16 Practical Tips for Creating & Maintaining Your Daily Prayer Habit

Prayer is such a crucial part of the faithful practice of Catholicism but many of us struggle, at least at one time or another, to keep a regular prayer life. Maybe we’re busy in school, busy raising a family, busy at work, or even all of those at the same time, and find that somehow prayer seems too often to slip through the cracks. To help you keep prayer a regular part of your daily life we offer these practical tips which have helped us pray more regularly.

Listers, many of the most-read lists we’ve published are prayer focused: the best prayers to say before bed, really short prayers to say throughout the day, or even prayers recommended by an exorcist to fight evil, and of course the Latin prayers we should all know. We’ve also covered questions about prayer like why prayers aren’t always answered, and much, much more. This shouldn’t be surprising since prayer is such a crucial part of the faithful practice of Catholicism. However most of us also struggle, at least at one time or another, to keep a regular prayer life. Maybe you’re busy in school, busy raising a family, busy at work, or even all of those at the same time, and find that somehow prayer seems too often to slip through the cracks. To help you keep prayer a regular part of your daily life we offer these practical tips which have helped us pray more regularly. Of course, if you have tips to share please do so in the comments and we’ll highlight the best.


Use your iPhone to remind you of prayer

1. Use your Phone

Every smartphone has both built-in and third-party apps for reminders. Use the “repeat” function to set daily reminders to pray. If you are the kind of person who uses your calendar for planning out your tasks for the day, schedule time for prayer. Pictured above, the fantastic Due app for iOS is a great choice for iPhone users.

2. Be Specific

When you schedule prayer on your calendar, or add it to your to do list, don’t just say “Pray” but rather be specific and say something like “Pray the Rosary” or “Pray the Hail Holy Queen”. This removes what psychologists call decision avoidance, or what the rest of us call putting something off because it’s too hard to decide what to do. The whole point of a reminder is so that you don’t have to decide when to pray, add some specificity and you won’t have to decide what to pray in the moment either. Of course, once you’ve said your prayer you can add extemporaneous, or other prayers as you wish. This is just a way to help get things started.

 

Frame a prayer and place it somewhere visible

3. Place a framed prayer in plain sight

Often we just think about whatever is in front of us, so put some prayers in plain sight by writing them out, and framing them. Then you can hang them on the wall, or use the frames’ built-in stand to place them on a flat surface. Some good spots to consider might be near the sink in your kitchen, on your desk, on your nightstand, by the sink in your bathroom, on a bookcase you walk by frequently, or on a hall or entryway table.

 

Ave Maria written on bathroom mirror

EXPO Dry-Erase marker

4. No frame? Write a prayer on your bathroom mirror

As a convert there are many beautiful prayers from tradition which I do not know by heart and need to see over and over to remember, this simple tip is how I learned to pray the Memorare and made sure I saw it every day: Take a dry-erase marker and copy the prayer right onto the mirror in your bathroom. Now, every time you brush your teeth you can say a prayer. Bonus: Pick a long enough prayer and it’s a good way to make sure you’re brushing as much as you ought to.

 

Morning Prayer reminder on iPhone

5. Turn your morning alarm into a reminder to pray

If you use your phone to wake up in the morning, and it has the ability to edit the name of the alarm, change it to something like “Get up! Offer the day to God.” or “Good morning! Thank God for it!”

 

Modest Catholic home prayer shelf

6. Make a place for prayer

We’ve written about home altars before, and they’re a great option for making a dedicated space for prayer. Maybe your current situation does not allow for something very elaborate, that is ok. A simple cloth napkin with a small crucifix, perhaps some prayer cards and a tea light candle can be a dignified, if diminutive prayer corner. Having a dedicated space will be a reminder of, and an invitation to prayer whenever you see it.

 

Use Catholic Holy Cards as Bookmarks

7. Use prayers or holy cards as bookmarks

This is particularly useful for students: keep your place in books with prayers or holy cards and before you start reading pause to pray. Some Saints’ cards you might consider are St. Francis de Sales, St. Thomas Aquinas, especially when studying, St. Josemaria, and St. Joseph the Worker for your business reading.

