Catholic Transcript Magazine of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Hartford Connecticut

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Allen R. Hunt

Our lives change when our habits change. It’s that simple.

In our research at Dynamic Catholic, we have found that the single most important spiritual habit is prayer. If you want to be a better version of yourself, your growth will begin with prayer. On the one hand, that doesn’t surprise you, does it? I mean, Jesus regularly took time away, often early in the morning or late at night, and went to a quiet place to pray. But on the other hand, our research also found that most of us do not have a daily routine of prayer.

Oh sure, we pray. We pray a little here. And we pray a little there. But we quickly get distracted, or fall out of the habit, or just turn to prayer when we are in need of something in a hurry. “Oh Lord, please help me find a parking space. I’ve got a lot to do today.”

But it’s the #1 Habit. A daily routine of prayer.

The more time you spend in the classroom of silence, the more clearly you will hear the voice of God in your life.

Ten minutes a day can make all the difference in the world. Having a daily routine of prayer means having a time, a place and a structure. You will pray and you will tend to do it each day at the same time, in the same place, and in a regular way that works for you. Spending time in silence, listening for the voice and the nudging of God. Sitting in God’s presence, giving him your full attention even when you are saying nothing at all yourself. Since the average American spends more than eight hours a day in front of a screen (TV, computer, smartphone, etc.), stepping away from the noise into the silence can be revolutionary.

As you do that each day, your relationship with God will build, and your life will begin to change. Prayer works on your soul much like waves coming in day after day and slowly changing the coastline. Consistent. Powerful.

Habit experts have discovered how one habit lived well begins to change everything in your life. They usually call this the keystone habit. For example, the decision to run a 10K race will lead to the decision to run each day to get ready. That daily habit of running soon may lead to the decision to quit smoking to be able to breathe and run better. That habit may slowly cause you to eat differently and to drink differently. You are caring for your body so that it can run each day, to get ready for the race. That habit may also force you to rethink how you sleep. Again, you are slowly adjusting to the habit of running each day.

Day by day, bit by bit, your one keystone habit has opened the way for other habits and decisions that have revolutionized your physical life.

God invites you to make prayer your keystone habit. A daily routine of prayer is the ultimate game-changer. As you begin to pray consistently, you will notice other areas of your life opening up in healthy ways you never anticipated.

That time with God will spill over into multiple areas of your life. You might have more peace, experience more patience, find relationships deepening or live with more confidence. As your prayer life goes, so goes your life.

Our Dynamic Catholic team has designed a simple, straightforward way to have a conversation with God each day during your quiet time. We call it the Prayer Process.

It goes like this:

hunt pg 8STEP 1. GRATITUDE. Begin by thanking God for whomever and
whatever you are most grateful for today.

STEP 2. AWARENESS. Think about yesterday. Talk to God about
the times you were and were not the best version of yourself.

STEP 3. SIGNIFICANT MOMENT. Ask God what he is trying to say
to you today. Talk to him about that.

STEP 4. PEACE. Ask God to forgive you for anything you have
done wrong and to fill your heart with peace.

STEP 5. FREEDOM. Talk to God about some way he is inviting
you to change and grow.

STEP 6. OTHERS. Pray for the other people in your life by
asking God to guide them and watch over them.

STEP 7. PRAY the Our Father.

If you can only do one thing in 2018, let it be this: a 10-minute daily habit of prayer. Our lives change when our habits change.

Allen R. Hunt is senior advisor for the Dynamic Catholic Institute.

hunt christmas gift

Albert grew up poor. His parents struggled to eke out a living on a dried-up piece of land.

Sharecroppers in the rural South were very familiar with poverty.

The family had five children, and Albert was the youngest. His older siblings loved to take care of him, play with him and teach him new things. The family may have been short on financial resources, but they were long on love.

As the youngest child, Albert received five cents from his father each Saturday before he would walk to town. There, Albert could use the money to watch a movie or get ice cream. Five cents was enough money for one or the other, but not both. Either way, for Albert, Saturdays formed the highlight of each week.

