Sunday, June 28, 2015

Reflections for the 13th Week in Ordinary Time, Part 1

Monday – The Power of Prayer

Peter is in a real predicament. James is already dead, put to the sword by King Herod's men, and now Peter himself has been arrested and thrown into prison, guarded by sixteen soldiers as though he were a dangerous criminal. 

The members of the newly-founded Church, however, are praying for him fervently. And a miracle happens! An angel lights up Peter's cell, taps him on the side, and awakens him. After Peter's chains rattle to the ground, he puts on his belt, sandals, and cloak and follows the angel past the sleeping soldiers, past the guards, and out of the gate into the street.

Peter doesn't even know what's going on for sure. He thinks he might be having some sort of a vision until he realizes that he really is outside the prison and free. The angel disappears, and Peter makes his way to the house where his stunned friends greet him gratefully. Their prayers have been answered.

Blaise Pascal once said that “God instituted prayer in order to give to His creatures the dignity of being causes.” When we ask God, the Creator of the Universe, for something in prayer, He always listens to us, and He always answers us. It may not always be the answer we want, but it is always the answer we need.

Take a few moments today to examine your prayer life. Do you believe in the power of prayer? Do you pray mostly for yourself, or do you intercede for others? Do you have faith that God truly hears prayers and answers them and that prayer does make a difference in your life and in the lives of others? 

Tuesday – Looking Back

In today's first reading from Genesis 19, we encounter one of the strangest events in the Bible. Lot's wife, looking back at the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, turns into a pillar of salt. What's up with that anyway? Why does she suffer such a harsh punishment for something as seemingly insignificant as a backward glance? And why does she turn into a pillar of salt?

First off, let's examine the problem of looking back. Lot's wife directly disobeys God's explicit command: “Don’t look back or stop anywhere on the Plain.” That in itself merited punishment. When God says not to do something, we shouldn't do it. Period. But there is probably more to the issue here. Why does Lot's wife look back? Is she curious? Does she desire to return to the city? Is her heart filled with a longing for what she has left behind? We'll never know for sure. Her motive could have been any or all of these.

On a spiritual level, we need to understand that looking back is the first step to backsliding. When we leave behind a habitual sin or sinful inclination, we must not look back lest we be tempted to go back to our old ways. When God sets us on a new path, we must keep looking and moving ahead toward Him. We must not divert our attention. We must not take our eyes off of God. That's the biggest trouble with looking back. When we do, we quit looking at God and His plan for our lives.

Finally, what is all this business about a pillar of salt? Scholars say that Lot's wife probably actually died by inhaling the sulfurous vapors that filled the air. She hesitated for too long because of her backward gaze, and she was overcome. Her body then would have been covered with ash and the salt that fills the air around the Dead Sea (Keil & Delitzsch Commentary on the Old Testament). In any case, Lot's wife's backward glance proved fatal, physically and spiritually.

Wednesday – The Fear of the Lord

In today's excerpt from Psalm 34, we read, “I will teach you the fear of the Lord.” What is the fear of the Lord? It can be a difficult concept to grasp. Obviously this fear isn't just an emotion, for emotions aren't taught. They just happen. 

Theologians identify two levels of fear of the Lord. The first is servile fear. This is a fear of the punishment we receive when we sin. This isn't the best type of fear, of course, but it's better than nothing. It can push us to avoid sin and honor God. The higher level of fear, however, is filial fear, i.e., the fear of a son or daughter for a parent. This kind of fear is a deep reverence and awe of God. It recognizes both His great power and His great love. This kind of fear produces in us a strong desire to never offend God by sin, for we realize that sin hurts God horribly, and we love Him so much and honor Him so much that we never want to hurt Him. God calls us to move from servile fear to filial fear because He longs for intimacy with us, His beloved children.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Reflections for the 12th Week in Ordinary Time, Part 2

Thursday – Lived Faith

In today's Gospel, Jesus makes it very clear that simply listening to His words, believing them on some level, and calling Him “Lord” isn't enough. “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’” He explains to His disciples, “will enter the Kingdom of Heaven, but only the one who does the will of My Father in Heaven.” Even performing miracles in Jesus' name is not sufficient, particularly if they are performed with faulty motives like gaining power or fame. 

