Baby steps: starting small in the spiritual life

A few years ago I came across an article by Father John McCloskey called The Seven Daily Habits of Holy Apostolic PeopleIt was a game-changer for me and gave me the needed boost and motivation to commit to daily prayer. I knew I needed to incorporate more prayer into my daily life, but I didn’t know how to do it. The Seven Daily Habits of Holy Apostolic People became the key for me to open-up a new world of prayer.

However, the seven habits Fr. McCloskey suggests can seem daunting at times. That is why I suggest starting off doing "baby steps" and start with four daily habits that help a Christian draw closer to God. Remember, as the saying goes, Rome wasn’t conquered in a day; we need to gradually incorporate these habits into our lives to ensure a higher rate of success. Here are the basics:

  1. Morning Offering
  2. 15 Minutes of Spiritual Reading
  3. 15 Minutes of Mental Prayer
  4. Nightly Examination of Conscience

These initial habits are aimed at deepening our relationship with God. Just like with any friendship or marriage, it will suffer if it is not sustained by regular conversation. I would have never been able to marry my wife if I never talked to her. It is simply common sense that if you want to get to know someone, you spend time with them.

So it is the same with God.

If we want to grow in our relationship with God, we must devote regular time to conversing with Him. When we reach the pearly gates of Heaven we want our experience to be a reunion of old-time friends, than a meeting of strangers. 

What are these habits? Let’s look at each one in turn:

Morning Offering

Fr. McCloskey describes the morning offering as, “when you kneel down and using your own words, or a formula, you briefly offer up all the day ahead for God’s glory.” You can choose whichever offering prayer you want and here at the Pope's Worldwide Prayer Network, we have a wide array of options.

A very popular morning offering prayer is that of the Saint Therese of Lisieux:

“Oh my God!  I offer You all my actions of this day for the intentions and for the glory of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.  I desire to sanctify every beat of my heart, my every thought, my simplest works, by uniting them to His infinite merits; and I wish to make reparation for my sins by casting them in the furnace of His merciful love.

Oh my God!  I ask of You for myself and for those dear to me the grace to fulfill perfectly Your holy will, to accept for love of You the joys and sorrows of this passing life, so that we may one day be united together in Heaven for all eternity.  Amen.”

By praying a morning offering you dedicate the rest of the day to God, which then prepares you to tackle anything that comes at you during the day.

15 Minutes of Spiritual Reading

This is described as, “a few minutes of systematic reading of the New Testament to identify ourselves with the words and actions of our Savior, and the rest of the time spent on a classic book of Catholic spirituality recommended by your spiritual advisor. As [St.] Josemaria Escriva puts it, ‘Don’t neglect your spiritual reading. Reading has made many saints’ (The Way, 116).”

One way to accomplish this is to read the Gospel reading for today and then find a spiritual book will help you grow in your relationship with God.

15 Minutes of Mental Prayer

Mental prayer is very simple, though not without its many distractions. It consists of a “heart-to-heart” with God, leaving time for talking and listening. God is extremely interested in what troubles you and what is going on in your life. Similar to how a parent is interested in the day of their child after school. God wants to know (even though he already knows) everything about your life.

The reason he wants to know your deepest desires is because it helps you draw closer to him. Just like any relationship, when you reveal to another person your feelings you start to share an invisible bond that can last a lifetime.

Nightly Examination of Conscience

Fr. McCloskey explains how to do an examination of conscience before going to bed:

“You sit down, call on the Holy Spirit for light and for several minutes go over your day in God’s presence asking if you behaved as a child of God at home, at work, with your friends. You also look at that one particular area which you have identified with the help of spiritual direction in which you know you need to improve in order to become a saint. You may also take a quick look to see if you have been faithful to those daily habits that we have discussed in this article. Then you make an act of gratitude for all the good that you have done and an act of contrition for those areas in which you have willfully failed. Then it is off to your well-deserved rest, which you strive to make holy through your interior dialogue with the Holy Trinity and your mother Mary as you drift off to sleep.”

This daily "examen" is essential and it helps prepare you for your next confession. It is healthy to examine your faults and failings and to ask God’s help to overcome them. The Divine Physician will then heal whatever we tell him is wrong with our soul. Sometimes his medicine is not easy to swallow, but he gives us the remedy that speeds us along the path to Eternal Life.

The other three daily habits Fr. McCloskey suggests are: Daily MassRosary and praying the Angelus. I suggest starting out with the above four habits before tackling these three. They are sometimes harder to accomplish depending on our state in life. In any case, start with baby steps, strive for perfection in those initial habits, and then the door will be opened to expand your spiritual horizon and run faster and faster to the embrace of our Heavenly Father.