Wow, I don’t know about you, but my daily routines have just about been thrown out the window. Over the last month or two that we’ve been on lock-down, everything I did has now changed and I’ve had to develop new routines.
Some of the new routines have been a good change for me. I now have some extra time in the morning to go to the basement and use the treadmill or elliptical which has resulted in feeling stronger and lighter! Some routines like morning and evening prayer have remained the same, but I find that I’m less in a rush and can spend some quality time with God. And of course, not having to go into the campus daily, leaves a little more time for sleep in the morning or staying up a little later at night. What first seemed so odd in the beginning has now settled into a regular routine that has become the norm. The only day that it differs is Sunday, when I head to St Mary’s to assist Father David with the live-streaming of Mass. That is the best day of the week, as I get to leave the house to be at Mass. Such a privilege!
Routines. Routines are patterns of behavior that we repeat often. We all have them. We’re all creatures of habit. Some routines are positive and some types of routines drain us and rob us of a good life. Sometimes our routines can get disrupted as has happened in the last several months and it can throw us for a loop. Other times, a life situation or a change can cause us to abandon our routine or perhaps begin a new one.
I’ve been thinking a lot about routines, since this pandemic lock down started. I’m amazed at how new routines can fill the day if I’m not careful to keep some focus. In the beginning of the lock down, when my usual routine was so disrupted, I just put all aside trying to figure out what needed to be done, but I ended up doing nothing. Sadly, my prayer life was one of the first things to suffer when I was trying to make sense of all that was happening around us. Duh!
I soon got my head screwed on straight and started to make deliberate plans to start new routines. One such routine was to make room for God back in my life. How easy it is to just let these important routines go! That worries me and I want to be sure to keep God in mind as new routines develop in the months ahead. After all, this is the time of year that the weather changes, daylight is extended and the end of the virtual school year looms ahead of some. We may find our daily routines changing a bit again as summer and vacations approach and we are still stuck in our homes. That may surely cause a great deal of angst.
For some of you, getting out of home school will open up a good portion of your day and the routine of school will be replaced by other routines. And for many of you, you’ll be preparing to move on to high school or on to college where you’ll have to develop an entirely new set of routines (hopefully in person and not virtually).
I mention this because; I’ve noticed that in my life, I can sometime replace good routines with a less worthwhile routines and then wonder what happened. What about you? Will you replace the end of home school with sleeping later or take advantage of that extra time? Will you pick up a bad habit as a result of having so much time on your hands or use the time to improve your life. Will you hang out with others online who may build you up or bring you down? Will you make more room for God in your life or will you place Him on the shelf until you need Him?
So, how do things stand between you and God? Where are you coming from, and where is your life in Christ growing? We can answer such questions satisfactorily only if we take time to reflect. As part of our college Ignatian retreat programs, we present a prayer routine by St. Ignatius of Loyola, called the Examination of Consciousness. Sometimes we just don’t know how to pray and as a result we revert to the rote prayers of our youth and that becomes our routine. Because we aren’t actively engaged in conversation with God, we may soon just say the words without much thought. I know that’s what happened to me. I have found this Examination of Consciousness format a good daily, “just before bedtime” alternative for me. It keeps me engaged and thoughtful. It’s a routine but it isn’t rote. It changes daily depending on what I’ve done and what God wants me to learn. I find it worthwhile, easy to follow and powerful. It doesn’t take a lot of time either. There are five simple steps to the Examination of Consciousness, which should take about 15 minutes to complete. This prayer can be made anywhere — on the beach, in a car, at home, in the library. I present it here for your consideration.
This short prayer exercise, Adapted from Joseph Tetlow’s “Choosing Christ in the World,” seeks to increase our sensitivity to God working in our lives and to provide us with the enlightenment necessary to co-operate with and respond to God’s presence.
Step 1: GIVING THANKS — I take time to thank God for the good things that came into my day. I review the many details of the day in no particular order. For instance, I thank God for sunshine, for getting an article written on time, for feeling good, for my family, for having the ability and energy to complete my work. In this process, I may well come across some action that I did or some emotion or desire that I entertained for which I cannot thank God, since it was offensive or sinful.
Step 2: ASKING FOR LIGHT — I then ask the Holy Spirit to show me what God wants me to see and how I am growing more fully alive in God as a result of all that He has given me.
Step 3: FINDING GOD IN ALL THINGS — Then I look over the events of the day. I ask the Holy Spirit to show me where God has been present in my life, either in me personally or in others, and in what God has been asking of me. I try to look over my moods, feelings, and urges to see what stands out even slightly. I look for such things as joy, pain, turmoil, increase (or decrease) of love, anger, harmony, anxiety, freedom, presence of God, isolation. In what general direction do I think that God is drawing me? How have I been responding to these experiences or situations that draw me toward the Lord and which invite me to be more like Jesus?
Step 4: RESPONDING TO GOD IN DIALOGUE — Now it’s time to chat with God. I try to determine if there is any one area that I’m being nudged to focus my attention on, to pray more seriously over, to take action on? This is where my energy needs to be exerted instead of on the many other things I may think are important. I discuss this with Jesus, expressing what needs to be expressed: praise, sorrow, gratitude, desire for change, intercession, etc.
Step 5: ASKING FOR HELP AND GUIDANCE FOR TOMORROW — Here I ask God to give me what I need for tomorrow. I place my trust in God and not in myself. He never lets me down.
Since I began utilizing this prayer routine I feel that it has helped me see God working in my life and it helps me recognize and receive God’s care and assistance. St. Ignatius told his Jesuit brothers that the Examination of Consciousness is the one prayer they should not eliminate; it is the one prayer they absolutely must engage in every single day. The Examination of Consciousness is a simple prayer, a prayer for busy people who are continually seeking to do the Lord’s will, like me. In any case, in whatever way you choose to engage and dialogue with God, be sure to make room in your routine for Him each and every day.
Anchor columnist Frank Lucca is a deacon in the Diocese of Fall River assigned to St. Mary’s Parish in Dartmouth and a campus minister at UMass Dartmouth. He is married to his wife of 42 years, Kristine, and the father of two daughters and their husbands, and five grandsons! So blessed!