Dear Father John, I have started saying a daily Morning Offering Prayer in which I ask God with the help of His Grace that I remain all day in a spirit of praise and thanksgiving and that all of my actions be for the purpose of doing His will. However, I find I cannot remain in this spirit all day with the normal pressures of everyday life to deal with that can take my mind off of God. Does God withhold his Grace for whatever reason or if I ask does He grant me this Grace no matter what? I am trying to figure out why I can’t fulfill my promise to Him whenever I say this prayer every morning. I don’t see any difference in my attitude than before I started saying this prayer, although I mean it with all my heart when I pray it in the morning.
This is a fantastic question, and I am sure many of our readers will be able to relate to it. Underneath the specific issue of your petition to remain in a spirit of praise all day is a deeper issue – the issue of spiritual growth in general.
Every once in awhile, God grants graces that seem to transform our souls from one moment to the next. St. Ignatius of Loyola, for example, received the grace of infused knowledge in an instant, and he later wrote that he learned more in that moment than in all the years of his avid study for the priesthood. It is also said that St. Thomas Aquinas, after a particular dramatic struggle to resist an occasion of sin, was instantaneously granted the grace of perfect chastity. When God wants to give quick advances and quick victories, he can and he will.
Seasons of Growth
Nevertheless, normally spiritual growth happens gradually, like all growth here on earth. Jesus’ favorite images for the Kingdom of Heaven always involved seeds and plants and growing things (the sower who went out to sow, the barren fig tree, the mustard seed, the farmer who plants his field…). We learn from this that our path to spiritual maturity is not ordinarily a path of immediate transformation. Usually, we grow in Christ-like virtues gradually and seasonally, just as plants grow. For this reason, one of the most important qualities of our spiritual journey is perseverance – not giving up, continuing to seek Christ and struggle to follow him even when we see very little immediate progress. Here’s how Jesus put it in his parable of the sower: “But as for the seed that fell on rich soil, they are the ones who, when they have heard the word, embrace it with a generous and good heart, and bear fruit through perseverance” (Luke 8:15).
Cooperating with Grace
Now we can return to your question. When you ask for the grace to keep a spirit of praise throughout the day, God certainly hears and answers your prayer. For you to desire that grace as passionately as you do, in fact, is already a sign that the Holy Spirit is working to develop it in your heart. So God is sending you his grace, just as he sends the rain and the sunlight to the farmer’s field. But it will take some time for that grace to yield its harvest, just as it takes time for the crop to grow and yield its fruit.
In short, then, you can and should continue to ask God for this grace, but you will need to be patient and persevering before you will see it come to fruition in your life. Part of your patience and perseverance will include cooperating with the grace that God does send you. And this is where all the normal means for spiritual growth come in: frequent Communion and confession; daily mental prayer; spiritual direction; spiritual reading; a reform of life program… All of the things we talk about here at Roman Catholic Spiritual Direction.
Using the Practical Examen
And in addition to the normal means, it may be useful for you to start using a spiritual tool called the “particular examen.” This consists of taking a few minutes each day, towards the end of the day usually, to reflect on how you have been living one particular virtue that you feel God is asking you to exercise in a special way. Right now, it seems that the Holy Spirit has really put on your heart this desire to maintain a spirit of praise and gratitude throughout the day. This would be the virtue (reverence, gratitude) that God is nudging you to focus your attention on. So each week you could identify a concrete, specific way of exercising that virtue in your daily life.
For instance, you could make a resolution to try and say a silent prayer of praise and gratitude every time you turn the key to start the engine of your car. That would be a way for you to cooperate with the grace God is sending you to grow in this virtue. And then, at the end of the day, you could reflect on how well you fulfilled this resolution – that’s the “particular examen.” And in the following week, you could make a different resolution. In this way, you are making an intentional effort to do your part, while trusting that God will be doing his part. And little by little, his grace will bear fruit in your soul.
To keep you motivated, you may want to memorize this little jewel from St. Paul: “Let us not grow tired of doing good, for in due time we shall reap our harvest, if we do not give up” (Galatians 6:9).
I hope these thoughts have been at least a little bit helpful. I am sure our readers will have some great ideas as well. Thank you for your question, and God bless you!
Art for this post on Graces Given by God: Saint Ignatius Loyola, Miguel Cabrera (1695-1768), undated, PD-US published in the U.S. prior to January 1, 1923, author’s life plus 100 years or less, Wikimedia Commons.