Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Saint John Paul II and Saint John XXIII Canonization Highlights

The Church celebrates the 2nd Anniversary of the Canonizations of Sts. Pope John Paul II and Pope John XIII - here are some of my reflections on that beautiful Mass.

4:00AM. I grimaced when the alarm went off. I'm an early riser, generally up and at my desk by 5:30AM, but 4:00AM on a Sunday is a bit extreme, even for me. However, as a JPII kid (he became Pope when I was 11 years old), I felt compelled to watch his canonization live, much in the same way that I rose in the middle of the night 9 years ago to watch his funeral Mass. That day was one of great sadness at the temporal loss of a man who I viewed as my spiritual Papa - the day of his canonization, however, is a day of great joy and victory as our beloved Papa, along with Pope John XXIII, is recognized by the church as one of her great saints!

Here are some of the parts of the canonization Mass that touched me the most.

Pope Francis Greeting Pope Benedict
The warm greeting exchanged by Pope Francis and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI under the banners of the soon-to-be canonized Pope John Paul II and Pope John XXIII, and just beyond the statue of St. Peter spoke volumes to me as I watched. It was a noteworthy and historical moment for so two major reasons:
  1. No two living pontiffs have ever been present at a canonization celebration.
  2. Two Popes have never been canonized together. 
For me, it was far more than just the historical novelty and uniqueness of today's celebration. Their embrace was a vivid demonstration of the great blessing of Apostolic succession that the Catholic Church exclusively enjoys. The grace of continuity of teaching and leadership in the church was tangibly on display today as the past 50 years of the papacy were spiritually and physically joined together in unity at the Basilica dedicated to the first Pope.

Video by Catholic News Service

Proclamation of Sainthood
The following are the official words of Canonization proclaimed by Pope Francis:
“For the honour of the Blessed Trinity, the exaltation of the Catholic faith and the increase of the Christian life, by the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, and of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul, and our own, after due deliberation and frequent prayer for divine assistance, and having sought the counsel of many of our brother Bishops, we declare and define Blessed John XXIII and John Paul II be Saints and we enroll them among the Saints, decreeing that they are to be venerated as such by the whole Church. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”
There is such richness in this brief formula of canonization: it highlights the reason the church makes saints; the authority by which she is able to elevate a person to sainthood, and the process by which sainthood is determined. Yet the simplicity of the words do not diminish their power and that power could be palpably felt as the Pope proclaimed them.

Pope Francis' Homily
In his homily at the Canonization Mass, Pope Francis highlighted the two new saints' docility to the Holy Spirit and stressed that it is through saints that the church grows saying,
"John XXIII and John Paul II cooperated with the Holy Spirit in renewing and updating the Church in keeping with her pristine features, those features which the saints have given her throughout the centuries. Let us not forget that it is the saints who give direction and growth to the Church."
 He went on to describe Saint John XXIII's "great service to the Church" as being that of  "the pope of openness to the Spirit" and Saint John Paul II as being the "pope of the family."

As a wife and mother, the Holy Father's words describing the example of Saint John XXIII and Saint John Paul II deeply resonated in my heart as the recipe for living out life in our family's domestic church -a recipe of trust in the Lord and cooperation with the direction of the Holy Spirit.

Reception of Holy Communion
The opening lines of Ecclesia de Eucharistia, Pope John Paul II's final encyclical state: "The Church draws her life from the Eucharist." Watching the distribution of Holy Communion at the Canonization Mass was a moving demonstration of this truth. Hundreds of priests went forward into the vast crowds gathered for Mass, bearing with them the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ, truly present in the Eucharist. In what was a remarkably silent and reverent crowd, the faithful came forward to "draw their life" by receiving the Body and Blood of the Lord. Watching on my computer at home, I felt united to them in the reality of that same Eucharist, which I myself received at Mass later that day, and am reminded of the words of Cardinal de Lubac: "The church produces the Eucharist, but the Eucharist produces the Church." (Splendor of the Church, 133)

Read Related Posts Here:
7 Lessons From Pope John Paul II
JPII Talks Holiness: 7 Quotes

I'm participating in Worth Revisit Wednesday with this post - head on over to visit hosts Elizabeth at Theology is a Verb and Allison at Reconciled to You for more faith-filled Catholic posts!

Sunday, April 24, 2016

The Heroic Minute Challenge: Day 14: 7 Lessons Learned from the Heroic Minute

I would like to sincerely thank everyone who participated in the 14 Day "Heroic Minute" Challenge. Honestly, I really had no clue how things would go when the challenge began. I just knew that I personally needed to work on incorporating some self-discipline and order into my daily life. I have always loved St. Josemarie Escriva and his concept of the Heroic Minute and so the challenge was born.

Here are 7 of the many lessons which I have learned from the challenge.

The Spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak. (Mt 26:41) It is no surprise to me that Jesus said this to the Apostles who had fallen asleep while he was in agony praying in the garden. Overcoming my fleshly desire for 10 more minutes of sleep every morning is no small feat. At some points during the past 14 days I thought that climbing Mount Everest might be easier than forgoing my snooze button for one more day. 

We need to be realistic in our goals. It is no secret to my family and friends that I am an ambitious person. My first grade teacher remarked on my report card that I was a "keen competitor"! The object of my competition is, most often, myself. At the start of this challenge, my personal goals went far beyond the scope of St. Escriva's initial exhortation - I looked down the road and saw myself up at 5AM, praying for 30 minutes, exercising, doing laundry and more. Did any of those things happen?  Not exactly. My goals were completely unrealistic. Through the challenge I have learned the wisdom of setting one goal at a time and to ensure that it is an attainable one - this does not mean that reaching the goal won't be challenging, only that it is realistic. Which brings me to number 3.....

Heroism happens in the little things. My initial zeal was marked by a gross misunderstanding of heroism, virtue and holiness. Stories of great "heroic" saints like St. Joan of Arc and St. Perpetua have always inspired me, but somewhere along the way I lost the value of the concept that little things, done well, with the proper motives, can build virtue as effectively as the great acts of courage and self-sacrifice demonstrated by these heroic martyrs. St. Escriva's writings are filled with a focus on performing the smallest task at hand, with the greatest devotion and attention. I am slowly starting to realize that folding that pesky pile of clothes, or cooking dinner, or cleaning the bathroom, when it needs to be done, without complaint, does in fact constitute a "heroic" act.

Success in the morning begins the night before. I learned the hard way, early in the challenge, that being able to live out the Heroic Minute in the morning requires that I have lived out a series of Heroic Minutes the night before - including going to be at a reasonable time and ending my evening in prayer. In fact, the concept of a single Heroic Minute each day is really a misnomer. In order to live out any one single Heroic Minute, we need to be striving to live out every minute of the day in a heroic, Christ-centered way.

The Lord's mercy is renewed every morning (Lam 3:21)The bottom line for me is that this challenge, like many things in my spiritual life, was hard....really hard. I think that I bounced out of bed on only one out of the 14 days, and on that particular day I was challenged to set aside my own "success" for the greater good of love. More than ever I am grateful for the mercy of the Lord, which he pours out upon us whenever we humble ourselves and ask for it. As a Catholic, I am especially grateful for the gift of the Sacrament of Reconciliation. There is nothing more freeing than admitting all your failures out loud to another person and having those failures and struggles be met with love, mercy and the beautiful words of absolution.

We are in good company. From the Proverbs 31 Woman in the Old Testament, to one of the Church's most recently canonized saints, Pope John Paul II, to the Lord Himself - it seems that all those "in the know" live out the Heroic Minute by beginning their day well before dawn, in prayer. How's that for some positive peer pressure!

Beginning the challenge was easy. There was an excitement and newness to the whole endeavor. Even when it was a struggle not to hit the snooze button, I still maintained the attitude that I could do anything for 14 days. I have never believed these words of St. Escriva to be more accurate that I do today on the last day of this challenge. The true test of virtue is not in starting strong, but rather in staying consistent and persevering over the long run.

As we end this challenge, my prayer is that the Lord will provide all of us with the grace to persevere, through the struggles and difficulties, as we try to live out His will.

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Saturday, April 16, 2016

The Heroic Minute Challenge: Day 13: One Small Act at a Time

Prior to reading St. Josemarie Escriva's description of the first moment of the day as the Heroic Minute, I never considered this seemingly insignificant act of getting up in the morning as a key battle in the war between virtue and vice; good and evil; light and darkness that goes on in the soul of every Christian. Spiritual warfare is heavy-duty stuff, I reasoned.  It consists of  temptations that lead one to commit serious sin, which need to be battled fiercely with prayer, fasting and the sacraments.

Getting out of bed seems to me to be such a basic and minor part of my day that it can hardly be considered a "skirmish", as Escriva describes it. Or at least, that is how I used to think. In taking part in this challenge, I have begun to understand that virtue is built in doing the little things well, time and time again, day in and day out, beginning with this very small act of getting out of bed in the morning. I can attest to the fact that on the days when I have failed at the Heroic Minute, I do feel a sense of defeat and discouragement creep in even before the day gets underway. Conversely, living out the Heroic Minute has given me a sense of victory and right order which sets quite a different tone to the day.

St. Escriva sums up his focus on the significance of doing even the smallest acts in the following analogy:
Have you seen how that imposing building was built? One brick upon another. Thousands. But, one by one. And bags of cement, one by one. And blocks of stone, each of them insignificant compared with the massive whole. And beams of steel. And men working, the same hours, day after day...
Have you seen how that imposing building was built?... By dint of little things! (The Way, 823)
The building I am aiming to build is a life of holiness, lived for the Glory of God and the building of his kingdom here on earth, one heroic minute at a time.

