Prayer in the morning, at night and at meals
The following is an excerpt from a talk given by Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades on Feb. 7 at St. Louis Besancon Parish.
A central component of living as a disciple of Jesus, of pursuing the call to holiness in our everyday life, is prayer. Many people already have a good daily regimen of prayer. Some attend daily Mass. Others struggle to maintain a daily routine of prayer. I would like to describe some practices of prayer for your consideration, wherever you might be in your prayer life.
Of course, every Catholic should have a discipline of daily prayer. One size does not fit all when it comes to how we pray. The wonderful thing is that the Catholic Church has such a rich treasury of prayers, devotions, and spiritual practices. The most important thing is not “how” we pray, but “that” we pray, that we converse with God as the Lord of our life, with God who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Prayer when we get up in the morning, when we go to bed at night, and when we eat are staples of a daily regimen of prayer.
Prayer upon rising in the morning
Priests, deacons and religious are required every morning to pray Lauds, the Morning Prayer of the Church, from the Liturgy of the Hours. Some lay people also pray Lauds. It is a beautiful prayer with psalms, a reading, and intercessions. It takes about 10 to 15 minutes to pray. Some lay people use the wonderful little book “Magnificat,” which includes a shorter version of Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer, as well as the readings and prayers of daily Mass. It is a great resource that I highly recommend. I know many Catholics who have grown in their prayer life by using the monthly published Magnificat booklets.
Morning Prayer is a great way to sanctify one’s day, all one’s activities and works of the day. Whether or not one uses the Liturgy of the Hours or Magnificat, what is most important is that one begins his or her day giving praise and thanks to God and offering one’s day to Him.
For many Catholics, a great and simple way to begin the day is to pray the Morning Offering. I have it taped to the mirror in my bathroom! It reminds us of the common priesthood of all the baptized because it is an offering, an act of sacrifice, which is a priestly act. There are different versions of the Morning Offering, but each one is basically a prayer offering everything that day to God, including our works, joys, and sufferings. We are giving our day to God.
It is also good when we make our Morning Offering to offer some specific prayers for spouses and children, for coworkers perhaps, and for the needy, the sick, and the dying, including those individuals who have asked for our prayers or whom we have promised to pray for. If we anticipate a difficult situation that day, like a challenging meeting or encounter, it is good to ask the Lord in advance for wisdom and patience.
Beginning our day with prayer should be a daily habit. I read a story about the actor Denzel Washington giving advice to a group of young actors. He said something surprising. He said to them: “Put your shoes way under the bed at night so that you gotta get on your knees in the morning to find them. And while you’re down there thank God for grace and mercy and understanding.” Great advice — if we put our shoes way under our bed, getting down on our knees to get them may remind us to stay on our knees for a few minutes to pray in the morning!
Like prayer in the morning, prayer at night before going to bed should be part of our daily routine. As with Morning Prayer, priests, deacons and religious are required to pray Night Prayer from the Liturgy of the Hours. The monthly Magnificat booklet also includes this Night Prayer. Night prayer from the Liturgy of the Hours only takes about five minutes. Whether or not we use this official prayer of the Church, the important thing is that we end our day with prayer.
As I recommended the Morning Offering upon rising, I recommend the Act of Contrition when going to bed. Many of us learned this custom as children. Before saying the Act of Contrition, I was taught to think back over the day and to give thanks to God for specific blessings: and then to think back over the day and ask God pardon for my sins that day.
Prayer of thanksgiving is very important before we go to bed. It is a reminder of God’s goodness and love. The examination of conscience and Act of Contrition are also important. It takes humility and is good for our souls to express sorrow for our sins and to express the desire to change and to live in God’s grace. Of course, we can offer the Act of Contrition any time during the day, but it is good to do so at the end of a day — to review our day, trying to see it as God saw it. The Holy Spirit’s gift of wisdom enables us to see things as God sees things.
