Throughout my studies at The Catholic University of America, I had the opportunity to witness and participate in the sacred traditions and rites of various religious orders I would never have encountered back at home. A great blessing of my place of study was the constant flux of various clergy, seminarians, and religious throughout campus who were undertaking a degree program or simply passing through campus in their respective ministries. God bless the Franciscans, Little Sisters of the Poor, Marians, Sisters of Life, Sisters Servants of Mary Immaculate, Pallottines, and the Missionaries of Charity, to name a few, who joyfully lived out their vocations—inspiring observers to get to know them and their spiritualties and facilitating an encounter with the Lord.
In God’s providence, I frequently found myself at the Dominican House of Studies at the far side of campus and was able to join the community of brothers and priests in their night prayers and certain liturgical celebrations which were open to the public. Personally, I found the house to be a commanding presence and a bit daunting on the inside: the intellectual prowess of the Order of Preachers and its faithful carrying out of its mandate to preach conveyed a certain spiritual seriousness which drew me in all the more. How striking were the resonating, unified, and almost haunting tones of the sacred chants of prayer, together with the corresponding gestures and postures and the dimmed lights! And yet, in wonderful moments of levity, the very same Dominicans could be found performing excellent bluegrass music as “The Hillbilly Thomists”!
Before Dominic’s mother conceived him, she dreamt a dog leapt from her womb and set the world on fire. Dominic went on to become a priest and ultimately founded the Order of Preachers—the Dominicans. The Dominicans rose to the forefront of the intellectual life of the Middle Ages as they announced the Gospel, combatted heresy, gave quality spiritual and scholastic instructions, and contributed unmatched gifts to schools of theology and philosophy. They are lovingly nicknamed “the hounds of the Lord.” The Order has raised up many saints and conferees who ministered to every corner of the world, advocating for the rights of Native Americans, standardizing the liturgy of the Mass, compiling the Church’s canonical laws, composing timeless sacred hymns, caring for the poor, advancing the correlation of faith and science, and promoting the holy Rosary. Western civilization owes a debt of gratitude for the contributions of Dominicans such as Saints Thomas Aquinas, Albert the Great, Pope Pius V, Catherine of Siena, Rose of Lima, Louis de Montfort, and Martin de Porres.
Participating from time to time in the life of that religious community gave me a lovely insight into the incredible mysticism of the Order and of the Church Universal. Such a powerful instrument of personal and theological devotion is not the closely held property of one religious order or vocation, but a gift available to anyone who seeks to enhance their personal spirituality with deeply historic and touching methods. This involves realizing the soul as something more sacred than just consciousness; the soul is able to love which helps to better relate to God, who is Love incarnate, emotionally and ecstatically rather than merely intellectually. And you don’t need the philosophical and theological background of a Dominican to similarly enhance your own prayer life! You can begin by quietly placing yourself in the holy presence of God and focusing on the love He offers and the ways He is being loved (or not) in return. Going deeper, it could be beneficial to read the thoughts and reflections of various Dominican saints who embraced a similar spirituality.
How good God is to have called upon Saint Dominic hundreds of years ago to begin such an incredible religious order committed to promoting Truth and the mandate to praise, to bless, and to preach (In fact, that is one motto of the Order!).The work of the Dominicans is especially needed today in our society of moral relativism and secularism. Let us pray that many more answer God’s ongoing call for holy religious and priestly vocations. And may we, as lay people, continuously support the Church which offers so many varied spiritual treasures for our sanctification.
“It’s 11:11… make a wish!” Have you heard of that phrase before? I roll my eyes every time someone eagerly pauses in that moment, thinking that whatever they wish for will magically appear. Though superstitions like this detract from actual prayer, the idea of praying a daily devotion has a long history in the Church. Prayers like the Angelus, a Marian devotion that commemorates the Incarnation, have been around since at least the Middle Ages. Often prayed at noon, the devotional provides the faithful with an opportunity to re-focus and recommit their days to Christ.
