SummarySharing advice from an accomplished spiritual director, Cheryl Hernandez offers seven sure-fire ways to grow in holiness. Is it easy? Perhaps not, but it is simple and, like taking on a diet or a physical exercise program, it is a gradual work in progress; that will bring us closer to God.
Fulfilling our Sunday obligation by going to Mass is the bare minimum we are asked to do as Catholics. But is this enough?
The reality is that we live in a broken world, and we are trying to raise our children in increasingly secular, unholy times. But God still calls us to holiness!
He tells us to “Pray always and do not lose heart” (Luke 18:1). We need to power up — gain as much strength and grace as possible to do this momentous job of raising a holy family in today’s world — and to do it with joy and hope.
Below are seven sure-fire ways to grow in holiness. Not seven ways to avoid stress, skip over any hardships, or land on our two feet perfectly each time. But these seven daily habits, if done with the intention to grow closer to Our Lord, will give us the grace we need to grow in holiness.
Fr. John McCloskey, a priest of Opus Dei, called these the “Seven Daily Habits of Holy Apostolic People” and teaches how incorporating each one into our daily lives will result in “true happiness in this life and the vision of God in the next.”
The seven daily habits he proposes are the morning offering, spiritual reading, the Holy Rosary, Holy Mass and Communion, at least 15 minutes of mental prayer, the recitation of the Angelus at noon, and a brief examination of conscience at night.
Don’t scan the list and give up because it seems impossible! Just as a father stretches out his hands, encouraging his little toddler to take a few steps toward him, picking him up when he toddles over, props him up and encourages him to try again, Our Lord will help us as we take baby steps toward Him.
Do one thing. Just one! Master it, then add another. Keep going until these seven wonderful daily habits become an integral part of your life. And if you are raising a family, take your spouse and children along with you on this path to holiness.
Below are ways that each of these “habits” can be incorporated into family life.
1. Silent (Mental) Prayer
I am listing this first because it is the only one that needs to be done alone… which means often the best time to do this is before the children wake. Get a cup of coffee and sit for 15 minutes in front of your family’s altar, and just talk (and then listen) to God.
Try to put aside all unnecessary thoughts during this time. Nursing mothers may find the best time to pray is in the middle of the night, holding your baby, thanking God for His blessings and asking for the graces to be the mother He wants you to be. If you are able to make a “visit” to a church during the day, all the better. There is no better use of our time than spending a few minutes with Our Lord.
2. Morning Offering
Gathering the children together first thing in the morning to offer the day to Our Lord is a beautiful way to start the day. Many of the Seton religion books offer variations of a morning offering or look in your favorite prayer book.
When we “offer” our day to God, we give him everything — the good and the bad — and ask Him to sanctify our lives. The entire day becomes a prayer — a gift — to Our Lord, so we need to teach our children to offer their very best. And we can remind them (and ourselves) that when things are difficult, and we fall, Our Lord will give us the grace to persevere.
3. Spiritual Reading
This only needs to be 15 minutes. Ideally, we would do this alone so we can truly listen to God’s word and what He is saying to us. But for many homeschooling families, perhaps it would be more practical to read together.
Mom can read the New Testament aloud for a few minutes while the kids are eating breakfast, or an older child can read aloud on the way to Mass in the morning. Even if the youngest ones can’t fully understand every word you are reading, they will recognize the importance of reading Scripture each day as Mom or Dad picks up the Bible and gathers the family together.
In addition to the Bible, spiritual reading can also be found in the vast numbers of excellent Catholic books available— many written by the saints.
4. Holy Mass and Communion
Raising a family in an increasingly secular, seemingly godless, world requires incredible strength, courage, and heroic virtue. The Second Vatican Council proclaimed that the Eucharistic sacrifice is “the source and summit of the Christian life”, so there is no better way to gain the graces we need than by receiving the Eucharist daily.
Ask Our Blessed Mother to help make this a possibility. Participating in the Mass is the single greatest gift we can give to ourselves and our children. If, however, this is difficult in your situation, ask God for the graces by making a spiritual communion.
5. Angelus at Noon
This is perhaps the easiest “habit” to accomplish on a daily basis. The Angelus is a beautiful, centuries-old Catholic prayer that is typically said at dawn, noon and dusk. I know people who set their phones to ring “Angelus bells” at noon, and will stop and quietly say the prayer to themselves. Beautiful!
In our home, I ring a little bell at noon, and the kids know it is time to come together to pray the Angelus, then chores, then lunch! It is the perfect way to take a break in the school day.
6. Holy Rosary
15 minutes is all it takes to contemplate the lives of Jesus and Mary. Children, especially when taught from a very young age, love to pray the Rosary. We are teaching them to go to our Mother Mary (the shortcut to Jesus). Once they get in the habit, it is something they will cherish always.
One young priest recently told me how his grandmother every night at 8:00 would kneel down in the living room and begin praying the Rosary. Everyone was expected to join her. “We wouldn’t dream of not joining in,” he told me, “out of respect for her.”
He said that it was the memory of praying the Rosary every night with his grandmother that he attributes the most to helping him say yes when God called him to be a priest. His brother became a priest as well. I don’t know about you, but I want to be that kind of grandmother!
7. Brief Examination of Conscience at Night
Many Catholic families are already in the habit of coming together in the evening to say prayers, perhaps the Rosary. It is a wonderful habit to teach our children to pause for a few moments and think about what they have done that may have offended God that day. We can think about what we did, but perhaps also what we may have neglected to do.
When our children were very young, my husband would “help” them examine their conscience by asking general questions aloud — “Was I obedient to my mother today during school?”, “Did I play nicely with my brothers and sisters?”, etc. Then we would all say the Act of Contrition together, telling God we are sorry, recognizing His mercy, and asking for the graces to do better.
The saints, to be sure, incorporated all seven of these habits into their daily lives in one way or another. St. Pope John Paul II was one of the most prolific popes in history, and we know that much of his time every day was spent in prayer.
Probably the same can be said about other saints who managed to accomplish so much in their lifetimes, such as Mother Teresa or St. Maximilian Kolbe. I heard a priest remark recently that “the more God is the center of your life, the more He allows you to have the abundance of His life”.
Fr. McCloskey advises us that, “growing in these daily habits, just like taking on a diet or a physical exercise program, is a gradual work in progress.” He says that hastily taking on more than we should would be inviting failure, and God wants us to succeed.
Take one habit at a time, incorporate it in your life over a period of time and in a way that fits your particular situation, before attempting to take on another one. Ask Our Blessed Mother to help you. Will it be easy? No. Will it be worth it? Unquestionably, yes!
I have a quote taped to my bedroom mirror, by Ven. Bruno Lanteri, which puts things in perspective for me:
“Even if I fall a thousand times a day, a thousand times I will get up and say Nunc Coepi – Now I begin.”