Did the first full week of the new year just end? Depends on your perspective. For Catholics, our spiritual new year started on the first day of Advent. Unfortunately, most of us don’t start our spiritual new year’s resolutions until January 1 instead of using that handy Advent season to build good habits. So what’s the best way to work spiritual resolutions into 2016?
When you’re changing a part of your life, whether losing weight or trying to build a writing habit, it’s easier to do with a community of people. Since it’s not Advent anymore and Lent is a ways off, we as Catholics need a common spiritual goal. Fortunately, someone has provided that goal: Pope Francis, who announced this year as an extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy.
Jubilee years are nothing new; though the first Catholic jubilee was in the year 1300, the tradition goes all the way back to the Old Testament times. In recent centuries, jubilee years are held in sequence, once every 25 or 50 years. A jubilee is rarely called out of sequence.
Pope Francis has done things surprising to many of us since he began his papacy, but even though this jubilee year is out of sequence, it’s not so shocking. I think we’d all agree that as violence and unrest are spreading in foreign countries and our own, a year of mercy and the cultivation of mercy is what we as a Church and a world need.
So for 2016, you don’t have to pursue spiritual goals alone. And whatever you may think of Pope Francis and where he lands on the liberal-conservative spectrum, you can join him and the Church in celebrating this jubilee year of mercy. Here are four ways you can do that:
It’s the Year of Mercy… So Don’t gossip
Sound easy, right? All we need to do is keep our mouths shut. In reality, it can be hard, and it takes practice. And it’s also essential for cultivating a spirituality of mercy.
Because not only does sharing stories about other people spread rumors and do increasing damage to their reputation, but it feeds our enjoyment of someone else’s suffering. It turns real, suffering people into objects of entertainment.
And it goes beyond just talking about other people. Don’t even waste time wondering about your coworker’s personal life or your friend’s family problems. Trying to be merciful while objectifying others in our thoughts is like trying to run a race with our shoelaces tied together.
Forgive your enemies – and other spiritual works of mercy
Forgiveness is not an attitude. It’s much more specific (and practical) than you might think. I learned this one Sunday after communion.
As I knelt in the pew, I was inspired to go through my entire life and forgive everyone for everything they’d ever done to hurt me, from a childhood friend who pretended I didn’t exist as a teenager to a coworker who was actively trying to undermine me at work. It was a tough exercise, because I didn’t feel like forgiving a lot of those people. But it taught me that forgiveness (like love) begins as an act of the will. And surprisingly, I felt a huge weight I hadn’t known I was carrying fall off my shoulders. My forgiveness didn’t change those people or what they did, but it freed me from dwelling on the pain they’d caused me.
It’s that easy to forgive people. That guy in the souped-up truck that tailgated you on your commute – just forgive him. Your anger won’t change the fact that he’s an impatient, belligerent driver, and holding on to anger will only make you objectify him as a source of irritation. He may be that, but he’s also a son of God.
Forgiveness is just one of the traditional spiritual works of mercy that are just as practical for your everyday life. Check them out in the Catechism (CC 2447).
Pray the Divine Mercy Chaplet
And not just because “mercy” is in the name. This form of prayer is a meditation on the greatest act of mercy in history, and Christ’s suffering is the model of any merciful act we perform.
Remember, we don’t forgive our enemies merely because it’s a healthy psychological practice but because God forgives. If we disconnect our good deeds from the cross, we’re just really nice people. We’re not called to be philanthropists – we’re called to be other Christs, to share with others the mercy God has shown to us. The Divine Mercy Chaplet is a great way to maintain that connection between faith and works.
Visit the sick – and other corporal works of mercy
My dad tells a story of the most imaginative penance he ever received. In the confessional, the priest told him to buy some flowers, go to a nursing home, and ask to see the one person who never got any visitors. So he bought some roses and went to the nearest nursing home. Once the nurses found out his mission, they took him to see a woman whose family never came to see her, and she got a surprise visit and gift that brightened her day and brought a moment of joy into her life.
When we’re deciding how to best visit the sick, it’s good to use a little imagination. If you have a friend who’s been stuck at home with flu, offer to grab some groceries for them. Become a Eucharistic minister so you can take communion to people in the hospital. Apply an inventive approach to the other six corporal works of mercy as well, and it’s pretty hard not to find opportunities for these works in your everyday life.
Let’s Get Started | Make this Year of Mercy Awesome
Even though the first week of our spiritual year is long over, we can start today by answering Pope Francis’s call to mercy. This list has just a few things to get you going, but between praying for others and works of charity, there are enough opportunities to keep all of us busy for the entire jubilee year of mercy.