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
is 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
    or 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, CelebrateTheFeasts.com 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
    you 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 CelebrateTheFeasts.com 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 While Juggling 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.

Most 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.

Reading 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.

This 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.

5 Signs You May Not Be Loving Your Spouse As Well As You Could Be

Some reminders I know that need from time to time:

1.    You’re focused on his/her faults more than your own.
If you’re wrapped up in all the things your spouse is or isn’t doing for you that you wish he or she would do for you, then it’s time for a shift in focus. Rather than nitpicking your spouse’s faults, ask yourself, “What am I doing or not doing right now that I could be doing to love him/her better?” This approach is guaranteed to make both of you more content.

2.    You’re not praying daily for your spouse.

Praying for your spouse is one of the greatest gifts you can offer in your marriage. Strangely enough, many of us are sometimes better at praying with our spouse than we are at praying for him or her. Make sure you offer at least one heartfelt prayer to God for your spouse each day. Something as simple as, “Lord, I ask that you bless my spouse and help him/her to know your love more deeply today” is an important yet easy offering of love you can give your spouse every day.

3.    You haven’t done an unrequested act of service for him/her in recent history.

Maybe you’re pretty good at completing tasks or favors requested of you by your spouse, but it has been a while since you’ve spontaneously done something generous and unexpected for them. Think of something you can do to make your spouse’s life easier, and then do it—and, better yet, do it with joy.

4.    You aren’t paying him/her compliments regularly.
Mark Twain said, “I can live for two months on a good compliment.” Sometimes the simplest compliment or encouraging word from you can make your spouse’s day a thousand times better. But, as we know too well, life happens, and it can be too easy to forget to say intentionally kind things to our spouse every day. So here’s a reminder to affirm your spouse more, starting now.

5.    You’re not good at giving your spouse the “benefit of the doubt.”

Conflict in marriage often comes when we assume the worst about our spouse and his/her intentions in a given situation. To love your spouse better, make an intentional decision to give him/her the benefit of the doubt the next time an uncomfortable situation arises, assuming the best about them or what they have said or done. After all, when you married your spouse you were likely great at doing this; dial back to that sort of positivity you have about him or her.

*Know a friend who could benefit from this reminder, too? Please share!*

10 Lessons from My Mom on How to Be a Great Mother

*This article originally appeared on the IntegratedCatholicLife.org in 2013. I like to re-share it every Mother’s Day!
Just a few short months ago, I became a mother, and now I am just months away from meeting my little one on his birthday in December. The blessings multiply as pregnancy continues—with every little kick and each ultrasound picture of my little boy sucking his thumb or smiling big (just like his mama) in the womb, I thank God for the opportunity to share in new life.

It is amazing how much my pregnancy has given me pause for reflection on my relationship with my own mother, and on the qualities that make her the most remarkable role model in my life. I can honestly say that my mother is the most saintly person I know — an unmatched giving, loving, patient, faithful, prayerful woman who knows her life’s work is to be a wife and mother, and boy does she live out her vocation well.

If I am half as good at being a mother as my mother is, than I think my children will be exceedingly blessed. But I certainly have my work cut out for me. Fortunately, after observing my mother’s graceful living over the past 24 years of my life, I’ve picked up on some of her unsaid but well-lived tips for being a great mom.

