by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann
I am elated that so many throughout the Archdiocese have chosen to spend 33 days prayerfully preparing to consecrate their lives to Jesus through Mary on the feast of the Annunciation, celebrated this year on April 8.
Father Gaitley’s book, “33 Days to Morning Glory,” provides beautiful, yet challenging meditations each day based on the insights of St. Louis de Montfort, St. Maximilian Mary Kolbe, Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, and Blessed John Paul II.
One of my favorite meditations is the one for the 19th day, entitled “Heart-Pondering Prayer.” It is based on the spiritual insights of Mother Teresa. Father Gaitley notes how easy it is for us to fail to recognize the many blessings that we receive from God each day and focus rather on the “daily annoyances, burdens, difficulties, and inconveniences.”
If we focus on all the negatives of our life, then we quite easily become like the Israelites while journeying to the Promised Land, who were always grumbling and complaining against God and Moses, despite the many miracles that they had experienced since their exodus from Egypt.
Father Gaitley observes: “Mother Teresa lived in some of the poorest environments on earth. She had to put up with burning heat, bad breath, stuffy rooms, nagging fatigue, endless responsibilities, bland food, hard beds, body odor, cold water bathing, and agonizingly deep spiritual aridity. Yet, despite all this, she radiated joy.”
Father Gaitley believes there were two “secrets” to Mother Teresa’s ability to manifest an authentic joy in the midst of so many adversities.
First, Mother Teresa followed the example of Mary by “pondering in her heart” all that God was doing in her life. Father Gaitley believes that Mother Teresa found God in the details of her life, pondering “deeply in her heart his many signs of love.”
Mother Teresa’s second secret was that she followed the spiritual counsel of St. Ignatius of Loyola by making an examination of conscience at the end of the day. The method proposed by St. Ignatius and followed by Mother Teresa was not simply to focus on a laundry list of sins, but to begin the examination by reflecting on God’s many blessings during the day.
St. Ignatius recommends that we begin the examination by first placing ourselves in the presence of God. Once we have become aware of God’s presence, the next step is to review our day by recalling many of the blessings of the day. St. Ignatius was confident that if at the end of the day we thanked God for his many blessings, we would soon recognize and give thanks to God for his blessings as they occur throughout the day.
Next, St. Ignatius instructs us to ask the Holy Spirit for the grace to recognize our sins. Without the grace of the Holy Spirit, we will remain blind to the many ways in which we deny God his rightful place in our lives and hurt others by our words and actions.
Next, we reflect on the times during our day when we were sad and anxious. St. Ignatius refers to these as moments of desolation. If we seek the underlying causes for our desolations, we will discover an aspect of our sinfulness, which will include how we chose to react to the sins of others that wounded us.
As we allow ourselves to become more aware of our sinfulness, we may be tempted to run away from Jesus. This is precisely the wrong thing to do. When we become aware of our sin, we also become aware of our need for a redeemer. It is at this moment in our prayer that we should run to Jesus and allow him to embrace us with his merciful love.
One concludes the examination by making a resolution. Having recognized our sins of the day, we want to make resolutions that will challenge and help us not to repeat those very same sins during the course of the new day. Part of our resolution may include striving to do something kind and loving toward someone whom we hurt with our sin the previous day.
If you begin to follow this simple methodology in your night prayers, I believe that you will begin to see some amazing changes in your life. By recognizing and pondering God’s blessings, we will find ourselves more and more thanking and praising God throughout the course of the day.
The grateful heart is a ripe field for the Holy Spirit to set our souls on fire with love for God and for our fellow human beings. Not only will we find ourselves much happier, but we will find those around us drawn to the source of our gratitude and joy.
Perhaps you are skeptical about the power of this simple, daily spiritual exercise.
To this, I respond: “Just try it. It worked so powerfully in the life of Mother Teresa, consider what a difference it could make in your life.”