Now that we are nearing the end of the first two weeks of the New Year, it is likely that most of our New Year’s resolutions have begun to fizzle. Then again, if you are still going strong, God bless you!
One year, I really made a significant change in my life as the result of a New Year’s resolution, so I certainly do not discount the potential significance of “turning over a new leaf.” However, after experiencing so many New Year’s failures, I eventually came to realize that every day is a good day for making a resolution. Why wait until one time each year to make positive changes in our lives that may or may not actually take hold?
Making resolutions is similar to practicing the Catholic faith. We resolve. We fall. We resolve. We fall.
Practicing the faith requires persistence, because each time we fall, with the help of God’s grace we need to get up again and begin anew.
Good resolutions can come out of our daily examination of conscience. Practicing the faith also requires a certain level of comfort with repetition. In our daily prayer life, we may find ourselves making the same resolutions over and over again.
Making resolutions, and failing at them, is good for our humility. A wise man was once asked by his disciple, “Master, what is humility?” The wise man replied, “I don’t know. I don’t have any.”
In my experience, humility seems to grow out of humiliations. In our repeated failures to amend our lives, we can experience personal humiliation. This can lead us to realize that we really can do nothing without God’s grace, which is a crucial realization in the spiritual life.
When we recognize our need for God’s grace in order to grow in holiness, we may also develop a heightened spiritual appreciation for the gift of the sacraments.
When we make a spiritual resolution and then find ourselves failing, we always have recourse to the Sacrament of Reconciliation, or Confession.
When we make a good Confession, we are putting humility into practice. It has always been my belief that face-to-face Confession is better for our humility, especially if it is less comfortable. When, in faith, we place ourselves before a priest to confess our sins, we need to recognize that we are indeed placing our sins humbly before Jesus.
Much more than the strength of our resolve, the grace that we receive in the sacrament through absolution can truly super-charge our spirit. If it is pleasing to God, through Confession, our resolve receives supernatural help in the form of invisible but palpable grace.
Resolutions are good to make, and should be made frequently (if not daily). As Catholics, we need to realize that only with God’s grace (supernatural help) can we overcome human weaknesses that serve as obstacles in our relationship with God and neighbor.
In my opinion, going to Confession once or twice a year is not enough. The average Catholic can greatly benefit from making a good Confession every three months or so.
When I say “good Confession,” I mean that we need to prepare prayerfully for the sacrament for some weeks in advance. We need to ask God to help us make a good Confession, and we need to ask the Holy Spirit for enlightenment so that we know what to confess.
Some Catholics go to Confession weekly. In my opinion, such frequent Confession presents spiritual risks. Do we really believe in dynamic grace if we need to return so frequently to the sacrament? Or has our cycle of sin and repentance become mechanical? Does scrupulosity make us afraid to approach the altar?
If we go to Confession every three or four months, we may find ourselves in serious sin in the meantime.
As Catholics, we believe that absolution is “guaranteed” through the sacrament, but that does not mean that we cannot express our sins and our sorrow for them directly to Jesus in our daily prayer.
If we are in mortal sin, and we have not gone to Confession, it is proper to refrain from receiving Communion. This too, can be very good for our humility.
In an age when nearly “everyone” receives Communion at Mass, even though only a small percent have recently gone to Confession, it can be humbling to refrain from joining the Communion line.
If someone asks us why we did not receive Communion, we can say, “That is between me and my God.”