As we continue our five-week message series, this week we explore another “spiritual life hack” that will help you grow closer to God in the New Year: Getting to know and cherish your faith more fully.
Christians often think of faith as the source of their gratitude. As is right and just, we are grateful for the many blessings in our lives because faith tells us that they are gifts from God. But faith also is an object of gratitude, something for which we also should be grateful.
Saint Peter made the first confession of faith in Jesus Christ, when he declared him to be “the Messiah, the Son of the living God” (16:16). In reply, Jesus said that this understanding of his identity did not come from “flesh and blood” but was revealed to him by God (Matthew 16:17).
Indeed, faith is a gift from God, one that we cannot forge or develop on our own. Although in faith “the human intellect and will cooperate with divine grace,” it is nevertheless “a supernatural virtue” infused into the human soul by God alone (Catechism of the Catholic Church n. 153-54). To be sure, “[b]elieving is possible only by grace and the interior helps of the Holy Spirit[,] . . . who moves the heart and converts it to God, who opens the eyes of the mind and makes it easy to accept and believe the truth” (Id.).
To the extent faith is a gift and itself is an object of faith, then it also should be the primary object of our gratitude. King David and the ancient Israelites understood this. Many of the psalms extolled the beauty, intelligence, and wisdom of God’s law, which was the focal point of their faith. “The law of the Lord is perfect, refreshing the soul,” Psalm 19 joyfully declares. “The decree of the Lord is trustworthy, giving wisdom to the simple. The precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart. The command of the Lord is clear, enlightening the eye. . . . The statutes of the Lord are true, all of them just, more desirable than gold, than a hoard of purest gold, sweeter also than honey or drippings from the comb” (8-11). Psalm 119 similarly proclaims that God’s law is a “delight” because it “stands forever” and “is firm as the heavens” (72, 89-93).
Whether blessed to have been given a religious education in Catholic schools, through a parish catechetical program, or instruction at home, many Catholics too easily forget the gift they have received in having been taught the faith. We can show our gratitude by honoring God with our attendance at Sunday Mass, obeying the call to daily prayer, and seeking to discover the beauty of Catholic teaching.
Listen to our Sunday message this week, in church or online, to learn more about what there is to know, love, and cherish about our Catholic faith.
--Father Roger Gustafson, Pastor
Last weekend, we launched our Sunday message series for the New Year that we’re calling, Spiritual Life Hacks: Simple Tweaks to Improve Everyday Life. The premise of the series is that certain strategies called “life hacks” that are used to reduce the frustration and difficulty of daily living in general also can apply to our spiritual lives. In the next article, for example, you’ll learn about a simple trick one of our staff members uses to connect with God during her commute to work. These “spiritual life hacks,” therefore, are simply down-to-earth techniques that help to improve the quality of our faith lives.
For instance, the spiritual life hack last week encouraged us to change our attitude about God by focusing more on his value in our lives, so that we can become more generous people. When we value God, we naturally desire to offer the best we have for him. The spiritual life hack this week encourages us to change our attitude about ourselves, so that we can know our true value and come to a deeper understanding of our importance in the eyes of God.
Guilt and shame can be crippling to well-meaning church people. Excesses in our religious culture have taught many of us that the daily struggle for holiness and virtue is ours alone. When we fail to measure up, we blame ourselves and wonder whether we have lived good lives. I have visited many dying patients who are fearful of their impending encounter with the Lord because of mistakes made in their past and a general feeling of having been spiritually ineffective and perhaps even neglectful.
The problem with this approach is that our excessive self-chastisement often does little more than crowd out God’s grace. What seems like humility in our constant self-abasement because of our spiritual failures actually demonstrates our own hubris. To the extent we are constantly heaping self-blame on our heads, what space have we left for God to act? As Saint Paul writes, the Holy Spirit “richly poured out on us” justifies us by God’s grace, something we cannot do for ourselves (Titus 3:6-7).
“I, the Lord, have called you for the victory of justice,” God says in the Bible. Therefore, we are not called to dwell on failures but to trust in God to walk us into victory. “I have grasped you by the hand,” God says to us. “I formed you, and set you as . . . a light for the nations” (Isaiah 6-7).
If God has those kind of plans in store for us, don’t you think his grace will be sufficient? Our failures should not be an occasion for a spiritual pity party, but the opportunity to surrender ourselves more fully into the sweet embrace of our merciful God, because we are important to him.
--Father Roger Gustafson, Pastor
As soon as the ball drops in Times Square, myriad self-help magazines, TV specials, podcasts, blogs, and books all promise that they’re going to help us have our best year yet. With that comes New Year’s Resolutions, most of which don’t last, because we tend to make goals out of challenging and unpleasant objectives. In an effort to make those resolutions stick more easily, we’re embarking on a new five-week message series that we’re calling, Spiritual Life Hacks: Simple Tweaks To Improve Everyday Life.
The dictionary defines “life hacks” (a fairly new and informal term) as “usually simple and clever tips or techniques for accomplishing familiar tasks more easily and efficiently.” A quick Google search for “life hacks” populates millions of ideas to make everything about life a little easier, from tossing ice cubes in the dryer to remove wrinkles in clothes to using a piece of bread to pick up tiny glass shards.
Spiritual life hacks, then, are little tips and tricks to enrich our spiritual lives more easily. When something is easier to do, especially as we first begin it, we’re more likely to stick with it. Tackling New Year’s Resolutions, then, is a great place to start. The problem is that most of us tackle spiritual agendas that are really difficult to achieve. We’re really committed for a week or so, but then something comes up, we get busy, and suddenly a month has gone by without success. There’s a tendency at that point to give in a spirit of self-defeatism.
But, if we were to reframe our New Year’s Resolutions to focus on getting better at things we’re already good at, we might find more success. Often, psychologists suggest that we emphasize our strengths before addressing our weaknesses, since it can be morally degrading to focus only on those things that challenge us. So, if you’re taking your spiritual pulse, start with what you’re good at already.
If you go to Mass regularly, for example, start by focusing on being more attentive and present at Mass. Listen to or read the readings for that day before going to Mass, or take notes in your Mass Journal so you can look back on how you were feeling, what the homily was about, and what the readings made you think of. Spend ten minutes after Mass getting a cup of coffee and talking to someone, either an old friend or a new one. Once you’ve enriched that Mass-time experience by building on something you already do, it’ll be much easier to do the harder stuff.
That’s just one example of life, hacked. Read our companion bulletin article series and tune in to our Sunday message, either live or on the internet, for more simple techniques to grow closer to God in 2019.
--Claire Kosewic, Pastor For The Week
Father Roger Gustafson