate school, I was down in some pretty serious dumps through a particularly paradoxical combination of overwork and laziness (with an added dose of emotional baggage). Nothing seemed to be going right. Just getting up in the morning seemed to be a monumental task. I was in a rut of bad habits and I needed help getting out. When I was finally fed up with simply trying to slog my way through the day, I did what I should have done weeks before and called a good friend of mine, a priest, back home. Having put up with my initial round of whining, he cut me off before I had a chance to really get going. He asked me bluntly, “Are you praying?” I attempted to dodge the seriousness of the question and responded by simply saying that I was not praying enough. I was still making it to Mass on Sundays, and even an occasional daily Mass, but I had little to no prayer life outside of that.

Then came the line that has stuck with me ever since, “You’ve got to pray every day. Prayer is more important than food.” We kept talking for a while after that. While I forgot all of his other words of wisdom, that phrase about prayer stuck with me.

I would like to tell you that I have not eaten another bite of food since then and that I have been surviving for seven years on Hail Marys and Our Fathers, but of course that did not happen. I did put that line on a sticky note on my desk, and every day whenever I managed to roll myself out of bed, before I’d let myself pour a bowl of cereal, I’d sit down and pray—five minutes at first, then ten, then a bit more. And, you know, it worked. Surprisingly enough, when I stopped trying to take on everything myself and asked God for help, getting up in the morning wasn’t quite so challenging, my work wasn’t quite so daunting, and those ruts I had dug didn’t feel quite so deep.

“Prayer is more important than food.” These words are a bit silly, and my friend doesn’t even remember saying them. Still, these words have stuck with me through the years. When nothing seems to be going right, I know the question to ask is, “Am I praying?”

Whether it’s “I’m too busy” or “I’m too distracted,” whatever excuses I hold up for neglecting prayer are simply that, excuses. That silly phrase is a reminder that the true power behind any word or action lies first and foremost in God.”

Love,
Matthew

Begging, Gratitude, Prayer, & Silence…or, The Economics of Gratitude

(I remember, vividly, praying, especially at Office, for “our benefactors”.)
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-by Br. Thomas Davenport, O.P.
“A couple weeks ago I had to face one of the more difficult aspects of our
Dominican life: begging—or, to use the traditional term, “mendicancy.” I
was sent to our parishes in Somerset, Ohio to give the annual financial
appeal at all the masses, asking the good people of St. Joseph’s and Holy
Trinity to support the student brothers here in Washington, DC. While I
have found much joy in our life of poverty and am profoundly grateful to
all those who support us, the prospect of asking people for money in these
difficult times was a bit daunting. It’s hard to beg, I found, and one of
the reasons for this was brought home to me by St. Thomas’ treatment of
gratitude in the Summa Theologiae.
St. Thomas says that gratitude, as a virtue, is part of the cardinal
virtue of justice, by which we give to others what is due to them. In
exercising gratitude a beneficiary not only recognizes the favor bestowed
by a benefactor as a favor, but also seeks to repay the benefactor in some
way.  In fact gratitude pushes him to seek to be gracious in return, not
simply just, so he seeks, as far as possible, to repay more than what he
has received, going beyond strict justice.
This is a troubling thought. For, although I am extremely grateful to our
generous benefactors, particularly those in Somerset, what do I have to
offer in return, besides a smile and a thank you? Sure, some day I or one
of my brothers might end up serving as a priest there, but right now that
seems like such a distant and tentative return.
Reflecting on this problem, I was reminded of one of the much beloved
stories of the early days of the Order. At that time—the early thirteenth
century—the brethren would beg for their food on a day-to-day basis.
Whether at home or on the road, they were completely dependent on the
generosity of their neighbors. Accordingly, the story goes that Blessed
Jordan of Saxony, the second Master of the Order, was traveling with a
group of the brethren, and he sent them out to beg for their breakfast.
After reconvening at a nearby fountain, they found they barely had half as
much bread as they needed. At this point, contrary to all expectation,
Jordan began singing for joy—he was so full of gratitude for what they had
received. The others joined in, making such a racket that a nearby woman
rebuked them, saying, “Are you not all religious men? Whence comes it that
you are merry-making at this early hour?” Upon realizing their elation was
over such a paltry amount of food, she was so edified that she went home
and brought them an abundance of bread, wine, and cheese. In return, she
only asked that they remember her in their prayers.
Using this story in my appeal in Somerset, I focused on the thankful and
joyous disposition of the friars themselves; but the pastor there made a
comment that caused me to think more fully about the woman in the story,
and especially her request for prayers. Although I had already
underestimated the value of a thank you and the promise of future pastoral
service, I had completely forgotten one part of the equation. Right then
and there, I had the opportunity to pray for those benefactors and to
promise that my prayers would continue. Of course, it’s silly to try to
calculate the value of prayer—as if a Hail Mary had a going market
price—but suddenly I felt much more confident about my ability to give
back more than I had received.
In retrospect, it seems I should have recognized this basic truth about
Dominican life much earlier. After all, we pray communally for our
benefactors, living and deceased, quite often, even going beyond the
regimen of Masses and prayers that is mandated by the Constitutions of our
Order and the Statutes of our Province. In addition, there are the private
prayers of individual friars. Thus, even though my prayers are not as
efficacious as those of someone as holy as Blessed Jordan of Saxony, I do
not have to worry; I do not have to repay my debt of gratitude alone.
Rather, my debt is linked to that of the whole Order, which takes on the
responsibility corporately and wholeheartedly.
A few days after I had returned from Somerset, one my brothers made a
comment that brought home to me just how inadequately I had understood the
Order’s relationship to its benefactors. He pointed out, indirectly, that
the woman in the story was not just a helpful reminder of the importance
of prayer, but also someone I had in fact been praying for daily since
entering the Novitiate! For nearly eight hundred years, Dominicans have
been unleashing a continuous stream of prayers for her and all our other
generous benefactors. Thus, to the people of St. Joseph’s, I was promising
not just my prayers and the prayers of all my brothers, but also the
prayers of every future Dominican for as long as God deigns to preserve
our Order. Ultimately, then, it seems that kind woman got much more than
she could have expected from some bread, wine, and cheese.”
Love,
Matthew

Mary the Dawn

Mary the dawn, Christ the Perfect Day;
Mary the gate, Christ the Heavenly Way!
Mary the root, Christ the Mystic Vine;
Mary the grace, Christ the Sacred Wine!
Mary the wheat, Christ the Living Bread;
Mary the stem, Christ the Rose blood-red!
Mary the font, Christ the Cleansing Flood;
Mary the cup, Christ the Saving Blood!
Mary the temple, Christ the temple’s Lord;
Mary the shrine, Christ the God adored!
Mary the beacon, Christ the Haven’s Rest;
Mary the mirror, Christ the Vision Blest!
Mary the mother, Christ the mother’s Son
By all things blest while endless ages run.
Amen.