There was a time in my life when I was immersed in secularism. I began to recover in my late twenties, a process given a sudden and decisive boost by a powerful conversion experience in my thirtieth year, as I have related in other posts [here, here]. That was the start of an amazing adventure. In the first flush of rediscovered faith I experienced an unexpected joy in prayer, and many problems that had seemed insurmountable before were now, surprisingly, manageable.
|We can't all pray like monks . . .|
I have heard this honeymoon period after a conversion, or reversion, referred to as the “Pink Cloud” phase. The Catholic tradition wisely tells us that conversion is a process and the pink cloud, like the infatuation at the beginning of a relationship, sooner or later (sooner, usually) dissipates, leaving the long and often hard road that is the only way to true love.
So it was for me. Eight years down the road my wife and I had moved to another state (twice) and had several small children. Life was good, but my spiritual life was stuck. I needed something more, but I didn’t know what. It happened that we were visiting in the state where that first profound reversion experience had taken place, and as I was driving past the church where I had been moved so profoundly years before the bells began to chime (literally). The clock on the dashboard said 6 o’clock. “Vespers”, I thought to myself, and then it struck me: I could pray the Divine Office. In fact, it almost seemed as though I was being told I should pray the Divine Office. And why not?
I was excited about the possibility, but had no idea how to go about it. I had a very vague understanding of the Divine Office: I knew that it was a series of formal prayers said at certain times every day, and I knew the names of some of those prayer times (Matins, Lauds, Vespers), but that was it. As soon as our car ride was over I looked up “Divine Office” in the encyclopedia (my mother-in-law did not have internet access) and started piecing it together. I learned that the Divine Office (now called the Liturgy of the Hours) goes back to the very earliest days of the Church, and is built around the praying of the Psalms and certain Canticles (poems or songs) from other parts of the Bible. The Magnificat, for instance, which is the prayer Mary says when she meets her cousin Elizabeth (Luke 1:46-55), is always part of Vespers (i.e., Evening Prayer).
I did not at first feel ready to pray the actual Liturgy of the Hours (I didn’t even know where to find the prayers), so at first I just made a point of praying at some time close to the canonical hours. Soon, however, I started to find resources online, and eventually bought a fairly inexpensive prayer book. The Divine Office changed everything: not only did I have a much fuller prayer life, but I found that it really did “sanctify time”, as they say. I felt closer to Christ and his Church, I was much more aware of the unfolding of the liturgical year, and I became much more familiar with Sacred Scripture in the process. I also found that some ingrained patterns of sin which had withstood my initial conversion were becoming more tractable. Praying the Liturgy of the Hours had in fact helped trigger another, further, experience of conversion.
|. . . family life can be busy|
I do need to point out that I have never been able to pray like a monk, and have never tried: I have a wife and children and need to work extra jobs to keep them all clothed and fed. Priests and religious, and certain lay people under vows, are required to pray the Divine Office in a particular way; the rest of us can adapt it to our situation. I am planning a series of posts discussing various aspects of the Liturgy of the Hours, including how busy lay people can incorporate the Divine Office into their regular prayer life, available resources, the history of the Divine office, and my reflections on some of the particular hours.