William Shakespeare famously wrote “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players,” and so it is with us. Each of us “performs” each day on the world’s stage before the spectacle of our fellow man and before the saints and angels in heaven, under the watchful eyes of God. We act out our lives from moment to moment, for good or for ill, before the human and the heavenly audience.
St. Paul says, “We have become a spectacle to the world, to angels and to men” (1 Corinthians 4:9). The letter to the Hebrews depicts us as competing in a packed stadium filled with all the saints and heroes that have gone before us, cheering us on, competing in a race around the track. “Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses . . . let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us” (Hebrews 12:1). St. Paul urges us to shed “every weight” of sin that slows us down so we can persevere and win the race. The cloud of witnesses, the saints in heaven, are not only cheering us on but also offering personal intercession for us (Catechism of the Catholic Church 2683).
St. Paul must have been a great admirer of runners and athletic competitions, such as the Isthmian and Olympiad Games; he uses the running metaphor a number of times in his letters. To the Corinthians he says, “Do you not know that in a race all the runners compete, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable” (1 Corinthians 9:24-25). St. Paul compares the spiritual life to an athletic competition in which we should strive not for a laurel victory wreath but for the crown of eternal life.
How should we compete for this crown of eternal life? Much in the same way that an athlete must plan his or her exercise regimen each day to prepare for the race, so should we plan our spiritual regimen each day. We can exercise our souls with a schedule of daily prayer. In this way we can grow in faith and holiness, pleasing to God, and on the path to eternal life. First, we must discipline and train our spiritual selves. This can be difficult. It can be so much easier to sit back and watch a TV show or surf the internet rather than pray.
I can find a million excuses not to pray at any given moment, but I have found my day is so much better if I do pray. My day is given direction and satisfaction and a sense of purpose and connection to God. It sacramentalizes my whole day. The best way to approach our spiritual training is to have a simple, fixed schedule of prayer. Basically, we need a plan. It should be a simple one, accommodating our individual circumstances and responsibilities. The key is to faithfully stick to the plan as best we can and repeat it each day and each week. If we do this, we can “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessolonians 5:17). We can become, as St. Josemaria Escriva described, “contemplatives in the midst of the world.”
Here are some suggestions for us to include in our daily spiritual exercises:
- The Morning Offering upon waking up
- Pray the Rosary
- Attend Mass and receive Communion
- Pray the Angelus at noon
- Pray the Divine Mercy Chaplet (maybe at the 3:00 hour)
- Small acts of penance or mortification throughout the day
- Grace before meals
- Attend Adoration
- Pray the Liturgy of the Hours (particularly, in the morning and evenings hours; see phone apps to assist with this)
- Short conversations of mental prayer (a “heart to heart” talking and listening to God)
- Spiritual Reading (Bible or other spiritual reading)
- Meditate on the Stations of the Cross
- A Nightly Examination of Conscience and Act of Contrition before bed
Of these, I have found it particularly important to never miss the Morning Offering or the Nightly Act of Contrition. These help frame our day and orient it completely towards God, sanctifying the hours of the day from morning to night. I also find saying the Rosary and the Chaplet of Divine Mercy particularly powerful, but this is my own particular spiritual affinity. Each of us should determine what we are drawn to personally.
It does not take much time to speak to God each day, even mere minutes. Yet, it can still be difficult. Much like our regular muscles, we need to exercise our prayer muscle to improve. The more we exercise our prayer life, the stronger and easier it will become.
Prayer is our connection to Him. Our relationship with God will take on a much more personal flavor and commitment. God calls us friends and His children. He is personally interested in us, even down to the most minute details of our lives. Jesus said, “Even the hairs of your head are all numbered” (Mattthew10:30). This should give us comfort.
God knows our hearts and thoughts. He hears everything we ask and tell Him. He cares about us more than we could ever imagine. We just need to make the time to speak and listen to Him. Our daily prayer schedules are part of our commitment to Him, and proof that we love Him. If we live this way each and every day and continue this over our lifetimes, a “compounding interest of prayer”, if you will, this is the stuff of saints. Then, we can come to the end of our lives, the end of our race and competition, and declare as St. Paul says, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7).