Vigilance – Pastor’s Reflection (November 15, 2016)
Last Sunday, in both pulpits, we preached a special sermon on the Jubilee of the Friars of the Order of Preachers. The Law of Jubilee summons each person back to his or her homeland. Now since we Dominican Friars have no extensive property, our ancestral estate will be the way of life St. Dominic and his companions devised for us in the years between 1216 and 1228. A prudent question to ask at the outset of a jubilee project is this: if our house was built in the Thirteenth Century, can we as men of the Twenty-First century (more accurately, mid-Twentieth) actually live in it? The ancient observance of the Friars did not stint on personal challenges. By design the order possessed no reliable income, ate no meat, and offered the brothers little to no private space, except for communal silence, which was almost complete inside the house.
The life departed radically from the conventions of its own day, for it set aside the landed stability of monasticism. If living its specifics in the present time would defy most of us, its principles offer a life-giving challenge. For example, the ancient Friars understood their whole life as a form of vigilance, of keeping watch always. So, when Jesus counsels looking at the times with alertness for the Lord’s coming, as He does this Sunday, they knew what He meant and embraced the work with great joy.
Take the example of prayer. The Dominicans practiced the “midnight office.” When in the Sixth Century St. Benedict crafted the Rule for Monks that bears his name, he specified that they should get adequate sleep before rising to praise God. By contrast, St. Dominic and his Friars broke their sleep each night and rose at midnight to go to church where they sang the offices of Matins and Lauds, chanting the psalms and listening to readings from Scripture and the Fathers for an hour or more. Ever since, Dominicans have argued about what time they should get up. Some advocate for the purity of the observance and the primacy of prayer, others urge the needs of the ministry that demand wakefulness and attentiveness through the contemporary working day. Historical reform movements in the Order have sought to reclaim the midnight office, but the pillow always wins in the end. At St. Vincent Ferrer you can look above the confessionals and see the walkway, which the helpful and hopeful Mr. Goodhue provided so that the Friars could make it conveniently from their bedrooms to the midnight office in the Friars’ Chapel. The “night stair” still hopes to be used as such at least once before the Lord comes.
The prophetic challenge of the ancients comes not from the hour of rising but from its motivation. Their longings went way beyond the athleticism of doing a hard thing for its own sake. Rather, they sought to challenge the limited vision of complacency and to present themselves before God so as to be responsive and supple in His presence. They desired to recognize more deeply His goodness, truth, and beauty, to contemplate His unity and trinity, and to perceive His purpose for their life of preaching. This may seem like a tall order for a sleepy man at 12:05 AM, but the jolt of the night rising clears away all competing agendas, so that God’s Word really gets a chance.
Every subsequent age poses the challenge of living an alert life, and our time does in spades. In the dark of night, the Friars of the Thirteenth Century sought a wakefulness more profound that the practical acuity of midday. When the sun shines we have to see leaky pipes and hungry mouths, but there must be a time of day for seeing beyond. How does God’s clarion call now break through the caffeinated concentration of us modern text-walkers?
Many have come to put down their appliances in peace before the Blessed Sacrament. Somehow, the Eucharistic Lord speaks from the monstrance to distracted people of our time, who find in His presence the capacity to sit still, shut up, and wait to see what He will say.
Next Saturday on the Feast of Christ the King, we will have our annual night watch before the Blessed Sacrament at St Vincent Ferrer. For a night we live something of the ancient life, and seek its blessings for our busy selves. The program below is yours to use, insofar as it serves your prayer.
6:30 PM Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament after the Vigil Mass with First Vespers of
Christ the King
9 PM Conference and Compline
11 PM The Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary
12 AM The Midnight Office – Matins of Christ the King
2 AM The Luminous Mysteries of the Rosary
3 AM The Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary
4 AM The Glorious Mysteries of the Rosary
5 AM Conference
6:30 AM Lauds and Benediction
Every year people report blessings from this time! Access will be through the mid-block door on 66th Street, and the guard station will have a sign up sheet throughout the week.