8. Change your wallpaper

You know that giant background on your computer, iPad, or phone? You can change that. Consider finding an image that reminds you of prayer, or even using a free website or app to add a simple prayer to your favorite image. Some of these really short prayers might work well.

 

 

desktop-with-holy-cards-and-prayer-txt-file

9. Put an icon & prayer on your computer desktop

Another option is simply saving a holy image right to your computer’s desktop. Most computers can be set to show a preview of files, and you’ll have a small icon (in a couple senses) right on your desktop. You can also copy-and-paste prayers into simple text files or word documents and save right to your desktop.

10. Pray while exercising

My very favorite exercise is simply walking outdoors. I usually go on several walks every day, and nearly always pray the Rosary on my first walk. In my experience, being in the gym and lifting weights isn’t an environment well suited to lengthy prayer times – but if you’re a runner or enjoy walks like I do, try praying a rosary instead of cranking up the music or podcasts next time.

11. Turn your commute into adoration

No, you probably shouldn’t set up a mobile adoration chapel but if you live in a city where your commute is a nightmare, consider stopping by a church and praying for a few minutes rather than sitting at the office or in traffic. The traffic will be there, you may not be home until later anyway, so check for churches that may be along your commute and see if you might be able to spend some time in God’s presence.

 

12. Put a holy water font by your door

My father and mother-in-law recently gave my wife and me this beautiful little holy water font which belonged to my wife’s grandmother. I promptly installed it by our front door and more than being a family heirloom, it serves as a reminder to invoke the name of the Holy Trinity every time we are coming or going from our home. If your in-laws aren’t as great as mine, you can always find holy water fonts at local Catholic shops or even online.

 

Put holy cards on your desk to remind you of prayer

13. Place a holy card on your desk

Spend a lot of time at a desktop computer? Consider keeping a holy card taped to the computer monitor’s bezel, or propped up in the keyboard by the otherwise totally useless “function” keys. Or, simply place it on the desk but beware of it simply getting lost in the shuffle of regular papers.

 

Moleskine-like prayer journal

14. Keep a weekly prayer journal

What I say: “Oh my! I’ll pray for you.” What actually I do: forget. What I say: “Oh, that sounds like a great oppourtunity, I’ll say a prayer for you!” What I actually do: forget. What I say: “I’m so sorry to hear that, I’ll pray for you.” What I actually do: forget. I’m sure you can’t possibly relate to this, but here’s the weapon I’ve used to (mostly) overcome this terrible vice: A prayer journal. It is nothing fancy, just a simple black moleskine-styled notebook. We keep two lists in the notebook, one for things for which we want to give thanks, and another for prayer requests. Each Sunday, we turn the page, and update the lists for the week. Now, when I tell someone “I’ll pray for you” I either do it instantly, or add it to our prayer journal for the week.

15. Set your homepage to a prayer

Change your browser’s homepage to a favorite prayer. Perhaps one of our lists, Father Z’s Prayer Before Connecting to the Internet, or something from EWTN’s page of prayers. Then whenever you open up your browser, pause for a brief prayer.

 

girl praying

16. Pray with your family

Finally, the number one thing you can do develop a habit of prayer is to create a culture of prayer in your family. Make a point of praying together before and after meals, pray the Angelus as a family at noon if you’re together, pray the Rosary after dinner, pray compline at the end of the day, etc. Make it a regular practice, and hold each other accountable. For a fantastic introduction to creating a culture of prayer in your home, we highly recommend this book filled with practical advice and ageless principles: The Little Oratory: A Beginner’s Guide to Praying in the Home by David Clayton & Leila Marie Lawler.


Remember, these aren’t prescriptions which we think everyone must practice, just some ideas which have helped us keep prayer a regular part of our daily lives. If you have tips to share please do so in the comments below and we’ll highlight the best.

Pre-Cana with St. John Chrysostom: 7 Tips to a Successful Marriage

In this stream of thought, I am going to list 7 quotes from the man who possibly saved my marriage before I even met my husband.

Listers, next to converting to Catholicism, the second best choice of my life was marrying my husband. Before I converted and before I met my husband, I did not believe that marriage was a sacrament. Not recognizing this great mysterious gift as one of the major sources of grace caused me to think all sorts of other errant nonsense. For example, I believed that divorce was okay and that contraception was not only permissible but essential to a happy marriage. Fortunately I met St. John Chrysostom before I met my husband.

