'Making all things new'

What is it about the beginning of a new year that prompts us to make resolutions, to set out and "start again?" Whatever "it" is, the marking of a new year prompts us, in fact, to reflect upon the hopes we have for our future, to prioritize the goals we'd like to achieve, and to consider the type of person we would like to become. One of the most popular resolutions that we hear about year after year is the resolution to improve physical health: to lose weight, to exercise more often, to eat healthier foods. To commit to taking better care of one's body - which, after all, is a gift from the Lord - is a noble resolution. But as Christians, we know that we are more than just a body - we are a composite of body and soul. Dear friends, I ask you, as I ask myself, to resolve to work for the strengthening of the whole self this year as a means of sanctification and an opportunity to draw closer to the Lord Jesus Christ.

The body. As I have mentioned, we know that our body is a gift from the Lord. St. Paul asks the Corinthians, "Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body" (cf. 1 Cor 6:19). However, as we resolve to take care of our physical health, we should take care to resist being motivated by vanity. Our culture tends to equate a person's worth and dignity with one's physical appearance. We are often confronted by standards of bodily perfection that are impossible for both men and women to attain. Persons, even those who have accomplished noble and worthy achievements and contributed many gifts to our culture are, regrettably, judged solely on their appearance in magazines and newspapers.

The Christian should consider the health of the body in another manner. To nourish oneself, to strengthen one's physical body, to commit to fruitful leisure and rest is to say to the Lord, "Thank you for this gift. I will be a good steward of the gift you have given me and treat it well so as to glorify you, because it is intended by you to be the temple of the Holy Spirit." However, the limitations of the body, particularly the experience of sickness or of aging, should direct us to that which is enduring in us, that which also demands strengthening year after year - our immortal soul.

The soul. I cannot help but imagine the joy and peace that our world would know if everyone who committed to improving their physical health would also take steps to improve his or her spiritual well-being. We all deeply long for an intimate relationship with God. After all, the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council affirmed that there is a universal call to holiness - that God calls every person, no matter his or her state in life, to a deeply personal union with Him.

In my 49 years as a priest, I have learned that many people misunderstand holiness. They believe that sainthood is reserved for a few special people whom they suppose to have some special grace, as if they were living surrounded by choirs of angels, free of temptations and challenges. The reality is that everyone is called to be a saint. It simply takes the commitment to love God and our neighbor in the ordinary events of our daily lives.

Growth in our relationship with God, just as with any friendship, does not happen overnight. Friendships often begin with casual conversations and time spent together. God invites us to the same type of relationship with Him. The Lord does not ask anything unrealistic of us - He simply wants to speak to our heart, so that, in turn, we can respond to Him from our heart. In this way, we dialogue with Him, and He with us daily in love!

Just as building up physical stamina requires training each day, little by little, a healthy spiritual life requires of us a daily, regular commitment. I suggest offering the whole day to the Lord upon awakening and then setting aside a few minutes in the morning or evening to read from the Scripture of the day, or to turn off the radio during your commute and pray. Another option might be to integrate some spiritual reading into your leisure time - to read something that deepens your understanding and knowledge of the Catholic faith, even if only a few times throughout the week. You can encounter the Lord Jesus more often in the sacraments, particularly through the Eucharistic Sacrifice of the Mass in which He comes so close to us in order to accompany us, and also, through the sacrament of Penance on a regular basis. There are many other ways to build up your spiritual strength this year. Which will you and I choose?

As we commit to making our own resolutions, we should first of all pause and ask God, "What is it that YOU are calling me to do this year? What are YOUR plans for me? What gift can I offer YOU this year?" How pleasing will this prayer be to the Lord, who "makes all things new" (cf. Rev. 21:5)! May the Lord prosper our resolutions this year in both body and soul!

Follow Bishop Loverde on Twitter @ Bishop_Loverde.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2015