Source: The Week
By Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry
This election might have you praying for a swift death, or indeed the destruction of all life on Earth. I get that. I really, really get that. The campaign drives me insane, too. And when it does, I’ve found something to restore my sanity. I pray.
Now, I’ve always prayed. But recently, I’ve become more serious and deliberate about it. And it’s changed my life.
I pray the Liturgy of the Hours, perhaps the oldest liturgical practice of the Catholic Church after Mass and the sacraments. Indeed, the Acts of the Apostles record the Apostles observing the Jewish custom of praying at the third, sixth, and ninth hours of the day, the practice from which the Hours sprung. Although the Hours are associated with religious orders and priests, who all pray them, every Catholic can, and indeed is encouraged to, pray them. The Hours have been woven into the fabric of Catholic spirituality for centuries. In the Middle Ages, wealthy patrons ordered richly illustrated and embroidered Books of Hours, which are truly artistic masterpieces.
As the name suggests, the Hours split the day into blocks of several hours, each punctuated by a set of prayers. The Hours include hymns, Bible readings, and various prayers. But their heart, since their Jewish origins, have always been the Psalms.
There’s no need to lead a monastic life to pray the Hours. I have them all on an app on my phone, and there is another app that pings me when I wake up, every three hours thereafter, and then when I go to bed. Praying each time takes but a few minutes. It’s probably only half an hour over the day. In a way, it feels like “more” since it is woven throughout the day. But at the same time it is less demanding, since I never need the sort of 20-minute block that’s hard to find when you have a job and a family. Paradoxically for a practice almost 2,000 years old, the Hours fit perfectly within the cracks of a hectic, modern life.
Countless people are anxious to feel profound experiences through prayer, or worry that their prayer experience is “dry” or feels pointless. It is indeed possible to have spiritual experiences through prayer, the great masters tell us, but that is not what matters. Instead, prayer should be pursued simply for itself, as an offering to God. And the way to know whether your prayer “works” is if it makes you more like Jesus or not.
I don’t think I’ve ever “felt anything” while praying the Hours. But I have noticed that, slowly but surely, they are changing me.
The Hours seem to “sanctify the day.” Because they are woven throughout the day, these frequent breaks do indeed give my everyday life a patina of holiness. Very often the Hours will feel like running commentary on what I’m experiencing at the moment. Indeed, they are meant to. A hymn for the noontime prayer will start with a line like, “The sun is high in the sky,” anchoring me in the here and now and making me feel connected to creation and the universe. Prayer starts to feel more like a companion to everyday life, an added dimension to everything I do, rather than this block squeezed at some point in my day — in bed, on the subway — and disconnected from the rest of what I do.
“Pray without ceasing,” the Apostle Paul admonishes his charges. With the Hours, I get closer to accomplishing that.