5 Ways to Supercharge 2021

Jenny Uebbing

When we look back at 2020 in the history books one day, I believe the universal theme will be “suffering.” Whether that suffering took the form of illness, death, financial ruin, mental health struggles, or social isolation, it’s safe to say that 2020 took no prisoners.

It has become fashionable to lament the dumpster fire that was this past year, and I’ve indulged in my fair share. But I am also convinced that 2020 had a relatively thick silver lining, and it’s this: all the band-aids came off.

After the past year, I can safely say that I am intimately acquainted with all my scars and shortcomings in a way that leaves no room for doubt. Diagnosis: human. I am frail, I am fallible, and it seems like I found 100 new ways to fail my friends, my family, and my God during the previous 12 months.

What’s so silver about that lining, you might be wondering? Well, it’s this. The masks are off. Er, well, perhaps not the actual masks, but the ones that we wore even before we all knew the term “N95.” The ones that we’d worn so long and so comfortably that we may have forgotten what we looked like behind them. We had names for them like“busyness” and “financially successful” and “resilient and independent” and “unflaggingly optimistic” and “four sport athlete” and “world traveller” and, oh, 100 other names we’d taken on as our primary identities. And then they were gone.

A friend was unburdening her soul in the confessional this past summer of the many fears and frustrations she felt with the draconian new state of affairs and the drumbeat of doom from the media. Father listened with compassion and quiet attention, agreeing that it was really too much for any human being to handle…alone.

“Let us make something new of 2020. Let us create something new in our families and in our homes so that in the future, years from now we can point back to the calendar and say ‘oh, yes, 2020, that’s the year I started praying a daily rosary/going to daily Mass/praying aloud with my spouse every day… Let 2020 be the turning point.’”

I still think about his advice to her, nearly half a year later. And while I’m tapping my foot in anticipation of putting this one on the record books, I know that 2021 can only be truly different if I do something differently. So here are a few ideas:

1. Stop reading the news all day.

It’s making you anxious and crazy, and that’s great news for the media companies and their bottom lines! If you must consume it, either for work or due to an incorrigible personal curiosity (guilty), then pick a set time like you would for an appointment or meeting, set an alarm in your phone or calendar, and restrict yourself to a sane amount of information. I’ve heard it said, anecdotally, that we should spend as many minutes in prayer as we do scrolling our newsfeeds each day. Gulp.

2. Which leads me to…social media.

Do you really need it? I mean really, really? Could you hire it out if it’s for business? Use a third party app like HootSuite to post for you remotely? I read a life-changing book a few years ago called Deep Work by Cal Newport, and it forever changed the way I thought about spending my time. His followup title, Digital Minimalism, is even more relevant to the topic at hand. He advocates for constantly asking oneself, “am I gaining something meaningful from the time I spend in these apps…or are they gaining something from me?” If you’re honest with yourself, as I’ve had to be, I suspect you’ll find little there worth salvaging.

3. Prioritize prayer.

If you’re stumbling out of bed when your kids do, set your alarm five minutes earlier than their earliest intrusion. If you’re commuting and listening to talk radio or jamming out, try 15 minutes of silence instead. It is totally possible to do Lectio Divina with a toddler on your lap, or to practice meditative prayer while sitting in traffic. It’s only a matter of putting ourselves in God’s presence – He does the rest.

4. Don’t neglect your primary vocation.

If 2020 taught us anything, it’s how much of life happens between our own four walls. Wounds that needed to heal were exposed, oftentimes painfully. Ruptures in need of repair were brought to the forefront. Conversations we’d been avoiding for fear of conflict or out of complacency were suddenly…had. And however it may have felt, that’s not a bad thing. We are here on earth to grow in holiness and charity through our vocations: our specific, personal path which leads us to God. The person you promised to love and cherish, the children you’re raising together, the religious community you made vows to – they’re the way and the means by which we’ll get to heaven. Or not. God isn’t going to ask me how clean my floors were or how many books I sold, but I think He is going to crane His neck and look for my husband and children, asking whether I did my best to bring them along.

5. Choose gratitude.

In times of poverty or plenty, when toilet paper abundantly lines the shelves, and when nary a Clorox wipe is to be found… at the end of the day, the only thing I can truly control is my own attitude towards the life I’ve been handed that day. And so, at the end of the day in our family, we give thanks, simply and specifically, recognizing that God is the giver of all good gifts. And if the gifts aren’t good? Well, we work towards the belief that “He works all things for good for those who love him.” 

In the words of St. John Paul II, a personal hero of mine, “remember the past with gratitude. Live the present with enthusiasm. Look forward to the future with confidence.” 

