Common Wisdom: Pray Without Ceasing

Long before Advent, in the expanse of Church calendar known as ordinary time, the yearning for renewal was stirring.

August merged into September. School buses were back on country roads, and tobacco just cut hung golden in black barns. In the palette of fence rows, bright faces of sunflowers and plumes of goldenrod gleamed yellow next to wild purple asters and red pokeberry stems laden with clusters of berries turning from green to inky black.

My annual retreat was upon me, making September even more than January my stock-taking. My century-old mother-in-law had died; a new grandchild was on the way; my nephew faced a bone marrow transplant; our daughter had just entered the postulancy of the Nashville Dominicans. In short the ground beneath my feet was heaving upward, ready to turn me over in one of those periodic transplantings that both prune and perfect us.

Old ways will not suffice then; more is required. In what form does the invitation come? Because we are incarnational beings, it comes always through some person, often someone dear or well-known to us—a friend, teacher, spiritual director, or, in this case, a daughter.

It comes, too, in time—that mysterious gift in which the Lord of history allows each of us to journey on our unique pilgrimage toward the heavenly city. Each night we go to sleep carrying our unrepeatable incarnation of human nature, all the spiritual and material facets that make up the person of Jim or Bob, Carol or Mary. We also carry the people and places we are given—our family, friends, home, community. All these things are givens.

Each morning we wake up, still bearing our givens, but now with something new—this day in time. In the time of this day we will freely choose how to use the givens of our life, and at the end of the day we will know whether we have ordered it well or whether we have wasted this moment of the Lord’s history. When time is past, it is gone forever. Though it is renewable in that we expect yet another day, in earthly terms our time is finite and will run out. Thus we naturally yearn to transcend earthly time by seeking the imprint of eternal sanction on the time of our lives. We naturally seek sacred meaning in each moment.

The Church has always understood that it is in our daily prayer and work that we are sanctified. She therefore instituted at her very beginning the Liturgy of the Hours, the Divine Office, the prayer of the entire Church at periods throughout the day, by which she consecrates time and prays continually with Christ Himself. All around the world the Church prays without ceasing at dawn, at noon, at eventide, at night, praising Christ and asking his blessing. Through the prayers of the Church, which are also the prayers of Christ himself, the Holy Spirit prays with us to consecrate the order of history.

Traditionally the prayers of the Office were the domain of religious and priests, who are required to pray them every day. In recent years, however, a scaled down but still adequate version of the Liturgy of the Hours has been available to the laity.

We acquired the habit of this Shorter Christian Prayer last summer on vacation in northern Michigan, where the parishioners asked for morning prayer before daily Mass and the pastor gladly instituted it.

When our daughter entered the Dominican Convent of St. Cecilia in Nashville, Tennessee, we determined to continue the custom of morning and evening prayer, thinking it would unite us with her as she and the Sisters chanted the Office in what most witnesses find a sublime moment of prayer. I frankly hoped, too, that the solidarity of the prayers would ease the maternal ache of separation from this dear daughter.

The results, after several months, have been surprising. Not only do we notice a definite union with our daughter, but we also are conscious of a new love for Christ in the Eucharist and in His universal Church. The psalms and readings of the Office inspire a renewed assurance that Christ is Lord of history, that there is no other, that all things work to the good of those who love Him.

If we are to accept the invitation of Christ to love Him and live with Him, how else are we to carry out that mission than by imposing order on each day as it comes? Advancing in the spiritual life means uniting our will with the will of Christ. Ordering our will consequently requires a thing so simple and so profound as ordering our day. The Liturgy of the Hours gives us an opportunity to offer our daily order to the service of the divine order.

By

Mrs. Anne Husted Burleigh is a free-lance writer, mother, and grandmother who lives on a farm overlooking the Ohio River in Rabbit Hash, Kentucky, near Cincinnati. She has written two books: John Adams, a Biography, and Journey up the River: a Midwesterner’s Spiritual Pilgrimage. She has contributed to many publications, including Crisis and Catholic Dossier, and now writes for Magnificat.

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