How to Amaze Jesus

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We know well the words that the centurion speaks to Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel: “I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof…” (Matt 8:8). We say them at each and every Mass. But have you ever taken time to reflect on the words following the Roman officer’s remarks to Jesus? Can you remember the words that the Gospel uses to describe Jesus’ reaction to the centurion?

eucharistJesus is amazed (Matt 8:10).

Can you imagine what it would be like to amaze Jesus? Astonishingly, we know that the word “amazed” is used only once in Matthew’s Gospel—this is it. So amazement isn’t a regularly mentioned habit of Jesus in the Gospels. Secondly, God is, well…God. I imagine it has to be pretty difficult to amaze him. But somehow, the centurion did.

From reading this passage we learn that the thing mentioned here that amazes Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is the faith of this centurion—a Gentile—an officer in the enemy army! So it is great faith (no matter who exhibits it) that amazes Jesus.

Back to the Mass. Just before our reception of Holy Communion, before we receive Jesus under our own ‘roof’, we repeat the beautiful words of the centurion here in Matthew’s Gospel. Why? I think the Roman centurion is a model for us of how to approach Jesus. He humbly petitions Him, and then has full faith and confidence that Christ will respond to His need in the way that Jesus knows is best. How many times in prayer do you approach Jesus with both a problem and a solution? Admittedly, I’m a master at this. But what a truly faithful, humble servant does is to present a situation to Jesus and then remain open to His will, His solution. That’s exactly what the centurion does; that kind of faith amazes Jesus.

The Transubstantiation is the supreme way that Jesus amazes us at each and every Mass. But what if the next time you’re at Mass, you think of reciting these words of the centurion and receiving the Holy Eucharist as an opportunity for you to amaze Jesus?

Every moment before Communion we stand face to face with God, as the centurion did. We, too, have an opportunity to place our petitions before Him, coming to His Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity and awaiting His answer to our needs. We also have the opportunity to pray: just say the word, Jesus. To possess an unshakeable faith in Christ’s ability to be our solution to all of our needs—perhaps all of us, in this way, can amaze Him, too.

How to Make a Home Altar

Home altar - catholickatieThough many aren’t familiar with it in modern America, a home altar has for a very long time been considered a staple feature in a Catholic home. The home altar is meant to serve as a central place for prayer and religious practice in a Catholic household. Most of us have designated places to eat, sleep, work, exercise, and play at home – why not have a designated, special spot to pray, both individually and together as a family?

Here’s an easy how-to for helping you set up your own home altar or prayer space:

1. altar and bookshelfChoose a place and surface. Find a spot in the home for your prayer space or altar, easily accessible to everyone. Ours is in the family room, in between a bookshelf containing a number of adult and children’s spiritual books, holy water and rosaries (right in picture), and a “prayer chair” below our icon collection (left). (You can also consider having smaller altars and spaces in each of the bedrooms, especially for the kids, which they can design uniquely for themselves.) As far as surfaces go, you can use a shelf, desk, end table, mantle, nook…pretty much anything. We used a medium-sized square end table.

2. (Optional step): Get some linens. I like the idea of having linens on the altar to dress up the table and to coordinate with the liturgical year. (I took pictures of our altar during Lent, so we have a plain white table cloth underneath a purple strip of cloth that I had cut for less than a dollar at a fabric store. I also have a green and a red cloth strip.) This is an optional step because if you are using a shelf or mantle, you may find it preferable to decorate without the linens.

3. Adorn the altar. Collect religious items from around your home to put on the altar. You may also want to consider investing in some of these items if you don’t have them; they make great family gifts on special feast days! You can make the altar as simple or as elaborate as you prefer (we opted for simple with young kiddos). Here are some things you can put in your prayer space or on your altar:

  • altar close upCrucifix
  • Bible (with or without a stand)
  • Prayer books, prayer cards, a missal, or a Catholic book of blessings and prayers
  • Catholic icons and/or art (of Jesus, Mary and the saints; on or above the altar)
  • Statues
  • Rosary(ies)
  • Candles
  • Holy Water
  • Blessed salt
  • Incense burner
  • Seasonal items like pictures of the Stations of the Cross during Lent, Advent wreath or Advent candles, a manger scene during Christmas, a Paschal candle or lamb during Easter, Baptismal candles, palm branches from Palm Sunday, pictures of saints on their feast days, etc.

