The New Year is right around the corner and many people will begin making Resolutions. The impetus is correct. Most of us realize that we have flaws and weaknesses that really bug us. And if they bother us, the source, imagine how others feel. But what happens? I’d be interested to talk with anyone who’s actually managed to keep their New Year’s resolutions! Why is it so hard?
I remember hearing of Ben Franklin and how he created a list of resolves to improve upon. He would carefully catalog the character defects that he wanted to change and then he created a schedule for dealing with them. Now one thing Franklin did that most of us don’t do is rather than rid himself of the negative he looked to embracing the positive. For instance he thought he spent too much money, but rather than merely control his spending he aimed at living more frugally. He was too loud, but rather than merely stop trying to be noisy he contemplated silence. In other words, Franklin focused on the virtue rather than his vice. The second thing he did was instead of keeping his shortcomings private, Franklin wrote them down in his autobiography for everyone to know. (If he had had a relationship with a priest he wouldn’t have needed to have been quite so public!)
Franklin also decided that tackling all his flaws at once was an arduous project and so he proposed to work on one at a time. He kept a ‘little book’ with each of his virtues getting its own page with a weekly calendar. Blotches were recorded on the days when he fell short (that’s not unlike our birthday prayer “keeping him unspotted from the world”—which is from James 1.26). His goal was to eventually see a ‘clean book’ without spots. He didn’t make it. However he did claim that the exercise helped him immeasurably.
I was just having a conversation with a friend and we were discussing the grudges and resentments that many among us seem to harbor and why that was so. There are many reasons and excuses that contribute to this phenomenon; the most helpful understanding though is that I think we don’t exercise the virtues.
When we won’t (i.e., when we refuse to) let go of whatever we have against someone else, then we let that refusal define us. We become that which we resent when we refuse to forgive.
Taking a cue from Ben Franklin, perhaps we should stop thinking about what we think has been done to us by whomever, stop dwelling on the places in our lives that either hurt us or others (for those who are interested, St. John Cassian tells us that anything that falls under the categories of gluttony, fornication, avarice, anger, gloominess, acedia (laziness), vainglory, and pride are the things we need to be rid of).
Then let us go to our priest and spiritual director to confess, repent, receive forgiveness, and then turn our eyes upon Jesus, contemplating the virtue we would like to possess. The joy of the Christian life is that rather than having to fixate on the myriad vices to which we are subject, there is but one virtue which becomes our focus and obtaining it will vanquish all the sins. In Christ Jesus we understand that Love conquers all. (An extremely brief list of examples would include Leviticus 19.18; Deuteronomy 6.5; Micah 6.8; Matthew 5.44; 22.37,29; John 13.34; John 15.13; and 1 Corinthians 13.)
As we transition from Christmas to Epiphany in this New Year I urge us, as the Body of Christ, to resolve to memorize, study, and take to heart these verses of Scripture. “Let us so love…” Then the Lord will do a marvelous thing in our sight.