6 Simple Resources to Amplify Your Prayer Life

“What the world most needs today is prayer.  It is prayer that will give birth to all the
renewals, healings, deep and fruitful transformations we all want for society today.  This world of ours is very sick, and only contact with heaven will be able to cure it.” –Fr. Jacques Philipe 

Furthermore, any great transformation that we wish to see in ourselves thrives on the commitment and strength of our prayers.

Sometimes, though, praying can be a bit of a struggle. What to pray, how to pray, when to pray, being faithful to prayer when distractions and busy schedules get in the way, persevering in prayer when your spiritual life seems dry – all of these “obstacles” to prayer sometimes leave me in a bit of a prayer rut. That’s when I turn to some outside help to give my prayer life the kickstart it needs to keep going.

Of course, the best outside help is God Himself, who longs to draw closer to us and deepen His relationship with us through prayer. Asking God to give you the grace to move forward in your prayer life is a prayer that He no doubt loves to hear and answer.

Here are a few other resources I use to motivate me in prayer:

The Liturgy of the Hours: I feel like the Liturgy of the Hours is one of the most underutilized prayer gems by lay people in the Church today. The Laudate app is usually my preferred tool of choice for praying the Liturgy of the Hours in spare moments I can grab throughout the day, and it is such a helpful guide to calm me and connect me to God, the Source of all peace and transformation, through beautiful prayers that countless others around the world are also praying that day, too.

Thirsting for Prayer by Fr. Jacques Philippe: Having loved so many of Fr. Philippe’s other writings on the spiritual life (my favorite is Searching For and Maintaining Peace), I was eager to dive into this treatise knowing that it was no doubt going to be one of my favorite resources on prayer. Sure enough, I couldn’t stop highlighting everything as I was reading, and it has already deepened my prayer life. You can read the intro to the book here.
What Every Couple Should Know About Marriage and Prayer by Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen: This great CD/MP3 download continuously reminds me of the treasure that prayer is to my marriage. It’s also by one of my favorite saints, and I pretty much hang on every word he says. This particular talk does not disappoint.

Pray More Novenas: This great email service delivers novena prayers straight to your email inbox. It’s easy, it’s free…and most importantly, novenas are such a fantastic practice in enhancing your prayer life by capitalizing on the beautiful devotions and saintly intercessors that can help us grow in our spiritual lives.

Scripture: The Psalms, the Gospels, Paul’s letters…you name it. It’s hard to get past a few verses without finding something so rich to stop and meditate on. Yet we often completely forget to make the Bible a part of our regular prayer routine. I like to have the EWTN app on my phone to use the Bible feature when I’m on the go or not near my printed Bible.

Chapter 4 in Head & Heart on “Prioritizing Prayer”: The couples I interviewed whose stories, tips, and brutal honesty about their prayer lives made it into chapter four of this book continue to inspire me when I need it most, and I often refer to the other reflections and resources in that chapter to get me back on track when I start to lose focus in prayer.

How to “Downsize and Simplify”: The More Margin for Peace Challenge

The term “downsize and simplify” comes from my dad. When I was a little girl, he went on a retreat that changed his life. In front of the Eucharist, he heard the Lord speaking to his heart to “downsize and simplify,” leading my dad to leave his lucrative advertising year and begin working in ministry, first by founding the pro-life media apostolate VirtueMedia, and later by founding the evangelization media apostolate, Catholics Come Home.

Those of us looking for more peace in our lives and homes could always benefit from downsizing and simplifying in some way. Here are a few ideas on how to downsize and simplify and thus make more margin for peace in your life.

Downsize and simplify…

  • Your material goods: Maybe you could benefit from clearing out your closet and donating some of the clothes you don’t need to people who do need them, or maybe you can look around your home or office for other material possessions that you have in excess.
  • Your calendar: Perhaps your schedule needs some downsizing and simplifying to make more time for your family, for prayer, or for hobbies you would like to pursue.
  • Your meals: Have you considered downsizing or simplifying your meals from time to time, either in an effort to become healthier or to fast for someone who needs your spiritual support right now?

What are some other ways you can downsize and simplify in your life right now? Pick one strategy for downsizing and simplifying this week and follow through with it.

“For peace is a good so great, that even in this earthly and mortal life there is no word we hear with such pleasure, nothing we desire with such zest, or find to be more thoroughly gratifying.”—St. Augustine, City of God

 

How to Make Your Home a “Church in Miniature”

“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?

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.

 

5 Simple Ways to Affirm Your Spouse

How often do you affirm your spouse verbally? Affirmation is one small gesture that goes a long way in improving marital satisfaction and making you a leader in having a strong marriage. Mark Twain said, “I can live for two months on a good compliment.” Sometimes the simplest compliment or encouraging word from my husband makes my day a thousand times better. I could always use a reminder to do more affirming, though. Life happens, and it can be too easy to forget to say intentionally kind things to my spouse multiple times per day. So here’s my reminder – and yours – to affirm our spouses more this week.

Affirm your spouse for:

  • Who they are (“You know what, honey? You are a very giving, self-sacrificial husband.” “Hey darling, I just wanted you to know that I think you are an incredibly patient mother to our children.)
  • What they do that you appreciate (“I noticed you finished the dishes for me earlier tonight. I can’t tell you how much that helped me.” “Thanks for encouraging me to have a night out with friends tonight; it was really fun.”)
  • Their strengths and positive habits (“I love how hardworking you are; your dedication to achievement at work is a great example to the kids and to me.” “I find your quickness to forgive really admirable, and it makes me want to grow in my ability to forgive more readily, too.”)
  • Their appearance (“You look handsome in that suit jacket!” “I love that pink sweater on you.”)
  • Their spirituality (“I love when you lead our family in prayer before bedtime.” “It inspires me to see you reading the Bible in your spare time.”)

One last tip: Speak well of your spouse to others – to your kids, your parents, your spouse’s parents, your friends, coworkers…whenever you have the chance to speak positively of your spouse to someone else this week, take it. Here are some reasons why speaking well of your spouse is so important.

10 Mass Tips for Catholic Families

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. If you have little ones, explain the Mass to them as it progressesFor 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!)
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.)
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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

Head & Heart Supplemental Resources

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.

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Head & Heart Book Recommendation Announcements

HH Meme19Share your Catholic faith with your family…more than just on Sundays. Learn how to become spiritual leaders at home by ordering your copy of Head & Heart: Becoming Spiritual Leaders for Your Family from EmmausRoad.org.

Want to live a more vibrant Catholic life at home? Discover more peace, joy, and meaning in your life and relationships by becoming spiritual leaders for your family. Pick up a copy of Head & Heart: Becoming Spiritual Leaders for Your Family from EmmausRoad.org.

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.

Looking for an inspiring Catholic book? Order your copy of Head & Heart: Becoming Spiritual Leaders for Your Family from EmmausRoad.org. It’s great for individual reading, marriage improvement, and group book study. Learn to become the “spiritual head” or “spiritual heart” of your family that God created you to be.

*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.