Jesus expects action. He wants a lived faith, a faith that both believes in Him and obeys Him, a faith that works, a faith that grows, a faith that loves, a faith that takes Jesus' teaching and actively applies to daily living. This is the faith of the man who builds his house on a rock. He has a firm foundation. His faith is grounded and strong, and it is much less likely to be blown away in times of trial. This is a faith that lasts. This is a faith that accepts God's sanctifying grace and holds onto it securely all the way to Heaven.

Friday – A Beautiful Encounter

The leper bows down before Jesus, his heart filled with hope. He has heard of this Man, of His teachings and His miracles. He recognizes that if anyone can help him, if anyone can make him clean, if anyone can restore him to his place in the community, it is Jesus. He expresses his hope simply, humbly, and honestly: “Lord, if You wish, You can make me clean.” He doesn't demand. He doesn't beg. He just states a fact. 

Jesus looks at the leper with great love. Then He reaches out and touches him, not caring a bit if this loving gesture technically makes Him just as unclean as the leper. This is one case when compassion trumps rules. “I will do it,” Jesus says. “Be made clean.” And the leper is clean. Just like that. His whole life changes in an instant.

The now-former-leper's heart soars within him. He falls at Jesus' feet, hardly able to express his gratitude. Jesus smiles and says to him, “See that you tell no one, but go show yourself to the priest, and offer the gift that Moses prescribed; that will be proof for them.” The leper wonders how he will keep this amazing encounter to himself, but he knows he will obey Jesus. He will go and show himself to the priest because that will be his ticket back into Jewish life. He will be able to worship in the Temple again. He will be able to live and work with his family. He won't be alone anymore. No, he will never be alone again. He looks into Jesus' eyes and had a hunch that this would prove far more true than he could ever imagine.

Saturday – Laughter

Sometimes God's plan can seem a little silly to us. We wonder what He's up to and how He's ever going to make things work out in our lives. Our vision is so limited, so narrow that we just can't see and understand what He's doing. And sometimes, we just laugh rather helplessly, more at ourselves than at Him, because we don't know what else to do or how else to respond.

That's what Sarah does in today's first reading. Three men (probably really angels) appear at Abraham's tent one day. He jumps up immediately to offer them food and hospitality, which the men graciously accept. As Sarah is making the meal, she listens to the men talk and hears one of them say, “I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah will then have a son.” Sarah laughs. She can't help it. The whole idea seems quite ridiculous to her. It's not that she doesn't trust God; after all, she's out here in the middle of nowhere because of a message from God. But she just can't see how God could make her a mother. No, it just couldn't be. So she laughs.

The mysterious man doesn't get angry at Sarah's laughter or even at her denial of her laughter (it was rather embarrassing to be caught at it!). He merely reminds her that nothing is too marvelous for God to accomplish, and he reiterates his prediction: “At the appointed time, about this time next year, I will return to you, and Sarah will have a son.” Much to Sarah's surprise, and delight, his words will soon be proven true.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Reflections for the 12th Week in Ordinary Time, Part 1

Monday – A Great Risk and a Remarkable Journey

Abram probably led quite a comfortable life in the Mesopotamian city of Ur. He was obviously wealthy with many possessions and servants. But he also lived among a people who worshiped idols of multiple gods. According to some Jewish sources, even Abram's own father, Terah, made and bowed down to idols although his son vigorously opposed the practice.

Then one day everything changed. Abram experienced a call from God: “Go forth from the land of your kinsfolk and from your father’s house to a land that I will show you.” Just imagine how startled Abram must have been at this message. He might have even resisted a bit at first. Life was good. Why should he just pick up and leave? God, however, assured Abram that He had even better things in store for him, and He sweetened His command with a few promises. He would bless Abram, making him a great nation and giving him a great name. He would protect Abram, and eventually every community on earth would be blessed because of him. 

Abram probably didn't fully understand any of this, but he decided to take the risk. He let go of his plans and his comfort. He gathered up his wife, Sarah, his nephew, Lot, his servants, and as many possessions as they could haul away and set out on a remarkable journey to a land he'd never seen before. He had no idea whom he would meet along the way or what would happen to him. He didn't know what he would find when he got to where he was going. His whole life was turned upside down and inside out, but he trusted God. He had faith that God had a plan for him, and he acted on that faith. How many of us would do the same?

