Merry Christmas, friends! I’m sure you all know that Christmas has just begun, but New Year’s is fast approaching, and with it resolutions. I’m all about eating well and exercising more (I mean, I’m not, but you know what I mean), but I thought you might appreciate some suggestions of how to kick start your spiritual life in 2018.
- Read the Bible. The whole thing. But don’t start at Genesis and read through to Revelation. Check out this one year Bible plan and take a more manageable approach to soaking in God’s word this year. And oh my goodness, I love this new Catholic Journaling Bible! (If you happen to be engaged, I think it would make the best wedding guest book ever.)
- Get to know the Saints. I’m relatively new in my love of the Saints, but (as with most things) I’ve become rather obsessed. Pick up a cheap copy of my favorite books about Saints (Modern Saints volume 1 and volume 2 by Ann Ball) or click over to my page on Aleteia to read 50 different Saint bios that I wrote last year. But vague resolutions are useless, so rather than resolving to “get to know the Saints,” try something more like, “Each week, I’ll learn about a new Saint, trying to figure out what I need to imitate in his or her life and virtues, and asking for his or her intercession.” By the end of 2018, you’ll have 52 more new besties in heaven! Or maybe pick one Saint per month to get to know more deeply, or two or three Saints for the year whose biographies you can get. Anything to grow closer to your family in heaven.
- Sign up for a holy hour. Don’t just promise yourself that you’ll make a holy hour each week, actually sign up so there’s more accountability than just your conscience. If you’re not sure where there’s adoration near you, check out this directory, which I’ve found to be remarkably accurate. If there isn’t adoration near you and you can’t ask your priest to start exposing the Blessed Sacrament, a private commitment to spend an hour before the tabernacle once a week would also be great.
- Read something worthwhile. You’ll have to determine for yourself what a good goal would be–one spiritual book a month or half an hour of spiritual reading a day or maybe just one book this year–but reading worthwhile books can be an absolute game-changer. Check out my recommendations of spiritual reading, Catholic novels, and apologetics, or watch this space for a list of all time favorites.
- Commit to daily silent prayer. I never tire of telling people that while a devotion to the Rosary or the Liturgy of the Hours or even the Bible isn’t a requirement for canonization, regular silent prayer is. This is what makes Saints. Every other kind of prayer (and there are many) only exists to lead you into silent prayer, but most of us spend all our prayer time doing and very little being. This year, commit to a certain amount of time every day without fail just being still before the Lord, talking to him and listening, too. A good rule of thumb is one minute per day for every year old you are, which is great if you’re 15 but not so much if you’re 45 with a million little kids and no experience with silence. Start with 15 minutes a day, see if you can’t stretch it to 20 for Lent, then go from there.
- Cling to the Sacraments. Make a concrete resolution to live a more Sacramental life. Up your confession game to once a month, add one extra daily Mass each week, or spend more time praying in a church instead of just praying in traffic. Perhaps it’s something as small as crossing yourself every time you pass a Catholic church (greeting Jesus in the Eucharist) or making sure to stop by the tabernacle first thing when you get to church and last thing before you leave, even if you’re just there to get something signed or to go to a meeting. Treat him like he’s really present there.
- Go on a retreat. It can be really difficult to find a way to leave home and work and family for several days to make a retreat, but it can also be absolutely life-changing. Make a commitment to go on a retreat this year, whether directed or silent.
- Join a group. Whether it’s a Bible study or a faith-sharing group, find a group of Catholics who are meeting each week to pray and grow in faith together. There’s only so much you can grow in holiness when you’re doing it alone.
- Do a daily examen. More than just an examination of conscience, the examen invites us to see how God is working in our lives and how we’ve chosen to respond. Make a habit of spending 10 minutes each night (or morning, or on your commute) walking through the previous 24 hours with the Lord. End by reflecting on the best part of the last day, the worst part, and what particular grace you want for the next day. Learn more here.
- Learn to love the Blessed Mother. For many of us, Mary wasn’t a big part of our childhood, but she was a huge part of Jesus’ childhood, so she has to be part of our lives. If you don’t love her as you should (and who does?), try adding some Mary into your life. Maybe it’s time to commit to a daily rosary, like it or not–but you don’t have to! There are other ways to love Mary. You could try some good books on Mary (I recommend Hail, Holy Queen and The Reed of God). You could finally make your Marian consecration. Or daily pray a Marian litany. Or meditate on Marian art. Just try to love her more.
- Start fasting. Did you know all Catholics are expected to perform some act of penance every Friday and the US Bishops recommend abstaining from meat? Do that. If you’re already there, try dropping the sugar from your coffee or skipping snacks on non-feast days. Fasting isn’t just for Lent, it’s a way for us to be comformed to Christ every day.
- Make a pilgrimage. You don’t have to go to Rome (though if you’re looking for an excuse, drop me a line and I’ll tell you that you do). Look up some local (or only-10-hours-away) Saints or Blesseds or Venerables. If that’s too far, just make a pilgrimage to your cathedral or a local shrine. The act of pilgrimage reminds us that we’re all sojourners here, that this world is not our home and we’re all pilgrims on our way back to the Father.
- Change what you listen to. Instead of Top 40, try some Audrey Assad or Matt Maher. Instead of talk radio, check out some podcasts (I love Lanky Guys, Fr. John Riccardo, Catholic Stuff You Should Know, and The Eagle and Child). Sanctify your commute and your time in the pickup line by infusing it with Christ.
- Give. If you’re not tithing, resolve to up your giving to 10%. If you already are, maybe try for 11%, or even 15%. It may be more important for you to give your time than your money. Pray about a measurable goal for giving more, then do it.
- Forgive. Forgiveness is a choice, not a feeling. Make a resolution to forgive somebody for whom you’ve been harboring resentment, then do something tangible like offering every Friday Mass for them or placing a picture of them before an image of the Blessed Mother or just daily praying, “Father, I forgive N. Please give me the grace to forgive him/her.” For most of us, a year of such actions will move the forgiveness from our will to our hearts. For the rest, it’s still a good start.
New Year’s resolutions are notoriously hard to keep, but we belong to a Church that continually gives us a second chance. So make these resolutions, but set yourself a reminder for February 10th (just before Ash Wednesday) to check in on how these resolutions are going and try to start afresh for Lent. Then do the same thing for Easter, for Ordinary Time, and again for Advent. By the end of 2018, maybe you will have made a real change!
We’ve only scratched the surface here, friends. What other suggestions do you have for Catholic resolutions?