The practice of New Year resolutions is a good one. If it’s treated seriously but lightly, the year 2015 will be better than it would be otherwise, as each day is better when it begins with a focus on doing some specific thing better.
And failure doesn’t count. Or rather, don’t reckon failure as absolute. The person who resolves to exercise at least three times a week shouldn’t give up if she misses that goal before January ends. The original desire and intention remain. Hold onto them and keep trying. Remember the first rule for prayer and every lesser intention: just show up.
It can also help to think about our strengths as well as the weak spots. Don’t spend too much time on the work to be done. Enjoy the goodness already working in you.
A good resolution for all of us is to pray every day. Take a little time out from the stuff that demands attention, like work and family life and study and phone calls and text messages. Be still, if only for a minute, and let yourself be open to greater life. Such a practice makes everything more like that “peace of Christ” we wish each other during Mass and less like a race to keep up with the crowd.
And if you miss a day, simply resume in the day at hand.
We Catholics are doing better as readers of the Bible, but we can always do more. Resolve to keep a Bible around where you might easily pick it up to read. Notice the kind of book it is: a collection of writings from different times and in a variety of styles. Much of it reads like history, but this is history with a deep difference. What appears to be a simple description of events, like the Holy Family getting to Nazareth from Bethlehem by way of Egypt in the Gospel according to Matthew, was really written as a profound message to the first Christians, who were Jews. As they saw Moses leading their ancestors out of slavery in Egypt to the Promised Land, they should now see Jesus as the new way of deliverance from sin into the life of God.
Those first Christians would have been familiar with a prophecy in the Book of Hosea: “Out of Egypt I called my son” (Hosea 11:1). Since we 21st-century Christians aren’t as familiar with what we call the Old Testament, we generally need help in order to see the full meaning in biblical writings. A good commentary is a very useful companion when reading the Bible.
As a third resolution for this new year, pick one of the “gifts of the Holy Spirit” to practice. Act as if you possess what you hope for among those seven traditional virtues that identify the spiritually mature. They are wisdom, understanding, knowledge, counsel, fortitude, piety, and fear of the Lord.
These aren’t to be understood in secular terms. We don’t walk around pretending to be smarter and wiser and stronger than everyone else. Think of them more as what happens in our priorities, our choices, our viewpoint when we gain the habit of prayer. That first resolution, to pray daily, is crucial. It opens us to what is beyond us yet available. It opens us to God. And the life of God, which is love, becomes active through us in all kinds of ways. We become different persons than we would be otherwise. Our relationships are different.
Christian tradition, based on St. Paul’s letter to the Galatians (5:22), has a list of 12 “fruits” that come from those “gifts” of the Holy Spirit. They are charity, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, generosity, gentleness, faithfulness, modesty, self-control, and chastity.
All of this begins with faith and a resolution to pray.