The holidays can be a blessing and a curse.
On the one hand, the beautiful music and liturgy, profound homilies and reflections serve to inspire in us a sense of wonder and amazement at the greatness of our Lord. On the other, the seemingly unavoidable stress and anxiety that comes with hosting parties, seeing family, long lines, and gift giving can have us wishing the season were already over.
One of the hardest things about the holidays is that everyone is thrown out of routine. This is most likely why every January 1st, we are so excited to start out on our goals of organization and discipline, restarting our routines for the new year.This year, when you set up that clean slate and start penciling in goals, don’t forget to hit these important areas: mental, physical, emotional, and especially spiritual goals. In order for us to be truly healthy and holy in the new year, we must set goals for our whole person - not just our physical health.
Spiritual reflection and goal-setting is crucial if you want to experience spiritual growth in the coming year. By reflecting on where we have come from and where we want to go, our goals become more tangible, more reachable, and the path for growth materializes. With that in mind, here are 7 tips for growing spiritually in 2018.
1. Make mass a priority
Perhaps the best thing you can do to grow spiritually in 2018 is make a commitment to attending mass every Sunday and Holy Day of Obligation. The grace that the faithful receive from the celebration of the Eucharist is paramount, as it is the source and summit of the Catholic faith. Keeping Sunday sacred is not limited to attending mass. It also includes using the day to rest from all work and be re-created in the image of God.
2. Schedule prayer time
Just like you won’t go to the gym or the dentist if it is not scheduled into your calendar - you most likely will not sit down to pray if the time is not blocked off. Prayer is to our souls, as breath is to our bodies. We need it! A routine of prayer is a habit that requires practice and consistency. Begin by picking a time, a place, and length for your prayer. For example, tell yourself: “I’ll pray at 6:30AM, first thing after I wake up, on my knees right beside my bed, for 5 minutes each day.” Once this becomes a routine, gradually increase the amount of time you spend in prayer.
3. Join a community
When beginning a new habit or lifestyle, it is so important to have support. Community provides both accountability and encouragement. It helps us know that we are not alone in our endeavors and that others are experiencing the same things as us. Don’t know where to begin? Start at your local parish. Inquire about Bible studies, weekly prayer groups, continued formation classes, or ask if you can sit in on the RCIA class.
4. Read Sacred Scripture
Hopefully you know where your Bible is, but if not, find it, dust it off, and break it open. So many hesitate to begin reading Sacred Scripture because it seems huge and intimidating, and they don’t know where to start. If you have never read Sacred Scripture before, begin with the Gospel of Mark and read one chapter a day. Listen and pay attention for what sticks out to you. Often, that little tug in our heart is the Holy Spirit prompting us to dive deeper into that particular verse or word.
If you have already read through the Gospels, choose another scripture study plan - highlighting one of the prophetic books, the wisdom literature, or the Psalms.
5. Set a plan for holy reading
Holy reading, or spiritual reading, is a vital discipline in Christian life. Good spiritual reading, including the writings of the saints and church fathers, has been praised by many saints throughout history as a excellent means of prayer and meditation. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, holy reading can move our heart, mind, and will toward Jesus. Especially during difficult times, in regard to spiritual reading, St. Padre Pio said,
“Help yourself during this troubled period by reading holy books. This reading provides excellent food for the soul and conduces to great progress along the path of perfection. By no means is it inferior to what we obtain through prayer and holy meditation. In prayer and meditation it is ourselves who speak to the Lord, while in holy reading it is God who speaks to us. Before beginning to read, raise your mind to the Lord and implore Him to guide your mind Himself, to speak to your heart and move your will.”
6. Frequent the sacrament of confession
Catholics are required to make a good confession at least once a year, but once a year is the bare minimum, not the recommended amount! Did you know that by frequently making a good confession, you will be able to hear the Lord more in prayer? Sin (especially mortal sin) keeps us from hearing God fully in prayer, because it turns our hearts away from God’s love. Confession rights our relationship with God and turns our heart back to him.
7. Begin a journal
Journaling is an excellent way to get some perspective. Journals can be used in many different ways for spiritual growth. You can maintain a list of things you have prayed for, and how you have seen the Lord answer those prayers. You can make a daily gratitude list, or write a short entry reflecting on the blessings and trials of the day. Find a style of journaling that helps you communicate with the Lord and become consistent in that practice.
The closing of the old year, and the beginning of a new one provides the perfect opportunity for beginning a plan to strengthen our personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Spiritual growth is perhaps the most important type of growth to focus on in the new year, because it is ultimately the only thing we can take with us into eternity. This year when you are writing out your goals, remember to prioritize your relationship with Christ. It is through Him that we will find lasting peace and joy in the new year, and the strength to deal with the anxieties and challenges of daily life.
“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)