Into the New Year
This year, I’m getting a running start! I’m going to shoot into the New Year like a cannonball!
Each New Year’s Eve, I find myself a bit introspective. Something about the mystery of time gets me thinking. Another year has passed. Another year is sealed in which scores of events and actions have been irrevocably woven into its fabric. In my own life too, I become aware that the path that I chose to tread this past year has shaped who I am. The blessings and sufferings, the successes and failures, the ordinary and the extraordinary have changed me. There is no going back — only forward. And what will this year hold? With the freshness of this clean slate, the crispness and purity of the year open before me, I wonder what new vistas of life and love lie ahead.
These musings always lead me, somewhat ceremoniously, to chart a course for the New Year. I dutifully start by identifying grandiose goals and translate those into specific, attainable steps for each month. I journal and I plan; I make little reminders so that I can remember my resolutions; I envision success; and I launch into the New Year as the clock strikes twelve.
On New Year’s Day, my golden resolutions have to be postponed, of course. I mean, how can someone not celebrate this Marian Solemnity with a little rest and relaxation? And then January 2nd, 3rd and 4th I’m normally enjoying a bit of down time from the activity of the classroom, so I can’t really jump into the resolutions until we are all back into our regular routine. And by January 5th, well, most of the newness and freshness of my resolutions has begun to wear off. Perhaps a few days of zeal follow but pretty soon discouragement sets in and the whole thing is shoved under the rug lest it prick my conscience.
This year has me thinking in a different vein, though: perhaps the root cause of my lack of motivation is found not in a lack of will power but in a faulty internalization of the principles underlying my New Year’s goals. Perhaps I don’t really want to change?
We know that human beings, created in the image and likeness of God, are endowed with the precious gifts of intellect and free will. By virtue of his intellect, “the human person is capable of understanding the order of things established by the Creator.” And by his “free will, he is capable of directing himself toward his true good” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 1704). Our will always seeks what the intellect perceives as good, but since our nature bears the wound of original sin, our will is now inclined to evil and our intellect is subject to error. In other words, we still want the good but we often are going after the wrong thing!
Much experience has proven that if we want to change a habit, it is not enough to simply make the decision to do so. This is because, according to our intellect, the habit was formed for a good reason! In order to change a habit, we must change how we think. We have to take an honest look at what we perceive as good. What is the good that we have been seeking which has led to our habit-forming actions? Comfort? Prestige? Independence? Security? Control? Is this the good that I really want to continue seeking, or is there a higher good that I need to turn my will toward? Charity? Integrity? Honesty? Peacefulness? Purity? Faithfulness? In the end, it is quite ineffective to expect our independent will alone to discipline us against what our intellect perceives as the highest good.
What does this look like in practice? Well, I’m pretty sure that most of us should be eating more vegetables and less sweets. Yet how many of us have honestly done enough study about nutrition and prayed enough about our bodies being a temple of the Holy Spirit to really WANT to eat more vegetables! In fact, standing on the threshold of 2015 I can honestly say that I don’t really even WANT to WANT to eat more vegetables!
So that is where I’m going to begin. Instead of revving up the engine of my will power to make life changes that are overdue, I’m first working to put on the mind of Christ. Before the freshness of this New Year is marred by my excuses and apathy, I’m diving into prayer and asking for the grace to do what I cannot do alone. I’m also doing my homework through prayer and study so that I can allow our Lord to convince me of the truths that I need to deeply internalize if I’m going to make any lasting changes:
- that mercy is boundless and worth sharing;
- that God is found in silence;
- that goodness and charity are to be sought at all times;
- that self-control is an expression of love;
- that holiness is happiness;
- that service brings joy; and
- yes, that vegetables are good for me.
A woman once asked St. John Vianney the best way to get to heaven. He answered “Quite straight, like a cannonball!” We just need to make sure that our intellects have our cannons aimed in the right direction! The key is letting in the light of truth.
Happy New Year! May you go to Him “quite straight, like a cannonball!”
Art: Logo of The Carmelite Sisters of the Most Sacred Heart of Los Angeles, used with permission. Sepia of Foelix Hic Novus Annus (Happiness in this New Year; translation of Latin inscription is: “I am as new as Christ child born of a virgin pure, Mortal, may your new year be just as happy and sure.”), 16th century woodcut, PD-Worldwide; Holy Spirit Detail from “Chair of Saint Peter in St. Peter’s Basilica“, 03 05 2008, Sergey Smirnov, CCA-SA; John Vianney, PD-US copyright expired; all three Wikimedia Commons.
This post originally appeared on the website of the Carmelite Sisters of the Most Sacred Heart of Los Angeles, used with permission.