There was a stat floating around on the internet that said that 50% of all marriages end in divorce. Whether that is true I am not sure. However, it got me thinking. If this stat is true, then why is this the case? I think that part and maybe the whole problem of it is most people don’t understand how serious marriage is. We see youtube videos of these kind of goofy weddings where people are dancing hamfistedly down the aisles, but as cute and adorable and unique as that may be it’s not serious enough for what the occasion is all about. Marriage is a sacrament. Perhaps it’s time to start thinking about what that means.

In this stream of thought, I am going to list 7 quotes from the man who possibly saved my marriage before I even met my husband.1

1. Pick Virtue Rather than Riches When Selecting a Good Husband

First, look for a husband who will really be a husband and a protector; remember that you are placing a head on a body. When your daughter is to be married, don’t look for how much money a man has. Don’t worry about his nationality or his family’s social position […] When you are satisfied that the man is virtuous and decide what day they will be married, beseech Christ to be present at the wedding. He is not ashamed to come for marriage is an image of His presence in the Church. Even better than this: pray that your children will each find such a virtuous spouse; entrust this concern of yours into His hands. If you honor Him in this way, He will return honor for honor. — Sermon on Marriage

2. Advice on How to Pick a Wife

Since we know all this, let us seek just one thing in a wife, virtue of soul and nobility of character, so that we may enjoy tranquility, so that we may luxuriate in harmony and lasting love. The man who takes a rich wife takes a boss rather than a wife. If even without wealth women are with pride and prone to the love of fame, if they have wealth in addition, how will their husbands be able to stand them? The man, however, who takes a wife of equal position or poorer than himself takes a helper and ally and brings every blessing into his house. Her own poverty forces her to care for her husband with great concern, to yield to him and obey him in everything. It removes every occasion of strife, battle, presumption, and pride. It binds the couple in peace, harmony, love, and concord. Let us not, therefore, seek to have money, but to have peace, in order to enjoy happiness. Marriage does not exist to fill our houses with war and battles, to give us strife and contention, to pit us against each other and make our life unliveable. It exists in order that we may enjoy another’s help, that we may have a harbor, a refuge, and a consolation in troubles which hang over us, and that we may converse happily with our wife. How many wealthy men who have taken rich wives and increased their substance have yet destroyed their happiness and harmony, as they contend in daily battles at table?How many poor men who have taken poorer wives now enjoy peace and look upon each day’s  sun with joy? –How to Choose a Wife

3. The Two-Fold Purpose of Marriage

Marriage was not instituted for wantonness or fornication, but for chastity. Listen to what Paul says: “Because of the temptation of immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her husband.” There are two purposes for which marriage was instituted: to make us chaster, and to make us parents. Of these two, the reason of chastity takes precedence. — Sermon on Marriage

4. Weddings Should Be Christ-Focused

Marriage is not an evil thing. It is adultery that is evil, it is fornication that is evil. Marriage is a remedy to eliminate fornication. Let us not, therefore, dishonor marriage by the pomp of the devil. Instead, let those who take wives now do as they did at Cana in Galilee. Let them have Christ in their midst. “How can they do this?” someone asks. By inviting the clergy. “He who receives you,” the Lord says, “receives Me.” So drive away the devil. Throw out the lewd songs, the corrupt melodies, the disorderly dances, the shameful words, the diabolical display, the uproar, the unrestrained laughter, and the rest of the impropriety. Bring in instead the holy servants of Christ, and through them Christ will certainly be present along with His mother and His brothers. For He says, “Whoever does the will of My Father is My brother and sister and mother.” — Sermon on Marriage

5. Fidelity Is an Equal Responibility in a Marriage

In this passage [1 Corinthians 7:1-2], however, there is no mention of greater or lesser authority. Why does he speak here in terms of equality? Because his subject is conjugal fidelity. He intends for the husband to have greater responsiblity in nearly every concern, but fidelity is an exception. “The husband does not rule over his own body, but the wife does.” Husband and wife are equally responsible for the honor of their marriage bed. — Homily on 1 Corinthians 7

