Cardinal Blase J Cupich

New Year's Resolutions

January 11, 2015

Some years ago, when I was a seminary rector, I realized that some adjustment was in order when the faculty and I evaluated the suitability of seminarians for Holy Orders. The question was: Should this man be ordained a priest?

On reflection, what struck me was our tendency to assess candidates on their ability to avoid making serious mistakes. In short, I thought we were falling into the trap of discerning weaknesses rather than gifts.

Too often, when we were considering students, especially a questionable candidate for priesthood, we seemed to be asking, “Has he done the minimum, kept his nose clean, complied with the rules?” I became convinced that a new approach was needed. Instead of beginning with limitations, we began to look at suitability first by assessing gifts and talents. That meant asking the question: “What does this seminarian have to offer the church?”

That seminary experience comes to mind, as I hear people talk about making resolutions for the New Year. Often, they focus on a negative assessment of their lives — their oversized waistlines, the imbalances of their check books, their failings in relationships with others and their various forms of misbehavior. They generally start with areas of their lives in which they have fallen short and which need correction.

Of course, that kind of honest self-assessment is needed from time to time. We know how easily we can become self-deceived about our own lives. We need to face reality clearly and honestly and take steps to correct ourselves. But, if we start and stop there — focusing only on our weaknesses — we almost inevitably are left discouraged, especially when we fall back into the same patterns in the coming year. We convince ourselves that defeat is inevitable, the inertia of the past too much to overcome, and so we easily give up our resolutions, at least for another New Year.

A better approach begins with assessing our strengths and then discerning our gifts and talents. This means reflecting on the experiences of our lives that give us the greatest sense of peace and that bring lasting joy and meaning to our existence. With that awareness, we can then begin to make resolutions about cultivating and investing in those strengths and virtues. And that is nothing less than exercising the good stewardship Jesus teaches us in the Gospels.

What does this mean for our bad behavior, our vices or weaknesses? I think it means that those deficient areas will have a better chance of seeing improvement if we replace them with good actions.

For example, practicing generosity gives us a different perspective about the resources at our disposal. By being regularly and consciously generous we are more apt to respond with greater poise and balance to impulses of greed and avarice and, yes, even lust, which is a form of greed.

Living life more simply and with a humble thankfulness tends to make us less envious and judgmental of others. Similarly, nurturing the virtue of hope and trust in God can melt resentments and help us get over brooding because of past hurts and injustices.

And, what about that waistline? At a Christmas dinner last week, a friend asked me to pray that he would lose weight in 2015. I told him the best I could do was to pray that he not take dessert at the end of the meal!

Often, the way that we use food and drink stems more from our deep-seated need for comfort, consolation and a feeling of well-being than from genuine hunger or thirst. Of course, our need for those “compensations” becomes heightened when our lives are filled with pressures and tensions.

In fact, I have discovered in my years of pastoral leadership in the church that there is no better source of stress relief than prayer. Prayer brings us into the experience of resting in the consoling hands of God, who knows us better than we know ourselves, who desires our happiness, and who intends to bring it about.

On second thought, maybe I should have just told my friend at that Christmas dinner that I would pray for him, if he would pray for me, as that would bring both of us greater comfort at the beginning of a New Year than the large slice of chocolate cake our hosts were serving us that day.


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