Editor’s Note: Please join me in welcoming Jacqueline Vick to the New Evangelizers blog!
As a child, I rang in every year with the same routine. My parents would allow me to stay up until midnight, and as the countdown in Times Square played out on the television screen, I felt an anticipation and joy akin to what I now experience when I step out of the confessional. I had a clean slate. A do-over. A chance to get everything right.
Decades later, my New Year’s resolutions have moved from childish ambitions, such as mastering the skills necessary to become a female James Bond, to adult concerns, including spiritual goals. However, my lists can be just as impractical. I tend to focus on action items, and I set the bar high. Here are my resolutions from 2015:
- Pray the Divine Office every day.
- Attend Mass at least five times per week.
- Read the Catechism of the Catholic Church from cover to cover.
While these were admirable goals, the reason I didn’t make it past Article 84 of the Catechism or three days of the Divine Office before I whittled it down to a commitment to pray the Morning Prayer (sometimes) is because these targets were missing a key element – relationship with God. Without that relationship, my commitments are simply items to check off of a list.
Fortunately, as I make my resolutions for 2016, there is help, and it comes directly from Pope Francis. On March 13, 2015, the pope declared that the Church would celebrate a Holy Year of Mercy, beginning on December 8, 2015. We all need to experience God’s mercy, and through us, God can bring that mercy to others. Experiencing mercy also happens to be a direct route to relationship with God, so using the Holy Year of Mercy as my guide, I came up with a simpler list of resolutions that will help me to live my faith.
- Receive God’s mercy daily.
- Perform one act of mercy daily.
How will I go about receiving God’s mercy? Easily.This gift is available to me every day through the sacrament of Reconciliation, in Bible passages that I can reflect on and pray with using Lectio Divina, and in my daily Examen, when I review and acknowledge the various ways I stepped away from God’s grace. Although it seems selfish to put myself in the top slot, I can’t pass on what I don’t have, so it’s important that I first open myself up to receiving God’s mercy. Then I can move on to helping others.
When it comes to performing acts of mercy, there are obvious works of charity, such as helping out in a food kitchen or accompanying the Prison Ministry when they visit the incarcerated. The Corporal and Spiritual Acts of Mercy provide great guidelines to follow, but it doesn’t have to be that complicated. Mercy can be as simple as smiling at the harried checker in the grocery store. It can be taking the time to listen to someone who annoys me. It can be saying yes to coffee with the parishioner who I usually blow off because I’m too busy. It can be listening to my mother tell the same story on our daily phone call without stopping her to say I’ve heard it before.
And that’s it. If I am experiencing God’s mercy and passing it on to others, all those other action items will fall into place. It’s the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon. When you buy a red car, suddenly, you see red cars everywhere. When you focus on God’s mercy – both giving and receiving it – you will begin to recognize opportunities everywhere. They will become an outgrowth of daily living in support of the most important goal a Catholic can have, and that’s relationship with God.
Copyright 2016, Jacqueline Vick