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.

5 Hagiographical Pearls from the Life of St. John Damascene

John, hearing of the terrible sacrileges which were being committed in Constantinople and in the Byzantine Empire on account of the emperor’s policies, wrote assiduously in defense of the holy images, and those who showed respect and devotion to them.

Listers, in addition to remembering the great bishop and wonder-worker St. Nicholas of Myra, the Church commemorates in the same week the great ascetic, theologian, and hymnographer St. John Damascene, on the 4th of December.

Born in the year 680 in Saracen-held Damascus of Syria, John was born to pious Christian parents, and educated in both the philosophical and theological disciplines. After the death of his father, the caliph of Damascus granted him a place on his court, eventually appointing him as the governor of the capital.

It was during this time that the most impious and ruthless emperor Leo the Isaurian came to power in Byzantium. The third of his name, Leo harbored a burning hatred for religious imagery, and instituted a policy of strict iconoclasm, by which icons, frescoes, and relics were to be desecrated and consigned to the flames. Anyone who did not accept iconoclasm was to be imprisoned, tortured, exiled, or killed for their disobedience to the emperor’s will.

John, hearing of the terrible sacrilege which was being committed in Constantinople and in the Byzantine Empire on account of the emperor’s policies, wrote assiduously in defense of the holy images, and those who showed respect and devotion to them.

In honor of his memory, we have for your edification five hagiographical pearls from the life of St. John Damascene.1

 

Selection from John of Damascus, icon from Damascus (Syria), 19th c., attributed to Iconographer Ne'meh Naser Homsi. - Wikipedia
Selection from John of Damascus, icon from Damascus (Syria), 19th c., attributed to Iconographer Ne’meh Naser Homsi. – Wikipedia

1) St. John’s Endures the Emperor’s Wrath

The wise and God-inspired writings of St. John enraged the emperor. But since the Damascene was not a Byzantine subject, the emperor was unable to lock him up in prison, or to execute him. The emperor then resorted to slander. A forged letter to the emperor was produced, supposedly from John, in which the Damascus official was supposed to have offered his help to Leo in conquering the Syrian capital.

This letter and another hypocritically flattering note were sent to the Saracen caliph by Leo the Isaurian. The caliph immediately ordered that St. John be removed from his post, that his right hand be cut off, and that he be led through the city in chains.

That same evening, they returned the severed hand to St John. The saint pressed it to his wrist and prayed to the Most Holy Theotokos to heal him so that he could defend the orthodox faith and write once again in praise of the most pure Virgin and her Son. After a time, he fell asleep before the icon of the Mother of God. He heard her voice telling him that he had been healed, and commanding him to toil unceasingly with his restored hand. Upon awakening, he found that his hand had been attached to his arm once more. Only a small red mark around his wrist remained as a sign of the miracle.

 

2) St. John’s Act of Devotion to the Holy Mother of God

Later, in thanksgiving for being healed, St. John had a silver model of his hand attached to the icon, which became known as the icon “of the three hands.”

When he learned of the miracle, which demonstrated John’s innocence, the caliph asked his forgiveness and wanted to restore him to his former office, but the saint refused. He gave away his riches to the poor, and went to Jerusalem with his stepbrother and fellow-student, Cosmas. There he entered the monastery of St. Sabbas the Sanctified as a simple novice.

 

3) The Beginning of St. John’s Monastic Life

Greek styled icon of St. John Damascene.
Greek styled icon of St. John Damascene.

It was not easy for St. John to find a spiritual guide, because all the monks were daunted by his great learning and by his former rank. Only one very experienced Elder, who had the skill to foster the spirit of obedience and humility in a student, would consent to do this. The Elder forbade John to do anything at all according to his own will. He also instructed him to offer to God all his labors and supplications as a perfect sacrifice, and to shed tears which would wash away the sins of his former life.

Once, the Elder sent St. John to the city to sell baskets made at the monastery, and commanded him to sell them at a certain inflated price, far above their actual value. He undertook the long journey under the searing sun, dressed in rags. No one in the city recognized the former official of Damascus, for his appearance had been changed by prolonged fasting and ascetic labors. However, the Damascene was recognized by his former steward, who bought all the baskets at the asking price, showing compassion on him for his apparent poverty.

