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Our Lady of Practical Resolutions: A Lesson from the Visitation
By: Holly Gustafson

 

Recently, I presented a workshop on Gospel meditation, using the handy step-by-step guide that St. Francis de Sales provides in his Introduction to a Devout Life. Of the various steps that St. Francis suggests (entering into the Presence of God, imagining the Gospel in context, meditating on the mystery, etc.), the one that the majority of the workshop attendees agreed was the most difficult was making and keeping a resolution. And yet this step is integral to a fruitful life of prayer.

 

Praying and being inspired “is not enough,” says St, Francis de Sales, “unless you bring it to some practical resolution.” Meditation should always inspire motion, motivating us to put the Love on which we have just reflected in the Gospel into action.

 

Our Blessed Mother provides the perfect example of this motion motivated by prayer. Immediately upon learning that she would conceive of the Holy Spirit, she springs into action: “Mary set out and traveled to the hill country in haste to a town of Judah, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth.” (Luke 1:39). Having encountered Love, Mary is moved to act.

 

While God likely won’t be calling us to travel by foot for days through the hill country any time soon, the Visitation can remind and inspire us to act on our encounter with the Gospel in a prompt and purposeful way. Here are four steps to establish and grow the habit of making – and keeping – daily prayer resolutions:

 

Read the Gospel

 

“Consider the immensity of my love: nowhere will you find it more clearly expressed than in the Gospels.” These words were spoken by Jesus Himself to St. Matilda of Hackeborn, and remind us of the importance of encountering our Lord in the Gospel. Get in the habit of reading the Gospel every day (you can easily find the daily readings online, or pick up a daily missal from your parish). This simple five or ten-minute habit can be transformative.

 

Make a resolution

 

Once we’ve prayed, and mindfully reflected on the Gospel, how do we come up with a meaningful and relevant resolution? How do we know what God wants us to do? And what if we get it wrong?

 

When we approach meditation as a complex riddle with one correct solution (the perfect, divinely-inspired resolution), the pressure of trying to figure out exactly what it is God wants us to do can paralyze us into doing nothing at all. Instead, try this approach from Marcia Lebhar: “This is how we learn to hear the Lord, by doing what we think we hear then seeing what happens.” Any good thing that pops into your head at the end of your Gospel reading is the right place to start, whether it’s “perfect” or not.

 

Keep your resolution

 

The most important thing about a prayer resolution is keeping it. “If his majesty lets us gain everything by doing almost nothing,” advises St. Teresa of Avila, “let’s not be foolish and fail to do it.” A daily resolution is an easy way to grow in union with our Lord, and we’d be foolish not to take advantage of it!

 

The best way to fulfill a resolution is to make it achievable in the first place. A good resolution is simple, concrete, practical, and most importantly, doable! Remember that if you complete your initial resolution, you can always challenge yourself to do a little more, if you feel so inspired. Sometimes, doing one little thing motivates us to do bigger things. Sometimes, it’s the little thing that counts.

 

Track your progress

 

“What gets measured gets managed.” This advice from Peter Drucker has come in handy in my own attempts to establish the habit of daily resolutions. Every time you make a resolution, write it down someplace visible and convenient – in your journal, on your calendar, in a habit-tracking or note app on your phone – and keep track when you complete your resolution. This small act of accountability helps you to see progress when you’re making it and nudges you to do better when you’re not.

 

According to St. Francis de Sales, if you make and keep daily prayer resolutions, “you will correct your faults in a short time.” More importantly, however, these small resolutions you make to respond to and act on your encounter with the Gospel are a beautiful imitation of Mary, Our Lady of the Visitation, who, in response to being loved, set out, in haste, to love back.

 

 

Holly Gustafson lives with her husband, James, and their five children, in Regina, where they attend Christ the King Parish. Holly received her Masters in Linguistics at the University of Manitoba, and now pursues her love of language through art, writing, public speaking, and unsolicited grammatical advice. The best advice she ever received was from her spiritual friend, St. Faustina, who told her that when in doubt, "Always ask Love. It advises best."

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