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.

Want more resources for growing in faith at home, personally and with your family? Get your free Catholic Resource Guide and stay tuned for more tips and resources:

* indicates required



 

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?

Enter here to get your free Catholic Resource Guide and lots more tips, recommendations, quizzes, checklists, and resources:

* indicates required



 

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.

Get your FREE printable e-book by entering below, and stay subscribed for more free resources, practical tips, giveaways, articles, and more!

* indicates required



 

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?

Want more checklists, recommendations, tips, and Catholic resources delivered to your inbox? Sign up below, and get a free Catholic Resource guide, too!

* indicates required



 

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!

* indicates required



 

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.

Want more resources and tips like this to enhance your personal and family spiritual life? Enter your info below for a free Resource Guide, and stay subscribed for more free resources, practical tips, giveaways, articles, and more!

* indicates required



 

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.

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.

Want more how-to articles like this? Subscribe to have them sent to your inbox here (and you’ll get a free resource guide, too).