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Only for Today: The Daily Decalogue of Pope St. John XXIII

prayers quotes by pope st. john xxiii

It’s no secret that our church is in the midst of troubled times. As the initial waves of grief, rage, sorrow, and more with the revelation of the sexual abuse crisis have passed, painful feelings linger. Some of us are still wondering where to turn, how to relate to the Church, and how to draw closer to Christ when our trust has been so betrayed. This post is not about the larger, institutional changes that may need to be considered. But it does concern something that can cause dramatic transformation.

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Simple Enough for a Child

I first came across Pope St. John XXIII’s Daily Decalogue in a children’s book at my local library (and not even in the religion section!). The book, Just for Today, illustrates close adaptations of the ten resolutions the Saint tried to live each day. Ten may seem like a lot of things to add to your to-do list, but they are not so much “things to do” as gentle, albeit powerful, modifications to your perspective.

The Daily Decalogue

What strikes me again and again is how simple these resolutions are, and yet how far off I seem to be from some of them. The effect is almost like the Ten Commandments meets an Examination of Conscience, with a modern sensibility. I want to do them all at once, but even the first seems it will take a good deal of work.

Only for today, I will seek to live the livelong day positively without wishing to solve the problems of my life all at once.

Easier said than done, of course. But what a worthwhile endeavor to pursue, and how beautifully put. What if I did slow down and focus on the good that is in front of me? What if I didn’t worry about what may or may not come down the pipeline for me? I could live more simply, with more love, greater patience, and firmer trust.

The list goes on, touching on the most essential things we do each day and suggesting a way to sanctify them, to make the previously mediocre moments of our days into something holy.

Here’s the rest of the list:

  1. Only for today, I will seek to live the livelong day positively without wishing to solve the problems of my life all at once.
  2. Only for today, I will take the greatest care of my appearance: I will dress modestly; I will not raise my voice; I will be courteous in my behaviour; I will not criticize anyone; I will not claim to improve or to discipline anyone except myself.
  3. Only for today, I will be happy in the certainty that I was created to be happy, not only in the other world but also in this one.
  4. Only for today, I will adapt to circumstances, without requiring all circumstances to be adapted to my own wishes.
  5. Only for today, I will devote 10 minutes of my time to some good reading, remembering that just as food is necessary to the life of the body, so good reading is necessary to the life of the soul.
  6. Only for today, I will do one good deed and not tell anyone about it.
  7. Only for today, I will do at least one thing I do not like doing; and if my feelings are hurt, I will make sure that no one notices.
  8. Only for today, I will make a plan for myself: I may not follow it to the letter, but I will make it. And I will be on guard against two evils: hastiness and indecision.
  9. Only for today, I will firmly believe, despite appearances, that the good Providence of God cares for me as no one else who exists in this world.
  10. Only for today, I will have no fears. In particular, I will not be afraid to enjoy what is beautiful and to believe in goodness. Indeed, for 12 hours I can certainly do what might cause me consternation were I to believe I had to do it all my life.

Simple Wisdom

There is so much wisdom in these simple words. Any one of these, when strived for, would effect a drastic change in one’s life, and usher in a closer relationship with Jesus. Taken together, they are a formula to achieve that universal call to holiness that came of Vatican II, which Pope St. John XXIII called together. In fact, his feast day is the anniversary of the opening of the Council, rather than that of the day he died.

Put It to the Test

My memory isn’t so great that I can remember ten things at once, in addition to all the details of my life. But I can do one thing at a time. I can pick one resolution a week and copy it down, put it somewhere I can see it regularly. Rereading it over and over, I can commit it to memory. I can put it into practice. I can teach my children and encourage my friends to do the same.

Like so many people, I struggle with family, work, friendships, and life in general pulling me in a million directions. There are temptations every step of the way. I know I want Christ as my center, but I falter. I fall away; and I get back up and try again.

In order to make that trying again really fruitful, I first need to understand who I am as a human. I need to recognize my weaknesses, in order to lean on Christ when I encounter situations that challenge me. This Decalogue is like a training plan, a strengthening project to help me persevere when obstacles to holy living come my way (which is basically every day, right?).

God Wants Good Things for Us

Pope St. John XXIII said that, “Every believer in this world must be a spark of light, a core of love, life-giving leaven in the mass: and the more he is so, the more he will live, in his innermost depths, in communion with God.”

This is God’s desire for us: to love him completely and to rejoice in that love.

Which of these resolutions speaks to you most directly? How can you put it into practice today and how can you encourage someone in your life to do the same?

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Lindsay Schlegel is a daughter of God, wife, mother, writer, and editor. She lives in New Jersey with her high-school-sweetheart-turned-husband and their kids. You can find out more about her here.

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2 Comments

  • Reply
    Christina
    November 5, 2018 at 9:41 pm

    Beautiful. And thank you for the reminder dear! I have this whole Decalogue on a bookmark that I will find straightaway.

  • Reply
    Monica
    November 6, 2018 at 11:47 am

    beautiful and inspiring. thank you!

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