Interested in taking the challenge? Click here to find out more information...

Friday, April 15, 2016

The Heroic Minute Challenge:Day 12: Purity of Motive

As we get to the last few days of 14 Day "Heroic Minute" Challenge, I got to thinking about what my motives are for taking this challenge.  Here's what I have come up with:
  • I am hoping that by living out the "Heroic Minute" I will grow in the virtue of self-discipline.
  • The early morning hours before my children and husband are awake is, on most days, the probably the only time I have to be alone and I really enjoy that first peaceful cup of coffee. 
  • Rising before everyone else gives me a chance to pray and study. 
  • I love getting a head start on some daily chores - can anyone else appreciate just how good it feels to have the first load of laundry washed and in the dryer before 7AM? 
These are all good reasons. However, as I started reading a little more of St. Escriva's writings, I realize that my good motives are, quite frankly, not good enough. It seems that my hopes for completing this challenge are quite human and very much centered on what the Heroic Minute will do for me. St. Escriva cautions against this saying:

"Purity of intention. The suggestions of pride and the impulses of the flesh are not difficult to recognize... and you fight and, with grace, you conquer.

But the motives that inspire you, even in the holiest actions, do not seem clear; and deep down inside you hear a voice which makes you see human reasons in such a subtle way that your soul is invaded by the disturbing thought that you don't act as you should — for pure Love, solely and exclusively to give God all his glory." - The Way 788

So how do we turn around our less-than-perfect motives? How do we live so that everything we do, including the Heroic Minute, is done with the goal of giving glory to God?  We take St. Escriva's words to heart and ask the Lord to take all our actions, thoughts, and intentions as an act of love for Him and with the desire for nothing more than to give Him glory!

What a witness this Heroic Minute Challenge will be if we who are participating it seek to give God glory through our struggles, our victories and even through the extra time in our day that bypassing the snooze button gives us!

 Interested in taking the challenge? Click here to find out more information...

Thursday, April 14, 2016

The Heroic Minute Challenge: Day 11: Mortification, the Heroic Minute and Love

The experience I remember the most from the first time I ran the Heroic Minute Challenge two years ago was the following early morning encounter:
Around 5AM, I was awoken by a bright light streaking through the bedroom window, followed by a loud burst of thunder. Not three seconds later, my daughter arrived in our bedroom, accompanied by a pillow and two stuffed teddy bears. "I'm scared", she whispered and climbed into bed.  My little one was 10 at the time, and as she snuggled in besides me I contemplated how few of these childhood moments I have left. We both drifted off to sleep to the sound of the rain pounding against the window. When my alarm rang just a short while later I quickly shut it off, and immediately got out of bed. Proud of my stunning accomplishment of living out of the "Heroic Minute" on that rainy, gloomy morning, I began to tiptoe out of the bedroom - only to hear my daughter cry "Mommy, don't leave me!" UGH...I thought about the challenge; I thought about the quiet time that awaited me; I thought about how much I could be accomplishing - and then I crawled back into bed and held my daughter.

A Heroic Minute failure? I think not.....

Mortification, the Heroic Minute and Love
St. Josemarie Escriva describes the act of living out the Heroic Minute as "a mortification that strengthens your will and does no harm to your body."

A mortification is an act of voluntary self-denial of something good, in order to free ourselves to pursue, or receive something better. St. Francis de Sales describes the benefits of mortification in the following words:

"The more one mortifies his natural inclinations, the more he renders himself capable of receiving divine inspirations and of progressing in virtue."
In practicing the Heroic Minute, we mortify ourselves of our desire to remain resting for a few more minutes (a good thing) in order to begin our day in a self-disciplined way, with our eyes fixed on the Lord. (a better thing). As St. Escriva points out, this simple mortification does not harm our body, but it does serve to strengthen our will - something that is essential for us in the pursuit of virtue and holiness. The more our wills become accustomed to this type of voluntary self-denial, the more readily we will be able to face greater challenges as they come our way. The less we give in to even a seemingly innocuous desire to hit the snooze button, the more in-tune our hearts will become to seeking out the will of God in our lives. Not a bad way to start the day!

The challenge I had that morning two years ago, and one that we all face in our desire to grow in holiness, is that acts of piety, self-denial and mortification, must always be subordinated to love.  St. Paul makes this very clear in the his letter to the Corinthians where he warns:
" If I speak in human and angelic tongues* but do not have love, I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal. And if I have the gift of prophecy and comprehend all mysteries and all knowledge; if I have all faith so as to move mountains but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away everything I own, and if I hand my body over so that I may boast but do not have love, I gain nothing." (1 Cor 13: 1-3)
Could I have lived out the Heroic Minute that rainy morning? Yes... and that would have been a good thing. However, by subordinating that good thing to the demands of love, I was blessed- through God's grace - to have chosen the very best thing.

