The summer months are almost upon us. So, I would like to make a few suggestions on how to maintain that personal spiritual growth throughout the dog days of summer. Every liturgical season presents an opportunity for continued religious development. During Lent and Advent, we actually plan to enhance our spiritual position daily, so why should summer be any different? We don’t forget God during the so-called liturgical “ordinary time.” Therefore, I would offer a plan. You can pick and choose from my suggested list.
• First, on the list is prayer. All relationships are developed through communication, and our relationship with God demands our talking and even more so, listening to God. We are all quite aware of asking God for things, and certainly, we will never stop, for God’s generosity is insatiable. But perhaps, we can concentrate on the more forgotten aspects of prayer: adoration, contrition and thanksgiving. We almost never need to be taught how to ask for something, but to praise, to say we’re sorry or to express our thanks takes more effort, especially after we’ve been satisfied.
• During the summer, take some time, perhaps 10 minutes, before you close your eyes for a night’s sleep to examine how you spent your day, and for the things for which you’re sorry. It may not only be things that you’ve done, but for those actions through which you could have embodied Christ to others. For those who participate in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, the evening examination of one’s conscience will increase your understanding of God’s mercy toward us.
• If you are at work, perhaps you might choose an afternoon and skip lunch. Instead, take a walk with God and meditate on the presence of God in your life, praising Him for the gifts He has bestowed on you. Look at the beauty that surrounds you, the power of your senses and man’s ingenuity, all of which comes from God’s inspiration. Think about family that is a part of your life, and those significant relationships, which I believe do not come by coincidence. Praise God, for He has created us and all that surrounds us.
• Show you are thankful. Remember, there are 12 weeks to summer, so write a note, send an email or telephone someone who is important in your life, either now or in the past. Tell them how thankful you are for the privilege of their relationship. Don’t forget your spouse, your children, as well as friends, teachers, religious and priests. As you recognize them, say a prayer (just a simple ”Hail Mary” in thanksgiving for their contribution to your life). Never forget to thank God and neighbor. “Love God above all things and your neighbor as yourself.”
• Don’t forget Sunday Mass during the summer months. If you are on the road, I would suggest that you might check the internet for times and locations of Masses in your area. There are a number of books on the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, I personally like Dr. Edward Sri’s “A Biblical Walk through the Mass.” One of the priorities of the Synod is Sunday Mass. Summer is a great time to focus on various sections of the liturgy and learn about their meaning and development. You don’t have to do it all at once, but take it in pieces until you’ve covered it all. The more we know about our actions and their meaning, the deeper we experience their significance.
• In summer months, we become a tourist. We will often spend money to visit a site to expand our knowledge or experience. In Wisconsin, we are very blessed to have a number of shrines and holy sites. In the Diocese of Green Bay, we have the shrine of Our Lady of Good Help; in Champion, in the Diocese of La Crosse, we have Our Lady of Guadalupe, and in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, we have Our Lady Help of Christians, Holy Hill in Hubertus. Additionally, we have some beautiful churches (St. Josaphat Basilica, St. Joseph Chapel, St. Joan of Arc on Marquette’s Campus et.al.) If it’s possible, arrange for a guide to give the history and insights. I am always surprised to find out that many archdiocesan parishioners have never visited our most famous sites. Yet, Catholic people outside of our archdiocese refer to these places and how blessed we are to have them.
• Read a spiritual book. There are 12 weeks to summer which means approximately 84 days. Choose a book by Thomas Merton, Henri Nouwen, Matthew Kelly, Patrick Madrid, Bishop Robert Barron or others. If you read five pages a day, you will easily finish most books well before the end of the summer. I really don’t know how fast you read, but five pages would be about 15 minutes. I know that we will waste at least 15 minutes a day on many insignificant endeavors i.e. watching a rerun on TV. Many of the authors I have mention will make you think, challenging your vision of this world.
• In his encyclical, “Laudato Si” (Praise Be to You) on the care for our common home, Pope Francis reminds us of our responsibility to the environment. Visit a place of natural beauty (check “Our Wisconsin Magazine” for references) and experience God’s creation.
Add to this spiritual experience by reading sections of the Pope’s encyclical such as: “84. Our insistence that each human being is an image of God should not make us overlook the fact that each creature has its own purpose. None is superfluous. The entire material universe speaks of God’s love, his boundless affection for us. Soil, water, mountains, everything is as it were, a caress of God. The history of our friendship with God is always linked to particular places which take on an intensely personal meaning; we all remember places, and revisiting those memories does us much good. Anyone who has grown up in the hills or used to sit by the spring to drink, or played outdoors in the neighborhood square; going back to those places is a chance to recover something of their true selves.”
Summer is a fun time, so with a little bit of planning, we can ask God to join us and maximize the celebration of His creation.