With the ending of the Christmas holiday, many people begin focusing on making changes for the New Year — the calendar New Year that is. Lately, however, I have been coming face to face with the glorious reality that, for Catholics, the New Year began way back in December with the First Sunday of Advent. Some of us have “Americanized” our Christian holidays to such an extent that we forget the significance of what it means to be a seasonal people, a Church that moves through the ebb and flow of the Liturgical Year.
As I contemplate my own version of New Year’s resolutions, I am painfully aware that I continue to struggle with sinful habits that hamper my walk with the Lord. But thanks be to God that the path of salvation has been mapped out for me by the triumphal celebrations of the birth and resurrection of the Lord and the marvelous days of truth that sing out in Ordinary Time. It is my connection to the seasons of the Church year that continue to inform my journey of faith and lead me from the dark winters of my life into the dawning light we experience as believers in Christ.
It’s All About the Incarnation
It is fitting that Advent begins when the daylight is declining and the harshness of winter approaches. It is a beautiful reminder that conversion comes out of struggle and surrender, that transformation is a product of the divine discipline of a loving God in the midst of a fallen world. It forces us into a mode of expectancy, as we long for Christ to enter into our lives and dispel the darkness with the light of his love.
As I “work out [my] salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12), I see that my journey of transformation is an ongoing cycle of being and becoming, of stripping off the worldly clothes I wear so that each day I may put on the garments of Christ. As the story of the life of Jesus unfolds once more in the new Church Year, I reconnect with the One who took on flesh so that he could be the perfect teacher of righteousness, the perfect friend of sinners, and the perfect substitute for our sins. Only our incarnational Savior — fully God and fully man — could bring salvation to a broken and sinful world.
Resolutions and True Transformation
Every year, following the over-indulgence of the holidays, I restart my ongoing battle with fitness and losing weight. I resolve to be a better husband and father, to curb my arrogance and my anger, and to be more ambitious in my writing. Most of all, I vow to read my bible more often, dive more deeply into daily prayer, and become more involved in my faith. Of late, I have grown more successful in working out these resolutions through my connection to the seasons of the Church Year.
Rather than setting unattainable goals for myself, I have learned that growth is an ongoing experience of “give and take” — or more specifically, giving up and taking in. In living out my faith in the Liturgical Year I have deepened my relationship with the One who walked our way so that he could be our Way. I see each day as an opportunity to let go of past sins and draw closer to my Lord through the Liturgy of the Word as I connect the entirety of the Scriptures to his life of love.
I see that, like the Israelites, I have and will continue to stumble along the road of salvation until I reach the Promised Land. I release the fear, guilt, and shame of my sins to God’s divine discipline and allow the prophetic word to wash over me and lead me to confession, absolution, and restoration. I join in the perpetual sacrifice of bread and wine offered on the altar so that I may receive the true food that nourishes and sustains my soul.
I walk away from all that is not of God, so that I may come as a little child into the Kingdom and go forth to live out Christ’s calling in my relationships with those around me. I surrender to the cross, fall down in awe before the vision of heaven, and seek to run the race that captures the glorious prize.
Struggles, Salvation, and the Death of Old Habits
The lack of light and sleep that is a normal part of my third-shift work life, especially during the winter months, often brings me to lonely places where I struggle to stay connected to the truth of what it means to be a child of God living out the cycle of rebirth revealed in the liturgical year. I fall into sin more easily and find it harder to navigate the narrow path of salvation. At times I feel out of control and other times fearful and alone. My resolutions become daily chores done in guilt rather than joyful experiences lived out in faith.
My inner madness and broken resolutions could easily overwhelm me were it not for the promises that whisper their truth to me through the Scriptures as they unfold in the Liturgy throughout the year. I see the beauty in submission to love’s call, the transformative power of trials, and the restorative Spirit that flows into my life through the cross.
Christ’s life becomes my life. His holy word leads me again and again to the table where I am fed with the eternal, once-for-all sacrifice of the Lord’s Body and Blood. I see the reality of the Eucharist foreshadowed in the Old Testament sacrificial system, my own struggles reflected in the journey of the People of God, and my relationship with Christ unfolded in my participation in the Church that is daily living out what it means to be a seasonal people.
My New Year’s List
In light of this incredible truth, I shape my resolutions according to how the salvation story is shaping me. I strive to live out the power and presence of the Kingdom in all I say and do. My Spirit-guided list includes the following:
- I will work to make my body a temple wherein the Spirit of God may dwell, submitting to the discipline of self-denial, striving to strengthen my feeble limbs, and rising as on wings of eagles as I run tirelessly the race set out before me.
- I will strive to see in my family blessings undeserved as I walk with them along the narrow path through the trials of life until we reach our heavenly goal.
- I will commit to growing more deeply in my knowledge of God’s eternal Word, allowing it to inform my faith and lead to acts of charity as I become more the man I was called to be.
- I will hunger for time with my heavenly Father and grow in my prayer life, moving from vain repetitions to a deeper intimacy with the One who knows and loves me with perfection.
- I will surrender to God’s will, letting go of past mistakes, seeking forgiveness for present sins, and looking forward in faith to all that God will do in my life.
- I will come to the table where we share in the body broken and the blood shed for our redemption as I allow God to make me broken bread and poured out wine to the weary world.
- I will pursue justice and peace by turning anger into reconciliation, fear into determination, and sorrow into joy, as I love others with the same transformative love that has been poured out onto me.
- I will rejoice in my worship as I come before an audience of One, growing in my understanding of its deeper meaning, trading ritual for relationship, and connecting with my brothers and sisters in our praise to the Savior who gave his life for the world.
Each resolution will be for me an unfolding of the grace of God, poured into my life through the seasons of the Liturgical Year. As the word speaks into my heart and spells out the story of salvation, I will allow it – and not my selfish strivings – to build my perseverance, shape my character, and lead me to a deeper hope. I will be much more able to keep these resolutions because God’s Holy Spirit will fill me, empower me, nourish me, and sustain me on my joyful journey through the rest of the year.
More than Words, Faith to Faith
As a writer, I often pour over the words I write, meditating intensely on what God is trying to say to others through what he is saying to me. I consider each phrase carefully, praying that what flows from my spirit to the page will be more than mere babbling. I work to surrender my writing and my life to the One who sent his Holy Spirit to be the Advocate and Counselor of my life. I will pray to see in my life story the eternal mystery of salvation working itself out in love. I will strive to make the word that spoke creation into existence and carried the Savior to the cross a beautiful reality that speaks through my life to all those who hunger for the love that only God can give.