We should look not only at any moral failure in our actions, but also in our words and our thoughts, as well as our sins of omission, what we have failed to do. This shouldn’t be a scrupulous scrutiny — it only takes a few minutes. St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians: “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are holding to your faith.” This daily examen helps us to have a healthy self-knowledge. This is good for the spiritual life. With that knowledge, we can more consciously be resolved to fight against particular temptations and sins.
The end of our day, like the beginning of our day, can be an act of prayer. That’s what is key. The hinges of our day are focused on the Lord.
Grace before meals
This should be a regular habit in our lives. It is good to be aware that the food we eat is a gift from God and that our companions at a meal are also a gift. We are acknowledging God’s presence and goodness every time we say grace. We can pray before meals in spontaneous words or with the traditional “Bless us, O Lord,” prayer. It is a small thing, but if done attentively and deliberately, it helps us to cultivate an awareness of God at mealtime. Grace at meals reminds us that God is with us as He was with His people when Jesus shared meals with the disciples and others.
Living as intentional disciples of Jesus
Daily prayer is essential for our growth in the Christian life and in holiness, in being a Catholic every day of the week. Yet, we must remember the important counsel of St. Teresa of Avila: that the water is for the flowers. The graces we receive in prayer help us to grow in the virtues. If our prayer is not bearing good fruit, it is not authentic. That’s the only way we can judge the authenticity of our prayer is, are we growing in the virtues — especially the theological virtues of faith, hope and love?
If we’re not growing in our vocations, becoming a better bishop or priest, religious or lay person, a better husband and father, a better wife and mother, a better son or daughter, brother or sister, then something is wrong. Our daily prayer helps us to grow in Christ. Growth in Christian life and holiness doesn’t take place apart from or aside from our vocation. For example, the way of holiness, the path of salvation and sanctification, for a married person is not apart from marriage, but in the marriage. It is impossible for a married person and parent to be growing in holiness but not growing as a good husband and father or wife and mother.
Prayer without growth in love is not fruitful. We can’t judge the goodness or effectiveness of our prayer by how we feel when or after we pray. It can only be judged by the fruits. If one spends an hour in eucharistic adoration and then goes out and curses at a neighbor, then one’s heart was not really open to receive the Lord and His grace during the Holy Hour.
Prayer needs to be connected to life, especially our particular vocation. Prayer helps us to live our common vocation as disciples of the Lord and our state-in-life vocation as married, ordained or consecrated religious or as a widowed or single person. Prayer must be connected also to our personal vocation as unique individuals within our particular state in life. To live as an authentic Christian is to live as an intentional disciple of Christ in our personal life and vocation, in our family and in our work. How do we do this? I’ve focused on daily prayer as the necessary ingredient. But that prayer must be real. Our hearts must be open to divine grace and cooperate with that grace.
One way to articulate all this is a famous quote from Blessed Cardinal John Henry Newman. He said: “God has created me to do Him some definite service. He has committed some work to me which He has not committed to another. I am a link in a chain, a bond of connection between persons. He has not created me for naught. I shall do good, I shall do His work.”
God has given each of us natural gifts that we should develop and use to their fullest potential. He gives us supernatural gifts, graces to help us, including the gift of faith. Prayer keeps us focused on this, on God’s plan and His will. Otherwise, we lose sight of our purpose.
We can easily be tempted to compartmentalize our life. We won’t grow in holiness if Sunday Mass is it and is separated from the realities of our daily life. We shouldn’t even compartmentalize our play and recreation from our life of discipleship, any more than we should compartmentalize our family or work life from our prayer life. We are called to live an integrated life. That’s the life of true discipleship! It’s down to earth. It’s real Christianity. It’s a constant process of conversion.
Living as intentional disciples challenges us every day in our relationships, in our decisions and in our work. We are challenged by the Gospel, the words and the life of Jesus. To be an intentional disciple of Jesus Christ means living life with a purpose. That purpose, as the Catechism says, is “to know, to love, and to serve God in this life and to be happy with Him forever in the next.” Our purpose should not be to accumulate wealth or to strive for fame and celebrity. When we have earthly success, it should be ordered not to ourselves, but to God and to others. A life of discipleship is a life of detachment from these lesser goods. Daily prayer helps us to live with this perspective.
