Catholic Standard El Pregonero
Classifieds Buy Photos

The benefits of structure are out of this world

The beginning of a new year took on a greater significance for me in 2024. It was my first New Year’s in retirement, and while it has not been exactly what I expected, I am pleased with a newfound structure to my days that has enriched my prayer life and helped me draw closer to God.

I want to embrace that and build on it in 2024, and I encourage you to consider the structures in your spiritual life and how they can be of such great help.

As busy as I’ve been over the years, I lost some needed structure in the ways I pray and do my job. Retirement has given me a chance to reflect upon the importance of structure, and my days now make that easier for me to accomplish. 

Any good spiritual director will tell you that structure is a staple of our response to God – setting a time, place and method to talk and listen to God. All of us are different in what’s best, but finding a structure that works for you will put you on the road to deeper friendship with God and Jesus. 

Retirement so far has been busier than I anticipated. Before I stepped down from full-time leadership of Catholic Charities last summer, a good friend of mine advised me to count on 10 to 15 hours a week for funerals, weddings and baptisms. I have far exceeded that, averaging about four funerals a week, much more than when I was a pastor and when I was full time at Catholic Charities.

My “regular” job – in addition to helping at Catholic Charities – is now chaplain at St. John’s College High School. The schedule has helped me establish a structure that I’ve come to love. My mornings are the same most days, which I find has improved my prayer life and spiritual growth. 

I get up early (around 5 a.m.) and spend some time praying my breviary, the book of prayers that all priests are asked to say. I also think about my homily for the 7:15 Mass at St. John’s. On the way to school, I always pray the rosary, which helps me get focused for the day ahead. After morning Mass, I usually sit in the chapel for 10 to 15 minutes of quiet time, reflecting on my journey and God’s will for me.

The breviary, or the liturgical book containing the Liturgy of the Hours that priests use for daily prayer, is also used by lay Catholics.  (CNS photo by Bob Roller)

I get so much out of those first three hours or so each day. I have the chance to put God first, let God touch my heart, celebrate the Eucharist, and allow myself to be his servant. They are true blessings to me. 

After that, I go to the ministry office at St. John’s, where I work with three great people as we plan Masses, retreats, Confession schedules and more. I love how much we celebrate the sacraments at St. John’s. 

Msgr. John Enzler blesses a student during Communion at an opening school year Mass at St. John’s College High School in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 8, 2023.  (Catholic Standard photo by Mihoko Owada)

One of my main goals for this year is to continue doing all those things but do them better. I would like to do a better job preaching and working with families at funerals. I would like to enhance my prayer life, slowing down enough to let God work in me and lead the way. I would like to be more attentive to all who come to my office at St. John’s or anywhere else looking for a welcoming ear to listen to their thoughts, hopes, dreams and struggles.

I still love living at St. Bart’s and being part of parish life here. I live with two great priests, and we have a lot of fun together – with plenty of teasing along the way. And I continue trying to spend as much time with my family as I can, including monthly Zoom calls in which all my siblings and I chat, reflect, laugh and pray. We all agree these visits are one of the highlights of the month.

I highly recommend establishing a prayer structure with the time, place and method that works for you and your schedule. When Trappist monk and author Thomas Merton was asked what he thought was the most important thing about prayer, he responded, “Take the time.” Structure makes that much more achievable. 

I’m looking forward to 2024, my first full year of retirement and building on current structures and possibly establishing new ones. I’ll be praying for you, and I hope you’ll pray for me. I pray for peace in our hearts and in our world, and that we take the time to let God’s presence and love shine forth in who we are and all we do.

(Msgr. John Enzler serves as the mission advocate of Catholic Charities of The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Washington and is a chaplain at his alma mater, St. John’s College High School in Washington. He writes the Faith in Action column for the archdiocese’s Catholic Standard and Spanish-language El Pregonero newspapers and websites.)