What Michelangelo Can Teach You About Virtue in Home Life

Michelangelo finished sculpting his masterpiece, the Pietá, at the young age of 24. As the story goes, when the work was unveiled to the public, the sculptor planted himself in the crowd of admirers, waiting to hear what people thought about his first great work in Rome.

pieta-gmr_6315Of course, the crowds loved it (as they still do), and were in awe of the skill of its anonymous artist. Nobody believed the young and relatively unknown Michelangelo when he told them that he was its maker.

Their disbelief ate at Michelangelo, who, one night, crept into the basilica and engraved his name on the sash across the chest of the Blessed Mother. You can imagine why Michelangelo was later regretful for his prideful action, which was now visible to everyone, stamped right across the woman who is the paragon of humility!

One thing is certain about your work of spiritual leadership in the family and living a Christ-centered life within the four walls of your own home: it’s often the least acknowledged—even though it’s the most important—work that you do.

It takes a good deal of virtue to put significant effort into a job that you often don’t receive any recognition or credit for. While you may receive accolades at work, praise for something you are doing in ministry or at the parish, applause for some feat you’ve accomplished as a hobby or personal goal—it’s likely you don’t have a lot of people house-961401_960_720patting you on the back for the nitty-gritty, baby-step work you do, day in and day out, to help love your family a little better and lead them a little closer to holiness.

But this is virtue! Dedicating oneself to spiritual leadership at home as a top priority in your life means a habitual and firm disposition to do the good—promptly, consistently, with ease and with joy—even and perhaps especially when no one can see you but God alone.

Make a commitment to growing in this kind of virtue. Here are a few simple ways to do so:

  1. Educate yourself in the virtues, and which ones you need to grow in. There are a number of particularly important virtues for family life described in this book, but right now pick at least one virtue you need to learn about and grow in, or one vice to learn about and grow out of.
  2. Practice, practice, practice! Several months ago, I felt like I was complaining too much about little things, mostly to my husband. So I set a phone reminder to ding at me when my alarm goes off at 5 a.m. every day that reads: NO COMPLAINING. That small reminder has helped tremendously. Make a simple plan right now to help you accomplish growth in virtue at home in some way.
  3. Stock up on grace. Frequent the sacraments to receive the grace you need to make strides in pursuing virtue in home life. Regular Confession and receiving the Holy Eucharist often have a remarkable way of turning ordinary folks like you and me into saints someday.

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A Parent Who Prays – Now Available!

Perhaps there is no greater gift we can give our children than the gift of our prayers. Prayer can literally change their lives. It’s that powerful.

a-parent-who-prays-3dWe marvel at how the prayers of Saint Monica, mother of her wayward son, Augustine, worked in conjunction with the Holy Spirit to bring him back to the ways of the Lord and put him on the road to sainthood. We treasure the witness of Saints Louis and Zelie Martin, parents of Saint Therese of Lisieux, who lived their lives as a prayer to God and passionately prayed for their daughters, who all entered the religious life and lived extraordinarily faithful lives.

I don’t want any less for my own children. Honestly, though, life happens, and I’m not always as intentional about praying for my children consistently in the way I really want to be praying for them. But in the times we are living in, our kids need the fervent prayers of their parents!

Enter this new resource that I am so passionate about, because I need this just as much as the next Catholic parent, and I haven’t really found anything like it. 

A Parent Who Prays: A Journal to Guide You in Praying for Your Children (affiliate link) is a simple but transformative little journal to guide you in praying for your children. It will give you the motivation and tools you need – including 52 unique special intentions (one for each week of the year) – to make praying for your children a priority over the next year—and always.

I could tell you more about it, but I’ll let you take a look for yourself. Check out A Parent Who Prays and grab more than one copy; chances are you know someone who is just as interested in learning how to pray more intentionally for their children as you are.

Better still, if you desire to gift this beautiful little journal to your child after completing it, you may want to grab a copy for each child you plan to be praying for. If you’d rather keep it private, one journal can suffice for all of your kids.

And I have some great news for you grandparents, too. A Grandparent Who Prays is also now available! (affiliate link) Make sure you grab a copy and pass this onto fellow grandparents you know. The prayers of grandparents can’t be underestimated. Pope Francis has said, “How important grandparents are for family life, for passing on the human and religious heritage which is so essential for each and every society!”

7 Signs You Have A Faith Your Kids Can “Catch”

Is your faith contagious?

human-854005_960_720When I was writing my book, Head & Heart, I kept hearing over and over again from men and women I spoke with that when it comes to raising children in the Catholic faith, “Faith is more caught than taught.” But what does it look like to have a “catchable” faith? How can we know we are on the right track in witnessing a kind of faith that our kids (and others!) will want to embrace fully themselves?