  1. Pray always. Literally. Every moment of every day, do everything in a spirit of prayer. The most important thing you will ever do for your children is to pray for them. And prayers change everything. They contribute more to your kids’ growth, health, happiness, and sanctity than anything else. Pray for your children and for your ability to be a good mother.
  2. Be patient. Your children will learn from you either how to explode under pressure and anger or how to be composed, loving, and patient. Even when frustration levels are high, look at your family members as if they were little Christs, little souls whom you are called to love and practice patience with, even in the most trying of circumstances.
  3. Love and respect your husband. Your children will see you do it, and observing your marriage will impact the kind of marriage they desire and have of their own someday. If you disagree with your husband, don’t disagree with him verbally in front of the children. Always have your spouse’s back, and then discuss any disagreements in private. Show your children that you are an unbreakable team.
  4. First be your children’s mother, then and only after, their friend. Too many parents are overly concerned with being liked, and sometimes you won’t be liked. You won’t be liked when you discipline your kids or you challenge them to do the right, but hard, thing. And though you won’t always be liked, if you really do what is best for your children, you will always be loved.
  5. Practice self-sacrifice and unconditional love. Kids are, by their nature, demanding. They require your love, attention, service, wisdom, and so much more in order to develop into holy, mature adults. Raising a virtuous child requires a unique degree of self-sacrificial love. Abandon selfishness, and you will not only raise holier children who see your example, but you will become more Christ-like in the process. “So faith, hope, love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” 1 Corinthians 13:13
  6. Become best friends with Our Blessed Mother. Pray the Rosary often to receive strength from the world’s greatest mother: Mary. She will be your ultimate companion in motherhood—your best friend. Fly to her in your times of need, in your moments of rejoicing, and when your heart is aching. She will comfort you and dance with you as a Mother, to give you the grace to be a better mother yourself.
  7. Celebrate life with your kids. Tell your kids what a joy it is to be a mother, and that there is nothing greater than giving life and raising children, so they will always be encouraged to fight for and embrace life. Celebrate life with your daughters and sons as they begin to have their own children. Relive the excitement of your own early motherhood with them as they experience their baby’s first hiccups and kicks in the womb, their births, and the many memories made over years to come.
  8. Talk about and teach about Jesus and your Catholic Faith constantly, but more importantly, live the life of Jesus in your every day actions. Be unmistakable Catholic inside and outside the home, and do it with joy. When your children see how fulfilling it is to live a Christ-centered Catholic life and how it enriches your family, they will want that for themselves and their own families, too.
  9. Be silly. No need to be the world’s most serious mother. Be playful. Make up your
    own lyrics to popular songs and dance like nobody (but your children) is watching. Tickle often. Your children will appreciate your spirited outlook on life and will learn from you that every day is a gift to be cherished and with which to have fun!
  10. Trust. Trust Jesus, trust your husband, trust your children, and let them see you trusting with all your might. In a culture where homes are filled with stress, be a home filled with peace and confidence in God’s will for you and your family.

Blessed Mother Teresa once said, “The woman is at the heart of the home. Let us pray that we women realize the reason for our existence: to love and be loved, and through this love become instruments of peace in the world.”

Every one of these lessons my mother has lived out and continues to practice to the utmost extent. Thank you, Mother, for teaching me how to be a great mom, for teaching me how to love and be loved and become an instrument of peace in our broken world. You are going to be an extraordinary grandmother. I hope I do you proud, so my children can hand down these lessons that they learn from me someday.

CLICK HERE for your Free Mother’s Day Printable Spiritual Bouquets!

How to Make This Year More Meaningful for Your Family: 7 Ideas

This article is originally published at the IntegratedCatholicLife.org.

Perhaps you’ve made a number of resolutions already to make this year a personal best.
Here’s a list of some doable ways that you can experience more growth and fulfillment as a family this year.

1. Develop a mission for your family.

To avoid aimlessly wandering through another year, set aside time to come up with a central focus, a guiding mission or purpose for your family, that will help you live this year (and the years to come) more intentionally. There is a step-by-step how-to exercise in this book to help you come up with a mission unique to your family, or, in more free-form style, you can discuss your family’s gifts, spiritual goals, and desired relationship outcomes for the year and write them down in a brief, clear way, so that you can all refer to it and make decisions according to it throughout the year. (This idea is immensely helpful in keeping your family “on track” spiritually as the weeks and months go by. Examine your mission, strategies, or defined priorities regularly, and adjust your lifestyle and habits accordingly.

2. Hold family meetings.

Meetings seem to be way more common in the business world than in family life, but they can be extremely beneficial in helping your family have a more meaningful year, individually and as a unit. Here are some simple tips for how to hold a family meeting.  Regular family meetings, whether weekly or monthly, have so many tangible benefits, allowing you to
strengthen your spiritual leadership, sharpen communication skills in your family, intentionally pray together, inculcate essential family values, and reduce stress.

3. Live the liturgical calendar.

Make an effort to celebrate feast days—at least solemnities, the highest ranking of feast days in the liturgical calendar—at home this year with your family. Here is a helpful feast day email reminder service, with occasional feast day email alerts, articles to learn a little about each feast, and simple ideas to celebrate the solemnity at home. Living the liturgical calendar at home will help your family feel more connected to the celebrations and life of the Church throughout the year.

