The beginning of a new year is a great time to commit to new habits and make changes that we believe will make us better versions of ourselves. These “new year resolutions” often take the form of decisions to exercise more, eat healthy, or cut down on excess in our lives, but what if we decided that instead of these typical resolutions, we committed to improving our spiritual lives this year? After all, physical exercise won’t get us into Heaven, and “man shall not live by bread alone” (even if it is gluten free, paleo, or keto!).
To help give us some suggestions for improving our spiritual lives this year, we look to Cardinal Robert Sarah, Prefect for the Congregation for Divine Liturgy.
Commit to a holy hour
“The most important moments in life are the hours of prayer and adoration. They give birth to a human being, fashion our true identity; they root our existence in mystery.”God or Nothing: a Conversation on Faith (2015) by Cardinal Robert Sarah
Cardinal Sarah insists that in our busy world the most important and spiritually beneficial moments are those spent in prayer and in adoration of our Lord. Why not sign up for a Holy Hour if your parish has adoration of the Most Blessed Sacrament? Or commit to sitting before the Tabernacle for an hour every week if it doesn’t? These quiet times of prayer will begin to bear great fruit in more than just your spiritual life!
Refocus on the liturgy, not personal preference
… If we make the liturgy for ourselves, it moves away from the divine; it becomes a ridiculous, vulgar, boring, theatrical game. We end up with liturgies that resemble variety shows …. The faithful go back home … without having encountered God personally or having heard him in the innermost depths of their heart…God alone should be our point of reference. However, … we have different concepts of liturgy that go so far as to cause mutual rejection, hostility, or even a cold war…. Too often we are opposed, each one enclosed in his little chapel …. Ideology replaces adoration…If a person respects the ancient rites of the Church but is not in love, that individual is perishing. I think that this is the situation of the most extremist adherents of the various liturgical schools…The liturgy is a moment when God, out of love, desires to be in profound communion with men. If we truly experience these sacred moments, we can encounter God. We must not fall into the trap that tries to reduce the liturgy to a simple place of fraternal conviviality.God or Nothing: a Conversation on Faith (2015). Cardinal Robert Sarah.
Ouch! Like a good father, Cardinal Sarah doesn’t hesitate to firmly but lovingly remind us that the liturgy, the mass, is first and foremost about God and how we are to encounter His love for us, and return ours for Him. Perhaps a good resolution this year is to commit to focusing and appreciating the liturgy in its different forms for what it is, not what we think it should be. If you have never gone to a Traditional Latin mass before, commit to attending one or two. If you avoid the Novus Ordo mass, commit to going to a few and use the opportunity to see how God desires to communicate with His people instead of keeping a mental score about what you do or don’t like about the mass you attend. Regardless of our liturgical preferences, Cardinal Sarah makes an important point for us to remember whenever and wherever we attend mass in 2019.
Kneel for Communion
“So too kneeling at the consecration (unless I am sick) is essential. In the West this is an act of bodily adoration that humbles us before our Lord and God. It is itself an act of prayer. Where kneeling and genuflection have disappeared from the liturgy, they need to be restored, in particular for our reception of our Blessed Lord in Holy Communion. Dear Fathers, where possible and with the pastoral prudence of which I spoke earlier, form your people in this beautiful act of worship and love. Let us kneel in adoration and love before the Eucharistic Lord once again!”Sacra Liturgia (2016). Cardinal Robert Sarah
The liturgy is made up of many small rituals and gestures — each of them is capable of expressing these attitudes filled with love, filial respect and adoration toward God…That is precisely why it is appropriate to promote the beauty, fittingness and pastoral value of a practice which developed during the long life and tradition of the Church, that is, the act of receiving Holy Communion on the tongue and kneeling. The greatness and nobility of man, as well as the highest expression of his love for his Creator, consists in kneeling before God.The Distribution of Communion on the Hand: A Historical, Juridical and Pastoral Survey. Fr.Don Federico Bortoli. Forward by Cardinal Robert Sarah. (Quoted above).
Cardinal Sarah writes and speaks on how to reverently and worthily receive Holy Communion. He emphasizes that cultivating reverence for the Eucharist and restoring a sense of the sacred to the liturgy requires appropriate postures and attitudes by the faithful as they approach Christ under the species of bread and wine. Why not heed his advice this year and resolve to receive Holy Communion on the tongue or on the tongue while kneeling? According to the Cardinal this will help deepen your love for Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament and witness to the awesomeness of God.
Serve the poor
“There is never any more authentic relation with God than in an encounter with the poor. For this is the source of life in God: poverty…History has shown that, when the Church becomes less worldly, her missionary witness shines more brightly.”God or Nothing: A Conversation on Faith (2015). Cardinal Robert Sarah
Cardinal Sarah grew up in rural Africa. He understands on a deep level what it means to encounter poverty and the importance of being a missionary to all you encounter. This year, why not make an extra effort to be a missionary in your own community and serve those less fortunate? Volunteering at a soup kitchen, collecting and distributing blankets and hygiene items to the homeless, working with Habitat for Humanity, sponsoring a child through an organization like Compassion, or offering a service or talent free of charge to those who cannot repay you are just a few ways you can make this resolution your own this new year.
“Sounds and emotions detach us from ourselves, whereas silence always forces man to reflect upon his own life…The greatest things are accomplished in silence—not in the clamor and display of superficial eventfulness, but in the deep clarity of inner vision; in the almost imperceptible start of decision, in quiet overcoming and hidden sacrifice…Superficial and vain, the talkative person is a dangerous being. The now widespread habit of testifying in public to the divine graces granted in the innermost depths of a man’s soul exposes him to the dangers of superficiality, the self-betrayal of his interior friendship with God, and vanity…Christ lived for thirty years in silence. Then, during his public life, he withdrew to the desert to listen to and speak with his Father. The world vitally needs those who go off into the desert. Because God speaks in silence.”The Power of Silence Against the Dictatorship of Noise (2017). Cardinal Robert Sarah
This may be the most difficult of the resolution options presented here, nevertheless, Cardinal Sarah repeatedly makes a compelling case for the importance of silence in one’s life if one is to grow and mature spiritually. Learning how to sit with God in silence, to meditate and contemplate is difficult. It requires commitment and practice, but the fruits of such labors are beyond anything we can grasp with words. Perhaps this is the year to resolve to grow in your prayer life by sitting in silence a little each day and allowing God to reveal His deep love for you.
Would you add anything to this list? Tell us in the comments!