2018 will finally be the year of working out, losing weight, and sleeping better, according to just about every article written this time of year.
At the start of every January, millions make heartfelt pledges to get rid of old habits, refine daily practices, or start an entirely new regimen of health, fitness, or prayer. These can all be good things when made with the best of intentions. But what makes New Year’s resolutions the butt of jokes is the lack of commitment to them—their tendency to fade away by February 1.
While we would never dissuade the betterment of oneself spiritually or physically at any point, one might suggest that the timing of these resolutions is askew. For Latin Catholics, the liturgical new year starts on the First Sunday of Advent, some 4 weeks before January 1.
And the Christmas celebrations – full of the noble feasts and enjoyment worthy of the season – roll through the twelve days of Christmas into Epiphany, and continue in a lesser sense through Candlemas in February.
So is this, for us, really the best time to commit to a better diet, increase our exercise, or go to bed early? No, let us rejoice without guilt from friends and the media that we need to take life-changing actions because of a calendar page.
At the same time, let us keep an eye on Lent’s quick approach and prepare for the resolutions to be made then. Yes, this seems in contradiction. The days after Christmas seem to be in direct opposition to even mentioning Lent, much less preparing for it. But didn’t Christ Himself always have the Cross before His eyes?
Let us suggest then, 6 simple habits and preparations to be made in each week leading to Ash Wednesday. Each week, add the new suggestion while continuing the prior - all can be done without contradiction to the joyous spirit of the season.
Take just 5 minutes each Sunday, open the Bible or collection of sermons, and find a passage to reflect on which corresponds to the day. This week’s feast of the Holy Family is rich for reflection. The Gospel is taken from Luke 2:42-52, dealing with the loss of Our Lord in the Temple. On the topic of Jesus and the doctors in the temple, one could read from the Psalms, 118:97-104. Or on the moral beauties of a united family, Exod. 20:12, Deut. 5:16; 26:16, Proverbs 17:6; 23:22-25; 30:17; 31:10-31.
Beyond the precept of the Church that requires us to give of our fruits, generosity is more than money. Sometimes the greater generosity is that of time. This week, make one act of generous time that you ordinarily would not do. For husbands and fathers, perhaps go into work early, so you can leave a bit early in order to spend extra time with children. For mothers, perhaps it’s an unsolicited offer to help another mother watch her children for the afternoon or simply 15 minutes of meditation during the week in front of the Blessed Sacrament.
This Third Sunday after Epiphany also coincides with the feast of St. Agnes, who is venerated for her purity. But purity can go beyond the mandates of the 6th and 9th commandment. Let us also reflect on our intentions during this week before we take an action – is this task, conversation, or recreation I am about to undertake done for the greater glory of God, or is it self-serving?
In Lamentations, and throughout scripture, the preference for us to be silent in prayer and meditation is a recurring theme; “It is good to wait with silence for the salvation of God” (Lam. 3:26) This week, make an effort once a day to allow another to speak, or to refrain from an idle comment. You may be surprised at the frequency this happens. St. Joseph is also a shining example throughout the Christmas gospels: be silent, allowing others to shine more than you.
This week make it a practice to find ordinary things throughout the day to be grateful for. It could be gratitude to another, say a coworker for a task they perform daily and it has become so routine we don’t offer anything beyond the mumbled “thanks.” Or it could be a small prayer of thanksgiving to God for the gifts of health, family, a Catholic education for your children, or stable employment. And as we come closer this Sexagesima Sunday to Lent, let us be especially grateful to Our Lord and his priests for the unbound mercy in the confessional.
In churches and priories, the practice of saying the Angelus is common. In homes and our daily lives, it is less so. On this Quinquagesima Sunday, also the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, let us fall into the good habit of reciting the Angelus. At first, we can make it a habit to say it just once a day – maybe after we wake with our morning prayers. Then, add it to your lunchtime and dinner routine, so along with the Church, you can unite yourself to Our Blessed Mother three times each day.
Many experts agree that habits are made or broken within 6 weeks. Let us use these 6 weeks before Lent to rejoice in the mystery of the Incarnation, and prepare in a small way for the mortifications and penances of Lent. With this spiritual preparation, our Lenten resolutions – the true time for resolutions – can be achieved more successfully than any temporal New Year’s resolution could be.