We are perhaps familiar with the story of Daniel and The Lion's Den. We know he gets throw into a pit with lions and yet they do not eat him. But why was he thrown in? Habitual Prayer. This part of the story always gets left off in the Sunday School version. Why? Perhaps because we cannot culturally relate to it. Why can't we relate to it? Perhaps because we've lost some of our culture.
Why would Daniel pray so much? We speak of the redemption of Man, the cosmos, sometimes theologians even speculate on whether or not the brute beasts will be redeemed. But there is a creature in need of redemption we rarely speak of - Time.
Time is created. It is thus a creature. Part of Lucifer's betrayal of God is that it damaged the cosmos, both in time and space. This not only gives an account of suffering in Catholic Theology in books like Job, but it also explains why Time is frequently that thing we need more of, that thing we let slip by, that thing we wish we had more of, or that thing that ultimately leads to our death.
But it was not so in the beginning. Time is meant to be a mirror image of Eternity. The Angelic Fall damaged Time in such a way that it needs Redemption like everything else. "For God so loved the World that He sent His only begotten Son" must acknowledge that the "World", that is the universe, includes Time.
In Morning Prayer this past Sunday we heard Daniel 6:1-23 (Trinitytide XX; 10/14/18). In this passage Darius has decreed that no man shall make petition [to any God or god]. In response we heard:
Daniel knew that the document had been signed, he went to his house where he had windows in his upper chamber open toward Jerusalem; and he got down upon his knees three times a day and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as he had done previously.
Daniel had a tradition of praying three times a day. We know now this is part of the development of The Church's Liturgy of Hours. The two primary Hours of prayer are Morning and Evening Prayer, which Vatican II's document Sacrosanctum Concilium said were the "hinges" upon which all prayer rested. Each takes about 20 minutes. There is also a tradition of praying one of the other smaller hours to break up the work day and to "sanctify the day." Frequently this is Noonday Prayer (Sext: 'sixth hour') before a worker takes lunch. This takes about 5 minutes. To pray as Daniel did thus might take up about 45 minutes a day. Now think about how many minutes a day you honestly waste on average. Is it more or less than 45?
In fact, Vatican II envisioned a restoration of The Hours of Prayer not just for priests and religious as some sort of "expert" practice, but as a practice for all laity:
100. Pastors of souls should see to it that the chief hours, especially Vespers, are celebrated in common in church on Sundays and the more solemn feasts. And the laity, too, are encouraged to recite the divine office, either with the priests, or among themselves, or even individually.
This practice of The Church's Prayers have largely been overshadowed by a multiplicity of personal devotions, novenas, random internet and book prayers, blog prayers, made up prayers, and so forth. Personal devotions are not bad, but they don't take precedence over The Church's Prayers. In fact, The Church's Prayers rank second, next to The Mass alone. Personal devotion is a third and vital component in a healthy prayer life.
If you were reading Daniel 6:1-23 during Morning Prayer, you would experience an odd thought. You would realize you were already doing what Daniel was killed for doing. This means for the person praying this Scripture, they easily see how their life has conformed to Scripture. Imagine trying to explain to a child how you're supposed to live like a Christian. You could do a bunch of gymnastics trying to allegorize how we're like Daniel with a vague appeal to "faith," or you could just pray three times a day like he did and say "faith looks like praying three times a day." Which is easier to understand? Which is easier to do for you and for your children? "See? Daniel prayed three times a day, just like us!" Simple.
On the same day as this reading, the antiphon on the Benedictus was:
Walk circumspectly, * not as fools but as wise: redeeming the time, because the days are evil.
Notice it says not to be fools. What makes us the fool according to this prayer? Apparently thinking other than that the days are evil. Managing and controlling and scheduling time as if by our own efforts and self-willed projects of creation we shall be made better. All the time management in the world will not make up for a lack of grace, and all the time management in the world will do nothing but block one's participation in grace. One can take the eucharist all day, but even Judas took. Sacraments require cooperation, they will not be forced to aid us in our own projects, but they conform us to Christ's project.
The antiphon is taken from Ephesians 5:16. If you think about it within the context of Daniel 6:1-23 you'll realize that praying is how we redeem Time. The fool thinks the days as we've set this is good. The wise realize time must be reordered to Christ: not to me or to The State or to my kids or to my family but to God. God has given us a way to participate in his redeeming work. He has give us concrete practices to live out The Faith.
Christ exemplified this to us as he rose before dawn to pray (Mk 1:35, Ps. 119:147) as well as in the evening (Mt. 14:23). And you see the Apostles doing the same in Acts of the Apostles time and time again, "at the hour of prayer" (Acts 2:15, 2:42, 3:1-6, 10:9, 10:30).
What's the foolishness then that blocks us from living The Faith? Thinking Time is a commodity. Think about how we speak of time:
"Time is Money"
"I'm out of Time"
"If only I had more time"
"There's just not enough hours in the day"
"We need to work on time management"
We speak as if Time is something we own, possess, can quantify and package and own, rather than something we're in. What if wasting time in prayer is one of the holiest things we can do? Time in fact, is not a commodity, it is a creature, something made by God. As such it's ultimate purpose is to glorify God. Time used in music, in The Sanctus or The Gloria are examples of how time participates in God's redemptive plan.
Of course this looks counter-cultural and much pressure will be put on the Christian to "make better use of their time," but this is just a way of The World trying to reassert it's point of convincing us to a shared faith, a shared belief that Time is a commodity. But Time is not a commodity, it is a Gift from God. We didn't have to exist, we didn't have to have any time. Any at all given to me is a miracle.
My father was always fond of saying "We are not promised tomorrow." It's a trustworthy saying. Gifts are to be extravagant, enjoyed, delighted in, not cut apart, managed, and scheduled. Treating Time like a commodity is the height of Pride, it is presumption, as if one knows they're guaranteed such and such amount and thus they can divide it accordingly to maximize the efficiency of their life. Post-Industrial Man always think he's promised tomorrow, but we're not. It's why Tragedy and Misfortune frequently lead to Post-Industrial Man losing his faith, because his faith was always in the managed of his presumed amount of time, and not actually in God. The LORD Almighty gave us a limited amount of Time for a particular purpose. Don't waste it just on yourself.
In The End, all time shall be like time in the Mass; we shall be swept up in beauty and holiness, in poetry and sacral language, in worship of God where Time does not seem like much of anything. There Time will not be felt, so much as lived in. We will not need to reflect upon it for every moment will be full of happiness and eternal blessedness. Anyone who has wasted time watching a sunset or a full moon has tasted a glimpse of this.
God will redeem Time, but he's asked us to participate in it. He's asked us to do so by participating not just in personal prayer, but also in The Church's Prayers. This was a common practice in parishes and even families up until a few hundred years ago, meaning it boasts over a thousand years of precedence. Many Anglicans in the 17th-18th c. prayed Evening Prayer at their parishes, or if they could not reach it, with their families. This practice helped produce many saints. I cannot find many saints who didn't pray The Hours.
When you pray The Hours like Daniel did, you participate in The Redemption of Time.
Waste some time in prayer, for Christ's sake. And God forbid you waste time walking or biking there. That would be most dreadful. You may even have to talk to the person next to you. And worse still, you may end up at a dinner party or joining someone for drinks after prayer. This would waste so much time I don't know we would get all those important things done after sundown.
St. Aelred prays Evening Prayer at St. Joseph Catholic Church in the Chapel, 6pm M-F.