Each issue carries an imprimatur from the Archdiocese of Cincinnati. Reprinting prohibited

Seven Disciplines
of Successful Catholics

by Matthew J. Hayes

"The Stranger—s Bargain,— by Ed Hays, is about a young man who is approached by the devil, and the devil—s attempt to make a deal with the young man—not for his soul but for his —dream.—

The devil says: —What I buy is the dream; that special vision of how you see yourself as an adult in this world—.That dream fuels your life with meaning and a rare form of excitement. It is that dream that sets you apart from the others; in fact, from everyone else!— The young man asks: —I don—t understand, why would you want to buy my dream and not my soul?— The devil responds: —Because, my young friend, if I were to obtain your soul, I would have just a soul, but if I am able to purchase—at a fair price, mind you—your dream, then I have changed the course of history! Your soul affects only you, but your dream—ah, that—s something different.— Further on in the story the devil tells the young man: —Every woman and man dreams of being someone special, but between 16 and 26, or perhaps even 36, they trade in that great dream for a little dream, an average dream.—

Our faith challenges us not to trade in our dream. "Every believer in this world must become a spark of light," said Pope John XXIII. As Catholics, how do we practice our faith so we find a path and a light to see by? What might we do to enable us to be people of purpose, heart, balance, gratitude and joy? How do we protect and nurture our dream?

In this Update we—ll take a look at seven practices, or disciplines, that can help you hold fast to your dreams and become a spark of light. Like the sides of the diamond, these disciplines are connected, interdependent and equally important. Slow down, serve others, study wisdom, worship together, share faith, seek counsel, take time to fast—these are seven disciplines that will help you grow in adult faith.

Slow down

Mother Teresa wrote, —God is the friend of silence.— As a disciple it— is so important to take time each day simply to quiet down and listen to the Spirit as it speaks in the events of life. People find all sorts of ways to achieve this silence. It might be a daily walk, it might be a daily stop at a chapel or other quiet place in your daily routine. For those caring for young children, it might be only a few moments between chores while the children are asleep.

Some Catholics have familiar prayers that they use for such moments. The rosary is a treasured way of slowing down and praying quietly. If you don—t wish to practice something so structured, slowing down can be as simple as taking 10 minutes each day to be silently present with God. One way to do this is to sit in an upright and comfortable position and focus on your breathing. Recognize that you inhale God's presence with each breath and exhale concerns, distractions, worries. This may be simple, but to do so on a daily basis requires a great deal of discipline.

Whatever your practice, over a period of time it becomes an oasis in your day. Within our tradition there are many traditions of meditation and quieting (i.e., Ignatian, Franciscan, Benedictine), and bookstores are loaded with recent titles on techniques and processes of meditation and centering. All are built of some aspect of quieting, an essential practice for a disciple.

Serve others

The Gospels are filled with examples of Jesus and his disciples serving others. We are called to serve those in our families, workplaces, neighborhoods and beyond. The phrase "think globally, act locally" comes to mind. On a regular basis (weekly? monthly?) a Catholic takes time to serve the poor.

This service might be at a local soup kitchen, working with St. Vincent de Paul, assisting with making housing available through Habitat for Humanity. You might choose instead to become an advocate for issues of justice at the local, state or national level. For example, a regular checking of the local Web site of the diocesan Catholic Charities office or the state Catholic conference can help you learn about local legislative issues that need support. There is a long list of organizations that one can join that both serve those in need and advocate for change (i.e., Bread for the World or Heifer Project). Contact your parish or diocesan justice and peace ministry for leads, or visit their Web sites.

Of course, serving others begins at home. A disciple is continually trying to "spread light" by acting out of forgiveness and compassion with family members and neighbors.

Study wisdom

A disciple of Jesus is challenged to be a lifelong learner. After all, Confirmation wasn—t a graduation ceremony! Our Church teaches that continual study is a key to adult faith. The two key areas of study and reflection are Scripture and Church teaching.

Scripture study can be done individually (as part of your quiet time) by using a tool to read and reflect on the daily and/or weekend lectionary readings. There are many printed missals, prayer books and Web sites that bring the lectionary readings easily to hand. Ask yourself, "What is one insight which strikes me today as I reflect on the Scriptures?" If these insights are included in a faith-sharing setting, this can be a powerful way to learn more about the Scriptures and about how the Spirit is speaking to your life.

Following the Sunday lectionary readings through the three-year cycle will expose you to the major themes of the entire Bible. Or, if you prefer, study an individual book of the Old or New Testament. There are many easy-to-use Scripture study tools available for Catholics. Your pastor or parish religious education staff can help you find the right one.

The second part of studying wisdom involves the teaching of the Church. Catholics now have available a major resource in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. This is meant to be a reference tool that any Catholic can use. There are also a number of other sources, many published since the Catechism, which can update you about Church teaching on particular topics or themes. You—re reading one of them now! You'll find other resources from the Web site www.americancatholic.org, or at the Web sites and catalogs of other Catholic publishers. A Catholic bookstore in your area is an excellent starting point, too.

Ideally, a parish will make the wisdom of the Church available to its parishioners by having a resource center of adult study materials, both print and audiovisual. A parish audiocassette collection can be shared among commuting parishioners, for example. Of course, none of this replaces parish-sponsored adult study programs.

Worship together

Disciples gather regularly for Eucharist. In his encyclical Day of the Lord, Pope John Paul II called Sunday a day —at the heart of the Christian life— and the Eucharist the heart of Sunday. This is a celebration of the —body— of Christ becoming visible, and is a nourishing experience so one can become bread that is broken for others. If a person has taken time to reflect on the Sunday Scriptures and experience faith sharing about them with others, the Mass takes on deeper dimensions of relevance and community.