Interested in taking the challenge? Click here to find out more information...

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

The Heroic Minute Challenge: Day 10: Offer it Up

Day 10 of the 14 Day "Heroic Minute" Challenge.  Have you mastered the Heroic Minute?  I surely have not, but I am learning so much during this challenge about myself, about the Lord and also about the value of struggling.

St. Josemarie Escriva offers us the following quote to highlight the approach we should take when faced with our own shortcomings and struggles:

In other words, we should live by the good old Catholic maxim and "offer it up".  What does that mean?

It's not all about us.  Taking up any sort of challenge, even Catholic ones - can result in excessive introspection and self-centeredness. Instead of helping us to grow, the challenge quickly slides into a running tally of our own successes (yay me!!!!) and failures (boo me...) .That entirely misses the point. By offering up our struggles (and our victories) for the intentions of others, we are able to focus our attention on the goal of helping others - a win-win situation, whether we have succeeded or failed.

There is growth in the struggle. This is one of my Spiritual Director's favorite sayings and I cringe everytime I hear it. I have learned, painfully and over an extended period of time, that he is quite correct. If we never struggled in anything, we would likely not grow either. People who are raised with the proverbial "silver spoon" in their mouth are notoriously unhappy. Nothing builds us up as much as a struggle which has been overcome!  As Catholics we have a unique opportunity to turn our struggles into immediate victories by offering them in prayer to the Lord for others. In this way, our struggles are never wasted, but instead, united to the Lord's sufferings, they themselves take on a supernatural value.

Quitting is not an option. When we adopt the practice of "offering up" our struggles for the intentions and salvation of others, it becomes very apparent that quitting is not an option. By viewing struggles and even outright failure as opportunities for prayer, we come to understand that every second of our life is valuable. In a world that dismisses anything less than perfection, we as Catholics have been given the great gift of turning imperfections into powerful instruments of the Lord's mercy and grace.  Does this mean that we don't try to overcome our struggles and failures? Of course not. We should work hard and pray hard to rid ourselves of our failures. In the meantime, we can offer them up for our family, friends, loved ones, and the poor souls who are lost and in need of salvation. When we experience the sweet taste of victory over them, we can likewise offer that in prayer as well!

Interested in taking the challenge? Click here to find out more information...

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

The Heroic Minute Challenge: Day 9: St. John Paul II's Heroic Minute

So far we have talked about Our Lord Jesus' Heroic Minute, and the Proverbs 31 woman's Heroic Minute.  Today, I'd like to turn our attention to one of favorite saint's Heroic Minute: Saint John Paul II.

If anyone exemplified living out the Heroic Minute it was JPII. Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, who served as the Pope's personal secretary, devotes an entire chapter in his memoirs A Life with Karol: My Forty-Year Friendship with the Man Who Became Pope to the Holy Father's daily routine. He notes that:
"John Paul II was a perfectionist, because he always wanted to get as much as he could out of the time available. So he would meticulously plan out the day's activities: prayer, work, meetings, meals (which gave him a chance to talk with guests), and rest." 
He goes on to describe the Pope's morning routine:
"Anyway, the Holy Father used to begin his day pretty early. He would get up at 5:30, wash up, and go to the chapel for morning adoration, Lauds and meditation. Mass would be at 7:00AM..."

Those who witnessed Saint John Paul II praying in his chapel in the morning before Mass saw a man totally absorbed, seemingly oblivious to the world around him. His prayer involved every ounce of his being: body, soul, mind and heart. Cardinal Dziwisz summarizes his prayer life saying:
"...there was nothing sanctimonious about any of this. He was in love with God. He lived on God. And every day, he would start over again."
It was this heroism and total devotion to his prayer time, even during times of illness, injury and suffering, that propelled him to the heights of holiness and made him a compelling witness to the world of a life lived in complete surrender to the Lord.

Let us ask our beloved "Papa" for his intercession to help us as we try and live out the Heroic Minute in our daily lives. May this Heroic Minute lead us into a deeper relationship with the Lord and may that relationship fill us the courage and the zeal to proclaim this good news to our hurting and broken world as Saint John Paul II did.

St. John Paul II, pray for us. 

Interested in taking the challenge? Click here to find out more information...

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Monday, April 11, 2016

The Heroic Minute Challenge: Day 8: The Proverbs 31 Woman's Heroic Minute

So far during the 14 Day "Heroic Minute" Challenge, we have learned from the Scriptures about how Our Lord Jesus himself rose before dawn to begin his day in prayer.  Today, I'd like to propose a famous Old Testament woman's Heroic Minute - the Proverb's 31 woman.

