Reviews of Plan of Life: Habits to Help You Grow Closer to God

 

 

I am very grateful to all those authors who have taken time to write reviews and to those publications who have printed them.

I place here links to the reviews where they appeared and then copy and paste the texts of the reviews below.

I begin with my own introduction to the work published in Echoes, but also found in the Anchor and here on Catholic Preaching.

 

 

Fr. Roger J. Landry, An Accessible Manual for the Spiritual Journey, Echoes, January 24, 2018. 

Dr. Grazie Pozo Christie, “Becoming the Right Person by Living God’s Way,” Angelus, January 24, 2018

Dwight Duncan, The Book on Building a Vibrant Spiritual Life, The Pilot, January 26, 2018

Edward Desmond, Father Landry Assesses Holy Habits for a Saintly Life, National Catholic Register, February 10, 2018

 


An Accessible Manual for the Spiritual Journey
By Father Roger Landry, Echoes, January 24, 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.

Father Roger J. Landry is a priest of the Diocese of Fall River, Massachusetts, who works for the Holy See’s Permanent Observer Mission to the United Nations.


 

Becoming the right person by living God’s way
By Dr. Grazie Pozo Christie Jan. 24, 2018, Angelus

How to make a “plan” and discover the joy of living as God wants us to live

This year, I had the usual resolutions all made and ready for 2018. I was going to start exercising regularly, and my desk was going to be clean and orderly all the time, not just occasionally. But I cheerfully ditched these minor goals when I received my review copy of Father Roger J. Landry’s fabulous new book, “Plan of Life.” (Pauline, $14) Father Landry is a priest of the Diocese of Fall River, Mass., currently working for the Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See to the United Nations.

His book was a timely reminder for me that being a Christian is not primarily about doing the right thing, but about becoming the right person. And the right person is the perfect, divine idea that filled the heart of God when he created each of us. The obstacles seem insurmountable: our hectic modern lives, complicated relationships and especially our too-fallen natures. Yet it is absolutely essential that we actively cooperate with grace — and allow the process of transformation that began with our baptism to continue.

Not cooperating, not embracing what St. John Paul II called the “high standard of ordinary Christian living,” and instead being the kind of Christian who goes to church on Sundays and generally keeps her nose clean, is to settle for what he described as a life of “mediocrity, marked by a minimalist ethic and a shallow religiosity.” No, we are meant for nobler, immeasurably higher things — things as high as heaven and as noble as perfect, self-forgetting love.

It is a daunting task, this transformation, and not very different in its scope and depth from that experienced by the ugly caterpillar on its way to becoming a dazzling butterfly. Most of us will not be offered martyrdom as a shortcut, and the task of becoming “perfect like our heavenly Father is perfect” has to be approached with daily discipline and heroic persistence.

We are fortunate to have a practical guide on our quotidian path to saintliness, provided by Father Roger Landry, in his new, concise but complete book. He explains, with practical suggestions and warm encouragement, the daily exercises, prayers and practices that will open our hearts and souls to the transformative grace that is so lavishly poured on us by our Father. This book is a wonderful way to start a new year, and the spiritual program it explains and facilitates for us is not new, but one found in the Gospel and the long tradition of the Church.

Father Landry tells us to wake up valiantly, and offer our whole day, with its complications and joys to our Father, asking him to help us live it as he would have us live it.

He teaches us how to end our day by confronting with honesty all our defects and evils, failures and neglects, and with a burning resolve to improve. In between, we are told how to incorporate mental prayer into our day, as prayer “helps us to be conscious of God’s presence and remain in union with his will.”

Our new “Plan of Life” must include a short daily reading of the Gospel, for our work of the day is to do what our master told us to do, and how are we to do this without reading, and knowing, what he told us? A few minutes of reading Sacred Scripture is a wonderful springboard for mental prayer, and a rich inspiration.

Those are the main daily elements, but Father Landry reminds us about the beautiful gift of the Sabbath, a day of rest and joy, centered on the Mass and filled with the hope of the promises of Christ. Frequent confession helps us recognize sinful patterns in our lives, purifies our consciences and gives us the grace to make changes that once seemed impossible.

Adoration and almsgiving should be planned and methodical, not subject to random impulses that may or may not happen. And, of course, the daily rosary, which is “a chain of love that links us to Mary [so that] we may love Christ and our neighbor as she did.”

The book is full of other rich and venerable practices that Christians up and down the ages have used to open the door to Christ, along with all the practical suggestions for implementation that modern readers will find invaluable.

To me it’s been a great blessing, as I have a strong desire to be the woman that God envisioned when he made me. It’s an uphill battle, but Father Landry’s “Plan of Life” has given me a structure and a plan, and my soul is full of hope.

