The wisdom was contained in a single sentence. It came from the quill of a saint nearly fifteen hundred years ago. And yet it made me think twice about the way I was living my life. The thought came from the Prologue of the Rule of St. Benedict, a guide for monastic life, and it was simple:
Now, therefore, let us finally arise. Scripture stirs us up saying, “Now is the hour to rise from sleep.”
Almost too simple.
But it was the explication from Michael Casey, an Australian Benedictine monk, that really opened my eyes about how this saint’s simple sentence matters to me. Just consider…
[St.] Benedict is saying that compared with the spiritual possibilities that are brought within our range by grace, we are pretty sluggish. So we need to bestir ourselves, to get moving, to allow God’s grace to propel us further and faster toward the prospects divine providence has prepared for us…No call is resisted and resented so fully as the call to wake up. So we need not be surprised if we do not want to be stirred into action, especially when we do not know exactly what will be involved. We are being summoned to an unspecified alertness. We are being asked to be prepared for unknown challenges, to say yes to demands that have not yet been made. All of this requires a strong faith in Providence and a firm trust that God never calls us to perform beyond our real limits. And we have to be realistic. Despite my forebodings, I can rise reasonably confident that the heroism demanded of me today will not involve utter disgrace, or torture, or martyrdom, but will simply point me toward small actions that transcend the usual boundaries I impose on my benevolence: a word of encouragement here, a few minutes of solicitous listening there, a helping hand, a gesture of forgiveness or solidarity, a hidden initiative that furthers the common good. Occasions for such tiny acts of heroism will present themselves, but only if, first of all, we are awake and alert to their possibility…To do better requires vigilance. How many times when we are accused of doing wrong or failing to do something appropriate do we reply with excuses such as, “I didn’t know,” or “I wasn’t aware,” or “I wasn’t thinking”? The moral challenge passed us by because our conscience was not activated; we were asleep…By creating a miasma of sensory fireworks we effectively block out anything beyond what is sensate: any spiritual perceptiveness, any attention to interiority. Our conscience is deadened by sensory overload and we are little aware of the possibilities that are open to us to create a better world…The voice of conscience and the words of the Gospel are but a still, small voice in our noisy universe… A lively imagination stirs up the emotions and keeps us from attaining that level of inner tranquility that enables us to attend to the promptings of conscience and to the stirrings of the Holy Spirit. The result is that we are so awake on one level that there is no room for a more interior awakening. Most of us cannot truly listen to another speaking if we are simultaneously watching television, texting on our cell phone, and internally fretting about some imagined grievance. In the same way, we cannot be spiritually aware without turning down the volume of other voices. To be awake and alert spiritually we have to limit the amount of attention we give to other areas. And, according to St. Benedict, we have to make a start right away. “Now is the hour to rise from sleep.”
St. Benedict’s simple sentence and Michael Casey’s explanation reminded me what I have forgotten and what I need to do every day. The risk I have is to contentedly intellectually apprehend and believe my Catholic faith while sleepwalking through God’s innumerable calls in my every day life. We must wake up. We must know God’s will for us. We must recognize where our will is trying to subvert God’s. And we must eagerly seek to be faithfully heroic in the tiny acts of each day.
“Now is the hour to rise from sleep.”
St. Benedict, pray for us.