Labor Day feels more like New Year’s Day to me. If I want to make a resolution, I make it at the start of the school year, when the pencils are sharp, the paper is crisp, and the notebooks are blank with possibility. By January everything’s chewed-down, dog-eared and covered with doodles. The sky is dark, Lent’s on the way, and emotionally I’m just hanging on until June. Don’t ask me to try anything new – I will be looking desperately to drop obligations and slack off on good habits in favor of a nap.
If you’re the same – game for a challenge in September in a way you aren’t in January—and wish you could enter into a regular rhythm of prayer, may I recommend Daria Sockey’s The Everyday Catholic’s Guide to the Liturgy of the Hours?
It’s really marvelous what she accomplishes there in a scant 115 pages. She makes the Liturgy of the Hours accessible, explaining what it is, how it came into being, and its significance for the Church. Then she goes even further, de-mystifying the mechanics of the breviary and all the variations one might encounter (and possibly find overwhelming). If you’ve ever longed to join in morning or evening prayer in a parish setting, but were intimidated by not knowing how it worked: problem solved.
Eminently practical, Sockey walks you through various ways one might adapt praying the several periods of prayer into one’s own life. She even surveys the various breviary “apps” available, and helps you have a sense of whether you’d actually use them.
By far the best feature of this little gem, however, is that Sockey’s experience and evident love for this treasury of prayers shines through and is infectious. Here she is describing Morning Prayer in the Liturgy of the Hours, for example:
“Although the entire Liturgy of the Hours is about offering to God a sacrifice of praise, no other Hour seems more praise-oriented than Morning Prayer. Its Latin name – Lauds—means just that: praises. And this makes sense, because to the mind of the Church, every morning recalls the most amazing and glorious thing that ever happened: the resurrection of Jesus….”
A little later she continues:
“The only appropriate way to recall Christ’s passing from death to life is with the most joyful expression of praise and thanks we can muster. We find it natural to associate the rising sun with the rising Son. Most of the Psalms that refer to the dawn and the rising sun will be found in Morning Prayer…. Furthermore, we have something else for which to praise God: the new day he has given us.”
If she is good at helping the reader appreciate the intent of the Liturgy of the Hours, she’s equally generous with advice about how to pray when the words of the Psalms don’t suit our mood.
“Reading a psalm of woe when you are cheerful? Pray it in union with the poor, the sick and the unemployed. Pray it with the many Christians who face persecution, imprisonment, and martyrdom in nations oppressed by atheistic communism or radical Islam. Pray it for your sister’s friend who in on pregnancy bed rest while having to manage several small children….Pray it for the co-worker whose wife just left him. It’s very easy to find something to do with the psalms of sorrow, regardless of your own feelings.”
She offers this advice for when the Psalms are joyful and we are not: “The Psalms give us reasons to rejoice –the beauty of the earth, the mercy of God –that are always there despite our present problems. God created us. He redeemed us. He promises eternal life. What else, in the end, really matters? These psalms remind us of hope amidst our tears.”
Sockey even teaches us “how to complain to God in three easy steps!”
In short – and it is a short, quick, lively read—Sockey’s instruction on the Liturgy of the Hours is also both a school of scripture appreciation and a school of talking to God in a way that is “real” and touches our actual lives and concerns. Just the ticket if your back-to-school resolution includes making daily time for God and building a personal relationship with Him.