Taking a beading

“My earliest childhood memories are of praying the Rosary with my family at the kitchen table. This family tradition taught me that God was real and part of our daily life. It also taught me how important daily prayer was, with others, for others and mutually strengthened by others. It deeply nourished my priestly vocation. … But that doesn’t mean praying it has always been easy. It also doesn’t mean that I’ve always prayed it as well as I would have wished. In college and seminary, I would generally pray it silently as I walked to class. Now I often pray it in the car or walking on the streets of Manhattan. When I pray it at the end of the day, I normally stand or pace to stay awake. Just like any prayer, it’s sometimes a battle to fight off distractions or occasional boredom even as we are contemplating the mystery of Christ’s life.

“It’s worth it, however. As with physical exercise, the effort and the repetition pay off. One may not set a record on any given day at the track or the gym, but the cumulated impact of exercising each day makes athletic achievement possible later. With the Rosary, some days we just get through it the best we can, but that hard work makes it possible to receive deeper fruits of prayer later when prayer is not so arduous.

“I’ve found praying the Rosary each day to be the greatest aid to help me overcome the temptation to pray only when it is convenient. The structure of the Rosary, its duration, and its mysteries, train us in persevering prayer that serves us in every aspect of the Plan of Life.”

— From “Plan of Life,” by Father Roger J. Landry

The secret elevator to holiness

“Saint John Vianney used to do everything he could to ‘upgrade’ the eucharistic practice of his parishioners from weekly communicants to daily. He tried to encourage them to frequent daily Mass so that Jesus could do his sanctifying work. He once lamented that if his parishioners would receive Jesus in the Eucharist more often, they would not merely remain ‘good,’ but would become saints! The truth is that if we, too, were to receive Jesus more often in the Eucharist and with greater purity, love and devotion, we would become holier, too!

“Of course it’s not always possible for everyone to go to Mass every day, because of work, school, and other responsibilities. In certain areas, it can also be difficult to find a daily Mass at all or one scheduled at a time that fits into the day for those who work. But every Catholic who seeks to grow in holiness should have a hunger to receive Jesus every day and make an effort to attend daily Mass when possible.

“If you are unable to make it to daily Mass, you can always watch Mass online or on TV. You can also make a spiritual communion. [In a spiritual communion, we ask the Lord to come abide in us the way he would if we were to receive him in Holy Communion. We express our desire to receive and lovingly embrace him.] Regardless, we should all be striving to live more intentionally a truly eucharistic life, which is a truly Christian life.”

— From “Plan of Life,” by Father Roger J. Landry

Getting a plan 

For Father Roger J. Landry, these practices are “the basics” for Catholics who want a better life of prayer.

DAILY

  • Devotion to the Holy Spirit
  • “The Heroic Moment” (getting up on time)
  • Morning Offering (a short traditional prayer giving the day to God)
  • Examination of conscience (reviewing the day’s activity)
  • Conversational prayer
  • Scripture reading
  • The Rosary

WEEKLY

  • Sunday Mass

REGULARLY

  • Confession
  • Eucharistic adoration
  • Charity and almsgiving

YEARLY

  • Attendance at Holy Week services

 

Dr. Grazie Pozo Christie grew up in Guadalajara, Mexico, coming to the U.S. at the age of 11. She has written for USA TODAY, National Review, The Washington Post and The New York Times, and has appeared on CNN, Telemundo, Fox News and EWTN. She practices radiology in the Miami area, where she lives with her husband and five children.


The Book on Building a Vibrant Spiritual Life
By Dwight G. Duncan, The Pilot, January 26, 2018

 

Father Roger Landry, a priest of the Fall River diocese who presently works for the Holy See’s Permanent Observer Mission to the United Nations, has just written an invaluable guide to developing a solid Christian life entitled “Plan of Life: Habits to Help You Grow Closer to God” (Pauline Books and Media, 2018).

Full disclosure: In his acknowledgments, Father Roger first thanks his parents, whom I have been friends with for over 25 years, and then the priests and lay people of Opus Dei whom he got to know during his college years at Harvard College. They, he says, “introduced the Plan of Life to me and inspired me to live it.” Since I was one of those people who met young Roger during his first week of college, I’m not exactly impartial on the subject.

Plus, the book comes recommended by glowing blurbs from what amounts to a Who’s Who of American Roman Catholicism, from Matthew Kelly, author and founder of “Dynamic Catholic,” who wrote the foreword, to Cardinals Timothy Dolan of New York and Sean O’Malley of Boston, to George Weigel, biographer of St. John Paul II, and Father George William Rutler, famous convert and author, as well as Peggy Noonan, columnist and speechwriter for President Reagan.

