Complete Your Spiritual Goals This Year

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It’s the new year…again.

Around this time of year, everyone online starts talking about goal setting and resolutions.

How to make goals, how to keep goals, how everyone breaks their goals, and how this year you can finally be the most productive person on the planet.

I used to think all that was useless, but now I’m buying into to it BECAUSE I started thinking about this in terms of spiritual goals.

So, here’s a post on how to set spiritual goals for the year, get started on your spiritual life, and motivate yourself to become the most spiritually productive person on the planet (or at least spiritually productive). This is what I’m going to use this year to get off my butt and start praying more, although I’ll probably still be on my butt while I’m praying.

Big resolutions don’t work

About 12 years ago, someone in my Bible study group asked if spiritual New Year’s resolutions were a good idea or just a waste of time. My answer was—are any New Year’s resolutions a good idea?

Let’s face it, big change is hard, and resolutions to make massive changes don’t work. Why do we make them?

Because in the beginning it’s cool. Think about starting a new workout program. You visualize how you’ll look different, feel different, and be different at the end. However, when you start working out it just hurts. That’s no fun.

I think Olympic athletes must be masochists, or at the least they have an incredible tolerance for pain.

What does work?

I ran across this idea of Kaizen, a Japanese word for the process of achieving sustained success through small, steady steps. You do this by building a habit of doing something very small, tiny even, everyday without fail until changes takes place. You’re not even committing to the big goal. You’re committing to the tiny habit.

There’s a book on this by Robert Maurer called One Small Step Can Change Your Life: The Kaizen Way. There’s also Mini Habits by Stephen Guise.

The problem is getting started is uncomfortable. Doesn’t matter what it is…working out, writing, praying. The hardest part is overcoming the inertia at the beginning.

But committing to a micro-habit isn’t that difficult. Think something on the order of walking ten minutes a day, writing 50 words a day, or reading a small section of the Bible or spiritual book.

Then, once you’ve started moving, it’s easier to keep going. After a while, you’ll likely stick around longer. Once you form a solid habit, you’ll start thinking of yourself as someone who does this particular thing. And then, you’re off and running.

My Kaizen moment

I experienced the power of small, incremental change first hand last year when I started P90X. Now at first this doesn’t seem like a good example, in fact it sort of isn’t. P90X is a big, honking, scary workout program that lasts for 90 days, and I’m not much of an athlete. But, they have this principle built in.

At the beginning, they don’t emphasize the number of reps you do, how strong you are, or even if you can finish. They emphasize moving and gradual improvement. They tell you to learn the exercises and go at your own pace. You can work harder later.

It worked! I just kept moving and stuck with it. At first I couldn’t imagine even finishing all the exercises in the first part, but eventually I could. Then when I started the advanced phase, I couldn’t imagine finishing those exercises, but eventually I could…with strength to spare.

Gradually, and incrementally over time, I did it.

This really resonates with me. I think this kind of goal setting will work. I seriously think it can work for spiritual goals and growing closer to God this year.

Getting started on spiritual goals

So what spiritual goals can you commit to this year? I’m going for at least ten minutes of meditative prayer everyday where I converse with God and listen to what he’s saying.

Something I’ve done for the past few years (that actually does fit the bill) is the Gospels in a Year program from Flocknote.com. Sign up for the mailing list and you’ll get a little snippet of gospels in your email inbox everyday. At the end of a year, you’ll finish all four gospels. Forget about reading the whole Bible. That’s a great goal, but it’s just too much.

There’s also a program for the Catechism.

Really, this is not that hard. Just read an email a day. All you have to do is click and it’s there.

What you do doesn’t matter. Just commit to something. Make it tiny and easy to manage. Don’t over think it or over shoot. That will undermine the entire thing. Make it short, simple, and sweet.

Here’s to spiritual goals and productivity.

Family Advent Devotion: Jotham’s Journey

Jotham's Journey image

“Over and over Jotham screamed for his family, but there was no one to hear him. They had vanished. He was alone. Where had they gone? How long ago did they leave? Through quick stabbing sobs, Jotham told himself, ‘I must look for my family. I must search until I find them.” And so his journey began.”

Several years ago, my wife got a book to read aloud to the kids for Advent. We’d done several different Advent devotions over the years that involved reading a little something every day: Advent calendars, sticker storybooks, Jesse trees, so I thought, “Cool!” and didn’t think much more about it. Then we started reading this book, Jotham’s Journey by Arnold Ytreeide, and entered a whole new level of Family Advent devotion.

The book follows Jotham, a 10 year-old Jewish shepherd boy living with his family in Israel around the time of Jesus’ birth. Jotham desperately wants to accompany his older brothers on a trip to Hebron because he’s captivated by the sights and sounds of big cities. When his father flatly denies this request because he’s too young, Jotham runs away to prove he’s old enough to take care of himself. However, when his anger cools and his fear rises during the night, he returns home the next day to find his family has packed up the tents and taken off…without him!

