An Accessible Manual for the Spiritual Journey, The Anchor, January 26, 2018

 

Fr. Roger J. Landry
Putting into the Deep
The Anchor
January 26, 2018

 

I am happy and humbled that on February 1, Pauline Books and Media will publish a new book I’ve written entitled Plan of Life: Habits to Help You Grow Closer to God. The book is a response to Saint John Paul II’s call, in his 2001 pastoral plan for the third Christian millennium, for a “genuine training in holiness adapted to people’s needs,” and describes a series of basic and more advanced spiritual practices that sinners and saints across the decades have found helpful to grow in their communion with God in daily life.

In almost every sphere of life, those who take something seriously come up with a plan. Championship sports teams, flourishing businesses, triumphant political campaigns and successful individuals all teach us a powerful lesson: those who get results are generally the ones with better strategies implemented with perseverance. That’s true, too, of the spiritual life, which is way too important to wing. So much of our happiness, in this world and in the next, depends on whether we have a plan, whether it’s adequate to form us in holiness, and whether we make and keep the commitment to follow that plan.

Priests, in preparation for ordination, receive anywhere from four to eight years of intense spiritual, intellectual, pastoral and human formation. Religious have two to three years of rigorous and vigorous training in postulancy and novitiate to learn how to live well their inspired rule. Those in third Orders, new lay movements and the various ecclesiastical institutions inspired by the Holy Spirit in the last decades, receive ongoing coaching in the spiritual life through group instruction and individual spiritual direction.

Once upon a time most Catholics received the basics of this training in prayer and the life of virtue from religious teaching in Catholic schools and catechetical programs and from their parents and grandparents who were alumni of those spiritual boot camps. But as fewer young Catholics have been attending, and fewer religious teaching in, Catholic schools and religious educational programs during the last two generations, the same type of practical wisdom just hasn’t been getting sufficiently transmitted. This has left many Catholics without the spiritual armor they need when their faith comes under attack and without the know-how to grow in faith and pass it on.

Plan of Life details in 18 chapters many parts of the spiritual game plan that I have sought to form in parishioners, Catholic school students and spiritual directees over the 18 years I’ve been a priest and have sought to live since I was first introduced to the idea of a plan of life at the age of 18. Perhaps it’s not coincidental that the book is being published in 2018!

The book originated in a series of columns I wrote in 2015 for The Anchor that were republished in The Pilot and its online commentary site Echoes. In November of that year I received an email from Sr. Maria Grace of the Daughters of St. Paul saying that the series “addresses a very needed topic in an interesting and practical way. Many Catholics today desire to understand and live the basics of the spiritual life, in order to grow in their faith and friendship with Jesus, and their ability to share the fruits of these with others.” She added, “We think a collection of the Plan of Life columns would make a great book, so I am writing to inquire whether … you would be interested in working with us to edit them into a book.”

I readily and happily agreed. 27 months of patient editing and composing various new chapters later, the book is ready.

The audience I originally had in mind — since various chapters began in Catholic newspaper articles — were Catholics who take their faith seriously enough to read Catholic press but who might be interested in a “tune-up” or an “upgrade” in their understanding and practice. The Daughters worked very hard in the editorial process to make the work more accessible to other audiences, like new Catholic converts, Catholic teens and young adults, those confirmed as adults to Catholics, those who consider themselves “spiritual” but not “religious,” and in general to those with spiritual hunger who are open to tasting hearty new food. So the work can be of interest to people at various stages — and even the beginning — of the spiritual journey.

After an introductory chapter on why we should never stop seeking to grow closer to God, the book is broken down into two main parts. First there are twelve chapters on the “basics”: openness to the Holy Spirit, the Heroic Moment, the Morning Offering, the General Exam, Daily Prayer, Sacred Scripture, the importance of Sunday, Confession, Adoration, Charity, Holy Week and the Rosary. They’re followed by six chapters entitled “Beyond the Basics,” focused on Eucharistic practices like Daily Mass and spiritual communion; Marian devotions like Saturdays, the Angelus, Regina Caeli, and the Memorare; penitential practices like fasting and various mortifications; two chapters on unity of life, describing the importance of organization and order, the particular exam, work, study, spiritual reading, retreats and recollections; and a final chapter on Christian attitudes of the heart, aspirations we pray, and the fruit of it all, joy.