This woman is an absolute ROCK STAR of virtuous living. She does it all - from being the perfect wife, to owning a business, to making clothes, serving the poor and more. What is her secret? The most important attribute she has - the one that fuels all her other virtues is that she is a "woman who fears the Lord." (Pr. 31:30) Her relationship with the Lord is the motive and strength behind all her other undertakings. It is no surprise to read that she too lives out the Heroic Minute - "rising while it is still provide food for her household and tasks for her maidens." (Pr. 31:15)

When I was a new Mom, my sleep-deprived brain could not comprehend how this Proverbs 31 woman pulled off everything she did in a single day. I wanted to be like her, but could barely even manage to be showered and dressed before Noon. During this season in my life, I discovered a series of talks which Kimberly Hahn had given on applying the virtues and discipline of the Proverbs 31 woman to our own lives. I would pack my infant son in his car seat each day and pop in a cassette (oh yes, dating myself for sure) into the car's player and soak in all of Mrs. Hahn's wisdom and insights. She has since developed the series of talks into a series of books. In the second of the series' six books,  Graced and Gifted: Biblical Wisdom for the Homemaker's Heart, she examines the words of Proverbs 31:15.

I'd like to share just a few points from Mrs. Hahn's powerful book with you - points that related to the benefit of living out the Heroic Minute with "strength and dignity" as the Proverbs 31 woman does.

  • "Time is a gift - these minutes will never occur again. They cannot be stored like money in the bank or clothes on our closet....We do not have to be quantifiably productive every minute, but we do want to live these minutes well." (p. 65)  Through striving to live out the Heroic Minute, we can exercise good stewardship of one of God's most precious gifts - the gift of time.
  • "Prayer in the morning is part of our preparation for meeting our household's needs; we need to get our bearings before we get bombarded." (p.67). I can attest from my own life that when I begin the day ahead of everyone else and in prayer it does result in less stress for me and a smoother running day for my family. 
  • "When the Proverbs 31 woman rises early in the morning, she places the care of her household over her own comfort. She does what each of us hopes to do. Provide an overall structure to daily tasks so that our families do not just survive but rather thrive.(p.82) How many of us do not want our families and our home life to thrive? I sure do! Mrs. Hahn provides a wealth of practical advice about managing the busy schedules of most families and doing so in a way that places the Lord first and ensures that the spiritual, physical and emotional needs of each family member are being met. All of these goals require the self-discipline, motivation and grace that living out the Heroic Minute bring.
Interested in taking the challenge? Click here to find out more information...

Please note that this post contains Affiliate Links - which basically means that if you click and shop through any of the Amazon, my domestic church will receive a small commission. Woo-hoo! We greatly appreciate the support!

Sunday, April 10, 2016

The Heroic Minute Challenge: Day 7: St. Josemarie Escriva and Rest

I have to admit that today's Heroic Minute was challenging for me. After all, it is Sunday morning - probably my favorite time of the week. Even God himself rested on Sunday. Surely that doesn't mean that I can't sleep in, just a little.....

The wise St. Escriva addresses the concept of rest in his book The Furrow saying:

While St. Escriva didn't exactly say that we should forgo the Heroic Minute on Sundays, I think that his explanation of setting aside our regular daily tasks in order to return to them refreshed and renewed is wise advice.  I have always found that the Sundays which I use to catch up on laundry, house-cleaning, errands and other daily tasks leave me feeling frustrated and exhausted on Monday morning. Sundays should not be used as the dumping day for all the undesirable tasks that we procrastinate finishing during the week (you know those...for me it is scrubbing the toilets).  Instead it should be a day spent truly resting, praying and gathering our resources to begin the week ahead. 

Here are a few ideas for keeping Sundays Holy, restful and fun:
  • Begin your morning by reading the Sunday Mass readings. It is amazing how much more meaningful the Mass and the homily will be if you have prepared the readings in advance.
  • Enjoy a special treat with your family after Mass - for years, our family stopped for donuts and coffee every Sunday after Mass.
  • Gather with friends and extended family for an afternoon meal. This was a family tradition when I was a child and even now the smell of sauce and meatballs reminds me of Sundays. 
  • Do something fun with others - take a family walk; go to a museum; catch a movie; sit at a coffee shop and people watch - try to make it something you don't have time to do on a weekday.
  • End the day by praying a special devotion - Sundays are a great day to incorporate a new prayer or devotion into your regular routine. 

What are your ideas for celebrating Sunday?  Share them below! 

Saturday, April 9, 2016

The Heroic Minute Challenge: Day 6: The Joy Comes With the Morning

I often wonder what it must have been like for the Blessed Mother and the Apostles to wake up on Holy Saturday morning consumed with an overwhelming feeling of loss, hopelessness and fear. What were they thinking that day? How did they even get through it? The shock of all they had witnessed and experienced during that roller coaster of a week must have been impossible for them to even process. I imagine that their day was spent sitting in each other's company in an agonizing, painful silence. 

