I am going to begin a series of blogposts on different practical ways to grow in the life of prayer. These little practices, or norms, should be part of everybody’s life. If you are looking for ways to grow closer to Christ and respond to His call to be a Saint, here are some ideas to concretely say “yes” to drawing closer to our Lord in daily life. In drawing closer to Him, we can then respond to His call to convert the world. One soul at a time, beginning with our own souls!
If we look at each day as a microcosm of our whole lives, it makes sense to look at the very first thing we do each day: wake up and get out of bed. How does that process go? Do you hit the snooze button 10 times, or perhaps immediately check your email/phone/twitter feed?
Saint Josemaria has lots of good insights that are challenging, spiritual, and practical.
“Conquer yourself each day from the very first moment, getting up on the dot, at a fixed time, without yielding a single minute to laziness. If, with God’s help, you conquer yourself, you will be well ahead for the rest of the day. It’s so discouraging to find oneself beaten at the first skirmish!”-The Way, 191
“The heroic minute. It is the time fixed for getting up. Without hesitation: a supernatural reflection and… up! The heroic minute: here you have a mortification that strengthens your will and does no harm to your body.” The Way, 206
How many times have you woken up to the alarm clock, rolled over, turned it off, then rolled back into bed?
Then the rest of the day goes, and it’s one delay after another. Or there is simply no order. It’s just a day with no purpose, no real drive, nothing beyond just satisfying whatever desire at the moment is striking. One hasn’t accomplished much because one has been a slave to whatever comes along. Then the end of the day comes, and looking back, nothing has really been accomplished. There was just a lot of wasted opportunities. What a frustrating experience to see a day and a life lived without a purpose. It’s like going to a race, but never worrying about finding the starting line, or just allowing the start gun to shoot, but instead of running to begin the race, just delaying and delaying. There’s not much chance of winning!
So wake up when the alarm goes off. Saint Josemaria also gives some very helpful practical advice: “If you don’t get up at a set hour, you’ll never fulfill your plan of life” (The Way, 78). Trying to find a set time to wake up everyday is helpful. Some occupations might prevent this (being a nurse, doctor, police/military, shift work…). Do the best you can.
The Plan of Life is what refers to living practices of piety and work throughout the day. Just as it implies, there’s a plan and some sort of a structure. Not many people succeed in the world without a plan, and not many succeed in the life of grace without some sort of plan. What a great antidote to the casual attitude of society. None of the Saints accidentally made it to Heaven.
Saint Paul reminds us to live life with the heart and mind of an athlete:
“Do you not know that in a race all the runners compete, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. Well, I do not run aimlessly, I do not box as one beating the air; but I pommel my body and subdue it, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.” 1 Corinthians 9:24-27
Run so as to win. Do not live life aimlessly. Win the first battle.
Begin each day like that athlete-ready to go for the win, and this begins with the heroic minute. Saint Josemaria also suggests a simple connection-a spiritual thought or a morning offering. In offering the day to God from the very first moment, the whole day is given back to God as a gift. We are then also reminded of this fact: that God expects and hopes we will be faithful and make the best use of the day ahead. To offer every little thing in the day as an act of love. We can use our own words or use a classic little prayer such as this one:
“O Jesus, through the Immaculate Heart of Mary, I offer You the prayers, works, joys and suffering of this day, for all the intentions of Your Sacred Heart, in union with the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass throughout the world, in reparation for my sins, and for our Holy Mother, the Catholic Church. Amen.”
I like to use this morning offering, as I have memorized it, and it says so much. When I am groggy in the morning I find it helpful to be able to use words I know ahead of time. This doesn’t mean I mindlessly say it—no—but that I don’t ramble. I wake up, walk across the room to my phone, turn off the alarm, kneel down, pray the morning offering while I face the crucifix. I also have the custom of bending down to kiss the ground while praying “serviam”, which is Latin for “I will serve”. It’s the opposite of what the devil tells God. I also of course pray to my Guardian Angel to ask his help and thank him for his friendship. The classic prayer is the best, but of course you can use your own words:
“Angel of God, my guardian dear,To whom God’s love commits me here, Ever this day, be at my side, To light and guard, Rule and guide.Amen.”
The heroic minute can and should be lived throughout the day. There are so many things throughout the day we need to do, and so many temptations to put them off. Sometimes when we are tying to really use our time well and to grow in the life of prayer, we experience a bit of discouragement. We see our past failures, or we worry about if we can keep up this pace. Saint Josemaria has some more wisdom: stay in the present moment.
“Do your duty ‘now’, without looking back on ‘yesterday’, which has already passed, or worrying over ‘to-morrow’, which may never come for you.” The Way, 253
There are so many opportunities to live the “heroic minute” throughout the day, and one of the most difficult battles is when it is the end of the day. Every time we have to go from one task to another, we can live the heroic minute and make another offering to God. By each person living the heroic minute and growing in holiness in this small way the Church is strengthened. This is a good impetus when one is tempted to not live the heroic minute. Remembering “somebody else is counting on me” is a powerful and selfless draw to prayer and sacrifices of love. It is ironic, but one can be too lazy to even get to bed. This heroic minute of getting to bed at the right time ensures enough sleep in order to have enough energy throughout the day and to be able to begin the day with the first heroic minute and morning offering.
If you want to become a Saint, which is the calling to each baptized person, then try to start living the heroic minute this week.