The Way We Spend Our Days

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As a new priest, I have been reflecting on the last four years of formation leading up to my ordination. The days were simply packed with studying, classes, working in my job during the day, and being present to my family. That busy pace is not specific to seminarians or clergy. It seems everyone I know feels strapped for time and energy. It is a constant challenge to maintain those spiritual practices of our faith that are quiet and which can seem less pragmatic. But, as Annie Dillard wrote, “The way we spend our days is, of course, the way we spend our lives.” A life of prayer is lived out in prayerful days.

Two spiritual writers I read during my discernment process were especially aware of the risk of losing a life shaped by daily prayer, and they addressed this head-on. Bishop Fulton Sheen writes several chapters on rhythms of daily prayer. His direction includes some humorous and pragmatic advice any Christian may heed:

[The priest] will be well advised to take a cup of coffee before he starts [his daily holy hour]. The average American is physically, biologically, psychologically, and neurologically unable to do anything worthwhile before he has a cup of coffee! And that goes for prayer too.

How important it is to remember our own limitations—even our need for caffeine! These writers also wrote about our limitations without prayer. Evelyn Underhill spoke clearly to clergy on this issue:

Other things - intellectual and social aptitudes, good preaching, a capacity for organization - help [the priest’s] work and help much. None of these, however, is essential. Prayer is. The man whose life is coloured by prayer, whose loving communion with God comes first will always win souls; … It follows from this, that the priest’s life of prayer, his communion with God, is not only his primary obligation to the Church; it is also the only condition under which the work of the Christian ministry can be properly done.

Perhaps the greatest gift I received during the formational ordination process has been these spiritual directors, along with Robert Barron, Eugene Peterson, Henri Nouwen, and Martin Thornton. They all insist on staying rooted, especially in the busiest of times, in prayer—keeping Jesus at the center of our lives. In a time with so much activity and so many thundering calls to action, we may all find that we repeatedly need their reminders about how to spend our days.