Each year at Christmas, Albert wished for the same gift, a bicycle. And each year, the bicycle did not come.

When he was 7, he wished to Santa, asked his mother, prayed to God: “Please bring me a bike.” But on Christmas morning, when he woke up, Albert discovered that no bike had arrived. Where he had hoped to find a bike, instead he found a bag with several oranges and an apple.

When Albert turned 8, again he expressed his deepest wish for a bike. On Christmas morning, again, a bag of fruit appeared, but no bike. The same scene repeated itself when Albert was 9. No bike. Just a few oranges and an apple.

When Albert was 10, he repeatedly made his desire known. He tore out pictures from catalogs, he talked about the bike at dinner every evening and, when he went to sleep, he dreamed of a bike. “Santa, please bring me a bike.”

However, Christmas again played out like it always did. Albert got up, ran to the den and found no bike. Only a bag with a few oranges and an apple.

As time for Christmas dinner approached, the whole family gathered in the kitchen to prepare the meal. Albert’s oldest siblings came home to be part of the family Christmas celebration. In the door walked Albert’s oldest sister, Rita. Twenty-three years old, Rita was married and had moved into town to work at the cotton mill. Rita already had two children of her own, and, like the rest of the mill workers, she struggled to make ends meet in order to feed her own kids.

As Rita entered the kitchen for the Christmas meal, she looked at Albert and said, “Albert, I brought you a present.” Albert ran outside, and looked in her station wagon. There it was: a new red bike.

Albert’s heart leapt for joy; his spirit burst with glee. His long anticipation had come to the most delightful fulfillment. At last, the bike was his!

So Albert did what any 10-year-old boy would do. He slept with that bike. Every night. For a year.

That new red bike meant many things to Albert. Most of all, it meant he had a sister who loved him immensely. She had sacrificed for him in a remarkable way. That bike meant someone really, really cared.

The truth was plain for all to see. The perfect Christmas gift came from incredible love.

Allen R. Hunt is senior advisor for the Dynamic Catholic Institute.

In the corporal works of mercy, Jesus calls us to do something. Actually do it. Not simply to talk about it, not to study it or to establish a committee to plan for it. But to really and truly clothe the naked.

Why? Because, Jesus says, when we clothe the naked, we are clothing him. In other words, we just may see the eyes of Jesus himself in the face of the person we clothe. Not only will a person find warmth and dignity in clothing, but we ourselves will also be transformed by the grace of God in the process.

Clothe the naked.

Generous followers of Jesus do just that.

When my friend Denise had cancer, a group of friends took turns driving her to chemotherapy treatment. On our assigned day, we would arrive at her home by 7:30 a.m., help her to the car and then transport her to the doctor’s office so she would be on time for the first round of chemotherapy administered that day at 8.

It was a humbling process for everyone. For Denise, as she slowly lost her hair and endured the physical indignities and sufferings that come with cancer and chemotherapy. And for the friends who accompanied her in their own small ways, driving, praying and gently encouraging her on the journey. Life becomes very fragile in a chemo-therapy clinic.

On one of her first trips to transport Denise, Lisa sat in the waiting area and read for the hours Denise was receiving her treatment. In the corner of the doctor’s office, Lisa noticed a box filled with knitted winter caps.

At two different times during the treatment, a nurse came out into the waiting area and led a chemotherapy patient to the box. They laughed as they sifted through the large selection of caps until the patient found one she liked, tried it on and took it home with her.

When this happened the second time, Lisa asked the receptionist about the box of knit caps. The reply surprised her.

“In the Catholic parish down the road, there’s a group of women who like to knit. And one of them decided a few years ago that no cancer patient should ever have a cold head. So, the ladies bring a batch of new caps by every few weeks to be sure that each patient here knows that someone really and truly cares.”

I’ve never met those knitting ladies, but I know what they look like. They look a lot like Jesus.

Knit. Clothe the naked.

