This morning Office of Readings in the Divine Office (Monday of Week One), contains an excerpt from a letter to Proba, by Augustine. Personally, it seemed a good affirmation from His Real Presence upon this hermit's returning to praying the seven "hours" of the Divine Office, breaking off other tasks in the day and utilizing the time in the night when awakened due to pain.
While not advocating set, formulaic, verbal or mental prayers for the sake of daily routine or sense of accomplishing some imposed standard for the eremitic prayer life, for this hermit, praying the Divine Office in segments is a discipline that had lapsed, and that happened to be a good effort.
This is not meant to replace the affective prayers--those prayers of loving affection offered to His Real Presence, spontaneously and from deep within the heart. Nor is it a substitute for meditative and contemplative prayer, should contemplation be graced by God upon the soul. However, the Divine Office may lead the soul into meditation, and also unfold into contemplation. A hermit has all the time God has given to be in His Real Presence; temporal tasks ought be secondary.
What impresses this hermit today, is Augustine's suggestion of praying at set hours with the purpose of turning our thoughts away from the efforts in the temporal, daily tasks and thoughts, and turning them to our heart's desire, which is His Real Presence: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
There are additional, fine considerations in what Augustine writes to Proba. Further in the letter (not represented below) is the reminder that the Lord's prayer contains all that is necessary in praying, if prayed from the heart and with full attention, desire, and love.
However, as to this Catholic hermit's return to praying the Divine Office (which includes the Lord's Prayer) at various times in day and night, there is the added impetus that one is uniting in the same praises and supplications with all those who pray the Divine Office, world-wide. This is one way in which a consecrated religious solitary is deeply connected with others of the Body of Christ not only in the present moment but also those who prayed and will pray the Office, past and future.
One might ask, as this hermit did: Who is Proba? From an internet site, Augnet.org, the following information helps explain.
"This is probably the letter of Augustine that is known the most.
"The letter Augustine wrote to Proba is called Letter 130. It was written in the year 412, by which time he had been a bishop for about seventeen years.
"Anicia Faltonia Proba was the widow of the wealthiest man in the Roman Empire.
"Three of her sons held the consulship. After Alaric led a Gothic army into Rome in 410 and pillaged the city, Proba, with a considerable retinue of widows and younger women, took refuge in Africa and established a community of religious women in Carthage.
"Among her group were her daughter Juliana and her grand-niece Demetrias. (Two years later in 414, Augustine wrote On the good of widowhood to Juliana.)
"Proba asked Augustine how she ought to pray, and in his response he advised her on the kind of person she ought to be, and what she ought to pray for.
"Author Peter Brown states that these ladies, affected by the teachings of Pelagius, elicited Augustine's most mature and sympathetic statements about his ideal for Christian life. Unlike Pelagius, Augustine could find room for a spectrum of human failings. In his own life and in that of others, he sought and encouraged blessedness, in spite of human failings.
"This Letter 130 by Augustine to Proba is a short instruction on Christian private prayer. The letter has two parts. Augustine first explains the interior condition desirable for praying (Chapters 1-3), and then (Chapters 4-13) explains the purpose of private prayer.
"The purpose of prayer is to attain a blessed life. He suggests that the use of words be kept brief and fervent, and be supported by a life of good works. The words are needed only to help us keep in mind what a person is requesting, and are not necessary to remind or persuade God regarding the request being made.
"Augustine proclaims that the Lord’s Prayer contains all the praise and petition that prayer requires. A person is free to express the same sentiments in other words if desired, but not to ask for anything that is either contrary to or beyond the scope of the Lord’s Prayer."
Now for a selection from Augustine's letter to Proba:
Let us turn our mind to the task of prayer at appointed hours
"Let us always desire the happy life from the Lord God and always pray for it. But for this very reason we turn our mind to the task of prayer at appointed hours, since that desire grows lukewarm, so to speak, from our involvement in other concerns and occupations. We remind ourselves through the words of prayer to focus our attention on the object of our desire; otherwise, the desire that began to grow lukewarm may grow chill altogether and may be totally extinguished unless it is repeatedly stirred into flame.
"Therefore, when the Apostle says: Let your petitions become known before God, this should not be taken in the sense that they are in fact becoming known to God who certainly knew them even before they were made, but that they are becoming known to us before God through submission and not before men through boasting.
"Since this is the case, it is not wrong or useless to pray even for a long time when there is the opportunity. I mean when it does not keep us from performing the other good and necessary actions we are obliged to do. But even in these actions, as I have said, we must always pray with that desire.
"To pray for a longer time is not the same as to pray by multiplying words, as some people suppose. Lengthy talk is one thing, a prayerful disposition which lasts a long time is another. For it is even written in reference to the Lord himself that he spent the night in prayer and that he prayed at great length. Was he not giving us an example by this? In time, he prays when it is appropriate; and in eternity, he hears our prayers with the Father.
"The monks in Egypt are said to offer frequent prayers, but these are very short and hurled like swift javelins. Otherwise their watchful attention, a very necessary quality for anyone at prayer, could be dulled and could disappear through protracted delays. They also clearly demonstrate through this practice that a person must not quickly divert such attention if it lasts, just as one must not allow it to be blunted if it cannot last.
"Excessive talking should be kept out of prayer but that does not mean that one should not spend much time in prayer so long as fervent attitude continues to accompany his prayer. To talk at length in prayer is to perform a necessary action with an excess of words. To spend much time in prayer is to knock with a persistent and holy fervor at the door of the one whom we beseech. This task is generally accomplished more through sighs than words, more through weeping than speech. He places our tears in his sight, and our sighs are not hidden from him, for he has established all things through his Word and does not seek human words."
God bless His Real Presence in us! Little children, let us love one another, for God Is Love! Remain in His Love!