Happy New Year!
Yes, I’m posting this early, but only by a few days.
We’re at the threshold of a brand new Liturgical Year, marked by the First Sunday of Advent. For the Roman Catholic Church, this day begins a whole new cycle of liturgies, feast days, and events.
It could be the beginning of a new you, too.
What I find most interesting about the Liturgical Year is that, unlike the secular year, it’s not tied down to a calendar page. It’s more organic in that its a cyclical movement that flows through the year. For example, the First Sunday of Advent is determined, not by a calendar date, but by the Feast of St. Andrew. Advent always begins on the Sunday closest to St. Andrew’s November 30 feast day. And so, this year, the First Sunday of Advent falls on December 3.
Lent and Easter are determined similarly. Since the Council of Nicea in 325 AD, Easter occurs on the Sunday following the paschal full moon, which is the full moon that falls on or after the vernal (spring) equinox. Thus, Ash Wednesday (the beginning of Lent) is set for six weeks prior to Easter Sunday.
The Liturgical Year is a beautiful, cyclical celebration of the life of our Lord and his holy Catholic Church. It’s a celebration of our life in the Church as well.
That’s why the start of the New (Church) Year is so important.
We make resolutions for the secular New Year so we can set goals that will help us reach toward self-improvement and growth. So, too, we should make resolutions for the Liturgical New Year so we can set goals that will help us reach toward holiness and spiritual growth.
If we want that to happen, we have to start the New (Church) Year right.
We need prayer, planning, and persistence.
Prayer will lead us to discover what God is asking of us for the coming year. If we’re to come anywhere close to meeting our spiritual goals, we’ll need God’s grace and guidance to carry us. Approaching the New Year prayerfully also will assist us in setting goals that are high enough to challenge us, but not so high that they discourage us. We need balance, and our heavenly Father knows the exact balance for each one of us.
Nothing great is ever achieved without planning. The New (Church) Year is no exception. As I wrote in a previous post, Five Things to Include in Your Advent Tool Box, doing anything well requires the proper tools. To start the New Year right, we need the right tools for the job. In this case, I would add one more “tool” to our tool boxes: attitude. We can tell ourselves (and anybody else for that matter) that we want to do such-and-such for Advent and beyond, but if we don’t take it seriously and have an attitude of striving and resolve, even our best-made plans will flop after a few weeks (or sooner).
Finally, we need persistence. Sure, we can go charging into the New (Church) Year with leaps and bounds, but what will our efforts look like in a month? Three months? Six months? At the end of the year? Our persistence will taper off if we don’t set in place safeguards along the way.
Next to prayer, frequent reception of the sacraments, and trust in God, the absolutely most effective means of staying on track spiritually is by keeping a written control of your spiritual resolutions. Simply put, this is a checklist of the spiritual exercises/strivings/resolutions/prayers that you want to do each day. Each night, take a moment to check off whether or not you “completed” each item. No one else has to see this – it’s for you to keep track of how you’re doing spiritually. Writing these things down adds accountability and helps you grow more fruitfully. Looking back at the end of each month will allow you to fine tune your spiritual program so that you can do better going forward.
This is a huge opportunity for us. The First Sunday of Advent is a notable event, one we can’t afford to miss out on. Folks make so much hoopla over the start of the New Calendar Year, what if we made so much hoopla over the start of the New Church Year?