Can We Be Saints? Part II - The Day in Detail
by Frank Duff
continued from Part I - What is a Saint?
The Foundation Stone
Foremost in the consideration of our day -- and on an eminence apart, like the Cross itself -- must stand the daily Mass and daily reception of the Holy Eucharist. These are so obviously the greatest means of Grace that they need not be urged at length. The person who is able easily to go to morning Mass, and does not do so, only deceives himself if he thinks he is aiming at great holiness.
Mass and Communion mean a day perfectly begun -- and that is half the battle. But out of this great act come two smaller obligations: (a) to your neighbour. There are many whom lack of thought alone keeps from Daily Mass. Lend a book; say a word to awaken them; (b) to yourself; read to increase knowledge and reverence.
The Morning Offering
The day should have opened with the morning offering of all our thoughts, words, and actions to Jesus through Mary. This offering must be the guiding idea of the whole day. We do not need to repeat the words many times, but the thought of it must lie in the heart, and govern our daily life in such a way that we feel ourselves to be working for God and not for the world.
Our Daily Work
First, let no one pride himself on having what he considers a dignified occupation. In despising menial or manual labour, he is parting company with Christianity and allying himself to paganism, which in all ages has counted such work the greatest of all evils. sanctification and as a penance for our sins. Thus it is the foundation of our spiritual life. He who neglects his work and yet thinks, because he says many prayers, that he is leading a holy life, deludes himself.
A Right Idea of Duty
We are to do what it is our duty to do -- and at the right time. Duty is not something which is to be thrown off with our working clothes, as so many people imagine. It is as strictly our duty to keep an appointment or a secret as it is to do our work. A duty goes before even "Devotions." It is your duty to wash the dishes, do not run off to Benediction instead.
There are many duties in the day which seem less , important than others, and for this reason we think very little of setting them aside to suit the convenience of the moment. Such conduct is wrong, and it does not build up a strong character. The real value of our day lies in the exact performance of all our obligations. The greater ones take care of themselves -- their importance makes them easy to do. So look particularly to the small things.
Consider your whole day as a picture where every line has its proper place. And where the smallest may be the most essential. Do everything that you are supposed to do, and do it down to the tiniest detail -- not because somebody is supervising you, but simply because you are supposed to do it.
There is a proverb: "Death is light as a feather. Duty as heavy as lead," and a life lived in devotion to duty is going to be a hard life. But it is going to be the life of a Man. Here is a lesson from the Far East.
A Japanese craftsman was observed to be spending days in perfecting the inside of an article he was making. He was asked "Why waste all this time? Nobody will ever see your work." He replied, "Do I not see it myself?" To this answer, may not we, as Christians add, "And God sees it, too."
Praying at Our Work
We see that Work and Duty are holy things when the idea of God is in them. But, by themselves, they are not holy enough for those who are trying to be Saints. We must bring God closer to our work than by the mere offering of it in the morning. We must keep Him at our side by frequent thought of Him.
It is told by a Spanish Nun who had charge of the refectory that in order never to be distracted she imagined those she served to be Our Blessed Lord and His Mother and the Apostles. In this way her work became a great means of prayer to her, and the hours spent in it were amongst the most devotional in the whole day.
While this may be above the reach of our poor minds, distracted by a thousand things, we may at least confidently seek after a quiet sense of God's Presence. This does not mean that we have actually to feel Him near us. If we have by the regular practice of prayer and frequent thought of Him, so drilled the mind that there is a tendency to swing back to Him when left free, we are doing very well. For this means that however distracting our occupations are, the soul is giving Him a quiet attention all the time. We shall have reached the stage of praying always.
The Mechanism of Frequent Prayer
In endeavouring to build up a spirit of prayer such as this, there is little use in relying on vague resolutions made in moments of fervour -- to pray frequently. Vague resolutions have no influence over people so strongly drawn away from prayer as we unfortunately are. We must set up certain of the events of each day as regular calls to a word or thought of prayer.
Some of these reminders we already have: the Angelus, grace at meals, the passing of a Church, and so forth. This number can be largely increased, so that quite a number of items of our daily life will in the end cause an easy and natural lifting of the mind to God.
A passing funeral, the meeting of a friend, the hearing of a death, the striking of a clock, the ringing of a bell, the writing of a date, the sharpening of a pencil, the threading of a needle -- one could go on for ever with suggestions for such a list. But the occupations of each one will determine what is best. Do not mind how foolish your expedients seem. They may have all the more love in them. In any case nothing is foolish that leads to God.
It is better that the acts be not too frequent. They might tire out one's good intentions or interfere with attention to work. But above all, they must, for the beginner, be definite. That is, the resolution must take this shape: "Whenever I look at my watch (or whatever else it may be), I will say such an ejaculation." Do not stop because this practice may at first seem mechanical and undevotional and tiring. Habit will soon come to your aid and make it less difficult. But determination will always be needed, as the Tempter will make many an effort to hinder so excellent a practice.
While progress is being made in acquiring the spirit of prayer those things which are a hindrance must go. Not until there is quiet within us, can an attempt be made to build up a real spiritual life.
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Frank Duff is the founder of the Legion of Mary
. "Can we be Saints" is the first pamphlet he published aged 27 and is reproduced with permission of the Legion of Mary. All rights reserved.