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.