Tuesday – The Narrow Gate

Jesus says to enter through the narrow gate. The word “narrow” has negative connotations for modern people. Narrowness often suggests a way that is hemmed in by do's and don'ts and fenced by a multitude of rules and regulations. 

Narrow, however, doesn't have to mean restricted. Instead, it can mean intimate, focused, guided, protected, and loved. God wants us to keep our eyes on Him. He wants us to be right with Him. He wants us to be the best people we can possibly be, the most fulfilled human beings, the happiest of creatures. 

That's why Jesus tells us to strive to enter through the narrow gate. That's why He gives us rules to follow. He wants only what's good for us, and human beings have a bothersome knack of choosing the exact opposite. We lean toward the wide road with its many distractions and pitfalls, when it is really the narrow road and the narrow gate that will lead us home to God. 

Wednesday – John the Baptist

Today we celebrate the birthday of John the Baptist, one of the most interesting figures in Scripture. John is a strange mix. He's the last in a line Old Testament prophets, but he has a very special message: the Messiah has come. The time is now. The Lamb of God Who takes away the sins of the world is here. John has the privilege of witnessing the Holy Spirit descend upon Him at the Jordan River, where he has been preparing a way for Him with a baptism of repentance. When Jesus begins His public ministry, John steps aside. “He must increase, but I must decrease,” John explains. His mission is ending; his message is fulfilled. His job now is to speak God's truth even at the risk of his life. That's what he does, and it costs him his life at the hand of Herod and Herodias, who don't appreciate John's blunt denunciation of their immoral “marriage.” John was born for God; he has lived completely for God; and now he dies for God.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Reflections for the 11th Week in Ordinary Time, Part 2

Thursday – Why Pray?

In today's Gospel, Jesus offers us some important instructions about how to pray, and He also assures us, “Your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.” Those words might leave us with some questions. If God already knows what we need, why ask Him at all? Why do we pray? 

We pray not so much to get some thing as to get Someone. Our prayers are mainly about increasing our intimacy with God, growing in love for Him, learning to trust Him, discovering how to hear His voice, understanding Him better, and seeing His hand in our lives. As we ask God for things for ourselves and others (and receive His responses), we learn how to prioritize our desires, and we discern His plan for us. Indeed, God knows us far better than we know ourselves. He invites us, through prayer, to get to know Him, too. 

Friday – A Psalm of Praise

Today's Psalm draws us to praise and worship God in joy. The psalmist begins by proclaiming, “I will bless the Lord at all times; His praise shall be ever in my mouth.” At every moment, the psalmist turns to God with an open, worshiping heart. He honors God, recognizing Him as the all-powerful, all-knowing, all-wise, all-present, all-loving Being Who holds the whole universe in existence. He acknowledges God's great deeds and the deliverance He brings to His people. He remembers the many times when God has answered his prayers, rescuing him from fear and distress. He looks toward God with a face filled with radiant joy. His very soul rings out in adoration. The psalmist invites us to join him in this ecstatic worship. “Glorify the Lord with me,” he urges, “let us together extol His name.” Will we accept his invitation and lift our hearts to God in blessing and praise

Saturday – Seek First the Kingdom of God

Do not worry. This is one of the most difficult commands in the whole Bible. But Jesus is very clear: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink, or about your body, what you will wear.”

How do we avoid worries? The world seems full of uncertainties and fears and “what ifs.” Some days they bombard us from all sides in a never ending chorus of anxiety. How do we stem the flow? How do we keep the worry from overwhelming us? 

Jesus has the answer. The opposite of worry is trust, and we have Someone looking out for us Who is 100% trustworthy, 100% reliable. He knows all our needs. He understands all our cares. He is closer to us than we are to ourselves. He loves us more than we can ever imagine.

