The Prayer of the Poor

So the regular alternation of activity and rest is a vital necessity for the body and for the soul, for work and for prayer; and God has made it a moral imperative. We are all more or less inclined to forget this. But it is not enough for God that we attend Mass on Sunday and refrain from so-called "servile" work, if we fill up the rest of the day with equally absorbing and exacting activities of other kinds. There is a spirit to the law which it is up to us to grasp. I wonder if we are still capable of submitting humbly to that aspect of the law which relates to physical rest and nervous relaxation (even if exteriorly nothing prevents us from observing it). Yet, disregard for so vital a law is something we pay for dearly.

You must therefore see that you respect the spirit of this divine precept better, especially those of you who are already working. A rhythm of periodic rest for both bodyand soul is an obligation binding on your consciences. And when it is actually impossible for you to arrange your Sundays to meet this obligation, as it sometimes will in fact be, you must not consider yourselves relieved of God's demands, for they concern your very lives and not just your Sundays.

In the majority of countries there is now legislation providing for the weekly rest, but it has not always been easy for the working masses to gain their freedom to observe this rhythm, however essential to life it is. And there may be cases where you will have to fight to keep it.

Obviously, you are but poor men subject to the general conditions of workers, and it will not always be possible for you to observe the precept to the letter. You must nevertheless do everything you can in this direction—and I am not sure that so far this has always been the case. I am concerned when I think of you being caught up in the grind of modern life, where it is practically impossible for a person not only to stop and rest, but to avoid rushing from one activity to the next. Some of the Brothers will have to make a serious effort to learn to rest their bodies while submitting to the inescapable conditions of their modest position as manual workers.

Still more important than rest for the body (though it depends upon it) is the problem of the rhythm of the life of the soul. For it is for this reason that the day of rest is hallowed by God; and here the matter is one of our immediate relationship with him. Certain work schedules are incompatible with the development not only of a religious or priestly life, but with that of a merely Christian life. They allow altogether too little free time for the vitalminimum of spiritual rest, silent prayer, and nourishment of one's faith by thought and reflection.

This is a fact only too well known to those of you who have experienced, say, the life of the deep-sea fisherman or the farmhand, where professional standards are either entirely lacking or fail to deal humanely with the matter of working hours. And you will remember how I have insisted on the necessity of your taking every step in your power to obtain, in occupations like these, the vital minimum of freedom for a human being and a Christian to breathe. This is true even if your workmates no longer feel the need for it, either because they have become too accustomed to getting along mechanically without it, or because they have lost all memory of a life of the spirit and its normal requirements.

It is necessary that the fraternities be present in these environments where people are more affected by physical exhaustion than in some others, more miserable without always knowing it, above all, farther from God—in those environments where, under present circumstances, Christians can no longer live a Christian life. They need the fraternities more than certain other places do. But we can only settle there definitively once we have secured recognition of the essential requirements of our prayer life. These are simply those that any person should demand, that every person has a right to claim. They go no farther than what any Christian should insist upon, for it is the duty of a Christian to fight for a rhythm of life compatible with Christian perfection. For us Little Brothers, these conditions are sufficient for us to live out our vocation, and we must therefore demand and stick to them with all firmness.

Concretely for us, this cycle of living spiritual respiration involves a half-day of silence, reading and prayer each week (preferably on Sunday morning) and a day of retreat and recollection each month. This is not to mention the annual retreat, or the broader cycle of occasional lectures and discussion sessions, or visits at varying intervals to adoration fraternities once they will have been established.

I trust I have now emphasized this question of rhythm enough for you to grasp its full importance, especially the weekly and monthly rhythms. So use your energies and imaginations in observing it. The solution will often depend on the way you arrange your time. It can also depend on your finding a favourable spot to go to. Experience shows that the best thing is to get away from the fraternity entirely and go either somewhere outdoors, or to a church or monastery, or to the house of some friend where you can be sure of being quiet (I am thinking more especially here of the monthly retreat.)

It is the same for you as for the poor, working in too limited spaces, living in too narrow quarters, needing places of silence more than one might think, more than they often know themselves. In the midst of such conditions, monasteries can e veritable oases, provided that they are faithful to their vocation and function, and practise fraternal hospitality toward those who wish to turn to the quiet of their enclosure to be "re-created." It is furthermore a good thing for you to see for yourselves how necessary cloistered monasteries are for the proper functioning of the "spiritual lungs" of a Christian community.

You must be very firm about observing these periodic retreats. Your work and the demands of charity will of course sometimes prevent you from keeping to any strict schedule here, but the principle must remain solid. It will now and then happen, as it did with our Lord, that you will be literally pursued into your place of retreat and be obliged to sacrifice a day of peace and seclusion hardly before it begins. On these occasions, Jesus would patiently return from the wilderness and allow himself to be taken possession of again by the crowds. Yet this did not prevent him from seizing the next opportunity to flee back to the desert.

"... at very early dawn, he left them, and went away to a lonely place, and began praying there. Simon and his companions went in search of him; and when they found him, they told him, 'Everyone is looking for you.'" (Mark 1:35-37).