During our marriage preparation, my husband and I made a mission, vision, and values spreadsheet for our marriage goals (nerdy, we know!). Part of our goals include living an authentic Catholic lifestyle, which we believe integrates the liturgical season into our new family unit. Some of my favorite memories from childhood include cooking and baking with my mom and having meaningful discussions with my parents about our Catholic faith. Traditions like these are important to my husband and me, and we look forward to continuing to build off of our parents’ traditions while adding our own.
To build traditions within our family, we’ve started with the idea of liturgical living. Liturgical living brings the life and breadth of the Church into our own homes and can be accomplished through certain prayers, celebrations, meals, crafts, and other traditions. This can also be described as building up the domestic church – which may be even more important than ever during the Covid-19 pandemic. As newlyweds, we have slowly added liturgical season traditions into our daily lives, such as celebrating saint feast days and preparing our house for Advent and Christmas. A New Year’s resolution we’ve set for ourselves in 2021 is trying to incorporate more of the Church’s liturgical seasons into our home to better appreciate the richness of our Catholic faith.
One of our favorite wedding gifts to help us implement our goal of liturgical living is The Catholic All Year Compendium by Kendra Tierney. Tierney shares how her family celebrates the Church’s liturgical season 365 days a year. She starts off the book by encouraging families to begin celebrating what makes the Catholic faith most approachable to each family member – saint namesake feast days and Baptism anniversaries. Special meals and desserts, prayer, stories, activities, and conversations are different ways to make the celebrations meaningful.
After noting namesake feast days and baptisms, Tierney recommends starting slowly and gradually, adding in other feast days important to each family and doing things that already fit into existing daily routines. The free calendars given out at church for the new year have these dates with the liturgical year, such as Ordinary Time, Lent, etc. A fabulous Christmas present I also received last month is the Blessed Is She planner that incorporates feast days and the liturgical year. This is all a process that takes time and can be added upon each year or changed. It shouldn’t be meant to overwhelm.
In our annual family planning meeting for 2021, my husband and I went through each month and picked which feasts we’d celebrate after our saint name days and baptisms. Our church even made our first feast day celebration easy by providing us blessed chalk and a prayer to say while marking 20 + C + M + B + 21 above our front door mantle for Epiphany on January 6! We’ve also added making “king cake” cinnamon rolls for dessert as part of the tradition.
How do you plan to incorporate Catholic liturgical living into your family’s routine this year? What are some of your favorite liturgical living traditions? If you practice liturgical living already, how has this helped your family learn about the Catholic faith?
For more resources on Marriage and Family, please click here.
January 1, Catholics celebrate the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, one of the holy days of obligation in the Church. This celebration is a special way to celebrate Mary’s special role in God’s plan in the Christmas story, as well as a way to start the year full of grace, ready to tackle those New Year’s resolutions. Although the practice of New Year’s resolutions is not distinctly Christian, our resolutions gain a new significance when we attend to Mary’s story.
Discern Your Resolutions
The story of Mary’s call to motherhood is a paradigm of Biblical discernment. When Mary received Gabriel’s announcement, “She was greatly troubled at what was said and pondered what sort of greeting this might be” (Luke 1:29). In faith, Mary wrestles with God’s calling. Even after her great “Yes,” and giving birth, “Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart” (Luke 2:19), revealing she is still learning what her vocation means and how to live it.
What’s this got to do with New Year’s resolutions? Discernment is a spiritual, prayerful decision-making process between possible courses of action. What specific habits or practices is God calling you to work on this year? There are plenty of worthwhile resolutions—there’s a million things I need work on—but it’s just not all possible to accomplish in a year, or ever. Prioritize resolutions that strengthen your personal vocation.
Expect Without Expectations
Mary’s faith is “expectant” but without “expectations.” In other words, Mary expects God to act in her life, but doesn’t place limitations on who, what, when, and where. Mary trusts the angel Gabriel’s words, “nothing will be impossible for God” and is free to live and say, “May it be done to me according to your word” (Luke 1:37-38).
Maybe God will bring about the outcomes of your resolution through unexpected ways or people. That’s the way it often works in scripture and the lives of the Saints. When you give God permission to act on his terms, you are free to boldly expect that God will do new and great things in your life this year.
Make Room For Others
Even free from original sin, God uses other people to accomplish his plan in Mary’s life. Mary’s story was made possible through her reliance upon truthful friends and family. Her cousin Elizabeth speaks truth and hope into her situation (Luke 1:42), and her husband Joseph goes to heroic lengths to let God’s call come to fruition.
Share your resolution with someone you trust. Whether it’s a major lifestyle change or not, ask them to keep you accountable, and always with prayer. Accountability also prevents goals from becoming purely self-centered or even idols from seeking God first (e.g., just to impress people at the beach). No one can accomplish your resolution for you, but you can find people to accomplish it with you.
