I am sure there are many people of a certain age who remember the title of a very popular book, Seven Habits Of Highly Effective People, by Stephen Covey. Well I would like to put forward seven habits that I think will help people to become highly effective Catholics.
Though I am not a great fan of Mr Covey’s book there are a couple of things he mentions which I think resonate, one is, “Begin with the end in mind.” Eternity, the end for all of us; maybe we need to contemplate where we would like our end to be then set our compass towards that. The other, “Put first things first.” Christ always has been and always should be the first thing in our lives; may these seven steps propel you along the path towards a Christ-centered relationship.
I know, I know, why do we have to start with confession? Well I find the best way to start something new is to clear out the old. If we want to become effective evangelizers then we need to ditch the rubbish that is sitting on our souls. This is not as hard as you think. For one thing most of our priests are all too aware of the weakness of the human condition, and most of us are not that original in our sinning, therefore the priest is more than likely to have heard it all before, more than once, and has probably even committed a few of the same sins himself. So, do you know what: take the bull by the horns; walk into your parish; and give your poor parish priest something to do on a Saturday morning; off load the lot, whether it has been a month, a year, or if you haven’t been since your first confession; start at the beginning and go for it. You will be so glad you did – I promise you. Then make a commitment to go at least once a month. Not going to confession regularly is the quickest and easiest way to allow our friendship with God to weaken and it becomes easier and easier to drift a way. We also risk kidding ourselves that we are not so bad really, especially when we compare our antics to Joe Blogs down the street! It does take courage to have an honest look at ourselves, but we never do it on our own; the Holy Spirit is there to comfort and strengthen us.
Life can so easily get in the way of our prayer time. We all start out with good intentions but something goes wrong: Our alarm doesn’t go off, the kids wake early, the dog’s been sick, the list is endless and the excuses many. But if we want to become highly effective people then we really need to not miss this step. God wants to enter into dialogue with us. He stirs up our hearts so that we feel the need to pray. But like so many things we need to develop good habits. Now I have been told that it takes thirty days to develop a new habit. So why not start this month and set yourself a target. Don’t be unrealistic if you are new to this. Set aside a short time of prayer each day. Making the commitment to the time is the biggest battle; it needs to be important to us, because then we give it a priority in our life. Think about how much time you spend talking to your friends on the phone or catching up on Facebook or some other social network. God desires to be the centre of your life. He is waiting to fill you with good things, but we need to go to him. Prayer is speaking to God about all the things going on in our lives, the good, the bad and the pretty darn ugly. But as a Father he gladly listens to his children. The other trick we must learn is to stop talking every once in a while and listen. It is in this time of silence that we often have our biggest growth.
I’ll be honest, there was a time I found Mass boring, and if I’ m really honest there are still days when I am disengaged and distracted. But the realities are the Mass is the most important thing to take place in my week. Why? Because it is here that I am strengthened with the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of My Lord, Jesus Christ. If I want to be transformed into the kind of person I want to be then going to the source of that transformational power and allowing him to enter in and make that change should be a priority for me. We may not understand all that is happening on the altar, we may not “feel” anything, but nevertheless grace is being poured out into our souls and this has the ability to nourish us and to help us grow in our relationship with Christ.
If you have ever been into a Catholic Church when it is empty and quiet you will understand that unique presence that seems to pervade the whole building. I think the best word that describes it for me is peace. I love to smell the lingering fragrance of incense and to just sit quietly in the warm glow of the Sanctuary lamp and contemplate. The Blessed Sacrament may be in the Tabernacle or he may be exposed in the monstrance; whichever way, that time of quite reflection has become a lifeline for me. Our lives are very often lived in the fast lane. I am a mother to eight children and three grandchildren. I run a child-minding business and I am involved with two of my daughters in a floristry shop. I know a thing or to about keeping all the plates in the air at once. I understand tiredness, rebellious teenagers, work deadlines and any other number of time restraint issues you care to mention. But time spent before the Blessed Sacrament is never time wasted. Again, like the Mass, and prayer before that, Adoration has the power to change your life. God is not mean; any time you give him he is generous in his giving. So often when I felt I didn’t have time to go to Mass or Adoration because my list of to-do jobs just kept getting longer and longer, then I would have to force myself to go; and every time I did that my jobs list always got done and more often than not it was with time to spare. I began to notice a pattern; the days I started with prayer and Mass and placed all my “jobs” into God’s hands, these were the days I had time to spare; the days I didn’t, you could guarantee I spent the day running around and ended up worn out and frazzled. So give Adoration the opportunity to sink its roots deep down into your life. Remember a tree with strong roots can weather any storm; you and I both know that storms come into our lives without warning. Don’t wait until the next one hits, start preparing now!
As Catholics we are not quite so good as our Protestant Brothers and Sisters at reading our bibles. But Scripture is God’s way of communicating with us. To become really effective evangelizers we must delve into this very powerful book and absorb the words found in it. People today need to know the reason for our hope in Jesus. Through studying the bible we will be able to give an account for that hope. If you are not sure where to start there are many websites which give a guided reading scheme. Your parish may already hold a bible study course, if it doesn’t think about starting one, it’s a great way to get involved in your parish and to meet some new people.
Ever since my youngest child was little, he wakes up each morning and says “is today a feast day or a fast day?” Poor lad, growing up in a house that has been influenced by the call of the Mother of God in a small backwater village in the Bosnian mountains cannot be easy. Now don’t get me wrong: we are not that brilliant at fasting; but I do try and encourage the family to eat simply on a Wednesday and Friday. No sweets or chocolate. Meat free meals, usually bread and soup on Wednesday and eggs on toast on Friday. Some weeks are better than others. But the discipline of fasting is an important one to learn and if we start at an early age it will become second nature. Fasting gives us an opportunity to share with the many who go to bed hungry every night. It also allows us to offer back to God some suffering which we can use to help those who need it most. But primarily, fasting helps us to tame our bodies. Self-denial is a call of The Lord: “If anyone wants to be a follower of mine let him deny himself, take up his cross and follow me” (Matthew16:24). The Catechism tells us that fasting and self-denial ‘help us to acquire mastery over our instincts and freedom of heart’ (ccc2043). Therefore, to help us become highly effective Catholics let us enter more fully into the ancient practice of the early Church and take up some form of self-denial especially on a Wednesday and Friday.
Never in the history of the Church has there been such a plethora of books to choose from to help us in our spiritual journey. We are blessed with the most incredible array of authors, something to suit everyone’s taste. There should be no excuse not to be able to enrich one’s soul. Down through the ages men and women of faith have put pen to paper and left us with a legacy, almost as good as being able to sit with them in person and ask them all the questions we wanted too. I know, in our days when we have so many time constraints we feel that to add more spiritual exercises to our schedule is an impossibility; but this does not have to be arduous. Take ten minutes a day, read a good book, transform your life. Before you know it you will have read all sorts of books and your life will be richer for it.