St Ailbhe

Bishop, Confessor (entered heaven some time in the mid-sixth century)

Dear Al,

I don’t have much time to write – today’s special work duty starts in a couple minutes, probably more nonsense work like breaking down boxes and putting them back together again; you’d think that here in the third millennium they’d be able to come up with some more creative tortures.

Anyway, I wanted to comment briefly on what you said about prayer in your last note.  I am gratified (and edified) to hear that you are following through on your commitment to 15 minutes of mental prayer every day.  Few things are more valuable for your spiritual life, and most college freshman don’t even know what mental prayer is, let alone being capable of the self-mastery needed to take the few minutes of daily quiet time it requires.  So, good job; you’re making your guardian angel’s task a lot easier. As regards the place for this, I think you are being too Calvinistic. There’s no need to pray in an austere place, especially since you are a college student and austere places are hard to come by.  On the other hand, it will be helpful to use the same place regularly, a place where you won’t be easily interrupted (which probably rules out your dorm room), and a place that you find conducive to reflecting on the things of God. Today’s saint gives you a good example.

Ailbhe was an Irishman converted by some Christian Britons just before the advent of St Patrick to the Emerald Isle.  He was ordained a bishop in Rome and returned to his native land to give St Pat a hand. He was renowned for his preaching and the miracles which confirmed the truth of his words.  He was a mighty ally for the great St Patrick. The fire of their words melted one icy, pagan heart after another… (I’ve got to cut to the chase, the guards are coming for me right now.)  The source of his zeal and spiritual charm was his prayer life, which was disciplined, heartfelt, and bolstered by hard-won habits of self-control.

In any case, he loved to pray by the sea, because it made him think of immensity of God’s love and mercy.  So one king whom he converted gave him the Island of Arran off Ireland’s northwest coast as a present. He spent long hours there, and built a flourishing monastery that quickly grew into a factory of saints, so much so that contemporaries renamed the island “Arran of Saints”.  He continued his labors until the very day of his death, despite his desire to retire to an even more remote place to prepare for his entrance into eternity (the king guarded all the nearby ports to prevent his escape), and his legacy is still bearing fruit today.

So don’t feel like you have to find an uncomfortable place for your daily meditation and quiet time.  Just find a place that fosters your conversation with Christ. No place will make prayer effortless, however (distractions come from the inside as much as they come from the outside), so don’t get discouraged by difficulties.  Just keep seeking the Lord, and ask St Ailbhe to help. (I really gotta go now…)

Your loving uncle, Eddy

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