As I sat with drooping eyes editing this article, I marveled at Msgr.’s beautiful description of sleep…not only did I marvel, but I went to bed before finishing the article!
There was a time in my life when sleep would not come. I had been very ill and so, while others were enjoying the refreshment of sleep, I was alone for hours….days and days in a row, struggling for some longed-for shuteye! Since then, I have been very grateful for what most of us take for granted….blessed sleep!
Monseigneur touches on the beauty of sleepless nights also… ’tis a very good article.
FIFTH DISCOURSE Sleep and counsels of the night.. .
She hath risen in the night. (Prov. 3 1 : 1 5)
Children, The valiant woman resembles a ship in its beauty, grace, and strength. Like her, too, she has numerous sails, which she varies according to time and circumstance; and in her are also to be found all the resources of an alert, intelligent mind, which she knows how to combine in a thousand different ways, and in such a manner as never to run counter to the wind; but by tacking prudently to compel it to oppose no longer the course of her vessel, and even to accelerate her progress.
She does not seek to force her way violently through the billows, but prefers to follow their movement, rising and falling with them, and balancing herself on the waters, oscillating more or less rapidly, it is true, but still always with a gentler motion than would be the shock of rough, precipitate rushing onwards in a direct line.
Should storms rage furiously, her anchors are let drop into the sea, and become her safeguards against the fury of the waves. These anchors are confidence in God, fixed principles deeply imbued with a Christian spirit, and great firmness of character.
Our beauteous bark is also provided with a mariner’s compass, to direct her course amid the obscurity of the night, to point out the surest path through dangers, and to correct the wanderings of a disordered imagination.
She is also fitted with stout, strong masts, to bear up and sustain all the ropes and sails which ordinarily compose the fittings of a vessel.
Let this ship be launched with a careful steersman and an able captain, and furnished with a correct and minute chart of the seas they sail in; let her internal accommodations be well appointed, without luxury, but with comfort tempered by simplicity, and she will pass safely through the dangers of the ocean, and return home laden with rich merchandise.
This, then, my children, is a true symbol of woman’s life, as appropriate as it is beautiful; and we studied it closely at our last meeting. Our task in the two following instructions will not be such an easy one; nevertheless, we will undertake it, even at the risk of stranding our bark.
Its matter is naturally suggested by the words of the text — “She hath risen in the night.” Let us, then, consider sleep and the questions pertaining to it. We shall commence the subject in today’s, and conclude it in next month’s lecture.
The life of man is a constant warfare, an arduous trial, and a long struggle, in which his strength becomes exhausted. How often at the end of the day are we tempted to cry out with the Prophet — “Why is light given to him that is in misery, and life to them that are in bitterness of soul?”‘
An ever-fatherly providence foresaw this daily weariness and fatigue, and provided for us a renovating bath each night, from which we seem to derive new life.
After a profound, sweet sleep, man rises again, imbued with the strength and vigor of youth. His body is full of life, his heart is refreshed, the air seems lighter, and his chest more dilated to inhale it.
Sleep, says the great English poet —
. . . Knits up the ravell’d sleeve of care:
The death of each day’s life, sore labor’s bath,
Balm of hurt minds, great Nature’s second course,
Chief nourisher in life’s feast.
An ancient philosopher said that sleep assured the success of medicine; that it was the deliverer of captives, the desire of sick, the comfort of the afflicted, repose to the mind, the universal habit of rich and poor, and the longing of each returning night.
Thence this exclamation of the ancient choruses – “O Sleep, thou who ignorest pain and care, come to us with all thy charms; thou king of calm and happiness, thou healer of men!”
Nothing is truer than this description of the salutary influence and beneficent action of sleep. Without it the prescriptions of physicians would be of no avail, and the worn-out body be impervious to all the power of their art.
A good night will often effect more than all the visits of the most skillful doctors; but this truth, drawn from experience, does not take from the practical utility of medical science.
Sleep brings temporary freedom, at least, to the captive. It releases him from the exigences of his organs, from the prison of his body; he hears no more the cries and continual demands of those jailers we call the senses; he lives in another world.
It is true that in the morning he must return to his chain, but after a good sleep , even that seems lighter, and the prisoner himself feels stronger to bear it.