6. Love is More Powerful than Fear

Notice, however, that Paul explains love in detail, comparing it to Christ’s love for the Church and our love for our own flesh, saying for this reason a man leaves his father and mother but he does not elaborate concerning fear. Why so? He would much prefer love to prevail, because where there is love, everything else follows, but where love is absent, fear will be of no use. If a man loves his wife, he will bear with her even when she isn’t very obedient. How difficult it is to have harmony when husband and wife are not bound together by the power of love! Fear is no substitute for this. That is why he speaks at greater length about the stronger force. So if you think that the wife is the loser because she is told to fear her husband, remember that the principal duty of love is assigned to the husband, and you will see that it is her gain. “And what if my wife refuses to obey me?” a husband will ask. Never mind! Your obligation is to love her; do your duty! Even when we don’t receive our due from others, we must always do our duty. –Homily on Ephesians 5:22-23

7. The Love between a Husband and Wife is a Vital to the Success of Humanity

The love of husband and wife is the force that welds society together. Men will take up arms and even sacrifice their lives for the sake of this love. St. Paul would not speak so earnestly about this subject without serious reason; why else would he say, “Wives, be subject to your husbands, as to the Lord?” Because when harmony prevails, the children are raised well, the household is kept in order, and neighbors, friends, and relatives praise the result. Great benefits, both of families and states, are thus produced. When it is otherwise, however, everything is thrown into confusion and turned upside-down. –Homily on Ephesians 5:22-23

For all married couples, St. John Chrysostom, pray for us!

N.B. Keep in mind that St. John Chrysostom lived from 347-407 AD, so this was clearly a different age and different part of the world. Arranged marriages were a more common place occurrence. Also, the structure of marriages were different in those days. So, please hear out all of what St. John Chrysostom has to say because his intent is not misogyny but to help married couples flourish in their vocation.

 

More from SPL:
Splendor of the East: 5 Byzantine Hymns All Catholics Should Know
8 Quotes from St. John Chrysostom on How to Raise Children
6 Things You Should Know About the Melkite Catholic Church
Lists referencing “Holy Matrimony”
More lists with recourse to the Early Church Fathers

  1. All quotes were taken from the following compilation of Chrysostom writings:
    Chrysostom, St. John. On Marriage and Family Life. Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1986. []

6 Quotes from the Church Fathers on Mourning the Loss of a Child or Loved One

“Recently, a couple members of my extended family lost not one child but two in the span of one year, so I felt like words were not enough. I decided to seek out the wisdom of the Church Fathers, who always know the right thing to say.”

Listers, when there is a death in the family, it is always very hard to find the right words to say. I always struggle with this and end up bumbling through my condolences. In the end, I always feel that whatever I say is trite even though my attempts were heartfelt and well-meaning. It is especially hard to console a family when they are grieving the loss of a child. Recently, a couple members of my extended family lost not one child but two in the span of one year, so I felt like words were not enough. I decided to seek out the wisdom of the Church Fathers, who always know the right thing to say. What I found was not only uplifting but shed some light on how Catholics ought to view death. Whether it is you who might have lost a child or someone you might know, these quotes from the Church Fathers might be of some consolation. This list is a compilation of my findings:

1. Dwell on the wonderful company your child must be keeping

Well, your child may have departed from you, but he has gone to Christ the Lord. For you his eyes have been shut, but they are opened to the eternal light: he is gone from your table, but is now added to the table of angels. The plant was uprooted from here, but planted in paradise . From the earthly kingdom he was transferred to the heavenly kingdom. You see what was exchanged for what. Are you sad because you no longer see the beauty of the face of your child? But this happens, because you do not see the real beauty of the soul with which he rejoices in the heavenly feast. How beautiful indeed is the eye that sees God!  How sweet indeed is the mouth that is adorned with divine melodies!
St. Gregory of Nyssa from A Homily of Consolation Concerning Pulcheria

 

