Well, 2017 is in its last few weeks; pretty soon, we will be ringing in the new year! It’s a time for us to start new. We make vows to go to the gym more, eat better, stay organized, and accomplish career or school goals.
As Catholics, it’s important to keep spiritual goals at the top of our list. While it’s true that every day is a day to start over, we have time now to pray over how God is calling us to grow spiritually in 2018.
Everyone is going to have their own list because everyone’s journey to heaven is different. God speaks to us in different ways, we connect with some prayers and saints more than others, and have prayer lives in accordance to our schedules and vocations.
With that said, here are some ideas for improving our spiritual lives in 2018.
I’m going to admit this here and now: Until I got a 2017 liturgical calendar last year for Christmas, I had no idea that almost every day, a saint is recognized in the Church! I knew Catholics love to celebrate and honor the saints, but seeing at least one saint’s name on the calendar almost every day showed me I didn’t know as much as I thought I did. Given this, you can take time in 2018 to learn more about the saints. Whether it is just a fact about the saint of the day, learn about one saint per week, or read a book about a saint every month, saints are wonderful role models for how we should live as Catholics. We are not meant to be them, but we can be inspired by them and of course, ask them to pray for us! They can definitely help us while we are on our earthly pilgrimage.
As we know, the Church is the most charitable organization in the world! There are so many ways to get involved with it: donating money, volunteering at a homeless shelter or soup kitchen, taking missionary trips, or donating clothing and food, the options are endless. You can check out the opportunities your parish and town have to offer, or even create a charity project at school or in your youth group/young adult ministry. Don’t be afraid of creativity, but don’t lose sight of the end goal: serving others in Jesus’ name.
If you are a bookworm like me, this one is for you. If you don’t read a lot, this could be a cool new challenge for you for 2018. Hey, you can knock out two birds with one stone: reading and improving your relationship with Jesus. There are a lot of topics: saints, or certain topics in theology. You can also check out Chastity is for Lovers*, by Arleen Spenceley, and The Catholic Hipster Handbook* by Tommy Tighe, both of which I read myself and LOVED! Just Google search Catholic books and I am sure you will find something you are interested in reading.
May is the month of the Holy Rosary, but you don’t have to wait until May to do the rosary challenge: praying the rosary every day for a month. You may even decide to keep praying it every day after the challenge is over. In fact, did you know you can gain a plenary indulgence from praying the rosary in a church, or publicly in a group in any setting? I sometimes see people praying it during Mass. I have done it myself and heart feels even more open when I am about to receive Christ in the Eucharist. It is a great way to take a journey through Jesus’s birth, ministry, death, and resurrection. However, if you’re going to pray it during Mass, just be sure it doesn’t distract you from the Mass. If you’re not the best multi-tasker, then this may not be for you. It’s important to respect the sacredness of Mass and to really give it our full attention. Another alternative is to arrive at church early and pray it before Mass begins. Some popes encouraged it, other’s not so much. So do so at your own discretion.
If you go to confession frequently, keep it up! If you don’t, Jesus is waiting for you. Confession may seem scary, especially if it has been several years since you have last gone. But honestly, the grace you receive, not to mention, getting some dirt off your chest, makes you feel brand new and literally heals a tainted relationship with God. While no amount of sin can make God love you less, it does shake up our relationship with him. Not only is it your chance to apologize and make amends with Him, but God wants us to come back to Him, like in the prodigal son. God’s mercy is infinite, and while it doesn’t give us an excuse to sin, He is always waiting for you to go back to Him.
There are so many devotionals out there. Reading a daily one is a great way to start your morning off with Jesus. If you can’t buy one, there are so many ministries that can email you a daily reading and reflection. An alternative is to read the daily Mass readings and reflection through the Laudate app.
I get that it can be difficult to go to Mass every day. But, if you are free to go to the early morning or noon Mass during the week, I highly encourage you to go! I hear it is a great way to spend more time and encounter Jesus during the week. While there is no substitute for the Eucharist, if you cannot make it, then I absolutely encourage you to read the daily readings like I mentioned above.
Obviously trying to “shove it down someone’s throat” is a major no-no. However, simple things like slipping in Sunday’s homily into a conversation with a friend that he/she would appreciate, or telling someone you will pray for them can actually be great ways to plant seeds. Another option is to invite your family and friends to Mass. Remember though that you cannot force someone to go. Just ask and if they decline, say a prayer for them and perhaps try again in the future. Until then, evangelize with your life by living out the faith! Never deny Christ, but remember too that actions speak louder than words. Don’t live your faith for show, but certainly don’t be ashamed to live it out.
Lectio Divina (studying the Bible) is my absolute favorite form of prayer. In general, I love to read. When I read my Bible, I love to bring out my highlighters and prayer journal. Read the passage, interpret it, think of how it applies to your life and how you can carry it out, and then pray about it! You don’t have to spend hours a day with it either. It’s about quality time with God, not how much you read. You can read one parable or section from a chapter and get so much about of it. At the same time, reading four chapters at once doesn’t necessarily mean it was a good Bible study. Focus on talking to God and keeping your mind and ears open to what He has to say. It’s amazing how He can speak to you through scripture.
This may sound silly, but even I have found myself not being totally sincere when I pray to God. Maybe I am having doubts about my faith and don’t want to admit it. Or, maybe there’s something within myself that I need to change but don’t want Him to see it.
There are a few problems with trying to hide from God. One is that He already knows you. He knows every problem/struggle, all your thoughts, fears, and anxieties, and what you are holding back from Him. Remember that nothing you say can make Him love you less. So spill whatever is on your heart. The other problem is that it does no good to not bring your thoughts forward to Him. Like I said, He already knows, but He still wants to hear it from you. It’s like in life how it’s worse to not confront problems—running away from them is always a horrible idea. Same with not being honest with God. You can’t fix it unless you bring it to Him. Whether you have an issue with yourself or with your faith, there is nothing God cannot fix (in His way, of course). So, don’t hold back, friends. And, to be honest, the more open you are with Him, the better your relationship with Him will be!
Photo credit: Roxanne Desgagnés / Unsplash
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