Jotham discovers his family thinks he’s dead, killed by a wild animal. But why did they go? Mystery. And that launches the story and his journey to find them. This is a really great tale. Jotham gets into all kinds of adventures, falls in and out of all kinds of trouble, and experiences all the variances of first century Jewish culture in the people he meets. Along the way, his story cleverly intertwines with the characters and story of Jesus’ birth.

This is historical fiction so, while you’re enjoying an engaging yarn, you’re also learning about the people, places, and lifestyle of first century Israel. As well, the story of Christ’s birth slowly unfolds as you approach Christmas. You read a chapter a day all the way through Advent, and each chapter ends with a reflection that ties the story to a teaching about Advent and the coming of Jesus. Additionally, the book guides you in using an Advent wreath. It instructs you to light the appropriate Advent candle before reading the chapter. Here’s an excerpt from the first chapter’s reflection:

“Today we begin the Advent season by lighting the first violet candle. This candle reminds us of God’s promise that, though like Israel we have been disobedient children who are lost and alone in the desert, he has sent a Messiah, a shining light, a Savior, to lead us back to God. Like Jotham, we each have a long journey ahead of us—a journey that unfolds day by day. But, also like Jotham, we can be confident that no matter what we encounter along the way, we can have hope and faith in a God who loves us, and who desires only the best for us. If only we seek him.”

The reflections include psalms and passages from the Old Testament that prophesy and prefigure the coming of the Messiah, and they teach how Jesus is their fulfillment. It’s an excellent learning tool! While enjoying a wonderful story, you understand the meaning of Advent and how it affects your life. Your children will be eager to read every day and find out what happens next. And, you’ll be pretty interested yourself.

I highly recommend Jotham’s Journey for your family’s Advent devotions. It’s great for kids up to 10 years old, but this year, my wife pulled it out again and my 13 year-old is still enjoying it. It had been a while since they read it and everything is new and exciting again. I saw people comment on the Amazon website saying they used it successfully with middle-schoolers, so obviously it has a wide appeal.

This was Ytreeide’s first book, but he wrote several others after this one involving other characters from Jotham’s story in parallel adventures.There are two other Advent stories and one set around the time of the Crucifixion that tells the Easter story. That’s several years worth of good family Advent devotions.

Note: This post originally appeared on CatholicMom.com. Unfortunately, this review comes a little late for this year’s Advent devotions. If I had my stuff together, I would have told you about this about a month ago–before Advent started. Alas, no such productivity. You’ll have to settle for doing this next year. But think about it, you’re already ahead of the game for next Advent. 

Who Needs You to Share Your Faith?

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Here’s the question: Who do you talk to about your Catholic Faith?

Should you share your faith with everyone? No one?

Seth Godin is more than a marketing guru. He’s a visionary thought leader who defined, and continues to refine, business and online communication. For those of you who think all marketing is sleazy, Godin’s ethical, personalist marketing will turn your head. I think Catholics can learn a lot from him. Actually, I wish all Catholic parishes did business as personally as Godin proposes.

Recently he said this:

“Marketers make change happen. Good marketing can change governments, heal the sick and bring a new technology to the masses. Marketers spend money (sometimes lots of it), take our time and transform our culture. It’s quite a powerful position to be in.

. . . .

At a recent conference for non-profits, a college student asked me, ‘what right does a public health person have to try to change the behavior of an at-risk group?’ That one was easy for me. How can they not work to tell stories and share information that will help those at risk change that behavior?

. . . .

For me, the line is clear. If the person you’re trying to change knew what you knew, would they want to change?”

In our society, religion is a private thing. You’re not supposed to share, or rather “impose,” your beliefs. Just keep it to yourself, man! I don’t NEED your morality!

But what if you do?

How can we not share information and stories that can help change the behaviors of those “at risk” of unhappiness, unfulfilled lives, and loss of purpose? Perhaps it’s merely my opinion and perspective. Perhaps they’re perfectly happy on their own and it’s none of my business. But if that person knew what you knew about God, would they want to change? There’s the real answer.

The gospel has the power to make change happen as well. It has changed cultures for centuries.

Who should hear it? Whoever would want to change if they knew about it. That’s actually not everyone, but it’s also not no one.

How do you know? If you get to know them, you’ll know.

How to Know You Have a Relationship with Jesus

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I was already a little tipsy when I started this conversation with Andre Regnier.

That didn’t make it any easier.

Marcel Lejeune and I had already indulged in a few beers at the social before we went over to Damon’s, a sports bar at the bottom of the hill Franciscan University is perched on.

It serves as the main hangout after activities at the  St. John Bosco Conference are finished.

Andre was at my talk earlier that afternoon and I was anxious to hear what he had to say. We had discussed evangelization the day before and he was intrigued by my topic–how to build conversion into your catechesis.

The conversation

“I loved your talk but something was missing,” Andre told me. I found out later he has this conversation with a lot of Catholics speaking about evangelization.
[Read more…]

Sorry, I Got Caught Up

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So…what have you guys been up to?