4. Have your home and altar or prayer space blessed. If you haven’t had your house blessed, have a deacon or priest come bless the whole home, including the altar or prayer space. At least take your crucifix from your altar to Mass with you one Sunday and have that blessed.

altar5. Pray around your home altar! Take time during the day (we like to gather as a family after dinner) to pray around the home altar. This is a great time to light candles, read from the Bible, offer prayers of thanksgiving and intercession, pray a decade of the Rosary or a chaplet, learn about a saint or a feast day you are celebrating, or sign a hymn. Try and take little moments throughout the day to look at the altar or prayer space and offer a quick prayer and turn your mind and heart to Jesus. Just don’t let that special spot go unnoticed and unused!

For some home altar inspiration and ideas beside my own pictures here, check out Pinterest and these prayer space pictures from CatholicMom. Having a home altar or prayer space is a great way to make your home more of a domestic church!

One last thing…Recently, during Ordinary Time, I added a small altar/prayer table to my home-altar-catholickatie-comtoddler son’s room so he has a special place in his own room where he (and we together) could pray when he gets up in the morning, before nap/rest time, and before bed time. (Obviously a good habit for your children to form even if you don’t put a prayer table in their room!) Anyway, he loves it! I kept it pretty simple, and his favorite element is the statue of the Good Shepherd. I added a prayer card with a simple Scripture verse next to it, which he memorizes, that I will rotate every month. I’m enjoying the mini altar in his room as much as he is!

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Why I Didn’t Get My Doctorate (And Some Tips for Being at Peace With God’s Will for You)

A lot of my friends with whom I graduated from high school are getting their PhDs right about now. Which made me ask myself–again–the other day, “Why didn’t I get my doctorate?”

The short answer? Because I had kids.

To be more accurate, it was because God had different plans for me than I had for myself. Story of all of our lives, isn’t it?

When I was in graduate school, I was at the beginning of my five-year plan—you know, the new five-year plan I had developed after the previous five-year plan didn’t work out. After graduating with my masters in theology, I would immediately enter a doctoral program, get my PhD (something the overachiever, straight-A, too-concerned-about-what-I-was-doing-and-not-enough-about-who-I-was-becoming student in me had always expected to do), and then teach. Of course, I wanted to get married and have kids, and I suppose that I assumed at the time it would seamlessly happen concurrently…or something.

I met my husband after my first semester in graduate school, was swept off my feet—and unpredictably swept out of state—and now find myself, five years later, looking back at the altogether different five-year plan that God accomplished during that time, which involved getting married, having two beautiful children, writing a book, moving several times, and dabbling in other ministry work in my “free” time (is that what you call spare and fleeting moments as a parent of little ones?). In other words, in the past five years, nowhere was doctoral work to be seen, and it doesn’t appear to be anywhere on the horizon…not as I see it right now, at least.

And I am absolutely at peace and happy with that. 

This peace and happiness is actually quite strange to me, considering I had never pictured myself at home with my kids singing the alphabet for the twenty-sixth time today, while simultaneously wiping drool off my shirt and laughing at my kids trying to poke each other’s cheeks. I thought of a future much more scholarly.

But, more times than I can count, God makes a point of demonstrating to me that His plans are always better than mine. His plans usually allow me to tap into my gifts more appropriately, bring me more joy, have a greater impact on others, produce less stress, and draw me closer to Him. His plans usually make me less selfish and more holy. His plans usually draw my attention away from myself and toward others, most especially toward Him.

Thankfully, in spite of my own (stubborn) free will, I often get diverted from the course of my own plans onto His path for me, and it’s often only in looking back that I can see the fruitfulness of it. I see that through prayer and openness, I sometimes intentionally and other times stumble onto the path of true peace of heart.

