Between Amens — The “Heroic Minute”

Dr. Karen Shadle

Summer is winding down, and the first day of school looms for my two children, who will be in eighth grade and kindergarten, and for my husband, who is a university professor. A new school year brings many blessings — a fresh start, a reunion with friends and colleagues, and those crisp, new notebooks and pencils. But it all comes at the cost of setting the darn alarm clock again.

For my family, summer bedtimes are loosey-goosey. The late-setting sun and less rigorous schedule inspire us to play longer and stay up well into the night. Often I let the sun rouse me in the morning. When I do have to set an alarm, I am accustomed to casually dozing after it goes off. Just five more minutes. Or ten.

Many years ago, I became familiar with the writings of St. Josemaría Escriva and was especially drawn to his concept of the “Heroic Minute.” The “Heroic Minute” is “the time fixed for getting up. Without hesitation: a supernatural reflection and … up!”

St. Josemaría often wrote of the spiritual life in militaristic terms. For him, waking up promptly was a small success in the first spiritual battle of the day — a victory over sloth. He suggests that these first moments after rising should be given over to prayer. It could be a simple “Hail Mary,” a recitation from Scripture or a quick word of thanksgiving for the new day.

The Heroic Minute suffers no snooze button. In “The Way,” St. Josemaría instructs, “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 will be well ahead for the rest of the day.”

Part of the appeal of the Heroic Minute is the notion of momentum. This first virtuous act paves the way for more. One good decision leads to another and another. “To be faithful to God,” writes St. Josemaría, “requires a constant battle … in one small thing after another, without giving in.” Most of the time, this spiritual warfare is not bold and flashy; rather, it is waged in the seemingly insignificant challenges of everyday life. Everyday holiness is the path to sainthood.

A challenge: Join me in beginning each day with a Heroic Minute. Make Jesus your first intentional thought of the day. With diligence, this practice has a way of multiplying the time and energy we have for goodness. A moment for morning prayer might perhaps open up room in the schedule for daily Mass or exercise or quiet time without the phone. Suddenly it is easier to be a little more charitable to others and to respond to conflict with grace. Putting first things first helps establish self-discipline, and that can bear all kinds of good fruit in our lives.

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