My beloved Grandmother passed away three years ago while my family and I were on a cruise vacation. I can still remember the feeling I had waking up the day after I was told the news. I opened my eyes for a split second and all was right with the world and then - WHAMMO - I felt like I had been slammed by a giant wave of grief and sadness that I didn't see coming. Anyone who has experienced a death of a close friend or relative, or has been the recipient of a bad medical report, or has lost a job probably can relate to that sick feeling, when the reality of the situation kicks in, first thing in the morning.

The struggles of living out the Heroic Minute on an average, ordinary day pale in comparison to the first moments of the morning on a day filled with anguish and sorrow. Such days require a special kind of "heroisim" not merely to get up in the morning, but to live out every minute of the day. The days following my Grandmother's passing, which we spent finishing out our vacation, were surreal. My family and I all felt like we were in a strange "holding pattern" just waiting for vacation to end so that  we could return home to celebrate my Grandmother's Funeral Mass. I imagine that the first Holy Saturday too was a day of waiting and wondering, of thinking about life and death and what it all meant.

The Good News that Jesus came to bring is that there is Resurrection after death and joy after mourning. The sun will indeed rise again to dispel the darkness and gloom and there will be a day in the future when we will once more greet the morning with gladness. During dark times in our life, when simply living each minute of the day takes great heroism, it is comforting to meditate on the beauty and wonder of the first Easter morning, when Mary Magdalene was greeted with an empty tomb and encounter with the Risen and Glorified Jesus.

As we rejoice in both the struggles and victories of living out the Heroic Minute this morning, let us remember in prayer those who are facing a morning of pain and sorrow and ask for the Risen Lord Jesus to be their comfort and strength.

Interested in taking the challenge? Click here to find out more information...

Friday, April 8, 2016

The Heroic Minute Challenge: Day 5 Preparing For the Heroic Minute the Night Before

I blew it this morning. My alarm was set for the "fixed time" of 6:00AM, and I woke up exhausted. Without even thinking, I immediately hit the snooze button. After the first snooze rang, I re-set the alarm for 6:30AM and rolled over for a few more minutes of restless sleep. Laying there attempting to sleep, I started thinking about what was going wrong. The conclusion I came to was that the Heroic Minute does not begin when the alarm rings, it actually begins the night before. Last night, I was blessed to give a teaching on Pope John Paul II and the Gift of Mercy (more on JPII's Heroic Minute to come) to a local women's group. Both tired and wired from the evening, the long drive, and the large Diet Coke, I lay in bed, poked around on Facebook for a while and finally dropped off to sleep, about three hours after my normal bedtime and with no night prayers of any kind said.

Starting to see something wrong with this picture?  I sure am....

Nearly a week into this challenge I am finally beginning to see clearly that the Heroic Minute is about so much more than just the first moment of the day.  Living out the Heroic Minute in the morning must flow out of a lifestyle of living out little heroic minutes throughout the day. I did not set myself up for success this morning, because I failed to prepare adequately the night before.

Here are ideas for developing a night-time routine that sets the stage for the Heroic Minute....

  • Examination of Conscience...St. Josemarie Escriva writes extensively about the importance of a nightly examination of conscience and the perils of not performing one. Not sure what this entails? It is really simple - an examination of conscience is an honest review of the your day with an eye towards where you have fell short of living up to the Lord's will, both in sins you may have committed and in good actions that you may have failed to take. These nightly examinations of conscience should lead to repentance and the recitation of an Act of Contrition. If done regularly, the nightly Examination of Conscience is a great help in preparing for the Sacrament of Reconciliation. 
  • Examination of Consciousness...One of my Franciscan University of Steubenville professors, stressed often that in addition to the traditional Examination of Conscience, which focuses on our sins, we should also perform a nightly Examination of Consciousness. This is a review of the day with an attitude of gratitude - noting when and where the Lord blessed us during the day and thanking Him for those blessings and graces that we received. 
  • Night Prayer...I have an on again, off again "habit" of praying the Liturgy of the Hours Night Prayer before going to sleep - I am absolutely convinced that when I do pray this before bedtime, my sleep is much more peaceful. If you don't have time to complete all of Night Prayer, you can begin by reciting this small portion of it: 
"Protect us, Lord, as we stay awake; watch over us as we sleep, that awake, we may keep watch with Christ, and asleep, rest in his peace."
  • Enlist some heavenly help... Several readers have commented that they have asked their Guardian Angels, the Blessed Mother and their favorite saints to intercede for them so that they can live out the Heroic Minute - what a great idea! I plan on starting this tonight - I need all the help I can get! 
  • Set your alarm for a reasonable time. Although the Heroic Minute is ideally the same time everyday, life happens. Late nights, sick children, special occasions and last-minute deadlines all require us to be flexible and reasonable in what we can expect of ourselves the next morning. It is ok to admit that we need a few extra minutes of sleep and adjust our morning routine accordingly - something that I should have done last night (along with all of the above suggestions.)  
What are some of your night time prayer routines? Share them in the comments below!
Interested in taking the challenge or catching up on some missed days? Click here to find out more information...