That’s where my tips for you come in. If you’re wondering how to find and remain in God’s will for you, try these simple but crucial practices:

  1. Pray. St. Rose of Lima says, “When God is consulted sincerely, He gives a clear answer.”
  2. Be open. Really, actually remain open to what God wants and not just what seems most comfortable or appealing to you at the present moment. It’s amazing how your heart molds to be in joyful conformity with His will when you let it.
  3. Consult logic, your feelings, and your imagination. Don’t just latch onto one of these without the others. They all play a role in peaceful discernment of God’s will.
  4. Seek guidance! Of course, God is the ultimate advice-giver in the process of discernment and finding and living within His will, but seeking counsel from spiritual directors and other wise mentors is not only helpful, but often necessary in the work of uncovering and being at peace with God’s will for you.

You know, I can’t imagine what life would be like right now if my nose was still perpetually in a book and my body in a chair in some classroom for the n-teenth year of my schooling (if you are in that phase of life right now, hoorah! God must have some amazing plans for you on that path). When I was in school, though I love and am always craving to learn, I was a rather anxious person. Now, I have so much more of that deep-down sense of peace and a constant appreciation for the absolute love I have for being in the thick of family life, with more scribbles now hanging on the wall than academic degrees.

Today, make peace with where God has put you right now. Or, if you are on a divergent course, find God’s path for you and start trekking on it, even if it feels scary or unplanned. There you will find His grace to meet you, and, as always, He will exceed all of your expectations.

Like Going Up the Down Escalator

I have a few crisp memories of my grandparents on my mother’s side. One of them is a replaying, over-a-decade-old mental video of Grandpa trying to walk up the down escalatorescalator, when he realized that Grandma, my sister, and I had—like girls do—changed our mind at the last minute and decided to stay on the upper floor of the mall.

“John!” Grandma ‘yelled’ in her loudest inside voice, which was no louder than my quiet inside voice (which is actually probably louder). “Come back!”

Grandpa saw us at the top of the escalator, and thought he’d attempt the climb.

He made it up a couple of downward escalating stairs before he realized he was pretty much staying in the same spot on the escalator.

Frowning adorably at his defeat, he turned around and let the escalator take him down to the bottom floor, where he turned around and began the upward ascent toward his wife and little laughing granddaughters.

What Grandpa had going against him was momentum. Naturally, his body wanted him to move with the momentum of the escalator, instead of against it. When he tried to move against it, the sum result was: he didn’t really do much moving at all.

~ ~ ~

How often do you find yourself thinking, “I want to be as good at X as so-and-so is!” A friend of mine is a master sewer. She decorates her house with quaint homemade pillows, adorns her nieces and nephews with classy baby clothes, and is so crafty it hurts me to look at all of the curtains I purchased—not made—that hang from my window. I want to be as good at sewing as she is.

sewingBut the reality is, when I get a thread in one of my hands and a needle in the other, or a hand on the sewing machine dial and a foot on the pedal, the sum result is a clump of disastrous multi-colored knots. That is, if I get that far. It is more likely that I’d quit after I spent my week’s fortune on the materials, but before I started any actual sewing.

Certain crafts make it clearly evident to me that I am moving against the momentum of my gifts and talents. The secret to being successful at the things you do, to be the best fill-in-the-blank (writer, dancer, listener, counselor, teacher, sewer…) is to move in the direction of the already-evident momentum in your life. I came to the realization some years ago that my momentum has me moving most easily in the direction of writing and speaking. Not only do I have the most success when I move in the direction of my momentum, but I also have the most fun.

God has given you unique gifts and talents, and when you use them and hone the skills that make you the best at whatever those gifts and talents are, you’re happy—no surprise to God, of course. He’s the one who makes the momentum you sense like a big “hint, hint” for you.

How do you know which gifts and talents to pursue? Well, what do you find yourself doing most often? What brings you joy? What do other people tell you that you are especially good at?

Don’t try to be someone else or to be the best sewer when you’re a writer (unless you’re great at both, and then maybe I do wish I were you…). When you get tangled up in all of that, you’ll only frustrate yourself trying to go up a down escalator.

St. Catherine of Siena says that if you are what you should be, you will set the world ablaze. Of course, the ultimate of “what you should be” is a saint, but I think her statement applies to the gifts and talents to. Blessed Mother Teresa was the best caregiver of orphans and the poor, and she set the world ablaze. She moved in the direction of her God-given momentum.

Try it. Find excellence in multiplying the talents God gave you. Go up the up escalator.

