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Saturday, January 16, 2010

Vigils

When I was a little girl, sometimes Daddy would work late or have meetings or other engagements, so he wouldn't be home in the evenings with us.  As a "Daddy's Girl", I suffered a great deal of deprivation and one night I happened to be awake when he came home.  Of course I ran to him and threw myself into his arms, joyful in his return!  Although it was so late and I should be in bed, he invited me to join him for a little snack before he turned in.  Mom resigned herself to this and let me stay up with him, then they both packed me off  happily (and well fed) back to bed.

This became a little routine while Dad was in that particular cycle. I would wake up, either hear the door open when Dad came in, or hear Mom and Dad talking, and rise to join Dad in a midnight snack.  It was those nights that I learned about Sardines on Saltine crackers (something I was hesitant to try but he won me over),  herring (which I hated then but love now) and other apparently-Swedish delicacies he had grown to love and wanted me to as well.  These were special nights of bonding, and I would do ANYTHING to be present with him.  We would talk about all sorts of things; what I did that day, what he did, interesting little insights that can only take place between a father and a toddler daughter, which everyone wishes were written down somewhere for comic relief.  The snacks didn't really matter to me. What DID matter was being with Dad in those lonely hours of the night, and it was obvious that he delighted in my presence as much as I delighted in his, if for different reasons.  

Midnight Vigils in the Cloister

Many cloistered contemplative communities rise at some point in the middle of the night to pray. For some it is Midnight, others it is 2:00 am, others rise for the day at 3 am and begin prayer at 3:30, or rise at 4 to pray at 4:30.

When I first began discerning the Cistercians, I noted that they began their day at what I thought to be an ungodly hour, and was certain I was insane for even considering it! I HATE getting up in the morning, but..to rise at 3:30 or 4?  NO WAY!  

Even now as I look at cloistered communities and see that they rise at midnight or 2 am, I think to myself..."Can I REALLY do that? Can I REALLY leave maybe the deepest sleep of my night and stumble to the chapel to pray..and actually be able to return to bed to sleep for a couple more  hours?  REALLY?"

I've been praying about this, and today God reminded me of my childhood midnight vigils, waiting for Dad to come home, or waking upon his arrival, then going to meet him.  I went with childish wonder and enthusiasm, motivated by the purity of love.

In the midst of those memories, I heard Jesus ask me today, "Wouldn't you do that for Me?"

It's true. If I could so enthusiastically rush to greet my Dad, why wouldn't I, now, as an adult, rush to greet our beloved Father in the silence of the night?  Why would my childish enthusiasm be lacking, why does it HAVE to be as an adult?  Isn't our Creator far greater than our parents?  Do I not love Jesus at LEAST as much as I loved my Dad back then?

I didn't rush to greet my Daddy for the food we shared, but only to be in his presence. Any time away from him was a time of deprivation.

So it is with God.  If we have not God in our lives, we have nothing at all.

Humble as a Child

"Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven."   (Mt 18: 3-4)

We MUST become as little children in order to enter the Kingdom of Heaven, and I see now that what is required to rise at Midnight is a simple, childlike love of God and neighbor.  The nuns and monks do not rise to pray for themselves, but out of love for God and to pray for the needs of the world. For the conversion of sinners, for those who are suffering, in thanksgiving for those whose prayers have been answered...for those who can't or refuse to pray for themselves.

If I could rise, as a child, depriving myself of the warm comfort of my bed in order to spend time with my earthly father, how much more should I, as an adult, be willing to leave that same comfort to be present with God our Father?

Not only is it an act of love, but it is an act of humility, in response to a call that we cannot understand or follow at a merely natural level.  To rise for prayer, to enter into Our Father's presence in the dead of the night is an act of death to oneself and one's own desires at a very fundamental level.

Tonight, my friends, when you awake in the small hours, when you finish praying for Haiti, remember the holy souls in cloisters and monasteries and convents who rise to pray for YOU, each and every night, have done so for thousands of years and will continue to do so until the end of time.

Even they don't pray Vigils alone.

5 comments:

sr_mary said...

Our priest for holy hour today shared a recent converstation he had w/ a monastic (monk) priest. The monk compared himself to an offensive lineman, blocking for the quarterback. The active religious /priests in the schools and parishes are the quarterback, the monks (and nuns) praying in the monestary, their blockers. I may never know who is blocking for me, but I am ever grateful to them!

Mary333 said...

Yes, thank you for the reminder. It's not easy to get up every night to pray [though God seems to get a kick out of waking me up at 3:33 during the night] for the world and I am grateful to all those who have dedicated their lives to God. What would we do without them? The grace that is obtained for us thanks to their faithfulness is not appreciated enough in our days. I thank God for them.

Mary333 said...

Oh, and I enjoyed the story of you and your father :) I told you I was nosy...I wasn't kidding. You are very mysterious which tweaks my curiosity all the more. I do pray for you, though, God knows Adoro very well at least.

Abbey said...

I absolutely loved this post! The story about your dad, the scripture, all of it - it was just perfect. I had a very dear old friend who is now passed who used to rise every day at 4 a.m. You have planted a seed and now I am asking myself, "why couldn't I do that?" The answer is, "I can." Even if it is 5 a.m., I could do better and am sure I would benefit greatly from this most quiet time of day and spending it in a one-on-one with God.

Bless you, Adoro, and thank you for those special prayers that you said for my intentions. I feel the power of the Holy Spirit and God is working tirelessly even for me.

Abbey

Adoro said...

Sr. Mary ~ Interesting comparison, I would have gone with a more militant metaphor! LOL!

Mary ~ Yeah, he wakes me up sometimes, too, and then I fall asleep in the middle of praying.

Oh, and I'm not a bit mysterious! I'm as average and boring as apple pie without sugar, cinnamon, and ice cream!

Abbey ~ I can barely get out of bed in the morning as it is, honestly, and know I'd do well to get up ealier...if I weren't so darn lazy!