Ring in the New Year with These Spiritual Resolutions
The turning of the calendar year is the most popular time to make resolutions. Resolutions take well in some, and not so well in others. Wherever you stand, consider making spiritual resolutions for 2018. The consequences could revolutionize your spiritual life!
Many of us are looking at the world with frustration: the secular culture continues to turn away from Christian values; politics is… politics; divisions in the United States don’t seem to be improving; the Dodgers lost the World Series. (I’m almost over it) What do we do?
The first and paramount task is to grow in holiness. Much else could be said, and many things follow, but no real progress can be made unless we grow in sanctity. Due to our unity in Christ, our individual holiness or sinfulness affects the Body of Christ. St. Paul reminded the Corinthians over and over of their unity in Christ. “If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together” (1 Cor 12:26). With that in mind, here are some suggestions for spiritual resolutions for the new year.
1. Target a vice to attack and a virtue to build.
The first step to confronting a vice is an honest confrontation of it. Getting the insight of a trusted friend, family member, spiritual director, or confessor is extremely helpful start. The next step is a set of concrete resolutions. Simply resolving to try harder against that vice won’t work for very long. Someone struggling against lust can’t just vow to pray more; racy music and TV shows/movies with nudity need to go. A gluttonous person can’t promise vaguely to eat less. Far more effective is a promise to not snack between meals, or limits like one plate per meal, without seconds. Ambiguous goals are impossible to attain, since they can’t be measured. Solid goals, on the other hand, are not only attainable but allow new successes to build on prior ones.
Finally, eradicating a vice is only half the battle. The empty space has to be filled up with good things. Go to confession as often as needed, and take advantage of the grace offered by the sacrament. Someone trying to overcome lust not only needs to work actively to build up the virtue of chastity. In the same way, the prideful need to exercise humility. In addition to developing the corresponding virtue, a key to overcoming a vice is good relationships. Sometimes one of the missing elements of our struggle for virtue/against vice is community. Alcoholics Anonymous is a communal setting, and each person has a sponsor. Why did Jesus found the Church as a community? We need mutual support in living the Christian life! Ask for help from someone you trust—especially if it’s difficult to raise the question.
2. Learn something new about the faith.
Our faith ties into every aspect of our person: our body, intellect, and heart. How well do you know the faith? If someone asked you what Catholics believed, would you be able to answer? Learning about the intellectual side of the Catholic faith doesn’t necessarily mean reading the Summa, explaining the Docetist controversy, or knowing St. Anselm’s take on the atonement. If you happen to be under that misconception, toss it out the window. God gave us our intellects and wants us to pursue Him with them!
For some manageable ways to learn more about the faith, start with what you know. We say the Nicene Creed every Sunday at Mass—it summarizes our faith and lists the mysteries of the Catholic faith. The Incarnation; Jesus’ Passion, Death, and Resurrection; the Church; baptism, and more. Learning more about the Creed would open a door to mysteries that have challenged the sharpest intellects over the last two millennia. The Catechism of the Catholic Church is a good resource on the Creed, taking the Apostles’ Creed line by line (the entirety of Part I; specifically #185–1065). An older book by Msgr. Ronald Knox, In Soft Garments, is a transcription of conferences that Msgr. Knox gave on the Creed. More recently, Scott Hahn also wrote a book on the creed.
Another idea is picking up a book about the basics of Catholicism. In this case, “basics” doesn’t mean “you’re stupid.” Rather, these books provide an overview of the faith on an adult level that Sunday homilies, confirmation classes, and CCD can’t provide. They serve as a launching point for any number of topics. Bishop Robert Barron’s Catholicism: A Journey to the Heart of the Faith is a great example. He cites 20th century saints like St. Teresa of Calcutta, St. John Paul II, and St. Edith Stein; he covers the theology of the Eucharist, the communion of saints, and the spiritual life in general. The book was written only a few years ago; Bishop Barron surveys the Catholic faith in a practical yet current manner. A classic work is C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity. Like his friends Tolkien and Chesterton, Lewis was a master of the English language and laid out a case for Christianity with utmost eloquence. If a more theological take sounds more interesting, Frank Sheed’s Theology for Beginners takes that approach. Even though it is more academic, Sheed distills theology into a very accessible text.
Raise your hands if you’ve ever wanted to read the whole Catechism in a year! Anyone? For those convinced that the Catechism belongs on a dusty reference shelf of a library, start by reading Part Four, on Christian Prayer (#2558 – 2857). It cites a wide variety of saints and is deeply, thoughtfully written. A less daunting way to gain exposure to the Catechism is to take it in small doses. You can sign up at http://flocknote.com/catechism to have small portions of the Catechism emailed to you every day, starting 1/1/18. A print version of a daily reading schedule is available here.