Are you ill? Ill rather in mind than in body? Call sleep to your aid. It will drown your cares in its peaceful depths; and even though you should encounter them again, rising above the waters, at least there will have been a wholesome interruption of them, by which suffering is deprived of its most painful attribute — continuity.
Sleep is the wealth of the poor, as it is of the rich man: indeed, I would even call it the special inheritance of the poor.
He sleeps better because he has worked harder, and nature, always just, repays him more abundantly. He sleeps better because he lives more temperately, and his stomach is therefore less charged with those fumes which mount to the brain, agitate the nerves and the blood, and turn into an oven the refreshing bath which Providence has prepared for us.
Sleep is a gift which seems ever new and never produces satiety, if used in moderation. We weary of everything, even of what is best. We quickly tire of dinner-parties, balls, amusement, conversation; but each recurring evening the thought of our bed is an ever-smiling apparition, and no vision of cooling bath amid the fiery heats of summer can give more pleasure.
Saint Chrysostom has left us a reflection on sleep, which is replete with charm and love and Christian poetry — “When mothers wish to put their little ones to sleep, they take and rock them gently in their arms, then hide them away under curtains, and leave them quiet. So does Providence spread darkness as an immense veil over the world, and invite men to rest from their labors.”‘
The Grecian philosopher also says that night brings wisdom to the wakeful, and that sleep is the image of death.
Have you ever sleepless nights? Do not fear them over much, for perhaps that is the hour when God will speak to you. During the day, the soul is drawn away by exterior objects. She sees and hears nothing; her ears are spell-bound by the sirens who surround her. How can she distinguish the words of true wisdom?
The voice of God, says the prophet, is heard when the night is in the middle of her course. The clouds break, the serene light of truth appears to us: we behold it, and its beams are so bright and searching that we can no longer doubt.
We have not always the strength to follow this divine light, but it is still something to have seen it. The vision of it is a seed deposited in the soul, which may become developed in some unexpected circumstance.
Night brings counsel, says the proverb. It brings counsel, because it calms down many things, and then the soul, in the stillness and quiet of nocturnal reflection, can form wiser resolutions.
Night will bring all the more counsel if you charm the hours of sleeplessness by thought of God. Prayer is the night-lamp which should ever be beside us, that when we wake, it may speak to us of heaven.
I know not what mysterious harmony exists between night and prayer, but the saints have ever held it to be the best time for prayer. One would say that the dew of heaven chose the same hours to fall on souls in which the terrestrial dew gathers to refresh plants.
At night all is silent; the noises of earth have ceased; peace reigns around, and then the soul discerns her God more clearly, and can converse with Him in those mysterious and familiar colloquies which recall the loving intercourse of two friends who have met, apart from the crowd , in order to converse more freely together.
Wonderful intercourse of the soul with her God! It is part of the life of the saints. All the tenderest and deepest emotions of the heart love the shroud of mystery!
And thus, when all creation is covered by the veil of night, and the soul alone is waking in the divine light, what ineffable happiness, what exquisite pleasure to converse with God, to lay before Him all the secrets of our hearts, to receive His holy inspirations, “to speak to Him face to face, as a friend is wont to speak to his friend.”
Try to partake sometimes, my children, of this divine ambrosia of night; it is the most delicious banquet for the heart, the brightest light of the soul.
“Night,” says Saint Clement of Alexandria, “is styled by the Greeks the good counsellor, because then the soul, disengaged from the empire of the senses, retires within herself, to listen attentively to the inspirations of wisdom.”
May providence ever grant you the blessing of good nights! If, however, sickness or grief should ever come to destroy your rest, then do I wish you, in all fatherly affection, a result similar to that which is so well described by a celebrated woman.
“He (God) was the chief object of my thoughts by night as well as by day, because for a long time past my infirmities have rarely permitted me to sleep more than an hour and a half together, and have often forced me to leave my bed fifteen or twenty times in the night, and to walk about my room the greater part of the time.
The benedictions which God showered on those bad. nights, as the world calls them, are indescribable.”
It is of such delicious moments that Saint Ambrose says, “These are the excellent nights, the luminous nights full of stars.” Happy the souls who rise to contemplate them!
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