Msgr. Michael Heintz
Msgr. Michael Heintz
The Human Condition
December 18, 2018 // The Human Condition

The morning offering — reconsidered

Msgr. Michael Heintz
Msgr. Michael Heintz
The Human Condition

Many of us have had the habit — perhaps instilled in us by our parents or teachers — of offering the day to God. I recall, as a grade school student at St. Thomas the Apostle in Elkhart, toddling into the classroom at the beginning of the day and hearing the teacher say, “OK, boys and girls, let’s stand and pray.” We would rise, turn and face the crucifix and together pray, “O Jesus through the Immaculate Heart of Mary, I offer you my prayers, works, joys and sufferings of this day …” and so on. It was a fine habit to instill, the enacted and vocalized reminder that we are to make an offering to God of our day and all that it includes.

St. Josemaria Escrivá wrote of the “heroic minute” — the moment of initial consciousness when we arise in the morning — as pivotal in establishing the course or trajectory of our day. For example, if my first waking thoughts are, for instance, “Ugh … what a day I have ahead of me … especially that dreadful meeting at 2 this afternoon … ugh,” we can be fairly certain that we will be prophets of our own unhappiness, frustration and resentment. However, if our first conscious thoughts each day involve turning immediately to God in praise, wonder and gratitude, it is quite possible that our day will not be so marked by grumbling, ingratitude and sin. It is not that we are rewarded for being positive in our attitude, much less shielded from unpleasantness by a special divine favor in response to our heroic minute, but rather that because we have — with God’s grace — begun our day with Him and in Him, we will likely be very different in our orientation all day than if we had sought to launch out of bed and march out into the day without Him.

I humbly suggest here two practices that I have undertaken in recent years which have helped me as I limp along as a disciple.

First, I suggest, as you roll out of bed in the morning, wander to the shower, stumble toward your first cup of coffee or start to make the bed, that you renew your baptismal promises. Renounce Satan, all his works and all his empty show. In doing this, be specific. And be personal. What I mean by “specific and personal” is, don’t simply renounce Satan as an avatar of abstract evil-ness hovering somewhere in the cosmos, but acknowledge Satan as quite real and whose demonic agents desire quite literally our damnation by making us complicit in their rebellion.

After renouncing Satan, be specific about which particular demons you are renouncing, rather than doing so generically or abstractly. And be personal — use the second person in rebuking the demonic, rather than the third (which keeps them at an unsafe distance). For example, feel free to use formulas such as “I renounce you, demon of anger,” or “I renounce you, spirit of envy,” or “I renounce you, demon of lust”; the list can — and should — go on. Tailor your renunciations, after your preliminary renunciation of Satan, to those demons you battle most regularly; we all have embedded sins and recurring struggles. This kind of renunciation acknowledges that fact. And then recite with conviction the Apostles’ Creed, that affirmation of the Truth of things (the devil and his minions thrive on lies and half-truths) in the wake of your rejection of all that is low, mean, ugly and sinful; such an affirmation will properly orient your day. Try it. You may find it helpful.

Second, and here is where the title of this essay is perhaps meant to be slightly provocative, before making an offering of your day to God, begin first by receiving. It is a simple but too often forgotten theological truth that we have nothing to offer God that He has not first given us. To begin our prayers with “offering” may subtly convince us that we’re doing God a great favor or service. Before we can offer God anything, we must first recognize that everything we offer Him is first His gift to us. Our offering in return of the gift does nothing for God; but it does affect us. Deeply. We begin to live out of gratitude and wonder, rather than entitlement or resentment.

Try these or similar words: “Lord, help me to receive this day — every encounter, conversation, every meeting, every task and obligation — as Your gift. Help me to receive it with joy and to return it to You with gratitude.” Such a prayer is indeed an offering, but it’s an offering that has not forgotten the utter gratuity of everything, including our daily grind. The final words of the “Diary of a Country Priest,” a young and sickly priest whose life was far from glamorous or notable in worldly terms, are simply: “tout est grâce” — “Everything is grace.”

Further, if we ponder the coming day as part of this receptivity and subsequent offering, we are more likely to have bolstered ourselves with a graced awareness in anticipation of each day’s less savory or exciting tasks or encounters. “Lord, help me to receive this day — even that meeting I am dreading at 2 this afternoon — as Your gift, and to return it to You with gratitude.” To make the morning offering this way is something of the inverse of what is done in the daily examen, that examination of conscience before bed: We begin our day anticipating the various moments and, aware of our own sinful tendencies, asking in advance for the grace to receive those moments and live them well, even offering them back to God. This will make us far more fruitful — which is not the same thing as successful — than beginning our day with dread or pre-emptive resentment.

It is a function of all the faithful, by virtue of their baptismal priesthood, to “offer spiritual sacrifices” (1 Peter 2.5) to God, not limited to mere pious thoughts or gestures, but from the very fabric of their lives; lives that are often muddled, marked by a deep desire for holiness and simultaneously by a profound proclivity to sin. These offerings, small and large, ultimately and as an ensemble constitute the gift of self, offered in union with Christ in His perfect self-offering to the Father, made present and effective at each Mass, wherein He offer us nothing more — but also nothing less — than Himself. But this act of offering, in a fallen cosmos and experienced in such a fragmentary and fickle way by fallen creatures, is never a one-off affair for us. We must daily renew that offering. Each morning. Every day.

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