New Year’s Resolutions: Not Just Exercise Or Diet, They Can Involve Faith Practices Too

New Year’s Resolutions: Not Just Exercise Or Diet, They Can Involve Faith Practices Too

This post by Carol Zimmermann has been reprinted from The Tablet. It features an interview with Merion Mercy's Director of Mission, Ministry, and Belonging Sister Danielle Gagnon RSM.

Many people view the new year as a fresh start, a time to reset and get on a path to self-improvement often bolstered by resolutions to lose weight or exercise more. But what if people took this same view and applied it to religious resolutions with the aim to be more spiritually fit?

The concept, according to those who spoke with The Tablet about this topic, does not need to be a lofty one of just hoping to become more spiritual in the new year. Instead, the plan, like a diet or fitness routine, can be broken down to daily, weekly, or monthly activities to boost one’s spiritual health.

Paulist Father Bruce Nieli, a missionary priest in residence at St. Austin Parish in Austin, Texas, came up with six spiritual New Year’s resolutions that involve daily, weekly, and regular practice. For a daily routine he suggested prayers to the Holy Spirit, saying: “I think we’re on the edge of a spiritual renewal that will come about by our prayers to the Holy Spirit.” He also suggests reading the Bible and spiritual writers each day.

The priest emphasized the benefit of weekly visits to the Blessed Sacrament in Eucharistic adoration, which he described as a way to connect more deeply with the mystical aspect of faith.

His other ideas included: regular confession (quarterly or monthly) to keep “on track” and receive grace, participating in a small faith-sharing groups to get support from others and getting involved in social outreach to the poor, vulnerable or unevangelized, which he described as a great opportunity “to heal the polarization currently going on in our Church and society.”

Mercy Sister Danielle Gagnon, an administrator at Merion Mercy Academy, a girls high school just outside of Philadelphia, also had some ideas of practical things people could do based on her own experience.

She suggested committing, or recommitting, to daily prayer and said there are plenty of apps with daily readings and reflections to help people pray such as Hallow, Pray as You Go, or her own personal favorite, Give Us This Day. 

She also advised committing to spiritual reading and said a good place to start is the online daily blog by Franciscan Father Richard Rohr from the Center for Action and Contemplation in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The blog often features other writers, she said, which could prompt readers to check out their works.

Sister Danielle suggested spending time in creation on regular walks to observe the changes in seasons and contemplate God’s calls at these different times in the year. Like Father Nieli, she also emphasized the importance of serving those in need or particular causes.

The idea of spiritual resolutions isn’t new to Father Edward Looney, pastor at Sacred Heart Parish in Shawano, Wisconsin, and president of the Mariological Society of America. Three years ago, he wrote a list of spiritual resolutions for Catholic Digest magazine.

His suggestions included: daily praying the Morning Offering, daily or weekly praying the rosary, having meatless Fridays, praying Stations of the Cross once a week, reading a spiritual book and praying along with a devotional book, reading or praying with the Bible and going on a pilgrimage.

He also suggested that people choose a saint to turn to during the year and end each day with an examination of conscience looking not only at faults but moments of grace.

When asked by The Tablet how he would update this list he said he would add attending daily Mass periodically or regularly, praying the morning, evening, or night prayers from the Liturgy of the Hours and listening to a religious podcast.

Mary DeTurris Poust, a Catholic writer and retreat leader who lives just outside Albany, New York, has written about resolutions from a spiritual perspective in her blog, “Not Strictly Spiritual.”

In an end-of-the-year post two years ago, she urged readers not to set themselves up to fail with resolutions they might not be able to keep, but to instead think about transforming their lives.

She told The Tablet that her rallying cry at every year’s end has been “revolution not resolution,” saying the “real work happens on the inner journey of transformation, which is both messy and fulfilling, challenging, and satisfying. And it’s okay if you miss a day or two or a whole month. 

“You just begin again, right where you are. Spiritual transformation is often a dance of two steps forward, one step back, but little by little we move ahead on the path.”

To work toward this goal, she recommends regular silence (daily, if possible, even if it’s only five minutes at first), uni-tasking over multi-tasking, “doing things with intention and attention,” looking for blessings in the everyday world and “being willing to begin again every day.”

As she puts it: “Transformation is a daily decision, a lifelong process that will never be done. That realization frees us from the idea that we need a ‘to do’ list on Jan. 1, and if and when we mess up — and we almost always do — we can throw in the towel. Not so with this approach. Failing is part of the journey; in fact, that’s often where we’ll find the most growth.”

But that’s not to say regular health or fitness resolutions aren’t beneficial or even spiritual themselves. 

Sister Danielle pointed out that even making resolutions can be a type of spiritual practice. A resolution, for example, to lose 10 pounds in a year can be a burden or make someone feel like a failure if it doesn’t happen, she said, but looking at this goal from the idea of doing something for your health is certainly positive and if it leads to “greater fullness of life,” that is a good thing.

“Jesus came that we should have life and have it to the full,” she said, “so anything that is in service to that is spiritual, even some of the traditional New Year’s resolutions are connected to that, to a desire for fullness of life which is what God desires.”