It's natural during the transition to a new year to reflect back at the recent past and look ahead to the immediate future as well. In this issue, correspondent Russell Shaw examines some of the major news developments of Catholic interest in 2005 (see In Focus, Pages 9-12).

Freelance writer Steven Saint surveyed a dozen or so Catholic experts for Our Sunday Visitor about what the year 2006 may hold in several key areas. His roundup of their intriguing insights and opinions anchors our News Analysis section (see Pages 4-5). Our editorial suggests some resolutions we may want to make for the new year by taking a cue from St. Paul (see Page 19).

Praying better

One of Paul's admonitions was to "pray always." Those among us whose busy schedules and personal demands make it difficult to pray at all some days may find Paul's suggestion a bit lofty. Yet most of us do recognize that our prayer routines (or lack thereof) and our spiritual lives could stand some improvement.

To that end, freelance writer David Scott begins a four-part series this week on the value of prayer (see Pages 14 and 15). Laura Cummings suggests some good Catholic websites that can help us in our daily devotions (see Page 8), and Charles McKelvy tells us how he is inspired in prayer by his unbelieving but compassionate wife (see Page 16).

How can we start "praying better" and renew our spiritual life? It can be a lengthy process, but here are some first steps.

Make time. If we really want to pray, then we should set aside time to pray. We eat, sleep and shower as part of our daily routines, and prayer is at least as important as these. Even a few minutes during the day and a few minutes at night can go far to develop one's spiritual life.

Look for the spontaneous moments. Brief, interior prayers throughout the day can keep us focused on the presence of God. It takes all of two seconds to pray "Help me through this, Lord" when difficulties arise and "Thank you, Lord" when a problem is resolved. Acts of contrition or the Jesus prayer ("Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner") can be prayed often.

Find ways to multitask, too. We can pray while driving, while cooking, in the elevator, in the bathroom or even during television commercials.

Get into the liturgy. Don't just attend Sunday Mass; pray the Mass. The Mass is a prayer, or a series of prayers surrounding the holy Eucharist, rooted in our most ancient traditions and Scripture. Even if the homilist is uninspiring, the music banal and the extraordinary minister's skirt too short, it's still our Lord who is present in the Blessed Sacrament, body and blood, soul and divinity. Work at casting aside the distractions that may present themselves and stay focused on the Mass.

Make life itself a prayer. Personal holiness is not a checklist of devotions, so let's not define the success of our day by how much time we spent in formal prayer.

To "pray always" means to make our life a prayer, to put our prayer into practice. We do that by keeping the commandments, by serving others, by modeling our lives after Christ -- by making our lives, in the words of Blessed Mother Teresa, "something beautiful for God."

I share these suggestions with you because praying better in 2006 is one of my resolutions, too. If we fail, as most resolutions do, we don't have to wait until next new year to jump-start our prayer lives again. We can begin again anytime. And we can continue this discussion next week.