Here are a few questions to ask yourself:

  1. Am I seeking an ongoing, deeper relationship with Jesus? You can’t give what you don’t have. If you want your children to have an intimate relationship with Christ, you need to have one. This means actually working to grow in relationship with Him, and not just saying that you have one or expecting your relationship with Christ to deepen without any work on your end. Our children sense our authenticity (or inauthenticity) especially in matters of faith, and study after study demonstrates that children are very likely to follow in the footsteps of their parents’ in their own spiritual lives.
  1. Am I praying regularly (and do my kids see me doing it)? If you are seeking an ongoing, deeper relationship with Christ, you must spend time in prayer. That’s how you nurture your relationship with Him. And though you don’t need to make a boy-477010_960_720dramatic, public display of prayer every time you do it, you should make sure that your kids frequently see you praying. Pope Saint John Paul II said, “The concrete example and living witness of parents is fundamental and irreplaceable in educating their children to pray.” Seeing a parent pray with sincerity, regularity, humility, vulnerability, and trust has a powerful impact on a child.
  1. Am I exhibiting virtue? Do you actually act like Christ around your family? Do your children see you living the faith you claim to preach? Do you exhibit joy, charity, hope, patience, forgiveness, and other virtues that characterize someone in love with their faith and their mission to become a saint? If you answered anything but an emphatic “yes” to these questions, pick one virtue right now that you want to exhibit more intentionally to your kids. Set a phone reminder or post a note in a prominent place reminding you to radiate that virtue, so that your kids can catch it, too.
  1. Am I working on my marriage? This might not seem to directly relate to having a “catchable” faith, but you and your spouse help form your children’s image of God! They will often relate to and understand God through the “analogy”—for lack of a better word—of their parents. The more you image the life-giving love of the Trinity in your marriage, the more your children will catch onto that love and crave it from the source of Love Himself.
  1. Am I embracing Catholic culture? Do you celebrate baptism anniversaries and Catholic feast days with the same fun, food, and traditions as you do on days like smile-1507564_960_720Thanksgiving or the Fourth of July? Make Catholic holy days become celebrations that your children anticipate with excitement.
  1. Do I set faith-based goals and dreams, and then actively seek to accomplish them? If you want to accomplish any goal, you need a plan to achieve it. So if you want to possess a catchable faith, you need a plan to acquire one. Set goals for learning more about your faith, getting involved in ministry, or serving your family more intentionally. Set reachable goals—like praying for ten minutes a day, listening to a faith-based podcast during lunch or while folding laundry, or reading the Bible before you go to bed—but then, dream big. Dream about sanctity.
  1. Do I care more about being or doing? Your children might be more likely to “catch” faith from you as a Mary parent than they are from you as a Martha one. Prioritize your desire to become the person God created you to be (ultimately, a saint!) over all the other stuff you have to do. Let your children see and catch the peace that comes from being in love with the Lord and being This will matter more than all the other stuff you might be tempted to “do” to increase their chances of embracing the faith. I often have to adjust my thinking from “I haven’t had them memorize a new Scripture verse this week!” to “Am I a more loving, patient, Christ-like person today than I was yesterday?” The Lord cares more about being than doing.

Which of these 7 ways to develop a more catchable faith could you improve on right now?

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Get The Virtue-Focused Year!

The Virtue-Focused Year: 12 Habits to Become a More Virtuous You

Want a simple guide to help you grow in virtue over the next year? This is it. Great for personal use, for families, or for ministries (use it in your Sunday school classroom, too!), this printable e-book lays out 12 virtues, each accompanied by short reflections and action items to help you make small steps toward making these virtues “stick” in your life over the coming months.

A helpful and customizable tool for making spiritual progress with simple instructions, this resource may help you grow in areas of your life that matter most.

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Do You Have These 5 Traits of a Spiritual “Heart”?

A Quick Checklist for Wives and Moms

woman-1148923_960_720It often amazes me how many lay men and women, priests and religious point to their mother’s faith as an anchor in their own spiritual journey. That’s certainly the case with me and my mom’s unwavering faith, and I so badly want to be that strong spiritual “heart” for my children, too. I’ve noticed in her and in many other strong spiritual hearts some beautiful, feminine aspects of spiritual leadership:

