Saturday, February 4, 2012

The heroic minute, immediately upon waking - the first battle of the day

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.


Brad said...

May God bless you, Father!

About two years ago I heard a fellow layman mention that when he awakens, the first thing he does is kiss the ground beside his bed and say "serviam". He didn't relate this as advice per se, but it struck me as so very good in so many ways, symbolic and literal, and I glommed on to it. The demon loathes seeing us inferior creatures do acts of humility and love for God.

I have noticed extreme pressure from not only the demon but my own fallen nature to avoid morning prayers. Oh, the excuses. Oh, the lies whispered into my ear in the predawn dark! This surely reveals their merit.

Anonymous said...

I think this would be excellent, most of all, for those with depression- for whom getting out of bed can sometimes be an enormous struggle.

Anonymous said...

St. Josemaria Escriva, The Way, 206:

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.


PS: Brad, that friend of yours would know well that quote I just wrote!

Father S. said...

Dear Father,

I recall when I first read this few words from St. Josemaría. They struck me like a lightning bolt. It was the first time—and I was no longer a child—that I had heard of mortification in a positive sense. In much of our modern spirituality, we have lost the sense of the traditional principle of “agree contra,” (“to act against”) wherein one deliberately confronts vice. There is this notion that has become very common that we can do nothing to fight against temptation. So many simply wonder when they will fall again, not realizing how many tools that they have at their disposal. This “heroic minute” is very effective. It trains the will, disposes the mind and prepares the day. Thanks for posting.

Kind regards,
Father S.

Nick said...

Could someone clarify/expound on what the "heroic minute" means?

I'm not sure what St Josemaria is saying; it seems like you have to know what it means before you read his words.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

The first minute of the day is "heroic" when you don't hit the snooze-button, but instead get up immediately and give the first moments of the day to prayer.

julia said...

I grew up trained to say my morning and evening prayers even before I started kindergarten. My mother would say the prayers with my sister and I, and then we just started doing it on our own. Just sit up on the side of the bed, and do it. I don't recall how my mother did it, she just did and it just seemed natural to do. But somehow, once the babies came, I started losing the habit.I am 50 now, and can do it only with great help from heaven. But here's the trick -- ask help from your angel, saint, Mother Mary, the Lord himself the night before, to get you up the next day. Two words in this article strengthen my resolve: "heroic minute." I will do it. (I'll truly try.)

Father S. said...

@ Nick and Father,

Very often, the heroic minute is accompanied by an act of mortification. For example, it would be customary to not only commit the moment to prayer, but to get out of bed quickly, kneel down at the side of the bed and pray.

Kind regards,
Father S.

Anonymous said...

South Africa

Last night my son asked his mother, is it better to do work early ours of the morning or work to the the late hours of the night.

Happened to have the liturgy of the hours in my hand and immediately saw the Benedictus ant. "Jesus got up early in the morning......"

Needless to say, we were up 5am this Morning. May it continue.

Thanks for this blog.

Michelangelo said...

Dear Father,

Ouch! You got me again... It certainly is mortifying to have to get up quickly and on time to make my morning offering, but to do it for God and our good makes it sweet, at least after the fact. (Or after that first cup of coffee.) I like the reflection of one of St. Jean Vianney's priest-friends on the Saint's morning prayer. When asked, M. le Cure said, "I try to unite myself very closely with the Good God, and then I do the next thing." His friend commented, "From which I take that his life was one long prayer..." Thanks for the reminder, Abba!

Veronica said...

There is nothing I would like better than to get up and devote the first hour or so of the day to prayer and meditation. However, I cannot. The feeding of animals await. I asked them if they could please wait another hour, but it made no difference. They want what they want...NOW.

I do what I can. When I awake during the night, which is more often than not, I immediately start praying. When I get up at six, or sometimes before, I always kneel, pray a few prayers, bless both myself and my still sleeping husband with Holy Water, ask Our Lord and Our Blessed Mother to go before us and bless our day, and then proceed to perform my before coffee tasks.

Some day soon, I hope, I will have the luxury of doing what I so long to do. In fact, if I had my way, and if a church opened 24/7 could be located (only in my dreams), I'd get up and dressed and head straight for a front row seat in front of Our Lord in the Most Blessed Sacrament!

God bless you, dear Father! Still praying for you. Please pray for me too.

Rachel W. said...

The heroic minute is a blessing but can seem like a burden to every mother (and fathers). Much like Veronica in an earlier message there is often work to do immediately - the babies need to be fed (along the the toddlers, the teens and husband off to work).

This doesn't mean I don't pray at all but realize I cannot give myself a lengthy time alone (the kids always find me!)

I console myself w/ the words of St. Paul who calls us to pray w/out ceasing so I offer a quick prayer offering my work as a prayer and head to the kitchen.

At some point, my children will be gone but until then, my prayers are usually said as I pour cereal - out loud so my kids can hear me and join in!

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@Veronica and Rachel,
I understand something of the demands of family life ... indeed, they are truly beyond what I can understand!

However, I must insist (together with the saints) that we have to take time for mental prayer -- every day!

Jesus had the duty of saving the whole world ... and he found time to rise early and pray ... even though his disciples searched for him!
So too, the family man/woman must take time every day (hopefully in the morning) for reflective prayer and mediation.

I've been told that St. Teresa of Avila says that 20 minutes of mental prayer each day is necessary for salvation.
St. Alphonsus says pretty much the same -- without mental prayer (i.e. reflective prayer on the mysteries of our Faith) there is scarcely any chance of salvation.

So, the Doctor of Prayer (Teresa) and the Doctor of Morals (Alphonsus) don't give much room for lee-way ... we all simply must find time for quiet, reflective, personal prayer each day ... 20 minutes seems to be the minimum (though, I think we can build up to that from 10 min in the beginning ... hopefully, we get to an hour at some point).

We have to be saints ... and that means heroic virtue.
I know you can do it! :-)

@Veronica, thank you for your kind words and prayers ... I will be praying for you as well. +

Veronica said...

Rachel, I had to laugh..."the kids always find me." Nowhere to hide, eh? I know the feeling.

Veronica said...

Father Ryan, I will do as you say since you are the second priest in about two weeks that has suggested this to me.

I'm counting on your good prayers for me!

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