CHAPTER XLIX. Of the Observance of Lent
Wednesday and Thursday of the First Week of Lent
In these days, then, let us add some thing to our wonted service; as private prayers, and abstinence from food and drink, so that every one of his own will may offer to God, with joy of the Holy Spirit, something beyond the measure appointed him.
Here is a passage from Père Ghislain Lafont’s book, Des moines et des hommes, that Père Jérôme copied out for his spiritual sons. One of them gives this text to every postulant entering the abbey of Sept-Fons. Read it, and you will understand why.
I remember that one day a novice came to ask me: “But what does it mean to give oneself to prayer? What is praying?” I proposed to him this definition: “To pray is to give time to God.” Time, that is a quantity measurable on one’s watch, because I believe that time is life.
A man who uses his time to pray . . . truly shows to what point this activity directly ordered to God is important to him. It is a manner of laying down one’s life. [Time spent in prayer] is extremely demanding. All the time that one spends doing this cannot, in fact, be spent doing anything else!
To stay alone with God . . . a being whom you do not see, whom you cannot look in the eyes, who does not answer you, this is faith in the highest degree. This is what makes it so difficult. It seems to me then that a monk truly loses his life for God in proportion to the time he spends in prayer. All the time that a monk spends doing this, he cannot spend doing something else. One of the combats of the monastic life—one of mine, in any case—takes place at the level of all the time that is lost, all the time that could have spent working, achieving interesting things, things useful in every other area of life. Prayer eats up a man here below!
. . . The man who thinks that he can enter into intimate contact with God without giving God measurable time, that man is in total illusion. Can a man argue that he is entering into profound contact with his wife if he gives her no time? Can one claim to understand a child if one does not devote time to the child? All the time that is spent doing this is lost to other pursuits . . . It may well be that the asceticism of spending time is one of the truest forms of asceticism.
This particular passage is marked certainly by the feverish discussions of those caught up in the mentality of 1968. In the midst of the heady debates of that time, Père Jérôme was a voice of sanity and of holiness. He held fast to what the saints of every age have lived and taught: that prayer is a sacrifice. A sacrifice requires some matter, something to be immolated. The matter that we immolate in prayer is time. While this is true of the Divine Office—a certain quantity is indispensable, Saint Benedict holds us to the entire Psalter of 150 Psalms distributed over one week—it is also true of a monk’s orationes peculiares, of the secret prayer of the monk who holds himself, silent and adoring, before the hidden Face of Christ.
The call to perpetual adoration makes sense in this context. Time is not money, as the American slogan would have it, but time is life. When a man gives himself to a monastery in which the observance is ordered to perpetual adoration, he is, in effect, saying, “I want to lay down my life—all of my life—for God alone.” It is a real sacrifice that continues even when a monk is not in the Oratory before the Most Blessed Sacrament. It continues, as Saint Benedict says in Chapter VII, “in the oratory, in the monastery, in the garden, on the road, in the field or wherever he may be, whether sitting, walking or standing.” But, listen well! There can be no life of perpetual adoration without moments—long moments—spent in adoration, and in nothing else. Adoration begins with the sacrifice of time, not in any vague, idealistic way, but concretely in the sacrifice of these fifteen minutes, these thirty minutes, this full hour spent close to Our Lord, present in the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar.
Some may object, “Why before the tabernacle?” Or, “Why, in the presence of the Sacred Host?” I could give many answers to these questions, some of them drawn, I suppose from my own personal experience. But such answers would be too subjective. I can, however, answer in the words of Sacred Scripture:
And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us. (John 1:14)
All that the Father giveth to me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me, I will not cast out. (John 6:37)
If any man thirst, let him come to me, and drink. (John 7:37)
Come to me, all you that labor, and are burdened, and I will refresh you. (Matthew 11:28)
Father, I will that where I am, they also whom thou hast given me may be with me. (John 17:24)
What? Could you not watch one hour with me? (Matthew 26:40)
Stay with us, they said; it is towards evening, and it is far on in the day. So he went in to stay with them. (Luke 24:29)
Behold I am with you all days, even to the consummation of the world. (Matthew 28:20).
Behold, I stand at the gate, and knock. If any man shall hear my voice, and open to me the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me. (Apocalypse 3:20)