“… These are my sins, Father.”
The good priest folded his arms and looked down, thinking intently about my laundry list of sins and grievances I had brought to Confession. After a few moments, he met my gaze and asked,
“Are you familiar with the Angelus?”
I nodded. I had prayed it daily all through elementary and middle school. Our principal would come over the intercom at noon and call us all to prayer in the middle of our busy days. I got to know it by heart after a few years, and I remember those days fondly as we marked a moment of the day for consistent and regular prayer.
“I want you to Google the image of The Angelus when we’re finished here.” the priest said to me, “It’s one of the most famous pieces of French art. Look at it while you’re praying the Angelus and see if you can tell why people are so drawn to it.”
He absolved me and I left. A weird penance, but not the weirdest I’ve received.
As I walked back into the pew, I pulled out my phone and Googled the image. He was right; the image struck my mind and heart as it must have struck those who looked upon it centuries ago.
The image features two humble field laborers who have laid down their tools at dusk in the middle of their field. Their heads are bowed in prayer, no doubt, praying the Angelus.
The image strikes me for a few reasons.
First, the laborers have laid down their tools. There is still much work to do before the sun sets, but their priority is prayer. If it is their own field, they are risking much by stopping to pray. Crop may not be harvested on time, which means less food on the table and in the market, which means less food and money. But I can tell from the image that they believe they are nourished more by the work of their prayer than the work of their hands. If it’s not their field, they risk being reprimanded by their boss for seemingly wasting the last precious minutes of the day. Again, their priority is prayer. What a lesson for us to learn.
Secondly, I’m struck by where they’ve decided to pray. They’ve quite literally dropped what they were doing to dedicate a few moments to the Lord. So often, I feel as if I must be in the perfect place at the perfect time to pray. These laborers didn’t go inside and wash up to consecrate their time to God. They stopped in the midst of the dirty, busy work day, and they trust that God smiles upon that time.
Finally, their humility resonates in my heart. Rather than eyeing their crops while praying, concerned with the work that remains, their eyes are downcast, heads bowed in a posture of total humility to the greatness of God. They take their eyes off of their work for a moment to focus on what really matters. How often do I take my eyes off my computer screen to truly focus on God?
Together, the field laborers pray a prayer that thanks God for the most immense gift humanity never deserved. The Angelus recalls the moment of the Incarnation, when Mary’s “yes” changed the course of history forever. We do well to recall it many times per day, regularly and intentionally. Here’ s the prayer if you’re not familiar with it.
I walked away from my penance with a new outlook on my day-to-day life. I plan to structure my day around the Angelus from now on. This image and prayer brought a lot of healing peace to my soul, and I hope it does the same for you.
If you were waiting for permission to pause at certain moments during your day to offer prayer to God, I’m giving it to you. Join me at noon every day, no matter where you are, to offer thanks for Mary’s great “yes” that brought about the salvation of the world.