I’ve been a little busy!

This is the obligatory post bloggers always write when they’ve been away from the blog for a while.

You’ve seen them. They contain an apology for being absent and an explanation of what could possibly have been so important that a simple post could not be produced two months.

Well, I am really sorry, and I do have a good excuse.

I GOT A NEW JOB!

I’m now the Director of the Bishop Helmsing Institute (BHI). It’s a school of faith formation run by the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, MO. Yep! I moved to Kansas City! And I’m the director!

The institute does adult faith formation classes leading to catechetical certification. There’s five staff instructors, and several adjunct instructors, that do 4-5 week courses at remote sites (mostly parishes) around the diocese. This year we’re focusing on the Catechism of the Catholic Church. We’ll teach the whole Catechism in 6 courses this year.

This whole thing has been a whirlwind. Here’s the story.

About two years ago, a friend from Franciscan turned me onto a job opening at BHI. I met the department head and the director at the St. John Bosco Conference at Franciscan. They watched me teach and asked me to apply, which I did right away. However, funding for that position got cut.

Then toward the end of last May, they asked me to apply again…but this time it was for the director’s position. The interview process took only a month. I accepted the position at the end of June and a month later, July 28th, I started. Believe me, that was a quick turnaround! I had a month to button up my DRE job so I could turn it over, and get a move organized. On top of that, one week of that was spent at the Bosco Conference.

Needless to say, I didn’t have much extra time, or brain power, to devote to blogging.

I have to say my wife was incredible. She is the moving planner extraordinaire. She’s the one that got everything together and made it happen so quickly. If it wasn’t for her, I’d still be in Champaign waiting to move.

So here I am. Living in Kansas City, drinking through a fire hose at the Bishop Helmsing Institute, and loving every minute of it. I’m mostly learning the ropes but I’m already thinking of what I can improve. What can I say? I can’t help it. Don’t tell my boss.

On the blogging side, I think I’m finally settled enough to get back to it. I have a ton of stuff to write about. Things I learned at the Bosco Conference from Andre Regnier and Sherry Weddell, as well as many other thoughts about evangelization.

It’s been a wild ride. Every once and a while I pull a little disappearing act when life catches up to me, but I really appreciate your reading and support of my writing. Thanks for sticking with me.

Book Review: Under the Influence of Jesus

UnderInfluenceBlogTour

I don’t think the average Catholic has a clue what difference Jesus makes.

Oh sure, they’ve heard homilies, listened to gospel stories, and read about the doctrines about Jesus in their CCD classes as children.

But do they understand what Jesus can do for them? Why it’s better to believe in him? How he can change them?

I’d say no. That’s because Catholics talk a lot about the “what” and “when” and “where,” but precious little about the “why” and “how” and “how come.”

But Joe Paprocki’s out to change that.
[Read more…]

How to Get the Catechetical Recharge You Need This Summer

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Okay so…it’s the end of the year. Your classes are over, or they will be soon.

You’re tired, burned out, and ready for summer.

But you’re DRE is already asking if you want to teach again next year! Really? How can you get ready for that?

You need that fire back before Fall. You need energizing. You need a conference!

And I’ve got just the thing for you.
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Why the Fruit of the Spirit Is Missing From Your Life

Transformation: Fruit of the Spirit

Here’s something I’ve learned about saints.

They believe what the Bible says. Not just that the Bible is true, but that it’s true for them.

St. Francis read that Jesus told the apostles they should go preach the gospel and take nothing with them, so he did.

St. Anthony read that to be perfect you should sell everything you have, give it to the poor, and radically follow Jesus, so he did.

St. Augustine read about how the Holy Spirit transforms believers and changes their behavior so he converted.

So what should you make of this passage in Galatians, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Galatians 5:22-33)?

Is that for real? Can you really have those qualities as the fruit of a Christian life? If so, how?
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Breaking the Silence: Forming Intentional Disciples and the Catholic Family

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In my last post, I related some insights from a one-day workshop I attended that was given by Sherry Weddell.

Again, her book Forming Intentional Disciples is really creating quite a stir in the catechetical world.

It’s getting diocesan staffs and parish leadership councils all over the country thinking about discipleship and considering parish evangelization in new ways.

Sherry presented some alarming statistics at her workshop about Catholic belief. The situation’s not good.

But one problem she highlighted particularly struck me, and I wanted to consider it in different terms, beyond the parish. I wanted to think of it in terms of the family.
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Forming Intentional Disciples, the Resurrection, and the Name of Jesus

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I recently had the privilege of meeting Sherry Weddell and attending her one-day workshop for Forming Intentional Disciples.

Her book is wildly sweeping the catechetical nation and creating quite a stir.

There’s so much to talk about from this workshop, but there’s one thing in particular that hit me.

It’s a problem I never recognized and then, after I heard it, didn’t believe it was a problem. However, now I’m convinced and see it as an essential element in parish evangelization.

That problem is this–Catholics don’t speak the name of Jesus.
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