What must we do, then? Jesus tells us to “seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness...” We must set our eyes firmly on God and keep them there. We must strive after Him in faithful and loving prayer, reaching out to embrace the intimacy He offers. We must also obey God, for He gives us His moral law that we may be righteous (i.e., right with Him), and we must live out our faith in love to our neighbors, doing good to them whenever we can. If we keep our focus on God and His plan for us, we will be so occupied with His awesomeness that we won't have time to worry. Impossible? Begin with a sincere and trusting prayer for help and prepare for a miracle.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Reflections for the 11th Week in Ordinary Time, Part 1

Monday – Dealing with Opposition

Paul and his companions faced some incredible difficulties as they traveled through the Mediterranean world spreading the Gospel. In the Second Letter to the Corinthians, Paul catalogs them for us: “in everything we commend ourselves as ministers of God, through much endurance, in afflictions, hardships, constraints, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, vigils, fasts...” Now there's some opposition! Everywhere they went, Paul and the other missionaries were met by people who hated them and their message and didn't hesitate to express that animosity openly. 

How did Paul and his companions handle such contempt? Paul tells us: “by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, in the Holy Spirit, in unfeigned love, in truthful speech, in the power of God; with weapons of righteousness at the right and at the left...” They met opposition head on...with love. They remained focused on God rather than on themselves. They trusted God to get through whatever happened, knowing that, no matter what, He would make things right in the end. Paul really believed what he wrote to the Romans: God makes all things work together for good for those who love Him. 

In the Gospel, Jesus expresses a similar theme, offering a few more specific examples of how to deal with opposition: “When someone strikes you on your right cheek, turn the other one to him as well. If anyone wants to go to law with you over your tunic, hand him your cloak as well. Should anyone press you into service for one mile, go with him for two miles.” In other words, meet opposition head on...with love. Trust God to make things right.

Does this mean that we should just roll over and take whatever abuse people pile on us? Absolutely not. Jesus is using some exaggeration here to make His point. We do have the responsibility to oppose evil, especially when it threatens other people, and we do not have to remain in abusive, violent situations. But we must always examine ourselves as we face opposition and determine whether we are focused on ourselves and our indignation or on God and His plan for our lives.

Tuesday – Eager Generosity

St. Paul's Second Letter to the Corinthians is one of the earliest examples of a financial appeal to Christians to support their fellow believers. The Church in Jerusalem had fallen on some tough times; Christians there were poor and persecuted, and they desperately needed the help of their family in faith throughout the world. This posed quite a challenge to Christians in places like Corinth. Most of them were Gentiles, not Jewish Christians as were the members of the Church in Jerusalem. The differences in their cultures, languages, and histories could prove to be obstacles to their generosity.

Paul, therefore, meets the potential problem by offering an example of a Church that had already responded to the call for help with eager generosity. The Macedonians, he admits, aren't rich at all. In fact, they are also experiencing “profound poverty” and “a severe test of affliction,” but they have answered his challenge with an overflowing outpouring of both material aid and abundant joy in giving. They even begged Paul to let them serve their fellow Christian in this way. 

How could they do this? Paul explains that “they gave themselves first to the Lord...” This was the key to the Macedonians' eager generosity. They placed themselves and everything they had at God's feet and let Him direct them in lovingly serving others. We must all ask ourselves if we are doing likewise.

(Sources: Navarre Bible commentary; MacLaren's Expositions)

Wednesday – Motives

Why do you pray, fast, and give alms? What are your motives? Do you do these things just to be noticed and impress others? Do you do them in order to feel good? Do you do them out of love for God and love for neighbor? Is there some blend of all three and, if so, in what proportion? 

Jesus invites us to examine and honestly answer these difficult questions in today's Gospel. Are we like the hypocrites who call attention to themselves, or do we focus on God, Who sees in secret? Do we merely settle for a worldly reward, or do we hold out for the Heavenly reward that God has in store for those who live in love?

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Reflections for the 10th Week in Ordinary Time, Part 2

Thursday – Taking It Up a Notch

In today's Gospel, which is from the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus urges us to take it up a notch. We Christians, the followers of Jesus, have much greater gifts than our Jewish ancestors, and therefore, we have much greater responsibilities. Jesus begins with a statement that would have been rather shocking to His audience: “I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter into the Kingdom of heaven.” The scribes and Pharisees were supposed to be the holiest of the Jews, the ones who paid close attention to the Law and followed its precepts meticulously. Jesus' hearers must have exchanged nervous glances and wondered how in the world they could be holier and more righteous than their leaders.

