The following is a short excerpt on New Year’s resolutions from a series of reflections I wrote for the Paulist Evangelization Ministries app for Advent/Christmas: “From Promise to Fulfillment.” I offer it with my best wishes to all Pray Tell readers for a blessed and joyful New Year. 

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Will you make a New Year’s resolution this year? Social scientists who study this practice say that about 45% of Americans make New Year’s resolutions. The three most popular ones are, not surprisingly: lose weight, get organized, and spend less / save more. Unfortunately, the same research shows that only about 8% of those who make such resolutions keep them. People start off hopefully, but then old habits overtake their good intentions.

None of this should surprise us as Catholics. We believe in free will, as well as God’s grace. Resolutions are acts of will that reach into the future. Catholic moral theology also reminds us, however, that we often fall short even when we intend to do something good. That should not keep us from trying, however! New Year’s resolutions — including a determined effort to be better stewards of our bodies, our time, and our possessions — can help us on our pilgrim way.

We might also ask ourselves: “What resolution can I make that will improve my spiritual life?”

There are several keys to success in keeping a resolution. First, it should be a specific, achievable goal. If we aim too high or are too vague, we are more likely to give up. Second, the “buddy system” works. If we tell friends or family members our resolution, they will support and encourage us. Keeping a diary or simply writing it down helps too. Finally, we need to believe that we can do it. Willpower grows as we use it.

Many people would like to develop a deeper relationship with God. A specific resolution might be to take five minutes for prayer every morning. If daily resolutions are hard to keep, weekly or monthly resolutions may work, such as reading the scriptures of Sunday Mass weekly, or committing to an intentional practice of almsgiving monthly. Making time for even one special event in the coming year, such as a pilgrimage or a spiritual retreat, could also be a worthy goal.

Holy Spirit, guide me in the creative and faithful use of my free will. Let my life give you glory!

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