Every January first, and after my annual retreat, and countless days in between, I get a sudden surge of determination and I buckle down with a new regimen of resolutions which I keep for about… I’m sorry to say… a few days….
There was the time I was determined to drink kefir twice a day for my health. After about two weeks, it became harder and harder to drink it even once a day! Eventually it became an on-again, off-again resolution. I tell myself I love variety, that’s why I don’t keep to such a regimen. And eventually I get back on it… for a while!
Or the year I was determined to pray an extra hour at night… Right now I’ve gone back to praying and writing at night, but more realistically I get up later in the morning. Age or common sense have caught up with me!
Beginnings offer us that window of optimism that allows us to surf on an untainted wave of goodwill. As soon as difficulties or slips occur, that good will begins to wane. Even if you have a character that thrives on order and repetition, resolutions can render our hearts hard when they’re reduced to duty and devoid of love’s freshness.
I’ve noticed that something new comes about in my life most often when I’m not trying to make it happen. Often I have no doubt it is an outright gift from God.
Like the afternoon when I was doing research in the writings of St. Augustine for a project while taking care of our front desk here at the convent. I was alone in the room. I’m certain of that. Yet, at a certain point, as I read a sentence from Augustine in which he talked about our struggle with the world, the flesh, and the devil, I was able to be honest about an inner struggle I had tried to hide even from myself. I had tried for years to fix it, dress it up, make it go away, hide it—to no avail. It was there. I had to admit it was mine. That afternoon, an arrow of truth pierced the lies I’d tried to tell myself about myself. And in that very instant when my heart was broken open in contrition, I knew I was seen deeply and loved even more deeply.
I remember looking around the room because I knew unmistakably that I was no longer alone in my struggle. The eyes of Jesus held my heart in their tender yet truthful gaze, as these words resounded in my heart: “I don’t care if you ever get this fixed. That isn’t the point. As long as you look at me and allow me to look at you, and we keep gazing into each other’s eyes, that is what I truly desire. It is what more deeply matters.” No longer was I carrying my secret burden alone. In an instant it had been taken from me. Something no resolution had been able to vanquish. Now it was gone. As if it no longer existed. Had never existed. Replaced only with the face of my Redeemer who wanted a relationship with me. That was all. And that was everything.
Marko Rupnik, S.J. would call this a moment of radical reconciliation. “It deals with a new creation, because it leads us back to living the radical newness constituted by Baptism, its general and gratuitous pardon” (Discernment: Acquiring the Heart of God, page 111). It is a Lazarus moment, in which we hear the voice of the Lord calling us out of our tomb. “In this event, one experiences not only the forgiveness of individual sins, but the Father’s forgiveness of all of our sins. One has been washed clean. All at once one sees that one’s sins have been in some way a choice, and that perhaps one’s openness to God was only a pretense. At this moment our eyes are completely opened” (page 110).
This moment of reconciliation, the passing through the Red Sea, death and resurrection, is a foundational event in our life. It changed me. It marked me forever. There will always be a “before” and “after” that event. It is a memory, a spiritual memory, more powerful than any resolution for recalling me to a relationship in which God takes the initiative to draw my heart’s attention to what is most valuable: the delight of his love, his loving delight in me in my poverty and weakness.
I still decide to take up habits as though they were hobbies. These resolutions add spice to my life, and open up exciting possibilities. I always learn from them, as short-lived as they sometimes are. Perhaps they fail because they are rooted in anxious desires for getting it right. They emerge from isolation. They are my attempts to be the protagonist of my own life and holiness.
The spiritual memory of how I have been radically reconciled to God, on the other hand, puts me in contact with the Father who cares for me. I relive how God takes the initiative in my life. How I am not alone. How by focusing on what I think is important, I can miss entirely what in my Father’s heart.
So as this new year begins, before you begin to plan out your “new you,” stop just long enough to ask what is behind your resolutions and strategies. Maybe instead of looking forward, look back toward your moment of radical reconciliation, when you knew utterly that you had been redeemed, saved even from yourself. When God made a way through the sea for you. When you had been raised from death as an utter gift. Take what you learned there, what you heard in your heart, the defining point of that experience.
This year, make that the theme of your year, to walk in the path that God has created, the path on which he waits for you.
by Sr. Kathryn James Hermes, FSP
photo: José Ignacio Heredia for Cathopic