Resolve to Live the Truth
Mary shows the true path by always making everything about Jesus. “Do whatever He tells you” (John 2:5). A true personal change will always lead us to more fully reflect our true identities as sons and daughters created in the image and likeness of God.
But the truth is, sometimes resolutions are born of self-loathing or lies we’ve bought instead of the desire to more fully reflect God’s truth. This often happens with body or image-related resolutions; to be thinner, smarter, stronger, etc. While these aren’t de facto bad things, the tendency becomes seeking physical solutions for a spiritual or psychological wound that really needs healing. That’s why discernment with spiritual direction and honest accountability is vital. Exercise programs or supplements say we should consult a physician first- but it’s also true when it applies to spiritual exercises for our soul! Mary and the saints save us from spiritual self-medication, which close us off from the Divine Physician.
Every year I ponder why we put such great importance on December 31st—why we celebrate the close of one year and herald in the new year with such fanfare. I never have really been one to make such a ‘to do’ about celebrating New Year’s. Isn’t it simply another day on the calendar, the turning over of a number? One day rides into the next on the 31st of December no differently than all the other days of the year. But we have made it a big holiday – a day to reminisce over the past 12 months and to celebrate the beginning of a fresh new calendar year – and we believe in all of its possibilities. Many of us recommit to our mission in life or to a specific goal. With the encouragement of others, we resolve to some greater aspirations and get all fired up about them!
In our Christian walk, it is essential that we take stock of where we are and what we have done, as well as how we can make improvements, grow in holiness, love more deeply, and share the Gospel message more intentionally. We do not have to only do this examination and recommitment on New Year’s Eve: we are called to do this daily. A great time to do it is before we lay ourselves down to sleep. And then each morning, we can arise with the zeal to do our best, be our best in the new day we have been given. New Year’s Eve traditions are wonderful, but let us daily recall our actions and thoughts and celebrate the close of another day to be alive, to walk and talk as a joyful, purposeful child of the Savior, and then arise each morning to usher in a fresh new day to live and work and grow in our mission to build God’s kingdom on earth.
About 3 months ago, as we were continuing to navigate life in this pandemic, I committed to participating in daily Mass with my husband in order to become a bolder Christian, a more loving wife, a more compassionate mother, a more diligent worker, and a more available servant to my neighbor. I honestly see great fruit in these areas because of receiving Jesus daily in the Word and in Sacrament. I have experienced added gifts of grace that help me become a better child of the Most High! During this time, I awoke every morning between 3:00 and 3:45am, just wide awake and raring to go! After a week of this happening, I realized that God wanted something of me. So now I read Scripture and have a nice quiet prayer time, while the rest of my household is asleep. I would not have been able to do this five years ago, or 10 or 20 or 30. I was in the trenches raising six kids and working and managing an extremely busy household! But grace abounds at this time in my life and it amazes me how good God is! This personal reflection, prayer, and evaluation are a day-by-day occurrence, not just practices that occur once a year at the turning of the clock to January 1st.
I encourage each of you to enjoy your New Year’s Eve reflection and New Year’s Day celebration while also recognizing and committing to the importance of reflecting on what is past and committing to what is ahead as a daily activity. We are each here for a purpose. Together, with the graces God bestows, we have much to do to build His kingdom. So, one foot in front of the other, one sunrise and one sunset at a time, let us celebrate each day with the zeal of the first disciples – and God’s will most surely will be done on earth as it is in heaven!
Happy New Year, happy new day!
“God, examine me and know my heart, test me and know my concerns. Make sure that I am not on my way to ruin, and guide me on the road of eternity.” Psalm 139:23-24
As we embark on yet another faith-filled adventure of a New Year and with it the thought of all those New Year’s resolutions, I would like to invite you to reflect with me on Jesus’ words offered to the Pharisees in the Gospel of Mark:
Likewise, no one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the skins are ruined. Rather, new wine is poured into fresh wineskins.
Jesus, throughout the Gospels, is always inviting us to examine and “re-view” the condition of our hearts above everything else. His words above, albeit confusing at first, shed light on His Heart and His promise to us: “I have come that they might have LIFE and have it more abundantly” (John 10:10).
I think we would all agree a more abundant life is what we pray and hope for at the beginning of each New Year. The rising question, however, is “how do we get there?” The answer, I believe Jesus offers us, is contained in His advice given to the Pharisees. He says the pathway to an abundant life lies within the condition of our hearts – the readiness of our “wineskins.” Our hearts like the wineskins, Jesus says, must be constantly renewed and “refreshed” ready to hold that new wine or grace He is always willing to give to us – and thus become for the world a witness of “grace at work.”
