Q: Archbishop J, what can I do to ensure my Catholic DNA is active?
Awakening the Catholic DNA is the responsibility of every adult Catholic. It is your most important responsibility, and the most important gift you can give to your family, friends, workplace, and the nation.
When the Catholic DNA is ignited, you will live with a sense of mission and actively pursue God’s will and live your vocation. You will be on the path to become the best version of yourself and ultimately grow in sanctity. That is an amazing gift.
Ensuring the Catholic DNA is active requires both grace and intentionality. St Paul will say: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast” (Eph 2:8–9).
Jesus, in St Matthew’s Gospel, warns, however, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven” (Matt 7:21).
The whole Christian life needs to be understood as grace, a free gift from God, and our response—our gift to God. God gives us gifts freely, but we need to intentionally accept these gifts and cultivate them, so they flourish and thrive.
Cultivating the Life of Grace
On Pentecost day, when Peter preached, his hearers asked: So, what shall we do? Peter replied: “Repent and be baptised, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” There is intentionality—Repent and be baptised. There is Grace, you will receive the Holy Spirit—free gift.
The Christian life flourishes between intentionality and grace. Our seeking the will of God and bending our heart to God’s will, opens up a space for God to fill us with incredible grace.
What we give and what God gives is completely disproportional. St John teaches us: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (Jn 3:16).
Making the first step
A great place to begin is by reading the book we gave you at Christmas—Matthew Kelly’s, Four Signs of a Dynamic Catholic. In this book, you have some of the essentials you need to understand how to activate Christ Life. Kelly calls the Catholic who responds fully to God, a “dynamic Catholic”, whose life is marked by four signs—prayer, study, generosity, and evangelisation. While these are not completely aligned to our four practices from Acts 2:42, they are integral to the teaching in Acts. Kelly gives us an approach which is vital.
Find your copy of The Four Signs. Go to the end of each chapter and read the summaries. Reflect on what you read. Make a plan (intentionality) for the area under review. Spend time praying about what is being asked and the challenges it presents.
Read the book slowly, digesting and implementing what you read. Each chapter opens up a new enquiry and a new path for grace, inviting a new response to God’s Call.
Here is what is critical: take small incremental steps towards your goal in each area, every day. In this way, we build habits of excellence and find our way to inner transformation and responding to God’s grace.
What if you set aside five minutes a day for reading? What if over time you increase this to 10 min, then 15 min, then 20 min a day? The incremental increase allows you to grow your habit, step by step, every day.
Deepening the Journey
As you begin the book, put in place a routine of prayer and a rhythm inside your routine. Each day use the Examen prayer process. Ask God to awaken your Catholic DNA and give you a missionary heart. At the end of the day to speak to Him about your progress and the many ways you have come to understand the grace necessary for you to grow in this.
Once you begin on your journey, invite your family to make its own journey as family. Begin with a decade of the rosary every day. Or begin with the Grace Before/After Meals. Introducing prayer into the family is a great second step. To do this begin a conversation about prayer and family prayer. Remember, daily practice, small steps, and incremental growth! Do not begin with too much at first, it will fail. Small steps!
Another small step
As you pick up momentum on the journey, now you are ready for another step, the Sacrament of Reconciliation. This sacrament is the most undervalued in our Church. Yet, its grace is amazing.
As you grow in your consciousness of God, you grow in your sense of failure and need for mercy. The sacrament gives us a constant reminder that it is “all God’s grace”. It is the antidote for pride and arrogance which is the greatest single obstacle to doing God’s will. Frequent access to the Sacrament of Reconciliation, is the greatest medicine for the spiritual life.
Make a habit of this sacrament, personally, and invite your family to go with you. In a parish in the US where I have helped out, families go to the sacrament on a Saturday evening. It is beautiful to see.
The Christian life flourishes between intentionality and grace. It is important that we begin with healthy habits, small steps, incremental and continuous growth.
Reflect deeply on your life and that of your family. Is the Catholic DNA at work? Is it strong, weak of failing? Earnestly ask God to reignite the Catholic DNA in your family and in each member.