During this isolation timespan, my communications team urged me to offer brief daily in-home retreat messages. After a couple of weeks of airing short videos and spiritual exercise ideas, some viewers asked me to share a summary of my own daily prayer. Reluctantly, I will. Yet, I caution you to realize that, while we can encourage each other, we cannot make another’s prayer routine our own. It has to be personal, based on our own circumstances, tendencies, attractions, and promises.
Like most religious men and women, I pray a portion of the daily Liturgy of the Hours, also known as the Breviary or Office. This is a compilation of prayers including Psalms, Scriptural Readings, Petitions, and Canticles. I use this method every morning and some evenings—though often in the evening I utilize other prayer-forms and sometimes I fade off without praying at all (yet trusting that God understands my good intention and human weakness). My other evening offerings vary from the Readings of the Day for Mass, journaling, or perusing assorted spiritual writings.
In the course of priesthood, I became increasingly attracted to Ignatian Spirituality and adopted some of those methods and principles into my daily pattern. Central to Ignatian prayer is the Examen or Examination of Consciousness. This practice calls for a periodic check-in which most Jesuits, who follow this model popularized by their founder, Ignatius of Loyola, make three times a day: morning, noon, and night. There are variations of the Examen; for me, it includes a review of my actions since the last check-in, taking notice of, and giving gratitude for, all the blessings I receive, calling to mind and asking forgiveness for my failings in interactions, and taking a look at what is on my schedule, asking God to accompany me in upcoming encounters. It is worth noting that “consciousness” is preferred over “conscience” when we examine ourselves because the former directs us to be consciously aware of God’s presence in our lives whereas the latter implies judgement, which is God’s job—not ours.
As with most priests, I say Mass daily, with rare exception—sometimes several Masses in the same day. This is part of my duty to the parish I serve; a few parishes back, I got in the habit of also praying for parishioners by name, periodically holding a parish directory in my hand. Over time, I have adopted some devotional prayers, too, for example, a daily rosary; sometimes, I combine this with physical exercise. Through the guidance of Bishop Charles Helmsing, who prayed the Stations of the Cross every day, I began doing the same as a means to share in the Lord’s passion and cross. Influenced by a trip to Medjugorje, I adopted the habit of some visionaries who hosted my group and who regularly prayed seven Our Fathers, Hail Marys, and Glory Bes. I pray this style for all who ask me to pray for them—many by name and others whose names I have forgotten—and I usually do so while in bed during the night when attempting to fall back to sleep after getting up. There are other devotionals that I periodically employ, such as novenas (lasting for nine days), and habits that I sometimes get into, such as offering the examen in my car or a reflective prayer on my drive for the one I am going to see.
I do not pray always, as many saints, from Paul to Augustine, said we should and as some people claim they do. In fact, my prayer-to-work ratio far favors work as does my prayer-to-wasting-time favors the wasting of time (with television, socializing, and mindless wanderings). I suspect that most of you pray as much or more than I do: the raising of children is a constant prayer, as is outreach to the feeble and vulnerable, and honoring our body, mind and soul by choices we make to enhance them. The more I mature as a spiritual person, the more I realize that God is far more impressed with our actions than our prayers and that periodic pausing to become consciously aware of the Lord’s presence in our lives will help us be in communion with Him and help us impact our surroundings so that life on earth will be more as it is in heaven.
I invite you to participate in the stay-at-home, online retreat. The retreat is free and includes a brief video with a prayer, question for prayerful reflection, or spiritual exercise. It may be used in home by individuals, families, and small faith sharing groups. To sign up, please click here.