 

4) The Humility of St. John

One of the monks happened to die, and his brother begged St. John to compose something consoling for the burial service. The Damascene refused for a long time, but out of pity he yielded to the petition of the grief-stricken monk, and wrote his renowned funeral troparia. For St. John’s disobedience to his commands, the Elder banished him from his cell. John fell at his feet and asked to be forgiven, but the Elder remained unyielding. All the monks began to plead for him to allow John to return, but he refused. Then one of the monks asked the Elder to impose a penance on John, and to forgive him if he fulfilled it. The Elder said, ‘If John wishes to be forgiven, let him wash out all the chamber pots in the lavra, and clean the monastery latrines with his bare hands.’

John rejoiced and eagerly ran to accomplish his shameful task. After a certain while, the Elder was commanded in a vision by the All-Pure and Most Holy Theotokos to allow St John to write again.

 

5) The End of St. John’s Life

When the Patriarch of Jerusalem heard of St John, he ordained him priest and made him a preacher at his cathedral. But the Damascene soon returned to the monastery of St. Sabbas, where he spent the rest of his life writing spiritual books and church hymns. He left the monastery only to denounce the iconoclasts at the Constantinople Council of 754. They subjected him to imprisonment and torture, but he endured everything, and through the mercy of God he remained alive.

St. John Damascene reposed in peace in about the year 780, more than 100 years old.

 

Through the prayers of this most holy father, ascetic, and theologian, may the Lord Jesus grant wisdom to our minds, and salvation to our souls.

  1. The Great Collection of the Lives of the Saints: The above list is paraphrased from comments from The Life of Our Holy Monastic Father John of Damascus, From The Great Collection of the Lives of the Saints, Volume 4: December, compiled by St. Demetrius of Rostov. Please visit the online version of this classic to read a more detailed account of this great saint. []

When Santa Punched a Heretic in the Face: 13 Memes on St. Nicholas

During the First Ecumenical Council of Nicea (AD 325), Arius was called upon to defend his position on the inferiority of Christ. Saint Nicholas just couldn’t listen to all of Arius’ nonsense and so he stood up and laid in to Arius with his fist.

Listers, St. Nicholas was born in AD 270 and became the Bishop of Myra in Lycia (modern day Turkey). He died on December 6, 343 leaving a legacy that would grow into a strong and multifaceted cult. He had a reputation for secret gift-giving, such as putting coins in the shoes of those who left them out for him, and thus became the model for Santa Claus, whose modern name comes from the Dutch Sinterklaas, itself from a series of elisions and corruptions of the transliteration of “Saint Nikolaos”. Although he is usually referred to as Sinterklaas, he is also known as De Goedheiligman (The Good Holy Man), Sint Nicolaas (Saint Nicholas) or simply as De Sint (The Saint). His reputation evolved among the faithful, as was common for early Christian saints. The actual feast day of St. Nicholas is December 6th.1

 

Russian icon depicting St Nicholas with scenes from his life. Late 1400s or early 1500s. National Museum, Stockholm.
Russian icon depicting St Nicholas with scenes from his life. Late 1400s or early 1500s. National Museum, Stockholm.

On Becoming a Bishop

Nicholas was born a Greek in Asia Minor during the third century in the city of Patara (Lycia et Pamphylia), which was a port on the Mediterranean Sea, and lived in Myra, Lycia (part of modern-day Demre, Turkey), at a time when the region was Greek in its heritage, culture, and outlook and politically part of the Roman diocese of Asia. He was the only son of wealthy Christian parents named Epiphanius (Ἐπιφάνιος) and Johanna (Ἰωάννα) according to some accounts and Theophanes (Θεοφάνης) and Nonna (Νόννα) according to others. He was very religious from an early age and according to legend, Nicholas was said to have rigorously observed the canonical fasts of Wednesdays and Fridays. His wealthy parents died in an epidemic while Nicholas was still young and he was raised by his uncle—also named Nicholas—who was the bishop of Patara. He tonsured the young Nicholas as a reader and later ordained him a presbyter (priest).

The Council of Nicaea

In 325, he was one of many bishops to answer the request of Constantine and appear at the First Council of Nicaea. There, Nicolas was a staunch anti-Arian and defender of the Orthodox Christian position, and one of the bishops who signed the Nicene Creed.2

The following excerpt is taken from Taylor Marshall’s venerable blog, Canterbury Tales.3

During the First Ecumenical Council of Nicea (AD 325), Arius was called upon to defend his position on the inferiority of Christ. Saint Nicholas just couldn’t listen to all of Arius’ nonsense and so he stood up and laid in to Arius with his fist.

