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St. Arnold and the Problem of Insomnia

Subject: Saint Arnold Janssen
Language: English, Spanish
Year: 2022
Saint Arnold Janssen
Saint Arnold Janssen

The real greatness of a person is observed primarily in little facts of his daily life. At first glance, these facts are unimportant, but they are actually very difficult to accomplish. I would like to share with you some thoughts that came to me while reading of St. Arnold’s letter to Father H. Becher, one of the founders of the Verbite mission in Argentina.

In his letter, St. Arnold refers to the problem that is quite ordinary – that of insomnia. Who can claim that he has never had a sleepless night? Every person knows that one can’t sleep being overwhelmed by some problem or feeling unsafe in a dangerous place. Even if we consider the faithful, our faith and prayer do not always calm us to a point when we can really relax and have some rest.

A beautiful example of firm faith can be found in Psalm 3, 5, where King David, that fervent confessor of the God Yahweh, says: “I lie down and sleep; I wake again, because the Lord sustains me”. The Biblical tradition added to that psalm the following historical information: “A Psalm of David. When he fled from his son Absalom”. The uprising of Absalom almost cost David his life. He had to escape from Jerusalem and was constantly in danger, surrounded by countless enemies: “tens of thousands”, as he says. But, to our surprise, the holy king can enjoy good rest. What is the meaning of these simple words: “I lie down and sleep, I wake again”? It seems that in spite of the danger, David is able to sleep. He is not afraid of noises. He does not lose his alertness because of sleep. His life is in God’s hands. This is why he sleeps and sleeps deeply and has a good rest, as if nothing has happened. This is a faith indeed!

Back to St. Arnold’s letter. It was written in August 1890. The first Verbites, H. Becher and H. Locken, had come to their mission territory in October of the previous year. When they receive the letter, they are fully involved in the construction of the first college. The rapid development of the congregation at that time is astonishing. Less than a year has passed since their coming to Argentina when they set in motion such a complex project. A college is not simply a building. It has to become known as an educational institution, there is a need for teachers, finance, etc. When economical means begin to falter, the friars experience a threat of abruptly stopping their work and not being able to pay the workers. The enormous physical and emotional effort rarely leaves no consequences. It seems that Fr. Becher began to have problems with sleep and shared his concern with the Founder. This is the answer Fr. Arnold gave him:

“I am glad to see the zeal with which you began the construction. But it makes me unhappy to hear that the insomnia robs you of the night rest. Had I so little trust in God, it would have consumed all my energy and I would have not made any progress”.

The serenity of St. Arnold’s answer is startling. Although the situation of the new missionaries in Argentina, who got involved in a huge work, seems really hard, it is not comparable to the weight and amount of work and problems that St. Arnold had to face. We shall give a couple of examples. By the time when these words full of faith and serenity were written, St. Arnold had been the leader of a growing Society of the Divine Word for 15 years, he had been monitoring the development of the mission in China for 11 years, edited two magazines, a calendar and a few books, had just opened a new house in Vienna, and had founded a women’s congregation 8 months before. Who dare say he had no problems that were capable of robbing him of his sleep? How many times he had no money to finish work at a very advanced stage? How many times his friars were in mortal danger? How many times he had to write his letters at midnight, because the ship left the next day? How many times he suffered from lies, or his whole work was threatened? St. Arnold alone can give the answer. But he slept because… he trusted in God. He believed that apart from his effort there still existed the grace of the Divine Providence.

3 responses

  1. Que preciosa reflexión sobre el insomnio y el descanso en Dios.
    Muchas noches molesta , preocupada y ansiosa me he quedado despierta.
    Pero muchas veces al rezar logré descansar en Dios …
    Cuánto por entregar y confiar en El.
    San Arnoldo Janssen un modelo de Santidad.
    Gabriela dsd Argentina.
    Ex alumna del Colegio Espiritu Santo

  2. Hola Darío, muy buena reflexión y profunda. Esta confianza básica sobre la providencia de Dios que fue el motor secreto de todas las actividades e iniciativas fundacionales de San Arnoldo… Se entiende de que David confiaba siempre la mano protectora de Dios, razón por la cual también describe y reza “el Señor es mi pastor, nada me falta…” ( Sal 23). Él compone este poema / salmo, estando sitiado por los soldados de Saúl con ordenes de capturarlo. El como pastor nunca abanó a su rebaño en el peligro. desde esta vivencia personal lo compone. San Arnoldo tuvo la menor duda en éste

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