By Archbishop William E. Lori
I don’t know about you, but some nights I have trouble sleeping. Sometimes in spite of myself, at bedtime the events of the day are still ringing in my ears. When I turn out the light, the stubborn problem I wrestled with at 9 a.m. comes back for a nocturnal visit. An unpleasant encounter in the early afternoon returns for a repeat performance. The letter or email I wish I hadn’t received is there for my mind’s eye to read with 20/20 clarity. And, as these things aggregate, long-term problems also have a way of dropping in for a visit. All the while, I’m thinking about what awful shape I’ll be in the next day if I don’t get some sleep.
An old song advises that “when you’re worried and you can’t sleep, just count your blessings instead of sheep.” It goes on to say, “And you’ll fall asleep counting your blessings.” Not bad advice, actually, except that it doesn’t go far enough.
Not only should we count our blessings at the end of the day, we should give God thanks and praise for all the ways he has blessed us.
You won’t be surprised, of course, that the church figured all of this out a long time ago. In fact, the church has an official prayer to bring the day to a close. It is part of the Liturgy of the Hours, the Breviary that bishops, priests, and deacons are obligated to pray – but it’s also a beautiful prayer that everyone is encouraged to pray.
This prayer marks the hours of the day with prayer – morning, midday, evening and nighttime. The last prayer of the day is fittingly called “Compline,” a word which comes from a Latin word that means “complete.”
This prayer consists of an examination of conscience, a hymn in which we ask God to be with us through the night, a psalm which speaks of remembering God and his mercy even at night, and then, the pièce de resistance: the beautiful and touching scene in St. Matthew’s Gospel in which Mary and Joseph, in accord with the Law of God, bring the Child Jesus to the temple to dedicate him to the Lord.
There they meet a layman named Simeon. Simeon was part of the remnant of Israel that looked forward to the coming of the Messiah. He was a prayerful man whose heart was full of hope in all that God had promised. No doubt he frequently prayed in the temple but on this occasion he was prompted by the Spirit to go to the temple where he encountered the Holy Family.
Then, Simeon took the child Jesus into his arms and looked at him tenderly. With that his eyes of faith were opened. As he gazed upon Jesus’ face, he knew he held in his arms the long-expected Savior, not just of Israel but of the whole world. He also knew that seeing the child Jesus brought to a completion all he had ever dared to hope for.
While we know very little about Simeon’s life, he can surely be counted among those who struggled to “hope against hope.” Yet, when he saw Jesus, all that he spent his life and energy hoping and praying for came to pass. Jesus put his whole life in its proper perspective and he experienced an exquisite peace.
So, if I follow Simeon’s lead, as each day comes to an end, I need not avoid my worries and wounds nor do I have to salve them with artificial happiness or self-induced positive thinking. On the contrary: all I need to do is to entrust the whole package – my strengths, weaknesses, my sins and virtues, together with the events of the day – to the Lord Jesus, who is just as present to me at that moment as he was to Simeon.
And in that moment of trust and love, I can also serenely examine my conscience. If I continue to follow Simeon’s lead, I realize that, in the day just ending, the Lord has been placed in my arms – entrusted to me – in the Eucharist I have celebrated and received; in the Word of God I have proclaimed and listened to; in the people with whom I have interacted, including those who are in need and those with whom I may have disagreed.
Did my words, actions and demeanor reflect the light and goodness of the Christ I held in my arms? Then, entrusting myself to the Lord, I fall asleep in his peace.
So as each day begins and ends, my prayer for you is this: “May the Lord protect you as you stay awake and watch over you as you sleep, that awake you may keep watch with Christ, and asleep, rest in his peace.”
Read more from Archbishop Lori here.