A new year will soon be upon us and with it the possibility of making (and most likely breaking) new year’s resolutions. Gym memberships are often boosted in the first weeks of January with the treadmills becoming noticeably busier until about mid-February. Presumably by then the dark, dank month has got the better of us and we realise we’d be much happier just eating and sleeping in our spare time. Sober-January and/or sober-February have also caught the popular imagination. The effects of our Christmas over-indulgence (hangovers and expanding waistlines) seem to encourage us to delude ourselves into thinking we might eat and drink more healthily in 2017.
Actually, the promise to live differently at the start of each new year has its roots in ancient religion. The Babylonians promised their gods that they would return borrowed objects and pay their debts. The Romans made promises before one of their gods too: Janus, who gives his name to our month of January. The Christian knights of the medieval period would take the ‘peacock vow’ each new year, re-dedicating themselves to a life of chivalry.
Janus is an interesting god. Evoked by the Roman high priest at the start of the new year, this god is depicted as having two faces: one looking forward into the future, and one looking back upon the past. Janus sums up the sort of media coverage we will find as we approach the start of 2017. Programmes will reflect on 2016 with its political upheavals, pop-song successes, and the unusually high number of celebrities who have died. They will look forward too, trying to predict what is yet to come.
I find it telling that in our Christian calendar, we start the new year with the Feast of Mary, Mother of God. To my mind this suggests there ought to be something different about a Christian who makes a new year’s resolution. Whereas Janus looks back, nostalgically over the past, and at the same time looks forward, hopefully (or perhaps with trepidation) towards the future, Mary looks only at her son Jesus Christ. He is the future that actually matters. So if, as Christians, we plan to make a resolution this January, why not make it something to do with Him?
The medievals re-dedicated themselves to living the chivalrous life. We can try to embody God’s merciful love. The Babylonians gave back what was borrowed and repaid their debts. We can recognise that, in one sense, all we have is merely borrowed and start passing on to others the things we don’t really need or use. We can recognise our debt to the love and kindness of those around us by resolving to be more kind and loving back.
Most resolutions these days seem to centre around getting physically fit. We can add to this a determination to become spiritually mature. Not under our own steam, of course: this tends to run out within about 30 days anyway. Rather, by opening ourselves to God’s grace and looking always to God’s Son.
the rosary each day, thereby spending time with Mary looking upon her son, Jesus Christ. The rosary is a great way to pray when out walking.
the Seven Corporal Works of Mercy and find out which texts in the Bible have inspired them. How could you try and live out each of these in 2017?
to charity by de-cluttering your house for the new year and send any unwanted clothing and possessions to a charity shop.
Share your faith:
by committing yourself at the very start of 2017 to bring a friend, family member, or work colleague who doesn’t attend church to an event at your parish sometime in the year ahead. It might be a social event, such as the parish fete or quiz and chips. It might be a service such as a Mass of Remembrance or a blessing of graves. It might be a talk on a topic you think they would appreciate. Share with them afterwards about the experience.