‘Tis the season! Today, January 1st, is a big day for many people, for it is the day that they take on a particular resolution for the new year. Some of the more common resolutions include: losing weight & getting fit, kicking the habit of smoking/drinking, and even a resolution to “travel somewhere new”! While the naysayers say much regarding this (“what’s so special about January 1st?” “why not start another day?” “most people break their resolution”, etc), it remains true that, for some, the best time to start a new practice and way of life is on the first day of the new calendar year– and so here we are, January 1st.
January 1st also holds special significance for Roman Catholics. January 1st is the Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God. This solemnity honors the Virgin Mary for her role as the Mother of God, the “God-Bearer”, she through whom the invisible God would be made visible. Mary is properly called the “Mother of God” precisely because she gave birth to Jesus Christ– a divine person with both a human and divine nature. Historically, this feast was celebrated to commemorate the octave (eight days) of Christmas, where the Church celebrates the birth of Christ. And, while January 1st is not the beginning of the Church’s liturgical calendar year (First Sunday of Advent, y’all), it still holds an important place in sanctifying the desires, hopes, and dreams for the new year.
Are you a Catholic desiring to make certain changes to grow closer to God and His Church during 2018, but confused where to start? Look no further– I offer five simple resolutions for Catholics during this new year:
I. Spend 15 minutes in prayer, daily.
Prayer to the Christian is what protein is for the fitness athlete– without it, we cannot grow stronger in our spiritual lives, nor can we heal properly after life gives us a rough workout. Prayer, according to St. Teresa of Avila, is “nothing more than spending a long time alone with the one we know loves us.” If we say we love someone, but do not try to spend time with the person, is it truly love? Likewise, one of the ways we show God that we love Him is by spending time with Him, talking to Him as a friend speaks to a best friend. Prayer is simply union with God, but it requires an intentional disposition. You are given 1,440 minutes every day– take 15 of those, ignore the cell phone, find a quiet space, and just offer that to God. I recommend choosing a particular place at a particular time; for example, set a “prayer time” and a “prayer chair”: “at 10:00 p.m., I am going to sit in *this* chair, and spend 10:00 p.m. – 10:15 p.m. praying to God.” If you already have a regular rhythm of prayer, great! Stick to that. Maybe your New Year’s resolution could be to attend Eucharistic Adoration one day a week, pray a rosary, etc. The point is this: PRAY.
II. Make Confession a monthly habit.
It’s winter time in New England, meaning that my car is filled with salt, sand, snow, and just a general yuckiness that comes from the season. Similarly, our souls can also pick up some dirt and grime along the way of life– perhaps a profane word here, an snap of anger there. Soon, we start to feel gross, slogged down by the disorder of sin, which in turn affects our ability to love God with a pure and undivided heart, and makes us unable to love our neighbor with the same intensity. Thank God (literally), for the gift of the Sacrament of Reconciliation, whereby the Christian confesses his or her sins to God in the presence of a priest, who is the instrument by which God forgives a person’s sins. While the sacrament is the ordinary means by which mortal sins are forgiven, one needs not to wait until a mortal sin is committed before hopping in line for Confession! Saints, such as St. Francis de Sales, St. Padre Pio, and even Pope St. John Paul II sought the Sacrament of Reconciliation weekly. Resolve to go to Confession at least once a month, and have God remove some of the gunk and grime from your heart.
