Wednesday, February 1, 2012

All the Days of Our Life

Praise the LORD, my soul;
I will praise the LORD all my life,
sing praise to my God while I live.

A phrase leapt off the pages of my breviary and into my heart at morning prayer. The antiphon for Psalm 146: "I will praise my God all the days of my life." From Psalm 146: "I will praise the Lord all my days." The responsory: I will bless the Lord all my life long." The antiphon for the Canticle of Zechariah: "Let us serve the Lord in holiness all the days of our life."

How many times have I recited these lines year in and year out, and why suddenly today do these particular words shine like gold? Do it enough times, and lectio divina sneaks up on you without your being aware of it. All the days of my life.

These words have really got a hold on me this day. Think about it. Feel about it. Intuit it. Praise, bless, and serve God, in holiness, all the days of your life. Can you do it? Can I do it? There it is, a promise as simple as the waters of baptism. A promise so profound that I intend to make three vows just to be sure I live up to it.

Today is the first of February. How many of you are keeping your resolutions for the new year? How many of you even remember your resolutions?

Most of the promises we make are limited in time and place. Few if any of them are for a lifetime and universal. The marriage commitment is one of them. Any others?

We live in a world governed more by contract than covenant. In the United States we seek above all not to be constrained. Not only does freedom mean freedom from involuntary obligation, but also the minimization of voluntary obligation. No contract, social, political, or economic, is inviolable. Every oath or affirmation is temporary. Every promise is conditional. No promise cannot be broken.

But with these words of prayer, everything changes.

Today in the chapel I was feeling a little grumpy, as usually I do at quarter to eight in the morning. My throat is clammy, and I can't sing or recite the prayers the way I would like. I get distracted when one brother yawns and another reads slowly and another sings off key. And then I turn the focus away from God and back to myself: I can't pray like this. Not in these conditions.

The reply from my superego: Yes, you can. Yes, you must. Yes, you will. Suck it up, you self-absorbed prig!

Then comes a more gentle response, from a place deeper than my psyche: I will praise my God all the days of my life. I will bless the Lord all my life long. Let us serve the Lord in holiness all the days of our life.

And a calm took over. Morning prayer ended, and though my brothers probably couldn't tell the difference, I felt more peace than when I entered the chapel.

You see, I realized, like I never did before, that I am not just praying to become a better disciple tomorrow. I am praying as a disciple today, right here and now. When I pray, "I will praise the Lord all my days," I am not making a pledge whose fulfillment begins tomorrow. "All my days" includes today and always begins now. My word to God is a bond not yet redeemed in full, but it has value today.

This day, and no other, is the day to praise, bless, and serve God (and all people in God's name). It doesn't matter if I feel tired and lousy. It doesn't matter if the sky is gray and the temperature is falling. It doesn't matter if it's 7:45 a.m. It doesn't matter if my brothers can't sing or sit still. It doesn't matter, because these conditions, and more adverse ones besides, will be there every day until the end of my life. In good times and bad, for better and worse, I have vowed in baptism to do these things, in spite of all conditions -- in fact, because of them. Lord, help me to love with a ready heart, always and every day.

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