You see, the Pharisees were so concerned with the do’s and don’ts on their list that their identity, as children of God, was lost in a sea of narrow-minded laws and disciplines. They gave up the opportunity for new wine and new hearts! Even though the prophet Ezekiel proclaimed that God wanted to give them New Hearts all along (c.f. Ezekiel 11:19), they didn’t want to give up their “old wineskins” (old hearts) and place the “new wine” (grace) Jesus was offering them into “fresh wineskins” (converted hearts).
In fact, this is what happens to many people and their “New Years resolutions” when their hearts remain unchanged and unaffected by Grace. They sometimes end up rejecting their resolutions because they had nowhere to store the new wine that Jesus offered them. They couldn’t see beyond the “do’s and don’ts” – the “idols” they had created for themselves are powerless towards true change. We must never allow our resolutions to become idols separated from the truth and light of Grace within our hearts. For only those who are pure in heart will see what God is truly offering them (c.f. Matt 5:8).
And so, in this sense, I would offer that the goals and resolutions we set every year are re-viewed according to the condition of our hearts. “Re-viewed” so that we’re careful the “new wine” (grace-filled change) Jesus offers us this New Year isn’t going to be poured into the same old “wine-skins” or wasted in a bucket of “empty promises” we often leave ourselves with. But, that our hearts are truly renewed and store within them the new wine, the new life, the new truth of who we are and meant to be.
Thus, in keeping our hearts renewed, we prevent the grace-filled resolutions (“new wine”) we accept from Him for this New Year from becoming just another space to fill up on the old “to-do” list (“old wineskins”) that is quickly abandoned and lost altogether.
Jesus, this New Year, is offering us an opportunity to really accept something completely new and re-energizing –a new heart ready for His grace to fill it and complete it. I’m talking about experiencing a real encounter with Jesus and a true conversion of the heart!
I believe that understanding our New Year’s resolutions from this perspective will inevitably lead us to a deeper relationship with Him and most certainly place us on the road to becoming the person we’re meant to be – physically, mentally, spiritually, the best version of yourself! At last, new wine in fresh wineskins!
Bart Zalvetta is a member of the Theology Department of Skutt Catholic High School in Omaha, Nebraska
The arrival of New Year’s Day often brings with it resolutions, goals, and new words or phrases that help us try to shape the next 365 days before us. Things like healthy eating, stricter budgets, more time spent in prayer, and increased amounts of exercise define our drives for self-improvement. We give extra time to turn our focus inward to make ourselves stronger, smarter, holier, and healthier. In an attempt to change our lifestyles, we might separate ourselves from our previous habits, relationships, or preferences so that we can sharpen our focus even more on self-growth. We hone our discipline and increase our self-reliance in the name of improvement. In the new year, our focus is often inward.
While this inward focus isn’t harmful in itself, we might find ourselves stuck in our self-reliance. Now that a few weeks into the new year have passed, many of those resolutions, goals, and mantras might have faded into the background of post-holiday life. At this point, many of us have lapsed in our new practices, or we might have abandoned our resolutions altogether. We might find ourselves isolated in the new patterns we have picked up or starting to flounder due to a lack of support. Even though our New Year’s resolutions may have been made with the best or holiest of intentions, we might find ourselves failing without others to encourage us, support us, or hold us accountable. While the new year is the time when our focus is inward, the weeks soon after, when our discipline begins to wane, give us cause to lean outward.
What would it look like to lean outward in our resolutions in the weeks ahead by seeking others to help us carry them out? Why might allowing ourselves to be helped by others and accompanied by them lead us to a more meaningful and spiritually significant pursuit of our resolutions?
Though as Catholics we frequently hear about accompaniment in a context of explicitly spiritual progression, its fruitfulness is still applicable in non-explicitly spiritual goals in an informal sense. As the final document from the Synod on Young People, the Faith, and Vocational Discernment reminds us, “accompaniment cannot limit itself to the path of spiritual growth and to the practices of the Christian life” (Final Synod Document, 94). Accompaniment can help us experience transformation in many areas of our lives in addition to our spiritual life, as it “fosters growth in holiness through everyday circumstances and interests” (The Art of Accompaniment, 15). Though on the surface it may look like simply reaching out for the help of a friend, seeking out accompaniment to help us carry out our New Year’s resolutions has a deep theological and spiritual significance. Accompaniment is a form of “bear[ing] one another’s burdens [in order to] fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2). When we seek another’s help to bear our burdens, experiences, hopes, and challenges, we open ourselves up to be in communion with someone else; we profess that we were created by God out of love, to love, and to be loved by others. Accompaniment is a simple way by which we actively remember that “The LORD God said: It is not good for the man to be alone” (Genesis 2:18). When we seek the help of another, we affirm the beauty of being human: we’re not meant to live life completely on our own effort and initiative.
