Prayer Life

I’ve started and stopped writing this blog post many times. At first it was just supposed to be informational and light; but the further I dug, the more frustrated I became. I thought I had a pretty good handle on Sacramentals, but I was wrong.

The more definitions of “sacramental” I found, the more frustrated I grew. I felt like I was getting farther and farther away from understanding what they actually were and how they fit into our Catholic faith.

 

Sacramentals Defined

According to the Catechism (CCC #1667)  Sacramentals “are sacred signs which bear a resemblance to the sacraments. They signify effects, particularly of a spiritual nature, which are obtained through the intercession of the Church. By them men are disposed to receive the chief effect of the sacraments, and various occasions in life are rendered holy.

Ummm… I still didn’t quite get it.

I knew that rosaries and scapulars were sacramentals; I also knew the list was longer than that, but I couldn’t quite understand what made a sacramental a sacramental.

And because I, as a person who works with rosaries, scapulars, and all things Catholic objects all day long, felt confused, I guessed that there were others out there in the same boat: You know they exist, they help in prayer life, but it just never felt super important to have a solid understanding of what a sacramental is or isn’t.

In light of this, I’ve been reading up! And here’s what I’ve found.

 

Sacrament vs Sacramental

As Jesus instituted the Seven Sacraments, the Church has instituted sacramentals.

The clearest definition I’ve found comes from Julie Dortch Cragon: “Sacramentals are items, actions, and blessings that remind us to be faithful, to pray, to love one another and to be grateful to our God.”

While Sacraments are signs and instruments of God’s grace, the role of Sacramentals is to magnify the grace of the sacraments. They show us what is holy and “draw us into a deeper devotion and prayer.” (Cragon’s Amazing Graces – The Blessings of Sacramentals)

Below are examples of Sacramentals under their 3 different forms – Actions, Blessings and Items. These are by no means comprehensive, but I find that examples help me understand the abstract better.

 

Actions

A few weeks back I had written about crossing our head, lips and heart before the Gospel at Mass. This is a sacramental. It reminds us to be witnesses to God’s Word.

A few more actions:

The Sign of the Cross

Ringing the bells during the liturgy of the Eucharist

Pilgrimage

Sprinkling Holy Water

 

Blessings

Prayers, scripture and the accompanying gestures are used to bless tools, people and experiences like pilgrimages and quinceañeras.

The clergy are not the only one able to bestow blessings (although they are certainly needed for blessing that call for a little more fire power. “[T]he more a blessing concerns ecclesial and sacramental life, the more is its administration reserved to the ordained ministry (bishops, priests, or deacons” (CCC 1669)

In baptism we laypeople are called to bless. Even a step farther, Luke 6:28 tells us to ‘Bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” So be liberal with spreading those blessings!

 

Items

Blessed items, beyond rosaries and scapulars, are considered sacramentals when they are blessed and are used to sanctify ourselves.

The Catechism (1670) tells us that the list of items that can become sacraments is boundless. “There is scarcely any proper use of material things which cannot be thus directed toward the sanctification of men and the praise of God.”

A few more common sacramental items include:

Candles, Advent Wreaths, Altar Linens, Pictures and Statues of saints, Medals, and Relics. Really, the list is inexhaustible.

 

Sacramentals in your life

We often talk about bringing more prayer into our lives. Using sacramentals helps us on this quest. Creating habits around them like crossing ourselves when we wake up in the morning, enrolling in a scapular, or keeping a bottle of holy water handy all serve us in completing the meaning of our lives: Get to Heaven.

 

The soul who blesses will prosper, whoever satisfies others will also be satisfied.” Proverbs 11:25

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Choosing a Catholic Devotion

When you have the perfect Catholic devotion, it is present in everything you do.

The beautiful fall weather has started and I keep trying to find excuses to be outside. Last night I attacked the thistles in my yard until the dark and mosquitoes chased me inside. Throughout my task, Anna Nuzzo‘s rendition of the Divine Mercy Chaplet kept going through my mind – my devotional earworm. I would find myself half-way through a decade, the prayers subconsciously counted off on my gloved fingers.

