In the introduction to his Pastoral Letter, Living in the Word of God, Archbishop Richard Smith speaks of his Baptism as “the best and most important action my mother and father ever undertook on my behalf.”
He also explains that “what begins at Baptism is a way of life that is shaped by sacred teachings, strengthened by sacramental celebration, and marked by loving service of neighbour.”
This is a good insight for those in our communities – young and old – who celebrated their Baptism at the Easter Vigil, which also ought to begin for them a new way of life that is shaped, strengthened, and marked by Christ just as the Archbishop’s has been in the years that followed.
This is why RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) continues after Easter in a phase we call mystagogy. Mystagogy comes from a Greek word that means ‘to lead through the mysteries.’ We seek to offer the newly baptized (along those who were confirmed) a chance to reflect on their conversion and the mysteries they’ve celebrated. At the same time, we want them to consider practical ways they can daily grow in their faith when they are no longer heading to RCIA class every week. In a lot of ways, the spiritual advice we give to those we’ve just welcomed into the Church is spiritual advice that would be of benefit to all of us. As we celebrate the Easter season, consider these four practical ways you can grow in your faith:
Practice the Precepts
The Catechism of the Catholic Church presents to us the five precepts of the Church (CCC 2041-2043). Simply put, these are the bare minimum expectations the Church has for every Baptized Catholic. Ensuring that we are doing our part in each one of these represents a simple way to start living our faith:
- Attend Mass on Sundays & the holy days of obligation and rest from servile labor on those days. A couple of notes about this first precept:
- In Canada, our days of obligation outside of Sundays each year are the Feast of Mary, the Mother of God (January 1st) and Christmas Day
- The obligation to attend Mass has been suspended temporarily due to Covid).
- Go to confession at least once a year.
- Receive the Eucharist at least once a year (during the Easter season).
- Observe the days of fasting and abstinence from meat during the year. The Church’s mandated days are Ash Wednesday & Good Friday. We are also asked mark Fridays throughout the year by abstaining from meat or some other form of charity/piety.
- Provide in some way for the needs of the Church.
Moving beyond the minimums, it’s helpful here to look at your life of prayer. One of the keys to growing in prayer is not to measure yourself against anyone else’s prayer lives; look at your own prayer routine and take small steps to make it grow.
If you don’t really pray at all, start with a habit you can maintain. Pick one thing and stick with it. It could be something simple like beginning your day with a morning offering or the Lord’s prayer. You might also end it with a couple of minutes of quiet conversation with God (what we call mental prayer) looking over your day. If you already have a good habit of prayer going, there are a number of tools at your disposal.
Spiritual direction is a traditional practice that allows us to present our souls to a trusted guide (often a priest), who in turn helps guide us forward. A more modern tool would be an app to install on your phone like Hallow or iBreviary. And you might find books like Anthony Bloom’s Beginning to Pray and Peter Kreeft’s Prayer for Beginners great resources to help deepen your experience of prayer.
In his book, Proslogion, St. Anselm of Canterbury coined the phrase fides quaerens intellectum which means ‘faith seeking understanding.’ (This is, not coincidentally, the motto of our own Newman Theological College.) What it means is that in the same way as one who falls in love wants to know his beloved more deeply, an experience of Christ wants us to know Him more deeply as well. And so, we study: we study scripture, we study the Catechism, we study the lives of the saints and other spiritual writers whose insights can help deepen our own faith. Cardinal Thomas Collins has left a couple recommendations of books any Catholic should read and books for Catholics who want to defend the faith.
There are great online resources including Bishop Robert Barron’s Word on Fire apostolate and the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology. You could also sign up a great Catholic podcasts like Fr. Mike Schmitz’ Bible in a Year –which you could listen to while on the road.
The Christian call to serve others is not optional. Jesus tells us that the second great commandment, after loving God, is to love our neighbor (Mark 12:20-31). When Jesus speaks of the last Judgement in Matthew 25:31-46, He identifies Himself with the poor, saying “as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me” (Matthew 25:40). St. John of the Cross sums this up when he says: “At the end of our life, we are judged by our love.”
So how do we lovingly serve our neighbor? We look for the opportunities to do small things like hold a door open or shovel a few extra feet of sidewalk. We can look for more notable places to serve in our parish’s pastoral care or social justice ministries. We might also seek out groups who work directly with the most vulnerable, like Catholic Social Services or the Marian Center in Edmonton.
Like our brothers and sisters who were Baptized or Confirmed, and are being led ‘through the mysteries,’ we who were previously Baptized and already full members of the Church are invited to do the same. Whether it’s integrating the basics, growing in prayer, studying the faith, or embracing the opportunities God provides us to serve others, we too can choose to deliberately commit ourselves to a life that is “…that is shaped by sacred teachings, strengthened by sacramental celebration, and marked by loving service of neighbour” – and these are a few ways we might do just that.
Mike Landry is chaplain to Evergreen Catholic Schools west of Edmonton, and serves as an occasional guest speaker and music minister in communities across Western Canada. Mike and his wife Jennifer live in Stony Plain, Alta. with their five children.