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Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of thy law.
St. Caesarius (470–542), bishop of Arles, was a formidable foe of the heresy of semi-Pelagianism. He is also known for his many homilies, which were written at a very popular level. Recently I was going through some of his catechetical lectures when I was struck by the following sentence:
When the nights are rather long, who is there able to sleep so much that he cannot either read himself or listen to others read the sacred text for at least three hours?
I don’t know that I have ever met anyone who read or listened to the Scriptures three hours a day! Maybe there are monks who have time to do such things when they are not training dogs or baking fruitcakes. As I recall, Mother Teresa’s nuns pray four hours every day. Surely St. Caesarius was addressing monastics instead of catechumens. But as I continued reading I found this passage:
I beseech you, beloved brethren, be eager to engage in divine reading whatever hours you can. Moreover, since what a man procures in this life by reading or good works will be the food of his soul forever, let no one try to excuse himself by saying he has not learned letters at all. If those who are illiterate love God in truth, they look for learned people who can read the sacred Scriptures to them.
In his admonition to learn the Scriptures, it is clear that St. Caesarius was including everyone. Even the illiterate members of his flock were expected to read the Bible for hours every day.
This may seem to be an unreasonable expectation for a pastor to have. But I do not believe that St. Caesarius was considered to be overly strict or demanding for his time. In fact, I believe his instructions were probably typical for godly pastors of his day.
Why do such instructions seem so unreasonable to us today? How could we possibly have three hours in the evening to spend meditating on the Scriptures? What was so different about life during the time of St. Caesarius that makes this seem so farfetched?
To be sure, St. Caesarius certainly didn’t have to drive anyone to soccer practice or Girl Scout meetings. He didn’t have television to watch or an Internet to surf. He wasn’t on the local bowling team and didn’t have a regular booth in the local pub.
But how many of these things with which we fill our schedule are preparing us for the kingdom of heaven? How many of the things that we allow to absorb our time add no value to our life here or in the life to come? Three hours a day is a lot of time. But how much time do we spend each day procuring food for our soul? If we were to tithe a tenth of our day to God, that would be nearly two and a half hours. We are misers if all we give him is just ten minutes. And worse if we can’t do that.
St. Caesarius was not advocating either a life of no pleasure or a life for which every minute was accounted. That is not the point. Rather, he was simply encouraging his flock to adjust their priorities so that they made time for the things that are eternal: the knowledge of God’s Word.
Certain things are required if we wish to live a Christian life. The care and feeding of our souls is one of these. Let us consider the way we spend our time. If we don’t make room in our lives for the things of heaven, the heavenly kingdom may not make room for us.