US Catholic Faith in Real Life

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. 

Earth is a sacred text

The holiness of the Eucharist is alive in the soil with which we work.

By Robert L. Ernst |
Article Your Faith

The smell of horses and leather filled the air as I made the last harness adjustments, stepped behind the team of willing Belgians, and drove them to the walking plow that stood at the head of the garden. Trace chains clinked against the doubletree as I hooked the plow. I joined the lines in a plowman’s knot and ducked into the loop they formed, situating the smooth leather around my back. With the loop running under my left arm, across my back and around my right shoulder, I was able to control the team while I took hold of the plow handles, worn smooth with repeated use.

How shall I pray?

Prayer isn't easy. There's a reason it's called a discipline.

By Meghan Murphy-Gill |
blog Your Faith

How do you pray? The way I pray changes often. Sometimes it’s intentional, quiet, in front of a candle even. At other times, it’s simply sitting quietly on my commute to work, purposefully avoiding my email and social media while I mindfully observe my surroundings. For a while there in the summer, after putting my son to bed, I would sit on my back porch and attempt watercolor paintings of the scenery around me.

Bring a poem on your spiritual journey

Reading poetry shows us the beauty of the world through new eyes.

By Sister Rhonda Miska |
Article Your Faith

“A poem in the pocket means we will be accompanied wherever we go,” writes Bishop Robert Morneau. 

Morneau’s words ring true to me. Poems have been sturdy companions on my spiritual journey, accompanying me through moments of rejoicing and lament and everything in between. While the liturgical prayer of the church and reflection on scripture are bedrock spiritual practices for me, praying with poetry has also been a fundamental part of my spiritual life for as long as I can remember. 

A journey in ink

Tattoos, overtly religious or not, reflect people's identity, their relationship with God, and their journey toward something larger than themselves.

By Emily Sanna |
Article Lifestyle

I’m used to strangers stopping me in public. “What kind of bird is that on your arm?” they ask. “I’ve never seen a tattoo like that.”

Write a sacred image

When artists create an icon, they engage in a centuries-long sacramental and theological practice. Their work reveals the unseen face of God.

By Jonathan Ryan |
Article Your Faith

A year before I became a Catholic, I went on a retreat to an Orthodox monastery north of Columbus, Ohio. The monks occupied an old farm house and converted the basement into a chapel, complete with large, colorful icons. Every morning I attended Morning Prayer while icons of Our Lord, the Blessed Mother, and the saints looked on. The images stared at us, speaking in a mysterious language I didn’t quite understand, as we gazed back at them.