Advent, which marks a turning point in the calendar, is a natural time to set spiritual goals.
We’re now one week into Advent, a season of joyful expectation that, if we can hold off on going full Kris Kringle and descending into Christmas overdrive for a few weeks, is filled with great traditions for family and spiritual renewal.
One of the quirky traditions of the Church is that our New Year begins not on January 1, but at the beginning of Advent, which is usually around the end of November. Because it’s a turning point in the calendar, this is a natural time to form expectations and make resolutions for the coming year, especially spiritual goals. These goals can be as ambitious or modest as you like, and St. Catherine of Siena — a woman who was as bold as they come (she even told the pope once to start behaving “like a man”) — has excellent advice for making long overdue changes in our spiritual life this year: “Start being brave about everything,” she says. “Drive out darkness and spread light. Don’t look at your weaknesses.”
And then there’s the stuff that does happen right where we live. Over the holidays, for example, some of us might unwillingly encounter relatives we might not get along with, or whom we blame for ongoing difficulties in our lives. Or perhaps the obstacles come from ourselves, like former resolutions we’ve made that are now in the dustbin and serve as reminders of past failures and self-doubt.
We can’t dismiss these issues with a wave of the hand, but maybe we’re giving them too much attention. We’re looking in the wrong places for our source of strength. To successfully overcome obstacles that sap our courage, it helps to focus on success stories. Think of Rosa Parks, who lived in a society divided along lines of racial segregation. Even though she had everything in the world to lose by refusing to move to the back of the bus, her courage helped bring about justice.
Or how about Todd Beamer, who was traveling for business on September 11, 2001, when his plane was hijacked by terrorists. Flight 93 was hurtling towards a suicide bombing in Washington, DC, when Beamer and other passengers decided to fight back. After reciting the Lord’s Prayer and sending his love to his family, he helped take control of the plane and saved countless lives on the ground while heroically losing his own.
Another example is Juan Diego, a simple peasant living in Mexico in the 16th century, to whom the Blessed Virgin Mary miraculously appeared. She told him to convince the local bishop to build a chapel where she appeared, but he was frightened and didn’t think he could accomplish her request. Eventually, he overcame his fear and managed to get the chapel built. To this day, millions continue to visit the spot where Our Lady of Guadalupe appeared to a frightened man, encouraging him to fear not.
If we look to such people who have exhibited bravery in the face of overwhelming difficulties, we’re not only encouraged by their example, but we notice a common theme: all of these people looked not to their own resources for their bravery, they looked to God. If we do that, too, we will find that we have the help we need for any spiritual endeavor to which we set our minds in the coming year. No matter how frustrated we may be with past New Year’s resolutions or the difficulties we see around us, God looks at us and sees not the obstacles that hold us back, but beloved children who have all the potential in the world. Don’t look at your weaknesses and think you can’t continue to grow spiritually. Instead, consider your strengths and be reminded that with God at your side you can be brave about absolutely everything.