Ten easy ways to grow in your faith this summer

By Father Connor Danstrom


Summer is normally the time we take a break from things. School is over; the weather is nice; and most people take at least some time off work. Even the liturgical calendar seems to reflect this yearly sabbath, moving out of the spiritually busy seasons of Advent, Christmas, Lent and Easter into the mundanely named Ordinary Time.

Don’t let that name fool you. What Christians are ordinarily about is far from mundane. Even the liturgical color, green, speaks of the growth we are meant to undergo during this time. We are meant to be like trees planted beside the river, growing and bearing fruit.

What are some ways we can concretely grow in our faith this summer? Here are 10 simple ways that you can open yourself to the growth God desires for you.

Make time for silent prayer every day

Any relationship needs time to grow. If we do not spend time with the ones we love, we may not grow apart, but we can hardly grow closer. Only in the mutual sharing of our hearts on a regular basis do we come to know and love someone more deeply. Make time every day this summer, even if it is only 10-15 minutes, to enter into the dwelling place of your heart with God. Relate to him what you are experiencing each day; tell him what moves you, what excites you or scares you. St. Paul says we should “pray without ceasing” (1 Thes 5:17); but in order to pray at all times, we have to pray at certain times. This summer, make time for daily prayer.

Go to Mass

It should probably go without saying, but let’s say it anyway: Go to Mass. According to the Second Vatican Council, the Eucharist is the source and summit of the Christian life. This means that everything we do as Christians flows from and leads back to this central mystery. It is the place of most intimate communion between Christ and his Church. It is where we become what we are, the Body of Christ. As members of his body, we cannot hope to grow in strength and vigor if we are not nourished at least weekly at the Eucharistic feast. If you are already in the habit of going to Sunday Mass, try going one or twice during the week, too.

Actually participate at Mass

Nothing is more disheartening as a priest than starting the Mass with an enthusiastic “The Lord be with you!” and being met with a mumbling, half-dead “and with your spirit.” Participation at Mass is about more than what we say or do; but what we say and do truly matters. By actually singing and saying the responses at Mass, we are making a gift of ourselves to God. If we are too passive at Mass, or we don’t even bother opening the hymnal to sing, we are telling our souls that we are here not to give our hearts and minds in worship, but to “get something out of it” – or, worse yet, to “check the box.” This summer, make an effort to participate more fully in the Mass.

Go to confession once a month

One of the most poignant scenes in the Old Testament is when God is searching for Adam and Eve in the garden after the Fall, but they hide themselves among the trees (cf. Gn 3:8-9). God calls out to them, as he calls to all of us in our sinfulness. He does not want us to close ourselves off from him in shame but to open our faults to him so he can forgive, restore and heal us. Especially if you are in the habit of going to confession “only when you need to” or only once or twice a year (e.g. during Advent and Lent), make a habit of going once a month this summer. This encounter with the mercy of Jesus in the sacrament, if it is received with a sincere and contrite heart, will undoubtedly bear fruit.

Celebrate a saint’s feast day

As Catholics, we have so many great saints to imitate and admire. But more importantly, we have friends in heaven who want to help us and pray for us. The liturgical calendar is full of feasts celebrating these great saints; but unless we go to daily Mass, we may never know they exist. Make an effort this summer to celebrate a saint’s feast day with special devotion and festivity. Go to Mass on that day, and pray for the saint’s help in your life of discipleship. Do something special to honor them and celebrate that they are part of the church triumphant rejoicing in heaven.

Read one of the four Gospels

St. Jerome famously said, “Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ.” Aside from the Eucharist and our daily life of prayer, there is no more certain way to grow in knowledge and love of Jesus than to read the word of God. Jesus is the Word made flesh, so every word of the Bible speaks of him in some way. But the Gospels enable us to encounter the person of Christ in an intense and vivid way. Perhaps, this summer, you can read the Gospel of Matthew, which is the Gospel we will read throughout the rest of this liturgical year. Take your time; read it prayerfully. Even better, read it with a friend and talk about what strikes you, what confuses you and what calls you to greater love.

Read a book

There are so many great Catholic books, both fiction and non-fiction. If you are not normally much of a reader, I recommend starting with a good Catholic novel. Graham Greene, Evelyn Waugh, Flannery O’Connor, Georges Bernanos and J.R.R. Tolkien all have written classic works of fiction that will have you grappling with spiritual realities and will spark great conversations with a group of friends over dinner. C.S. Lewis and Willa Cather are also two of my favorite authors who are not Catholic, but whose stories have wonderfully Catholic overtones. This summer, expand your soul with good literature.

Pray the Rosary

Every year, a survey is done of the men who were ordained priests throughout the United States. There are two things that almost every man reports having participated in regularly before seminary: Eucharistic adoration and praying the rosary. The rosary is one of the most tried-and-true devotions of the Catholic Church. Making a daily practice of this prayer helps keep our minds and hearts fixed on the story that truly defines us, which is the history of God’s saving love for us. Especially if you are discerning your vocation or in a time of transition in your life, the regular recitation of the Rosary will help you remain in Jesus, who is our true home.

Make a "desert day"

The Franciscan Friars of the Renewal (or CFR’s as they are commonly known) have a discipline I greatly admire known as hermitage. Once a month, every friar is required to spend a day in prayer and solitude. This time away from their active, apostolic life gives them a chance to reflect in prayer with the Lord on the many things they have done, seen and suffered that month, and it lets them receive very consciously from God the life and love that gives their mission its fruitfulness. Making a desert day doesn’t have to be an overly radical thing. The important thing is to spend the time remaining in Jesus. “Without me you can do nothing,” he says. The frenzied activity of our lives amounts to nothing if we are not rooted in the one relationship that gives our lives eternal significance. This summer, make a desert day.

Make a pilgrimage

When I was in seminary I had the great privilege of visiting the Holy Land with my classmates. It was a deeply moving experience to touch the places the Lord Jesus himself had visited and touched. We don’t have to travel to the Middle East to feel this connection to the wider Church in time and space. There are places right in your own backyard where pilgrims go to honor saints, grow in faith and give thanks to God for the blessings they have received. Where I live, in Chicago, we have numerous shrines within driving distance – the National Shrine of St. Francis Xavier Cabrini, the National Shrine of Maximilian Kolbe, and the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe. This summer, make a trip to attend Mass at a place of pilgrimage.

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Father Connor is the director of the John Paul II Newman Center at the University of Illinois.