The Emperor Constantine and the bishops present at the Council were alarmed by Nicholas’ act of violence against Arius. They immediately stripped Nicholas of his office as a bishop by confiscating the two items that marked out a man as a Christian bishop: Nicholas’ personal copy of the Gospels and his pallium (the vestment worn by all bishops in the East).

Now if that were the end of the story, we probably wouldn’t know about Saint Nicholas, and our children wouldn’t be asking him for presents. However, after Nicholas was deposed, the Lord Jesus Christ and the Blessed Virgin Mary visited Nicholas who was being held in a prison cell for his fist-fight with the heretic.

Our Lord Jesus Christ asked Saint Nicholas, “Why are you here?” Nicholas responded, “Because I love you, my Lord and my God.”

Christ then presented Nicholas with his copy of the Gospels. Next, the Blessed Virgin vested Nicholas with his episcopal pallium, thus restoring him to his rank as a bishop.

The story of Our Lord and Our Lady visiting St. Nichols is depicted in his iconography. Notice the images of Christ and Mary bringing to St. Nicholas a copy of the Holy Gospels and his episcopal pallium.

St Nicholas Icon 2Taylor Marshall explains the iconography: “Christ (left) holding out the book of the Gospels, and Mary (right) holding out the episcopal pallium, Nicholas (center) holding the Gospels and wearing the pallium.”

He further explains, “When the Emperor Constantine heard of this miracle, he immediately ordered that Nicholas be reinstated as a bishop in good standing for the Council of Nicaea. Today we recite the Nicene Creed every Sunday so we know how the controversy played out. The bishops at Nicea sided with Saint Nicholas and Saint Athanasius and they condemned Arius as a heretic. To this very day, we still recite in the Creed that Christ is ‘God from God, Light from Light, True God from True God, begotten not made, consubstantial with the Father.’”

 

 

Punching Arius in the Face

 

Nichols Punch Meme 2

Brace Yourself Santa Nichols Meme

Nicholas Awkward Meme

Nicholas Icon Meme 2

Nicholas Icon Meme

Nichols Punch Meme

Santa List Meme

Santa Matrix Meme

Santa Nichols Meme Police

Santa Slap Batman meme

Tough Man Santa Meme

Nicholas Meme Icon Council

Santa Punch Meme Matrix

  1. Sources: Copied from Saint Nicholas and Sinterklass, cross references with Catholic Encyclopedia’s St. Nicholas – though much scholarship has taken place in the century since the CE article was written []
  2. Source: Taken directly from St. Nicholas. []
  3. Source: Canterbury Tales article Saint Nicholas Allegedly Punched This Heretic in the Face… Who was He? – cf. Taylor Marshall’s video on St. Nicholas []

In Defense of Holy Images: 8 Pearls of Wisdom from St. John Damascene

Listers, in the Eastern churches, the First Sunday of the Great Fast celebrates the triumph of holy images. It commemorates the end of two separate periods of iconoclasm, which took place within the space a nearly hundred years. During the iconoclastic period of Byzantine history, images of Christ, the Virgin Mary, the Angels, and the Saints were consigned to the fire on the charge that they led to idolatry. Known as the Sunday of Orthodoxy, the Byzantine liturgy boldly proclaims the triumph of the Church against every false doctrine, and a celebration of the proclamation of faith on the veneration of holy images at the Synod of Constantinople in 842.

Eastern Catholicism on SPL

St. John Damascene was a monk from Damascus, and from his monastery of Mar Saba near Jerusalem, he wrote in defense of the veneration of images. Because iconoclasm, or the destruction of icons, had become official imperial policy since the edict of Emperor Leo III in 726, any cleric, monastic, or layman who refused to abide by the edict was punished severely. Imprisonment, exile, and even martyrdom was the fate of those who defended the Church’s longstanding tradition of sacred images. Seeing the travail of the Church in Constantinople and Asia Minor, the humble monk from Damascus wrote three treatises in defense of holy icons and their veneration. Because he was outside the borders of the Empire, he was able to criticize imperial policy, and speak on behalf of those who were unable or unwilling to do so. [1]

Selection from John of Damascus, icon from Damascus (Syria), 19th c., attributed to Iconographer Ne’meh Naser Homsi. – Wikipedia