Jesus proceeds to tell them. First, He states a well-known law: “You shall not kill; and whoever kills will be liable to judgment.” Then He takes it up notch: “But I say to you, whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment, and whoever says to his brother, Raqa, will be answerable to the Sanhedrin, and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ will be liable to fiery Gehenna.” In other words, those who harbor anger in their souls, hold grudges, and insult people are also sinning, for they are not acting out of love. Jesus continues this pattern as He teaches about lust, divorce, oaths, vengeance, and love of enemies. He isn't abolishing God's moral law. He's setting a higher standard of love.

Friday – The Sacred Heart of Jesus

On this Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, let us remember that Jesus' Heart burns with love for us. Jesus said to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque, “Behold the Heart which has so loved men that It has spared nothing, even to exhausting and consuming Itself, in order to testify Its love; and in return, I receive from the greater part only ingratitude, by their irreverence and sacrilege, and by the coldness and contempt they have for Me in this Sacrament of Love. But what I feel most keenly is that it is hearts which are consecrated to Me, that treat Me thus. Therefore, I ask of you that the Friday after the Octave of Corpus Christi be set apart for a special Feast to honor My Heart, by communicating on that day, and making reparation to It by a solemn act, in order to make amends for the indignities which It has received during the time It has been exposed on the altars. I promise you that My Heart shall expand Itself to shed in abundance the influence of Its Divine Love upon those who shall thus honor It, and cause It to be honored.” Today, then, let us comfort and honor the Sacred Heart of Jesus by an outpouring of love and adoration.

Saturday – A New Creation

“So whoever is in Christ is a new creation: the old things have passed away; behold, new things have come.” So says St. Paul in today's first reading from the Second Letter to the Corinthians. God has done something totally new. Jesus Christ, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, became incarnate among us as a man while still remaining God. He suffered and died for us. He conquered death and rose again. He opened the gates of Heaven. He has changed the world. What's more, He has changed us. He makes us new. When we are baptized, something changes in us, something real, something very important. God's indwelling presence surges into our souls, and God marks us with a character that can never be erased. We are changed in the very depths of our being. We are no longer who we were. The old has passed away. The new has arrived. We are now His, claimed for God, claimed for Heaven, claimed as members of Christ's Body. We are a new creation.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Reflections for the 10th Week in Ordinary Time, Part 1

Monday – Our Comforting Father

Do you realize how much God loves you? In the beginning of the Second Letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul exclaims, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all encouragement...” (verse 3). This one little verse tells us an awful lot about God the Father. First, He is the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ and, therefore, our Father, too, since we are members of Christ's Body. Jesus Himself cried out “Abba!” or “Daddy!” to His Father and invites us to do the same. Second, God is the Father of compassion. Our suffering touches His heart, and like any good father, He suffers along with us, feeling what we feel, sharing in our pain, our trials, and our disappointments. Third, God is the God of all encouragement. He comforts us in our suffering but not just by patting our heads and saying, “There, there, everything will be okay.” No, God gives us strength to endure our suffering. He assures us that He can bring good out of even the worst times of our lives. We, in turn, are to pass on the compassion and encouragement that our comforting Father gives us to us.

Tuesday – Shining with God's Light

In today's Gospel, Jesus tells us to shine a light before others, to be a city on a hill, a lamp on a lampstand. Really, it isn't our own light that we shine; it's Jesus' light. When we are in a state of grace, God dwells within our very souls, and His light (when we let it) can radiate through us and touch the hearts of others. We can illuminate the world by our prayers, our good works, and especially our love, but we never do it alone. Our Lord shines through us, giving us the glow of His great love.

Wednesday – The Old Law and the New Law

As St. Paul says in his Second Letter to the Corinthians, the New Law of the Holy Spirit given by Jesus Christ far surpasses the Old Law that was written on stone tablets and followed by the Jews. The Old Law was a step in the process of salvation, a training ground, a method used by our wise Divine Teacher to accustom His people to His expectations and His level of morality. The Old Law could not save anyone. It made people very much aware of their sins, but it didn't take them away. That's why Paul calls it a “ministry of condemnation.” Yet it was still glorious. It was still the word of God. It was still God's plan for His people at that point in time. 

Under the New Law, the Law of the Holy Spirit, however, God actually dwells in our souls. This New Law is inside us; it operates from the inside out to bring us into ever-greater intimacy with God and to carry us home to Heaven. With Jesus' death and resurrection, God has opened the gates of Heaven. He has saved us from our sins. He has given us forgiveness and made us His sons and daughters, coheirs with Christ. We are not saved by the words written on stone tablets; we are saved by God's great gift of sanctifying grace.

