With the glow of Christmas still burning brightly, it's a good time to contemplate the New Year in light of the gift of the Christ child. What does his coming mean to you and how can you take that with you into 2013? Diet, exercise, and quitting smoking are typical New Year’s resolutions. Improved health is great, but for Christians with our sights on heaven, we can do better. Let’s not forget the spiritual realm where improvements last longer than a lifetime.
Here are suggestions to consider while setting goals for a holier year.
Commit Random Acts of Prayer. Resolve to pray for at least one person each day who does not even know you or perhaps would never suspect you would pray for them. It could a famous person, or someone in a passing car, or in the grocery line. Better yet, pick someone who has been nasty to you, or cut you off in traffic.
See Jesus More Often. Make a commitment to visit Jesus in the tabernacle. The more you give of your time to Jesus, the more he can give to you.
Do a good deed every day, no matter how small. When I was a kid we used to say: “I’m rubber and you’re glue, whatever you say bounces off of me and sticks to you.” Think of God telling us: “I’m God and I made you, whatever you do for others comes back to you.”
Find a Charity to Donate Time or Money. By giving to others, we accumulate everlasting treasure. Consider also visiting a lonely relative, an elderly neighbor, or a young mother who could use some help.
Read the Bible. Protestants think Catholics don’t read the Bible. Prove them wrong.
Go to one more Mass. If you don’t always go to Sunday Mass, resolve NEVER to miss Mass and Holy Days of Obligation. If you only go on Sundays, find another day you are not obligated to go and simply attend for the extra graces and for the love of Jesus. If you go daily, try to get more out of it and really focus.
Turn your Dial to Catholic TV and Radio. Find some Catholic programing you enjoy and make a point to tune in regularly.
Read Catholic Literature and Listen to CD’s. There’s no lack of such resources. It’s the next best thing to going on a retreat.
Fast a Day or Two During the Week. Jesus fasted for 40 days. Scripture says, “And when you fast…” (Matt 16:6) not if you fast. There’s power in fasting. How you fast is up to you. Bread and water is too extreme for many. You can fast from TV or Facebook, or simply eat for nutrition i.e., plain tuna, broccoli and dry toast--not so tasty but maintains health while sacrificing. Or, consider leaving something out at every meal such as no mayonnaise on your sandwich or dressing on your salad. Make it a pure gift to God, not a diet for you.
Confession Go to confession more often. It’s a gift Jesus gave to us after his Resurrection. He breathed on them and said, “Receive the holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them and whose sins you retain are retained” (John 21:22).
Just prior to giving them the power to forgive sins, Jesus sent them out into the world to act in his place: “As the Father sent me, so I am sending you.” The only other time the Bible mentions God breathing on anyone was in Genesis 2:7 when he breathed life into the first human beings. Likewise, confession breathes new life into our souls.
Don’t dismay if you keep bringing the same sins back to Confession. I had a friend tell me that she told the priest she was embarrassed to keep confessing the same sins. The priest chuckled. “Just be glad you aren’t bringing any new ones in,” he said. It’s about improvement, not perfection.
Find a Spiritual Director. It’s easy for the scrupulous to worry that they are not doing enough and for those that tend toward sloth to make excuses and do little or nothing. New Year’s resolutions have a way of fading away. With a spiritual director, you will have someone to help you reach your goals like a personal trainer for your soul.
If you have never received spiritual direction and don’t know much about it, consider getting the book Navigating the Interior Life, Spiritual Direction And the Journey to God by Dan Burke. It is the best resource available for understanding spiritual direction and how to utilize it.
The wonderful thing about our Catholic faith in the face of resolutions is that it has checks and balances. It teaches humility and thanking God when we accomplish our goals. And when we fall short, we have Confession and an understanding that God’s mercy far outweighs our own attempts at holiness.