  • A habit of sacrifice. Strong spiritual hearts seize frequent opportunities to give of themselves, to die to their own desires, inclinations, or preferences for the good of others, especially for the good of their husbands and children. They master the art of self-gift, giving everything from their bodies to their time, talent, and energy for those they love, and they find joy in doing so.
  • Quiet trust. Over time and through prayer, strong spiritual hearts inch their way toward an almost unshakable trust in God and in His will for their lives, especially newborn-659685_960_720within their families. They offer their children to God, recognizing that they are first and foremost His children (read Hannah’s story in 1 Samuel for an awesome example of this), and then they throw themselves into His Divine Mercy, trusting He will care for them and for their families.
  • Reliance on grace. Strong spiritual hearts rely on God’s grace to tackle the colossal responsibility of motherhood. His grace animates their daily lives—carrying them through their household chores and their efforts to provide emotionally, physically, and spiritually for their families—and comforts them when they feel exhausted and worn. They see His grace at work in their family life, and they can’t imagine living without it.
  • Unseen strength. Utilizing the particular gifts, talents, experience, and energy God has given them, spiritual hearts are pillars of physical, emotional, and spiritual child-1245893_960_720strength, serving and loving the Lord and their families with all their might (Dt 6:5). The strength of a wife and mother often goes unseen, but its presence is most certainly felt and needed by their families.
  • Friendship with Mary. Strong spiritual hearts take their leadership cues first and foremost from Our Blessed Mother, the immaculate model of spiritual “heartship.” Seeing her as the most exemplary wife and mother that ever walked the earth, they implore her intercession and cultivate an intimate relationship with her to help them become more beautifully virtuous like her. They ask her to wrap the mantle of her love and protection around each precious member of their family.

Do you possess these five traits? Which one could you spend some time and effort working on as the spiritual heart of your own family?

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Do You Have These 5 Traits of a Spiritual “Head”?

A Checklist for Husbands and Dads

silhouette-1082129_960_720Statistical and anecdotal evidence demonstrates that parents are the number one influence on the faith lives of young people. More specifically, study after study finds that the role of the father in particular is critical in handing on an active spiritual life to his children. Without a strong spiritual head to guide them, children can so easily be lost to our culture that deprives them of the meaning, purpose, and hope that only Jesus Christ can provide, in and through His Church.

Growing up, I was so grateful to have a dad who was (and is) very dedicated to spiritually leading his family, and I’m blessed to have married a man with a similar passionate commitment. I know our children will look to him—as I do—to see a model of Christ’s sacrificial love and humble leadership in our family, since men are called to demonstrate Christ’s love for the Church within their families in a special way.

So what are some traits of a strong spiritual head of a family?

  • An attitude of surrender. Strong spiritual heads are willing to hand over control to God, recognizing that He is the one who is King over their lives, their families—screen-shot-2016-10-25-at-11-56-02-ameverything. They recognize that it is a sign of true masculinity to call on God for guidance and to surrender to His will.
  • Humility. While our culture may tout pride as a masculine virtue, strong spiritual heads model the virtue of humility for their families, making daily steps to conquer their desire to be right, or to seek acclaim and accomplishment, instead opting to devote time to showing their families how to give credit and glory to God, seeking to please Him first and foremost.
  • Boldness. Strong spiritual heads are bold about their Catholic faith—at home, at work, and in public. They aren’t afraid to make decisions in light of their faith and to let others know that they are Catholic, not just in name, but in active practice. 
  • Openness to fellowship. While the prevailing norm is to think it a feminine activity to have meaningful conversations about life, faith, and family, strong spiritual heads recognize that they shouldn’t try to go it on their own when it comes to spiritual hands-992896_960_720leadership. They acknowledge the importance of seeking accountability, encouragement, and fraternity with other men and make it a regular habit to do so.
  • Friendship with St. Joseph. Strong spiritual heads often cultivate beautiful devotions to Our Blessed Mother, but they also lean on the intercession of St. Joseph to help them in their immense task of caring for their family’s physical, emotional, and spiritual needs, as St. Joseph gallantly did for Mary and Jesus.

Okay, men, how are you doing on living out these traits? We women and children need your bold headship in the family, as the Church needs the leadership of Christ.

For more checklists, resources, tips, and recommendations to help take your spiritual life to the next level, make sure you sign up here…and get a *free* Catholic Resource Guide when you do!

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How to Give a Christmas Gift to Both Jesus AND a Friend/Family Member at the Same Time

screen-shot-2016-12-18-at-8-05-42-pmThis Christmas, I wanted to give some of my family and friends a gift that not only meant something to them, but also helped those in greater need this Christmas season, attempting to answer the Matthew 25:40 call to serve the Lord through serving the “least of [His] brethren.” I asked a number of my loved ones what their favorite charitable organizations and causes were, and I made a donation to one of their favorites in their name/honor. Then I printed out this handy little snowflake card letting them know! I put their Charity Christmas Gift Cards in the mail, along with my traditional Christmas cards, but these simple snowflake printable cards would make great present-toppers on wrapped gifts, too!

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How to Make a Difference in the Life of a Fallen-away Catholic You Know

*This article originally appeared in the National Catholic Register.

