In confession a few years ago when I was a tired new mother with two young children, I told the priest that I was struggling with laziness in staying faithful to my daily prayer practices (Why does that still sound so familiar?!). There was a long line behind me, and time was running short before mass. I was still surprised, though, when he immediately and succinctly told me simply to “make every breath a prayer.”
Would you believe that I nearly burst into tears when he told me that? I felt like he was not taking me seriously, was being condescending, and was generally giving me a spiritually “lite” advice (hello, Pride, and hello, Over-sensitive Erin, I know). I did have an idea that I was probably expecting too much out of myself, but I knew that God desired and expected some kind of daily faithfulness from me, and I couldn’t decide where appropriately challenging myself ended and laziness took over.
It’s not impossible to have daily prayer routine of some kind no matter who you are, but figuring out
what that should be for you can be tough. I for one certainly don’t have it all figured out. I do believe that order and daily
spiritual practices–a personal and family “rule of life”–have a place
in every Christian home. Daily Scripture, prayer as a couple, prayer
with the kids and
personal prayer are possible and necessary if your life’s priorities are in order. Catching up on your DVR list or ferrying the kids to too many after-school activities or even folding that last load of clothes shouldn’t be priorities over prayer–that’s for sure. The hard work of marriage and parenting isn’t a
pass for forgoing faithfulness to daily prayer, even on the
hardest of days. A big part of that is that even on the craziest days, we should and can remember to “make our breath a prayer,” just like that priest suggested.
Reading the writings of St. Josemaria has been a big part of maturing in my faith over the past few years. Far from being spiritually “lite,” St. Josemaria’s writings on seeking holiness in our everyday work has helped me to understand that making every breath a prayer is both powerful and natural. Two basic ways to do this–two things that I finally do pretty faithfully now–are a morning offering and praying little aspirations during the day to God.
A morning offering is a prayer that you pray in the morning that offers up the day to God. There are lots of wonderful ones you can pray, or you can write your own. After I pray my morning offering, I know that the moments of my day are sort of “pre-offered” to God, even if in a particular moment I don’t remember to intentionally offer it up to Him. My morning offering is one that I memorized from an old Catholic prayer book. I often add small prayers at the end for help that day with specific virtues I need to work on, such as patience or remembering to pray for loved ones. I pray my morning offering before I even get out of bed–a practice which another holy priest suggested to me.
Aside from a morning offering, praying small aspirations throughout the day are a natural way to stay connected with God. Aspirations are such a beautiful, simple, natural way of prayer. I first came across the word “aspiration” in the writings of St. Josemaria Escriva. Basically, I would explain an aspiration as lifting your heart and mind to God in a brief moment. It could be a short prayer or phrase, or simply offering a particular moment of your work to God. You might use “Jesus, Redeemer!” as an aspiration during the day to help
you remember Jesus’ power over sin and death–including whatever sins
you are struggling with at the time. Or you might remember to fold a t-shirt extra neatly while doing laundry, offering up that moment of doing your work extra well for Him.
When we examine how our piety is and what it should be like, that is
what specific points of our personal relationship with God need
improving, if you have understood me right you will reject the
temptation of imagining fantastic feats, because you will have
discovered that Our Lord is quite happy if we offer him little tokens of
love any moment of the day.
Try to commit yourself to a plan of life and to keep to it: a few
minutes of mental prayer, Holy Mass — daily, if you can manage it — and
frequent Communion; regular recourse to the Holy Sacrament of
Forgiveness — even though your conscience does not accuse you of mortal
sin; visiting Jesus in the Tabernacle; praying and contemplating the
mysteries of the Holy Rosary, and so many other marvelous devotions you
know or can learn.
You should not let them become rigid rules, or water-tight compartments.
They should be flexible, to help you on your journey you who live in
the middle of the world, with a life of hard professional work and
social ties and obligations which you should not neglect, because in
them your conversation with God still continues. Your plan of life ought
to be like a rubber glove which fits the hand perfectly.
Please don’t forget that the important thing does not lie in doing many
things; limit yourself, generously, to those you can fulfill each day,
whether or not you happen to feel like doing them. These pious practices
will lead you, almost without your realizing it, to contemplative
prayer. Your soul will pour forth more acts of love, aspirations, acts
of thanksgiving, acts of atonement, spiritual communions. And this will
happen while you go about your ordinary duties, when you answer the
telephone, get on to a bus, open or close a door, pass in front of a
church, when you begin a new task, during it and when you have finished
it: you will find yourself referring everything you do to your Father