Bishop's Column

With firm purpose of amendment

It is said that centuries ago, medieval Christian knights began the tradition of New Year’s resolutions. Each year after Christmas, French noblemen would hold a large feast, and renew their annual vow to chivalry: to protect women and children, to pursue honor and virtue, and to defend the Church, the faith, and the Gospel.
Few people remember the history of our secular New Year’s resolutions. Today many people make a promise in January to lose some extra weight, or to quit a bad habit, and most often by February these promises are forgotten. But there is something noble and significant about our culture’s willingness to recognize faults and shortcomings, and resolve to do better. In fact, such a practice should seem familiar and natural to Catholics.
We may not all do so on January 1, but Catholics make resolutions all the time—they are a part of our spirituality, our liturgy, and our sacramental life.
The Church recommends that Christians be in the habit of regular self-examination, and regular recommitment to a life of virtue and charity. Every time we participate in Holy Mass, we do this in a ritual way as part of the Introductory Rite. And the regular practice of sacramental confession—monthly, perhaps—disposes us to recognize our sinfulness and to resolve to change. Each person who prays the act of contrition tells the Lord that “I firmly resolve…to change my life.” In fact, if we confess our sins, and do not intend to change, we can’t hope for God’s true forgiveness.
St. Ignatius of Loyola recommended that Catholics spend time each night engaged in a short examination of the day. The Daily Examen, as St. Ignatius called the practice, is an opportunity to see God’s grace at work over the course of a day that is coming to a close, to offer him thanksgiving, and to recognize the times we have failed to cooperate with God’s grace. Like confession, the Daily Examen includes a commitment to follow the Lord more closely the next day.
Christian resolve is different from the New Year’s resolutions the world makes each January.  New Year’s promises are meant to be kept by sheer willpower. They are usually abandoned. But our commitment to turn away from sin and to follow after Christ is made in the context of grace. Grace makes all the difference.
When we confess our sins, and promise to change our lives, we’re also asking Jesus Christ to aid us in that change. The promise of the Christian life is that Christ can transform us from sinners into saints—that he can be our help in the daily battle against our sinfulness. In the words of the popular Catholic author Matthew Kelly, Christ wants us to be “the best versions of ourselves,” and that he helps us to become the saints we’re made to be.
In 1996, Pope John Paul II said that when we promise to turn away from sin, we can also “expect from God’s Goodness, through his promises and through the merits of Jesus Christ the Savior, eternal life and the graces necessary to attain it.” Promises made in faith are expressions of hope in Christ our savior.
New Year’s resolutions often quickly fall apart. Apart from grace, that seems inevitable. But all of us should develop the habit of making good resolutions often. We should get accustomed to resolving firmly to amend our lives. We should promise Christ our virtue, and pledge him our charity. And with real faith and a firm purpose of amendment, we should trust that God, and God alone, can help us keep those promises. He can help us to turn away from sin. He can help us to practice virtue. He can help us to become holy.
Let us resolve, this year, and always, to ask for Christ’s unfailing help.

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