4. Pick a patron saint and a spotlight virtue.

Select a saint to be a special intercessor for your family this year. This saint name generator can randomly select a saint for you, if you don’t already have one in mind. Include this saint regularly in your prayers and learn about the life of this special saint as a family this year. Additionally, consider picking a “spotlight virtue,” a virtue that you will focus on growing in as a family this year (examples include generosity, patience, charity, hope, etc.). Consider displaying your saint and your virtue in a prominent place so as to serve as a reminder to pray for the saint’s intercession and to practice the particular chosen virtue on a regular basis.

5. Rejuvenate your marriage.
Make a commitment to liven up your marriage this year in some way. Consider setting aside time for a planned regular date night or a dedicated time interval every evening after the kids go to bed to chat and reconnect—even if only for 15 minutes—before you complete the remaining frenzy of tasks that the evening holds. The sky is the limit with this hack; think of some way you want to commit to marital improvement this year (maybe even by reading a marriage-building book together) and make it happen.

6. Refocus on keeping Sundays holy/peaceful.

Sundays are the key to personal and family peace. Check out these simple ways to “keep holy the Sabbath” and commit to at least a few of them in your home this year. It will really change the way you live and relate to one another and to God, not only on Sunday, but throughout the rest of the week as well.

7. Prioritize prayer and sacraments.

Start every day with prayer this year, even if it’s short. Pray as a family before you begin the hectic activities of the day (for example, an Our Father, a Hail Mary, and a Glory Be or The Morning Offering). Set aside at least 15 minutes a day for private, silent, reflective prayer; bring along your Bible to this prayer time for words on which to reflect! Consider having a short family prayer time after dinner, when everyone is already gathered together (a decade of the Rosary is usually a doable length of time, even for little ones). Finally, make sure to get to Mass every Sunday. Plan your whole week around it. Confession once a month will also have a drastically positive impact on your spiritual growth this year.

For a more in-depth look at how you can make your Catholic family life more vibrant and meaningful, read this book, which unpacks these 7 ideas (and more), offering practical strategies for implementing spiritual leadership principles at home.

 

How to Hold a Family Meeting

Pat Lencioni, Catholic father and CEO of the management consulting firm The Table Group, firmly believes in the need to put as much intentionality into family life as one does in professional life. When he and I chatted about some of the overlap between family organizational principles and business management, he mentioned something companies do that families often don’t do, but should: hold family meetings. Family meetings are intended to promote better organization, establish a climate for more effective teamwork, and build stronger relationships among family members. Holding meetings with your family on a regular—preferably weekly—basis ultimately helps create more authentic Christian culture in the home.

If you are looking for a way to strengthen your spiritual leadership, sharpen communication skills in your family, intentionally pray together, inculcate essential family values, and reduce stress, then family meetings are your answer.

Ready to implement meetings in your family? Here are some pointers:

  1. Aim for a weekly gathering. More than weekly, and you’ll likely experience overload and burnout; less than weekly, and you will probably find that it doesn’t have as strong as an impact on your family’s spirituality and communication. Be sure to pick a time that works for everyone’s schedule. Sunday evenings works well for many families. Make the family meeting one of the top priorities of the week. Consistency is key, and eventually, holding family meetings will become an almost effortless activity on your family calendar.
  1. Decide, as a leadership team (you and your spouse), on a general outline for your meetings. Before your first meeting, come up with a plan of attack for your meeting’s structure, for example: opening prayer, topic introduction by the spiritual head, discussion, and closing prayer (in which everyone offers a special intention), a song, game, or dessert (or conclude with all of them!). It may take a few meetings to find out what structure works well with your family, given your children’s ages and
    unique personalities. Flexibility is critical! Your meetings may vary greatly in length due to attention spans and amount of involvement each time, and that is entirely okay.
  1. Pick a discussion topic. This could be just about anything. Be creative, and be open to discussing both practical topics (how the chore chart is working, who needs help with what projects, how everyone is getting along with each other), learning topics (a short book or article study, life skills lessons like budgeting, table manners, how to exercise good citizenship, or ethical decision making) and fun topics (sharing highlights of the week, things you are grateful for, or brainstorming family fun days). Whatever you do, involve everyone in the discussion. Family meetings are not a time for your children to hear you ramble. If you don’t engage them, you will lose their attention.
  1. Bring your faith into it. Find creative ways to center your meeting around faith. In addition to prayer, consider picking a “virtue of the week” that your family will focus on practicing better, and then you can discuss how you all did exercising the chosen virtue at the next meeting. Other ideas for infusing faith into the meeting include picking a saint’s life to learn about or reading and acting out a parable from the Gospels. The options to make your meetings God-centered are endless.

