|Interview With Sister Catherine Aubin
ROME, 23 MARCH 2005 (ZENIT)
To pray with all one's body is to love
with all one's heart, says Dominican Sister Catherine Aubin, author of a
book on the subject.
The French nun, who holds a licentiate in psychology and a doctorate in
theology, has just published the book "Prier avec son corps à la manière
de saint Dominique" (To Pray with the Body According to St. Dominic),
published by Cerf.
Sister Aubin is a professor of sacramental theology and spiritual
theology at the Regina Mundi Pontifical Institute, the Claretianum
Institute of Theology of the Consecrated Life, and the University of St.
Thomas Aquinas in Rome.
Q: What inspired you to write such a book?
Sister Aubin: For 10 years I lived in Saint-Denis Street in Paris where
there is a community of Dominican Sisters. There I met people, in search
of interior unity and peace, who practiced techniques and physical
exercises such as Zen, Transcendental Meditation and others.
At the same time, as a young religious, I was discovering Dominican
spirituality and I had an authentic "sudden illumination" about St.
Dominic's nine corporal ways of prayer. So I decided to write a book,
one of whose messages is to say to those who practice these techniques
that "in the Catholic tradition, we also have a pedagogy of prayer with
the body, which might respond to your search."
Q: What do you understand by "praying with the body"?
Sister Aubin: When one loves, that love is manifested with gestures,
words, smiles. The same happens with prayer. The living Christ is before
me, in me. How will I manifest my love to him?
In the book, St. Dominic is the teacher. His prayer was so fascinating
that his first brothers transcribed what he said and did, with nine
images in which he appears at prayer.
Each attitude of the body corresponds to a spiritual attitude and
enables the latter to manifest itself. The gestures represent what is
hidden and illustrate the movements of the heart. For example, the
gesture of bowing corresponds to humility; kneeling to trust.
Q: Could you explain what these nine ways of prayer are?
Sister Aubin: The first way to pray is to bow. St. Dominic humbles
himself before the altar in which Christ is alive on the cross, with his
bleeding side to make us understand that he is communicating his life to
us. St. Dominic's interior disposition is one of humility of heart.
The second way is to prostrate oneself. St. Dominic is prostrated on the
floor and weeps, with compunction of heart, pierced by the awareness of
In the third way of praying, St. Dominic scourges himself on his knees;
his desire is to be like Christ in his passion.
According to the fourth way of praying, St. Dominic kneels and rises,
and his soul is full of confidence in God's mercy on him, his brothers
In these first four ways of praying, St. Dominic's body is on the
ground. We come from the earth; it is the place of origins, the place of
The four corresponding dispositions
humility, compunction of heart, discipline, and trust
are spiritual dispositions that recognize our dependence and the primacy
These first four ways of praying may be grouped around an attitude:
acceptance, acceptance of the condition of creature before God,
acceptance of God as creator and savior, acceptance of one's own
limitations before him who is infinite.
In the fifth way, the saint rises and stands, without leaning on
anything, as a prophet or as Jesus himself. His attitude is that of the
resurrection, he is standing in his body and heart. His arms and hands
manifest his listening to the Word. Gradually, he becomes silent to
listen and to allow himself to be led by the One who speaks to him
through the Scriptures.
Then his arms open majestically in the sixth way, to embrace and imitate
his Friend who has given his life for him on the cross. His gesture with
his arms in the form of a cross means life given for Christ, and life
received by the saint. A gesture of crucified-resurrected, which leads
St. Dominic to give life back to the young boy who has fallen off his
In the seventh way, he continues the movement of his arms, stretching
them determinedly to the heavens, with his hands either clasped or open,
as if he were to receive something from heaven. The tension of his whole
being shows his desire to be with the One who is in heaven and with us
His body, just like his heart, witnesses to his prayer which is
elevated, which rises like an arrow: He knows the One he addresses and
he knows his prayer will be heard, as it corresponds to that of Christ:
the promise to send us the Holy Spirit.
It is the moment of the encounter with God in a face-to-face dialogue.
These three ways of praying pivot on an attitude, that of an encounter
with God, face to face, as with a friend.
In the eighth way of praying, St. Dominic is seated at a table, reading
and listening to what the Lord says to him through his Word, and in the
last way he is seen with a companion going off on a trip on the paths of
the world to transmit what he has contemplated.
In this way, St. Dominic illustrates Jesus' friendship with his friends
-- a friendship in which not only time is taken to sit together, but
also to walk on paths together. These last two ways are ordered around a
gift: the gift of God in his Word and in his life, the gift of God leads
to giving and to giving of oneself.
The nine ways of praying are divided therefore in three stages:
acceptance, encounter, gift. They enable us to enter in his way of
salvation to cure us of our devaluation of ourselves and to listen to
what the Lord says to us: I receive you as you are; you are my friend,
be fruitful, give fruit.
Q: Can prayer with the body create greater intimacy with God?
Sister Aubin: It is the path proposed by this book, namely, to begin on
the way of inwardness and the body is a precious help in this pedagogy.
We realize that biblical anthropology gives specific, dynamic functions
to the different parts of the body, which also symbolize the intentions
of the heart. For example, the neck may symbolize the place of honor, of
weight, but also of affection or humility. In this way one passes from
the "neck of the body" to the "neck of the heart." ZE05032321