|A Carthusian monk, from the film "Into Great Silence"|
5th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Mark 1:29-39
Rising very early before dawn, [Jesus] left and went off to a deserted place, where he prayed.
After exorcising a demoniac, healing St. Peter’s mother-in-law, and curing many others, Jesus teaches us the absolute primacy of the interior life by rising early the next morning, before it was day, so as to go to a deserted place and pray.
Fr. Conrelius a’ Lapide tells us: “Learn here from Christ to give the early morning to prayer, and to rise up with the dawn, so as to have leisure for meditation, and to give the first-fruits of the day to God. For the dawn of day is a friend of the Muses, but a greater friend of God and the angels.”
It is better to pray in the morning
Together with all the spiritual doctors before and after, St. Francis de Sales recommends that mental prayer (including the Rosary) be done in the early morning [Introduction to the Devout Life II,1]:
“Give an hour every day to meditation before dinner [i.e. the noon meal];—if you can, let it be early in the morning, when your mind will be less cumbered, and fresh after the night’s rest. Do not spend more than an hour thus, unless specially advised to do so by your spiritual father.”
Further, the Doctor of the Catholic Press writes:
“If it should happen that your morning goes by without the usual meditation, either owing to a pressure of business, or from any other cause, (which interruptions you should try to prevent as far as possible,) try to repair the loss in the afternoon, but not immediately after a meal, or you will perhaps be drowsy, which is bad both for your meditation and your health. But if you are unable all day to make up for the omission, you must remedy it as far as may be by ejaculatory prayer [e.g. “My Jesus, I love you.”], and by reading some spiritual book, together with an act of penitence for the neglect, together with a stedfast resolution to do better the next day.”
The morning offering of St. Alphonsus
St. Alphonsus offers the following prayer as an example of how every Christian should pray immediately upon rising:
My God! I adore You, I love You with my whole heart.
I thank You for all Your benefits, especially for having preserved me during the past night.
I offer You all my actions and sufferings of this day, in union with the actions of Jesus and Mary; and I make the intention of gaining all the indulgences that I can gain.
I purpose, O Lord! to avoid offending You this day.
[It is good to make a resolution, particularly about the fault into which we fall the most often.]
I beg You, for the love of Jesus, to grant me the grace of perseverance.
I resolve to conform myself to Your holy will, and particularly in those things that are contrary to my inclination, saying always, O Lord I Your will be done. My Jesus, keep Your hand over me this day. Most Holy Virgin Mary, take me beneath your mantle. And do You, O Eternal Father, help me for the love of Jesus and Mary! O my angel guardian and my holy patron saints, assist me.
[Say: Our Father, Hail Mary, Creed; three Hail Marys: in honor of the purity of Mary.]
Notice that St. Alphonsus is speaking in holy aspirations or ejaculatory prayers – quick and sweet acts of love, of faith, of thanksgiving, of petition. Some (perhaps not all) will find that these are much easier in the morning than a long memorized prayer, they are also more effective in exciting the will to the love of God.
Further, the resolution to avoid some particular vice: Every day we must either grow or decrease in virtue. The soul is a living being and, like all things living, it cannot in this life maintain perfect neutrality – every organism, including the supernatural organism which is the soul, is either growing or dying. Thus, first thing in the morning, we ready ourselves for the spiritual warfare of the coming day, and we resolve to mortify (to put to death) that fault which is most dangerous to our spiritual growth.
Finally, with distrust of self but great confidence in God, St. Alphonsus tells us to be resigned to the divine will. This is the key to holiness: Conformity, and even abandonment, to divine providence. Whatever comes this day is given or at least permitted by God for my spiritual benefit, if only I make good use of the occasions he provides me! Most especially, any sufferings or humiliations which are assigned by God for me in the coming day are the greatest means of my growth in holiness – I must not seek to avoid them.
We pray to Mary, to the saints, and to our guardian angel for protection and assistance. The Hail Mary, said three times in the morning and at night, is the great means of overcoming lust and persevering in chastity – every Christian should employ this powerful tool.
A mortification in the morning
St. Josemaría Escrivá, the Father and Founder of Opus Dei, tells us:
“The heroic minute. It is the time fixed for getting up. Without hesitation: a supernatural reflection and ... up! The heroic minute: here you have a mortification that strengthens your will and does no harm to your body. If, with God’s help, you conquer yourself, you will be well ahead for the rest of the day. It’s so discouraging to find oneself beaten at the first skirmish.” (cf. The Way 206)
As the season of Lent is soon approaching, perhaps we may consider incorporating this early mortification into our discipline.