by Jennifer Gregory Miller for CatholicCulture.org
From the end of December into January, everyone is abuzz about making New Year’s resolutions. Most resolutions revolve around health of the body: lose weight, exercise more, change bad eating habits. As we enter the third week of January, so many resolutions are already forgotten, broken, or being revised. The new gym memberships are lying fallow and exercise equipment is gathering dust. The gloomy winter weather weakens one’s willpower against comfort foods that are off the diet.
A new calendar and a new year gives a sense for many of a “clean slate” and inspires a fresh start or new beginnings. I’m not against making resolutions. I make my own and continually need to refresh them. But I find that making resolutions just for a new calendar year feels arbitrary and artificial. Applying new resolutions to change anything in my life needs to be balanced with the spiritual life. And I see that balance in two ways: 1) within the liturgical year 2) accomplished with God’s grace.
Following the Rhythm of the Liturgical Year
There is a beautiful rhythm of the Catholic Liturgical Year. It unfolds different feasts and seasons of preparing, feasting, and growing. The start of the solar calendar year doesn’t have a corresponding season in the Church year. January 1st ends the Christmas octave and continues the celebration of the Christmas season. I find my resolutions make more sense and have more “staying power” when they fit within the context the Liturgical Year. My January 1st resolutions to establish a better routine of exercise will immediately fall short if I’m still traveling with my family. Since we are still hosting a family celebration for Epiphany and my husband’s birthday falls on the traditional day of Epiphany, I recognize that I shouldn’t add impractical goals during the Christmas season.
Even Pope Francis didn’t call merely for New Year’s resolutions, but called for“fruitful examination of conscience in preparation for Holy Christmas and the New Year.” He spoke to Vatican employees on December 22nd, suggesting ten resolutions, mainly spiritually focused, to make, in preparation for Christmas. This story has been reworked by several news agencies to make it appear that Pope Francis called in particular for resolutions for the new year.
The Church year has seasons of contrast, with peaks, plains and valleys. This isn’t to say there are lows and highs within the year, but there are contrasts between fasting, ferias (no feast day), and feasting. Within the different seasons there are times of preparation, continued growth, and celebration. The Liturgical Year unfolds her liturgy at different times that call us to repent, change, make resolutions, (Advent and Lent), and even opportunities to redouble efforts (such as O Antiphon Days and the Sacred Triduum) before the big celebrations of Christmas and Easter.
After the two celebratory seasons of Christmas and Easter, the Church has the Time or Season of the Year, or Ordinary Time. Drawing on the root word of ordinary, this is a time when we are ordering our life towards God. We are putting order into our days. The Catechesis of the Good Shepherd refers to this as the “growing time.” The liturgical color of this season is green, the symbol of hope and victory, but also new life and growth. We have been given special gifts during the Advent, Christmas, Lent and Easter seasons, and now it is a time to put these gifts into action. This is a time for us to live as Christians, guarding and strengthening the life received at Baptism.
It makes more sense to begin anew with personal resolutions during the seasons of Advent, Lent and Ordinary Time because they are liturgically pointed to action and change, renewal, repentance and growth. And when we reach those celebratory seasons of Christmas and Easter, we continue living out those resolutions, sharing them in joy!
With Christ We Can Do All Things
Focus on improving oneself should encompass the whole person, and recognize that nothing can be accomplished without grace. We shouldn’t isolate only certain aspects of a person. If we don’t balance our resolve to improve in all aspects — physical, mental, emotional and spiritual — there is less probability of success. Personal goals should always be grounded in faith and grace. Healthy goals aren’t outside of the spiritual life, if we view our bodies as Temples of the Holy Spirit. Having a spiritual balance can provide more motivation. And to take a page from our Holy Father, we have to include love of God and love of neighbor by caring for others in our resolutions. If we are undertaking physical changes, we have this opportunity to offer up mortifications, use our sufferings, not just for our personal good, but benefiting our neighbors in the Mystical Body of Christ.
But above all, we have to recognize we need spiritual help to make any changes. Philippians 4:13 can be our motto for our resolve: “I can do all things in him who strengthens me.”
Now that the Church enters Ordinary Time, there is a different focus that helps nurture our resolutions. We are in a growing time that allow us to put the gifts from the Advent and Christmas seasons into practice. I know my timing may be different than the rest of the world, and it doesn’t line up perfectly on my calendar. I still have my resolutions, but I am following the rhythm of the Liturgical Year and recognizing that I am helpless without His grace to accomplish anything. Care to join me?