III. Find a particular saint, and make them your spiritual best friend
The saints are our heavenly friends, men and women who intercede for us at the throne of the Triune God. They are the ones who constantly praise, worship, and enjoy the fruits of friendship with God in eternal beatitude. However, their job isn’t simply done– they want us to enter into heaven, someday, to be with them in God. There are countless saints for countless needs; St. Jude is the patron saint of hopeless cases (*raises hand), St. Thomas Aquinas is the patron saint for students, St. Francis of Assisi is the patron saint of veterinarians, etc. Maybe you already have a few saints on standby, and you pray for their intercession daily. If not, I cannot recommend this practice highly enough! Are you wrestling with lust? St. Augustine of Hippo understands. Do you suffer from anxiety? Go to St. Dymphna. The saints oftentimes find us before we find them– perhaps consider striking up a friendship with one of the many recognized saints in the Catholic tradition. My friend Josh posted a link to this on Facebook– it is a random saint name generator. If you aren’t sure who to pick as a heavenly BFF, use this and ask God to send one of His many saints into your life! For what it’s worth, I did the generator thing, and I got St. Lawrence of Brindisi (1559 – 1619), an Italian Capuchin Franciscan saint and theologian, a Doctor of the Church! I never really knew much about him, so I’m excited that his name was sent my way.
IV. Attend daily mass, and if this isn’t possible, pray with the readings from the daily mass
The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is the single-most important part of the Christian life– far from being a mere “church service”, it is the supreme act of God’s love for the world, as it is the re-presentation of Christ’s once-and-for-all sacrifice on Calvary. In the Eucharist, we receive the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of our Lord, Jesus Christ. Catholics are obligated by divine command to attend Mass every Sunday (the Lord’s day), but they are by no means discouraged from attending Holy Mass daily! The majority of Catholic parishes have daily mass, which is a laudable and pious practice for many a layman. Find a Catholic parish near you via Google, look up its Mass schedule, and see when their daily mass is. Hint: most of the time, daily mass is in the morning, usually no earlier than 6:30 a.m., although some parishes offer Mass at noontime for those on their lunch break. See if you can attend daily mass if it fits in your work/school schedule, and if you can make a small sacrifice (such as waking up 20 minutes earlier, managing your lunch hour to fit the Mass time), realize that no sacrifice you could ever make can equal the Sacrifice present on the Altar. If you cannot attend daily mass, then go on the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) website, and check out the Scriptural readings for the day. You can also do a “3 Minute Retreat” via Loyola Press, a Jesuit ministry. While you work/eat/sleep/play, the Church is at prayer somewhere in the world. Consider plugging in and attending Holy Mass beyond the times of obligation (Sundays and other holy days of obligation).
V. Avoid Church gossip
Alright, I’m starting to think these resolutions are coming from an inner monologue. But in all seriousness, gossip is everywhere. When I was growing up, ‘gossip’ usually referred to stuff like, “Did you hear that X did Y?” and other local happenings. And, while this is still probably a form of gossip for many, a new form of gossip has infected the Church (and society as a whole, I reckon): online slander, gossip about the members of Christ’s Mystical Body, the Church. Yes, seeking news regarding events/currents in the Church is important, oftentimes, online discourse resorts to ad hominem attacks and an obsessive fixation on the Holy Father, Pope Francis, as well as the various ‘factions’ existing in the Church. I am guilty of this, at least. I spend way too much time talking about whispers in the loo-house, instead of focusing on the needs of the local Church in front of me. I spend way too much time on “the blogs”, following each word coming forth from the mouth of Pope Francis, and rushing to see the numerous ‘hot-takes’ on it. This year, I will try to avoid Church gossip and in particular, I will not engage every @ on Twitter insulting me and my views. To the Church-outsider, seeing people dedicate entire Twitter accounts to impersonating/mocking a certain, popular Jesuit priest would be enough to second-guess my desire to enter Church life more deeply. It’s like coming to your friend’s house for dinner, but seeing the parents threaten divorce, and watching as the siblings give each other a bloody nose. This, admittedly, will be the most difficult of the resolutions since I care so deeply about what is going on in the Church today, but the line between charitable discourse and gossipy slander is one I need to seriously pay attention to.
And there you have it! Five “simple” resolutions for any Catholic who has been given the grace of a New Year. Let us sincerely try to make this year focused upon God and His precepts, and may we always find refuge within the the Sacred Heart.