2. Remember that you remain united to your child through Christ

For why should I weep for thee, my most loving brother, who wast thus torn from me that thou mightest be the brother of all? For I have not lost but changed my intercourse with thee; before we were inseparable in body, now we are undivided in affection; for thou remainst with me and ever wilt remain. And indeed, whilst thou wast living with me, our country never tore thee from me, nor didst thou thyself ever prefer our country to me; and now thou art become surety for that other country, for I begin to be no stranger there where the better portion of myself already is. I was never wholly engrossed in myself, but the greater part of each of us was in the other, yet we were each of us in Christ, in Whom is the whole sum of all and the portion of each severally. This grace is more pleasing to me than thy natal soil, in which is the fruit not of nature but of grace, for in that body which lies lifeless lies the better work of my life, since in this body, too, which I bear is the richer portion of thyself.
St. Ambrose Book 1 of “On the Decease of Satyrus

Michelang

 

3.Remember to love God above all things
(Warning! This is one is a bit harsh, but it is something you ought to remind yourself)

Wherefore dost thou lament thy child? Wherefore thine husband? The former , because I had not enjoyed him, you say; the latter, because I expected that I should have enjoyed him longer. And this very thing, what want of faith does it argue, to suppose that thy husband or thy son constitutes thy safety, and not God! How dost thou not think to provoke Him? For often on this account He takes them away, that thou mayest not be so bound to them, so that it may withdraw thy hopes from them. For God is jealous, and wills to be loved by us most of all things: and that, because He loves us exceedingly[…]Love not thy husband more than God, and thou shalt not ever experience widowhood. Or rather, even if it should happen, thou shalt not have the feeling of it. Why? Because  thou hast an immortal Protector who loves thee better. If thou lovest God more, mourn not: For He who is more beloved is immortal, and does not suffer thee to feel the loss of him who is less beloved. This I will make manifest to thee by an example. Tell me, if thou hast a husband, complying with thee in all things, one that is respected amongst all, intelligent and wise, and loving thee, thou being esteemed happy on his account, and in conjunction with him shouldest thou bring forth a child, and then before it has arrived at the age of maturity, that child should depart; wilt thou then feel the affliction? By no means. For he that is more beloved makes it disappear. And now if thou love God more than thy husband assuredly He will not soon take him away. But even if He should take him, thou wilt not be sensible of the affliction. For this reason the blessed Job felt no severe suffering, when he heard of the death of his children all at once, because he loved God more than them…
St. John Chrysostom Homily 6 in his Homilies of 1 Thessalonians

4. Your child is in a better place, as cliche as that may sound.

And sayest thou, How is it possible for one that is man not to mourn? I reply if thou wilt reflect how neither the Patriarch nor Job, who both were men, gave way to any thing of the kind; and this too in either case before the Law , and Grace, and the excellent wisdom of the laws [we have]: if thou wilt account that the deceased has removed into a better country, and bounded away to a happier inheritance, and that thou hast not lost thy son but bestowed him henceforward in an inviolable spot. Say not then, I pray thee, I am no longer called “father,” for why art thou no longer called so when thy son abideth? For surely thou didst not part with thy child nor lost thy son? Rather thou hast gotten him, and hast him in greater safety. Wherefore, no longer shalt thou be called “father” here only, but also in heaven; so that thou hast not lost the title “father,” but hast gained it in a nobler sense; for henceforth thou shalt be called father not of a mortal child, but of an immortal; of a noble soldier; on duty continually within [the palace]. For think not because he is not present that therefore he is lost; for had he been absent in a foreign land, the title of thy relationship had not gone from thee with his body […]
St. John Chrysostom Homily 1 of his Homilies on Second Corinthians

Giotto

5. Honor your child through acts of penance and alms-giving. (This is essential!)

For the honor to the dead is, not wailings and lamentings, but hymns and psalmodies and an excellent life. The good man when he departheth, shall depart with angels, though no man be near his remains; but the corrupt, though he have a city to attend his funeral, shall be nothing profited. Wilt thou honor him who is gone? Honor him in another way, by alms-deeds, by acts of beneficence and public service.
St. John Chrysostom Homily 57 of his Homilies on the Gospel of Saint John.

