Study: The Second Pillar
Last time, I described the First Pillar of Dominican life, which is Prayer, and I talked about the kind of prayer that I’ve promised to do daily as a Lay Dominican. My wife, being a busy mom herself, told me pointedly that I might want to address how busy moms can fit more prayer into their schedules. However, it’s a brave man who will tell his wife (let alone anyone else’s) how to fit more stuff into her schedule.
What I will say is that if the notion of Morning and Evening Prayer appeals to you and you want to give it a try, Magnificat magazine has an abbreviated Morning and Evening Prayer for every day of the month. I don’t use it myself, but I know many people who are fond of it. Alternatively, you can find the prayers for the day at iBreviary.com. You can also get help with the Liturgy of the Hours at Daria Sockey’s website, Coffee and Canticles.
Moving on, the Second Pillar of Dominican Life is Study. Dominicans tend to be people who like to study and burrow into new subjects. But it isn’t simply about hitting the books. There’s a Dominican motto: Contemplate, and share the fruits of your contemplation.
Contemplation is a difficult word, in that it has several different meanings in the Catholic universe. To a Carmelite, or a spiritual director, contemplation is a specific form of prayer involving an intense closeness with God. (I will say no more about this kind of contemplation, as I don’t understand it very well.) Here, though, contemplation means simply to think about something at length, to ponder it, to explore its odd corners, and so to come to understand it…so that you can communicate it to others.
This does not rule out closeness to God, by any means. The Dominicans are the Order of Preachers, founded to preach for the salvation of souls, and so Dominican contemplation always involves God in some way. More on that in a moment.
The number one thing for Dominicans to study is the Holy Scriptures, and especially the Gospels. I’ll have more to say about preaching next time, but preaching means talking about Jesus, and you can’t say much that’s useful about Jesus if you don’t know him. We come to know Jesus by studying his word. And we ponder it, and we think about it.
The Rule of the Lay Fraternities of St. Dominic doesn’t call for specific amounts of study the way it does for prayer, but it’s clear that study should be a thing. In my life, I try to spend some time with the Gospel each morning, after I pray Morning Prayer. Having read it, I try to ponder what I’ve read over the course of the day.
I am not always successful. Often, I’m not successful. But that’s no reason not to try.
The Scriptures are the foundation; after that, different Dominicans will study different things. Dominican friars will study theology and philosophy, and Lay Dominicans can do the same, so far as they are able or interested.
But the neat thing about being a Dominican is that you can study anything, so long as you study it with God. God is the creator of everything you can possibly study, and His fingerprints are there to be seen if you spend the time looking. Over the last five years, the times when I’ve felt the closest to God have been when I’m reading something, and something strikes me, and I stop to think about it…and something occurs to me, or is shown to me, that I’d never thought of before. Sometimes I’ve been reading the Bible, or theology, or philosophy; sometimes it’s been something else entirely. But I go looking for God, and He’s there to be found.
Other times I’ll have a similar experience while driving or going for a walk. In this sense, Dominican contemplation is about being open to God with my intellect as well as with my heart.
If you’re not in the habit of studying, it’s worth getting into the habit of reading some of the Gospel every day; it’s a great way to spend time with Jesus.
My pastor gave the following exercise to our RCIA candidates:
- Pray, asking God to open your heart.
- Slowly read through the Gospel of Matthew (or Mark, or Luke).
- Pay attention to the heart and mind of Jesus as it is revealed by what you read.
- What are His concerns and priorities?
- Examine how He relates to people. Examine how people relate to Him. Who grows closest to His heart, and how did they get there?
- Can you tease out of the scriptures the reality of His relationship to His Heavenly Father? How did He keep that connection?
- As He teaches His disciples, what is most important for them to understand? About Him? About themselves? About others? About God?
The essential thing is to ask for His help, and the help of the Holy Spirit. He wants to make Himself known to you.
The point of all of this study and contemplation is two-fold. The first is that it draws me closer to God; but the second, of course, is that it prepares me to better speak of God to others. And that’s the Third Pillar, Preaching, and I’ll talk about that next time.
How has studying drawn you closer to God? Are there any particular resources you’ve found useful?
Copyright 2014 Will Duquette