Begin Again…New Year’s Resolutions for the New Liturgical Year

by Angela Lambert
the_calling_of_saint_matthew-caravaggo_1599-1600

“The Calling of St. Matthew” by Caravaggio

November 26th, 2016; 1st Sunday in Advent

Gospel Matthew 24:37-44

Jesus said to his disciples: “As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. In those days before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day that Noah entered the ark. They did not know until the flood came and carried them all away. So will it be also at the coming of the Son of Man. Two men will be out in the field; one will be taken, and one will be left. Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken, and one will be left. Therefore, stay awake! For you do not know on which day your Lord will come. Be sure of this: if the master of the house had known the hour of night when the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and not let his house be broken into. So too, you also must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.”

Meditation Reflection:

Advent, the beginning of a new year (liturgically speaking).  It reminds us that we made it, by the grace of God, and that we don’t know what the next year will bring.  It could bring unexpected joys and successes, it could also hold life-changing sorrows or failures.  In the spirit of new year’s resolutions, Advent provides the opportunity for Christians to step back, evaluate their lives, and make renewed goals for personal growth.  Like most resolutions, we hope to imbue the next year of our lives with deeper meaning and healthier living (physically, emotionally, and spiritually).  We don’t know when life will end or when Christ will come again, we can however, be our best selves whenever it does and try to live with as few regrets as possible.

Before making goals, however, one needs to identify the finish line.  During Advent we recall that the most meaningful and healthy goal we can achieve is deeper relationship with Christ and more devoted discipleship.  We all grow lax over time and can’t help but get overwhelmed by daily life periodically.  Nevertheless, these annual pauses can reorient us in a positive way if we use our failures as fuel for greater success.

For example, last year during faculty workshops leading up to the start of school (I’m a middle and high school teacher), a colleague and I decided to go for a walk during our lunch break each day.  We lamented that our healthy summer living would be quickly replaced by the frenetic schedule of the school year and our summer habits of regular exercise would fade away leaving us tired and depressed.    We resolved to walk together once a week after school.  Plenty of reasons presented themselves every week to cancel the walk but we resolved to prioritize that small bit of exercise (and friendship) together.  This was the baby step that kept me in the habit each week and soon I added another day of exercise on my own.  Not long after a friend told me about an opportunity for a family gym membership that was affordable and a good way for our kids to burn off energy together.   By the time school began this year I smiled as I didn’t have to complain to my colleague about the impending physical atrophy and stress.  Instead I felt terrific knowing I had been able to develop a much healthier balance in my life and knew I could take care of myself and keep up at work and home.

Like our bodies, our spiritual lives have a tremendous ability to bounce back with a little determination and perseverance.  It’s tempting to look back with nostalgia at our previous achievements and make excuses for our current atrophy.  Instead, find a friend and make a small, achievable goal to reinvigorate your spiritual life.  Over the course of the year, similar to exercise, it will begin to bear greater and greater fruit, spurring you on to take more steps toward spiritual health and endurance.  What sometimes begins as feeling laborious and painful eventually becomes something that feels so good you look forward to it and find ways to increase it.

Begin with the basics – go to Mass every Sunday.  No excuses.  (Unless you are seriously ill of course).  My kids and I have a tradition of getting doughnuts afterward to celebrate Sunday.  As they’ve gotten older doughnuts are sometimes replaced with McDonald’s breakfast or some kind of mocha latte fun coffee drink.  Whatever the treat, find a way to keep the celebration of Christ at Mass going afterward.

Pray, every day.  Start with saying thank you.  Praise God and consider His goodness and greatness.  Next, be honest with God about the day ahead and the help you will need to radiate Christ in the situations you will be in. Finally, intercede for others.  Consider the needs of those around you, especially your family and people at work.  Ask God for his help.  Decide ahead of time when this conversation with God will take place.  Know yourself and be realistic.  For instance, as much as I wish I could end my day with prayer, as soon as I remotely begin to relax I immediately fall asleep.  I’ve considered a midday prayer but I get distracted by everything in the day.  However, when my kids were infants and toddlers, midday during their nap time was the only chance I had for scheduled time with God.  Now that my kids are older and I am back at work, I choose morning to pray, when my mind is clear and I can enjoy a cup of coffee with the Lord.  Once I got into this habit it was so fruitful I wanted more time with the Lord but struggled to get up earlier.  Then, when day light savings time began I used the opportunity to get up at what my body felt was the usual time but actually afforded me an entire hour.

Next steps, read a spiritual book about the faith.  Unlike fiction or pop culture, spiritual books are best read a few pages at a time and may take a year or more to complete.  A good book about the faith should inspire a movement of love and reflection in your heart and spur contemplation.  Don’t get caught up in the progress of pages as much as the progress of personal transformation.