Family meetings are opportunities to strengthen your spiritual leadership and regularly benchmark how your family is doing relating to one another and to God. Use these meetings to evaluate what is working well in your family, what isn’t, and what little changes you can make or what small things you can do to become more loving, communicative, service-oriented, and happy family members in the week to come. These meetings should remind you that drawing closer to God’s will for your family is done one baby step—one week—at a time. Rejoice in the process, the progress, and in all of the little moments and memories in between.

A Simple Activity for Celebrating the Epiphany at Home

A few friends of mine recently asked how we are celebrating the Epiphany at our house this year, so I thought I’d share the main Epiphany activity in the Warner home.

On January 6th, after a few days into the New Year of reflection, discernment, and prayer, each of us will come up with the three gifts we’ll offer to Jesus this year, commemorating the three gifts offered to Jesus by the magi. These are essentially our “spiritual resolutions” for the coming months, which serve as ways to draw closer to Jesus and give Him the gift of ourselves, particularly exhibited in these three unique and sometimes more challenging ways during the remainder of the year.
As with most goals, including spiritual ones, we will aim to make our gifts:

  • Heartfelt and thoughtful
  • Attainable
  • Specific and measurable (maybe you’ll tackle one gift per calendar quarter – 4 month – period, so you really have time to focus on completing that gift/goal)
  • Challenging
  • Christ-centered
  • Written (I recommend writing your spiritual goals/gifts down and placing them in a box beneath the tree labeled “Epiphany Gifts for Jesus” or something like that. You can take turns sharing each of your three gifts with the rest of the family – which is great for encouragement and accountability throughout the year – or choose to keep them private, between you and Jesus. Just make sure you end up with a written copy of your gifts to look at on a daily or weekly basis so you stick to them this year!)

Here are just some ideas of gifts you can offer Jesus on the Epiphany:

  • Commitment to a new devotion: the Divine Mercy Chaplet in the 3 p.m. hour every day, daily Mass one or more times a week, adoration once a week, a daily Rosary, praying the Angelus before or after mealtimes, going to Confession once a month, and so forth.
  • Choosing a “pet faith-based subject”/a specific area of the faith you are interested in to learn more about and teach others about. (Here are some resources to help you!)
  • Commitment to join a new ministry, initiate a volunteer project, or participate in spiritual and corporal works of mercy at your parish.
  • Choosing and learning about a special/patron saint for the year. (Use this saint name generator to choose a saint for the year!)
  • Commitment to reading a spiritual book (or several) this year.
  • Completing this bucket list of ways to be merciful.
  • Selecting a different person to pray for, offer sufferings for, and show charity toward each day…even and especially people that are harder to love!

 

If you pop your name and email address in the box below this article, you can get access to some great free materials that will also help with this activity, like the Virtue-Focused Year and my Spiritual Goal Planning worksheet.

Be creative! This exercise should draw you closer to Christ this year and make you more attentive to the selfless act of gift-giving at the end of the Christmas season. Maybe you’ve received many thoughtful gifts from others over the past 12 days…this is your chance to offer something wonderful to Jesus!

 

3 Simple Ways to Better Serve Your Spouse

Saint Teresa of Calcutta said, “The fruit of love is service.” Serving our spouse requires us to give something of ourselves, usually in some sort of physical, emotional, or spiritual way, anticipating and responding to our spouse’s needs. Hopefully, we go beyond meeting basic needs in our service and exceed our spouse’s expectations in our love for him or her, by serving our spouse as we would desire to serve Christ in our midst. Most of us – at least this is the case for me – find that this is more difficult than it sounds, especially when you’re feeling tired, overworked, or spend time an inordinate amount of time mentally conjuring up different ways you’d like your spouse to be serving you.

Here are some simple ways you can serve your spouse:

  • Completing a task that would help them without being asked. Updating the budget, doing a home improvement chore, running an errand of his/hers – it’s not too difficult to get creative with this one.
  • Being there for him/her when you’re needed. Put aside something you’re doing and give them your time, especially when you know they could use your emotional attention and physical presence.
  • Offering your spiritual support. My friends Annie and John-Paul talk about their prayer for one another being a “spiritual sign of love” for each other. Serve your spouse spiritually by praying for them this week: say a Rosary for your spouse, offer up Mass for him or her, or start a novena for his/her intentions.

One last tip: See your seemingly monotonous duties this week (your regular work schedule, chores around the home, etc.) as real opportunities to serve your spouse by fulfilling your irreplaceable role within your marriage and family. Doing those little things with great love demonstrates to your spouse that it is a joy to serve your marriage and family in any small way.

