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Starting the year right with spiritual renewal

By Lisa Schulte
The Catholic Voice

Making spiritual resolutions for the new year can help keep your spiritual life growing all year long.
Photo by Lisa Schulte

At the beginning of every year many people resolve to improve their lives by making New Year's resolutions, like getting in shape or better managing their money.

The same can be done with our spiritual lives.

The new year can be a great time for people to think about making a commitment to deepen their own spiritual life, said Father Joe Hanefeldt, pastor at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish in Omaha.

For Catholics, the church gives a time for this renewal of faith during Lent, when Catholics are called to prayer, penance, self-denial and almsgiving. Lent can be used as the time to begin spiritual resolutions that can continue throughout the rest of the year.

The Lenten season, which begins this year on Feb. 9, provides the opportunity for increased prayer and sacrifice as a way to grow closer to God. Spiritual commitments made during this time might include a prayer, a penitential activity, an act of charity or separating ourselves from a particular vice, Father Hanefeldt said.

The important thing when making a spiritual resolution is to take time to decide what sort of renewal will be most beneficial to us, he said.

Father Hanefeldt encourages people to ask the Lord to help them see what he wants them to do for their spiritual plan. Asking the Lord to reveal where you need to grow is the key to real spiritual improvement, he said.

He also stressed the importance of not limiting spiritual practices to the six weeks of Lent.

"That's what will derail good spiritual resolution," he said.

Instead, resolve to do something forever.

"Lent ought to be about giving something up as a practice to continue the resolution beyond," he said. "I think it's a great opportunity for putting God first again."

Continuing on

Like many New Year's resolutions, spiritual resolutions can end sooner than intended. The great thing about spiritual resolutions, Father Hanefeldt said, is that you can begin them whenever you want.

"You can jump-start this anytime and start over anytime," he said. "If you get derailed on this great journey, you could pick out a feast day or the first of the month or some other significant day coming up that would be a day to begin again. Or you could start it the moment you think of it."

One way to help ensure the continuation of a resolution is to have a spiritual companion or spiritual director – a person who will keep accountability and help make adjustments if necessary, said Father Richard Reiser, servant minister for priests in the Archdiocese of Omaha.

"We can all make New Year's resolutions, but who are we being accountable to?" he said. "The idea of deepening our spiritual life demands that we have a place where we can have accountability or a check-in place. In some sense, the spiritual journey isn't something that's just individual. It's the whole community that is on this, so we can be supportive of one another."

Father Reiser also suggested developing the discipline of praying 10 minutes each day, which allows time for reflection, a speaking of prayer and contemplation.

"It isn't overwhelming," he said. "You start with a little step and then hopefully you can begin to do that twice a day, so it has a kind of built-in success that way."

The spiritual process is an ongoing thing. It's never really done, Father Reiser said. That's why we need the renewal periods, like Lent, to keep us persevering and to provide the opportunity to re-evaluate our spiritual resolutions, he said.

Improving life

For Janelle Erickson, a parishioner at St. James in Omaha, the start of a new year brings both spiritual and non-spiritual resolutions.

One of her New Year's resolutions is to lose the post-pregnancy weight she gained while pregnant last year. This year she also wants to incorporate prayer into the challenge.

"I tried to do it myself and I just realize that if I'm going to be successful, I need to bring God into it," the 28-year-old wife and mother of two said.

Every night before she goes to bed, Erickson reviews her day and notices where she needs to improve. That has really helped her decide what she and her family will do for their spiritual resolutions during Lent.

Erickson plans to say the Angelus prayer three times a day as a family and they will stop watching TV.

"The Angelus is one of my favorite prayers. I remember saying it with my family when I was little and I just know that saying it throughout the day will help me be more productive," she said. "And not watching TV will allow us more time to spend together as a family, playing games and interacting with the kids."

Ultimately, Erickson wants to incorporate God more into the everyday things she does this year and said she hopes to use the resolutions of the new year and Lenten Season to better her life.

The Catholic Voice

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