Praying with Scripture is always a great idea.  You could read through a book of the bible, especially the Gospels, a chapter or so at a time.  You could also read the daily readings for the Mass and reflect on the Gospel of the day.  You can go to usccb.org and click on the calendar on the right hand side of the page to see the readings for the day.  You could pray with the psalms or even pray the Liturgy of the Hours.

Finally, if possible, try to add 5 minutes of silence with the Lord into your day.  Lots of distractions will fill your mind but gently push them away and try to make 5 minutes of space for being in the presence of the Lord and listening.  Personally, I like to end prayer with 5 minutes of silence.  I set a timer on my phone so I don’t have to check the clock.  Other times, spiritual reading moves my heart and I pause then and there for 5 minutes of silence with the Lord.

Like building any new habit, you will have to make your own prudential decisions about what merits exceptions and the slippery slope of letting other things edge out your time with God.  I have experienced both.  For instance, when I would pray during my kids’ nap time I often felt pulled by the long list of things that needed to get done.  I could easily excuse skipping prayer for doing dishes or cleaning up by considering my work as prayer.  Although our work is prayerful if offered to God, actual time alone with the Lord is irreplaceable and a higher priority.  On the other hand, I have also encountered situations where I was up all night with sick kids or unavoidable extra work at my job or in works of mercy that presented themselves.  On those mornings I sometimes have to cut into my prayer time to get the necessary sleep I know I need to function for the Lord the next day.  I try to be prayerfully prudent though to make sure I’m not letting other things come before prayer and try to say no to things that would interfere.  Even on mornings I get a little extra sleep I make sure I still retain some time for prayer and not skip it altogether.

Don’t be afraid to adjust your new year’s resolutions to your current state in life.  Things change from year to year, making Advent a perfect time to consider where you are now and what your next steps should be. Some times in life are very peaceful and you can plan structured times for prayer and methodically work on building needed virtues.  Other times you may feel like you are in survival mode and leaning on the Lord takes a different form for the time being as you are in the trenches together.   Whatever you decide, make the decision with Christ and ask the Holy Spirit to guide you.  Reach out to fellow Christians and accept the support of others and of grace.  In this way, whenever Christ comes, He will find you ready – reaching for him.

Consider:

  • Ask the Holy Spirit to show you where you need to grow.
    • How might you grow deeper in prayer?
    • How might you develop more virtuous habits?
    • How might you be more Christ-like toward others?
  • Consider past spiritual resolutions you have made. How have they born fruit in your life?  Reflect on the effort it took to begin them and how they are now simply a norm.
  • Where do you need more balance? What undermines higher priorities? How might you put boundaries on those things to keep your priorities better aligned?

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Make one prayer resolution.  Decide when, how, and what you will do to deepen your prayer life.
  • Make one virtue resolution. Identify one way you would like to better imitate Christ and make a daily plan to grow in that virtue.
  • Make one detachment resolution. Choose one vice or sin to overcome.  Ask others to keep you accountable about it, pray daily for grace to overcome it, and practice the opposite virtue.

Related Posts:

Appreciating the Advent of Christ…Gospel meditation for Luke 21:25-28, 34-36

 

~ Written by Angela Lambert © 2016

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Looking for a Savior

by Angela Lambert

 

Jesus and Pilate

November 13th, 2016; 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

Gospel Luke 21:5-19

While some people were speaking about how the temple was adorned with costly stones and votive offerings, Jesus said, “All that you see here– the days will come when there will not be left a stone upon another stone that will not be thrown down.” Then they asked him, “Teacher, when will this happen? And what sign will there be when all these things are about to happen?” He answered, “See that you not be deceived, for many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he,’ and ‘The time has come.’ Do not follow them! When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for such things must happen first, but it will not immediately be the end.” Then he said to them, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be powerful earthquakes, famines, and plagues from place to place; and awesome sights and mighty signs will come from the sky. “Before all this happens, however, they will seize and persecute you, they will hand you over to the synagogues and to prisons, and they will have you led before kings and governors because of my name. It will lead to your giving testimony. Remember, you are not to prepare your defense beforehand, for I myself shall give you a wisdom in speaking that all your adversaries will be powerless to resist or refute.  You will even be handed over by parents, brothers, relatives, and friends, and they will put some of you to death.  You will be hated by all because of my name, but not a hair on your head will be destroyed. By your perseverance you will secure your lives.”

Meditation Reflection:

Oftentimes we imagine being a Christian means merely letting Jesus smooth out the rough edges of our lives to make it happier and more beautiful.  The Jews made this mistake by imagining that in fulfilling the law and the prophets the Messiah would simply restore the Davidic Kingdom to its former earthly glory.  To be fair, the Incarnation of the Son of God liberated us at an unimaginable level. God’s merciful love exceeds anything we have experienced or could expect.  He also exceeds all expectations of philosophy and the wisdom of the Greeks.  The Jews experienced a taste of God’s powerful action and the Greeks touched on the heights of God’s wisdom.  Jesus, the power and wisdom of God, makes both of these accessible to all and redirects our efforts toward an everlasting destination.

