I have been out of commission due to visiting family during Christmas but I thought I would take the time to write a short post on something that I have been brewing on as the new year is coming along.
One of the things I want to accomplish next year, and I recommend this to everyone, is to build a more rigorous spiritual routine. As part of my order, I am required to do a few base things daily such as the morning/evening Divine Office, 30 minutes of mental prayer, some form of Marian devotion such as the rosary and when possible, mass. Of course, doing more is acceptable within reason.
As I have begun to build the habit of doing these things daily, I will admit there have been a lot of times when I didn’t fulfill all of my obligations. 10% of the time it can be due to a valid reason, such as an unexpected event but the remaining 90% of time it is my fault. For example, a very common trap that I fall into is that I may delay some spiritual exercise so that I can take care of some temporal things first or perhaps just to relax a bit longer at home. What inevitably happens is that something unexpected will come up and suddenly there is no time at all to do the spiritual exercise. Another challenge I face is when I am out of my “normal” routine, such as visiting family or when I am on vacation. Maintaining a routine when things are stable is easy but maintaining a routine outside of routine requires more effort than normal.
There are two good reasons that I see to building a routine for spiritual exercises. The first being to drive a consistent approach to spiritual growth. Without some routine in our foresight, we can just sort of go haphazardly around in circles doing some exercises some days, perhaps skip it some days. A routine will really help keep you consistent and mindful of what needs to be done that day. The second and more important reason is to be able to see some reoccurring patterns of issues that are causing you to not fulfill your obligations. For example, if you find that you are not able to consistently do your morning prayers because you first have to watch some TV program before work, it may lead you to question how you prioritize your time in the morning and whether you are truly giving God the glory He deserves. Another common struggle is that people tend to leave their spiritual exercises till the end of the day. There is nothing more challenging than to say a rosary or read scripture when it is 5 minutes before bedtime. Perhaps seeing this reoccurring pattern will help you to prioritize when you should do these exercises, say perhaps after dinner.
Spiritual exercises are much more demanding than physical exercises and this results to people yielding to their attempts at spiritual growth quickly. Not only that, St. Francis de Sales states that ordinary grace working in a person works very slowly and is almost unnoticeable. If we compare this to physical exercises, we generally can see and feel our results in a reasonable time span, boosting our determination to stay consistent. This is not how it works in the spiritual realm for the only true sign of good growth is a growth in virtue.
The intent here is not to have a routine for the sake of a routine. If all this work is done without love or if we assume that the routine is what leads to salvation and not grace, we are missing the mark. We have to have the right intention in our heart so that a routine can bear good fruit but this nevertheless requires a determination of the will to keep focused on this.
Depending on your state in life and progress in perfection, each one needs to build a routine that is suitable for them. Not one routine will match perfectly with everyone but there are however some general things that can and should be done. I would say that three basic things to incorporate in a routine are:
- Prayer: This one is obvious but how much prayer is dependent on our spiritual progress. Early on, I would recommend something as easy as one Our Father, one Hail Mary and one Glory Be everyday. Choose a time that you can stick to.
- Spiritual reading: I know there are some temperaments that struggle with reading and are extremely fatigued or disinterested in it but this one is important. Choosing the right material may be challenging at first while you develop a sense of interest in some subject matter. It took me sometime to realize that I really enjoyed books on spiritual theology and this is material that I enjoy doing. If possible, weave in some scripture as well. Keep the readings short in the beginning if this is unbearable.
- Sacraments: It would be ideal to receive confession and communion on a consistent and frequent basis. For confession, I think a reasonable goal early on is to go once a month. For communion, one extra mass a week would be very beneficial if this is something you can work in.
As you begin to grow, you can add more to your routine as the spirit is able to do through grace. Do not try to advance too quickly. You can do damage to yourself and get very discouraged from advancing. Build a simple daily routine that you are excited to do or at least one that you will not be overwhelmed by. I know people always want to strive for the perfect, hardest routine right away in order to reach sainthood in a day but this is not practical.
Some final words. Do not get discouraged when you fail to meet your routine. I know that when I make my new routine I will fail many times. If you want to see a saint who failed often, read the first few entries of Journal of a Soul by Pope St. John XXIII. He failed many times in his spiritual routine but what makes him a saint is will to get back up and strive for perfection. You will fail but with time you will fail less and less. Also, share your routine with a holy friend. If you have a spiritual director that is great, if not, rely on a holy friend. Being honest with your failings and struggles is great. The holy friend will likely hold you more accountable to your routine than yourself so utilize this assistance if you are able to.
Let’s make 2018 a holy year and one with great spiritual growth!
Holy Innocents, pray for us!