I BECAME A BENEDICTINE OBLATE--A "PRAYER PARTNER" of the local monks--because I wanted to belong to a community with roots deep enough to counteract the dizzying impermanence of living in a place where neighbors move every time property values go up. Many years ago, I chose to work at a university, hoping some of that intellect would rub off on me. Now I hoped a monastery's abundance of prayer would spill over and give me a home.
The oblate master shared his secret to the perfect life in God--the Divine Office, also called the Liturgy of the Hours. It was opus Dei, the "work of God" in monastic life, and "the prayer of the church," he explained. "Even the pope prays it!" That was hardly a selling point for a newly-minted Catholic. Popes didn't seem to do much more than travel on business, make proclamations, and wear funny clothes. That wasn't exactly the role model I had in mind.
But I soon discovered the reason for the oblate master's pestering me to pray the Divine Office. It is my work of God, my link to the monastery, my expression of fidelity to the Benedictine community.
The Office is a dry old bird, hard to chew on, a heavy diet of psalms and readings. Morning prayer, which I pray at 5:30 a.m., takes 20 minutes. It has three psalms, an Old Testament canticle, a short Old Testament reading, a response, Zechariah's canticle from the Gospel of Luke (the Benedictus), intercessions, and a closing prayer. There is also an opening hymn, which I admit I have always ignored out of a less-than-melodic early morning spirit.
Evening prayer takes 15 minutes: two psalms, a New Testament canticle, a short New Testament reading, a response, and the Magnificat--another song of praise from Luke's gospel, this time Mary's. There are also prayers of intercession and a closing prayer, as well as another ignored opening hymn. I don't have the singing spirit at 9 p.m. either.
Finally there is the office of readings, which can be prayed at any time during the day. It takes another 20 minutes and includes three more psalms, a hymn (usual response!), a longish biblical reading, and a reading from early church leaders or the lives of the saints. …