I did not seek out a devotion, but the Divine Mercy found me. I picked up a pamphlet one day and that was that. I was sold and haven’t missed a day of praying the chaplet since. It’s the first habit I’ve ever picked up so effortlessly.

The overwhelm of choice

Every day here at Discount Catholic Products I am surrounded by an innumerable selection of devotional tools. To just pick a devotion from the multitudes would be a daunting task for anyone. We humans when faced with too many choices usually default to no choice for fear of being wrong.

Granted, there is no “wrong” when choosing a devotion, but making any choice triggers Fear of Missing Out. Think of the last time you had to order from a menu and couldn’t decide between 2 or 3 entrees. Just like ordering 3 entrees leads to discomfort, regret and a large bill, having too many devotions leads to mechanical prayer, frustration and overwhelm while trying to “just get ’em all done.”

What is a devotion?

Catholic Devotions are ways of showing love for the Holy Trinity (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit), the Blessed Virgin Mary and the angels and saints. It’s not a single prayer, or a check mark that you “completed it”; a devotion is an ongoing consciousness of your dedication to offering everything you have and do. It is keeping the devotion top of mind throughout every day, and bringing your spiritual life into your every day life.

Why a devotion?

The USCCB points out that while the Liturgy is the center of the life of the Church, the time between attending mass should be filled with prayer as well. This is where devotions come in. “Popular devotional practices play a crucial role in helping to foster ceaseless prayer…. Popular devotional practices do not replace the liturgical life of the Church; rather, they extend it into daily life.”

To Begin a Devotion

So start with one. Simplicity in devotion is best.

Which one? Start with this list from the Knights of Columbus or these Eucharistic devotions from Loyola Press. Catholic devotions are too many to list, a sample being the rosary, litanies, saints, novenas, scapulars, Seven Sorrows, consecration, and chaplets. Don’t let the plethora of devotions detract you, though. Pick the first one that calls to you and do a little research, and pray about it.

Choose whichever devotion that

  1. Helps you meditate on the life, passion, death and resurrection of Christ;
  2. Brings you closer to the Church; and
  3. You know you can be faithful to and build a habit around.

A devotion is a means to an end. If the focus you chose is not helping you fill your heart with love for God and and your fellow man, try something different.

And this is my prayer: that your love may increase ever more and more in knowledge and every kind of perception. Phil 1:9

Tell us: What is your devotion and how/why did you pick it?

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Everywhere I turn these days I seem to encounter athletes. One of my friends did a half IronMan this last weekend, we’re in the middle of the Olympics, and I recently learned about Sister Madonna Buder, about whom Nike recently made a great commercial.

Sr. Madonna’s story is fantastic. She has completed over 40 IronMan competitions – for the uninitiated the race includes a 2.4 mile swim, a marathon run, and 112 bike ride, for a total of 140.62 miles in under 17 hours. Oh… and she’s 86.

It’s all very intimidating or inspiring… I can’t decide which one. I’m not a complete couch potato – I play on a few rec leagues, but what these people can physically accomplish is amazing. It makes me want to go out and run a mile. 

My mom always said that I shouldn’t use the word hate. So I won’t.

I very strongly dislike running. VERY strongly.

I love mowing the lawn. I have a super old Dixon lawn mower and for 2 and half hours every weekend I get to mow the lawn. It’s very mesmerizing.

What do these two thing have in common? They are great times for prayer. 

I’m particularly fond of the Divine Mercy Chaplet (I found the one sung by Angelina on Google Play is my favorite) when I’m mowing. It is such a powerful prayer and when sung, it adds time for me to meditate on each iteration of “For the sake of His Sorrowful Passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world.” It’s beautiful and moving and very personally meaningful.

Then there’s running. Did I tell you how I feel about running? Well that hasn’t changed in the last 4 paragraphs. I don’t like to do it.

However, prayer is a great tool for my mental game when I run. It not only keeps my mind busy, but it also helps me keep tempo and sets milestones for marking my run. (Tip – Rosary Rings work really well for this.)

The man who teaches the adult education classes at my church swims as he prays the rosary. He says he can spend an entire half hour on a single mystery.  That is inspiring.

So with rosary ring securely around my finger, I run. I run the rosary. And the results are a slightly better soccer game, physical well-being and an inner satisfaction that can only come from the grace of God.