Thursday, April 7, 2016

The Heroic Minute Challenge: Day 4: Jesus Lives Out the Heroic Minute

Day 4: - So far during the Heroic Minute challenge we have focused on the words of St. Josemarie Escriva who coined the phrase "Heroic Minute". He did not, however, invent the concept.  In fact, when we examine the Scriptures and the lives of the saints throughout the ages, we find that we are in very good company in attempting to live out the Heroic Minute. Jesus did too! (Minus the snooze button, of course).

St. Mark's Gospel provides us insight into Jesus' Heroic Minute: "Rising very early before dawn, he left and went off to a deserted place, where he prayed." (Mk 1:35)

What do we learn when we examine the verses which surround this account of Jesus rising early and praying?
  1. We see that Jesus led a busy life. On the evening before (St. Mark makes a point in stressing "after sunset" Mk 1:32), we read how Jesus cured many people of illnesses and set free those who were possessed by demons. It had been a long night for the Lord.  In spite of that, he still made a point to rise before dawn to spend time alone, praying. We live in a busy world - most of us can attest to late nights trying to fit in all the tasks that we are responsible for. Yet, Jesus' example demonstrates that time with God does need to come first. 
  2. A lot of people needed Jesus. In the following two verses (Mk 1:36-37), we read how "Simon and those who were with him pursued him and on finding him said, 'Everyone is looking for you.'" I chuckled when I read this passage and thought of all the times when my quiet morning prayer time has been interrupted by my husband or my children. I wonder how hard it was for Jesus to break away from this peaceful time alone with his Father and attend to the needs of the people around him. I am confident that he didn't snap at them or moan and groan about never having anytime to himself. He didn't need to - by rising early enough he had already had the prayer time that he needed. 
  3. Jesus' prayer strengthened him to begin the work which lay ahead. Verse 38 tells us that Jesus responds to his followers by taking the initiative and saying "Let us go on to the nearby villages that I may preach there also. For this purpose have I come." Jesus did not merely react to the demands Simon and company  - instead he took charge, knowing clearly what his mission was and how he was to fulfill it for the upcoming day. Likewise, when we begin our day in prayer, we too can confidently begin the work which the Lord has given to us for the day ahead. 
How is the challenge going for you?   Share your thoughts, struggles, victories and insights in the comments below...

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

The Heroic Minute Challenge: Day 3: Optimism and Perseverance

As I mentioned yesterday, my Heroic Minute was rather un-heroic.  Actually, it was a total bust. As he day wore on I found myself more and more discouraged about it. Thoughts began to enter my head that sounded something like this:
  • Why bother trying - what does it even matter whether or not you hit the snooze button?
  • Who do you think you are even attempting this challenge?
  • Just quit.
I recognize the source of those thoughts as my own insecurities fueled by adversary who likes nothing better than to condemn and discourage.

The truth is, we all have moments in our striving to be holy when we will stumble and fall.  Many moments. Many moments every single day to be more precise. The key to handling those moments is to pick oneself up, dust oneself off, ask the Lord for help and forgiveness and begin again.  Discouragement and defeat are not part of our vocabulary as Christians.

God's word reassures us that he is the God of new beginnings - and each morning when our alarm rings the Lord greets us with a fresh outpouring of his mercy and grace. In Lamentations 3:22-23 we read:  "The Lord's acts of mercy are not exhausted, his compassion is not spent. They are renewed each morning - great is your faithfulness."

Optimism and Perseverance
St. Josemarie Escriva's works are chock full of examples of the two attitudes that we need to demonstrate in the face of the inevitable difficulties and setbacks of life: optimism and perseverance. In one passage he unites the two themes saying: "Discouragement is an enemy of your perseverance. If you don't fight against discouragement you will become pessimistic first, and lukewarm afterwards. Be an optimist." (The Way 988)

I particularly love this exhortation: "Oh blessed perseverance of the donkey that turns the water-wheel! Always the same pace. Always the same circles. One day after another: everyday the same Without that, there would be no ripeness in the fruit, nor blossom in the orchard, nor scent of flowers in the garden.  Carry this thought to your interior life."  (The Way 998)

In giving into my discouragement over my failure to live out the Heroic Minute on Day 2 - the thought that I found hardest to shake was the one which whispered - "what's so important about getting up on time?" The reality is, like the donkey that Escriva describes, these small tasks, repeatedly done well for God's glory will ultimately lead to much good fruit in other areas of our spiritual lives.

God's mercies are new each morning and I plan to ask for them!

What about you? What setbacks in your life or in your experience of the Heroic Minute have got you down?  Share your experiences, thoughts, insights and questions in the comments below!

Missed a day? Click here to view other 14 Day Heroic Minute Entries...

