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Pray, Pause, Presence

Three simple steps to sanctity

By Kevin DiCamillo

All Saints, All Souls, Veterans Day, Thanksgiving – November is filled with days that bring our hearts and minds back to the things that truly matter. In this month, we are reminded of family, country, faith, death and the final repose of our soul.

St. John Paul was fond of saying that “America needs more saints!” and he was right. In a country in which “saintliness” is often confused with “celebrity,” we need those who are living examples of heroic virtues, both theological and cardinal.

But if sanctity starts at home, how can we be saints? If anything we tend think of ourselves as sinners. But we should keep in mind a wise saying attributed to St. Francis of Assisi: “Saints are sinners who kept on trying!” We are all called to holiness.

With that in mind, we can “keep trying” at a few things that will bring us closer to God. Here I will outline just three spiritual practices that focus on simplicity. These steps can be done in the context of a busy work and family life: pray, pause and presence.

Pray. St. Paul exhorts us to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17), but this is easier said than done. But prayer need not be a kneeling rosary or time before the Blessed Sacrament, as good as these practices are. Throughout a busy day, you can pray as you go. Pray with your family before meals and before bed. Make a brief Sign of the Cross when passing a church or a cemetery, asking the intercession of the saint they are named for. When you see an accident on the road, pray for the safety of those involved. The sound of sirens near or far should be an occasion for a short prayer as well. Pray when beginning and ending a task, or when faced with a problem big or small. Pray as a family, pray with your children. What should you pray? Something as simple as: “Jesus, I trust in You!”

Pause: You’ve had a horrible day at work and are about to walk in the door of your home to face needy children, bath night, late dinner, and a flurry of bills. Before opening the door, pause and say a Hail Mary. The Carthusian monks do this in what is called the Ave Maria room, or foyer to their monastic cell. It works wonders and gives new strength to deal with the challenges of the work-home life balance.

Presence: When you are with your family, put other concerns aside for a while and try to be here now. Whether it’s helping children, or doing the laundry, or talking with your wife, simply being fully present is your gift—a gift of time, attention and self.

Will these things make us saints? If not immediately, they will point us in a right direction. The key is to let God take our stony hearts and give us natural hearts. He’s good at doing that, if we let him.

As a cancer survivor I try—try—to be grateful to God simply for the gift of my being, as scarred and sickly as it may be. And I pray for those who continue to suffer from this dread disease. It helps to remember that cancer was a lot worse on those who didn’t survive it, including two dear friends.

But how to keep this “attitude of gratitude” in the daily grind of work, stress, family life, bills and the difficulties that can cloud our vision of how much we are loved by a good and gracious God? Again: simplicity. My great-aunt Mary was a religious sister who lived to age 95. As she prayed less in terms of being able to follow the Divine Office and the Mass, she simply said the name of “Jesus” over and over, sometimes 1,000 times a day. If she was not a saint, she was very saint-like. When all else fails in our prayer life, we have recourse to the Holy Name of Jesus – this month and every month.

Kevin DiCamillo is a freelance writer and editor based in northern New Jersey. He is a member of Knights of Columbus Don Bosco Council 4960.