And so the Church year turns again to Lent.
It’s a tricky season to navigate. As Catholics, we’re called to penance as we contemplate the journey of Our Lord through betrayal by his friends all the way to his torture and death. But let’s face it: 40 days is a long time to keep doing anything, especially something that you don’t like to do.
Catholics traditionally “give up” something for Lent. We return to meatless Fridays. We deprive ourselves of something that we really like—chocolate, for example. And we feel the pinch of the loss and sometimes we even make it through to Holy Week without cheating.
And somehow in all of that we lose the point of why we are doing it, because we’re so caught up in the how of doing it. God forgive us, we sometimes even feel sorry for ourselves for missing out on the glories of chocolate!
So this year might be the perfect year to look at Lent a little differently. Maybe it’s time to disassociate it from chocolate or meat or any of the luxuries we give up and that we generally substitute for prayer and penance.
Jesus made what we are supposed to do very clear. In the Gospels he set forth what would become the three “pillars” of the early Church, so called because they hold up the faithful, keep the people of God from falling into self-absorption and sin.
"Lent stimulates us to let the Word of God penetrate our life and in this way to know the fundamental truth: who we are, where we come from, where we must go, what path we must take in life."
Pope Benedict XVI
What if Jesus gave you a theme for 2017?
And most of us make new year’s resolutions. We decide that this is the year we’re going to lose weight, or start a new career, or take a class. We’re all about self-improvement, about making changes that will—we believe—make us happier.
But how many of us make resolutions that will deepen our connection with Jesus? When January 1st comes around, how often do we focus on our spiritual lives?
In the classic He And I, French mystic Gabrielle Bossis, like the rest of us, started every year with something new. But her “resolutions” were very different from ours. Her conversations with God, recorded in her journal according to the date they took place, always started on January first with something called a “keynote,” what we might think of as a theme for the year.
And all of these themes have one thing in common: they have nothing to do with self-improvement, with losing weight, with working out, with getting a better job. They’re all about becoming closer to God.
Here are a few examples:
- January 1, 1937: “Here is your keynote for the year: Purely and simply.”
- January 1, 1938: “This year you will love Me in My brothers. Do for them what you would do for Me.”
- January 1, 1943: "In each other’s hearts. You will keep yours in Mine and I’ll be in yours.”
- January 1, 1947: “Keep going. Do good.”
- January 1, 1949: “Serve. Find your joy in serving God and your neighbor.”“
What would happen if we thought about how to get closer to God in 2017 (starting now during Lent), instead of how to have a better figure? What would a new year look like if we listened to God’s voice instead of all the secular culture's voices that make false promises about true happiness?
What if you prayed for God to give you a sense of what your theme for the year might be, and you built your plans and hopes around that theme? Your life would probably change even more dramatically than it has with past new year’s resolutions. You might be inspired to go to Mass an extra day every week, or to read more Scripture, or to volunteer at a shelter or soup kitchen.
Here’s what would probably happen if, like Gabrielle Bossis, you listened carefully to God’s will for your new year: your resolution would be less about you and more about others. You’d find yourself wanting less and giving more.
Perhaps this is the year to make changes based not on what the world tells you that you should want, but instead on what your heart tells you that Jesus wants of you. Perhaps this is the year when you give up trying to do something that you’ll abandon after a few weeks, and instead focus on the One who will never abandon you. Perhaps this is the year you can throw away the “resolutions” and embrace a theme, a keynote, a closeness with God.
And that money you were going to spend on the gym or the diet or the organizational tool? Put it in the poor-box instead. It’s a better investment for a far better year than you’ve ever had before.
Why not share your keynote for 2017 below?
by Jeannette de Beauvoir