On Resolutions and Self-Improvement by Monsignor Ferrarese

It is around this time that we take stock of ourselves and come up with resolutions for the New Year. Sometimes these can be so far-ranging that the hope of accomplishing them is so minimal that within days they are a thing of the past. We can truly be unreal about the power of choice in changing ourselves. There was a skit many years ago about the Miss America pageant: At some point, they asked the final contestants what they would like to do if they could accomplish anything that they wanted to do. One contestant brightly stated, “I would bring Nebraska closer to the ocean!”

Our resolutions can be as naïve as the wishes of that contestant.

Making a resolution to change something in us is based on a humble realization that I am not where I should be. This deep awareness of our need for improvement spurs us to make a change in our lives. Change is, if we are really honest, the last thing we truly want. Psychologists tell us that change happens when the pain of making changes is perceived as less than the pain of staying the same. Once we admit that change is necessary and desirable, then we propose a new behavior or attitude that will correct the perceived imbalance in our make up.

But I have found through experience that the most lasting and real changes occur when the resolution is small, doable and measurable. Moving Nebraska is certainly measureable, but it is hardly doable and a small undertaking!

One thing that I was able to change is ensuring that I had adequate spiritual reading in my life. As a priest, this continual conversation with the saints and mystics of the Church is essential for my own spiritual growth and more importantly my effectiveness as a pastoral leader in the Church. Especially after the advent of the internet, we have so much available to us.

Many years ago (I forgot when—probably in the area of 30 years back!), I was not reading as much as I should (I speak of spiritual and theological works). We had a retreat director that was a member of Alcoholics Anonymous. He was very inspiring as he told us his story of addiction and grace. Once he got sober, he went to a lot of AA meetings but found that he was getting up very early in the morning, way before work was to begin. So he told us how he started to put on a pot of coffee and did spiritual reading to start his day.

Something clicked inside me: Here was something I could do easily and happily. I could easily measure whether I was being faithful to my resolution. So I made a resolution to get up early, make a pot of coffee (now on a Keurig!) and do my spiritual reading. By doing it the first thing in the morning, I am saying to myself that the spiritual is the most important thing in my life and that everything is spiritual. I have been doing this for over 30 years now. I keep a count of the books that I have read: Not surprisingly it now stands at over 500 books! A simple resolution made after God inspired this priest to use his experience in a talk has revolutionized my life. Simple, doable, and measurable!

I think that many of the resolutions we make do not follow this demanding and yet simple trio of rules. We keep trying to move Nebraska!

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