Simplicity in Devotion

November 13, 2013

When I first converted to Catholicism, I was overwhelmed by the wealth of devotions Catholics practiced. There was devotion to the five wounds of Christ, the brown scapular, the green scapular, the Divine Mercy chaplet, devotion to the Holy Face, the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Rosary, devotion to the Sacred Heart, devotion to the seven sorrows of Mary, total consecration, and countless others.

This treasury of devotions is one of the most beautiful things about Catholicism. But as a zealous convert, I began to load myself down with as many devotions as possible. The more devotions, the more graces, right? Instead of growing quickly in holiness, however, I found myself frustrated and burned out.

What I learned is that devotional overload is counterproductive. Human nature is easily distracted and fickle, and we can easily become mechanical in our prayer life. If we do too much, we become focused on the process of practicing the devotion, rather than the object of the devotion, which is intimacy with God and union with him. We feel like we are holy because we are doing things, but doing things is no substitute for true love of God.


While I had the best of intentions, I would have been better off practicing fewer devotions and practicing them well.

Countless saints have counseled simplicity in the devotional life. In fact, some of the Desert Fathers of the Church often practiced only one or two prayers their entire lives. They became great saints by repeating a verse from psalms (O God, make speed to save me, O Lord, make haste to help me) or a simple invocation such as the Jesus prayer (Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me a sinner.)

Their unanimous counsel is that it is far better to pray one Our Father well than it is to pray the entire Liturgy of the Hours every day mechanically and without a heart of prayer. Here are three suggestions that can help you find simplicity in your devotional life.

1) Choose a devotion that works for you – Among Catholics,  there are undoubtedly some devotions that are more popular than others, such as the brown scapular. While the majority of Catholics may practice a specific devotion, never feel as if you must do it too just because everyone else is. If you don’t feel drawn to the brown scapular, don’t feel guilty for not wearing it if it doesn’t appeal to you.

Experiment if you like, trying different practices. Our Lord will lead you to what will help you most. If you are drawn to a specific devotion, there is a reason. Practice the one that helps you the most and persevere in it.

2) Be consistent – There is no use practicing devotions inconsistently. It will do little good. (I confess I struggle with consistency.)Practice the devotion of your choosing every day with militaristic discipline. Never skip it for any reason. For example, if you have begun the practice of saying three Hail Marys before bed and upon waking, do it every single day without fail. Consistent practice is the only way devotions will bear fruit in your life.

3) Mean it – As I said above, a single Our Father or Hail Mary said with attention and love is better than a hundred of each said carelessly. When practicing any devotion, seek to pray sincerely and from the heart. If you feel the devotion is too complicated, choose something simpler. Whatever you do, never give in to mechanical, distracted prayer. We all struggle with distractions and carelessness in our prayers, but we can’t give up in the struggle against them.

Build your spiritual muscles

When starting out, we are all like babies spiritually, and the process of learning and growing takes time and patience. Our Lord very well may want you to pray the entire liturgy of the hours daily, but you probably shouldn’t start there unless you want to burn out quickly. Start with simple devotions, and build your spiritual muscles. If you feel drawn to add more prayers or practices over time, do so.

Remember, there is no substitute for a true heart of devotion and love. All devotions are a means to an end, and we must always keep the end in view. If any devotion is hindering rather than helping, try something else. Whatever devotion you practice, remember the two greatest commandments: Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.

What about you? What devotions do you practice? How do you keep it simple in your prayer life?


Sam Guzman

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Reader Interactions


  1. Kimberly K Walsh says

    My devotion is to the Liturgy of the Hours. I began years ago using the Universalis website. It was great when I scraped up enough money to buy a Breviary set. It’s taken me years to get consistent but I have always been drawn to it. Now I feel that it is a part of me and such a great way to start the day! Lord open my lips…

  2. Steve T. says

    Yeah, could have told you that. Having lots and lots of devotions simultaneously is like drawing up a priority list and then prioritising every item as Number One. As a cradle that grew up in a Catholic ghetto, I’ve had a devotion to St. Joseph since I was a kid, which was passed on through my family’s culture; I’ve had a minor devotion to the Sacred Heart since I recommitted myself to the Faith as an adult; and I have a devotion to St. Anthony over the past decade, since he saved my baby daughter’s life. I’ve passed on invitations for various consecrations and third orders, not because I think there’s anything wrong with them, not even from lack of interest, but because you can’t be devoted, really devoted in a hardcore sense, to a whole bunch of devotions. You can’t, in the words of the stupidest boss I’ve ever heard of, “focus your efforts across the board.”

    Although, I gotta say that I’m increasingly drawn to the Mercedarian charism.

  3. Laura Catherine says

    I totally relate to new convert overload. I have grown to love the rosary, but I do better saying it in shifts – a decade on my way to pick up the kids at school, another driving to the store, and so on. Many days I don’t get a whole rosary said, but I’ve learned that devoting those few minutes I have alone each day to Jesus through Mary is a huge blessing.

  4. Carlos says

    This is great! I think even before someone begins a devotion though, they should attempt to create a personal prayer rule first. I began last lent trying to pray two of the Hours each day, and got burned out quickly. Even one would have been intense enough. When it brought it before my spiritual father he seemed displeased that I took something on so hard, and was now in a predicament of not being able to fulfill it. So he said, finish what you started through lent, and then look at a simpler prayer rule. It has helped immensely!

  5. Marc says

    My spiritual director has reminded me to keep purity of intentions. Keeping it simple falls into this category, I think.

    Anyway, my daily routine consists (usually) of a brief time of mental prayer, rosary, noon Angelus and Complime (traditional rite) right before bed. The latter is the most difficult to keep as I’m usually pretty well spent and want to go to bed. 🙂

    I can only encourage your readers to persevere with the daily mental prayer. It has brought me much strength in keeping resolutions.

    I disagree with your statement, however, on the Brown Scapular. It is probably the easiest devotion. Get a priest to enroll you and wear it 24/7. It carries quite the promise! It’s a no brainer!

  6. Jared says

    I believe every Catholic should be enrolled in and wear the Brown Scapular! “This shall be a privilege for you and all Carmelites, that anyone dying in this habit shall not suffer eternal fire.” – Mary to St. Simon Stock


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