Living the New Year as a New Creation
COMMENTARY: Make your spiritual ‘game plan.’
“Behold, I make all things new” (Revelation 21:5). The new liturgical year is a month old, and the new calendar year is just beginning. As we begin this new year, we must remember that he is the new creation who has made us new creations. This new year is an opportunity to go deeper in our spiritual lives, yet again. We can turn to the Blessed Mother and the saints, specifically St. Bernard of Clairvaux and St. Ignatius, to show us how to start this new year off well spiritually.
St. Bernard of Clairvaux spoke of three comings of the Lord in one of his sermons for Advent that is used in the Office of Readings in Wednesday of the First Week of Advent. The first, he says, is when Christ became a man and dwelt among humanity on the earth, and the third is his future coming — his final coming at the end of time. The second, however, is a “hidden one; in it, only the elect see the Lord within their own selves, and they are saved.” St. Bernard points to Jesus’ promise: “If a man loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him” (John 14:23). The Lord wants to make a home in each of us. Christmas has come, and we have celebrated the Nativity of Our Lord in remembrance of his first coming. We still look forward to the next, but have we adequately made the Lord welcome in our hearts?
Perhaps you made some new liturgical-year resolutions during Advent and spent the whole season with a beautiful routine of prayer. Then it was Christmas and your life has been anything but routine since then, with attending long liturgies, preparing special meals and family gatherings and perhaps traveling to see loved ones. All of the beautiful traditions that make Christmas holy and special have the potential to pull us out of our daily prayer routine and spiritual life. Ideally, the Christmas liturgies would draw us closer to the Lord, if we are able to center our minds for long enough to really enter into them. Or perhaps the multiple liturgies were like a retreat for you, and you are ready to enter more deeply into prayer.
As the busy part of the holiday season slows down, the beginning of the new (calendar) year is a great time to set aside a little time for prayer and reflection and ask the Lord to help you reestablish a good routine of prayer so that you can more fully love him and keep his word. St. Ignatius Loyola gives some simple guidelines in his Spiritual Exercises for having an effective prayer routine. Several of them are helpful to start the new year off on a good spiritual foundation. For him, it is all about planning ahead. He says to make a “rule for your daily actions” — planning your prayer as well as the responsibilities of your state in life. As much as possible, keep in mind that all that you do is for the glory of God. Among the things you plan, he says to devote time each day for meditative prayer as well as time to do a daily examination of your conscience. He also recommends frequent confession and Communion. Think about who might be a good person to have spiritual conversations with, be it a confessor or spiritual mentor, and resolve to speak to them. Further, consider making a plan to go on a retreat in the coming year. Among his later recommendations is to “place yourself under the protection of Mary,” to whom we should look to every day to assist us in staying close to God.
The Blessed Mother lived perfectly that which the Lord calls all of us to: to keep his word. She kept his word and the Word came to her — made a home in her. Her “Yes” to the angel Gabriel at the Annunciation brought about the ultimate new beginning, the beginning of the New Creation — brought by Christ, the New Creation, into the world so that we all can be made new. When we approach the new year, we should bear in mind that all that we resolve and plan will only bear fruit if our ultimate goal in these resolutions is to be united with God in heaven. He came to make all things new, and, as St. Paul says, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, behold the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17).
The Blessed Mother shows us how to become a new creation: by keeping the Lord’s word. St. Bernard of Clairvaux explained in his sermon that the way to keep the Lord’s word is to know the Lord’s word. He says, “Let it enter into your very being; let it take possession of your desires and your whole way of life.” When you make your spiritual “game plan,” like St. Ignatius encourages, let your meditative time be over Scripture as well as spiritual books. By praying with Scripture, we will know the word, and when we know the word, we will be better able to keep the Lord’s word.
And through this routine, we will be able to say “Yes” along with the Blessed Mother to all that the Lord brings our way this year.