Having a good listener, mentor, or friends helps us to turn our inward focus in our resolutions outward. We no longer remain alone in our efforts, strivings, or discipline. The support of another trusted person helps us remain steadfast in our resolution to be healthier, spend more responsibly, or love more generously. This support can take the form of a quick text from an accountability partner to check in on our progress, or a weekly meet-up with a mentor to discuss our challenges. Similarly, we can seek more formal relationships of accompaniment to help meet our goals. Beginning a relationship with a therapist might help us explore more deeply our relationship with others or just as seeking the help of a personal trainer might allow us to have the added accountability to eat more nutritiously or get physically fit. Relying on others in the pursuit of transforming ourselves reminds us of the beautiful gift of being human: as human beings, we can have a profound effect on one another in providing support, love, and encouragement in growing into the people God has destined us to be.
Whether sought out in a formal or informal sense, accompaniment challenges us to let ourselves be loved by others in the simplicity and complexity of our everyday life. Allowing ourselves to be supported by others, even in something as simple as our New Year’s resolutions, reveals the deep significance of others to our vocation to holiness.
Happy New Year! We have officially brought the Church year to a close and have entered into a new liturgical year with the first week of Advent. It is a time of new beginnings and yet a profound time of waiting and preparation as we anticipate the joy of the birth of a tiny babe in a manger. I find it interesting that this time of waiting comes right at the beginning of the new liturgical year. In the secular world, New Year’s celebrations are immediate and urgent. We count down to the strike of midnight, kiss our loved ones, announce our resolutions, and toast the entrance of the next phase. Some of us celebrate the end of another passing year with relief. Some feel a deep hope and longing that the year to come will bring with it some rest and release from the trials and tribulations of the previous year. Others celebrate the successes of the year and look forward to hopeful continued success. No matter which category you fall into, the secular New Year brings with it some sense of urgency, of immediate change.
In the Church’s liturgical year, we celebrate our “New Year’s Eve” with the celebration of Christ the King on the last Sunday before Advent. In Pope Francis’s 2013 homily he reminded us, “Jesus is the center of creation; and so the attitude demanded of us as true believers is that of recognizing and accepting in our lives the centrality of Jesus Christ, in our thoughts, in our words and in our works.” Pope Pius XI instituted this celebration in 1925 to help remind us that, “while governments and philosophies come and go, Christ reigns as King forever.” Can you feel it? Can you feel the excitement, hope, and assuredness infiltrating you as a believer of Christ, King of the Universe? And then we wait… This stark contrast brings with it the perfect time for reflection and re-evaluation.
In thinking and reflecting on the Advent season at the beginning of this new liturgical year, I’m struck by the images that come to mind. The slow burn of a candle in the window, darkness in anticipation of the light of morning. We are searching, seeking, wanting, waiting.
“Not all who wander are lost,” J.R.R. Tolkien wrote. Over the years it has become a fairly well known quote. How does this quote speak to you this Advent season? At times we may wander through the ebb and flow of our daily lives and this quote seems to reach out to us in an attempt to comfort us when we find ourselves in this place. But let’s take a deeper look at this particular quote. What does it mean to wander? To wander is to walk or move in a leisurely, casual, or aimless way. In what areas of your life have you been wandering? More importantly, do you know where you are going?
Advent is the perfect time for reflection and re-evaluation. “Not all who wander are lost.” Is it true? Sometimes we need the casual and the leisurely. It can be good to have a moment to take a breath. This time of Advent at the beginning of our new liturgical year, though, is a time to challenge ourselves. Are we still wandering? Have we lost sight of our aim? Perhaps Advent is calling us out of our time of wandering and into a time of wondering. To wonder is to desire or be curious about something; to feel amazement, to marvel. What is your heart longing for this Advent season? Where in your life are you being called into a deeper relationship with Christ, King of the Universe? He is coming and His desire to know and love us is so great that He is coming as a vulnerable and dependent baby in a manger. “They name him Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero, Faith-Forever, Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:5) He is coming. Are you ready?
This season, let us remember, all that WONDER as they behold the Christ child will never be lost.
Question for Reflection: What is your heart longing for this Advent season?
For resources to prepare you for the Advent season, please click here.
In my prayer life recently, God has been speaking to me a lot about obedience. Obedience to Him, to my family, to my job, to my responsibilities. Perhaps it is because I’m not very good at some of my responsibilities, or maybe it is a call to become more in tune with and to pray for God’s will.
In today’s Gospel (Mark 1:40-45), Jesus heals a man who comes to him asking to be cleaned of his leprosy. Upon healing him completely, Jesus says, “See that you tell no one anything, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses prescribed; that will be proof for them” (Mark 1:44). Instead, the man “began to publicize the whole manner” where it made it “impossible for Jesus to enter a town openly” (Mark 1:45).
