Celebration of the Divine Office (or Liturgy of the Hours) is not unique to the Order of Preachers, but it is for the Dominicans apropos given the Order's origins in the life of our father St. Dominic de Guzmán. From 1194 until the founding of the Order of Preachers Dominic served as a Canon Regular at the cathedral in Osma, Spain, and while there he would have experienced a rich, semi-monastic life of liturgical prayer. Dominic's experiences as a Canon Regular probably served as inspiration for the general high-quality of the Order's liturgical life down through history.
Participating in the Order's liturgical life is a great blessing. Each Hour of prayer is a joy in itself, but many friars also use the Hours to orient their personal prayer lives. This is one of the many benefits of our well-regulated communal life. I tend to show up in the chapel 15 to 30 minutes beforehand to meditate on the Rosary, or on material from the latest issue of Magnificat, or to sit quietly in the Presence of our Lord. This short period of time is a perfect spiritual preparation for the Hours.
A few weeks ago, while meditating visually upon the Crucifix in our chapel before Vespers, I was pondering the Cross and its meaning in the life of the Christian disciple. It struck me how the significance of the Cross has grown in my life since returning to the Church over six years ago. The Cross has been elevated in my consciousness from being one symbol among many to being the focal point of my life. The sight of a Crucifix does not repel me, nor does it evoke within me a feeling of foreignness. Rather, I have regularly experienced something within me that exclaims, "I get it," then reels back in astonishment. I can only describe this experience as an internal resonance with our Lord's Passion and Death.
This resonance with the Cross was not always present in my life of Catholic faith. This too, I pondered during my meditation, and it occurred to me that Christians must be patient with those who don't seem to "connect" with the Cross. There are certain non-believers who are only able to express disgust at the sight of a Crucifix and there are also many non-Catholic Christians who find Crucifixes discomfiting: many times I've heard the remark from those of an Evangelical background, "Jesus is risen! Take him off that cross!" I've even overheard remarks of disdain from Catholics, who seem to regard the Crucifix as a dark sign of pre-Vatican II "Catholic guilt."
Clearly, the Cross is controversial: "[W]e preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles" (1 Cor 1:23). But for believers the Cross should not be controversial: our crucified savior, Jesus Christ, is "the power of God and the wisdom of God" (1 Cor 1:24). Perhaps I may take my "getting" of the Cross as an indication that I am being conformed to Christ effectively. This conclusion may be the result of "seeking after signs" on my part, I admit, but if it is true then in it I take great consolation. I am often discouraged by the constant presence of concupiscence within me, yet this discouragement is made bearable by evidence of progress in my spiritual life.
I suppose that I could stop here, allowing myself to be content with my possible spiritual progress, and leaving the reader to wonder if I'm not a bit arrogant for claiming, "I get the Cross." Instead, I will take up this meditation again next week, delving deeper into the meaning of this statement and attempting to discover how the Cross plays a role in my spiritual life. I invite you to meditate upon these questions as well: maybe we'll hit upon some common insights! Until then, Christ's peace be with you.