The Prayer of the Poor

Before bringing this letter to a close, I must say a word about the rhythm there must be in your lives.

All life in the visible universe that of plants no less than that of our bodies and spirits is rhythmic, and the two exercise and rest. Now, any life which has a settled direction is exposed to the danger of a break in its natural rhythm if one of these movements is used to excess, at the expense of the other. The divine life and the prayer life of a human being are equally subject to this law, with the same risks. The Fraternity manner of life therefore, mingled as it is with the insecurity and daily cares of the poor, has its own particular dangers, just as the life of the solitary or of the monk does. For us as workers, a certain numbness of the will can result from mental sluggishness, and the nervous balance necessary for self-control can be broken if we become overly tired. Likewise, the inner silence in the depths of our beings can finally give way under the strain of continual noise and commotion. So there must necessarily be moments of quiet reflection at regular intervals,reflection on faith, on the Gospel, and on ourselves, in order for us to make sure that we are harbouring no illusions with regard to what is going on inside us.

You therefore cannot dispense with periodic returns to physical quiet and rest and outer silence, especially in the working fraternities and in the service fraternities when we will have those. These are not only necessary for our life; they are vital to any human life. Jesus himself felt the need for them, and respected their demands. The three years of his public life were not only preceded by a retreat of forty days, but were also interspersed with moments when he would flee into the wilderness to pray in peace for a few hours or to give his apostles a few days of quiet.

At this point I must also remind you of the all-important commandment of weekly rest which God placed upon human beings at the outset. The "seventh day rest" isa rhythm so essential that God built it in, as it were, into the very fabric of his work of creation. It stands out as part of the creative action itself, and proceeds from it as a reflected image or imitation of it.

"By the seventh day God had come to an end of making, and he rested on the seventh day, with his whole task accomplished. That is why God gave the seventh day his blessing, and hallowed it, because it was the day on which his divine activity of creation finished".

"Remember to keep the Sabbath day holy. Six days for drudgery, for doing all the work you have to do; when the seventh day comes, it is a day of rest, consecrated to the Lord your God... It was six days the Lord spent in making heaven and earth and sea and all that is in them; on the seventh day he rested, and that is why the Lord has blessed the seventh day, and hallowed it" (Exodus 20:8,11).

"... Be sure that you observe the Sabbath day. It is a sign between us that is to last all through the ages which lie before you, reminding you that I am the Lord, and you are set apart for me" (Exodus 31:12).

When one reads these passages of the Bible, does one not immediately feel that there is a precept here which is particularly grave and sacred? The transgressor paid for his transgression with his life, as if he had attacked something fundamental to the human race. The resultant rhythm of rest is, then, likewise sacred. On the level of activity it contributes to the completion of a human being's resemblance to the divine. Indeed, human failure to observe this law entails a deterioration of the image of God within that person.

Humankind has pretty generally lost the sense of this law of God's. And if and when it happens that they discover the principle of the weekly rest, they no longer know how to live it as part of the divine image that they are. People do not know how to stop any more, so chained together have they let their activities become—and they with them. Indeed, how far are they still masters of their own activities? The Catholic world has not escaped the contagion. The most it retains in general is the material aspect of the Church's commandment, which it too often observes with sheer formalism, oblivious of the substance of the precept as the Creator proclaimed it. Yet the precept has never been withdrawn. It is still in force, with a fullness and clarity which the Church prescriptions were only meant to restate and emphasize, certainly not to reduce or abolish.