How often are we disobedient like this man? How often has Jesus told us something that we missed completely? How often have we placed our desires and actions above what God wills for us? By his choice to disobey Jesus, instead of exalting God, the healed man exalts himself. The Catechism tells us that “sin sets itself against God's love for us and turns our hearts away from it” and that sin is “opposed to the obedience of Jesus.” When the healed man ignored Jesus’ directions, it furthered him from fully understanding God’s love and mercy for him. For us, too, when we sin and choose to follow our will over the Lord’s, we distance ourselves from God’s love.
How can we know God’s will for us? It is not always so easily stated to us as it was to the man who was healed of his leprosy. To know God’s will, we must pray with open and patient hearts. Pope Francis recommends that we pray for the desire to follow God’s will, to know his will and to follow it. The saints are also great models of teaching us to pray and love God’s will for us. They are in complete union with Jesus in heaven because they learned to desire, love, and follow God’s will for them throughout their earthly lives. Look to any saint, and they will show you obedience. For example, St. Maximilian Kolbe was martyred, taking the place of a man who was to be killed in Auschwitz. Before that, his writings show that his prayer life was repeatedly focused on knowing the will of God. St. Maximilian Kolbe said, “Obedience is the one and the only way of wisdom and prudence for us to offer glory to God... Let us love our loving Father with all our hearts. Let our obedience increase that love, above all when it requires us to surrender our own will. Jesus Christ crucified is our sublime guide toward growth in God’s love.”
St. Maximilian Kolbe’s words and sacrifice point us towards obedience, and teach us that obedience helps us to grow in God’s love. So perhaps my prayers that are revealing obedience as a theme are leading me to stretch my heart to know and share God’s love. Through obedience, I can know Christ’s peace and mercy—the same love he felt when the man with leprosy came to him; the same love he felt when he died on the cross. It is my prayer that as the desire for obedience touches my heart, you too may know the love and joy that comes from asking God to desire his will, know his will, and follow his will.
Questions for Reflection: What are some ways you can grow in obedience to God’s will this year? Are there any saints who inspire you by their willingness to follow Christ?
Alyce Shields is a teacher in Washington, D.C.
My son is just learning to walk. At 15 months, he’s starting to take his first, unsteady steps. He wobbles from chunky leg to chunky leg, looking back at us to make sure everything is alright, and plops on the floor after a few strides. He loves it when we cheer him on, and then he gets back up and begins again.
We, too, are beginning again. We have walked into a new calendar year. This Monday, we will celebrate the end of the Christmas season on the Solemnity of the Baptism of Our Lord and enter into Ordinary Time. How are we walking into the new year? As a parent, I know my son is taking his first steps towards walking securely. Little does he know that these steps will prepare him to one day run. I know his trajectory, but the path for him is still unknown. Similarly, God knows our path. He knows what He created us to be and do, what our gifts and talents are. He made us to run, and yet He does not interfere with our free will.
We, like my son, are often walking into an unknown future. We take step after step in faith with God walking alongside us. How do we make our journey? Are we stumbling or walking confidently in God’s grace? Do we look to Him when things seem unbalanced and reach for His hand? Even when things seem steady, do we turn back, like my son looks to his parents, and look for God and His reassuring presence? Do we ask God for His help and guidance?
God walks with us throughout each chapter of our lives. His coming into the world in the Incarnation, which we celebrated at Christmas, is a beautiful and mysterious proof of the lengths God is willing to go to be with us. He wanted to be intimately involved in the human story—and so He became one of us. He interacted with mankind as a man Himself, ultimately taking on the weight of our sin and opening the doors to salvation. God intervened in a radical and beautiful way by physically walking alongside us in the person of Jesus Christ, and He continues to do so through His church, the sacraments, prayer, and our communities.
As we end the celebration of Christmas and enter into the new year and Ordinary Time, I invite you to reflect on how you are walking into this season of life. We have spent the weeks of Advent preparing for and celebrating the coming of Jesus Christ into our midst. But have we left Him in the manger? Have we forgotten to bring the Christ child home with us or kept room for Him in the inn of our hearts? Let us allow God to be intimately a part of our lives throughout this upcoming year. May we walk with Him and towards Him each day, whether we are stumbling or walking confidently, so that we, like my son, may come one day to run.
Question for Reflection: How can you walk more closely with God and toward Him this year?
This is such a rich time for us as Catholic Christians! Within the past month, we’ve begun a new liturgical year, celebrated in praise and thanksgiving the Nativity of our Lord, the Holy Family, and the Blessed Virgin Mary, and we continue to celebrate as we approach the Epiphany of our Lord. It is quite difficult to wrap our hearts and minds around the richness that has been available to us over these past four weeks in the midst of the hustle and bustle of the holiday season.
