Summer spirituality for the Catholic family

CHARLESTON — Families of all ages and sizes are making plans for where to go and what to do this summer. As you plan your itinerary, remember to include God as an active participant in everything you do.
Father Gregory B. Wilson, rector pro-tem at the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in Charleston, said families should keep their hearts open to God and plan simple ways to celebrate their faith.
“Prayer is the main goal,” he said. “The whole point of the Catholic life is that God is present all the time. He’s always trying to break into our lives.”
Open the door to Christ by keeping your faith at the center of your summer.
Pocket-size reading
Most vacationers encounter downtime at some point. Whether it is a delay at the airport or a lull between activities, be prepared with a small devotional to share with your family.
The New Testament can fit in a pocket or purse. Even small books such as “My Daily Bread” or “The Wonders of the Holy Name” can be carried in a travel bag.
At home, check out new releases or pick up that classic Christian tale you have been meaning to read.
Browsing the shelves for Catholic literature is a cool escape from summer heat, and books can be found for every level from toddlers all the way up to doctorates.
The staffs at your local Catholic book shops have plenty of suggestions, including books for parents by Father Joseph Classen. Click here for a book list.
Make it a goal to read some of the books that made the top 10 list of 2008, according to a poll from Catholic summer reading. They are: Jesus of Nazareth by Pope Benedict XVI; St. Francis of Assisi, by G.K. Chesterton; The Diary of a Country Priest, by George Bernanos; Brideshead Revisited, by Evelyn Waugh; Coincidentally, by Father George Rutler; The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien; Love in the Little Things, by Mike Aquilina; The Way of the Pilgrim; Time for God, by Jacques Philippe; and Home at Last, by Rosalind Moss.
Celebrate the lives of the saints
A saint or holy person is celebrated every day.
Some are universal feast days of holy obligation, but others are important for personal reasons.
Father Wilson noted that St. Thomas the Apostle brought the faith to India, and could be celebrated by sharing a meal with foods from that area. The same may be done for saints from other ethnic regions.
Another suggestion is for families to gather for a picnic and read writings from a particular holy person.
Saints that may not be as famous but have important connections to family include Sts. Joachim and Anna, who are the parents of Blessed Mary, and St. Monica.
Father Wilson said St. Monica is an inspiration for parents of a child who has fallen away from the church. She prayed for 30 years that her son, Augustine, would become a Christian, and he ended up becoming one of the most famous saints of all time.
Call your church or go to to find your favorite saint and plan a family event to remember his life and the impact he has had on Catholicism.
June includes feast days for the Immaculate Heart of Mary, the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and St. John the Baptist.
St. John, who is the patron of the Diocese of Charleston, was celebrated in ancient times with a great bonfire. Families could share the history and old traditions with a more modern cookout after Mass.
July’s special days include The Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, whose celebrants often wear a brown scapular as a sign of devotion to her.
Among the big feast days of August are the Transfiguration of Christ and the Assumption of Mary. Father Wilson asks that families remember their parish leaders Aug. 4 on the feast day of St. John Vianney, the patron of priests.
Make a pilgrimage
Another way to bring Christ’s message to life is to make a spiritual pilgrimage with your family. The diocese has its very own Shrine of Our Lady of South Carolina in Kingstree.
The shrine was consecrated and blessed by Bishop Robert J. Baker, now of the Diocese of Birmingham, Ala. The bishop also signed a canonical decree establishing the shrine and inaugurated its ministry in 2006.
Father Stanley Smolenski said to call ahead to schedule a pilgrimage because each one is tailor-made for the pilgrim.
Along with a short history of the shrine and icon of Our Lady of South Carolina, Father Smolenski said he will hold a spiritual conference and celebrate Mass if the family wishes. Call (843) 355-3527 or visit
If you are traveling out of state, find out if there is a shrine to visit while in the area. Florida, which is one of the hot spots for summer vacations, has at least three well-known shrines.
One of the closest places to South Carolina to make a pilgrimage is the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Atlanta, Ga.
When Atlanta was founded in 1837, a large number of the railroad workers there were Irish Catholics. A wooden church was built in 1848, the Church of the Immaculate Conception, with Father Thomas O’Reilly as pastor, according to Catholic Shrines USA.
Father O’Reilly was a Confederate chaplain and he persuaded Gen. William T. Sherman to spare his church and that of his neighbors. The present church was rebuilt after a fire in 1982.
Shrine Web sites encourage pilgrims to take single dollar bills to light candles for their intentions and for friends and family.
What to do on the road
When traveling, don’t forget to pack devotional objects. As the patron of travelers, St. Christopher is a good person to have on board, spiritually speaking, for family vacations, the daily commute to work or even a short trip to the store. Keep the saint close by placing his prayer card in the car and saying the prayer before each journey.
Even the calmest of travelers can find themselves irritated by congestion and inconsiderate drivers. If you find your patience gauge swinging toward empty, try a one-minute rosary. Our Lady of Guadalupe, St. Benedict, or the Irish Penitential Rosary are examples of those designed for car travel. These rosaries are small so the driver can hold the beads easily and safely.
Another prayer reflects on the people within the vehicles and God’s call to love each one, as we are all his children. The Motorists’ Prayer: Grant me, O Lord, a steady hand and watchful eye that no one shall be hurt as I pass by. You gave life, I pray no act of mine may take away or mar that gift of thine. Shelter those, dear Lord, who bear my company, from the evils of fire and all calamity. Teach me, to use my car for others need; nor miss through love of undue speed the beauty of the world; that thus I may with joy and courtesy go on my way. St. Christopher, holy patron of travelers, protect me and lead me safely to my destiny. Amen.
Attend Mass
Unlike us, the obligation to celebrate Mass does not take a vacation. Catholic school students are accustomed to attending Mass daily, but may fall away from that during unstructured summer days. Set aside time in the mornings or around dinner to pray as a family as a way of maintaining the daily connection to God.
Father Wilson said families should have a prayer corner with a crucifix and other devotional objects. “The home is the domestic church,” Father Wilson said. “It’s where they worship God seven days a week.”
Of course, Catholics should always attend Mass on Sundays and First Fridays, even when out of town. If you are in an unfamiliar place, check out the yellow pages to find a nearby church, ask a hotel concierge, or visit
Bible study with a twist
Studying the Bible as a family does not have to be reminiscent of school work. Make it fun by throwing new elements into the mix. After reading a particular lesson from the Bible, pull out a globe, world atlas, or look up Google Earth online and discover some interesting facts about where the biblical events took place.
Just for fun
Attending Bible school and going to camp are traditional summertime activities for youth. Parishes across the state offer a variety of day camps covering everything from sports and swimming to the arts. For those ready for a week-long, sleep-over adventure, The Oratory in Rock Hill offers a religion camp devoted to spiritual activities, crafts, recreation and fun (
Take advantage of the warm weather with creative outings as a family. One suggestion is to gather everyone together and brainstorm up a dozen places to visit or activities to enjoy. Put all the suggestions in a jar and draw one out each week.