February 23, 2018

Book Review - "Plan of Life: Habits to Help You Grow Closer to God"

By Andrea Picciotti-Bayer *

Praise abounds for Father Roger Landry's engaging book, Plan of Life: Habits to Help You Grow Closer to God. Heavy-hitters in the defense of the faith – like George Weigel and Mary Eberstadt – as well as influential Church leaders, such as Boston's Cardinal O'Malley, New York's Cardinal Dolan and Apostolic Nuncio to the U.N. Archbishop Auza, have joined together to recommend this charming guidebook for making a plan to better know, love and serve God.

In the book's introduction, Landry recalls that "Saint John Paul II summed up the Church's wisdom regarding attaining union with God by naming six pillars of 'training in holiness': grace, prayer, Sunday Mass, Confession, listening to the word of God, and proclaiming that word." Making sure these pillars are present in our spiritual lives requires a genuine commitment to living a "plan of life."   

For those not familiar with the term, Fr. Landry explains that a "plan of life" is a "series of practices given to us by the saints and spiritual directors to help people to translate their desire to grow closer to God from a vague aspiration into a reality."          

Like turning on the GPS when you do not quite know the way – or even when you know the way but don't want to risk getting lost or delayed – Landry's Plan of Life offers concise synopses of the traditional Catholic norms of piety that make up a Catholic's plan of life. Not wanting to overburden the souls he is caring for, Landry's book serves as a guide for making each of these a habit.   

Beginning with the role of the Holy Spirit in carrying out the work of sanctification, Landry encourages us to "allow the Holy Spirit to guide the nitty-gritty details of our daily life." He then introduces the practical steps to "live the disciplined life of a Christian disciple." These steps include living the "heroic moment" of getting out of bed immediately, consecrating our day to God and asking for His help live it well through our Morning Offering prayer, and ending the day well with a general examination of conscience – that "prayerful daily evaluation that assesses our faithfulness to the consecration we made at the start of the day."      

Filling in these bookends of our day are the customs and practices of Catholics throughout the ages. Foundational practices include regular mental prayer, reading and meditating upon Sacred Scripture, and living Sunday well by "[c]elebrating our weekly little Easter together -- not only liturgically but also in communal activities." Also key is frequent Confession, Eucharistic adoration, and the Rosary.   

Finally, Plan of Life identifies norms which go "beyond the basics" – daily Mass, spiritual communion, Marian devotions, penitential practices, the particular examination of conscience, offering one's daily work to God, spiritual reading, and retreats and days of recollection. 

Peppered throughout the book are citations to Scripture, writings of Doctors of the Church and Her saints, and reflections of many popes of the modern era. In so doing, Father Landry reveals the seamlessness of the Church's guidance for the faithful.   

More than a dry manual of directives, Plan of Life reads likes a perfect combination of collected correspondence from a dear friend sharing his own personal encounter with God, a TED talk on the fundamental elements of faith and Catholic tradition, and the unequivocal encouragement of a "personal trainer" for how to better treat Our Lord with all of our heart, soul and mind. As Landry so concisely explains, "a Plan of Life is much more than discrete prayers and practices: it's a cohesive whole that forms us to live consciously and continuously in God's presence."    
 
There are specific sections in Plan of Life particularly helpful for Lenten preparation. For example, Landry directs the reader to understand charity and almsgiving as reflecting "Christ-like compassion" for those in need. He cautions that "[r]andom acts of kindness ought to be encouraged, but they are not enough." Reaffirming the general theme that "[t]he spiritual life is too important to wing," Landry presses us to "plan and grow our charity more than a business owner seeks growth in profits."   

Plan of Life also addresses Holy Week – inviting readers to "Enter the Center of History." Landry explains:

Holy Week is holy because of all Jesus Christ did during this week. From his triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, to his teaching in the Temple, to the Last Supper, to his prayer in Gethsemane, to his arrest, torture, crucifixion, preaching, and death on Good Friday, to his rest in the tomb and his glorious Resurrection on the third day, this week contains the central events of our faith.     

This invitation to live fully the "most faith-filled week of the year" is an invitation to be transformed by the week's holy character – to be made more holy.

Included as an Appendix are traditional prayers and a guide for pre-Confession examination of conscience. Also included are prompts for the reader to draft their plan of life. While a helpful app is also referenced, Landry's "old school" option to write down our plan is a lovely touch.      

Plan of Life, much like coming in contact with the book's  well-formed and attentive author, is a wonderfully fresh resource for any person seeking to grow in the interior life.

Andrea Picciotti-Bayer is Legal Advisor for The Catholic Association Foundation. Her legal career has been dedicated to civil rights advocacy.

* Catholic News Agency columns are opinion and do not necessarily express the perspective of the agency.