Among the chaos of planning and celebrating, we have also rung in a new calendar year. 2017— with its successes, failures, struggles and triumphs—has come to a close and we stand at the precipice of 2018. We all know what that means: New Year’s resolutions. Are you hoping for more control over your health, finances, or career? Perhaps you are hoping to find more time to pray and manage stress in your life. What is it that you are hoping to gain control of this year or to do more regularly? As we prepare to choose and implement changes that we would like to make in our lives, let us not forget that we are still in the midst of celebrating the Word made flesh, Emmanuel. The change and possibility of a baby, born in a humble manger, is reflected in the beginning of a new year. Is our gaze still fixed on the babe in swaddling clothes?
What would 2018 bring if instead of resolving to gain control of our lives, we truly allowed the Messiah to be Emmanuel, God with us. Jesus is waiting for each and every one of us to echo the “yes” that was uttered by the Holy Family as they welcomed Him into their lives. What if instead of resolving to control everything, we resolved to say yes to that tiny baby born of a Virgin? During one of the Advent homilies at our parish, our pastor challenged us to think about times we have attempted to be the messiah of our own lives by trying to grasp or control various situations or circumstances. During this time of change and resolution, it can be tempting for us to forget that we are not the Messiah as we make plans and goals for the upcoming year.
As I reflect on this, I am reminded of the words of the hymn “These Alone Are Enough” by David Schutte, based on the Suscipe prayer of St. Ignatius of Loyola: “Take my heart oh Lord. Take my hopes and dreams. Take my mind with all its plans and schemes. Give me nothing more than your love and grace. These alone, oh God, are enough for me.” It is good and just to strive to improve our character and to foster good and healthy habits in our lives. However, instead of resolving to do it on our own, by the gift of that blessed Christmas morning, we have the choice to freely give all of these things over to the One who makes all things new. As you stand at the threshold of this New Year and envision your hopes and dreams for 2018, take a moment to reflect on what these possibilities could become if you allowed them to be infused by the abundant grace of God.
It is still the Christmas season. There is still time to approach the manger. Take the leap of faith. Instead of resolving to gain control, approach the manger and resolve to say YES and to be transformed! Resolve to offer the babe in swaddling clothes your mind, your heart, your body, and soul. As you boldly step out into 2018, my prayer for you echoes the words of Saint Paul,
“May the God of peace make you perfectly holy and may you entirely, spirit, soul, and body, be preserved blameless for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful, and he will also accomplish it.”
Question for Reflection: What are some resolutions you can hand over to the Lord this New Year?
Today is the fifth day of the Octave of Christmas and for many of us, the hubbub of Christmas has come and gone and we are getting back to work. On Christmas Day, we were overwhelmed with the joy of the birth of Christ and the excitement of sharing in God’s love for the world. This feeling does not necessarily wear off right away, it can stick with us for many weeks to come and leaves us wondering “what’s next?”
Every time I hear these words I think of the show The West Wing, where President Bartlet’s signature phrase is “what’s next?”. This phrase brings continuity to the story line as the characters continually dedicate their lives to serving the nation. As I think about it now, we can use this simple little phrase to help ground us as we move beyond the Christmas season. The year 2017 is just a few days away and many of us are thinking about what our new year’s resolutions are going to be: from dieting, to posting a photo on Instagram every day, to reconnecting with old friends. While these are great ideas for the coming year, instead of just focusing on ourselves, let us also try to ask “what’s next” for our faith and our relationship with Christ. We can do this in a few simple steps:
Our relationship with Christ is critical and now is the perfect time to evaluate it. We have so many resources available to us: our priests and parishes, our friends and bible study groups, the saints and the Holy Family, and many more. Asking ourselves “what’s next,” gives us the opportunity to recommit ourselves to God, to dive deeper into our faith, and to live out our lives as apostles. Let us use the momentum of the new year and the joy of the Christmas season to motivate ourselves into keeping our faith alive and healthy.
Nicholas Shields is a Young Professional in Washington, D.C.
In Pope Francis’ recent exhortation, Amoris Laetitia, he concludes with a prayer to the Holy Family. The first part of the prayer reads, “Jesus, Mary and Joseph, in you we contemplate the splendor of true love; to you we turn with trust.” In just those few words, we are reminded of the importance of the Holy Family; they are the perfect reflection of true love. They exemplify to us what it means to love God and one another.
Of course, it might be wise to first ask ourselves, “What is true love?” The dictionary defines it as a “strong affection for another” (Merriam-Webster). The author Victor Hugo once equated love to joy when he said, “The greatest happiness of life is the conviction that we are loved” (Les Miserables). For our purposes, let us take the definition straight out of the Gospels, that “no one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:18). True love, then, is self-sacrificial. Having true love does not mean that we live to seek the best for ourselves. Rather, it means that we actively seek the best for others.
Using this understanding of true love, it becomes clearer how each member of the Holy Family exemplifies those qualities. St. Joseph is commonly known as the silent man of the Gospels in that he is never quoted. Yet, we see episodes that testify to his goodness. Matthew’s Gospel tells us that when Mary became pregnant, Joseph wanted to divorce her quietly to spare her from any shame. Nevertheless, he ended up taking Mary into his home at the urging of the angel (Matthew 1:18-24).