6. When all other outlets of consolation fail, look to the Resurrection for comfort.

Say not then, “He is perished and shall no more be;” for these be the words of unbelievers; but say, “He sleepth and will rise again,” He is gone on a journey and will return with the King.” Who sayeth this? He that hath Christ speaking in him. “For,” saith he, “if revived, “even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with Him.” (1 Thess. iv.14.) If then thou seek thy son, there seek him where the King is, where is the army of the Angels; not in the grace; not in the earth; lest whilst he is so highly exalted, thyself remain groveling on the ground […] If we have this true wisdom, we shall easily repel all this kind of distress; and “the God of mercies and Father of all comfort” comfort all our hearts both those who are oppressed with such grief and those held down with any other sorrow; and grant us deliverance from all despair and increase of spiritual joy; and to all we attain, through the grace and loving-kindness of our Lord Jesus Christ, with Whom unto the Father, together with the Holy Spirit be glory, power, honor,  now and ever, and world without end. Amen.
St. John Chrysostom Homily 1 of his Homilies on 2 Corinthians 

Listers, if you have any more quotes to add to this list let us know.

Should a Parent Turn In a Criminal Child and 4 Other Questions on Virtue and Law

Listers, this list is an exercise in thought addressing certain practical and theoretical questions concerning law and virtue.

Listers, this list is an exercise in thought addressing certain practical and theoretical questions concerning law and virtue. It roughly handles certain topical elements in St. Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologica 92.1 and without question uses the Angelic Doctor’s overall philosophy of law as its guiding light and standard. The questions drudge up various concerns, but could be taken to all share in the theme of understanding if law leads men to virtue, how those laws can practically function in a complex society with different levels of leadership and authority.

A law is “an ordinance of reason for the common good, made by him who has care of the community, and promulgated.”
St. Thomas Aquinas, ST I-II.90.4

A Thomistic Catechesis on Law
Law & the Common Good: 9 Introductory Questions
Think Like a Catholic: 7 Questions on the Four Laws
Divine Law: 4 Reasons God Gave Us Scripture

1. Should a family turn in a criminal family member?

If a family discovers a fellow family member has committed a crime, should the family report the individual?
Considering crimes such as the murder or rape, it would seem so, because the crime deals with another household. The parents have authority over the household, but the crime extends past their domestic jurisdiction. Since the family is the core sub-political part of the polis,1 concealing a crime that crosses the sub-political barrier between the families seem to again violate that barrier; hence, the two sub-political parts, the families, would appear to the greater municipal jurisdiction within the polis.

What if the murderer and victim are within the same family?
Is the domestic authority of the household leader(s) sufficient? The polis can only be as virtuous as its citizens; thus, the common good of the state rests upon the virtuous nature of its citizens. In this understanding, such a heinous and vicious (Literally: of vice in opposition to virtue) act strikes at the common good of the whole polis. The domestic jurisdiction seems inadequate and disproportionate to the problem, and consequently it is left to the political authority of the polis to properly judge and punish the citizen.

Where is the line?
The relationship between households and their relationship to the overall polis demands a proper and natural order. The virtue of proper order is justice, and as Aristotle states in Book One of his Politics, justice is the highest virtue of the polis or the virtue that belongs to the polis.2 If a thing is just it is right and well-ordered, because justice places all things in proper order according to reason; however, in order to properly place things in order one needs the elective habit or rather the virtue of prudence.3 Considering crimes within the household, the prudence of the leaders of the household must take into consideration the category of the action (non-violent, violent, etc.) and judge the action as either household problem or a political problem. If prudence is to play this role, then the virtue of the family leaders must be well-formed.

2. How does one be both parent and citizen?

If the parent only acts like a parent, then he will cover up actions that should be turned over to the political authorities; however, if the parent only acts as a citizen, then it will collapse the political into the household. Again, Catholicism is not a leviathan of moral laws, but rather a religion that focuses on cultivating virtue – which includes the virtue of prudence in order to address complex moral problems.4

Overall, the prudential judgments of parents is legitimate and defensible but is not always optimal.

3. Can charity be a virtue of the State?

Much ink has been spilled on this question, but the traditional answer is no. There are the Cardinal or Natural Virtues – prudence, justice, temperance and fortitude – and these are available to all humanity. The natural virtues are acquired virtues, because these virtues are developed through habit. There are also the Theological Virtues: faith, hope and charity. These virtues are not available to all men, because these are infused into the individual by the grace of God. The relationship between the two groups is that the theological virtues perfect the natural virtues. The faith, hope, and charity Catholics are given by knowing Christ and his sacraments perfects the natural good in us and raises us by grace. In fact, the relationship of the two groups of virtues reflects the overriding principles that grace perfects nature.