4 Simple Ways to Express Joy in Your Marriage

Saint Teresa of Calcutta is quoted as saying, “Let anyone who comes to you go away feeling better and happier. Everyone should see goodness in your face, in your eyes, in your smile. Joy shows from the eyes. It appears when we speak and walk. It cannot be kept closed inside us. It reacts outside. Joy is very infectious.” How often do you exude this kind of joy in your own home? Would your spouse say this is the state in which he/she encounters you on a daily basis? This week, let’s take a cue from this holy woman, who wedded herself to Christ, and imitate her great joy in our own marriages.

Some simple ways to express joy in your marriage:

  • Showing affection. Joy is often beautifully expressed in simple physical gestures – holding hands, giving an unexpected big squeeze hug, leaving love notes in lunch boxes or on bathroom mirrors. Do more of that this week.
  • Sharing an activity or hobby together. What is something you both enjoy doing that you haven’t done together in a while? This week, plan a time to do an activity or a hobby you share – go for a bike ride, cook together, see a movie, explore a new place…
  • Laughing/having a sense of humor. Don’t take yourselves too seriously this week. Reminisce together about funny stories from your past. Watch a comedy sketch together (Jim Gaffigan is a Catholic and family-friendly option!). Don’t let stress play too big of a role in your relationship this week, and laugh at yourself when little things go awry.
  • Capitalizing on a few of your spouses “favorite things:” *Cue Julie Andrew’s voice in The Sound of Music*: “Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens…” What are a few of your spouses favorite things? Watch their favorite movie, buy their favorite ice cream, make their favorite dinner, buy them a book they’ve been wanting…do, purchase, or make a “favorite thing” of theirs happen this week.

One last tip: Celebrate together this week! It doesn’t have to be a major occasion; celebrate something small: a little victory at work, an at-home project completed, the fact that you made it through a difficult day. Celebrating together => joy.

 

6 Simple Ways to Improve Conflict in Marriage

Leaders are made or broken in times of conflict. Often, when I think I am spiritually leading my family with my best foot forward, I have a conflict with my spouse that I handle in a terribly ungraceful way. Part of what drew my husband and I together was passion, and that same passion can just as easily tear us apart when we become impassioned with being right, proving a point…or being lousy at apologies and forgiveness. Focusing on better apologies and more forgiveness are powerful ways to strengthen your marriage.

Learn to become more graceful at apologizing and forgiving with these small steps and techniques:

  • Say the words “I’m sorry.” These word really do carry significant meaning, and often just hearing them lifts a heaviness from the conflict, becoming that first crucial step toward reconciliation.
  • Do not add qualification. I regularly fight the temptation to say, “I’m sorry, but….” This week, just avoid the buts.
  • Accept responsibility. Your spouse deserves more from you. It’s pretty important to acknowledge that. Take responsibility when you inflict harm on them, no matter how serious and avoid the temptation to justify your actions by somehow blaming them for the offense (“If you had a better sense of humor, you wouldn’t have been upset by my comment”).
  • Express genuine empathy. Nothing falls flatter and escalates a conflict more than an insincere apology. Take the time to understand why your spouse was hurt by what you did or said, and put yourself in their shoes, genuinely seeking to feel their hurt so you can better express regret for being the cause of their pain. Yes, look outside yourself…marriage gives us plenty of practice in this.
  • Make up for it. Offer some form of compensation for the hurt you inflicted. This doesn’t have to be an expensive bouquet of roses or something (though I’ve never refused that gesture…), but can be as simple as a hug – if it’s wanted, of course.
  • Forgive truly and repeatedly. How easily we forget what Scripture has to say about forgiveness: “For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father also will forgive you; but if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” Could Jesus be any clearer? Be ready to forgive 70 x 7, knowing forgiveness brings a great deal of relief to both the offender and the offended, and forgive with your whole heart. Rather than saying, “It’s okay,” verbalize the actual words, “I forgive you”…and mean it.

One last thing: The ability to apologize and forgive well is largely dependent on your reliance on Christ’s love to help you grow in that marriage builder. Pope Francis told a group of married couples, “The love of Christ is able to sustain [the union of husband and wife] and to renew it when, humanly speaking, it becomes lost, wounded, or worn out.” Pray this week that you can better accept Christ’s love and pour that same love into your spouse’s life.