During this period of time, Mary as a pregnant and unwed mother was extremely scandalous. Joseph would have had every right to publicly humiliate her and cast her aside; in fact, accepting her in her state would have brought notoriety to himself. Yet, he took her into his home. He was willing to sacrifice his own reputation to show his devotion to Mary and to her son, an act of true love.
Mary, similarly, shows sacrificial love at the message of an angel. Luke’s Gospel tells us that the angel of the Lord appeared to her and announced that she would bear the “Son of the Most High” (Luke 1: 32). Mary was a teenager, just betrothed to Joseph. Before the arrival of the angel, she was assured a quiet life, a peaceful life. Accepting this message would change everything; Mary’s life ahead would be a vast unknown. Nevertheless, she simply replied, “I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word” (Luke 1: 38). Mary showed true love by sacrificing herself in order for the Son of God to enter the world.
And, of course, it does not take much effort to think of a moment when Jesus displayed true love. In dying on the cross, he destroyed death itself; as the tomb was closed, he opened the gates of Heaven. His willful sacrifice is the ultimate example of “laying down one’s life.” Thus, each member of the Holy Family demonstrates to us, what it means to truly love. In Deus Caritas Est, Pope Benedict reminds us that “Love is the light – and in the end, the only light – that can always illuminate a world grown dim” (Deus Caritas Est, 39). As we move forward into the New Year, let us use the example of the Holy Family as our inspiration and bring a bit of light to our world. By being willing to sacrifice some of ourselves each day for the sake of others, we too can become models of true love.
Victor David is a collaborator with the Catholic Apostolate Center and a staff member at The Catholic University of America in Washington, DC.
As we begin the new year of 2016, many of us design our road maps for the coming 12 months: lose weight, pray more, become more charitable, finish “xyz” project, etc. These personal goals are all about hopefulness with the anticipation of bettering ourselves. After putting together my own list of New Year’s resolutions, I thought to myself, “Isn’t this why I seek guidance from Jesus? To erase failings of the previous year and replace them with goodness?” The Feast of the Epiphany provides us with inspiration to tackle our resolutions by following the Lord’s individualized path for each of us.
In Pope Francis’ Epiphany homily from 2014, he says, “[The magi] teach us not to be content with a life of mediocrity, of ‘playing it safe’, but to let ourselves be attracted always by what is good, true and beautiful…by God, who is all of this, and so much more! And they teach us not to be deceived by appearances, by what the world considers great, wise and powerful. We must not stop at that. It is necessary to guard the faith.”
It’s so easy to fall into the trap of desiring what others around us may be or have, and we can mistakenly set resolutions imitating societal pressures. We are called to discern our unique purpose and skills for the betterment of society, not copy someone else’s.
Perhaps my favorite portion of Pope Francis’ 2014 homily is his call to not be content with the current situation. We can always do more to improve ourselves or assist others inour immediate or global communities, whether that includes boosting our spiritual livesor revising our charitable giving plans or a call to do something else. God constantly challenges us to strive for greatness, never settling.
The magi faithfully followed their journey toward Jesus, the manifestation of God. This total abandon of following the status quo so they could find Jesus is the same trust we are called to place with Him today. The magi did not fall into Herod’s trap of darkness after seeing the newborn baby Jesus. So, too, must we also guard the faith from darkness in the guise of light. The example provided by the magi encourages us to follow the greatest desires written on our hearts by God.
It is the Year of Consecrated Life, proclaimed by Pope Francis and begun on November 30, 2014. It is actually more than a year … extending until February 2, 2016! In 1997, Pope John Paul II instituted February 2nd as World Day for Consecrated Life, which is attached to the Feast of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple.
This year is to be along the lines of the Year of the Priest a few years ago or the Year of Faith of more recent memory – a once-in-a-lifetime kind of thing, this makes it pretty exciting! In Pope Francis’ video message that was viewed at the Vigil to begin the Year of Consecrated Life, he set the stage, “My first words, on this occasion, are of gratitude to the Lord for the precious gift of consecrated life to the Church and to the world. May this Year of Consecrated Life be an occasion for all members of the People of God to thank the Lord, from whom every good comes, for the gift of consecrated life, appreciating it appropriately.” It is the Year OF Consecrated Life and FOR the whole Church.
Much of the content connected with this celebratory Year is directed to Consecrated persons, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t something in it for everyone. Since it is the season when we might start thinking about making New Year’s resolutions, I thought the three “aims” of the Year of Consecrated Life might give us food for thought.
Pope Francis issued a letter – his full message – for the Year, issued on November 29, 2014, the eve of the Year and directed to his “Brothers and Sisters in Consecrated Life.” (If you’re interested in reading the whole thing, you can find it here.)
