Come to bed, says the spouse to the blogger. How late are you going to stay up here?
For all those seeking sleep tonight, here's another prayer by the mighty St. Augustine of Hippo. For a titan of theology, he reveals a tender heart in this nighttime prayer. Somehow, it evokes the glimpsed nighttime windows of New York City for me: those lit with golden wealth, or the fluourescent strips of hospital rooms, or the bare bulbs of poverty. When are you going to turn out that light and come to bed?
A Nightly Prayer
Watch, O Lord,
with those who wake, or watch or weep tonight,
and give your angels charge over those who sleep.
Tend your sick ones, O Lord Jesus Christ;
rest your weary ones;
bless your dying ones;
soothe your suffering ones;
pity your afflicted ones;
shield your joyous ones;
and all for your love's sake.
- St Augustine of Hippo
Happy Monday! Since yesterday's gospel was the raising of Lazarus, I'll start the week by sharing one of my favorite old-timey Catholic prayers (the kind your kids won't learn in CCD or hear on a New Age-y nun-led retreat). This one, incredibly, has helped me cope with Existential Dread.
You as in, you. Die, as in, gone, as bafflingly and totally gone as that husk-like guy in pancake makeup, lying in a glossy box surrounded by floral arrangements, at the last wake you went to. Because the husk was there, but the guy wasn't. Existential dread! Not the terror of getting there, in the ER or the doomed plane, no, the terror of not being anymore.
I deal with this terror by eating in the middle of the night. The mighty modernists dealt with it on nearly-bare stages where men grapple with ultimate meaninglessness. Jesus deals with it by telling us to hold on until He gets there, and He will call us out and set us free.
Surrendering to that faith must be about the hardest thing there is. (Where did the husk-guy go? Where is he now? Why did someone put a DVD of his favorite movie in the box with him?)
For some reason, this prayer from my dad's old Missal has helped me connect to my Lazarus faith. There are various prayers like this, often called "Prayers for a Happy Death." (Happy!) This one is called "an act of resignation," and it is an act: outrageous, simple and radical. It's like falling off a cliff and trusting someone invisible will be there to catch you. It is practice, and I try to practice every day...or at least in the middle of the night.
An Act of Resignation
My Lord God, even now I accept at Thy hands, cheerfully and willingly, with all its anxieties, pains and sufferings, whatever kind of death it shall please thee to be mine.
James R. C. Martin is a painter in Ivybridge, Devon, England. Not all his paintings are religious in theme, but the faith-based ones are unsentimental, evocative, and lovely.
The depiction of St. Michael the Archangel conquering Satan used to strike me as one of those wacky medieval bits of Catholic iconography. That was before I had a child.
Now I relish the idea of a mighty champion kicking demonic butt, because my kid is going out into that world, and sometimes it seems to resemble this terrifying dreamscape by Raphael. On this Saturday night, when the perils that may await our children are much in the news, this prayer goes out to all who face mortal dangers, whether spiritual or physical.
Prayer To St. Michael The Archangel
Saint Michael the Archangel, defend us in the battle.
Be our safeguard and protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil; may God rebuke him, we humbly pray;
and do thou, O Prince of the heavenly host, by the power of God, thrust into hell Satan and all evil spirits who wander through the world seeking the ruin of souls. Amen.
No, not Tony Stark. Meet a real Iron Man: Walter Ciszek, SJ (1904-1984), whose canonization process has just been greenlighted by the Vatican, according to fellow Jesuit Fr. James Martin (who ought to know, being the author of a book about saints).
Yes, that is a mug shot. A reformed Polish-American punk from Shenandoah, Penna., the young priest went to Europe on the eve of WWII, hoping to sneak into Russia as a missionary. He got more than he could ever have imagined: Accused as a spy, he survived years of solitary confinement and torture in a Moscow prison and was then swept into the fathomless Gulag system, where he toiled for decades in Siberian coal mines and logging camps. After his release, he was shuttled around the USSR for yet more years, finally being traded back home to the US in a Kennedy-era spy exchange.
This would be a ripping enough yarn, but all this time, Ciszek contrived to minister to those around him, even celebrating Mass secretly at great risk. In all the godforsaken places of exile, he left converts in his wake. And upon his return, he took up priestly life at Fordham and elsewhere, writing, counseling, and leading retreats.
More miraculous to me than his raw survival--against the elements, against brutality, starvation, and slave labor--is Fr. Ciszek's seemingly endless power of forgiveness and acceptance. "Let God rule; be affected by Him," he advised. I cannot manage this behind someone with 11 items in the 10-item supermarket lane, much less a prison camp. "The grace of surrender has to take effect like medicine," he also wrote. "You'll know it has when you're not thinking about it."
I hate surrendering anything, to anyone. Trivial slights reduce me to a raging toddler or, at my best, a sulking teenager. Just having read the bare bones of Fr. Ciszek's story has been awe-inspiring. Here's to the cause of Saint Iron Man, and here is a prayer based on his teachings.
Prayer Of Surrender
Lord, Jesus Christ, I ask the grace to accept the sadness in my heart, as your will for me, in this moment. I offer it up, in union with your sufferings, for those who are in deepest need of your redeeming grace. I surrender myself to your Father's will and I ask you to help me to move on to the next task that you have set for me.
Spirit of Christ, help me to enter into a deeper union with you. Lead me away from dwelling on the hurt I feel:
to thoughts of charity for those who need my love,
to thoughts of compassion for those who need my care, and
to thoughts of giving to those who need my help.
As I give myself to you, help me to provide for the salvation of those who come to me in need.
May I find my healing in this giving.
May I always accept God's will.
May I find my true self by living for others in a spirit of sacrifice and suffering.
May I die more fully to myself, and live more fully in you.
As I seek to surrender to the Father's will, may I come to trust that he will do everything for me.
I've always had a streak of "blue domer" running through my orthodoxy, and today, a wild summery vernal equinox, is the day to unleash it. Here's an offering for the first day of Spring.
A Prayer in Spring
Oh, give us pleasure in the flowers to-day;
And give us not to think so far away
As the uncertain harvest; keep us here
All simply in the springing of the year.
Oh, give us pleasure in the orchard white,
Like nothing else by day, like ghosts by night;
And make us happy in the happy bees,
The swarm dilating round the perfect trees.
And make us happy in the darting bird
That suddenly above the bees is heard,
The meteor that thrusts in with needle bill,
And off a blossom in mid air stands still.
For this is love and nothing else is love,
The which it is reserved for God above
To sanctify to what far ends He will,
But which it only needs that we fulfil. —Robert Frost