by Fr. John Reeves
Every New Year people make resolutions to change behavior. Most of the time it has to do with drinking or eating less, giving up smoking, starting a new exercise regime, or something similar in the field of self-improvement. Polls are taken, surveys are completed, and the results are typically the same. Whatever the resolution at the New Year, the resolve wanes and the old behavior soon reasserts itself.
The civil New Year coincides with the Church’s own call, not to resolution but to repentance in the Feast of our Lord’s Theophany at the River Jordan. It was the cry of John the Baptist—”Repent”—that stirred the consciences of Galileans and Judeans, Pharisees and fishermen. It prepared the way for Jesus’s revelation to the world as the Son of God at his baptism in the River Jordan, the worship of the Trinity made manifest.
To take a change in our behavior seriously, we need to move beyond resolution to repentance. Resolution is based upon our own willpower. Because we tend to lack that willpower, or the ability to sustain it for very long, we soon lapse back into the old conduct.
Yet the call to repentance is far greater than another soon to be broken New Year’s resolution. Repentance is based first of all on a “change of mind” to quote the Greek. But this “change of mind” is not merely one of the intellect but a change in our hearts and souls as well. Our minds may reason that “x” is a bad habit, but unless we replace our love for “x” with a love for God, our behavior will not match what we’ve reasoned the good to be. In other words, to give up gluttony or lust means we must replace our idolatry of food or sensuality with love of God. To give up any vice, we must do the same. This is the basis of repentance.
We must love God more than any thing. In so doing, our heart, strength, mind, and soul are then oriented in the same direction. And God provides the grace lacking in us by nature to accomplish that which God alone can accomplish in us. New Year’s resolutions tend to fail because we refuse to give up our love for a certain behavior, even though we might have reasoned that it is bad for us. We consequently do not rely on God’s help to amend our conduct. Repentance is that ongoing process of striving to love God above all else with our behavior changing as a consequence of that love, both our love for Him and His, for us.
So, will it be New Year’s resolutions or a new year of repentance and ultimate joy?