Christ counsels us to view this life as a pilgrimage and a battle.  We develop our faith, hope, and love, on earth which will bring a deep sense of joy but will never create an earthly utopia.  If we hope to find fullness here we will be sorely disappointed.  Just look at the reactions of the people to the current election.  Although presidents have a great deal of power, they are not omnipotent.  Moreover, their policies certainly affect our daily lives but the transformation of heart and development of culture is something only Christ can do through His grace and His followers.  Both candidates have significant flaws and neither are our savior.  The presidential election can never be the beginning of building a utopia or the end of the world, depending on your perspective.  Our reaction ought to be proportionate – working diligently for the common good within our democratic system but relying on Christ alone for the salvation of souls and the spiritual elevation of our country.  We can find relative happiness here, but for our joys to be lasting we need to direct them toward their true end – the heavenly kingdom.

Christ promises to equip us for both the physical and the mental battle.  As long as we live in the tension of sin and its effects, we will have to struggle against ourselves and others who oppose Christ’s kingdom, even family and friends.  Nevertheless, Jesus, the Wisdom of God, provides the supernatural insights to answer the world’s mistaken propaganda or the pressures applied by those we care about.  He also strengthens His disciples with supernatural perseverance to endure the physical suffering or possible martyrdom inflicted by worldly combatants.

As Catholics, we too enjoy beautiful churches that express the glory of God. Rightly so, we adorn them with gorgeous art, precious metals, and the finest materials.  We do this as an act of worship, as demonstrating concretely to ourselves and the world the value of God and of His sacrificial love.  Christian churches are an icon, a sign pointing to a heavenly kingdom much more enduring.  The magnificence of the sight of God will make all earthly analogies disappear. We ought to enjoy earthly icons of beauty, goodness, and truth in churches, nature, and most importantly in persons.  At the same time, we need to daily recall to where they point and adjust our expectations and priorities accordingly.   We should still aim for greatness, justice, and perfection, but remember that it will come to fulfillment in the eternal kingdom where Christ reigns victorious.

Consider:

  • At the end of your life, what do you hope will endure from it afterward? Consider the lives you have and might still change, the love with which you imbue the world, the truths you fought to defend, the family relationships you have built.
  • Imagine your life from the perspective of entering heaven. Though all is certainly a grace, what would you be proud of?  What would you regret? How might you live each day with more eternal purpose and significance?

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Begin each day by surrendering it to the Lord.  Look for three opportunities each day to build the kingdom of God – by acts of mercy, service, defending truth, helping someone heal or find justice, sharing the good news of Christ, offering up personal disappointments or suffering as a sacrifice… At the end of the day write down the things that built the kingdom of God.  Reflect on any missed opportunities and pray for the grace to act on them tomorrow.

Previous Related Posts:

~ Written by Angela Lambert © 2016

* To receive these weekly posts automatically in your email just click the “follow” tab in the bottom right hand corner and enter your email address.

 

Keeping Things in Perspective

by Angela Lambert

perspective

November 6th, 2016; 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time

Gospel Luke 20:27-38

 Some Sadducees, those who deny that there is a resurrection, came forward and put this question to Jesus, saying, “Teacher, Moses wrote for us, If someone’s brother dies leaving a wife but no child, his brother must take the wife and raise up descendants for his brother. Now there were seven brothers; the first married a woman but died childless. Then the second and the third married her, and likewise all the seven died childless. Finally the woman also died. Now at the resurrection whose wife will that woman be? For all seven had been married to her.” Jesus said to them, “The children of this age marry and remarry; but those who are deemed worthy to attain to the coming age and to the resurrection of the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage. They can no longer die, for they are like angels; and they are the children of God because they are the ones who will rise. That the dead will rise even Moses made known in the passage about the bush, when he called out ‘Lord,’ the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob; and he is not God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive.”

Meditation Reflection:

As Christians, we profess a belief in life eternal with Christ in Heaven, yet we can sometimes operate in our daily lives forgetful of this mystery.  Like the Sadducees we ask Christ silly questions about heaven.  When we attach ourselves too much to earthly life, we fall into the trap of imagining heaven as merely an extension of the present but with a few more perks.

Jesus reminds us of the incomparable difference between our journey to God here and union with God there.  As St. Paul put it, “Eye has not seen and ear has not heard what God has ready for those who love Him” (I Corinthians 2:9).  Even the good things we experience here are merely a prelude to heaven.  Here we experience a taste, there we will enjoy the feast.