 

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This week my sweet daughter Joy is taking the helm. She was pretty stoked about World Youth Day and wanted to lend her voice to the conversation. I also think she may be missing school just a little bit.

So Joy, darling, take it away:

Going into every spiritual retreat, whether that be SEARCH, Totus Tuus, or a diocese youth conference, expectations arise and are, more frequently than not, met. There is also the rare occasion where an event that I didn’t participate in had an effect on my spiritual life.

I experienced that previously this year on the March for Life, where I had many friends get stuck on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, and I was able to see their effect on the world, a world which had, earlier, chosen to ignore the large number of buses from across the United States to peacefully protest.

I was blessed enough to experience the same world-wide feeling of unity reading about World Youth Day. The gathering, starting in 1984 by Saint John Paul II with 300,000 responsive youth has grown to hundreds of thousands of young people from all over the world to gather to hear Pope Francis’s message of hope: “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy” (Matthew 5:7).

The amount of people that are still open to God’s love continues to prove Saint John Paul II’s questions to still be true: “Who claimed that today’s youth has lost their sense of values? Is it really true that they cannot be counted on?”

This year Pope Francis focused on the idea of mercy, encouraging the young people of the world to not be afraid to trust in mercy and in the hope of a better future. He said “People may judge you to be dreamers because you believe in a new humanity, (…) one that refuses to see borders as barriers and can cherish its own traditions without being self-centered or small-minded.”

It was in this way that Pope Francis encouraged the young generation to guide the world into being better by being merciful. It was in the number of youth responding that encourages hope in a more merciful world.

For me this means that I can live with less fear because God’s mercy is in my future. So any pain from today is temporary. There’s a happily-ever-after.

So that means I can contribute to the revolution without fear. I can go to daily Mass during the summer, or go early on Sunday to pray the rosary or Divine Mercy chaplet. I can make the revolution grow by inviting my friends to come with me, knowing that any pain of rejection or judgement would be temporary.

JPII started a revolution to last for centuries. The symbol of the Youth Day Cross, symbolizing the love of Christ for humanity, entrusted to the youth, gives hope in mercy, starting with little acts. How can you start the revolution for mercy this week?

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Dealing with a Prayer Desert

The last day of prayer of the Divine Mercy Novena is dedicated to “Lukewarm hearts.”

And sometimes I worry that it’s referring to me.

It comes and goes, stays for different lengths of time – days or months. There doesn’t seem to be any rhythm or particular trigger. It just appears on my heart without warning. A prayer desert. 

Ugh.

A prayer desert for me is when I’m just not “feeling it” when I pray. My prayers feel rote, my imagination wanders, and there’s a lack of connection. And it’s miserable.

Mother Theresa famously had a thirst for God that she couldn’t quench. 

Can you relate? If so, here are a few tools I use to find an oasis in the desert.

  1. Recognize where you are, and where you want to be. And tell God. And keep telling Him. James 4:8 says “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.” Be explicit in what you are experiencing.
  2. Go to confession/Adoration/Mass – Immerse yourself in spiritual experiences offered by the Church.
  3. Try a different form of prayer – The rosary, pick a novena, Lectio Divina, sing, silence, read the Psalms.
  4. Adult religious education classes/bible study – I love the adult education at my church because it not only gives me a chance to ask [dumb] questions, but I can surround myself with other people who are yearning to learn more. If your parish doesn’t offer classes, perhaps a nearby parish does.
  5. Get out of your comfort zone and serve. Soup kitchen, litter cleanup, retirement home, Big Brothers Big Sisters. Put yourself in situations to see Jesus in other people.
  6. Rinse and repeat – just do it. If worse comes to worse, slog it out. Don’t give up!

Have you ever had this experience? What do you do?

Divine Mercy Novena

Find all things Divine Mercy

Blessed Sacrament Chaplet

Find the chaplet for your chosen devotion.

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One of the most difficult classes I took in college was Honors Religion. One concept that we discussed for weeks was “the numinous” – holy spaces – or more specifically – What is it about certain spaces that give them an aura of “holy”?

This discussion has stuck with me and gets dug up in my brain every time I encounter a place that rings the bell of “numinous” just so. Blue Cloud Abbey outside of Marvin, SD was one of those places.

