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.
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.
"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.