How to Get Out of a Spiritual Slump

If only our spiritual lives were always as animated and forward moving as we’d like them to be. But most of us find ourselves repetitively moving in and out of spiritual slumps, riding tcht_series_medthe highs and lows of following Christ amidst the trials of the present world.

So how do we get out of those trying spiritual ruts? Here’s a quick list of hacks to get your spiritual life moving again:

  1. Pray. Prayer is, of course, the first and best answer to just about every problem we have – first and foremost the spiritual ones. Pray to God to help you out of your spiritual slump, to increase fervor and persistence in your spiritual life, His grace working along with your cooperation. Start your day or prayer times with simple, pleading words such as “Lord, change me” or to mimic St. Peter, “Lord, save me.” Jesus loves to shake people out of their spiritual ruts and normal grooves. He does this all throughout the Scriptures; remember the woman caught in adultery? I’m thinking she had a pretty different spiritual life after allowing Christ to turn her in another direction. Jesus has no less desire to come into our spiritual lives and do some tune-up work, too.
  1. Seek guidance. Don’t feel like you have to tackle a phase of spiritual dryness alone. Seek counsel from a spiritual director, a priest at your parish, a trusted and wise friend, or even from a good spiritual book (for example, Dan Burke’s Navigating the Interior Life). Fr. Jacques Philippe’s beautiful book, Thirsting for Prayer, has lifted me out of many a prayer slump.
  1. Act. This is such an important step in climbing out of a spiritual rut and, sadly, a step that is so often forgotten or not given priority. If you want to move forward in your spiritual life, praying about it, talking about it, and planning to grow all have their proper roles in the process, but you must actually do something! Choose a devotional and commit to it. Don’t start next week or at the beginning of the month; start now. If you are going to read Scripture more, set a reminder to pick up your Bible first thing when you wake up in the morning. Want to take advantage of the Hour of Mercy? Pray the Divine Mercy chaplet today in the 3 p.m. hour. If you are going to practice charity so you can see Christ more easily in others, do a work of mercy right now. Instruct the ignorant, counsel the doubtful, admonish a sinner, bear a wrong patiently, forgive willingly, comfort the afflicted, or pray for the living and the dead today. Then repeat. But, whatever you do, don’t overdo it. If you make too many spiritual commitments at the onset of your journey toward improvement, you’ll likely follow through with very few (if any) of them. Start small and focus on moving forward in baby steps, rather than giant leaps.
  1. Change things up. When it comes to physical fitness, doing the same form of man on mountainexercise every day can eventually put you at a physical standstill. The same thing happens in our spiritual lives. So mix things up a bit. For example, go outside to pray in nature or go out of your way to pray in the adoration chapel if those aren’t traditional prayer spots for you. Count your blessings at the beginning of your prayer time, as opposed to skipping straight to petitioning God for your needs.
  1. Have patience and trust. Look for lessons in the “dark night” or spiritual dryness that you are experiencing. How is God trying to work through this difficulty rather than solely in spite of it? Many were surprised to learn after her death that Mother Teresa experienced years of spiritual dryness…and yet look at the great devotion she had in the midst her own “dark night”! Have patience that God is working in your life, and trust Him. Do not lose faith, even amidst confusion, trusting that faith in Jesus is even more important than understanding His methods.

St. Ignatius of Loyola wrote, “In times of dryness and desolation we must be patient . . . putting our trust in the goodness of God. We must animate ourselves by the thought that God is always with us, that He only allows this trial for our greater good, and that we have not necessarily lost His grace because we have lost the taste and feeling of it.” So pray, ask for help, do something (even something different than you’re used to), and never lose hope that God is always with you, in times of spiritual fruitfulness and in those slumps, too.

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My Catholic Toddler’s Religious Library

Catholic toddlers library 1I’m often asked for book recommendations for Catholic little ones. Here’s a peek at some of the books in my toddler’s religious library. The books are all age-appropriate, though a few are a bit text-heavy; those he’ll probably come to enjoy more within the next few months and years. I recommend these books for your kids, grandkids, nieces, nephews, godchildren, and the other little ones in your life as presents for special occasions or “just because”; building a religious library for young children is a valuable gift!