Why can the State not have charity?
The Catholic Church is a supernatural institution, the Church, founded on the Rock – St. Peter – and given the promise that not even the gates of hell could prevail against her. The polis or State is a natural institution – as man is naturally a political animal his political bodies are natural and guided by the natural virtues – and thus limited to the natural virtues. More specifically, the polis is characterized by the virtue of justice, which is made possible by the virtue of prudence. To ask the State to assume charity is to ask something that is natural to extend past its natural capacity.

The tension is that the individuals of the State (Catholics) have a supernatural end, but the State does not.

4. How does one be both Catholic and a Citizen?

The Church Fathers spoke of Christians as having dual citizenship: the ecclesial sphere and the political sphere. The Catholic family must cultivate and educate children to be citizens in both; thus, both Church & State look to the household as a fundamental part of the respective whole.5

5. How do men know Natural Law?

St. Thomas will argue that all men by nature can know the first principles of morality, the moral quality of their actions and natural justice. To wit, the general moral precepts of nature grant man a natural inclination to what is moral and good. Man must then – as the rational animal – reflect upon these natural laws in order to further understand them and use them to form laws of the state. However, each human differs in their intelligence and differs in family life, culture and governments. All these factors can either aid or obscure and individual’s sensitivity and understanding of natural law.6

In contrast, Aristotle says that only upon reflection of the natural law are the moral precepts understood – what is just and true by nature is a task for the wisdom of the philosopher alone. St. Thomas’ claim is that all men can know the claims of natural justice – through the natural law – which is their participation in the eternal law or the Divine Wisdom.7. Still, Aquinas is not advocating an egalitarian view of reason or that natural is holistically known in the hearts of men.8

  1. City (polis): a political community characterized by social and economic differentiation, the rule of law, and republican government; the chief urban center of community – used in political philosophy to denote the political and governmental whole []
  2. Justice – the ordering of reason in operations; places all things in proper order according to reason []
  3. Prudence – the “very act of reason,” the “principal virtue,” which orders things and directs the virtues through right reasoning. []
  4. Virtue is Objective: to wit, on one end of the spectrum one could place a sort of Kantian system of moral legislation that has strict moral rule for all situations, and on the other end place a relativist moral approach where each does what is right in his own eyes. The virtues are objective habits that cultivate what is good and natural in man; thus, while prudence could lead different people to different ends, it still operates within an objective structure and must be held accountable to that structure. []
  5. The Order of the Part and Whole: Do not conflate the temporal priority and the ontological priority – in the former, the family is prior to the State/Church, however, in the latter ontological category, as Aristotle states, the whole is prior to the part, thus the Church/State is prior to the family. In the 10 Commandments, we see the education of the citizens in the positive (1) honor the Sabbath and (2) honor thy mother and father. []
  6. A few notes on Aquinas’ view on how men know natural law: According to St. Thomas, his view relieves the tension between not only the philosopher and the polis, but of humans and the polis. It is no longer the philosopher by himself attempting to understand order, but all the citizens of the polis as a whole, i.e., a Cosmo-Polis. St. Thomas’ view is predicated upon Scripture, hinging upon a doctrine of Creation – thus St. Thomas’ view of law and virtue is theological in nature. In principle, all men may know natural law, but as Vatican I states, it is exceedingly difficult to understand via original sin. Christianity claims that all men transcend the city, not just the philosopher. It is here that Christianity imports the transpolitical character of the Church and her citizens. []
  7. For more on how men know natural law: ST 93.2 []
  8. Knowledge of Natural Law: one distinction is that it takes intelligence and reason to reflect upon natural law and since those qualities differ in men, the depth at which men understand natural law will differ as well – hence, the Church has clarified much of natural law – through the help of infallible Scripture (Divine Law) – so that we, unlike the Protestants, do not have to rediscover truth each generation. Secondly, one’s family and culture plays a strong role insofar as our conscience is formed by habit and principle; thus, a child’s sensitivity to the natural law can be diminished and corrupted through external influence, e.g., seeing suicide bombing and the taking of innocent life as an honorable act. []