The first time I ever went on a silent retreat, I shared a room with another woman, whom I had never met.
As soon as the alarm went off the first morning, groaning and reaching for the snooze button, I looked over across the room at my roommate. Groggy as I was, what I saw had quite an impression on me. Immediately when the alarm went off, she rose from her bed, knelt, kissed the floor, and said a prayer. Then she set about quietly getting ready. She did the same the next morning.
We were asked to remain silent throughout the weekend, so I had to wait until the end of the retreat to meet her. At the end of the retreat, I asked her about her morning ritual. She told me about a saint, St. Josemaría Escrivá, who wrote in his book, The Way, “Conquer yourself each day from the very first moment, getting up on the dot, at a set time, without granting a single minute to laziness. If, with the help of God, you conquer yourself in that moment, you’ll have accomplished a great deal for the rest of the day. It’s so discouraging to find yourself beaten in the first skirmish!”
In fact, he calls this moment the “Heroic Minute”. He explains that when the alarm goes off, it is “Time to get up, on the dot! Without hesitation, a supernatural thought and …up! The heroic minute; here you have a mortification that strengthens your will and does not weaken your body.”
It seems like such a simple thing, and for some people, it may be. But for many of us, that moment when the alarm goes off is a battle. We just want 5 more minutes. That’s it. Well, maybe 10 more. We need time to think about our day, that long list of “To Do” items, how we’re going to juggle bringing Johnnie to soccer and Annie to ballet and still get dinner on the table before choir practice. Our mind is already reeling and our heart is already sinking, and we haven’t even set our feet on the ground yet.
But what if it could be different? What if we could set aside all the things that weigh us down, and give our very first moment of the day to God? Wouldn’t that be a better way to begin our day? There was something about my roommate’s actions, not only when the alarm went off, but throughout the weekend that intrigued me. There was a peacefulness about her. Could the benefits from this simple action, this “Heroic Minute”, make a difference in my day?
After coming back from the retreat, I decided to find out.
At first, it was a struggle. Old habits are hard to break. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak, so I prayed for the graces I would need to change. Putting the alarm clock across the room (turning the volume to the loudest), and placing a picture of Our Blessed Mother beside it also helped. It took a while, but with perseverance, it became a habit.
Harder for me was focusing my first thought on giving thanks to God for a new day, offering Him everything from that very first moment. This takes practice and a lot of prayer, but I discovered just saying, immediately upon waking, a simple prayer like, “Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, I give you my heart and soul”, was enough. More prayers would come later, after a shower and a cup of coffee! Many people who make a practice of the Heroic Minute simply say, “Serviam!”, which is Latin for “I will serve!”
But why is this important? How can this Heroic Minute change your life? The discipline it takes to do as St. Josemaria Escriva says, get up immediately, without a moment’s hesitation, does indeed carry on to the rest of the day. If we can succeed at this “first skirmish” of the day, we can succeed at other areas that require self-discipline or immediate choices. This small act of mortification does indeed help to strengthen our will. Saying no to raising our voice to a child, or reacting with a smile instead of a snarky comment when the lady in the grocery store says, “Are you shopping for a day care?” Somehow these things become just a little easier.
We are forming our bodies to not give into laziness from the very first moment of the day. Picking up a good book to read to our child becomes easier than turning on the TV. Or stopping what we are doing and taking care of a child who is being disobedient instead of raising our voices and issuing an ultimatum…yet again.
But the best reason of all is that we have begun our day for Him, not giving one inch to the devil. No matter what happens, this day belongs to God. And if we are able to give to God the very first moments of our day, we are more likely to give Him our entire day.
The Gospel of Luke tells us “He who is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much”. Be faithful from the very first moment that the alarm goes off, and Our Lord will return your efforts sevenfold. Serviam!
Cheryl Hernandez and her husband of 30 years, Kevin, live in Florida. They have nine children, including a daughter who is a Servant Sister. They are lay members of the Home of the Mother.