These are not listed in any particular order, though the books generally get more text-heavy and more are paperback than board book nearing the end of the list, except for the Bibles at the top, which, of course, have the most text. Also, some of the books are not Catholic in particular (meaning they aren’t written by Catholic authors), but these books still support a Catholic worldview. Finally, I linked all the books to Amazon, but please consider purchasing from the publisher or your local Catholic bookstore!

Did I mention my son hates clothes?

The Catholic Bible for Children (my preference, because it’s by a Catholic publisher)

The Beginner’s Bible (my son’s preference, because he loves the pictures)

My First Catechism

My First Bedtime Prayers

A is for Altar, B is for Bible

God Made Animals & God Made Family

Hide & Slide Bible Stories

Thank you God for Loving Me

God is Good…All the Time

I Want You to Know the Wonder of God (One of my favorites)

God Made You Special

toddlers religious library 2Manners in God’s House

The Beatitudes for Children

The Mass Book for Children

Living the 10 Commandments for Children

Saints for Boys

Angel in the Waters (great pro-life pick!)

The Oak Inside the Acorn

You Are Special

If Only I Had a Green Nose

…also pictured are a few books by a dear friend of mine who is an absolutely FABULOUS illustrator. Pray they get published soon so they can be widely available! I will definitely be promoting them when–not ifthey are mass-produced, so stay tuned!

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How to Celebrate a Feast Day

In their book, The Feasts: How the Church Year Forms Us As Catholics, Cardinal Donald Wuerl and Mike Aquilina write, “Christian life revolves around the calendar that Christians share. The calendar and its feasts remind us who we are. If we want to know ourselves, it tcht_series_medis important for us to imagine how this works – how feasts form us, what they teach us, how they guide and direct our emotions, our thoughts, and our spiritual growth.”

Sadly, most Catholics today don’t even celebrate solemnities and feast days at home throughout the liturgical year (Christmas and Easter usually excepted). But why not? Celebrating the feast days of the Church not only “directs our spiritual growth,” but it’s just plain FUN. Being Catholic offers us opportunities for penance and reflection, for certain, but it also gives us lots of reasons to party…and that’s where solemnity and feast day celebrations come in.

So, if you aren’t already celebrating feast days on your own or at home with your family, here are some quick hacks and tips to get you started:

  1. Decide which feasts that you’ll make a special effort to celebrate at home. There are a lot of feasts days in the Church, so I recommend you first focus on celebrating solemnities, feasts days of the highest rank in the liturgical calendar. This means a rough average of a couple celebrations per month, which is doable for most of us! You can also add in a few feast days that may be particularly meaningful to your family. For example, we celebrate the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe at our house, since she’s always been a special intercessor for us.
  1. Put them on the calendar and plan ahead. Take note of when the feast or solemnity will occur (some dates fluctuate a little from year to year) and set a digital planneror written reminder a few days before the feast to get your celebration activity, food, prayers, songs, and so forth in order. I strongly recommend you sign up for these feast day reminder emails, which will alert you to an approaching solemnity AND give you resources for learning more about the feast and celebrating it at home.
  1. Learn about the solemnity or feast you’ll be celebrating. It is pretty crucial that you know a decent bit of information (at least the basics) about the feast day you’re planning to commemorate. Read some articles about the history of the feast day, ways that the Church celebrates it, and ideas for bringing the feast day to life in your home in a memorable way. Share what you’ve learned about the feast day or solemnity with your family. (Again, directs you to great articles and resources to learn about the solemnities on the Church calendar.)
  1. Prepare your feast day celebration(s). Put your grocery list (for a meal that corresponds to the feast day; for example, you may make a meal with all white foods representing purity for the Feast of the Immaculate Conception) or craft supply list together a few days ahead and shop for what you need. Select any prayers or songs celebrate-the-feastsyou might pray/sing on that day and print out copies of the prayer or lyrics for the family. You can browse Catholic blogs and Pinterest for fun ideas to celebrate (or, as I mentioned, make it easy on yourself by using the reminders and ideas).
  1. Now, celebrate the feast! Make a big deal about it on the feast day or solemnity that you’ve prepared for! Get the family excited for the planned festivities and try and be in good moods as you celebrate throughout the day! Treat it like the holiday (holy day) it is, enjoying the celebrations, however complex or simple they may be.