I’ve worked for Catholics Come Home, the international media apostolate working to invite computerfallen-away Catholics and others home to the Church, since its founding in 1997. This has afforded me, personally, the opportunity to dialogue with hundreds of fallen-away Catholics who contact the organization after seeing a Catholics Come Home TV commercial or stumbling upon the CatholicsComeHome.org website. Those who reach out to the apostolate via email, phone or mail make up a small but strong sample of the millions of people that Catholics Come Home has reached out to in less than a decade, and they have taught me a lot about those who leave the Church.

The messages I receive from these inactive Catholics range from cordial to scathing, and it didn’t take me long in this ministry to see that there are common threads in their conversations. Many of these people are hurting; many are angry; many are lost. All have stories; all have reasons for leaving — reasons ranging from “I just drifted away” to “I don’t believe in these teachings” to “Someone in the Church wronged me” (with the first and the last reasons being most common).

But perhaps the most-shared feeling or expression in the many correspondences I have fielded over the years is this: Almost all of these fallen-away Catholics want to know that someone cares.

handsThey want to know that someone cares that they left. They want to know that someone not only notices their absence, but also is actually saddened, or at least affected by it. Sadly, many, if not most, of these inactive Catholics have never found anyone to express this concern to them.

So I make an effort to tell fallen-away Catholics who reach out to Catholics Come Home that they are missed, and their brothers and sisters in Christ — including me — want them home and that their Heavenly Father in particular wants them to again be a part of the Catholic Church that Jesus Christ founded.

As a unity in the Body of Christ, a living organism, we aren’t the same without them, and we care that they are away.

It never ceases to amaze me how even the seemingly hardest of hearts in an initial correspondence can be turned around after hearing that someone, anyone, cares about them and about their leaving the barque of St. Peter.

I’ve been moved to tears more times than I can count by people who seemed bent on spewing their rage toward the Church and have then responded to my reply with words like, “Thank you for answering. You are the first person to respond to me … and to care.” Some of these people have admitted attempting to reach out to other people or organizations, seeking a listening ear or an extended hand of welcome, only to be further disappointed by the fact that not only did they exit the Church without a single person knowing that they had gone, but they also couldn’t find anyone to help them explore the possibility of returning.

So many of our fallen-away family, friends, co-workers, relatives, neighbors and even strangers whom God puts in our path are desperately wanting to know that they are missed. Many just need to hear it from one person — and that one person can be you.

When you come in contact with people away from the Church, I encourage you to do two rather simple, yet important, things.

First, tell them they are missed and that you care that they are away. I used to think it sounded cheesy to say that out loud or in writing, but I discovered that it really was what so many of these people wanted to hear. I add the caveat that you must mean it. Your words, tone and demeanor must be genuine. They need real empathy.

churchSecond, invite them home. Often, when we ask people who return to the Church, after coming across a Catholics Come Home commercial or the website, why it is that they came back, they respond, “Because you invited me.” Don’t miss the opportunity to extend the invitation that may be the catalyst in that fallen-away Catholic’s journey back to Christ and his Church.

Pope Francis has warned of the danger of Catholics being “backseat Christians.” Don’t take a backseat when it comes to welcoming fallen-away Catholics home. Ask the Holy Spirit to guide you to people whom you can encourage on their faith journeys. That is certainly a prayer that God loves to answer. And when God puts that beloved, wandering child of his in your path, remember the words of the King in Matthew’s Gospel: “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.”

How to Prayerfully Examine Your Day

Saint Ignatius of Loyola’s Daily Examen continues to be a beautiful practice within the Church’s great tradition of spiritual exercises. The reason why I do it, though? It’s practical, simple, and it works.

tcht_series_medI have a number of different prayer routines throughout the day, but when bedtime approaches, I’m pretty beat. Any prayer that’s too lengthy or structured sometimes puts me to sleep (the Rosary, for example–which I consequently try to pray earlier in the day). Any prayer that’s too free form (just me attempting to listen or talk to God) usually leads to mind-wandering, generally provoked by exhaustion. So Scripture reading followed by the Examen has become my ideal immediately-before-sleep bedtime prayer practice.

The Examen is an excellent, simply structured way to connect with God each day. Approached with an attitude of openness, it allows you to prayerfully review your day in God’s presence, expressing gratitude, recognizing your shortcomings, reflecting on your spiritual victories, and seeing how God’s will is at work in your life. Finally, it allows you to make a hopeful resolution for the day to come.

Here is the simple formula I follow for night prayer based on the Examen. I put it into a printable card format that’s nice for keeping on your nightstand or in your Bible. (Laminating it is even better!)

the EXAMEN printable

My friend, Randy Hain, also has a great post on how to pray the Examen throughout the day, which is another great idea.

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How to Amaze Jesus

*This article originally appeared on the IntegratedCatholicLife.org.

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.