Blue Cloud was founded in 1950 by a group of 40 Benedictine monks.

The monastery was a self-sustaining community with the mission of ministering to Native American tribes. Over the years, the brothers also successfully managed a popular retreat center for groups and individuals.

So a few years ago when the monks were shuttering the Abbey and relocating to different monasteries across the United States, it came as a particularly devastating blow.

Not only had we spent every Christmas Eve night well into Christmas morning (about 1:30 AM) at Blue Cloud, but we had seen the innards of the Abbey and the handiwork of the monks.

The Abbey had a smell to it, and sound quality that I’ve never experienced anywhere else. The long stone hall with the beautiful stained glass held my attention through hours of masses even as a very small child. The long lines of monks processing in before mass and singing hymns that echoed off the walls made of solid, massive, smooth stones – the effect was something so holy, and so tranquil that it has stayed with me all these years.

After Sunday Mass, we would all file down to the large dining room in the basement. I was mesmerized by the honey dippers in wooden bowls of honey – from bees on the grounds of the abbey and cared for by bee-keeping monks. We helped ourselves to cookies and juice, and while the adults talked we went exploring. We rolled down the grassy hills, stared in awe at the native art, and perused the gift shop at length until we knew the inventory by heart.

When I was older I discovered a treasury of fabrics and notions in a workroom where priests’ vestments were made by the monks. They kept cattle and gardens. The grounds were vast and supported the monks in their ministry.

So when news came that the monks could no longer support themselves and care for the grounds due to their aging population, the fact that they were selling Blue Cloud Abbey came as devastating news.

After what felt like years on the market (perhaps it was) a group of Catholic families banded together to buy the Abbey.

What a relief! They have methodically and painstakingly restored little bits of the Abbey at a time. And while the church has been decommissioned, the space maintains it’s numinous quality. The beautiful stained glass has been retained.

And while they are not allowed to call the facility Blue Cloud Abbey, The Abbey of the Hills has become a retreat center, concert hall, outdoor recreation center and so much more.

I am so proud of my 6th grade teacher, Mrs. Rausch, and the other people who breathed life back into the Abbey. I am so grateful for the sacrifices they have made to do it.

So if for any reason you are in northeast South Dakota, or your looking for an excuse or a retreat, please consider visiting the Abbey of the Hills.

What about you? What is a numinous space in your life that has somehow gone through a transformation, but retained its holy quality?

Enrich your prayer life with a deep selection of Chaplets. This encyclopedia book lists over 170 chaplets and Rosaries with prayers.

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My husband will confirm that I’m not the most outgoing person. I get nervous in rooms full of strangers. The idea of introducing myself to people and starting a conversation from scratch gives me the heeby-jeebies. (Oddly, I love public speaking… but that’s beside the point.)

Pentecost is this Sunday and when I place myself in the position of the apostles in that house where the Holy Spirit filled them, those same feelings creep over me. I recognize that we are all called to evangelize… and that scares me. I think of all the ways that I am not following this call.

The Pentecost was a huge beginning for the apostles. Speaking in tongues they left for foreign lands to evangelize. Holy cow! Seriously! The transformation from timidity to strength and and faith was immediate. The gift of fortitude helped them to follow this calling.

[The seven gifts] make the soul capable of taking in the special lights and inspirations He sends in a much higher way than what is had in ordinary graces. We do not notice much of any effects from these Gifts until we have advanced rather far in the spiritual life, for great docility and purity of heart are needed. (EWTN)

It’s good to remind myself of these gifts. In case you need a refresher as well:

  1. Wisdom – desire to contemplate God and good things from Him
  2. Understanding – allows us to understand our Catholic faith
  3. Knowledge – guides us through life and helps understand God
  4. Counsel – guides what actions we should take
  5. Fortitude – strength to follow through through Counsel
  6. Piety – desire to worship and serve God
  7. Fear of the Lord – desire not to sin or offend God, acknowledge our dependence on Him

The trick is, that once these gifts are given to us, we need use them and hone them. In order for these gifts to be at their full potential in our lives, we need to keep growing in our spiritual lives.