Sometimes, though, even the best laid plans to celebrate a feast day are hard to execute amidst the unexpected twists and turns of daily family life. I recommend that as a backup plan, you do at least one small thing to acknowledge the feast day at home. If it’s a Marian feast day, pray a decade of the Rosary. If it’s not a Holy Day of Obligation, go to Mass anyway. These simple ways to celebrate don’t take any preparation, but help turn your focus to the importance of this day on the Church calendar, and bring your family one step closer to living a vibrant, liturgical, and fun Catholic life at home.


Hacks for Praying and Studying the Faith Within the Time Demands of Work & Family Life

I remember one particularly spiritually dry day early on in my second pregnancy. It was late at night and my energy was spent that day keeping a nap-protesting toddler content, doing chores and cooking, and grabbing spare moments to keep up with ministry work before collapsing onto my bed that night. My connection with God that day felt weak and secondary, and I shuddered thinking about more days like this when I had even more demands placed on my time and energy in the months and years to come.

I prayed to God asking for guidance to help me discern how to structure my prayer life during this wonderful but rather hectic phase of life—a phase I think many people would describe themselves as being in, regardless of their children’s ages, work demands, social obligations, and other responsibilities. I identified patterns of spiritual activity in many of my days, and I pieced them together to form the basic outline of how I might pray and study to a reasonable degree on an average day.  Here are some of the praying and faith-studying “hacks” I uncovered:

  1. Pray first thing when you wake up.

Prayer and Study Hacks for Busy CatholicsMost mornings I wake up via my what I call my toddler alarm clock—my son’s voice saying “Mama, Mama, Maaaamaaaaa!!” Though I always think it would be particularly delightful to preempt my toddler alarm clock with another phone tone, so I have time to pray more slowly before I start the day, right now this just isn’t practical most days given pretty intense middle-of-the-night pregnancy insomnia and nausea in the morning. So, at the very least, I make sure to chat with God, whatever few words I can, before I grab my toddler and rush to make him “eh-s” (eggs) before he supposedly will starve to death. When I greet him with a hug and kiss, we say Good Morning to Jesus, followed by the words, “Thank you, Jesus, for this day. Help us to live it well.” My husband and I (though I am occasionally half-asleep at the time), with or without our son depending on when he wakes up, also pray the Memorare and the Morning Offering before he takes his pre-sunrise leave for work.

  1. Listen to Catholic radio and podcasts while cooking and cleaning.

As a stay-at-home mom, a decent portion of the day is spent cooking and doing chores—an activity shared by most parents, who work either in or outside of the home. My in-laws gifted us with a fantastic pair of speakers (one for upstairs and one for down), and I turn on Catholic radio as I occupy myself with my daily housework. This serves as a great opportunity to keep my brain active and learn more about my faith. I’m usually tuned into whatever is playing on EWTN radio, and am almost always home before 8 a.m. and around 4 p.m. when cooking dinner, so, being on Eastern time, I can plan on catching The Son Rise Morning Show for news and various interviews of Catholic interest, and Kresta in the Afternoon for in-depth commentary on important Catholic issues. Catholic podcasts are also a great source for audio learning. In addition to a variety of EWTN, Ave Maria, and Immaculate Heart radio show podcasts, I like Catholic Answers Focus (which I recently got to do a show for—look for Head & Heart!), for more thorough analysis on certain faith topics, and the Word on Fire Sermon podcast in preparation for Sunday Mass.

  1. Go to daily Mass whenever possible.

Most days of the week, my son and I go to daily Mass. Though praying at Mass with a toddler in tow can be a wee bit distracting, I wouldn’t trade the opportunity for anything, as the graces I get from receiving the Eucharist and the blessing it is to have him make Mass a part of his regular routine from a young age are invaluable.

  1. Read the Bible on my phone.

Prayer and Study Hacks for Busy CatholicsReading the Bible electronically is not my ideal way to engage Scripture, but when I can’t easily hold a Bible in hand, having a Bible app on my phone is extremely helpful. (I like this one.) It allows me to read a chapter at a time in unexpected free moments of the day, and I try to select one verse in my reading to continue thinking about after I put my phone away. The Laudate app is also great for praying the Liturgy of the Hours, in whole or in part, throughout the day.