For years, the Reyna family has had a Christmas Day tradition. Once all the presents have been given and celebrated, each member of the family takes a few minutes to go to his/her closet and gather items that have not been worn at least once in the past year. Each person then folds the selected slacks, shirts and coats and places them all in a bag. On the day after Christmas, Mr. Reyna then takes all the family’s bags of clothing to the St. Vincent DePaul Society (SVDP) center so that what has not been worn in the past year by the Reynas can be worn in the coming year by someone who needs it.

However, as the years have passed, Mr. and Mrs. Reyna have decided to take it one step further. Their income and financial comfort level have increased. They’ve noticed also that their gift-giving has evolved to being based less on children’s needs and more on their wants.

As a result, several years ago, the parents made a decision. They would still have the family gather unworn clothing each Christmas Day. But from now on, for every dollar they spend on Christmas clothing for their children’s gifts, they now give a dollar to SVDP. And as their children grow older, the parents invite them to do the same. In other words, every dollar in gifts to your own family will be matched with a dollar to assist another family in need.

The Reynas hope to teach their children not only to notice the needs of other families, but to recognize those needs as being equal to their own. Sacrificing to make a Christmas gift is designed to do just that: help the recipient while transforming the giver.

Sacrifice. Clothe the naked.

How will you respond to Jesus’ invitation to clothe the naked? You might begin by picking one of these two words. Knit. Sacrifice.

Babies inspire hope. Our first grandchild just arrived in the world today. A new generation appearing right before our very eyes. Little Allen Joseph. His birth has opened a dimension of my heart I did not even know existed. So I write to him now of my hope for his life and for his faith.Babies inspire hope. Our first grandchild just arrived in the world today. A new generation appearing right before our very eyes. Little Allen Joseph. His birth has opened a dimension of my heart I did not even know existed. So I write to him now of my hope for his life and for his faith.

Dear Allen Joseph:

I have deep hopes for you. These are my ABCs of hope for you. 

A good priest – Is there anything better for a boy or a man to have in his life? May your life be filled with many fine priests.

Baptism – My eyes will fill with tears when my daughter holds you to receive the waters of baptism. What a gift! May you not only know who you are, but also whose you are.

Caring teachers – The greatest gift we can give you is the gift of faith. I pray for caring teachers throughout your life to show you the way and to help you embrace it.

parenting hunt baby july aug17 webDeep love for people – Jesus teaches us to do two things: 1) love God; and 2) love people. May you be known most of all for your deep, deep love.

Easter people – May you know that we are Easter people. With that knowledge, you will have a hope that the world does not.

Funerals – May you be inspired by funerals because we are Easter people.

Great education – I hope you have a fine mind. Even more, I hope for an education that truly prepares you for life. To think fully. To have the “mind of Christ.”

Heart for God – I pray you will be like King David — A man after God’s own heart.

Inspiring music – May your ear be filled with the melody of God. Whether it be “In Christ Alone” or “Be Thou My Vision” or a tune I have not yet heard.

Jesus on the crucifix – When I sit and listen to my friend as he musters every ounce of courage to endure chemo treatments, he and I look at the crucifix, to our suffering Lord. I pray that you experience that same hope in your own times of confusion, pain or despair.

Knowing where you are headed – An old Hebrew name for God is The Place. I want you to know you are destined to be in him, our Place.

Love – It has always defined the Church and God’s people. Love separates us from the world. We love. May that make you different.

Monastery of the Holy Spirit – I spend a retreat day there each month. I hope to share it with you very soon.

Not alone – You are never alone. We are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses, people of mission who lived life well. May you know we shall meet them face to face when we, too, reach The Place.

Outstanding sense of vocation and purpose – Whether you are called to be a priest or to single or married life, I pray for you to embrace a life filled with divine purpose.

Parents – When I see parents sitting with their children at Mass who are investing in their kids’ souls, I sense the deepest hope. May God bless your parents as they seek to do the same for you.

Quests – St. John Fisher was willing to lose everything, even his life, in his quest to love God and to be obedient. I hope quests will remind you that you can be better and better. And you will be.

Reception into the Church – Who can be at the Easter Vigil Mass and witness a person affirming a faithful desire to become a part of the Easter people and not feel hope? I look forward to the day you fully enter the Church.

