My first experience of Christian community life took place when, years ago, I attended a Catholic Bible school. One of the notable experiences I had during my time there was learning to live the community “rule of life.” A rule of life is a daily, deliberate schedule of spiritual disciplines chosen to help us grow in holiness. Many communities including seminaries, monasteries, and other apostolates follow a rule of life specific to their charism. At the school, our rule of life included daily Mass, Liturgy of the Hours, the Rosary, periods for silent prayer, and Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. We also took time every day to work and eat together. Looking back, a good chunk of the spiritual progress I experienced during my time at Bible school came from the daily routine we all learned to live.
While a rule of life usually centers on the sort of spiritual disciplines I mentioned above, many of us live a sort of unwritten “rule of life” that has nothing to do with prayer. Consider as an example our morning routines: those things we need to do no matter what each and every day. This might include having exercise, breakfast, a shave, and a shower, checking the news or the weather forecast before leaving the house, or that critical morning cup of coffee. For each of us, there are certain things we begin each morning with whether we’ve gotten up as planned or slept in.
The question becomes where does prayer fit into this “rule of life” – if at all?
In Matthew 6, Jesus gives directions on prayer beginning by saying “when you pray,” which tells us that prayer is supposed to be an essential part of our rule of life. The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us that “God tirelessly calls each person to this mysterious encounter with Himself” (CCC 2591) – that encounter being prayer. And when we read through the lives of the saints, we’d be hard pressed to find one in any vocation for whom prayer was not a critical, essential part of their day to day lives. This is why St. John Vianney can say “My God, if my tongue cannot say in every moment that I love you, I want my heart to repeat it to you as often as I draw breath.” So while there’s no question that we should pray – it’s more of a question of how and when.
Previously, I wrote a column on the battle of prayer, looking at some of the steps we might take to establish a consistent habit of prayer: committing to it, setting aside time and space for it, leaning on the rich tradition of prayer our faith offers us, and learning what it means to listen. For many people, the early morning and later evening may very well be the best time to make space for prayer in your daily “rule of life.” But on those days when work schedules, the responsibilities that come with parenting small children, or other commitments and distractions get in the way, I’d suggest two simple disciplines anyone can undertake that will ensure that we start and end the day in prayer:
The first is to begin each day with a morning offering. Though there are many worthy prayers that might work as a morning offering, Fr. Francois-Xavier Gautrelet wrote the most famous of these:
O Jesus, through the Immaculate Heart of Mary, I offer you my prayers, works, joys, and sufferings of this day for all the intentions of your Sacred Heart in union with the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass throughout the world, for the salvation of souls, the reparation of sins, the reunion of all Christians, and in particular for the intentions of the Holy Father this month. Amen.
A morning offering like this offers us the chance to place our entire day in God’s hands in about a half a minute. I’d suggest a helpful way to adopt it is to print it off this prayer, and tape it to the bathroom mirror or keep it near the coffeemaker.
The second discipline would be to end the day with an examination of conscience. Many of us are familiar with this sort of examination as a preparation for the Sacrament of Reconciliation. But that practice can be used on a smaller scale as we look over each day: paying attention to those moments in which we succeeded at loving God and loving your neighbor… and those moments in which we did not. Doing a daily examination of conscience will allow us the opportunity to notice certain habits or patterns of sin in our lives – all of which will not only help us to make a better confession, but can also help focus our spiritual efforts at other moments as we seek to move away from sin and nearer to our Lord.
I have found that, no matter the circumstances I live in, no matter how busy things might get there is always time to begin and end the day in prayer. While I no longer have the benefit of the community “rule of life” to dictate what my prayer life will look like, I have found great consolation in simple habits like a morning offering and an evening examination of conscience. I pray that you, too, might find this consolation as you undertake these disciplines to grow in holiness.
“My strength lies in prayer and sacrifice; they are invincible weapons, and touch hearts more surely than words can do, as I have learned by experience.” -St. Therese de Lisieux
— Mike Landry is chaplain to Evergreen Catholic Schools west of Edmonton, and serves as an occasional guest speaker and music minister in communities across Western Canada. Mike and his wife Jennifer live in Stony Plain, Alta. with their five children.