And that’s where it gets tricky for me. When I’m feeling short on fortitude, it’s my own doing. I’m reminded of my need for the God in my life and all the ways I’m failing to abide in Him.

That’s why Pentecost makes me nervous. I could be doing SO MUCH BETTER.

This week I’m praying for counsel and fortitude. It is sometimes a long leap between the “should do” from Counsel to the “do it” of fortitude.

What gift of the Holy Spirit do you most identify with? Which do you wish was stronger? Comment below.

Novena to the Holy Spirit

Seven Swans Swimming Ornament (Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit)

Holy Spirit Chaplet

Continue reading Why Pentecost makes me nervous

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Journey with Christ through the Stations of the Cross

Pilgrims carry a big, wooden cross — its upper, horizontal beam resting on the shoulders of those in front, and its vertical beam held by six or so hands on the left and right. It is winter, and these Catholics in heavy coats, along with those around and behind them, trace the final steps of Jesus in the old city of Jerusalem, mostly around busy, narrow streets now lined with tourist shops and some emitting the odor of a marketplace. This is the Via Dolorosa, the “Way of Suffering” or “Way of Sorrows,” the path that Jesus took from Pilate’s praetorium all the way to His tomb. The procession consists of 14 stops, now called the Way of the Cross or Stations of the Cross.

 

Origin

This popular devotion originated in the Holy Land. Tradition maintains that the Blessed Mother would make daily visits to the scenes of her Son’s Passion, and St Jerome (342-420), who lived in Israel in his latter days, confirmed that crowds of pilgrims from different countries would visit these holy places.

Many of the faithful longed to practice this devotion, but were unable to make the actual pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Thus, the Church saw it fitting to “reproduce” these sites. For example, as early as the fifth century, St Petronius, Bishop of Bologna, commissioned the construction of chapels at the monastery of San Stefano in Bologna to represent the more important shrines in the Holy Land, including several stations.

In 1342, the Franciscans were tasked as guardians of the holy places. And in 1462, an English pilgrim named William Wey described the manner by which these scenes were approached, calling them “stations.” By the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, various reproductions of the Stations could already be found in different parts of Europe. Today, the Stations of the Cross can be found in parishes all over the world.


The Way of the Cross - Stations of the Cross Book according to St. Alphones Liguori

Carry this nail token to remind yourself of Jesus' sacrifice for us.


 

The Stations of the Cross

As stated earlier, the Stations of the Cross call to mind specific scenes from Jesus’ Passion and Death. They are the following:

  1. Jesus Is Condemned to Death.
  2. 2. Jesus Takes Up His Cross
  3. Jesus Falls the First Time
  4. Jesus Meets His Sorrowful Mother
  5. 5. Simon of Cyrene Helps Jesus Carry the Cross
  6. Veronica Wipes the Face of Jesus
  7. Jesus Falls a Second Time
  8. Jesus Meets the Women of Jerusalem
  9. Jesus Falls the Third Time
  10. Jesus Is Stripped of His Garments
  11. Jesus Is Nailed to the Cross
  12. Jesus Dies on the Cross
  13. Jesus Is Taken Down From the Cross
  14. Jesus Is Laid in the Tomb.

The most popular version is the one developed by St Alphonsus Liguori, who includes a preparatory prayer, as well as prayers and meditations for each station. Also incorporated in each station is a verse of the “Stabat Mater” (a Catholic hymn associated with the Way of the Cross, which originated in the 13th century).

Various versions have also evolved in modern times, among them a Gospel-based version approved by Pope Paul VI in 1975, and another version written by Pope John Paul II.

 

Purpose

“The object of the Stations is to help the faithful to make in spirit, as it were, a pilgrimage to the chief scenes of Christ’s sufferings and death” (http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/15569a.htm).

Archbishop Piero Marini writes, “Each step of Jesus is one step closer to the accomplishment of the plan of salvation…. Every new suffering of Jesus is a seed of future joy for humanity, every jeer, a premise of glory. Along that way of suffering Jesus’ every meeting — with friends, with enemies, with the indifferent — is a chance for one final lesson, one last look, one supreme offer of reconciliation and peace…in every episode which happened on that Way lies hidden a mystery of grace, a gesture of His love for [the Church].” (http://www.vatican.va/news_services/liturgy/documents/ns_lit_doc_via-crucis_en.html)

 

Part of Your Journey

The 14 Stations of the Cross are one of the well-loved devotions of the Church, most especially during the Lenten season. They provide enriching insights and a depth of wisdom to help devotees understand even more how the Savior sacrificed Himself for their sake, and how they, too, can offer more of themselves to Him.