  1. Pray in short spurts throughout the day, with and without your family.

For me, this usually means talking to God more casually in the car, while on an errand, in between books I’m reading to or games I’m playing with my son, while doing a quick task or chore, or while exercising. My prayers are sometimes form prayers, like all or part of a Rosary, a novena prayer for that day, or the Angelus, or they can be more conversation prayers, like thanking God for my blessings, petitioning for my own family’s needs, praying for others intentions, or asking for quick guidance or discernment. Offering up the actual tasks, highs, and lows of the day—whether that be laundry, moments of frustration, a joyful experience—is another way I try to incorporate prayer smoothly into my routine.

  1. Read a faith-related article or from a spiritual or theological book sometime during the day or evening.

I work to include some sort of spiritual reading into my day in addition to Scripture, whether that is an article online from sources like the Integrated Catholic Life or the National Catholic Register or a spiritual book from a classic or modern Catholic writer. One of my all-time favorites is Fr. Jacques Philippe’s Searching for and Maintaining Peace. My husband and I also plan to start watching more episodes from faith-based DVD programs at night after we put our son to bed, like the Augustine Institute’s Symbolon or Beloved.

  1. Pray with your family before bedtime.

Our evening prayer as a family after dinner usually looks like a decade of the Rosary, a reflection from a spiritual book (like this one, for example), or the PRAISE formula prayer we learned from one of Dr. Greg Popcak’s books (Praise and thank, repent, ask, intercede, seek God’s will, expect that He will answer your prayers in whatever way is best for you.)

  1. Spend a few minutes of silent time with Jesus before I go to bed.

Prayer and Study Hacks for Busy CatholicsThis is the critically important silent time with the Lord that is usually the hardest but most important prayer time of the day. My silent time with Jesus also generally includes an examination of conscience. (Among others, I like the one for families I include at the back of my book.) Ideally, time in the adoration chapel once a week allows for a more prolonged experience of silent prayer which the soul really craves to thrive.

  1. Listen to a spiritual audio book when you can’t sleep.

I spend an unwelcomed amount of time awake in the 2-4 a.m. hours these days, thanks to the well-known experience many women called pregnancy. During these sleepless nights, I’m thankful for Catholic audio books, which allow me to squeeze in some reflection and learning time when my eyes are too tired to read. Thanks to the audio version of the text, I finally finished Ralph Martin’s massive and beautiful book, The Fulfillment of All Desire, which I had wanted to read in its entirety for years.

  1. Try to be patient with yourself and rely heavily on God’s grace.

St. Francis de Sales said, “God takes pleasure to see you take your little steps.” Sometimes, my daily efforts to pray and study seem so wimpy to me, but I am consoled by the fact that God looks kindly on my effort, which gives me the motivation I need to keep praying and moving forward in my spiritual life.

What do you do to maintain a life of prayer and learning amidst your hectic work or family schedules? This is what my average daily prayer and study routine looks like while parenting, maintaining a home, and working part-time in ministry (mostly at nights and during naptime), but of course it fluctuates. Consistency, though, is one of the most important keys to making this all happen—that, and, of course, a heavy dose of patience and lots of God’s grace.

*Make sure you have my free Catholic Resource Guide – a great tool with lots of additional hacks and resources for learning more about your Catholic faith!*

How to Become a More Grateful Person

There is a running joke in my family about asking God for help in parking the car. My nana initiated the practice of imploring God when encountering difficulty in finding an open parking space: “Jesus, please help me find a parking spot.” Well, my dad repeats this tcht_series_medprayer, adding his own twist at the end. As he drives around a busy lot looking for a space, he, following the wit and wisdom of his mother, prays, “Dear Jesus, please help me find a parking spot.” When a space almost miraculously appears in the near vicinity, he looks up, signaling his conversation with God, and jokes, “Never mind, Jesus. I found one.”

We do a lot of praying and asking God for help, but we often forget to thank him for our answered prayers. Maybe you can think of times in your family life when you asked God to heal your little one of an illness or to make it clear to you whether or not your family should relocate to begin a new career. Yet when the illness was gone (or acceptance granted in its place) or the decision to move made, somehow God evaporates from the process, and you move forward without acknowledging God’s guiding hand in the situation. There is a better way: intentional gratitude.

