The success of the Patriots over the course of the last 15 years, for example, has been largely because of Bill Belichick's brilliance in coming up with weekly game plans and coaching the players to execute the plan.
Last week we began a series on a Catholic plan of life, a program of spiritual practices designed to help us to grow in holiness.
In almost every sphere of life, someone who takes something seriously comes up with a plan. Success in any venture is normally dependent on having a solid plan and perseveringly implementing it.
The success of the Patriots over the course of the last 15 years, for example, has been largely because of Bill Belichick's brilliance in coming up with weekly game plans and coaching the players to execute the plan. Their long-term dominance is likewise ascribable to having a plan for annual competitiveness and sticking to it even when fans and the media clamor for them to depart from it with regard to contracts, draft picks, and salary cap issues. This ability to formulate and implement sound weekly and long-term game plans is frankly what has distinguished the Patriots from most professional sports franchises.
The same lesson is seen in flourishing businesses, triumphant political campaigns, and generally achieving persons: those that prosper are generally the ones with better, more effectively applied strategies.
There's got to be a plan. It's got to be a good plan. And you have to stick to the plan.
The same thing goes with the spiritual life. There's no reason why that we can't or shouldn't take our spiritual game-plan as seriously as sports teams take scheming, coaching and training, corporations take innovation and long-term programming, political organizations take voter identification and get out the vote campaigns, and dieters count calories and plan what they eat.
The spiritual life is too important for us to wing. So much of our happiness, in this world and in the next, depends on whether we have a plan of life, whether it's adequate for the discipline that forms disciples for holiness, and whether we make and keep the commitment to follow it.
The first part of the plan of life that we need to consider may seem rather insignificant, but it's actually fundamental for growth in the spiritual life. It's temporally the first part of the ascetical program we need to implement each day. It's called the "heroic moment" and refers to our getting out of bed immediately when our alarm sounds.
For many people the adjective "heroic" is not out of place, because getting out of bed when one remains tired, when one's limbs almost feel weighed down by concrete, can seem almost superhuman. But the moment when our will is at its weakest, when every cell in our body is screaming for us to hit the snooze button, is a key battle for us to overcome one of our strongest bodily appetites and start the day virtuously.
We're simply never going to live the disciplined life of a Christian disciple if we don't have the self-discipline to get out of bed.
Several years ago a teenager was coming to see me hoping to enter the seminary. He sincerely desired to prioritize prayer and grow in his faith in the midst of a demanding high school curriculum and many extra-curricular activities. Considering his schedule, he recognized that the best plan for him to spend a half-hour in meditation would be to get up an hour, rather than 20 minutes, before he needed to leave for school. But he never could find the strength to get out of bed on time.
A young woman coming to see me was discerning religious life. She desired to make a holy hour and attend Mass each day but knew that because of the two jobs she was working to pay off college loans, the only chance she'd have would be to get up at 6:30 each morning. Most days, however, she failed in her plan because she simply couldn't get out of bed when her alarm clock rang.
A young, professional married woman came to see me with a great hunger to grow in faith. She, too, expressed her desire to pray for a half-hour in the morning and attend daily Mass. Her husband would leave for work about 5 am and her job began at 9 am. All she needed to do to get her spiritual life off to a great start each day was to stay up after seeing her husband off. But she couldn't resist the temptation to return to bed and awaken a few hours later.
The plan of life that leads to the heroic virtue begins by living valiantly the first moment of the day.
Living the heroic moment effectively involves a few common sense elements:
First, setting an appropriate wake-up time. If one tries to get up sleep deprived earlier than one needs to, it just makes the heroic moment harder.
Second, living an analogous heroic moment at night. One needs to get to bed on time in order to awaken sufficiently rested. Watching comedy programs past midnight only makes responding to the alarm more excruciating.
Third, knowing and troubleshooting our vulnerabilities. Those who can't resist the snooze button need to put the alarm clock on the other side of the bedroom so that they must get out of bed to shut it off. Some people also find it helpful to make the bed before silencing the alarm!
Lastly, doing it out of love for God without exaggerating the difficulties. Anyone who has ever been on Route 24 at 5 am recognizes how many people get up early in the morning to drive into Boston for work. Perhaps they drug themselves with coffee, but what gets them out of bed is their love for their families who depend on their work. Our love for God, our desire to do his work, can inspire us the same way.
Next week we'll examine what to do once we've gotten the day off to this good and heroic start.
Father Roger J. Landry is a priest of the Diocese of Fall River, Massachusetts, who works for the Holy See’s Permanent Observer Mission to the United Nations.