5 Resolutions for Catholic Parents in 2021
Here are some suggestions to help your family be better prepared to meet the Bridegroom when he comes.
When we were making our resolutions last New Year in 2019 we had no idea what was coming. COVID-19 was still some strange new virus in China that might affect the global Dollar Store supply chain. The American presidential election lay in the future, and we could avoid thinking about it. Toilet paper was readily available.
Our resolutions were also privileged: buy a new house, get to Cape Cod with the kids, hit daily Mass at least once per week, yell less often. By March most of my personal goals were blown out of the water. But God wrote straight with crooked lines, as is his way, and 2020 brought unexpected blessings.
As we strive to begin keeping our 2021 resolutions, we are a little uneasy. The year 2020 really brought home the verse, “Watch and pray, for you do not know the hour when the Master of the house will return” (Matthew 25:13). When tough times hit, we find out from whom we draw strength.
In the first days of lockdown, we did what a lot of parents did, thinking this would all be over in a few weeks. We allowed more movie time to help cope with work schedules and childcare. We signed up for more online activities — conferences, talks, series. We enjoyed more treats than we usually would during Lent.
But once we realized that isolation and coronavirus were not a three-week intensive Lent, but a long-term lifestyle, we had to reassess and actually deliberately adapt our coping mechanisms. It’s not okay to just watch three hours of movies a day and eat cinnamon buns for breakfast every morning for months on end. Where does our strength come from? Not from carbs, but from Christ. So, in 2021 we want to prepare our hearts to rely on him for any crisis: pandemics, religious persecution, threats to our sacramental life, job loss, illness or tragedy. We do not want to be caught unawares again.
However, we make resolutions not because we are afraid of these things. We make them because we have hope that our trials and even failures can lead us to holiness and a more radical love of Jesus Christ. The following five suggestions will help your family renew its spiritual life, savor the natural joys of your domestic church and be better prepared to meet the Bridegroom when he comes.
1. One More Mass. Many of us are nervous about what regulations President Biden’s administration will bring in terms of religious freedom. The recent Supreme Court decision in The Diocese of Brooklyn v. Cuomo offers some hope that the extreme lockdown measures that cut off thousands of Catholics from the sacraments won’t happen again lightly. But in 2021, let’s show our gratitude to God that we again can attend Mass and receive absolution in Confession. This year, let’s add one more Mass each week — one daily Mass during a lunch break, after work or even on Saturday morning. This is something all families can strive for this year. Families with small children might tag-team the extra weekly Mass: Dad goes one week while mom is home with the littles, Mom goes the alternating weeks while Dad takes his turn. For working parents, lunch-hour Mass may be a good solution, but try to find a time for your children still at home to be with you before the Holy Eucharist more than once on Sundays. More frequent Mass attendance will give your family real grace, strengthen your love of the Church, and help you place your trust in Christ rather than in the princes of the world.
2. One More Soul to Serve. There is always someone you can serve. The pandemic highlighted the loneliness of the elderly in particular. Next time you are at Sunday Mass, look around and find an older “church lady” or the gentleman you know lost his wife a few years ago. Adopt them — pray for them. If you can, approach them and ask their name and if they would like to join your family for a meal or park date. Many parishes also have a young moms group that arranges meals for families with new babies. Even if you’re not in the “young family” category any more, ask if you can be on the list for meal trains. Connecting with one more soul this year through your parish or local community is more personal, costs you nothing and opens the door for a relationship not mediated by foundations, programs or organizations. These are all good things, but don’t let them replace meeting someone new who needs your help.
3. Reinstate the Family Read-Aloud. As the lockdowns (please the Lord) lift this year, we will have to be very intentional in resisting the urge to be busier than ever. Don’t lose by carelessness the family time you found in 2020 by necessity. Commit to at least two evenings every week and begin working through some great books together. Have you and your children seen every Narnia movie but never read the actual books (all of them)? Start there, no matter how old your children are. Did you watch the Peter Jackson Lord of the Rings and Hobbits, but don’t know who Tom Bombadil is? Now you can. Over a year, for 30 minutes, two or three evenings per week, your family can read through a library of great books. Even if the teenagers in the home feel like it’s “babyish” or they are too old for good stories, require them to at least sit without a phone to listen. A good story softens the hardest hearts and creates memories of beautiful words and inspiring heroes that will give them great comfort years into the future.
4. Sunday rest. A weekly day of rest to focus on God, prayer and family is a part of our heritage stretching back to Moses. Read about the Jewish observance of Sabbath for a sense of the goal of Sunday rest: It is an entire day (sundown to sundown) to remember the Christ’s covenant, it is a memorial of his resurrection, it is our new Sabbath. The Catechism (2184) teaches us: “The institution of the Lord’s Day helps everyone enjoy adequate rest and leisure to cultivate their familial, cultural, social, and religious lives.” Have a family meeting about Sunday and ways you can better observe the Third Commandment. Perhaps you shut down all screens between Saturday sundown and Sunday Mass. Choose to participate in parish “coffee and” after Mass instead of rushing home for the big game. Schedule your family read-aloud night for Saturday for some quiet time together away from the noise of the world. Choose something that challenges your family, but is doable for your season of life right now.
5. Friday penance. You don’t have to be a traditionalist to realize that the Church has never changed its teaching on Friday penance. In 1966, the United States bishops issued a joint statement reaffirming that “Friday should be in each week something of what Lent is in the entire year. For this reason we urge all to prepare for that weekly Easter that comes with each Sunday by freely making of every Friday a day of self-denial and mortification in prayerful remembrance of the passion of Jesus Christ.” The simplest way to do this, and the way most in keeping with our Catholic heritage, is of course to abstain from meat. The Church still gives “first place” to this practice. It is quite easy for most Catholics to observe, and it unites us to the lives of the thousands of saints and sinners who lived before us. In 2021, let’s rediscover the joy of Friday observance, and I promise that you will also find a new joy in the Sunday rest. The two go together just like Good Friday and Easter.
Above all, let our 2021 resolutions be thoughtful, and let us persevere in those that are pleasing to God. As Catholics, we know that in order for us to be happy and holy, our interior lives must shine forth in our outward actions. Our New Year resolutions, while a secular tradition, can help transform our families and our lives from the outside in.