Make the Stations of the Cross part of your Lenten journey this year, that you may draw closer to the heart of the Suffering Servant.

 

 

Sources:

On its history —

On the Way of the Cross by St Alphonsus Liguori —

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Keeping Prayer Cards Handy
  1. Bookmark – I have my grandmother’s old St. Joseph Missal from long ago – something like 1960 or the like. She kept many holy cards in that book. I have a few in my bible that mark my favorite places.
  2. Greeting Card Insert – Whether it’s Christmas cards or Birthday cards, a prayer card is a little extra something that the recipient will hold onto long after the greeting card has been forgotten.
  3. Love Note – Just like that sticky note I like to leave for my husband every now and then, a holy card can become a love note.

4. Evangelize – Keep a stash of cards with you and when you come across someone who is struggling in their life, give them a prayer card. It will be a little bit of light during a hard time. About 7 years ago man who I held the door open for at a store handed me a prayer card. I still have it, and I still think of him to this day and say a little prayer for him. That small gesture is still fresh in my mind.

5. Reminder – Keep a prayer taped to your mirror so you can pray it every morning and night while you brush your teeth.

6. Handouts – We had a child ask for a stack of 50 St. Patrick prayer cards to hand out at his Catholic school’s Saint Museum Day project. The students dressed up as their favorite saint and would tell visitors about them. Each of his visitors went away with a prayer.

7. Commemorate an Occasion – For weddings use the bride and groom’s patron saints’ prayer cards as favors. It’s inexpensive, meaningful, and best of all prompts guests to pray for the new couple. There are prayer cards for First Communion, Reconciliation, Easter baskets, Christmas and so much more. I once gave my boss a prayer card for Boss’s Day and later saw that he had it clipped to his visor in his car  – that really made me feel valued.

8. “Thinking of You” Token – When a friend becomes ill and there is not much you can do, sending them a healing holy card lets them know that you are thinking about them and you are praying for them. 

9. Thank You Note – A quick, handwritten note in the margins of a card, or even a sticky note stuck to a prayer card adds meaning for the recipient. 

10. Keepsake – Carry your favorite prayer in your purse or pocket. One of our favorites artists has aluminum prayer cards that last forever, so no worries about wearing it out. Pick a favorite prayer and keep it with you at all times.

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The most boring way to be Catholic is to sit in the same pew every Sunday, listen to the homily, receive the Eucharist, and then change nothing. 

No one can make you change except God and yourself, but you need to be a willing participant. You need to make that choice for yourself and act on that choice. (And by "you", I mean "me" because, let's be real, these blog posts are really me talking to myself where it just so happens other people can read it.)

So when it comes to making the choice to be a very active participant and enjoy​ the richness and blessings of the Catholic faith, what are you actively doing to make sure you continue to grow? How do you keep it fresh?

Our parish, although small, has a dedicated adult education program. Even if it didn’t, I have a plethora of parishes in Sioux Falls that offer fantastic opportunities to constantly be learning. When it comes to the spiritual resources at my fingertips in our relatively small community, I’m pretty blessed.

In these classes we have covered in depth Lectio Devina, Mary, Book of Revelations, Marian Consecration, and so much more. With each class my prayer practice gets deeper and wider.

Not to say that I never fall back on old practices. Rote praying is my default, and not to say that it’s “bad”, but when I lose my place within the “Hail Mary”, I know I could do better when it comes to seeking God.

The adult education at my parish pushes me outside my comfort zone of prayer. And as we’ve heard – outside our comfort zone is where growth happens.

But alas – my daughter’s Monday night basketball schedule has kept me out of class for quite some time and I won’t be able to return until March. I’m finding it is way too easy to fall back inside my comfort zone and get lazy.

So I’m looking for ideas. How do you all expand your prayer life? Those of you without access to adult education at your church – where do you turn to grow in your Catholic faith?

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