I’m less inclined to make New Year’s resolutions than to make daily (and especially monthly) resolutions when I go to regular Confession. For Catholics, making resolutions is an ongoing activity. We are taught to make a daily examination of conscience and pray an Act of Contrition.
Catholics are often inaccurately portrayed as the religion of guilt. The uninformed cynics fail to understand that Catholics are not overly focused on guilt; quite the opposite. We are focused on rooting out the cause of our guilt and freeing ourselves from it.
Guilt is simply the human condition that occurs to alert our consciences that behavior is out of line with morality. The idea that the solution is discarding morals to rid one of guilt comes from the evil one. Instead, God’s way is to confess our sins and resolve to do better.
A Gift to Remedy
Jesus gave us a gift to go with our resolutions. On the day of his resurrection, he appeared to his apostles who were locked away in the upper room. “…He breathed on them, and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained” (John 21:22).
Just prior to giving His apostles the power to forgive sins, Jesus told them, “As the Father sent me, so am I sending you.” Only God can forgive sins, but here, He was giving God’s power to be used by them.
Jesus bestowed this power on the apostles on Easter Sunday by breathing on them. The only other time the Bible mentions God breathing on anyone was in Genesis 2:7 when He breathed life into the first human beings. Likewise, Confession breathes new life into our souls.
Resolutions for the Soul
With the sacrament of Confession as the cornerstone for living a life of resolution, we don’t need to wait for January 1 to make self-improvements. The number one New Year’s resolution people make is going on a diet. This is a fine resolution—but since we live for eternity, we would be remiss not to make resolutions to improve our everlasting soul.
Such resolutions are easy enough to come by. One need only look at the areas where we are prone to feel guilty and resolve to lean on God more to overcome those weaknesses. Or look at the Ten Commandments and see where we are falling short. Resolutions can be simple and yet challenging, such as not gossiping or complaining. That is something that can be tackled day by day or even hour by hour. As with all our sins, falling is to be expected but so is getting back up and fighting the good fight.
A friend and I once commiserated that we were embarrassed to so often confess the same sins. My friend told me she shared this feeling with a priest during confession. “Well, at least you aren’t committing any new ones,” he joked, putting things in perspective. Catholic teaching does not rub salt into a guilty wound. We are told that God understands but that we must keep confessing and resolving to do better.
Doing better does not happen overnight, but usually in baby steps (with some steps backwards) as we ultimately move forward. Every day is a new day, so the New Year is just a bigger picture of our daily move towards heaven. Happy New Year and may God bless you with strength for your resolutions.