Patti Armstrong is an award-winning author and was the managing editor and co-author of Ascension Press’ bestselling Amazing Grace series. Her latest books are: Big Hearted: Inspiring Stories From Everyday Families and Dear God, You Can’t Be Serious. She has a B.A. in social work and an M.A. in public administration and worked in both those fields before staying home to work as a freelance writer. Patti and her husband live in North Dakota, where they are still raising the tail end of their 10 children.
Saints had a knack for shaking things up as they blazed a heavenly trail, taking others with them. And here we are in our ordinary lives, putting gas in our cars, eating sandwiches and checking email. And praying. Because we do love Jesus, even if ever so imperfectly.
But oh, the ordinariness of it all! How can we raise the bar in our regular old lives to become radical Catholics? I am always on the lookout for holy hacks—creative ways to maximize effort. Spending a week visiting my 92-year-old dad recently inspired me with his example to live heroically in the ordinariness of earth. For instance, despite using a cane, he was still genuflecting before the tabernacle, even though it takes holding onto the pew with his left hand and a cane in the right.
Earlier in the day, I accompanied him on his walk for exercise. He pushed a walker around a mall while I led the Scriptural Rosary with him. His walk lasts as long as the Rosary—three-tenths of a mile in 31 minutes.
I’ve read many lives of the saints that also inspire me, but their lives don’t look like mine. Even St. Thérèse of Lisieux with her beautiful “Little Way” was a cloistered nun. Joining a cloister sounds appealing at times, but my husband and kids might think otherwise. However, over the years, I’ve collected ideas to raise the bar to holiness in the ordinariness of life. Here are some of my favorites.
- St. Thérèse of Lisieux’s “Little Way” turns out to be as doable outside a convent as inside. Little ways can become habits to holiness—like letting someone go ahead of us in traffic, taking the piece of pizza where all the pepperoni slipped off, or picking up someone else’s garbage.
- Pray a Rosary of gratitude. Thankfulness leads to humility, love, and acceptance of God’s will. Simply think of something you are grateful for on each bead of the rosary—easy but transformative.
- Multitask with CDs, podcasts, or Catholic radio while folding laundry and doing other mundane tasks.
- Have short memorized prayers ready or an ongoing Rosary for life’s delays. Type out favorite prayers, laminate them, and keep them handy. Traffic jams, waiting for the microwave, and being put on hold never looked so holy.
- Find out the saint of the day every day and ask for their prayers. They have pull.
- Talk to your heavenly secret service agent—your guardian angel—every day.
- Take an area pilgrimage to a nearby shrine or cathedral. Adding elements such as walking, taking the bus and fasting can raise it to the level of a real holy land pilgrimage. This idea comes from The Catholic Hipster Handbook: Rediscovering Cool Saints, Forgotten Prayers, and Other Weird but Sacred Stuff. Good book, by the way.
- Fast daily. There’s a sacrifice to be had at every meal, such as holding the mayonnaise in a sandwich or skipping the fries. Fasting is powerful, so why not slip it in more often?
- Set an alarm daily for 3 p.m., the hour of mercy, to pray the Chaplet of Divine Mercy.
- Pray for the people who irritate you. It makes God happy and you holy.
- Write a letter to the editor with an opinion that includes faith.
- Kneel during prayers.
- Put a Catholic sticker on your car. (My dad’s license plate says “ALLPRAY”) to evangelize even in parking lots.
- Take advantage of indulgences. Talk about a hack to heaven! Indulgences remove temporal penalties. It’s part of the Church’s infallible teaching, which means that no Catholic is at liberty to disbelieve in them. Go to “Primer on Indulgences” to learn more.
- Enroll people in Mass when you give greeting cards and thank-yous. The Association of the Miraculous Medal is one of my favorites because you can enroll someone for 5 years for only a dollar.
- Pay people back with an hour of adoration of the Blessed Sacrament.
- Say grace in public—even at vending machines.
- “God bless” everyone, even the cashier. Say a little prayer for them.
- Stand up for God when someone uses his name in vain. Make a sign of the cross, or say something like, “Praise be the Lord,” or note that God’s last name isn’t damn.
- When someone shares a problem with you, pray with them on the spot.
Those are the hacks I try to work into my life, although I still need to get a good bumper sticker. And kneeling—I need to do that more. I actually need to do everything more, but those are my goals. I’d love to hear yours.