In the Gospel, however, Jesus makes it very clear that the Old Law has not been abolished but fulfilled. We must still follow the moral law that God has established for us. That hasn't changed. In fact, Jesus calls us to a new, even-higher level of morality of self-giving love, His kind of love. We have greater gifts now under the New Law, but we also have greater responsibilities.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Designing a Rule of Life

Rules have gotten a bad wrap in the modern world. We have all heard slogans like “Rules were made to be broken,” and many people think of rules only as devices of control used to stifle freedom and drain creativity. In reality, however, we human beings need rules, and the order, discipline, and structure they provide, if we are going to grow in character and knowledge and reach our potential.

This is especially true in the spiritual life. Without some measure of order, discipline, and structure, daily distractions and busyness can easily crowd out prayer, reflection, Scripture reading, and the sacraments. Pressure to conform to the secular world threatens our moral standards, and stress drains the energy we need to fight the ever-present urge to give in and be just like everyone else. God fades into the background of life instead of taking center stage where He belongs.

How can we combat these tendencies? How can we regain our spiritual balance and focus? We can begin by designing a personal rule of life.

What Is a Rule of Life?

A rule of life is essentially a list of spiritual disciplines and goals geared to an individual's particular circumstances and struggles. Let's get more specific. First of all, a rule of life is not
  • an end in itself;
  • another checklist to add to an already packed schedule;
  • set in stone;
  • a set of inaccessible, impractical ideals;
  • all about us!
On the other hand, a rule of life is
  • a tool that helps us grow in our relationships with God and other people;
  • a flexible guideline that helps us order our lives toward God;
  • realistic and practical;
  • the result of self reflection;
  • all about God!
Further, a rule of life is
  • a way to respond to God's call to an intimate, personal relationship;
  • a way to attain some much-needed discipline in our disordered world and busy lives;
  • a way to experience true freedom, which is freedom for God, for love, and for holiness;
  • a way to progress toward God and track our progress;
  • a way to correct bad habits and develop virtue;
  • a way to strengthen prayer life;
  • a way to promote spiritual study;
  • a way to put the sacraments at the forefront of life;
  • a way to learn to interact with other people;
  • a way to allow God to direct our lives!

Writing a Rule of Life

At this point, you might be thinking, “That's all well and good, but let's get practical here. How do I write a rule like that? What kinds of disciplines and goals should I choose? What should I focus on?” The following steps will guide you through the process.
  1. Begin with prayer. Ask God to open your eyes so that you may see yourself clearly and to open your heart and mind so that you may allow Him to enter in and draw you close to Himself.
  2. Thoroughly examine your spiritual condition, carefully considering your strengths, weaknesses, interests, difficulties, delights, and challenges. Ask yourself, “What is working well in my spiritual life? In which areas do I need to grow? What do I need to change?” More importantly, try to answer these questions honestly and completely, jotting down a few notes about your reflections that you can refer back to as you write your rule.
  3. Based on what you've discovered in your self-examination, you can now select the categories for your rule. Possibilities include, but are certainly not limited to, prayer, sacraments, acts of penance, reading and study, virtues, good works, and relationships.
  4. For each category, choose a few specific disciplines or goals that will help us grow spiritually and enter into a deeper relationship with God. These should be directed by your self-examination, addressing weaknesses, playing off strengths, setting challenges, and recognizing interests. Keep in mind the following:
    • Your choices should be geared to your personality and individual needs. You are not doing this to impress or compete with others.
    • Your choices should be specific. Instead of “Pray more,” for example, you could decide to “Pray for fifteen minutes each day.”
    • Your choices should be practical. You should be able to do them, to measure your progress, and to hold yourself accountable.
    • Your choices should not overwhelm you. Be sure to limit your disciplines and goals. They should challenge and stretch you but not make you crazy with a checklist a mile long.
    • Your choices should be focused on God. Allow Him to direct you as you build your rule and continually ask yourself, “How will practicing this discipline help me grow closer to God?”
  5. At this point, you are ready to submit your rule to God. Ask Him to bless you and guide you as you try to live out the disciplines and goals you've set. You can do this in a simple, private prayer, or you can speak to your priest and ask him to accept your rule and bless you after Mass.
  6. Finally, you might consider sharing your rule with someone else, a spouse, a close friend, a parent, or anyone who might be willing to pray for you and ask you periodically how things are going. People tend to honor their commitments better if they know that someone will be checking up on them every now and then.
Sample Elements

