And besides that, they are unchristian.
In the first instance, we Christians ought primarily to direct our lives according to the orderly rhythm of the liturgical calendar, not the capricious contingencies of the secular one. The Church calendar both sets out an agenda for the life of the Christian and provides direction for achieving the goods that constitute that life. By diminishing the prominence of Advent, Christmastime, ordinary time, Lent, Eastertime, and the Feast of Christ the King, we tend to forget that our lives should be ordered primarily by divine purposes rather than profane ones. If we place all our attention on the secular calendar, it will naturally follow that it becomes our primary reference. Of course, this is not to suggest that we should (or even can) disregard secular chronology. All sorts of very practical (and necessary) practices and institutions depend upon an agreed observance of time.
But we should not allow the practical necessities of the secular calendar to order our spiritual, psychological, behavioural, or (most importantly) or spiritual lives. What are New Year’s resolutions if they are not grand moral commitments, involving (or ignoring) some or all of these aspects? Rather than to associate our moral and spiritual development with the story of creation, fall, redemption, and the life of the Church, we choose some arbitrary point in time, without any more moral significance than any other. After all, how is 1st January different from 10th June or 25th October as a day to make some firm resolution or other?
As a second problem, to focus on the “new year” as a time to make significant lasting changes in our lives is to assume that we are the creators, source, and sustenance of the good life. There’s a certain whiff of narcissism and moral hubris to New Year’s resolutions. Given that resolutions are typically associated with some carnal or otherwise material goods, they are often rooted more in vanity than a desire for reform. That, combined with a very high likelihood of failure, results in hopelessness, cynicism, or even despair. Setting unrealistic expectations upon a foundation of human inconstancy is a denial of the fragility of our moral lives.
And it’s a denial both of the higher goods toward which we should aspire and God’s providential care in providing them.
Our Lord commands us, “do not worry about your life, what you will eat, or about your body, what you will wear”. And He asks, “Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?” New Year’s resolutions are almost always about what we put in our physical bodies so we can change what we put on them. The foci of “change” are nothing more than external goods, ordered toward shallow, self-referential, self-absorbed purposes. These detract from the higher goods toward which we should order our lives, rather than contributing to them.
Of course, this is not to deny that we should take care to develop healthy lifestyle habits, to be conscious about our health and fitness. But worthy as these things are, they should not be considered as ends in themselves, but rather as lesser goods ordered toward the highest good of service to and worship of God. By placing so much emphasis on the material resolutions of the New Year, we tend toward worship of self and away from worship of God. Or at least we allow ourselves to be distracted from that highest good, in such a way that we gain the resolution but lose our souls. “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness”, Jesus admonishes, “and all these things will be given you besides”.
Finally, New Year’s resolutions miss one of the fundamental tenets of what recovering addicts know about successful sobriety: grandiose claims of “never again” are formulae for failure; modest goals of “not today” offer realistic hope of success. “One day at a time” is not just a cliché. It is a more realistic method of practicing self-discipline, whether it be related to eating and exercise, imbibing and abstaining, or prayer and worship. “One year at time” or “never again” are long on rhetorical flair but short on realistic discipline. Thus does Jesus end the soliloquy cited above by admonishing us not to “worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself. Sufficient for a day is its own evil”. We will not be as successful in labouring against today’s concrete evil if we are already focussed on tomorrow’s—or next month’s—ephemeral good.
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