Every night at Compline, the final office of the Liturgy of Hours, we follow a short reading from Scripture with a simple, but profound prayer: “Into your hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit.” In the past few years of praying Compline, I have grown accustomed to reciting this, but recently I have felt called to contemplate these beautiful words I say before bed. Far from being something I need to get through, this prayer has great importance for my life as a seminarian and, above all, as a Catholic man striving to become a saint.
These words come from Psalm 31, a psalm of trust in God’s care and the final psalm that our Lord Jesus Christ prayed on the cross: “And Jesus crying with a loud voice, said: Father, into your hands I commend my spirit. And saying this, he gave up the ghost” (Luke 23:46). This unconditional surrender to the Father, in which our Lord announces that He is returning to the Father, is the last thing Jesus says before He allows Himself to die for our salvation. Why do we say this prayer every night? In one sense, it connects us to Christ’s sacrifice, which is re-presented daily at Holy Mass. It is our hope, as seminarians and, God willing, as priests, to unite ourselves with this sacrifice and be conformed to Jesus Christ crucified, for this is the heart of the priesthood. But we cannot crucify ourselves if we do not first let our hearts be pierced and commend our lives into the hands of our heavenly Father. All of my spirit’s weaknesses, lack of trust, and vices are offered to the Father in faithful trust in His mercy and love. Likewise, all of the blessings of the day – our apostolic work, studies, friendships, moments in prayer – are offered as our sacrifice of praise.
In another sense, we pray this because we recognize our own inadequacy and the necessity of grace. We do not have power over life and death. We do not know if this will be our final time praying Compline or if we will have another day. We enter the quiet darkness of the night with the light of Christian hope, as a sanctuary lamp shines in a dark chapel, illuminating Christ’s presence. St. Thomas Aquinas, in his Adoro te devote, prays, “My whole heart submits to You, because in contemplating You, it is fully deficient.” God wants our hearts, as broken and sinful as they are, to totally submit to Him. In this surrender, heart speaks to heart – cor ad cor loquitur, as St. Francis de Sales calls this intimate moment of prayer. In seminary, we pray for the grace to surrender our will and conform to the will of our heavenly Father. We surrender our ambitions and our expectations and entrust our priestly formation into the Father’s hands, with great confidence that He will guide us along this journey, through its crosses and joys. The early wakeups, hours spent in prayer, house jobs, studies, papers, etc. are offered to the Father as our sacrifice, and in this surrender, our offering is sanctified and we are given a supernatural outlook on our daily toil. In praying, “Into your hands, Lord, I commend my spirit”, the Christian soul hopes in God’s salvation and lovingly accepts the reality that God is working in our lives. By surrendering our will to Him, we are being transformed into the Catholic men that Christ calls us to be in service to His Kingdom on earth as in heaven.
Mr. McIntosh is a first Pre-Theologian for the Archdiocese of Washington.