There are other ways to pray in community, too. Whether it be rosary, novena, stations, spontaneous prayer, traditional or contemporary, at church or in a home, prayer with others is a critical practice of a disciple.

Share faith

A disciple takes time to talk about his or her faith with others. All the better if this is a regular, scheduled time. There has been a steady growth in Catholic faith-sharing groups in recent years. Typically this happens in a small group who gather for prayer, sharing, support, learning and service. The faith sharing can be as simple as taking time to reflect upon and speak about —God moments— that one has had since the last faith-sharing session. If there is a learning component involved in the meeting, the faith sharing can be in response to the meaning that a particular passage of Scripture or a particular teaching of the Church has for an individual. An experience of service can also be part of faith sharing. A small Christian community should be typically asking —so what— about something that it is studying and reflecting upon. Such a question often leads into action flowing from the insight and the action leads to reflection and sharing about the experience.

Sharing faith can also be more informal—with one or two others who get together on a regular basis for prayer and support. Increasingly there are Catholics gathering to reflect and share faith about the work that they do. For example: As a banker, or teacher, or nurse, to what degree does faith show up in one's work? What insights does one have from the Scriptures and/or the teaching of the Church for the work a person does?

Sharing faith also means the ability to listen actively to others. What —pre-judgments— are you making about what another is saying, especially if there is a disagreement? Two important questions for faith sharing are: —What lens am I looking through that differs from the one this person is using?— and "Please help me better understand the reasons for your thinking this way.— These kinds of questions can open up those gathered to the flow of the Spirit.

Some small groups meet weekly to share their faith by singing together. You guessed it—it—s the choir or parish music ministry!

Seek counsel

A disciple needs guidance on faith—s journey. Robert Wicks, author of numerous books on spirituality, writes in Touching the Holy—that a person needs an array of spiritual guides —to help us deal with our unrecognized and unnecessary fears, help us appreciate the need for proper detachment, and to lead us to a sense of enthusiasm and perspective in a world strained by anxiety and confusion.— This array can include a spiritual director or mentor, one or more spiritual companions, and various books that one relies upon for guidance and through which notable spiritual women and men can be accessed.

The point is, as writer Anne Lamott says so well, a follower of Jesus needs— to seek a light brighter than the —glimmer— of one—s own candle. To have a regular relationship with a spiritual director keeps a person accountable to another for his/her spiritual practices. Spiritual companions help one keep balanced, supported and challenged on the journey. Spiritual reading is a source of wisdom that can keep the flame burning.

Travel light
(fast amid feasting)

A person from a developing country recently asked a middle-class lay Catholic minister in America if he was wealthy. As the lay minister responded that he was not, he was met with: —Do you eat every day? If you do, you are considered wealthy in my country.—

Fasting is a Gospel-based discipline, though its roots go back further. Fasting from food is a practice of the faith because it can heighten one—s awareness of dependence upon God, awaken one to the bountiful gifts of food that are continually bestowed, and attune one to the plight of so many in the world who fast by the necessity of undernourishment and scarcity. There are other senses of fasting besides food. Weaning ourselves away from consumerism is a challenge of our time. Society tells us we can only find fulfillment through acquisitions of things, through roles or accomplishments. The discipline of just saying no to consumer extras is a type of fasting.

In Mark (Chapter 6) and Luke (Chapter 9), we read about Jesus giving instructions to the disciples as he sends them out to preach the Good News. He tells them to take little for the journey, to travel light (with little baggage) so one can become light (the opposite of darkness). This is the practice of fasting amid feasting.

Keeping the dream alive

Anne Lamott, in her autobiography Traveling Mercies, gives a rationale for regularly taking her seven-year-old son to church: —...I want to give him what I found in the world,...a path and a light to see by. Most of the people I know who have what I want—...purpose, heart balance, gratitude, joy—are people with a deep sense of spirituality. They are people in community, who pray, or practice their faith...people banding together to work on themselves and for human rights. They follow a brighter light than the glimmer of their own candle...—

—— If you learn to practice the disciplines of the disciple, you, too, will follow the brighter light, Jesus. That is the key to adult faith. Faith is a gift, but, like a flower in the garden, it must be fed and cared for. Spiritual disciplines are the way we keep our faith—and our dream—alive.

Matthew J. Hayes, Ed.D., a freelance writer, is the Executive Director of the Office of Lifelong Formation and Education for the Catholic Archdiocese of Louisville, Kentucky. He received his doctorate in educational leadership from Spalding University, Louisville, Kentucky.

Prayer Resources

Daily readings from New
American Bible from USCCB:———
—— www.usccb.org/nab

• Daily reflections on the
lectionary readings:

Living Faith—Print or
Internet based
1564 Fencorp Drive
Fenton, MO 63026-2942

Share the Word —Print or Internet based
3031 Fourth Street, NE
Washington, DC 20017-1102

• Resources for study of Catholic teachings and traditions:

28 W. Liberty St.
Cincinnati, OH 45210


Characteristics of a Faith-filled Adult

Trusts in God—s saving grace and believes firmly in the humanity and divinity of Jesus.

• Experiences a sense of personal well-being, security, peace.

• Integrates faith and life, and sees work, family, social relationships and political choices as part of religious life.

• Seeks spiritual growth through study,
reflection, prayer and discussions with others.

• Seeks to be part of a community of believers in which people witness to their faith and support and nourish one another.

• Holds life-affirming values, including a commitment to racial and gender equality, affirmation of cultural and religious diversity, and a personal sense of responsibility.

• Advocates social and global change to bring about social justice.

• Serves humanity consistently and passionately through acts of love and justice.

(Adapted from Search Institute Study on Effective Christian Education, 1990)


Next: The Mystery of Suffering—How Should I Respond? (by Kenneth R. Overberg, S.J.)


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