Strategies to help Catholics use 2016's extra 24 hours to the fullest
Every new year starts off full of promise and full of hope.
“This year,” we tell ourselves, “will be the year we finally make it to daily Mass ... or go on pilgrimage ... or clean out the basement.”
Quickly, though, those great expectations fade in the harsh light of reality. There are bills to be paid, deadlines to be met and children to be shuttled from one part of town to the next. Finding the time to face the basement, let alone go on pilgrimage, in the midst of the hustle and bustle of everyday life, can start to feel like the stuff of dreams: unrealistic, impossible, completely beyond our reach. But not this year.
In 2016, time is on our side. In order to better reflect the actual amount of time it takes for the earth to revolve around the sun, the Gregorian calendar tacks an additional day onto February (almost) once every four years; 2016 is one of those years. Which means that this month, we have the very thing we need to accomplish all (or at least one) of our New Year’s goals: more time.
Now, would it have been preferable if Pope Gregory XIII had tacked that extra day onto June or July? For us folks living in the Northern Hemisphere, yes. Undoubtedly. But, Feb. 29 is what we’ve got, so despite the wind, the cold, the gray skies and the snow-covered roads, we might as well make good use of it. Here are a few suggestions to get you started.
Get your spiritual house in order
Go to daily Mass. Go to confession. Go to Eucharistic adoration and spend 15 minutes in front of the Blessed Sacrament. While you’re there, pray the Rosary ... or the Chaplet of Divine Mercy ... or the Divine Office. If you don’t have a breviary of your own, you can find Morning Prayer, Night Prayer and all the prayers in between online. You can also read a book about the Faith.
Alternately, you can hop online and search for Catholic shrines within easy driving distance. Then, get in the car and go. Take the kids or a friend along with you. While you’re there, see if there is a church nearby with a Door of Mercy, established in most major Catholic cathedrals, basilicas and shrines this year. Walk through them reverently, pray for the intentions of the Holy Father, receive Communion, go to confession, reject your attachment to sin, and you’ve got yourself a plenary indulgence — either for yourself or a departed loved one.
Get your relational house in order
Do you owe a friend a phone call? Do you owe a relative a letter? Then, get to dialing or writing. Reach out to that long-lost college friend. Take your estranged sister out to lunch. Pay a visit to your Great Aunt Helen. Maybe just sit down and write those thank-you notes for all the Christmas gifts that came your way in December.
You also can come home from work early and have dinner with your family. Or, better yet, take a vacation day and plan something special with those you love. Go for a drive. Play a game. Build a snowman. And invite others to join you. Ask the new family at church or a single friend over for dinner. Ask a bunch of friends over for dinner. Throw that party you’ve been wanting to throw. Practice hospitality. It comes with its own reward.
Get your actual house in order
By a happy twist of fate, leap day 2016 falls within Lent 2016. Sure, this means you have to live one extra day without chocolate. But it also means you have one extra day to tackle the 40 Bags in 40 Days challenge — pitching or giving away 40 bags worth of unused, unnecessary or unappreciated household items by the end of Lent. Start in the attic and work your way downward. Pray for detachment and discernment as you sort through closets and utility drawers, asking God for help in letting go of material possessions and trusting him to provide you with all that you really need, when you need it.
If you’re already living with Trappist-like simplicity, then use your one extra day to organize your linen closet, kitchen cupboards or dresser drawers. Scrub your baseboards, dust your light fixtures, wipe the grime off the pot rack and vent above the stove. Put together much needed bookshelves, filing cabinets or closet storage systems. Chuck over-the-counter medications that have passed their sell-by date. Toss old cosmetics and grooming supplies while you’re at it. Sort through all the papers scattered about your house and place them where they go ... preferably the trash. Plus, there’s always that basement that needs organizing.
Love your neighbor
This is the Year of Mercy, a year where Catholics around the world are called not only to contemplate the mercy of Christ but also to show that mercy to others. Fortunately for us, the Church hasn’t just told us to be merciful; she’s also told us how to be merciful. The deposit of faith includes very specific instructions on putting mercy into action. So, on leap day, follow those instructions by practicing a corporal work of mercy.
Feed the hungry by volunteering at a soup kitchen. Care for the sick by taking the kids to visit the elderly in a nursing home. Clothe the naked by knitting a warm woolen scarf (or 10) and delivering them to a local shelter. You can also give drink to the thirsty by distributing water to the homeless, welcome the stranger by writing a check to an organization that helps refugee families, bury the dead by attending the funeral Mass of an elderly parishioner; and help the imprisoned by praying for those behind bars.
The corporal works of mercy aren’t the only way to love our neighbor. The spiritual works of mercy are just as important. So, in your extra 24 hours, look for a way to counsel the doubtful (make time for a struggling friend); comfort the afflicted (make a meal for a widow or grieving parent); admonish sinners (write a letter to your pro-abortion congressman); forgive offenses (reach out in friendship to someone who hurt you); bear wrongs patiently (don’t complain, about anything, all day on Feb. 29); and pray for the living and the dead (offer up a family Rosary for the good of someone’s soul).
Yes, Lent begins with the reminder that we are dust and will one day return to dust. But, we are beloved dust, precious in God’s eyes. This leap day, treat yourself accordingly. Eat your kale. Cook some salmon. Skip the deep-fried Twinkie. Afterwards, go for a walk or, if you live in warmer climes, a bike ride. Put yourself to bed early. Sleep in if you can. If not, hire a baby sitter for two hours of alone time.
While you’re at it, log off social media. Read a book. Watch a classic movie. See a play. Listen to a symphony. Drink a cup of coffee and watch the sun rise. Drink a glass of wine and watch the sun set. Cook a delicious dinner. Eat it sitting down, at a table, with forks, knives, napkins and all the accouterments of civilization. In the evening, light a fire. Have a long conversation with your spouse or best friend. Go on a date with your husband or wife. Read aloud to your children. Draw a picture.
And sometime during the day, buy yourself a bouquet of bright pink tulips and remember that spring is coming. Give thanks for that. Give thanks for your life. Give thanks for your friends and family. Count all your blessings, taking note of the many ways God shows his love for you. Finally, praise him for every last one.