Although the new year begins in January, many of us think of summer and the end of a school year as a new time to start again.
As a graduate student I definitely feel a desire for a fresh start after exams are done. I have a few months before I'll have to begin another academic year, and I'm hoping the change in routine will be a good chance to recharge spiritually.
Regardless of whether you are a parent, a student, or someone who works full or part-time, summer offers an opportunity to take an inventory of your relationship with God and to see where you might be lacking. Sometimes a few months is all we need to get back on track and to concentrate on a few things that can make a big difference.
The following are three simple ways to grow in holiness this summer:
1. Deepen Your Examination of Conscience
Do we think about our sins enough? Do we always recognize them? It's easy to become immune to our sins if we aren't holding ourselves accountable. One way that many saints suggest we do this is to examine our consciences daily. If we aren't doing this, we might not always see those areas where we sin and where we need God's help to overcome our sinfulness.
In the following quote the Holy Father suggests we do this if we want to learn to look for those places in our life where we are in need of forgiveness:
"...a corrupt heart is worse than a sinful one We do not become corrupt people overnight; it is a long slippery slope that cannot be identified simply as a series of sins. One can be a great sinner and never fall into corruption. I think for example of the figures of Zacchaeus, of Matthew, of the Samaritan women, of Nicodemus and of the good thief: their sinful hearts all had something that saved them from corruption. They were open to forgiveness, their hearts felt their own weakness, and that small opening allowed the strength of God to enter." (Pope Francis)
2. Practice Mercy
The natural extension of looking at our sins is to confess them. The best part of the Sacrament of Reconciliation is that our sins are forgiven, but there is something else that naturally occurs when we begin to examine ourselves and ask God for forgiveness—we start to have a more merciful heart.
Have you been to confession recently? Perhaps you can make it a goal of yours to go this summer. Summertime is a perfect time to practice mercy ... both in the asking and in the giving.
Pope Francis has expressed how much joy it gives him to hear the confessions of children, and contemplating his words help us to think about the simple act of recognizing our sinfulness and asking God for His mercy:
"I greatly enjoy hearing children confess, because they are not abstract; they say what really happened. They make you smile. They are simple: they say what happened and they know what they did was wrong."
3. Pick a Virtue You Need to Work On ... and Work On It!
I often decide I need to work on improving some aspect of my physical life. For instance, I might decide I want to lose 5 pounds, drink more water, or exercise more. I need to remember that in the same way, I should also work on improving my interior life and the life of my soul.
For instance, I need to practice charity more. So I can decide to really work on that virtue. It's easy in graduate school to be selfish about my time, and, because of deadlines and expectations, to think about myself before thinking about others. I need to actively practice charity by giving some of my time to others.
Summer is a great time to practice virtue. I remember hearing a priest say that we shouldn't try to work on more than one virtue at a time. Since there are only a few months of summer, it's the perfect time to think about and work on a virtue that you might have neglected.
"All of us can attain to Christian virtue and holiness, no matter in what condition of life we live and no matter what our life work may be." (St Francis de Sales)
Read next: Imitating Mary's 10 Amazing Virtues
It always seems that summer takes a long time to come and then is quickly gone. I hope to make this summer more productive by working on a few small ways to grow in holiness and to enhance my relationship with God.
Do you have a suggestion for other simple ways to grow closer to Our Lord this summer?