It is that time of year again. I start getting a pit in my stomach because I need to decide on my New Year’s Resolution. I don’t particularly like making resolutions. Turns out, I’m not alone. Statistics show the most popular New Year’s Resolution, after eating healthier, exercising and saving money, was…to not make a resolution.
The evil one wants us to believe we do not need to change or get up when we fall. But as Catholic women in a secular culture, we know resolutions are an important part of the road to sainthood. Resolutions shouldn’t just be about bettering our bodies and minds, but must extend to our spiritual lives and growth in virtue.
Further studies show 80 percent of resolutions fail by February because they are too ambitious. Incremental steps toward virtue and elimination of vices that tempt us is an attainable goal for the soul this year.
So how can we transform vice to virtue this New Year?
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The best way is to focus on one vice and practice the opposing virtue, and to study the role models (aka, the saints!) who excelled in these virtues.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church highlights this clash of virtue and vice:
Vices can be classified according to the virtues they oppose, or also be linked to the capital sins…. They are called “capital” because they engender other sins, other vices. They are pride, avarice, envy, wrath, lust, gluttony, and sloth (1866).
St. Paul notes, however, where sin abounds, grace abounds more. The virtues fight against these seven deadly sins: Humility against pride, generosity against avarice, good-will against envy, meekness against wrath, chastity against lust, temperance against gluttony and diligence against sloth.
Though it is worth meditating on all these virtues, I hope to highlight a few for Catholic women today.
Avarice, or greed, is the inordinate love of possessions and riches. In our consumptive culture, it is easy to be drawn into this sin. Social media fuels the flashy materialism that promises happiness if we just have more. We desire the newest technology or trendiest brands to compete with others. But Christ says to not build up wealth on earth: “But store up treasures in heaven.… For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be” (Mt 6: 20-21). The opposing virtue to the deadly sin of greed is generosity.
The practice of generosity is for all; the poor widow in the Gospel gave only two small coins, all she had. Attempt to be generous by cleaning out your closet and donating the clothes, or by donating one item for every new item you acquire. Almsgiving (especially during Lent) is another way to practice generosity. We can be generous with our time by supporting, listening to and serving others, in our words and actions. By doing so, we make space for God to satisfy the desires of our hearts.
Take encouragement from the lives of St. Elizabeth of Hungary and St. Vincent de Paul for inspiration on the virtue of generosity.
If we foster a love of possessions through avarice, that might lead us to envy: “the sadness at the sight of another's goods and the immoderate desire to acquire them for oneself, even unjustly” (CCC 2539). Envy is a snare for women today, as we are often tempted to compare our beauty, possessions, status or talents to those of others, and then to resent others and ourselves. When we are envious, we fail to trust the Lord has endowed us with the gifts to do his work.
The Catechism again offers valuable insight to combat envy: “The economy of law and grace turns men's hearts away from avarice and envy.... The baptized person fights envy through good-will, humility and abandonment to the providence of God” (2541, 2554).
Through thanksgiving and joy, we conquer envy. When we surrender in trust to God’s care and reflect on our own blessings— material, mental and spiritual—we begin to see our lives through God’s eyes instead of our own. Let us rejoice that God has given gifts to all, and where one lacks, another supplements. By doing so, we build up our sisters in Christ and contribute to God’s glory.
St. Thérèse of Lisieux has a powerful quote on the beauty each person brings to the world through their unique gifts: “The splendor of the rose and the whiteness of the lily do not rob the little violet of its scent nor the daisy of its simple charm. If every tiny flower wanted to be a rose, spring would lose its loveliness.” We are daughters of the King, and we are enough.
Acedia, or sloth, is sadness that comes with failing to accept the divine purpose for which we are created. Sloth is a capital sin because it is a thief of joy and spiritual despair which halts the advance of the spiritual life and the work required for that advance. Sloth tempts our technology-prone world by filling our lives with beguilements, mindless entertainments and pleasures that distract us from work. It manifests itself not only as spiritual and physical laziness (as in forsaking our prayer life or binge-watching Netflix), but also as lack of peace and over-busyness disconnected from God.
By cultivating authentic leisure and diligence, we overcome the lukewarmness of sloth. This means being vigilant in our work and prayer life, and setting appropriate time for each. It means keeping holy and celebrating the Sabbath! Establish a joyful tradition to celebrate Sundays—have brunch with family after Mass, host a book club with friends or volunteer in the community.
The founder of monasticism, St. Anthony of the Desert, overcame sloth by diligence and discipline in work and prayer. Read his story for an example of perseverance against this deadly sin.
This mastery of vice through virtue is exceedingly difficult work. We cannot root out these sins without our honest recognition of them, frequent prayer and sacraments, and grace. Fortunately, we have a great grace to aid us whenever we fail—the Sacrament of Reconciliation. After every confession, we make a resolution when we say our Act of Contrition: “I firmly resolve, with the help of Thy grace, to confess my sins, to do penance, and to amend my life. Amen.”
Let’s surrender the past into God’s hands and, through the help of his grace, resolve to make 2019 the holiest year yet.