COMING UP: Five tips for reading the Word of God

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Sunday, Jan. 24 marks “The Sunday of the Word of God,” instituted by Pope Francis last year and to be held every year on the third Sunday of Ordinary Time. This may strike us as odd, as we might think to ourselves, “but isn’t the Bible read at every Sunday Mass?” Certainly so. Not only that, but every daily celebration of the Mass proclaims the Word of God.

What’s different about “The Sunday of the Word of God,” however, is that it’s not just about hearing the Bible read on Sundays. As the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith notes, it “reminds us, pastors and faithful alike, of the importance and value of Sacred Scripture for the Christian life, as well as the relationship between the word of God and the liturgy: ‘As Christians, we are one people, making our pilgrim way through history, sustained by the Lord, present in our midst, who speaks to us and nourishes us. A day devoted to the Bible should not be seen as a yearly event but rather a year-long event, for we urgently need to grow in our knowledge and love of the Scriptures and of the Risen Lord, who continues to speak his word and to break bread in the community of believers. For this reason, we need to develop a closer relationship with Sacred Scripture; otherwise, our hearts will remain cold and our eyes shut, inflicted as we are by so many forms of blindness.’” This gives us a wonderful opportunity to pause and reflect on the Sacred Scriptures. 

There are two means by which God Divinely reveals truths to us: Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition. As such, the Bible is not merely a human document, nor simply a collection of amazing stories that call us to do heroic things, or a collection of wise sayings. Rather, the Scriptures are “inspired.” St. Paul has a beautiful teaching about this in 2 Timothy 3:16-17 – “All scripture, inspired of God, is profitable to teach, to reprove, to correct, to instruct in justice, That the man of God may be perfect, furnished to every good work.” By “inspired” we mean that God is the principle author of the Bible.

Certainly there were different men who physically wrote the words on the papyrus. Yet these men were influenced by the grace of inspiration to write, not just their own words, but God’s. And so the Scriptures are a mysterious congruence of Divine and human authorship – the human writers capably made full use of language, literary forms, creativity, and writing style to communicate their message, yet they did so under the grace of Divine inspiration. This means that while they wrote in such a way that they had full freedom to write as they wanted, what they wrote was also, “to a tee,” exactly as God wanted written. God is the principle author of the Bible, the human author its secondary writer. Such inspiration is how, despite the various human authors, events, and historical and cultural contexts behind the 73 Biblical texts, we’re still left with only one story since they all have the same one primary author. 

Given that the Bible is the written word of God, I’d like to offer a few “tips” for reading the Bible, since it certainly cannot be read like any other text. 

1. Pray! We must pray before opening the Scriptures for enlightenment from God. We must pray after reading in thanksgiving to God. And we must pray throughout reading in order to encounter God in Scripture and apply it to our life. Of course, the tried and trusted practice of praying the Scriptures is Lectio DivinaThe Ladder of Monks by Guigo II is the ancient resource for Lectio Divina, while a helpful book to get you started is Dr. Tim Gray’s Praying Scripture for a Change: An Introduction to Lectio Divina

2. Remember that you are in no rush. The important point is encountering Christ in the Scriptures, not racing through them. Speed reading isn’t reading, after all, much less when applied to the Word of God. It’s not about getting through the Bible, but encountering Christ therein. That may be a few chapters at a time or may actually be only one verse that you pray with. Whatever the case, slow and steady wins the race, as Aesop reminds us. 

3. We have to read the Scriptures regularly, daily if possible. We read in Psalm 1, “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.” Meditating day and night. A good way to start would be to read one Psalm a night as a part of your nightly prayer. Ever better would be praying that one Psalm with your spouse, if married. 

4. Do not worry about starting on page one and reading from cover to cover. It’s easy to get overwhelmed and lost in the text. We all know about Adam and Eve, Noah and the Flood, Moses and the Plagues. But how many understand animal sacrifices in the Book of Leviticus or its purity laws? It’s very easy, starting from page one and flipping straight through, to lose sight of the story of salvation history. Start from page one if you’d like, but don’t feel like you can’t start with whatever book (especially the Gospels) that you find yourself drawn to. 

5. Come take classes with the Denver Catholic Biblical School! In chapter eight of the Book of Acts, we read of an Ethiopian Eunuch reading from the Prophet Isaiah. When the Deacon Philip asks him if he understands what he’s reading, the Eunuch responds, “How can I, unless some one guides me?” This is what we at the Biblical School are here for – to guide you in your encounter with Christ in the Sacred Scriptures. We’re in the middle of our Scripture classes already for this year, but we always start new classes in the fall every September. And in the meantime, we have plenty of things still coming for this year – a class on Catholic Social Teaching that begins on Jan. 27 a lecture series for Lent that starts on March 1, a conference on the Sacred Heart being offered on May 15 and Aug. 28, and a six-week class on St. Joseph in the summer starting in July. We have something for everybody – just reach out to us!