So how do we grow in gratitude? Here’s a quick list of gratitude hacks:

  1. Count your blessings daily. Do this in some tangible way – by writing in a gratitude journal, by setting aside time in prayer to list the things you are grateful to God for that day, or by sharing them with the family at the dinner table each evening. If you only decide to count your blessings in theory but don’t come up with a tangible way to do this in practice, then you’re not very likely to become a more grateful person anytime soon. Gratitude takes conscious practice.
  1. Shift from negative to positive thinking in the moment. When a frustrating situation arises or a negative thought comes your way, instead of dwelling on it or letting it fester to the point of altering your mood, make a deliberate shift to think positively. One evening, when exhaustion had already totally overcome me, I was attempting to put my sleep-protesting toddler to bed and became instantly overwhelmed with frustration with the situation. The litany of thoughts like, “Why can’t you make this easier on me, little man?” and “Gosh, if I weren’t so tired from doing so many chores today I wouldn’t feel so miserable right now” began running through my mind. In that moment I had a choice to continue to let the scroll of negative thinking and emotions continue or to opt for positivity – and gratitude. Taking a turn for the better, I could have adjusted my thinking to: “I’m so thankful I have a toddler to put to sleep right now, even if he is a bit spirited or challenging at bed time” or “I sure am tired, but I’m pretty glad I got so much accomplished today around the house.”
  1. Balance petitions with thanksgiving in prayer. Often times, our prayer time canprayer become a litany of requests. Petitions take the driver seat, and offering gratitude to God takes a relatively minor role—if we even bring our words of gratitude to our personal prayer time at all. If we only knew how valuable our spiritual lives could become if we stopped praying backward, if we modeled our personal prayer according to the prayer of the Church. This means spending the majority of our time listening to God speak to us in His Word, like in the Liturgy of the Word, and giving Him thanks, as we do in the Liturgy of the Eucharist. When we look at the prayer of the Church, we see that the Prayers of the Faithful—the petitions—make up a noticeably smaller fraction of the liturgy than petitions usually do in our personal prayer. Of course it is not a bad thing to petition God. Petitions are indeed very good (after all, St. Teresa of Avila said that we pay God a compliment by asking great things of Him), but they are never meant to dominate our prayer. If we are talking the whole time we are praying, how can God get a word in edgewise? And if we aren’t in the practice of thanking Him, how can we ever stop to notice how He always answers our prayers? Become a true disciple of the Eucharist (a term meaning “thanksgiving”). Give thanks.
  1. Don’t forget to thank God for suffering. It’s often through suffering that we are sanctified – made holy – and draw closer to Christ. Yet it is so easy to forget to offer gratitude for times of suffering that we would much rather forget or, instead, complain about. When a friend of mine was battling cancer, she told me “I don’t want to let one day go by that we don’t stop and genuinely enjoy it. In some way, it is a blessing to have cancer, because it has helped me to slow down and cherish each day.” I hope I can cultivate gratitude to the point of having that kind of thankful attitude even in the midst of intense suffering.
  1. Express gratitude to/for others. The previous gratitude “hacks” were focused a bit more on cultivating personal, inward gratitude, but to become a more grateful thank you noteperson, it’s essential to outwardly express gratitude to and for others. Every day, make a deliberate effort to thank someone for who he or she is in your life, something kind that person has done for you…anything about that person which makes you grateful. Express appreciation for a family member, coworker, friend, priest, service man or woman, a great waiter or waitress, a teacher. You’ll be practicing gratitude by verbalizing (or writing) your thankfulness for someone, and perhaps even inspire them to become a more grateful person, too.

When we practice gratitude, grace will flood into our everyday lives. (It’s no coincidence that the words gratitude and grace come from the same root, gratus) Cicero taught, “Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all the others.” Imagine the grace that God can bestow on your ability to spiritually lead your family if you begin excelling in the “parent” of so many other virtues that will bless your marriage and family.

Know that the Lord is good! It is he that made us, and we are his; we are his people and the sheep of his pasture. Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise! Give thanks to him, bless his name! –Psalm 100:2-3

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