At the beginning of each New Year, many of us dutifully make a number of lofty resolutions with the hope of becoming better because of them. Popular resolutions tend to include getting to the gym more, getting out of debt, making a career change or promising ourselves not the sweat the small stuff. We are eager to take things to the next level by raising the bar and challenging ourselves as never before. As we know, “raising the bar” is often emphasized in the business world, academics and sports. In fact, if we aren’t striving to “raise the bar” in our professional lives, we tend to feel stagnate or feel we are losing our footing on the ladder of success altogether. But as we begin this New Year, how much thoughtful consideration have we given to raising the bar when it comes to our personal holiness? As we know, in today’s world there is tremendous emphasis placed on perfecting our bodies and exterior appearance, but what of our souls? After all, our physical bodies, jobs and material goods will pass away – but our souls live forever!
Just as we cannot grow without eating food each day, so too must our spirits be fed in order for growth to occur in our walk with the Lord. Therefore, a good place to start is by asking ourselves, “what priority does prayer currently take in my life?” Or, “in what ways can I grow in holiness in 2014?” After all, the bible explicitly reminds us “not to lay up for ourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:19-21).
While it is important to be physically fit, manage stress levels and challenge ourselves in our careers, it would be wise to challenge ourselves most rigorously and courageously, when it comes to our souls. Saint Francis of Assisi provides a powerful example of raising the holiness quotient in his own life when he referred to his own body as “Brother Ass”. In his writings, he used this term to acknowledge everything he wanted for himself, rather than undertaking things for the love and glory of God. It was the basis of a life aimed at a total radical spiritual transformation in stripping himself of self-absorption, pride, worldly pleasures and temptations with a focus instead on a life which embraces God and others.
Each of us has areas where we are weak spiritually and need to challenge ourselves. Just as we might focus on getting certain parts of our physical bodies fit, so too should we focus on getting our souls fit for heaven! It is also only natural that we may worry about the bar being higher than what we can meet. But as Saint Francis Xavier once said, “It is not the actual physical exertion that counts towards one’s progress, nor the nature of the task, but by the spirit of faith with which it is undertaken!”
Sometimes it may seem as though we take one step forward and two steps back when it comes to growing in holiness. As Catholics, we are blessed to have the Sacrament of Reconciliation and God’s forgiving grace for the times in our lives when we do fall. We also have Jesus’ unfathomable mercy. We also know we can’t go it alone when it comes to growing in our spiritual life and so we can call upon the aid of the Holy Spirit – for when you allow the Holy Spirit to work in you and help you, all things are possible!
We can also find great encouragement and inspiration from the saints in raising our spiritual bar. Saint Francis of Assisi once exhorted, “Sanctify yourself and you will sanctify society.” Saint Francis de Sales emphasized that growing in holiness doesn’t have to be complicated, “Great holiness consists in carrying out the ‘little duties’ of each moment” (The Way, 817). Similarly, Saint Therese of Lisieux said, “You know well enough that Our Lord does not look so much at the greatness of our actions, nor even at their difficulty, but at the love with which we do them.” Of course, the ultimate challenge in raising the bar comes from Peter 1:13-16, “But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: Be holy, because I am holy.”
So how do we make our spiritual resolutions stick in 2014 and beyond? After all, the easiest thing in the world to break is a resolution! Similar to developing a workout routine that is realistic, we must also be realistic with our spiritual goals. If you have too many, you’re not likely to accomplish any! At least initially, it might be helpful to establish one or two goals for yourself. Maybe it is to pray the Rosary more or take time each day for spiritual reading and reflection. My two top goals for 2014 are to spend more time in Adoration and to wake-up earlier so that I have adequate time to pray before heading to work. What are your spiritual goals this year?
We know that regardless of our station or vocation in life, we are called to attain Christian virtue and holiness despite the conditions in which we may find ourselves. Making our spiritual growth a top priority as we embark on 2014 and every year thereafter is essential, for we “do not know the day or the hour wherein the Son of man comes” (Matthew 25:13). As we try to make good on our goals this year, I’d like to end by sharing a little prayer of encouragement I came across recently, “Dear Lord – Thank you for a New Year filled with fresh grace and countless opportunities. Lead me to your heart, your word and your ways, as I purpose to live out your love in 2014. In Jesus’ name – Amen.”