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

The Heroic Minute Challenge: Day 2: Laying the Foundation For the Day

Day Two....Since I wasn't battling a Monday morning after a long and lazy Easter vacation, I decided to be a little daring and set my alarm for 6AM (as opposed to yesterday's 7AM alarm).  I prefer a 6AM start because it gives me time to myself before my family wakes up and the hustle and bustle of the day begins in full swing. Let's just say my Heroic Minute was not so heroic.....At least it is the Year of Mercy and tomorrow is another day!

The mornings when I am able to rise before my family provide me with a precious quiet time that I so need for prayer and reflection.  One of my favorite things to do on those quiet early mornings is to head outside for a walk around my neighborhood, enjoying the birds chirping, the smell of the dew on the grass and the soft light of the dawn. I have found that some of my best prayer times occur during those pre-dawn walks and those moments of intimacy with the Lord provide the grace to face whatever the day throws at me.

In the mornings when I don't get an opportunity for solitude and silent prayer, I find myself groping for my bearings throughout the day - always scrambling to get a semblance of order and peace. Even when I get the opportunity later in the day to sit down and spend some time with the Lord, it is never quite the same as the solitude of the early morning. As my Spiritual Director likes to gently remind me, "Morning prayer must happen in the morning, Debbie."

Morning Prayer Lays the Foundation for the Day
When we have the opportunity for morning prayer in the stillness of the beginning of the day, we lay a foundation that can carry us throughout the remainder of the day.  In fact, St. Escriva refers to prayer as "...the foundation of the spiritual edifice." (The Way, 83) In a special way, morning prayer gives us the opportunity to allow the Lord to speak to us a word which will set the tone for our entire day.

St. Escriva recognizes the power of this word that the Lord speaks to us in the morning saying: "Engrave in your memory those words which struck you while praying, and repeat them slowly many times throughout the day." (The Way, 103) Implicit in his words is the premise that this prayer time has happened early enough in the day for it to be a source of strength and blessing throughout the remainder of the day. Squeezing in our prayer time in the five exhausted minutes before we collapse into bed in the evening will hardly provide us with the same spiritual well to draw from as time spent with the Lord as the day is just beginning.

My plan for the 14 Day Heroic Minute Challenge is heed St. Escriva's exhortation and write down those words which struck me during prayer in my Spiritual Journal.  When the day gets crazy - I can return to those words for a shot of the "peace that passes all understanding."

How is the Challenge going for you?  Share your experiences, thoughts, insights and questions in the comments below!

Missed a day? Click here to view other 14 Day Heroic Minute Entries...

Monday, April 4, 2016

The Heroic Minute Challenge: Day 1: The First Supernatural Reflection of the Day

Day One....YOWSA....that was not easy. My alarm rang at 7:00AM; which is the time I chose for this first day of the challenge (the first day back to "normal life" after Easter break). My first instinct was to hit the snooze button (big shock there), but a vague memory of some crazy challenge entered my mind. I would love to say that I jumped out of bed with great joy, but I didn't.  In fact, I rose slowly, with one eye observing the gloomy day outside my window and my mind wondering why I hadn't gone to be earlier last night (and why I hadn't cleaned up the kitchen after celebrating my Dad's birthday with a house full of guests). Ugh.

The first lesson of the 14 Day "Heroic Minute" Challenge for me is this: what you do the night before will have a direct impact on your ability to live out the Heroic Minute the next morning.  

Let's look a little more at some of St. Escriva's writings on the Heroic Minute:

The First Supernatural Reflection of the Day
St. Josemarie Escriva explains the mechanics of the Heroic Minute as a three step process: an action that occurs "without hesitation",  a "supernatural reflection" and then the dreaded imperative "UP!" 

The "without hesitation" part gets me every time. Mainly because I fail to fuel the entire effort with the "supernatural reflection" St. Escriva describes. In other words, I am trying to live out the Heroic Minute on my own steam. 

Here's 5 ideas to help you begin the day with this "supernatural reflection":

  1. Set your alarm ringtone to a Catholic hymn or chorus from a praise song. Mine is set to the chorus from Steve Angrisano's My Soul Is Thirsting. Waking up with these powerful words in my ears helps to set my heart on the Lord from the first moment of my day. 
  2. Pray out loud the opening words of the Invitatory from the Liturgy of the Hours: "Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will proclaim your praise." 
  3. Let your first thought be one of gratitude - thanking and praising God for the gift of a brand new day. 
  4. Consecrate the day to the Lord by praying a Morning Offering - either this traditional one, or one expressed in your own words. 
  5. Borrow a prayer from the Saints - the prayer I recite each morning upon opening my eyes is this one from St. Thomas Aquinas
Grant me O Lord, my God,
a mind to know you,
a heart to seek you,
wisdom to find you,
conduct pleasing to you,
perseverance in waiting for you,
and the hope of finally embracing you. Amen.

How did Day One go for you?: Share your thoughts, questions, comments etc. in the Comments below! 

Interested in taking the challenge? Click here to find out more information...

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