Resolutions for the new year

Go ahead, break them

Welcome to Jan. 1 and another new year. Have you made your resolutions?

2015’s top resolutions, according to Nielsen.com, were to stay fit and healthy, lose weight, enjoy life more, spend less and save more, and more time with family and friends.

The lists for 2016 aren’t in yet, but some groups have their tallies. For example, GOBankingRates.com listed a similar list to 2015’s, but in slightly different order, with “living life to the fullest” beating out living healthier and losing weight.

The word “resolution” comes from 14th century France, where the Latin verb resolutionem (“reducing to simple forms”) became “breaking into smaller parts.” Only in the 16th century, did “resolution” (think “resolute”) turn into “being firm and determined.”

So, as Catholics starting 2016, what would be good resolutions? (Remember the tip about breaking things into smaller parts.)

Say you want more time with family. Bishop David Ricken has given us one suggestion with his gift of a Holy Family image. He asked families to dedicate themselves to the Holy Family. “To dedicate” means to commit oneself to something: a plan, course of action, a way of life. Break that into parts and see how it best fits your family. Start with prayer – the simpler the better.

Say you want a healthier lifestyle. That can mean more exercise and losing weight. It can also mean a lifestyle that’s healthier for the planet and the other people on it. Maybe reduce the use of lawn chemicals or choose locally-grown foods: that supports local farmers as well as gives you fresh foods. Using less electricity or gas conserves resources and reduces greenhouse emissions. You might even read Pope Francis’ encyclical on the care of creation, Laudato Si’, for insights and ideas. Keep it simple and break it into parts.

If you want more time with friends, don’t go full steam ahead and resolve to spend a whole weekend together, or a weekly lunch. Life has a way of filling up big spaces of time. Instead, break it into smaller parts. Try a quick call one evening now and then, or send an old-fashioned card on a birthday. You could even resolve to attend Mass together. (That works well with your family, too.)

Then there’s the broader group of friends and family. As Christians, we believe we are more than friends; we are brothers and sisters in God. Resolve to do more for the brothers and sisters you haven’t met yet. This coming week — Jan. 3-9 — is National Migration Week. For nearly 30 years, the U.S. bishops have set aside this week to remind us that many people lack the homes and safety we’ve been blessed with. In 2016, the bishops ask us to remember that “more than four million refugees have fled Syria and the surrounding region since 2010, with most taking shelter in surrounding countries.”

The theme for this Migration Week is “A Stranger and You Welcomed Me.” Taken from Matthew’s Gospel (25:31-46), the theme is one of the corporal works of mercy. During this Year of Mercy, we are asked to practice the works of mercy (corporal and spiritual).

The corporal works of mercy include giving food, drink and clothing to the needy, welcoming the homeless and strangers, visiting prisoners and burying the dead. Again, break these into parts you can handle – like giving clothes to a shelter, or collecting food for a pantry. But also be creative and challenge yourself to do a little more, like a donation to Catholic Relief Services, which helps migrants and refugees. See how many works of mercy you can practice this year.

It’s not a matter of “resolution” as in “determination;” that often leads to breaking a New Year’s resolution before it even starts. Instead, remember that breaking it isn’t a bad thing, as long as you break it into parts that you can do something about. You might surprise yourself – and make it a better New Year for others.