10 Awesome Ways to Jumpstart your Spirituality in the New Year
I long gave up on New Years’ resolutions. I’m a big fan of resolutions in the theoretical realm. Keeping them, however, is the trick—and something I’m terrible at it. Resolutions are far harder to keep than to make, and they’re helpful for identifying needed areas of growth/change in our lives. Out of all the worthy areas we could focus our resolutions—health, family, adventures, work—the spiritual life is often one area neglected by the secular world. I hope that one of the ideas on the following list strikes a chord in your soul. Then, by the grace of God, take the inspiration from the theoretical realm into your life! Here are 10 awesome ways to jumpstart your spirituality in the New Year.
1. Deepen your devotion to Jesus
Our Lord seeks our hearts, that we come to know Him more deeply. This year, explore one of three special devotions to Jesus with the goal of increasing our devotion to Him. If you’re seeking greater depth in your spiritual life, make this your first stop. Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and the source of all life!
Now that we’re in the Year of Mercy, pick up St. Faustina’s Diary. She chronicles visions of Jesus as well as her struggles & joys as a nun, interactions with her spiritual director, and her efforts in spreading the message of the Divine Mercy. It’s the kind of book that lends itself well to reading in short passages. It reads, well, like a diary. As the devotion has spread, more books and resources have been published. St. John Paul II wrote one of his first encyclicals on the subject, Dives in Misericordia It’s also worth checking out his homily at St. Faustina’s canonization Mass
The second special devotion is to the Lord’s Passion. We have the season of Lent to remind us of this, but we shouldn’t disregard it the rest of the year. During times of rejoicing, we can see the Passion in a joyful light: each drop of blood, each step on the way of the cross was for our redemption. It led to Easter Sunday! During times of suffering, we can cling tight to Our Lord. He undertook an enormous amount of suffering. It was physical, of course. He also had great emotional suffering, first being in agony in Gethsemane to the point of sweating blood (cf. Luke 22:44), and second being abandoned by all his closest friends, and third, being ridiculed by the Jewish leaders and Romans. As the Letter to the Hebrews put so well: “we have not a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (4:15-16) Keep watch at the foot of the cross, with Our Lady, St. John, and St. Mary Magdalene. Wear a crucifix, and kiss it periodically throughout the day, offering a short prayer as you do so.
The third devotion to Jesus is to His Sacred Heart. St. Margaret Mary Alacoque (17th century French nun) received visions of Our Lord and spread the modern version of this devotion. It had some precedent in earlier centuries, but the devotion as we know it began with St. Margaret Mary. Many wonderful books and pamphlets have been written on this since then, including a number of popes. Notably, Leo XIII wrote Annum Sacrum in 1899 to promote consecration to the Sacred Heart. The prayer of consecration to the Sacred Heart can be found here. In the Sacred Heart, we see the great love He has for us and for all sinners. This is a great devotion for those that have difficulty encountering an authentic love on earth.
All three overlap to a certain degree; we don’t have to choose just one. With the devotions to Our Lord, it’s important to distinguish them from devotions to saints. We worship Jesus; we don’t worship saints. The message of the Divine Mercy, the Passion, and the Sacred Heart all point to vital dogmas of the Catholic faith. Saints intercede for us and offer models for our lives, but they do not receive the same honor as Our Lord.
2. Develop a new devotion to a saint
That is not to degrade the role of the saints in our lives! It’s easy to rely only on our senses and forget that the Communion of Saints is just as much part of the Church as we are. They are the great “cloud of witnesses” that intercedes for us and supports us. (Heb 12:1) St. John saw “a great multitude which no man could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and tongues. standing before the throne and before the Lamb” (Rev 7:9). I’d add to St. John’s account (I wish I could say from a visionary experience) that there are saints from every walk of life, every personality type, and every age.
It may take some effort, but there are most likely thousands of canonized saints in the history of the Catholic Church. Looking for one? More than one website offers brief, daily biographies of saints:
Read a longer biography of a saint, and better yet, read the writings of one of the spiritual masters. More and more saint movies are being produced as well. If for no other reason, try watching a saint movie in order to see them as a real person—not just a perfected image on a holy card.
Do you have difficulty with a particular sin? Find a good intercessor! Read about them, learn from their example, and humbly beg their prayers.
Two years ago, I discovered a saint who fast became one of my favorites: St. Joan of Arc. I had seen a movie about her when I was in college, and it was a remarkable story. When I read Regine Pernoud’s The Rehabilitation of Joan of Arc, I met a girl who was strong, devoted, faithful, and pure. She was a great leader and inspired those around her.
3. Go to Joseph
He is the patron of the universal Church, for good reason. He loved and took care of his wife, Mary, and instructed the Son of God. He did that in humility and in faith, two essentials in every spiritual life. He’s not only a great model for us, but St. Joseph is also a powerful intercessor. St. Teresa of Avila testified to his powerful intercession. My favorite among the titles in the novena to St. Joseph: Terror of demons. Case closed on the efficacy of his prayers!
The world is in turmoil and the Church is in great need of St. Joseph’s prayers. Pray for the Church, asking his intercession! Just as we have Mary for Our Mother, we have St. Joseph as our father.
4. Run to Mary
Earlier this year, I read a collection of the dreams of St. John Bosco. He had a number of dreams that involved the boys in his school and the Blessed Virgin Mary; in each one, she protected and healed the boys that were hurt by wild animals (representing demons). In his famous dream of the two pillars, the Church was depicted as a ship in the heat of battle.