The first aim of the Year of Consecrated life “is to look at the past with gratitude.” (Introduction) In a couple of weeks we will start to see all of the “year in review” programs and news captions. Do we have our own manner of reviewing our year or several years? Do I tend to focus on my mistakes or bad things that happened? Pope Francis starts us off with the disposition of gratitude as we look back. He invites Consecrated persons to claim the richness of their Institute’s history, charism, and action of the Spirit which brings us to the point where we are today.
This is a valuable activity because, as Pope Francis explains, “Recounting our history is essential for preserving our identity, for strengthening our unity as a family and our common sense of belonging. More than an exercise in archaeology or the cultivation of mere nostalgia, it calls for following in the footsteps of past generations in order to grasp the high ideals, and the vision and values which inspired them, beginning with the founders and foundresses and the first communities.” Advent calls us to the same kind of remembering. In the readings of last Sunday, Peter asks us “what sort of person ought you to be?” Looking at our past can help remind us of our goals, values, and ideal, and recognize how we live consistently with this vision and where we might do better.
The second aim of the Year of Consecrated Life gives us some concrete follow-through from the first aim: “This Year also calls us to live the present with passion. Grateful remembrance of the past leads us, as we listen attentively to what the Holy Spirit is saying to the Church today, to implement ever more fully the essential aspects of our consecrated life.” Recalling those things most important to me, the things innate to my identity, I can claim them as my own (again or for the first time) and live out of them, anew, with passion!
The challenge to Consecrated persons is no less the same for all believers. “For the various founders and foundresses, the Gospel was the absolute rule, whereas every other rule was meant merely to be an expression of the Gospel and a means of living the Gospel to the full…. The creativity of charity is boundless; it is able to find countless new ways of bringing the newness of the Gospel to every culture and every corner of society.” Does this fit into our plan for the New Year? It is a nice idea, but what does it look like? Pope Francis continues,
“Living the present with passion means becoming “experts in communion,”… In a polarized society, where different cultures experience difficulty in living alongside one another, where the powerless encounter oppression, where inequality abounds, we are called to offer a concrete model of community which, by acknowledging the dignity of each person and sharing our respective gifts, makes it possible to live as brothers and sisters….So, be men and women of communion! Have the courage to be present in the midst of conflict and tension, as a credible sign of the presence of the Spirit who inspires in human hearts a passion for all to be one (cf. Jn 17:21).”
As in all things Catholic, there are never two without three! The third aim should come as no surprise: to embrace the future with hope. Hope for the future makes the past both meaningful and bearable, and the passion for the present possible. This is not meant to be a wishful-thinking hope, but a leap of faith. How can I embrace that which is not yet here? Pope Francis explains, “This hope is not based on statistics or accomplishments, but on the One in whom we have put our trust (cf. 2 Tim 1:2), the One for whom “nothing is impossible” (Lk 1:37). This is the hope which does not disappoint; it is the hope which enables consecrated life to keep writing its great history well into the future. It is to that future that we must always look, conscious that the Holy Spirit spurs us on so that he can still do great things with us.” How am I writing my own history? Can I trust in the God for whom all things are possible? If I resolve to the live the present with passion, can I add that next layer of commitment to embrace the future with hope?
The Year of Consecrated Life is just beginning; may the blessings and graces of this Year be enjoyed by you and all People of Good Will!
Sr. Kelly Connors, pm, teaches Canon Law for Saint Joseph’s College Online and is member of the Sisters of the Presentation of Mary.
This blog post was first published on October 26th on the St. Joseph’s College of Maine Theology Faculty Blog. Click here to learn more about our cooperative alliance with St. Joseph’s College Online
Standing between the ornate choir and high altar of Toledo’s medieval cathedral is the statue of La Virgen Blanca, one of my favorite depictions of the Blessed Mother. As Mary cradles Jesus in her arms, as if presenting him to us, Jesus’ hand affectionately clasps the chin of his loving mother. In this tender moment Mary’s face expresses an infectious joy, a joy that is quite appropriate for today’s Solemnity in which the Church celebrates Mary as the Mother of God. As we come to the end of the Christmas Octave and usher in the New Year, may we be filled with the everlasting joy that Christ alone can bring. Let us make Mary’s joy our own!
"My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,
my spirit rejoices in God my Savior
for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant.
From this day all generations will call me blessed:
the Almighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his Name.
He has mercy on those who fear him
in every generation.
He has shown the strength of his arm,
he has scattered the proud in their conceit.
He has cast down the mighty from their thrones,
and has lifted up the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.
He has come to the help of his servant Israel
for he has remembered his promise of mercy,
the promise he made to our fathers,
to Abraham and his children forever."
Brett Garland is the Program Development Coordinator for the Catholic Apostolate Center.