How to End the Day
2/1/2017Supreme Chaplain Archbishop William E. Lori
Reflecting on the Presentation of the Lord reveals the path of hope and allows us to rest in peace
I DON’T KNOW about you, but some nights I have trouble sleeping. 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. 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 by Irving Berlin advises, “If you’re worried and you can’t sleep, count your blessings instead of sheep. And you’ll fall asleep counting your blessings.”
Not bad advice. But we should not only count our blessings at the end of the day; we should also give God thanks and praise for all the ways he has blessed us.
The Church, in fact, figured all of this out a long time ago and has an official prayer to bring the day to a close.
THE CANTICLE OF SIMEON
The Liturgy of the Hours, also known as the Divine Office or breviary, marks the hours of the day with prayer — morning, midday, evening and nighttime. Bishops, priests and deacons are obligated to pray it, but all are encouraged to pray as well. The last prayer of the day is called Compline, which comes from a Latin word that means “complete.” Compline, or night prayer, is a way of making our day 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 that speaks of remembering God and his mercy even at night, and then, the pièce de résistance: the Canticle of Simeon.
In the beautiful scene in St. Luke’s Gospel where Mary and Joseph, in accord with the Law of God, bring the Child Jesus to the Temple in Jerusalem to dedicate him to the Lord, 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 there, where he encountered the Holy Family.
When Simeon took the Child Jesus into his arms, his eyes of faith were opened and he knew he held the long-expected Savior. Filled with the Holy Spirit, he uttered this canticle, which forms the centerpiece of the Church’s night prayer: “Lord, now you let your servant go in peace; your word has been fulfilled. My own eyes have seen the salvation which you have prepared in the sight of every people: a light to reveal you to the nations and the glory of your people Israel” (Lk 2:29-32).
What a beautiful prayer to offer as each day’s work comes to an end! Instead of ruminating over my worries or reliving any mishap the day has brought, I find that when I truly concentrate on the meaning of this canticle, I am better able to put the whole day in its proper perspective.
ENTRUST, EXAMINE, REST
While we know very little about Simeon’s life, he can surely be counted among those who struggled to “hope against hope.” When he saw Jesus, all that he spent his life and energy hoping and praying for came to pass. Jesus put Simeon’s whole life in its proper perspective, and Simeon 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 of self-induced positive thinking. On the contrary, all I need to do is to entrust the whole package — all my strengths and weaknesses, together with the events of the day — to the Lord Jesus, who is just as present to me as he was to Simeon.
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 that is 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 I have encountered, including those who are in need and those with whom I may have disagreed.
When I am spiritually alert, I will ask if I paused during the course of the day and really opened my heart to the living presence of Christ in the Eucharist, just as Simeon opened his heart to the Child Jesus. I will look to see if, like Mary, I truly held Jesus, the living Word of God, in my heart. Did I try to see the face of Christ in those I encountered over the course of the day? Did my eyes of faith perceive the light of Christ in others and truly glimpse the salvation that God has prepared for every person whom I am privileged to serve? 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.”