Promptness in Rising
I shall discuss in this chapter a very practical subject, a subject demanding serious consideration. I refer to promptness in rising.
I have just informed you that this subject is very practical. I must add that it is very important. The truly spiritual life is absolutely impossible for her who is irregular in rising. If you say that you do not exert yourselves overmuch to be exact on this point, I know what to think of your exercises of piety. You probably omit them often for want of time, or perform them languidly and mechanically. But surely, my daughters, you all rise at an early hour, you are not given over to a habit of laziness. Moreover, instead of insisting on exactness and promptness in rising, I believe it is far more useful to state a few practical rules to which you should conform.
First of all rise at a fixed hour. Decide on the time, and examine well into the effect your early rising will have on your general health and temperament. But once this hour is fixed, make no exceptions to it, save only when sickness or extraordinary circumstances render them necessary.
How many hours of sleep are necessary? Physicians advise seven hours for a robust person; but among religious communities generally eight hours are allowed. You may adopt this rule, but do not exceed eight hours. You would be yielding to weakness and sensuality. A prolonged sleep will not deliver you from an indisposition, which very often is more imaginary than real. You complain of feeling ill at awakening, and it seems that to raise your head from the pillow is a sacrifice beyond your strength. Pay no attention to this temptation! Give the enemy no quarter! Rise up at once, and you will feel that your complaint was imaginary. The ancients were wont to say that life consists in movement. You will experience the truth of these words, and you will learn how to mount to a degree of activity which you thought impossible.
Rise early! This slogan holds the secret of a complete and perfect life. By rising early the best hours of the day will be yours; hours when the mind is clear, hours well suited for meditation. If, on the contrary, you defer your rising, an irremediable disorganization will continue throughout the day from this first fault. The intellectual and moral life of a person who rises late, Pére Olivant was wont to say, is seized by an impotency like to that of the Romans at Capua. Hence the words of Holy Scripture: “My son, love not sleep, lest poverty overtake thee.” Poverty? Yes, but not so much in the sense of material goods, as of the mind and heart.
How much I desire to picture to your minds, types of those stolid Christians of the early days, with their habits of virility and courage. It was not to religious, but to the simple faithful of Milan that Saint Ambrose addressed these words: “You should be ashamed to have the first rays of the sun find you in bed. These early rays reproach you for the time you have lost for merit and the oblation of spiritual sacrifices. Precede the dawn, so that when the day breaks it will find you ready to take up your duties.”
Would you care to know what were the habits of Christians in the sixteenth century, even of those who mingled in the highest class of society? Listen to the words of the great magistrate, Henri de Mesmes: “I was sent with my teacher to Toulouse to prepare for the profession of law. We arose at four o’clock every morning, and having prayed to God, we set out at five, our books under our arms, and our inkstands and candlesticks in our hands.”
Mothers of families, are you not ashamed to lie in bed and to miss a Mass said at seven or eight o’clock, when your servant has cut short her sleep so that she might assist at an earlier Mass?
You who deem it too onerous or too common to rise at six o’clock, are you aware that in certain religious communities, it is the custom to rise at two, and often earlier, to sing matins? Let me tell you that these religious generally live to a ripe old age, and never suffer from those headaches and other indispositions of which you complain at your late rising.
Pére Lacordaire, in his writings, after having branded this weakness for late rising, and pointed out its dangers, indicates the remedy for it: “To rise early, retire early.”
“The man,” he writes, “who prolongs his sleep beyond the early morning, because he has prolonged his retiring beyond a just limit, finds the noise and bustle of worldly affairs in his head, when he wakes. He is seized by a tumultuous uproar, and vainly does he seek from God those hours lost through his own dissipation. Today, by a common aberration, by a too frequent reversing of the order of nature, the night is made the day, and the day, night. But nature takes revenge for this insupportable burden imposed on her, by an idiocy which saddens the imagination–an evil that was not known to antiquity. They are right, then, who say that the world belongs to those who rise early, and that those who have attained eminence during their earthly career, have succeeded only on this condition.”
When we advise any one to assist at Mass or to make a quarter of an hour’s meditation in the morning, the usual response is: “I have no time.” Why? “Because as soon as I arise I must set about my work.” But could you not rise earlier? “No, I go to bed at such a late hour.” But who compels you to retire so late? “No one; it is just a habit.” Ah! how deplorable is this habit. To say nothing of its ill effects on health, it tends to the ruin of piety, and paralyzes all effort towards the truly supernatural life.
What is the remedy, you ask. Retire one hour earlier at night, and the next morning you may rise one hour earlier. Physicians will tell you that hygiene unites with religion in giving you this advice.
In fine, rise promptly. What do you gain by lying in bed and indulging in questionable reveries? More than one virtue has foundered in these moments wherein it is impossible for the will to guide and to guard the mind.
To rise at an early hour will be irksome. However, this sacrifice will be a very sweet act of love to our Lord. Oh! how happy that day is in which our first actions are stamped with the sail of sacrifice. Be assured, my daughters, that such a day will be replete with good works. It will be a day in which the heart will overflow with peace.
Counsels of Perfection for Christian Mothers
By: Monsignor P. Lejeune