Happy New Year!
No - I haven't mis-scheduled a blog post. On the first Sunday of Advent, the Church marks the first day of a new Liturgical year. As with the celebration of the new calendar year each January, the new Church year is a time of new beginnings, of fresh starts, and of renewed purpose.
It is with good reason that the church chooses a penitential season to begin each new year. Advent, contrary to what every blaring cyber-Monday commercial and glittering fully-decorated Christmas trees at the local Mall would have you believe, is a season of interior preparation, not merely for the infant Jesus' birth into history which we celebrate on Christmas, but for the Lord's second coming in glory and for our own personal judgment which comes at our deaths. Like the other penitential season in the Church's calendar - Lent, it is a time of interior purification and renewal - preparing our hearts and souls to more fully live in union with God in this life in order to enjoy eternal happiness with him in the next. What better way to start off a New Year!
Here are seven ideas for New (Liturgical) Year's resolutions:
1. Go to Daily Mass one extra day per week. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, quoting Lumen Gentium, describes the Eucharist as "the source and suumit of the Christian life" and states that "the Church strongly encourages the faithful to receive the holy Eucharist on Sundays and feast days, or more often still, even daily." If you are not already a Daily Mass attendee, resolve to attend just one more Mass each week.
2. Add a new prayer to your prayer routine. For me, this year, I am planning to embrace the discipline of doing Morning prayer and Evening prayer from the Liturgy of the Hours each day. However, there are so many ways of incorporating more prayer in your life: Daily Mass, the Rosary, the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, the Noon-time Angelus- the list is endless. Make a commitment today that will be achievable - even if the only commitment you are able to make is to pray one single Our Father each day.
3. Read the scriptures. The Bible is the living word of God and spending just 10 minutes a day reading it will change your life. If you are new to reading the Bible - begin with the Gospel of John and commit to reading for 10 minutes. If you are already a regular scripture-reader, pick a book that you are not as familiar with and begin reading it. More ambitious? Check out this daily reading plan which will help you read the entire Bible in one year.
4. Begin a spiritual journal. Keeping a spiritual journal has been one of the most fruitful practices I have ever adopted. I journal my prayers, struggles, scriptures or quotes that have inspired me, petitions, thanksgiving for blessings and more. My journal is a concrete expression of my prayer time and provides a great tool for being honest in my prayer time. Reflecting upon my completed journals allows me to see how the Lord has moved in my life over a period of time. Looking for more tips about journaling? Read 7 Lessons From Keeping a Spiritual Journal, grab a notebook and pen and being your love letter to the Lord this year!
5. Forgive. Holding a grudge? Resenting someone who has hurt you? Angry and upset about the way your parents/husband/children/friends/boss/etc. treat you? Holding on to unforgiveness is hurting only one person - you. This New Year - resolve to forgive those who have hurt you. Spend some time in prayer and ask the Lord for the grace to extend forgiveness. Remember that Jesus forgave from the Cross- it is difficult to withhold forgiveness when you meditate on the crucifixion scene. A great way to start is to write a letter to the person who has hurt you (you don't have to actually send it). In the letter, be specific about what you are forgiving that person for. When you have completed the letter, place the person in the Lord's hands and let them go.
6. Go to confession. Confession is tough stuff - it is not easy to sit before another person and plainly state, without excuses, all your failings, weaknesses and shortcomings. I spent 20 long, dark years away from Confession and can personally attest that it is an incredibly powerful Sacrament and the grace that is available through it to bring healing, freedom and wholeness is immeasurable. Do not be afraid to go to confession. If you have been away from the Sacrament for awhile, ask a friend to go with you. Find a priest that you think you would be comfortable with and explain that you are unfamiliar/uncomfortable/uneasy or just plain afraid - he can help with the mechanics of the Sacrament. Ask the Holy Spirit to bring to mind your sins and then jump in with both feet. You will be relieved, elated, and joyful afterwards. Don't wait - the Lord's mercy is the most amazing gift!
7. Make friends with a saint. Ever been asked by a non-Catholic: "Why do you pray to a statue?" The Communion of Saints is a gift and a mystery that have nothing to do with praying to statues and everything to do with being part of a family that spans the boundaries of time and space. The saints are role models for living lives according to God's plan and powerful intercessors before the throne of the Lord in heaven. This year, resolve to learn about one new saint in a deep way - read their writings, watch videos about their lives, strive to identify and imitate their heroic virtue, and pray to them for their intercession.
Share some of your New Liturgical Year's Resolutions below!