Marian devotions in particular can help us grow closer to Christ because Christ himself dedicated Mary to us after his death. When Jesus said, “Woman, behold your son. Son, behold your Mother,” he was providing Mary as an intercessor for us. After Jesus’ death, the Acts of the Apostles records her as being present when the disciples gathered at Jesus’ Ascension and then later in the Upper Room during the Descent of the Holy Spirit. Because of Mary’s continual intercession for the followers of her Son and because of her role serving with the Apostles on earth, she has historically been known as the Queen of Apostles. As tradition goes, it is Mary who bolstered the Apostles in moments of discouragement and fear after the death and Resurrection of Christ.
Prayers to Our Blessed Mother never go unanswered. As a personal devotion to her, I offer up a Hail Mary for my vocation every time I see an 11 on the clock. I like to pray when I see the number in order to turn the superstitious ‘11:11 practice’ into something for the glory of God; you could pray when you first wake up, or at noon like those who pray the Angelus, or during your commute to work or school. Daily devotions are flexible! The important part is to make sure that you are checking in with our Heavenly Father every day. In particular, praying with Mary encourages us to adopt as our own her obedience and love for the Father. And of course, Mary is never outdone in generosity, and her intercession to Jesus is the most powerful of all.
I encourage you to begin a daily devotion of your own. It can be for your vocation, for a personal trial, for someone else – for whatever is on your heart that day. My prayer for my vocation was inspired by a friend who made a daily offering of prayer for her future husband and is now married and has four beautiful babies. She told me her life wasn’t always pointed straight to God’s will, and how she grew up neglecting her Catholic faith. As she grew older, she knew that her soul was yearning for something to grasp, to hold onto, to fill the void in her heart. She decided to go to adoration, and was inspired through prayer to begin a daily devotion to Christ through Mary. That devotion she made fifteen years ago to Our Mother changed her heart and her life. I pray that you also will be inspired to take up a daily devotion to Our Mother, who so graciously hears our intercessions and carries them to her son. As I pray each day this devotion, I will pray for you, and this journey to Heaven that we are taking together.
Question for Reflection: What do my daily devotions look like? What is an easy moment in the day that I can take some time to pray to Our Mother for guidance and intercession?
Kathleen O’Reilly is a senior at Saint Vincent College in Latrobe, Pennsylvania.
I have a confession to make - I have not always understood nor appreciated Mary’s vital role within my own life. Growing up as a Catholic, I heard people speak about Mary’s role in the Church, yet I never had an encounter with her. Throughout high school, I knew of a few different Marian devotions, but I never connected with them as a young male. I always saw Marian devotions as something my female classmates did, while my male classmates and I looked to St. Joseph as our role model.
Yet, when I arrived at college, I met young men of faith who were devoted to our Blessed Mother and some who had even consecrated themselves to Mary. These were normal guys, who had a deep love for Mary, one I had never encountered before. When they started to talk about the impact she had in their lives, their faces beamed with delight. Their love for Mary was palpable. I was intrigued by their witness, yet it was not until this past summer that I had an encounter with Mary, an experience that changed my spiritual life.
This past summer I was introduced to the devotion of Mary, Undoer of Knots. When I prayed with this devotion, the Holy Spirit truly touched my heart. It made sense now why I asked for Mary’s intercession, instead of just always praying directly to the Father. Day by day, as my devotion to Mary intensified, I noticed a change in my own spiritual life. The more deeply I fell in love with Mary, the greater sense of peace I felt and the closer I became to her Son. St. Vincent Pallotti wrote how each of us should “place [ourselves] in the hand of the Madonna… and do not let anything worry you.” St. Vincent understood that when we are devoted to Mary, we should be at peace, trusting that our Mother will care for us and guide us closer to her Son. Therefore, he urged his followers to always strive to cultivate a deeper relationship with Mary, knowing nobody can love Mary as much as her Son loves her.
One way in which St. Vincent’s devotion to Mary manifested itself was that he wore a Marian icon around his wrist, so whenever people would attempt to kiss his hand, a common practice of St. Vincent’s day, they would instead venerate an image of Mary, Mother of Divine Love. While this is a beautiful witness, this is not the only way in which to cultivate a deeper relationship with Mary.
During this Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy, now is the perfect time to take stock of your own relationship with Mary. Maybe take a couple minutes out of each day to encounter Mary. Your prayer asking for Mary’s intercession does not need to be complex or long. You may wish to meditate on an image of Mary and pray: Mary, I look to you as my guide, as my help. Help me to become more merciful to all people I encounter. Help me to become merciful like Your Son. Amen.