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Find inspiration for New Year’s resolutions

Kate Barrett | Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Welcome back! Welcome to your new classes, new books, clean notebooks, your new professors and to the fresh start that a new year always brings. As a student, I used to feel as if I had three “New Year’s” – one on the first of January, and one at the beginning of each new semester.

With all the resolutions, plans and sacrifices we embark upon for New Year’s we should all find ourselves daily-exercising, healthy-eating, moderate-drinking, non-smoking, regular-praying, teeth-flossing, non-procrastinating, homework-completing persons of virtuous habits. Perhaps this year, this will be true. I won’t hold my breath. Why? Because along with making all these earnest plans we make one common mistake: We believe it’s all about us, that somehow we can become the people we want to be if we just try hard enough. Well, maybe that’s true for flossing and exercising, and sometimes for dieting, but instead this could be the year we hear the call to a true conversion of heart, to new depths in our love for God. And maybe then a lot of other things will fall into place. This year, Lent begins awfully early – Feb. 6, to be exact. So early that by then, you certainly won’t have given up on your New Year’s resolutions yet!

Since we’re about halfway in between New Year’s resolutions and Lenten sacrifices, here’s an idea you could use for either. It has two parts. First, read the gospels, the story of Jesus’ life, public ministry, death and resurrection. You can move around between all four of them, or just pick one. The Church is reading Matthew this year; you could start there. As you read, notice – really notice – what Jesus is like. Second, ask – really ask – God to help you try to be like Jesus.

I suppose it would be easy to think, “Jesus’ life was so different than mine. It would really be a stretch to think entering into his life will help me live mine.” Though he may have lived under different circumstances and in a different culture, Jesus became human precisely to show us how to be human. And that’s all God wants from us as well: that we live our human-ness to the fullest. To the extent that we can, we will start looking a little more like … Jesus.

It wouldn’t be boring, being like Jesus. First of all, he enjoyed life. He made sure a big party had plenty of wine; he loved to eat with friends; he told stories that the disciples had to puzzle out to understand. He could be demanding; he got angry at injustice; he hung out with unexpected people and confused and irritated the religious and political leaders of the time. He didn’t stand idle when he knew another was in need. He had the charisma to convince mere acquaintances to drop every bit of their livelihood and follow him on an unknown and improbable journey.

All of this does come back to those pesky New Year’s resolutions, by the way, as well as to the Lenten sacrifices you may already be considering. Jesus certainly got plenty of exercise; he had no other way but walking to get anywhere. He probably ate right, simply because he didn’t have as many unhealthy choices as Martin’s, McDonald’s and Starbucks offer us. Even when it meant leaving everyone else, from his dear friends to great crowds of people, so that he could be alone with God, Jesus made regular prayer a priority. He didn’t appear to be a procrastinator; he started warning the disciples quite early on that things would seem to end badly for him. More importantly, however – much more importantly – Jesus lived, prayed, made choices, acted upon those choices, and loved, all with his relationship to God as the foundation and center of his life. If we could do the same, maybe we would take better care of ourselves out of gratitude because God created us. Maybe we’d pray more regularly just because we wish to spend more time with the Lord. Maybe we would treat others with the utmost respect and honor because we can see our common bond in our creation and our baptism.

Jesus tells us in John’s gospel, “I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done …” (Jn. 13:15). Though this passage comes from a specific moment in the story, when Jesus has just washed the disciples’ feet, we can remember that everything about Jesus’ life sets us an example. In the still-fresh newness of 2008, perhaps our most significant resolution ought to be to ask God to help us follow that example as closely as we can.

Kate Barrett is the director of Resources and Special Projects for Campus Ministry. She can be reached at kbarrett@nd.edu

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.