Although this work is worth reading in its entirety, in celebration of the Triumph of Holy Images, here are eight pearls of wisdom from St. John Damascene in defense of sacred images:

 

1) “It is the custom of the wicked and primordially evil serpent (I mean the devil), to fight in many ways against mankind, formed in the image of God; and, through this opposition, to bring about his death.” [2]

2) “Certain men have arisen, saying that it is not necessary [or forbidden] to make images of the saving miracles and sufferings of Christ, and the brave deeds of the Saints against the devil, setting them up to be gazed upon, so that we might glorify God and be filled with wonder and zeal.” [3]

3) “Does any one who has divine knowledge and spiritual understanding not recognize that [iconoclasm] is a ruse of the devil? For he does not want his defeat and shame to be spread abroad, nor the glory of God and his saints to be recorded.” [4]

4) “If we make an image of God who in His ineffable goodness became incarnate and was seen upon earth in the flesh, and dwelt among men, assuming the nature, density, form, and color of flesh, we do not go astray. For we long to see His form, but as the divine Apostle says, ‘now we through a mirror, dimly.’ … For the intellect, greatly fatigued, is unable to pass beyond physical things.” [5]

5) “I am emboldened to depict the invisible God, not as invisible, but as he became visible for our sake, by participation in flesh and blood. I do not depict the invisible divinity, but I depict God made visible in the flesh.” [6]

6) “When you see the Bodiless become man for your sake, then you may depict the figure of a human form; when the Invisible becomes visible in the flesh, then you may depict the likeness of something seen.” [7]

7) “Of old, Israel neither set up temples in the name of men, nor celebrated their memorial—for human nature was still under the curse, and death was condemnation, therefore they were enjoined that one who even touched the body of a dead man was to be reckoned unclean—but now, since the divinity has been united without confusion to our nature, as a kind of life-giving and saving medicine, our nature has been truly glorified and its very elements changed into incorruption. Therefore, temples are raised for [the Saints] and images engraved.” [8]

8) “Since our being is twofold [that is, composite], fashioned of soul and body…just as [through] words perceived by the senses we hear with bodily ears, and understand what is spiritual, so through bodily vision we arrive at spiritual contemplation. For this reason, Christ assumed body and soul, since mankind consists of body and soul; therefore baptism is likewise twofold, of water and the Spirit; as well as communion and prayer and psalmody, all of them twofold, bodily and spiritual, and offerings of light and incense.” [9]

 

In his arguments against iconoclasm, the Damascene made clear that it the veneration of icons, and the use of sacred images in architecture and worship was not idolatry, but rather a recognition that God uses the physical to make known the intelligible. Just as God the Son took to himself a human form, in order to make the truth of the Father known to man in a way most proper to him, so also does iconography serve to raise the mind to spiritual realities by means of the physical. Far from being a peripheral concern, therefore, sacred images are part and parcel of the authentic Christian worldview; their use and function within the life of the Church is bound up with the mystery of the Incarnation, in which the invisible Word of God became visible, and the incomprehensible Logos of the Father took to Himself a human nature.

The bane of iconoclasm was so tempting to the Imperial court that there were two separate persecutions carried out under official auspices. The first was ended under the patronage of the Empress Irene at the Seventh Ecumenical Council at Nicæa in 787, and the second under the reign of Empress Theodora at the Synod of Constantinople in 842, which dealt the final blow to iconoclasm in the East. To this day, both Byzantine Catholic and Orthodox churches commemorate this event on the First Sunday of the Great Fast, proclaiming the triumph of the Church against the heresies which had plagued it during the first millennium. Let us therefore celebrate the incarnational nature of our Catholic faith, treasuring her art, and through it lift our minds and hearts upwards to Christ, His Holy Mother, and the Saints and Angels in heaven; for indeed, Christ is in our midst: he is now, and ever shall be!

 


 

[1] John Damascene, Three Treatises on the Divine Images, trans. Andrew Louth (New York: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2003), Introduction pp. 7-9. All quotes from St. John, some of which have been slightly modified, are taken from this work unless otherwise indicated.

[2] Ibid., III p. 81.

[3] Ibid., p. 82.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid., p. 86.

[7] Ibid., pp. 88-89.

[8] Ibid., p. 91.

[9] Ibid., p. 93.