Need a little spiritual shot in the arm half way through your Lenten journey? Our goal during this season of Lent is to draw closer to Christ through prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. Lent isn’t about being miserable; it’s about transformation – becoming more like Christ Himself, which can be challenging, no doubt, but the transformation we seek is purifying in a good way. Here are some good ways to step up your game over the next week or to get back on track focusing on these three pillars of Lent if you feel like your current journey hasn’t been real transformative so far.
DIRECTIONS: This is a 6-Day Lenten Boot Camp activity. I recommend you print the chart below and choose/circle one activity/practice for each day (prayer OR fasting OR almsgiving). Over the course of the whole week, try to select two choices from the “PRAY” column, two from the “FAST” column, and two from the “GIVE” column. (For example, on Monday and Thursday you can do something from the Pray column, Tuesday and Friday from Fast, and Wednesday and Saturday from Give…but you can do them in any order depending on which ideas appeal to and challenge you!)
Here are some Lenten Prayer Postcards you can print and use to let people know that you are praying for them during this holy season! (A pack of postcard paper from an office supply store works best, but you can also print on regular paper and place in envelopes.)
*The postcards are meant to accompany this Lenten Prayer Challenge.*
I always wish I would send more mail to people (who doesn’t love to receive fun mail amidst bills and unwanted mailers?) and this is a great way to pray for others AND let them know by sending them a nice Lenten-themed postcard!
“Pope Francis has said, ‘Families are the domestic church, where Jesus grows.’ The idea of the domestic church or ecclesiola — ‘little church’ — the church of the home, dates back to the early Church, where Christians made their own homes sanctioned places to grow in holiness and discipleship. Still today, Catholic families make their homes ‘churches in miniature,’ imitating the actions of the larger Church in family life.” Read more from my recent article in the National Catholic Register, Fostering Holiness: Families Create Domestic Churches.
As Pope Paul VI noted in Evangelii Nuntiandi, “there should be found in every Christian family the various aspects of the entire Church.” What are some of those various aspects? In what ways does the domestic church mirror the actions and life of the entire Church? Here are some important tips for making your home a domestic church, imitating some of the actions of the greater – big “C” – Church:
Evangelization: The Church exists to evangelize, and so does the domestic church. Both within and outside the walls of the home, spiritual leaders recognize that their chief task as baptized Christians is to share the gospel and the love of Christ with their own family members and with everyone they encounter in the parish and community.
Sacraments: As the Catechism of the Catholic Church explains, “The seven sacraments touch all the stages and all the important moments of Christian life: they give birth and increase, healing and mission to the Christian’s life of faith. There is thus a certain resemblance between the stages of natural life and the stages of the spiritual life” (CCC 1210). Spiritual leaders keep themselves and their families close to the sacraments, making the practice of them a habit that gives “birth and increase, healing and mission” to their families over the course of their lives.
Adornment of the church home: If you were to walk into the homes of many of the spiritual leaders I interviewed for this book, you would know you were in a Catholic home right when the front door opened and you crossed the threshold into the foyer. Like the Church is adorned with beauty that lifts one’s heart and mind to God, so do these domestic churches remind you of God’s presence in the church home.
Sacramentals: “Sacramentals are sacred signs instituted by the Church. They prepare men to receive the fruit of the sacraments and sanctify different circumstances of life” (CCC 1677). Through blessings (which hold a pride of place among sacramentals) and other forms and articles of popular piety (like crucifixes, rosaries, icons, statues, and holy water), the domestic church is enriched in its family life and grafted more fully into the life of the Church.
Tithing: Whether or not we like to face the fact, Jesus spoke a lot about money in the Gospels. Just read the parables. Giving of one’s “first fruits” to God is critically important for spiritual leaders—through the tithing of their treasure, talent, and time.
The domestic church is made a more active cell within the greater Church by generously giving a portion of what they have been blessed with by God.
Prayer: Strong spiritual leaders are dedicated to prayer as the Church is dedicated to prayer, especially through the celebration of the Mass, the pinnacle of the Church’s prayer life. Prayer animates everything that the Church is and does, and so spiritual heads and hearts try to grasp that same animating prayer life in their own lives and families.
If a friend spent time in your home and then spent time in your local parish church, would they see a resemblance of activity and lifestyle?
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
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)
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.
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!
