US Catholic Faith in Real Life

To pray, just sing

Music as a spiritual practice helps us tell our Christian story anew.

By Jena Thurow-Mountin |
Article Your Faith

One of my core childhood memories is of singing at Mass. It’s neither a sappy nor a prayerful story, however. This was one of my rare moments of rebellion. While the rest of the congregation stood and sang together the opening hymn at Mass, I was lying down, sprawled out in the pew, singing my own made-up lyrics that went something like, “I don’t want to be here! I’d rather be watching cartoons!” My mother rightfully glared at me, urging me to stand up and behave.

7 pilgrimages you can go on right now

Not all successful pilgrimages involve journeying far away.

By Christine Valters Paintner |
Article Your Faith

This is part of a series of two essays on how to make a successful pilgrimage. You can read the other part, on eight practices of a good pilgrimage, here.

There are many ways to practice pilgrimage. You can journey far away to a sacred site, but there are also options within reach of a walk or drive from home, or even within your own imagination. Keep in mind these three essential aspects to create your own pilgrimage experience:

8 practices of a good pilgrimage

What makes a successful pilgrimage isn’t distance traveled but commitment to the journey itself.

By Christine Valters Paintner |
Article Your Faith

The value of travel was ingrained in me from a young age. When I was growing up in New York City my father worked for the United Nations, and we had the privilege of traveling back to Austria, where he was from, as well as other European countries and once as a teen through Asia.

6 ways to recharge your spirit in times of trouble

Tips for how to keep going in a world torn by strife.

By Jessie Bazan |
Article Your Faith

Trouble pounced on a recent trip through rural Minnesota. For 10 miles I drove behind a big red pickup truck jammed full of white men, all of whom looked to be in their 30s. I could see their silhouettes laughing. An American flag was draped across the back seat. The driver landed in sync with a rundown van in the next lane. He laid on the horn, while his clan of bros shouted obscenities out the window and made slashing motions. Their victim?

A lone Somalian teenager.

Grow your spirit in fertile soil

From seed to plant to mulch—the life cycles of a garden have a lot in common with those in our own lives.

By Rebecca Bratten Weiss |
Article Lifestyle Your Faith

I am in my garden, squatting in the dirt like a medieval peasant, as around me rise the complex smells of lichen and mineral, exhalations of earthworm and beetroot. The job for this day is planting sweet corn by hand, which means poking each kernel down into its own secret burrow, each tiny, wrinkled corpse into a solitary tomb, but with hope of resurrection.

Is pipe smoking good for the soul?

There is a rhythm to pipe smoking, a ritual that allows you, if you let it, to enter into a state of contemplation.

By David Russell Mosley |
Article Lifestyle Your Faith

There is a rhythm to pipe smoking, a ritual even, one that allows you, if you let it, to enter into a state of contemplation. You must pack the pipe first, and pack it well, else you will have an uneven smoke, causing the pipe either to burn out too quickly or not to stay lit. Then, once properly packed, you must light it. And this too is a ritual. The first light chars the tobacco on top, the second causes the ember to reside deep within the bowl. Once the ritual of packing and lighting is completed comes the smoking. This too must follow some kind of rhythm.

A guide to praying with an icon

From the archives: Icons are not just beautiful paintings. The purpose of icons is to help us pray. Jim Forest offers instructions for putting them to good use.

By Jim Forest |
Article Your Faith

“In the beginning was the Word,” wrote St John. “He is the image [ikon in Greek] of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation,” wrote St. Paul. We meet him still in both word and image.

Both have figured in the worshiping life of followers of Christ from the church’s beginning, as visitors to the catacombs in Rome are reminded. The bones are mainly gone, but icons remain on the walls and ceilings of those underground places where Christians prayed and celebrated the Eucharist.

African spirituality is unique in its commitment to community

God is in the ties that bind all of creation together, says Father Stan Chu Ilo.

By A U.S. Catholic interview |
Article Your Faith

Americans should be better at dealing with ambiguity, diversity, and disagreement, says Father Stan Chu Ilo, a research professor of Catholic studies and African Catholicism at DePaul University in Chicago. Life can embrace both joy and sorrow; two people can disagree and yet love each other deeply.

The spirit is a breath of fresh air in an unlikely place

In line for a roller coaster at an amusement park is an odd place for a spiritual experience.

By Jennifer Szweda Jordan |
Article Your Faith

In line for a roller coaster at an amusement park is an odd place for a spiritual experience.

But there I was at Pittsburgh’s Kennywood Park, hot and dirty on a summer day. I was working as a caregiver for a woman with mild intellectual disabilities, and she was standing behind me. As we moved slowly through the line, I felt someone blowing on me from a close distance, a distinct, direct long puff of air between my shoulder blades, just below the back of my neck. It happened twice before I asked her about it.

Evening prayer is a way to honor the cycle of time

To pray vespers is to become alive to a liturgical cycle that flows throughout the week, each office of worship informing the next.

By Michael Centore |
Article Your Faith

I attended evening prayer for the first time at a monastery in upstate New York. I was immediately drawn to it because the service correlates perfectly with the poignancy of dusk—that hour of the day that imbues the most routine action with a sense of subtle mystery. Ritualizing this transitional time instilled in me peace and refocused my energies for the evening ahead. It was a practice I longed to continue on a more regular basis from my home in Brooklyn.