This reflection concerns prayer and spirituality in the lives of St. Dominic and the early Dominicans and I will quote some passages from the book ‘ Early Dominicans’ (The classics of Western Spirituality) – from the Introduction by Fr. Simon Tugwell O.P.
Fr. Simon says :
“ that the early Dominicans were not particularly concerned either for themselves or for others with what has come to be called the “interior life”. Some of them, certainly, were great men of prayer, but their prayer was simple, devotional and largely petitionary. They retained the monastic practice of spending some time in private prayer after Compline and Matins, though this was not put into any constitutional text as an obligation. There is no hint at all of any methodical ‘mental prayer’, such as we find in later centuries, nor is there any sign of any theory of mystical progress attached to their simple prayers.”
Fr. Simon goes on to say:
“What we know of the prayer of St. Dominic shows that it was habitually intercessory and his meditations and contemplations are shown as resulting typically in preaching of one kind or another. This suggests that even the prayers and devotions of the Dominicans have an apostolic quality and this impression is reinforced by the discovery that Jordan of Saxony, Dominic’s immediate successor, who was regarded by his brethren, as a powerful man of prayer, says of himself, “I hardly ever pray”, a complaint echoed in other early Dominican writings. The all-absorbing ambition of the friars was “to be useful to the souls of others”. Their own spiritual exercises were designed to make them better preachers, and their own spiritual progress was not sought as a goal in its own right but rather as a kind of spin-off from their service of others. This service of others was determined by the needs of others. And in the thirteenth century what was needed most was catechesis, doctrinal and especially moral.”
I think this same spiritual need is the greatest in today’s world and I pray that through the intercession of St. Dominic and all our Dominican saints, that we, and all those already in the Order as well as those entering, will respond to this need, following the example of the early Dominicans, by being graced by God with that selfless all-absorbing ambition of being useful to the souls of others, according to each one’s particular vocation in the Order.
I conclude with Timothy Radcliffe’s definition of Dominican Spirituality, which has always impressed me and sums up the points I have been trying to make. He says :
“ Dominican Spirituality is about being alive in God and for others”.