Based on a series of columns Father Roger originally wrote for The Pilot and The Anchor on various spiritual practices, the book lays out a game plan for holiness and intimacy with God. In an age of self-help books, this one is geared to help people turn to God for strength, joy and peace. I totally love this book, and think it will be invaluable for people intent on loving God and developing godly habits and practices.

Vatican II solemnly proclaimed that everyone is called to holiness, which should be the goal of our life. Father Roger carefully explains the means to grow in holiness under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the Bible and the Church’s rich tradition of sanctity and apostolate. “Plan of Life” concentrates on the tried and true means of spiritual progress: daily mental prayer, Bible and other spiritual reading, Mass, Holy Eucharist, rosary, examination of conscience, frequent confession and so forth, all under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, “a sanctifying fire,” as Father Roger calls him.

This little book has the power to inspire and guide many on the path to holiness.

In encouraging the frequent practice of aspirations, which he calls “short prayers of love and trust,” Father Roger helpfully gives us some examples drawn from the Bible and the lives of saints. Words like “Fiat!” (Let it be with me according to your word! Luke 1:38) or “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28).

This latter contains the one minor error I found on my reading, as he says, “echoing Saint Thomas Aquinas’ words.” Of course, as the scriptural reference indicates, the words echo St. Thomas the Apostle, Doubting Thomas, in response to one of Jesus’ post-Resurrection appearances, whatever subsequent use St. Thomas Aquinas made of them. I know that the Angelic Doctor references them in his “Adoro Te Devote” hymn, when he says that Thomas the Apostle saw Jesus’ wounds; but this is really a quibble. Even Homer nods once in a while. And Father Roger, like all of us, can grow in humility.

His book, though, is an invaluable and reliable guide to building a vibrant spiritual life. In the New Year, when we formulate resolutions to improve in various ways through diet, exercise, and better habits of work and study and family life, we would do well to get a copy of this book and try to gradually put its recommendations into practice. If so, it will change our lives for the better. Judge for yourself.

Dwight G. Duncan is professor at UMass School of Law Dartmouth. He holds degrees in both civil and canon law.


Father Landry Assesses Holy Habits for a Saintly Life
by Edward Desmond, National Catholic Register, February 10, 2018

 

Father Roger Landry is the very definition of a busy man. He works in the Vatican’s Mission to the United Nations, offers retreats all over the country, says Mass daily for the Sisters of Life in Manhattan, and writes steadily for several Catholic publications.

When someone that busy sets out to write a book, you can bet that it will be crisp, engaging and to-the-point. Father Landry’s Plan of Life: Habits to Help You Grow Closer to God is all that, as well as warm and erudite, at once a very practical playbook for a better spiritual life and an inspiring stream of observations in the words of the saints about how saints structured their own plans of life.

Father Landry’s purpose, as he explains it in the book’s opening chapter, is to ensure his readers don’t go to their deathbeds wishing they had grown closer to God before the end of their days. We are born for “no other reason than to be a saint,” in the words of St. John of the Cross, and to do so, Father Landy asserts, “There’s got to be a plan. It’s got to be a good plan. And you have to stick to that plan.”

The ultimate aim of that plan is to be like St. Paul, who could write to the Galatians after his odyssey of prayer, evangelization and suffering, “It is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me.” That is the tallest order, and Father Landry completely understands that we’re all humble pilgrims, so he counsels readers to take one step at a time to build our personal “Plan of Life” and call on the grace of the Holy Spirit to help us find the words, thoughts and discipline to do so.

Father Landry starts with the simplest of things, the “Heroic Moment,” which is getting out of bed and starting your day with God through the Morning Offering. One of the delights in Plan of Life is Father Landry’s way of presenting the elements of a plan, whether it’s the Morning Offering, the general examen or regular prayer during the day. He explains each element’s significance, often in the words of the saints, and relates the prayers and practices of towering figures like St. John Paul the Great, St. Ignatius of Loyola and St. Bernard of Clairvaux, among many others. Father Landry reveals his favorites and encourages readers to choose or devise their own. The possibilities are many, from simply saying serviam (“I serve”) to inspirations like St. Mechtilde’s vision, in which Christ said to her, “When you awaken in the morning, let your first act be to salute my heart and offer me your own.”

I was eager to pick up Plan of Life over each of the days I read it, and I marked various passages throughout. I am a lifelong Catholic, but I can report that my own “Plan of Life” is not what it should be. And thanks to Father Landry, I now have a practical and inspiring game plan to make it better. This is a book I will return to many times in the years ahead.

Edward “Ned” Desmond is chief operating officer of TechCrunch and formerly wrote for Time and Fortune.


Plan of Life: Habits to Help You Grow Closer to God, was published on February 1, 2018 by Pauline Books and Press. You can find it in most good Catholic Book Stores, but you can also order it online by clicking on the following links:

Amazon

Pauline Books and Press