One of the most moving aspects of the process for me was that I asked 18 friends whose writing and spiritual example I admire to read the book ahead of time and consider writing endorsements. I was hoping to get a few back. All 18 agreed, and replied saying things about the book that still somewhat blow me away.

My friend Matthew Kelly, whom I asked to write the Preface, said, “This book … will inspire you to want to live a holy life.” He added, “It will never be convenient to build a Plan of Life like Father Landry describes in this book. But the day you decide to set out along that path is a day you will remember forever.”

Four bishops who have had big impacts on my life also endorsed it. Cardinal Sean O’Malley said “I highly recommend it for anyone who has recognized the need for a better spiritual focus in their daily life but doesn’t know where or how to begin.” My bishop, Bishop Edgar da Cunha said, “Father Landry shows in this book how to plan our spiritual journey so that we don’t get lost on the way.” Cardinal Timothy Dolan, my seminary rector, shared, “A successful spiritual life needs the same discipline that a successful diet or physical training requires. Father Landry’s very helpful book prompts us to develop such a regimen for growth in holiness.” Archbishop Bernardito Auza, my boss at the Holy See’s Permanent Observer Mission to the United Nations, added, “This book will change you and may be just what you need to find the life you’ve always wanted and that God has wanted for you.”

Four fellow priest scribes likewise said very kind things. Father George Rutler, whose eloquent writing will still be read in 500 years, said, “Spiritual practices are at the heart of living and Father Landry suggests in clear and amiable ways, rather like Francis de Sales and Alphonsus Ligouri, what this means.” Father Rocky Hoffman of Relevant Radio penned, “Father Landry has written an enormously helpful book for those planning to get to heaven.” Father Raymond de Souza wrote, “Father Landry, in this most practical of books, takes you from [the] bedtime moment, to waking the next morning, to bedtime again and shows how — with work and study and family — you can consecrated that time to God.” And Father Gerald Murray, my teammate on EWTN’s Conclave Coverage, wrote, “This book informs, inspires and encourages.”

But insofar as I wrote the book fundamentally for lay people in the middle of the world, I was particularly grateful for the endorsements from my lay friends whose writing I so admire.

Pulitzer-prize winning Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan wrote, “Most people have a desire to grow closer to God but don’t know how. Herein lies a map.” Rusty Reno of First Things added, “This is the perfect book for all Christians who want to drink more deeply from the spring of living water that wells up to eternal life.” Kathryn Lopez of National Review stated, “This is the most accessible manual you could pick up for being seriously, joyfully Catholic now, in the busy-ness of your life.” Robert Royal of The Catholic Thing declared, “This is a book to read, and to keep handy to re-read often.” Raymond Arroyo, author and EWTN host, said, “This book is an eighteen course meal of nourishment that will bolster your spiritual health while provoking longings for the heavenly banquet.”

Kirsten Powers of CNN and USA Today, said, “Father Landry was instrumental in helping me embrace the Catholic faith. He has a way of explaining the faith with clarity, passion and beauty. Reading this book has strengthened my faith and will help strengthen yours.” Elizabeth Scalia of Aleteia wrote, “Like a good coach, Father Landry reveals the game-plan by which we can truly deepen our prayer lives, grow in our outreach and pursue holiness.” George Weigel, one of the Church’s foremost lay minds and apostles, stated that the book’s “advice on how to be the missionary disciples we were all baptized to be is always thoughtful, engaging and welcome.” And author Mary Eberstadt whose profound books on culture always sell — and deservedly so — worked in a much-appreciated pitch, writing, “At a time when many Christians feel buffeted by the rising tide of secularism, Father Landry’s book is the ideal guide to higher and better ground. … It’s the perfect gift for Confirmation, graduation, birthdays and every other milestone that’s celebrated in this world while pointing to the next.”

The book is available on Amazon, at the Daughter’s website, and starting next Thursday in Catholic bookstores. I hope that many will find it helpful in growing closer to the Lord who loves us and wants to help us become more like him.