Let Us Firmly Resolve
May all your troubles in the coming year be as short-lived as your New Year’s resolutions,” quipped an anonymous realist. Recall the ambitious list of resolutions often created with good intentions at the beginning of each year—intentions to start walking, stop smoking, floss more, fuss less, lose weight, gain indulgences…you get the idea. If you’re like me, a few commitments in this annual ritual will be retired quickly. I assure myself there’s always the Lenten season to revisit those commitments; or perhaps next year I’ll resolve to resist making New Year’s resolutions.
However, in this Year of Mercy proclaimed by Pope Francis, I do intend to keep three resolutions: “O my God, I firmly resolve, with the help of thy grace, to confess my sins, do penance, and amend my life.” Why?
Confess my sins. “The confession of evil works is the first beginning of good works,” wrote St. Augustine.
Do penance. While absolution takes away sin, it does not remedy all the disorders sin has caused. One must do something more to make amends to regain full spiritual health. This satisfaction is called “penance” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 1459).
Amend my life. This challenging third component often tempts me to settle for two out of three. Nevertheless, “conversion is accomplished in daily life by gestures of reconciliation, concern for the poor, the exercise and defense of justice and right, by the admission of faults to one’s brethren, fraternal correction, revision of life, examination of conscience, spiritual direction, acceptance of suffering, endurance of persecution.…” (CCC 1435).
Every time I confess my list of shortcomings in the sacrament of penance, it occurs to me that I’ve been repeating some of the same sins since I reached the age of reason. Moreover, my resolve to amend my life of these lifelong habits is often short-lived. Although I repeatedly tell God I’ll change my life, some of those amendments fizzle out like wet firecrackers. Why hasn’t the grace from the sacrament helped me retire those repetitive bad habits?
The whole power of the sacrament of penance restores us to God’s grace and joins us with “him in an intimate friendship.” While this is the primary purpose and effect, the sacrament “is usually followed by peace and serenity of conscience with strong spiritual consolation” (CCC 1468).
For too long my conscience has been inhibited by this notion: The sacramental grace from penance doesn’t last long enough to help amend my life long-term. Eureka! It’s my notion that needs amending. Therefore, to more fully make room for an uninhibited, all-merciful God, this year I’ll ask God to give me:
The serenity to accept the things I cannot change, The courage to change the things I can, And the wisdom to know the difference. Amen.
—Common wording of the Serenity Prayer
attributed to Reinhold Niebuhr