If you are like me, over the past few weeks — perhaps since Thanksgiving — you have overindulged in the special foods and treats of the season. This can lead to a few extra pounds and clothes that are a bit tighter around the middle. This in turn leads to resolutions for the New Year. “I will get back to the gym.” “I will go on a diet.” “I will cut back on my drinking.” “I will quit smoking.” “I will walk every day.”

These are all great resolutions for better physical health and to get back in shape. But what about my spiritual health? If I were to have a spiritual check-up, would I be found in good shape? I would like to suggest some New Year resolutions along these lines. Let’s face it. At the end of our life, Jesus is not going to care what size our waist is, but will care about the faith, hope and love in our heart!

Here are some suggestions. These are nothing new or radical, but are simply and deeply rooted in our Catholic spiritual tradition. When we are tempted to look for novel and quick fixes to losing weight, we are always told it simply comes down to “eat less and healthier and exercise more.” In the spiritual realm, the same is true. We must turn to the tried and true methods that come down to us from Sacred Scripture and the witness of the saints over the last 2000 years.

Pray more. We are willing to devote extra time for exercise or our favorite recreational or entertainment activities, but what about our time spent each day in prayer? Do we take the time necessary to build a relationship with God? Fifteen minutes, 20 minutes, 30 minutes or even an hour each day in prayer would do wonders for the soul! The Rosary, Chaplet of Divine Mercy, devotional prayers and the like are great, but I would also like encourage heart to heart prayer and conversation with God. Open your heart to the Lord, and “be still” and listen! Also, prayer in adoration before the Blessed Sacrament is especially fruitful as we bask in the light of his true presence.

Do some spiritual reading. When I used to struggle with my class in computer programming in college, the professor would often say, “Garbage in, garbage out.” There is so much clutter and distraction with which we can fill our minds these days. Quite honestly, there is a lot of garbage on TV. Better to fill our minds with reading the Bible, good and solid spiritual books, or the lives and writings of the saints. Maybe pick up the Catechism of the Catholic Church and work your way through it.

Fast and sacrifice. How many are aware that EVERY Friday of the year (unless a liturgical solemnity falls on it) is an obligatory day of penance for all Catholics? Some sort of regular sacrificial practice is essential to sound spiritual growth. Some say fasting is the “soul” of our prayer and gives it power. Jesus told us that if we want to be his disciple, we must deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow him. He did not promise us the comfortable “cushy” way to holiness! The practice of fasting is deeply rooted in the Bible and in the practice of Jesus himself. Introduce or increase a regular practice of penance in your life.

Do works of mercy and charity. It’s not all about us. Sometimes we can get so focused on our own personal spiritual practices and prayers that we forget that care for others is an essential and not optional part of the Christian life. In fact, Jesus indicated in the Gospel that our final judgement will depend largely on how we took care of the poor and those in need of our love and mercy. So, let’s do something concrete about giving more of ourselves to serve others. We can give of our financial resources to care for the poor, but an even greater gift is the gift of our own time. This will stretch us and help us grow in love for God and neighbor. And again, it’s not optional to genuine spiritual growth.

Regular and frequent reception of the sacraments. How often do I go to confession? How often do I attend Mass and receive Holy Communion? Grace is waiting for us in abundance through these sacraments. We are a sacramental Church. In the Holy Eucharist is contained the entire spiritual good of the Church, namely Jesus Christ. The more we participate in the holy sacrifice of the Mass, even daily if possible, the more abundantly God can pour his grace of sanctification upon us. Also, I generally recommend a monthly confession in the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation as a minimum. We go when we need to, especially if we have committed mortal sin. So maybe add at least one daily Mass to your schedule and increase the frequency of your confessions. Pope Benedict XVI once said that the way to grow in holiness is to pray and go to confession regularly.

I hope and pray that the Jubilee Year of Mercy in 2016 will be a year of great spiritual growth and renewal for each one of you. But it won’t happen unless we do our part, any more than those pesky extra pounds will melt away without the required effort on our part.
God bless you in this New Year!