Still feeling a bit shaky about this whole idea of a rule of life? I wrote my rule for the first time in 2009, and while I have not always been successful at living it out, I have found that its helps me structure my spiritual life and keep on track in my spiritual growth. Below are a few examples from my own rule. Please don't feel like you have to copy these exactly; I'm just providing them to give you a few ideas.
  • Prayer
    • “My prayers should not be merely external and routine; I must strive to focus my entire self on them and truly mean the words I pray.”
    • “I will pray five decades of the Rosary daily.”
  • Sacraments.
    • “I would like to go to Confession once a month.”
    • “I will make a Spiritual Communion daily.”
  • Penance and Mortification
    • “I will do unpleasant tasks without complaining.”
    • “I will fast between meals on Wednesdays and Fridays and abstain from meat on Fridays.
  • Good works
    • “I will begin every task by dedicating it to Jesus and praying for His help.”
    • “I will be on the lookout for volunteer opportunities and choose at least one a month.”
  • Virtues
    • “I will cultivate patience.”
    • “I will embrace humility.”
  • Reading and Study
    • “I will read a portion of the Bible daily, even if it's only a few verses.”
    • “I will study the life of a saint each week.”

A Saint's Rule of Life

Finally, as we develop and live out our rules of life, we should always remember that we are in good company. Many of the saints followed rules of life, either in religious communities or individually.

St. Francis de Sales, for instance, wrote a rule of life for himself when he was a college student. Surrounded by a city full of temptations and unsavory characters, Francis recognized the risks involved in his education. He had already consecrated himself to God through the Blessed Virgin Mary and had decided to become a priest, so he knew that he needed increased discipline to hold fast to his vows. His rule of life was designed to to help him overcome his current challenges, grow in intimacy with God, and progress toward his ultimate goal of the priesthood.

Francis divided his rule into four main sections, each of which contains several specific practices.
  1. Exercises of preparation – These helped Francis begin his day. He committed to invoking God's help, imagining the kinds of challenges he might face, disposing himself to act with virtue, resolving not to offend God, and recommending himself into God's hands.
  2. “Seven articles for the well performance of daily actions” - In this section, Francis promised to thank God when he rose each morning; to assist at daily Mass; to rest in God for a while each day; to pray some each night before going to sleep; to turn to God if he woke up in the night; to pray for light in the darkness; and to trust in God in times of fear.
  3. “Of spiritual repose” - Francis knew that in the midst of his busy schedule, he needed to take time to rest in God. He decided to do the following during those times of rest: recollect the good; reject the vanities of the world; reflect on the horrors of sin and vice; reflect on the excellence of virtue; admire God's gift of reason; ponder God's justice and the horrors of hell; ponder God's attributes (like wisdom, power, and goodness) and the paradise of Heaven; and relish the love of God.
  4. “Rules for Intimacy” - Finally, Francis developed some rules to govern his relationships with other people. He was especially eager to act with modesty, restraint, honor, discretion, and right judgment and to develop true intimacy with only a few virtuous people even while treating everyone with respect. He did not want to fall into bad company or compromise his virtue.
With this rule, Francis was already on the path to sainthood. He recognized his weaknesses, embraced his opportunities, and challenged himself to grow ever closer to God.

Are You Ready?

Are you ready to create your own rule of life? Are you ready take the time to reflect on your current spiritual state and draw up a plan that will help you provide order, discipline, and structure to your spiritual life? Are you ready to enter into a closer relationship with God?
If so, please pray with me.

Lord, I want to grow closer to You. Show me, please, where I am in my spiritual life and what I need to do to grow in virtue and avoid sin. Guide me as I prepare my little rule of life that I may do so according to Your will. May it never become an end in itself but always remain a tool and a means to ever-greater intimacy with You. Amen.

Source: Gallitia, Peter Hyacinth. The Life of Saint Francis de Sales, Bishop and Prince of Geneva. Vol. 1. London: Richardson and Son, 1854. Pages 44-52.