We must admit that we all make mistakes along the way. We mess up. We sin. As intentional disciples, we recognize that we are sinners in need of forgiveness. We know that we need to go to confession regularly in order to grow in holiness and to receive the grace to resist temptations.
To be an authentic Catholic, an intentional disciple, in our culture today can be particularly challenging. I often tell our young people that it takes courage to be Catholic today. The vocation of the Catholic laity is to bring the truth of the Gospel into the world. Remember the question Jesus once posed to the disciples, “when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on earth?” (Luke 18:8). We should ponder this question and ask if we are doing our part.
St. John the Baptist preparing the way of the Lord is an example for us since we are called to prepare the way for Christ’s second coming. This begins with our own lives and families and work. Do other people see God at work in our lives? Do they see goodness and generosity, mercy and love in us? Can they recognize that we are disciples of Jesus Christ by the way we speak?
We can ask ourselves, perhaps in prayer in the morning, what do I intend to do today to learn, to live, and to spread the teachings of Jesus Christ? How can I bring Christ’s love into my home today? What can I do with my children today to help them to draw closer to the Lord? How can I bring peace to a situation of conflict or unity where there is discord? The Prayer of Saint Francis is a wonderful prayer: “Lord make me an instrument of your peace, where there is hatred let me bring love… .”
A wife and mother can ask herself, how can I be more like the Blessed Mother today? A husband and father can ask himself, how can I be more like St. Joseph today? We must not compartmentalize faith and family. I always encourage parents to be devoted to the Holy Family who show us the way to live together in faith, hope, and love.
Parents have the duty to provide for their children’s spiritual, psychological, physical, intellectual, and moral growth. It’s a tremendous responsibility. Most of the social ills in our country can be traced back to the family. Most of the social goods can also be traced back to the family. We certainly need more families of faith and prayer. No family is perfect, but family life is still beautiful when there is unity and peace in the Lord.
Work is also part of our lives that should not be compartmentalized from faith. The Church teaches that work honors the gifts of our Creator and the talents received from Him. Do we recognize this when we go to work or is our work something we see as lacking in meaning? What a difference it makes when we view work as the Church views human work: “as a means of sanctification and a way of animating earthly realities with the spirit of Christ” (CCC 2427).
Prayer helps us to live a unified, integrated life, not a divided, compartmentalized life. It helps us to see meaning and purpose in everything, the meaning and purpose that comes from God our Creator and Redeemer.
Our work should be a prayer. When we pray the Morning Offering, we offer all our work that day to God. Our work, however mundane it may seem sometimes, is a way to offer praise to our Creator and to grow in holiness. But we have to do our work with purpose — to serve God, to provide for our families, and to serve others. Then it truly becomes a means of sanctification for us. Every job is an opportunity for growth in holiness. A salesperson speaking kindly and helpfully to a customer. A teacher imparting knowledge to a student, with care for that student’s growth. A homemaker laundering clothes or cooking a meal, with love for the members of the family being provided for. A garbage collector making the neighborhood cleaner for the community, taking care of our common home. Every work has value and dignity when done in the right spirit.
We are to be God’s fellow-workers, St. Paul says. And we should never underestimate the evangelizing potential of our living as faithful disciples of Christ, as good Catholics, in the workplace.
I hope some of the reflections I have shared are helpful to you as you seek to live the Catholic faith every day, beyond Sunday. Every day we can and we should draw closer to God, through prayer, and within our families and our work. Discipleship is not a part-time job; it’s a full-time life of faith. It’s living life with meaning and purpose. It’s living life as an adventure of faith with Jesus Christ as our leader, our shepherd, and our Savior and with the Holy Spirit as our advocate, counselor and guide. It is a life focused on giving glory to God and on salvation, our own and the salvation of others. Thus it is an intentional life and a unified life, not a compartmentalized life. It is a life in which our goal is holiness. As St. Paul wrote (which I quoted at the beginning of this talk): “For this is the will of God… your sanctification.”