For earthly joys I do not pine, nor sigh that poverty is mine; for I have gained a matchless prize, and thus I stand beneath the skies; the child of Mary.
We mourn the death of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, who in many ways exemplified the truth in this simple poem. Let us pray that God may whisk him through purgatory into heaven where he may bask in God’s glory and rest in His arms, in eternal peace. Amen.
For us, the church militant on earth, the Christmas octave has drawn to a close, but the Christmas season continues. The new year is often a time for planning large changes in life such as a job, residence, or financial goals. It also often comes with pledges to improve health and wellness. Diet, exercise, and more recently Eastern religious practices such as mindfulness are common. Yet our Catholic faith has always provided the lifestyle by which we will best flourish because true flourishing only comes by ordering our goals towards God.
Our ancient heritage is rich with practices and wisdom to aid us on our journey. For example, the First Principle and Foundation of St. Ignatius of Loyola gives us the frame of mind to maintain. Reflecting biblical principles, the Foundation teaches us that we should make use of creation only as needed to serve our purpose for God and lead us to salvation. Neither materialism nor minimalism are the Catholic mantra, for these are human ideals. After all, if Joseph of Arimathea had been a minimalist, how would Jesus’ body have been buried? When God is the center of our life, that which we need and don’t need becomes quite clear.
Catholic asceticism is the daily practice of a disciplined life. We are blessed with these ascetical practices that have been passed down through the Church since the time of ancient Judaism. These are needed to develop a holy indifference to material goods as well as to our own thinking and opinions. All of this involves the virtues and so growth in self-discipline leads to growth in virtue and closeness to God. It gives us the endurance to stick with prayer commitments, and the conversations with God become more intimate.
When we form a lifestyle where the type of food and amount eaten is based upon options that best nourish health, trendy diets are not needed. Similarly for exercise. On the other hand, when ascetical practices are geared towards human goals and perspective, too often the efforts are sabotaged. A work out loses its purpose when followed by a monster-sized burger and fries! Also, people are rarely called to extreme asceticism. St. Ignatius learned this the hard way. His zeal from conversion initially led him to abstain from almost all food. This caused health problems which he suffered the rest of his life, even being homebound the last decade before dying.
Taming the bodily ‘appetites’ and ‘passions’ will order our desires and emotions towards reason. We become more reasonable people, make reasonable decisions, etc. With each act of rejecting unnecessary or unhealthy foods and activities, the fortitude to continue self-denial is strengthened. We simply don’t give in as easily. Now better able to engage in right reason, we don’t feed our emotions with materialism. Our identity is no longer based upon what we possess. All of this also gives us clarity in making the major decisions in life such as a change in job or location. But in order for our lives to become God-centered, we must first become other-centered, and these practices are key to that.
Perhaps the best and most proper New Year’s resolution is simply to become authentically Catholic.
It is no surprise, then, that our celebration for the first day of the first month of the year is not the new year but, rather, the proclamation that Mary is mother of God. Honoring Mary by this title professes that Jesus really is true God while also being true man. It places motherhood, and thus family, as central to this mystery. Jesus Himself chose this virginal mother and virginal foster father through which marriage is now restored to its original dignity given at Creation. Holy families are the primary means by which He desires the evangelization of His people.
What would Jesus’ new year resolution be for you? His deep desire is that each of us grows close to Him, day by day. He has given to us His own mother to help us because no one can survive in this world without the love and guidance of His mother. Let her love you, for she will surely bring your needs immediately to Him, and He does not deny His mother anything she asks of Him.
Kind one, the Ransomer’s Mother,
the open gate of Heaven you remain,
And Star of Oceans.
Bear aid to those who fall—who falling strive to rise—your people.
You who brought to child-birth,
With nature marveling,
Him who is your holy Father.
Virgin before, and forevermore,
From Gabriel’s mouth speaking,
Taking up that greeting.
On sinners have compassion.
(Alma Redemptoris Mater)
Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam.
Image courtesy of Unsplash.
This post was originally published on the Face of Grace Project and is reprinted here with permission.