Summer is normally the time we take a break from things. School is over, the weather is nice, and most people take at least some time off work. Even the liturgical calendar seems to reflect this yearly sabbath, moving out of the spiritually “busy” seasons of Advent, Christmas, Lent and Easter into the mundanely named “Ordinary Time.”
Even the liturgical color, green, speaks of the growth we are meant to undergo during this time. We are meant to be like trees, growing and bearing fruit.
So what are some ways we can concretely grow in our faith this summer? Here are 10 simple ways.
1. Make time for silent prayer every day.
Any relationship needs time to grow. God is constantly communicating his love to us, if only we would stop to listen. The Catechism of the Catholic Church puts it this way: “God tirelessly calls each person to that mysterious encounter known as prayer” (No. 2567).
Make time every day this summer, even if it is only 10 or 15 minutes, to enter into the dwelling place of your heart with God. Relate to him what you are experiencing each day; tell him what moves you, what excites you or scares you.
2. Go to Mass.
According to the Second Vatican Council, the Eucharist is the “source and summit of the Christian life.” This means that everything we do as Christians flows from and leads back to this central mystery. It is where we become what we are, the Body of Christ. If you already go to Sunday Mass, try going during the week, as well.
3. Actually participate at Mass.
Nothing is more disheartening as a priest than starting the Mass with an enthusiastic “The Lord be with you!” and being met with a mumbling, half-dead “and with your spirit.” The gestures, words and songs of the Mass have significance beyond what we may be able to grasp in the moment, but their effect on us is real nevertheless. If we are too passive at Mass, or we don’t even bother opening the hymnal to sing, we are telling our souls that we are here not to give our hearts and minds in worship, but to “get something out of it” or, worse yet, to “check the box.”
4. Go to confession once a month.
If you are in the habit of going to confession only “when you need to” or only once or twice a year during Advent and Lent, this summer, make a habit of going once a month. This encounter with the mercy of Jesus in the sacrament, if it is received with a sincere and contrite heart, will undoubtedly bear fruit.
5. Celebrate a saint’s feast day.
We have friends in heaven who want to help us and pray for us. This summer, make an effort to celebrate a saint’s feast day with special devotion and festivity. Go to Mass on that day and pray for the saint’s help in your life of discipleship.
A close friend of mine would do this every year on the feast of St. Lawrence, whose feast day is Aug. 10. St. Lawrence was a deacon and martyr who died by being burned to death on an iron grill. My friend would honor him every year, appropriately, by hosting a barbecue with his friends.
6. Read one of the four Gospels.
I remember the first time I read the Gospel of Luke from start to finish when I was in high school. My father and I would read a chapter or two every Sunday and talk about it. I had heard all of the stories before at Mass, but something about reading the events of Jesus’ life in order and reading the words of Jesus in the context of his entire life and ministry, allowed the Lord to come alive to me in a new way.
Perhaps this summer you can read the Gospel of Matthew, which is the Gospel we will read throughout the rest of this liturgical year. Take your time and read it prayerfully. Even better, read it with a friend and talk about what strikes you, what confuses you, and what calls you to greater love.
7. Read a book with a group of friends.
There are so many great Catholic books, both fiction and non-fiction. If you are not normally much of a reader, I recommend starting with a good Catholic novel. Graham Greene, Evelyn Waugh, Flannery O’Connor, Georges Bernanos and J.R.R. Tolkien all have written classic works of fiction that will have you grappling with spiritual realities and will spark great conversations with a group of friends over dinner. C.S. Lewis and Willa Cather are also two of my favorite authors who are not Catholic but whose stories have wonderfully Catholic overtones.
8. Pray the rosary.
The rosary is one of the most tried and true devotions of the Catholic Church. There is a reason many religious orders wear a rosary as part of their habit and carry it wherever they go. There is a reason St. John Paul II and other great saints prayed this prayer daily. Although it is made up of vocal prayers, it is actually a mental prayer, meant to draw us into contemplation of the mysteries of the life of Christ. Making a daily practice of this prayer helps keep our minds and hearts fixed on the story that truly defines us, which is the history of God’s saving love for us.
9. Make a “desert day.”
The Franciscan Friars of the Renewal have a discipline I greatly admire known as “hermitage.” Once a month, every friar is required to spend a day in prayer and solitude. This time away from their active, apostolic life gives them a chance to reflect on the many things they have done, seen and suffered that month, and it lets them receive very consciously from God the life and love that gives their mission its fruitfulness.
Especially for those of us who live in the world, and particularly if you spend most of your day in temporal concerns (business, politics, entertainment, consumer goods), it is all the more necessary to make time and space to, like Jesus, go off to deserted places to pray.
Making a “desert day” doesn’t have to be an overly radical thing. If you can do an overnight at a retreat center or monastery, that’s great. If all you can do is spend Sunday afternoon somewhere peaceful with no phone and your spouse watching the kids, that’s great, too. The frenzied activity of our lives amounts to nothing if we are not rooted in the one relationship that gives our lives eternal significance.
10. Make a pilgrimage.
When I was in seminary, I had the great privilege of visiting the Holy Land with my classmates. It was a deeply moving experience to touch the places the Lord Jesus himself had visited.
We don’t have to travel to the Middle East to feel this connection to the wider Church. There are places right in your own backyard where pilgrims go to honor saints, grow in faith and give thanks to God for the blessings they have received.
This year, let summer be a season of growth for you, and use these simple practices as a way to receive the grace that will bring it about.
Father Connor Danstrom is the director of the John Paul II Newman Center at the University of Illinois.