Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington
"Discerning New Year’s resolutions"
by Bishop Blase J. Cupich
(From the January 16, 2014 edition of the Inland Register)
In a conference to her Religious Sisters, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton (1774-1821), the patroness of Catholic schools, proposed three tasks to center their daily work: 1) do the will of God; 2) do it in the manner God wills; 3) do it because it is God’s will.
That sage advice came to mind as I thought about making some New Year’s resolutions. So often we start by making our resolutions about what we want in order to make our lives happier. We may want a smaller waistline, a more disciplined approach to life, or fix whatever we believe is the reason we are not living up to the expectations we have of ourselves.
But St. Elizabeth cautions us that this is not the place to start. It is not about deciding what we want, but about being open to and praying to know what God wants for us. What does God want for us? In the end, as Blessed John Newman (1801-1890) once wrote, God wants our happiness: “God knows my greatest happiness…, and He means to give it to me.” Making a New Year’s resolution thus should begin with praying that God reveal to us what will make us truly happy, not what makes others happy or what the world tells us brings happiness. By opening ourselves to what God has in mind to give us, we escape selling our happiness short by narrowly defining it only in terms of what brings superficial and momentary pleasure, or what makes others happy. The first step in making a resolution is: Believe God wants our happiness.
What does it mean to do God’s will in the manner God wills? It means surrendering daily by placing ourselves in God’s hands, which we all know is risky because God is “totally other” and takes us by unknown and unchartered ways. It is at this point that we have to decide, a word that comes from the Latin de+ cćdere, meaning “to cut off.” The real decision in making a resolution for the New Year involves trusting God that when we go His way, a fully new way, we not only will survive the cutting-off from what we have done before, but in fact we will be left happier and more fulfilled. This trust costs us something. We tend to rely on old patterns, even unhealthy ones, because they are familiar and bring some kind of comfort. Yet, they too often hold us back from realizing our true potential, the potential happiness that God wants for us. The second step, then, in making a resolution is: Trust in God to bring about our happiness even if it involves a cutting-off from the past.
Finally, we are to follow this course of doing God’s will not because we will it or because we feel good about it, but solely because it is God’s will, not ours. This presents a great challenge, for we live in a time when the human will has been enshrined as the absolute measure of our humanity. Freedom is most often defined today as the capacity to do what I want. Yet, as we get older, it becomes clear to us that so often we do not really know what we want. There are so many options and choices in life today. We feel the pressure. What should we order on the menu? Which game should we watch? What car should we buy? In the end, the myriad of choices ends up enslaving us. By saying we should do what we do because it is God’s will, St. Elizabeth offers us a freedom from our self-enslavement, which so many options otherwise deny us. The third step in making a resolution is: Seek the freedom that comes in saying, as Jesus did, “not my will, but yours be done.”
So, let’s make some resolutions for the New Year, but let’s do it by believing God wants our happiness, by trusting God to bring it about even if it costs us something, and by being willing to let go of the enslavement that comes in imposing our will on life, so that we can be truly free in making our will God’s own.
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