One of the best ways to devote ourselves to Mary is to pray the rosary daily. If it’s hard to sit still through an entire rosary, there are ways to get around it. If you have a commute, find a rosary CD and play it in your car. What about taking a walk, and praying the rosary? Build the habit, however long it takes. The rosaries you sow will reap great spiritual rewards!
5. Resolve to go to Mass more than once a week
This could be filed under #1 above—having a greater devotion to Our Lord in the Holy Eucharist. How better to encounter Our Lord than in the Mass? If we desire a more intimate relationship, here is our chance to physically commune with Him.
Are there any parishes near your work, with a lunchtime Mass? Do you have extra time in the morning, that you could go to morning Mass? Insert a little penance & sacrifice in your day, wake up early in order to attend morning Mass (this is especially meritorious on mornings you’d otherwise sleep in).
6. Know the Bible better
A popular New Years’ resolution is to read the Bible from cover to cover. And, from friends who have tried it, Genesis and Exodus go easy. Leviticus and Deutoronomy require perseverance, and many resolutions hit the wall there. I’ve also known a few people who have succeeded in reading the Bible front to back, and seen great benefit to their spiritual lives.
A less intimidating approach is to focus on a single book. Read through the book, perhaps journal or make notes about it. Reflect and pray with it. Memorize some verses, too. I also recommend accompanying your own reading with a solid, orthodox scripture commentary. There are nearly as many commentaries as Christians, and not all are created equal. Stick with something solidly Catholic.
If reading the Bible from front to back is too much, and if you’d rather more variety than focusing on just one book, try reading the Bible via the daily Mass readings. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops have the daily readings on their website, as do other sites. Just doing that over the course of a year would expose you to a large portion of the Bible.
7. Explore the digital Catholic world
A considerable amount of Catholic resources exist for the tech-savvy. There are many smart phone “apps” that have the Bible (again, be sure to get a Catholic one to get the entire Bible). Others, like Laudate, have everything from daily prayers to the Catechism of the Catholic Church. A search in the Apple or Android App Store will unearth many more.
Quite a few priests & bishops publish their homilies as podcasts. I love this! Not every priest’s preaching style “does it” for us. Certain preachers really speak to us; others drive us crazy. No matter which style you prefer, there’s a homily podcast out there that fits you. Besides homilies, there are Catholic podcasts that are more like radio shows. Search and try a few out!
YouTube has tons of Catholic talks on it, all for free! Bishop Robert Barron has his own channel, Venerable Fulton Sheen’s talks are also there, and there’s footage of recent popes all the way back to Leo XIII in 1896. Check out videos of Catholic Answers calls, conferences given by great evangelists (try Mark Hart, Fr. Michael Schmitz), and conversion stories.
Do you like to write? Start a blog. For those that would rather read than write, there are countless blogs on Catholic spirituality. Find one that enriches you!
8. Volunteer at your parish
In all the parishes I’ve attended, there’s a perpetual shortage of volunteers. Matthew Kelly’s Dynamic Catholic Institute conducted a study in an effort to quantify and assess the problem. In his book The Four Signs of a Dynamic Catholic, Matthew Kelly reports that 6.4% of the registered parishioners contribute 80% of the volunteer hours in a parish (pg. 12). It’s a pathetically small number. I’m sure you know some of those 6.4% people, who work very hard, attend every event and fundraiser, and pour their lives into the parish. You may not have their energy or their gifts, but you have something.
You’re you! Everyone has something to contribute. Do you like teaching? Are you good with people? Explore being a catechist or working with the youth group. Events need organizing and many hands to succeed—try being one of those helping hands.
Aside from parishes, there are good organizations in every community. Find one, take a leap, and do something!
On the subject of parishes: they are meant to nourish us sacramentally. Parishes are also to be a means of support, spiritually and otherwise. It’s very sad if a parish becomes a sort of sacramental ATM.
Hopefully your parish (or one nearby) has a men’s group, a women’s group, a Bible study, or adult faith formation classes. There should be a group that fits, and if there isn’t, then pray about it. What if the Holy Spirit is drawing you to talk to your pastor about starting one? Pre-made Bible studies exist, as well as curricula for adult faith formation. You wouldn’t have to reinvent the wheel to get a new program or group established at your parish.
10. Go on pilgrimage
St. Helen, the mother of Emperor Constantine, famously went on pilgrimage to the Holy Land in the 4th century. She’s a famous example, and there must have been some precedent for her idea. In brief, Catholics have been going on pilgrimage for millennia. Not years, decades, or centuries. Millennia! It is a part of our spiritual heritage. “Pilgrimages evoke our earthly journey toward heaven and are traditionally very special occasions for renewal in prayer.” (Catechism #2691). One of the most famous pilgrimages is the Camino de Santiago de Campostela, which dates back to the 9th century. Sacred shrines have continued to pop up over the centuries, with more recent ones being Fatima, Portugal (apparitions of Our Lady in 1917), and Lourdes, France (apparitions of Our Lady in 1856). Tombs of saints and famous cathedrals are also great sites of pilgrimage.
“in every local church, at the cathedral – the mother church of the faithful in any particular area – or, alternatively, at the co-cathedral or another church of special significance, a Door of Mercy will be opened for the duration of the Holy Year. At the discretion of the local ordinary, a similar door may be opened at any shrine frequented by large groups of pilgrims, since visits to these holy sites are so often grace-filled moments, as people discover a path to conversion. Every Particular Church, therefore, will be directly involved in living out this Holy Year as an extraordinary moment of grace and spiritual renewal. Thus the Jubilee will be celebrated both in Rome and in the Particular Churches as a visible sign of the Church’s universal communion.”