Jesus proposes to the Sadducees that contemplating the life of the angels can provide some insight into this mystery.  Like humans, angels are persons with rational intellects, free will, and the ability to love.  Unlike humans they do not have bodies, are neither male nor female, and do not procreate.  Each angel was individually created by God and is completely unique, so much so that some have compared it to being like different species from one another.  Because they live in eternity, their choices are permanent.  When God created them they each had the choice to either accept or reject God’s will for their life and His mission for them.  Some said yes to God’s will and others rejected it.  Those who rejected God’s will we call the fallen angels or demons.  Human persons have more than one moment to choose or reject God, but that space of time does have limits.  For us it ends when we die; at which moment our choice becomes permanent.

Consequently, the space of time in which we live on earth really is only a preparation for eternal life.  During this short period, we either choose to grow our love for God or develop a disdain for Him.  Only during our earthly lifespan can we develop and increase our capacity for God.  At the moment of death the opportunity for change ends.

In addition, it’s our chance to aid others in their chance of heaven, even in its most basic form – the beginning of life itself.  Whereas God created all of the angels at once, He creates human persons over a course of time and includes them in His work.  As a result, openness to life means openness to God’s creation of persons who will live eternally.  Those called to spiritual motherhood or fatherhood also contribute to this mystery as they minister to the birth and development of the child’s love for God which is necessary for true life.

The Sadducees’ challenge to Christ with the hypothetical situation of a woman married seven times, merely exposed their ignorance of God.  On earth marriage develops our capacity for love, self-gift, and sacrifice.  It brings new life into the world as well as caring for the development of each family member.  Marriage itself is not needed in heaven because no new life will be born there.  It is the eternal life of those who already exist.  Moreover, love will be perfected as we enjoy the perfect love of God and one another. The relationship of love experienced in marriage will remain a relationship of love in heaven.  However, the title of husband or wife will be eclipsed by the fullness of the title son or daughter of God and sister and brother in Christ.

As the liturgical year comes to a close (Advent marks the beginning of the “New Year” in the Church), we contemplate the end times and remember that this experience of earthly life will eventually come to an end.  We all get bogged down in our daily routine and anxious over matters that, if we considered our heavenly destination, shouldn’t really weigh us down.  Moreover, we could make better use of our limited time if we consider things from an eternal perspective.  This life is a preparation and an opportunity to participate in God’s work of spreading His kingdom.  The more souls that come to accept His will and love on earth, the more that will join the wedding feast of love in Heaven for eternity.

Consider:

  • How does a heavenly perspective change your earthly perspective?
  • When feeling discouraged, remember that this life is a journey not the destination. Endless, secure happiness cannot be found here but the work to attain it in heaven can.
  • Through prayer, identify one area where you struggle to accept God’s will over your own.
  • Each angel has a mission from God. You also have a mission.  How is God calling you to serve?
  • Consider first God’s vocational calling:
    • Is it to work for the salvation of your spouse through love and sacrifice and to possibly grow the human family by being open to life and to raising children in knowledge and love of the Lord?
    • Is it to administer the sacraments as a priest to bring eternal life to spiritual children?
    • Is it to spend your life in prayer and sacrifice for souls as a religious sister or brother?
    • Is it to devote your time and energy to God in a unique way as a single person, ready to do His will at every moment?
  • Consider next God’s occupational calling: How do you grow your love for God and develop it in others through your work?
    • Consider your special apostolate. Does God include you in His work of physical or emotional healing, protecting, providing, instruction of souls, encouragement, etc.?
    • How can you incorporate a heavenly perspective into your daily work? How do your daily activities and duties provide opportunities to detach from selfishness and develop greater love and compassion?  How might you help others to heaven through your work?

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Begin each day by writing down the tasks, challenges, and opportunities you anticipate that day.  Next to each, write one way it can be directed toward helping yourself and others to heaven.  For example, will it grow a virtue or minimize a vice if tackled with the help of grace?  Is it an opportunity to help others journey to God – either by giving them physical life, sustaining their life, healing, protecting, or developing an aspect of their soul?
  • Identify where your will is most at odds with God’s and do one thing each day to offset it. It could be a refusal or fear to do something God asks of you or an unwillingness to let go of something and trust God in the situation.
  • Pray the Serenity Prayer or the Suscipe of St. Ignatius each day. Click here for a pdf of the two prayrs: serenity-and-suscipe-prayers.

Related Posts:

Real Realism

The Glorious Reign of Christ Our King

The Sight of God… Gospel Meditation for the Feast of All Saints

~ Written by Angela Lambert © 2016

* To receive these weekly posts automatically in your email just click the “follow” tab in the bottom right hand corner and enter your email address.