INCORPORATING STRUCTURES INTO YOUR LIFE

Some common structures for you to consider incorporating into your life.

Obligatory structures for Catholics 

(aka, Precepts of the Church; see Catechism nn. 2041-2043 [as of this writing, the text of this section on the Vatican's website is incorrect!])

 

To be sure, these structures are minimal and we should do more. Still, they are valuable for a couple of reasons. For one, they foster the virtues in the third way mentioned in “How to practice structures”, namely, by testing the heart. If doing these very minimal structures is found to be irksome, what does that say about our hearts? Also, these structures are opportunities to practice virtues by following them not only externally, but also internally. For example, when one follows the structure that says to go to Mass on Sundays and holy days of obligation, one should go not only physically, but one should work on be mentally present as well.

 

  1. Attend Mass and rest from servile labor on all Sundays and holy days of obligation.

  2. Go to confession (that is, the sacrament of penance, also known as reconciliation) at least once a year.

  3. Receive the Eucharist at least in the season of Easter.

  4. Observe the days of fasting and abstinence established by the Church (all Fridays in Lent are days of abstinence from meat; Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are days of fasting as well as of abstinence).

  5. Help to provide, as you are able, for the material needs of the Church.

 

Liturgical structures
  1. Go to Mass, per first precept of the Church (see above). This is SO important! Besides going to Mass on Sundays and holy days of obligation, go on other days. Perhaps develop a structure for this by going to one weekday Mass once a week or by going on the first Friday of the month.

  2. Go to confession once a month. While one must confess mortal sins as soon as possible, there are spiritual benefits to going to confession more regularly and even when one has not committed a mortal sin but only venial sins.

  3. Choose one of the Hours in the Liturgy of the Hours and pray it every day or once a week. E.g., pray Compline (aka Night Prayer) everyday or pray Vespers (aka Evening Prayer) on Sundays.

  4. There are other prayers that, while not part of the Church's liturgy, are based on the liturgy and can be prayed with profit. E.g., reciting or chanting the Magnificat of Mary (see Lk 1:46-55) or reciting or chanting a psalm.

Prayer (we should spend time in private prayer each day; you can use the same form of prayer each day or vary the prayer according to the day or circumstance)
  1. Lectio divina for 15 minutes or more (see here for more on this method of prayer)

  2. Reciting the Rosary (whether privately or in a group, such as one's family)

  3. Praying the Divine Mercy Chaplet (whether privately or in a group)

  4. Eucharistic Adoration for a set amount of time

  5. Journaling for a set amount of time

  6. Quiet time in a chapel or simply before a religious image for a set amount of time

 

Self-denial/mortification
  1. Fast on Fridays throughout the year (not just Lent) or fast on certain days. The general rule is not to fast on feast days or solemnities or on Sundays. One can fast in various ways, such as:

    1. The ecclesiastical fast in which one abstains from meat and has one large meal, where the other two meals do not combine to equal the amount of the large meal.

    2. One can simply abstain from meat and avoid eating in between meals.

    3. One can abstain from a certain kind of food or drink throughout the day or for a longer period (for example, not having beef for the day, not having dessert or sweets for the day).

  2. Give up for a time something that gives you comfort, whether for a day, a week, or otherwise. Of course, select what you give up prudently, not depriving yourself of something that will be too difficult to do without. Something that might be given up might be watching a movie or other program. In general, avoid giving up something that will cause others a difficulty, rather than only be a sacrifice for yourself (for example, it is probably not good to give up spending time with a friend, although that is a comfort).

 

Spiritual knowledge
  1. Read a spiritually helpful book each day (for example, 10 minutes a day) or for a combined amount of time each week (for example, for a total of 60 minutes throughout the week). Here you want to read material that is by reliable spiritual authors, such as the saints and spiritual classics. The content should be orthodox (that is, in keeping with official Church teachings).

  2. Read spiritually helpful articles, whether via the internet or a physical copy, each week. Similar principles apply here as with the above.

  3. Listen to a spiritually helpful lecture or podcast each week. Again, apply principles from above, especially with regard to content and reliable sources.

  4. Partake in a Bible study. Our spiritual knowledge especially needs to be nourished with Scripture. So, this practice can be especially valuable. However, one needs to find a good Bible study that will read the Bible with faith and in a theologically sound way.

 

To cultivate prudence (aka discretion)
  1. Seek counsel from a trusted person before making a big decision.

  2. Observe a pause, such as a day or a few days, before making an important decision, so that you have time to ponder whether the decision is right.

 

To guard against pride and to foster humility
  1. At the end of the day, examine your conscience and ask God's forgiveness for the day's wrongs.

 

To cultivate patience and humility, and to protect against negativity and grumbling
  1. Refrain for a day from making any complaints or negative comments.

 

To cultivate generosity and charity toward neighbor
  1. Give a regular amount of money each month to a charitable cause.

  2. Volunteer once a month.

 

To foster gratitude and mindfulness of God
  1. At the end of the day, ponder the things for which you are thankful and thank God for them.

To stop neglecting an important activity, such as praying or reading
  1. Follow the "first thing after" rule, that is, do the activity as the first thing you do after a regular occurrence in your day, such as waking up or having lunch or eating dinner. By doing the activity right after the regular occurrence (e.g., praying right after dinner) you do not let distractions get in and keep you from doing the activity.

 

To alleviate stress and thus protect against bad behaviors prompted by stress
  1. A regular exercise routine.

  2. Breathing exercises. One can incorporate meditative prayers into these, such as saying the Holy Name of Jesus, or "Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God."

  3. Observing practices for getting enough sleep, such as going to bed by a certain time.

  4. Monitoring one's diet.

To point or remind us of important things
  1. Treat yourself to something extra on a feast day, holy day, or Sunday, such as by having a special desert on those days or a nice meal. This can point to what is being celebrated on such days, so that we do in fact rejoice in it.