We can always benefit from exchanging bad habits for good habits, no matter when we begin. And any time in Advent is a great time to do so. With the beginning of each Advent, we kick off a new liturgical year. Many people make “New Year’s Resolutions” at the beginning of the calendar year. We Catholics might want to consider making our “New Liturgical Year’s Resolutions” at or near the beginning of the new liturgical year.
Cooperating With Grace to Dump Bad Habits and Build Good Habits
After all, we likely have heard about the Four Last Things during the ending weeks of the past liturgical year. At least the Mass readings have led us that way, to consider our ultimate death, judgment, heaven and hell. None of us is getting out of here alive. When we do pass from this life, we’ll receive a particular judgment at our death. Our patterns of bad habits and good habits will come into play then. Will we go to heaven (perhaps by way of purgatory) or to hell?
Many great saints have shared their visions of hell with us. Jesus tells us in the Gospels that the goats will be separated from the sheep (Mt 25:31-46), and that the gate to heaven is narrow and the road to life constricted (Mt. 7:14). So, as we wrap up one year and begin another, we might want to pray about how we can cooperate more fully with God’s grace in our lives.
If We Knew Today Were to Be Our Last Day
As St. Augustine told us, God created us without us, but He won’t save us without us. God wants our cooperation with Him and the graces He gives us. And isn’t it something to consider, that some great saints, and other very holy people have had serious concerns about making the final cut, as it were? These were people who lived lives characterized by good habits (virtues) instead of bad habits (sin). I recall reading an article on Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI about his reflections on growing older and getting closer to his own particular judgment. Here is a very holy man, who was the Vicar of Christ, reflecting on how he was concerned with his own particular judgment.
That ought to make us all pause and spend some time in front of the Blessed Sacrament. If we reflect prayerfully on the true state of our soul, in light of our certain death, what might we see? Or, in the vernacular, if the beer truck were to run over us today, would we be ready to meet our maker?
With the End in Mind, Exchange Bad Habits for Good Habits
Thus, in the Rule of St. Benedict we are told, “Day by day remind yourself that you are going to die.” (RB 4:47) To some that might sound morbid, but it really is quite the opposite. If we bear in mind that we won’t be here forever, and that we don’t know the day or the hour, might we be more attentive to how we’re living right here, right now, in the sacrament of the present moment? Are there some bad habits we need to exchange for some good habits, starting now? God made us to join Him forever in eternal beatitude. Doing what we can to help others achieve that end, and living so we might do so as well, are or should be of utmost priority. The most likes on Facebook, the biggest list of LinkedIn contacts, the biggest bank account or the most toys are not important. Our relationships with God, and with our brothers and sisters in and through God, are.
Where to Start as We Begin a New Year
Most of us probably can identify at least one or two habitual sins we struggle with. These are the sins that seem to come up in just about every routine Confession we make. Maybe it’s time to talk with our confessor or spiritual director about ways to break the chains that keep us imprisoned in these sinful habits. Start the new year with renewed zeal and focus on our interior life. There likely are some very practical steps we can begin to take in order exchange a bad habit for a virtuous habit instead.
Will it be easy? In some cases, maybe not, but we need to remember that, with God, nothing is impossible. (Lk 1:37) Too often, we (and I think this is more a problem for men than for women) just jump into the fray on our own. We have great intentions, but that’s not good enough. We need to add prayer, and in some cases fasting. Above all, we must learn to lean on God. He is our Rock, our Fortress, our Refuge. Let’s ask Him for the grace and strength to begin changing at least one of our sinful habits during this Advent and the year to come.
Prayer and Sacraments
If we are to rely on God, how solid is our relationship with Him? In our quest to quell bad habits and create or strengthen good habits, we need to spend time in prayer. Lectio Divina—prayer with Scripture–will change our lives if we make a routine commitment to it, and stick with it. If we’re not praying daily with Scripture, can we begin with just 10 or 15 minutes a day? If we’re already successfully praying for 10 or 15 minutes daily, can we add five minutes?
God wants to help us grow in our virtues. He gives us the graces to do so through the Sacraments. It goes with saying that we need to attend Mass on Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation. But we also might consider attending Mass an additional day or two a week during Advent, and receiving Holy Communion as long as we’re in a state of grace, without unconfessed mortal sins.
And Confession, the Sacrament of Penance or Reconciliation, showers down abundant graces on us when we partake of it. If we are not already making a monthly Confession, it would be good to get into the routine of doing so at least monthly. If we’re already going to Confession monthly, consider increasing the frequency.
Pray for God’s Guidance in Your Quest for Holiness
In all these matters, pray about what God is showing you regarding the areas you might want to improve. Discuss your plan with your confessor and/or your director. Don’t overextend yourself. Start conservatively, and build on the momentum you achieve with God’s grace. He wants us to respond faithfully to His grace, and make some permanent changes that bring us closer to Him, in the middle of our everyday lives. Even if we’ve let Advent slip by us, there’s no better time to make some new beginnings–let’s start by exchanging a bad habit or two for good habits–beginning now.