St. Gertrude the Great – I hope you get to know her a bit in your life. The only female saint to be called “the Great.” She is a lady of great hope. 

The Eucharist – The Eucharist changed my life and my soul. I hope it will feed and nourish you every day of your life.

Unconditional love – For just a moment, meeting you, my grandson, drew me into the heart of God, a heart filled with unconditional love. If I, as a flawed earthly grandfather, can love you like that, I hope you will realize how much God’s unconditional love abounds for you.

Very generous people – People who give are the hope-iest people I know. May you become one of them.

Work ethic – Everyone in your family seems to have a great one. I hope you get one, too.

X – The first letter for Christ in the original Greek, X is a symbol for Christ in the early Church. I pray that your hope will lie in Jesus. 

You – Because you remind me I am not alone, I pray I will help you discover that we are on this journey of hope together with many good people.

Zephyr – A fresh wind — there is one blowing in the Church. May it inspire your life today, tomorrow and forever. Amen. Love, Your Hope-full Grandpa

Allen R. Hunt is senior advisor for the Dynamic Catholic Institute.

hunt first communion web(Getty Images)Do you remember your first Communion? I bet you remember where you were and the name of the parish. Did your mother get you a special outfit? Who else was there? Can you envision the look on the priest’s face as he handed you the body of Christ for the first time? And maybe even a celebration meal or party afterward with family and friends? First Communion is a special moment.

In fact, it may just be the most important moment of all. Research from people as diverse as psychologist Jean Piaget to the evangelical polling firm Barna Group has shown that by the age of 13, your spiritual identity is largely set in place. What you believe about God when you are 13 is a remarkable predictor of what you will believe when you are 23, 43 and 63. In other words, research shows that if people do not embrace the Catholic faith before they reach their teenage years, the chance of their doing so at all becomes very slim.

This idea matters tremendously. First, it means that our parishes’ focus on sharing the faith with children will be the most fruitful thing we can do. Love kids. Teach them the beauty of the Catholic faith. Introduce them to Jesus. Pour the foundation for life. That foundation can only be poured once. If we do not form children well before the age of 13, the chances of their being practicing Catholics as adults decrease dramatically.

And that means that first Communion may be one of the most important things any parish, school, volunteer, teacher, parent, grandparent or priest can be a part of. In preparing kids to receive the body and blood of Christ, we are not merely checking one box on a long list of stuff to do. We are ensuring that children have a life-giving encounter with the very heart of our faith, the Eucharist. And we are doing so at the time in that child’s life, before the age of 13, when he or she is most likely to be open to experiencing the grace and love of God. These key moments will shape the rest of children’s lives.

Do you remember your first Communion? Chances are, you do. How can you help children in your life have such a marvelous experience in first Communion that they still remember that moment at the age of 30, 60 and 90?

— PRAY. As they prepare. On the day itself. Afterward. Pray with gratitude for the gift of Jesus and the gift of his body and blood.

— TALK. Share memories of your own first Communion. Discuss why the Eucharist is important to you. Listen to children tell you what they are learning and expecting. The more you talk, the more it will mean — and the more they will remember.

— ATTEND. Smile. Celebrate the special moment with the child. Your being there and your joyful reaction will be etched in the child’s memory for the rest of his or her life.

— GIVE THE CHILD A SPECIAL GIFT. Perhaps a photo in a frame of him or her receiving the first Eucharist. Or maybe a special Bible with the child’s name on it that you sign on the inside to celebrate the day.

— THEN GO TO MASS WITH THE CHILD in the weeks and months afterward. Help the child to make the connection between the special moment of first Communion and what happens every time we share the Blessed Sacrament. Help build a Mass habit.

What a joy it is to be Catholic — to share in the beauty and genius that God has placed in his Church. And what a greater joy to share that beauty with a child who will benefit from the faith for decades to come. Change the life of one child and you begin to change the world.

Allen R. Hunt is senior advisor for the Dynamic Catholic Institute.