A few simple principles for the spiritual life:
1) Daily prayer (daily Mass is the supreme example of this)
2) Weekly Confession and Sunday Mass [Holy Days as they come]
3) A monthly day of recollection
4) Annual retreat
Daily prayer must include the Rosary (fifteen decades), mental prayer, and spiritual reading (especially from the Bible). The writings of St. Theresa of Avila on mental prayer are must reading and re-reading. Of course, the cleric prays the Divine Office throughout the day. This is a laudable practice for the laity who are able to do so, even if only a portion of the Office, or the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Visit Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament whenever you possibly can. Everyone should arrive at Mass early enough to spend ample time in prayer with Him before the Sacrifice begins. This goes double for the priest. Jesus is the source par excellence of the spiritual life. No one advances in sanctity without spending lots of time with Him. Do not expect to enjoy an eternity with Jesus if you find spending extra time with Jesus unpleasant, unfair, or uninviting. Get used to spending lots of time with Jesus so that spending eternity with Him will be a pleasant experience of Heaven being just like earth.
Structure in your life is a must. The monks have it right. Work is done to support prayer, not prayer to support work. Thus, plan your day as a day of prayer in which you take time periodically to do a little work when needed. When you leave home, adhere to your normal daily schedule. Do not allow exceptions to your life of prayer to become the rule. Your life of prayer is the rule to which you allow occasional exceptions for your duties in the world. This is the mindset that must be cultivated from the first, not so as to make you irresponsible toward your daily duties, but to remind you of their context and the reason for which they are undertaken. You should begrudge the world every moment it takes away from your time spent with God. Your life should be a reminder to people in the world to seek time with God – and thus be judged worthy to spend eternity with God.
Your only goal is to spend eternity with God, without exception; loving Him with your whole heart, whole mind, whole soul, and whole strength is the only way to accomplish that goal. Your whole heart, whole mind, whole soul, and whole strength requires you to want to spend your whole life, every minute of it, with God. If that is not at least your desire on earth, you have no hope of achieving it when this life is over. If you do not want to spend all of your time with God on earth, you do not want to spend all of your eternity with Him in Heaven.
God makes allowances for your need to attend to secular duties, but the Saint directs those chores toward God and finds them endurable only insofar as they can lead to beatitude. “Seek ye first, therefore, God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you!” Anything that can not be made to assist in the endeavor of gaining Heaven is happily cast aside by the saint. “Go, sell all, give to the poor, and come, follow me!” Saint Jean-Marie Baptiste Vianney said, “Anything that can not be offered to God is wasted!”
Set a bedtime for yourself based on when you need to rise in the morning. Determine the times throughout the day at which you will pray. Give thought to the intentions for which you will offer your frequent prayers. Be definite about the types of prayers that you will engage each day. Write all of these things down and look at the list at the end of each day as part of your examination of conscience. Once all of this is in place, then insert the other activities of the day into your calendar. You will find that little time is left over to do unnecessary things – like television, idle gossip, newspapers, trash novels, and trips to the fetid cinema – but you will have more than enough time, and desire, for truly worthwhile things. Please do not approach getting to Heaven with less fervor, single-mindedness, and tenacity than athletes seek gold medals, or bankers seek billions, or sinners seek hell.
For your nightly examination of conscience, use the Ten Commandments, the Six Commandments of the Church, and the Two Great Commandments of Our Lord as your basis for answering these four questions:
1) Where has God offered His grace to me today?
2) Where has God received my cooperation with His grace today?
3) Where has God been denied my cooperation with His grace
today? (This becomes the matter for your next Confession.)
4) Where does God desire me to make use of His grace tomorrow?
Remember, God knows you better than you do. He is the one offended by your sins. Ask Him what most bothers Him about you. Sin is all about you – thinking of ourselves is what gets us into trouble in the first place, it is the source of sin. Our desire for God’s mercy must not be about us, but about Him. Do not make the examination of conscience or Confession yet another example of our self-centeredness. Make it about God and His will, His will to be merciful, His will to love us. Your worst sins are not the ones that bother you most or cause you the most embarrassment; your worst sins are those that offend God the most and contributed most to the Cross of His Son. Look to Him to know the difference.
Specifically, invoke God the Holy Ghost in this task. All knowledge comes to man from the Spirit of God; knowing God and knowing yourself requires you to seek knowledge from the Spirit who knows all of God and all of men. The more you gain knowledge in the Spirit, the more that what bothers God will bother you – and you’ll stop doing it!
Keep Our Lord, Our Lady, and the saints ever on your lips. Make little aspirations throughout the day: “Jesus! Mary! Joseph!” “My Jesus, mercy!” “Immaculate Heart of Mary, pray for us, now and at the hour of our death!” “O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to Thee! “Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost!” “O Sacred Heart of Jesus, make my heart like unto Thine!” Love the things of Heaven and their Lord in life on earth, and the Lord of Love will judge you to be a welcome participant in Life with Him in Heaven for ever and ever. Amen.
9 September 2004: Saint Peter Claver, Confessor
Vinyamar, Tustin, California