3. Pray the rosary every day.
This isn’t recommended by me so much as it is by Our Lady herself. She asked at Fatima that all pray a daily rosary. Just to be clear: our Mother in heaven asked this. Mary, who knew Jesus better than any person in human history. Mary, Queen of Heaven (see Rev 12:1). We need to listen to our Mother!
Here’s how to pray the rosary (http://www.rosary-center.org/howto.htm#loaded); it’s repetitive and very easy to learn. Some attack the rosary as pelagian monotony: making the rosary into a spiritual transaction. As if amassing a certain number of prayers would punch our ticket to heaven! Jesus warned against vain repetition (Matt 6:7), and rightfully so. It should be noted that repetition doesn’t have to be vain. Anyone that prays any repetitious prayer should stay on guard that it remains an active prayer.
With that said, the power of the rosary is that it’s a prayer focused on the Scriptures and the life of Jesus. The Hail Marys in each decade get momentum to dive into the mysteries. The Holy Spirit has opened my heart to the mysteries, revealing that there’s more to them than meets the eye. The Presentation in the Temple is a good example (Luke 2:22-40). It’s the fourth Joyful Mystery, though it contains elements of pain as well as those of joy. The Ascension (Acts 1:6-11) has an ecclesial dimension embedded within the mystery. The Church exists because Jesus willed it so—He ascended into heaven and sent the Holy Spirit instead of staying on earth and running the show.
What holds you back from praying a daily rosary? The time isn’t a grave imposition, it takes less than 20 minutes to pray. Smart phone apps and CDs abound (you can even pray the rosary with St. John Paul II) for a short walk or on a commute—if you’re like me and get distracted easily. Great saints have written on Our Blessed Mother and the rosary, as well as current authors. The knowledge is available! There are more intentions to offer to Our Lady’s Immaculate Heart than time to pray for them.
From my personal experience, it’s the motivation that’s lacking. Good habits are difficult to establish and easy to break. Carving out time every day to pray the rosary will bring great grace into your life.
4. Go to weekly Eucharistic Adoration.
If you’re looking for help with attacking a vice, learning more about the faith, and gaining motivation for daily prayer, go straight to the source: Our Lord in the Eucharist. Jesus implores us, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matt 11:28-29). In a world full of noise, social media, and endless entertainment possibilities, it takes more effort to cultivate a quiet, prayerful conversation with God. Eucharistic Adoration is the perfect place to do that! That’s mainly because Jesus is physically present in the Eucharist. In addition, it helps to have a dedicated sacred space to go to. Praying at home is good (and encouraged), but if the phone rings, a text message comes in, we’re reminded of a chore, or if a spouse/child needs something… the prayer time is too easily interrupted.
St. John Paul II spent up to eight hours a day in prayer. In his encyclical Ecclesia de Eucharistia (#25), he lets us inside his mind on adoration: “It is pleasant to spend time with him, to lie close to his breast like the Beloved Disciple (cf. John 13:25) and to feel the infinite love present in his heart. If in our time Christians must be distinguished above all by the ‘art of prayer’, how can we not feel a renewed need to spend time in spiritual converse, in silent adoration, in heartfelt love before Christ present in the Most Holy Sacrament?”
Adoration chapels are becoming more common, but if nothing is nearby, perhaps you could visit a church when it’s open during the day.
5. Increase charitable activity.
Charitable activity—financial giving, volunteering, corporal works of mercy, spiritual works of mercy—varies too greatly to make any specific recommendation. The only specific recommendation is the reminder of Our Lord’s insistence that when we feed the hungry, clothe the naked, or visit the imprisoned, we did those things to Him (see Matt 25). Our state in life determines what types of lived charity, but the obligation to charity remains no matter what.
Consider increasing your financial giving to worthy charities: missions, parishes, local Catholic non-profits, pro-life pregnancy resource centers, retreat centers, parish food drives, and myriads more. Not everyone can contribute the same amount, but everyone can contribute something (see the story of the widow’s mite, Luke 21:1-4).
In terms of volunteering, the corporal works of mercy, and the spiritual works of mercy, there’s a lot of potential ground to cover. For the new year, think about volunteering at a specific charity. Or, if a particular charism looks interesting—like prison ministry, visiting the sick in a hospital or nursing home—chaplains and volunteer coordinators have a voracious need for volunteers. Pray about it… how could Jesus use you best to bring grace into someone else’s life?
Embrace the optimism of 2018, and anchor it down with some solid spiritual resolutions for the year. Whatever resolutions best fit your life, use them to unite yourself closer to Jesus!