Consider surprising some of your friends and relatives this Christmas with the gift of prayer. It’s always at the top of my want-list every time of year, but especially around holidays. This card makes a present topper!
As Catholics, we know that the Eucharist is the source and summit of our faith, and Mass is really the pinnacle experience of Catholic culture that we engage in every week as a family.
So here are some strategies for making the most of Mass as a family:
Review the readings before Mass. This helps the readings “sink in” better when you hear them for the second time at Mass, and reading them ahead of time also gives you the opportunity to learn their context within the greater narrative of salvation history. Reviewing the readings before Mass is also immensely helpful if you have young children who may innocently divert family members’ attention away from the readings or Gospel during the liturgy.
Sit near the front. For some, it seems counterintuitive to sit near the front of the Church, especially if you have a pew full of little ones, but being near the altar is generally immensely helpful in paying closer attention to what’s happening.
If you have little ones, explain the Mass to them as it progresses. For older children and adults, learn about the Mass at home. Little children like to have the Mass narrated to them, so they can feel like they are “in the know” with what’s happening (“Now we are going to listen to stories from the Bible.” “Now you are going to go receive a blessing from the priest, while I receive Jesus in the Eucharist!”). For older children and adults, learning about the parts of the Mass and their Scriptural roots makes the celebration of the Mass even more meaningful and engaging. (Click the links for great learning resources about the Mass!)
Dress for the occasion! Wearing your “Sunday best”
signals to your family and to others how important the Mass is to you, and sets the stage for better concentration, appreciation, and behavior.
Participate! Sing the hymns, pray the vocal prayers – be engaged! Show your family through your participation how you want to be at Mass, and they will more likely follow your example.
State your expectations and the rewards of going to Mass. Talk to your family about how one should behave at Mass (for example: quiet voices, do not disturb others, stay in the pew…), and why you go to Mass as a family (Here are some great reasons.)
Minimize distractions. This probably looks different for every family, but know what distracts you and your kids and then avoid those things! Some common distractors to all families include chewing gum, food, certain toys, or even bulletins (which are not intended to be read during Mass). My toddler has never needed toys during church (because he’s never had them offered to him), and is usually content with either nothing, or one religious book or a children’s rosary.
Go to daily Mass when you can. When people ask me why my toddler behaves so well (most of the time!) during Mass on Sunday, I respond, “We go to daily Mass; he gets a lot of practice!” Making the Mass a more regular part of your family’s routine is always, always a good thing.
Consider putting something in the collection basket, rather than tithing solely online, if you have kids in the pew. Have them participate by adding in a dollar (or a few) themselves. Watching you tithe is an important behavior to model for them.
Take turns discussing one thing you each learned from Mass that day. You can do this on the ride home or at a meal time that day, but for all who are old enough, share your one “take-away” from either the readings, homily or other prayer time during Mass and discuss how you might use that tidbit of insight or inspiration as you go through the following week.
“It would be easier for the world to survive without the sun than to do without Holy Mass.” -St. Padre Pio
I’m so glad you’ve decided to read Head & Heart, either on your own, with your spouse, or with a group! It’s a great way for other couples desiring to be strong spiritual leaders of their family to motivate one another and exchange ideas. Here are some resources to help you as you journey through the book with others:
Head & Heart Book Recommendation Announcements: designed to be used as bulletin announcements, for diocesan/parish/ministry email blasts, and for social media, these brief descriptions of the book will help encourage others to grab a copy for themselves or join a discussion group.
The Catholic Resource Guide for Spiritual Leaders: a great free resource for readers of Head & Heart and others who are looking for recommendations for tons of top-notch Catholic websites, books, audio and video resources to help you better learn and share the Catholic faith.
Head & Heart Memes: designed for use in social media to help spread the word to your Head & Heart study group – or even just to your friends or parish community – about the importance of spiritual leadership in family life. Please save and share! Also, follow me on Facebook for more images and articles related to spiritual leadership and family life to share with your networks.
Are you looking for a resource to help you live your Catholic faith at home? Through inspiring stories, church teaching, and practical action steps, Head & Heart: Becoming Spiritual Leaders for Your Family will guide you toward making simple progress to better lead and love your family toward heaven. Get your copy from EmmausRoad.org.
*These announcements can obviously be customized to your group, parish, or ministry to include other details. The book is also available on Amazon, and has both print and e-reader formats on both Amazon and EmmausRoad.org.