Beware the noon bandit
There are many places in our lives the devil lurks. Perhaps he’s not under every rock, but at least every other. One of the most dangerous places he awaits us is smack dab in the middle of our day.
At noontime, our morning prayer is wearing off and physical and spiritual fatigue is setting in. The devil makes no delay in taunting us: “You’re only halfway there.”
Monastic tradition has always been devoted to noonday prayer with the height of vigilance. The monks found a particular assault coming at them at noon, after they’d arisen early and accomplished many physical and spiritual tasks. As tiredness set in, the rest of the day seemed to lose purpose, and began to feel insurmountable. The fervor brought to prayer at the start of the day faded into apathy, boredom, and self-pity.
The very human monks found themselves tempted to allow their minds to wander to concern for their own comfort, with a stark awareness of their own weariness and discouragement.
This temptation pervades every vocation. I know it well, from my post as a mother at home. The noonday bandit prods me to throw in the towel. He comes to steal my peace, striking at our weakest moments, disguising himself behind one compromise after another. The snowball effect that quickly becomes an avalanche seeks to bury us daily.
Just like the monks, I have two options: regroup or give in.
Psalm 91 has been wielded in the Eastern tradition as a weighty weapon for midday. The psalmist declares boldly, “You will not fear…the destruction that wastes at noonday” (Ps 91:6). Why is this? “Because you have made the Lord your refuge, the Most High your habitation.” You are protected because you know the name of the Lord who will answer you in trouble.
A mother I consulted for advice on a particularly difficult day echoed this Psalm’s assurances. She told me the best thing to do is start the day over at noon. Mentally awaken and rise to the challenges, re-starting the day from that point on, she suggested, beginning with noonday prayer. Remember, she counseled, that nothing has been lost that cannot be regained or made new in Christ.
Because of this truth, the wisdom of the Church offers us the Liturgy of the Hours. In our weakness we can’t hope to make it spiritually unscathed from one Sunday to the next, or even one day to the next. We need constant pause for prayer throughout our day, diligently and intentionally, every few hours — even if only for a few minutes. We must hold onto the fire.
The adage that athletes learn also applies in the spiritual life: If you’re not going forward, you’re going backward. And this is true no matter how close to Christ we’ve come, no matter how advanced in the spiritual life we’ve grown.
I recently heard the story of a man from China. He had been attending Mass in secret and was discovered, captured, and tortured. His torturers sought to find the location of the priest who had celebrated Mass for him, but the man would not disclose his pastor’s whereabouts. If the priest was discovered, he knew, there would be no more Mass. Some time later this man managed to move to the West, where he could freely exercise his religious liberty. Strikingly, here in this country, his faith began to slip. Gradually, he attended Mass less frequently, until finally not at all. What communist China and torture could not do to the man, the comforts of American life eventually did.
The man’s story seemed to be a clear lesson for me: We need to turn our hearts to God’s promises of Psalm 91, perhaps especially at midday: “Because he cleaves to me in love, I will deliver him; I will protect him, because he knows my name. When he calls to me, I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble.”