Today is the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God (formerly known as the Feast of the Circumcision), but throughout the world January 1 is better known as New Year’s Day. Many people prepare for the beginning of a new year by making a list of all the ways they will better themselves in the months to come: lose weight, give up smoking, take the dream vacation they’ve always wanted, earn a promotion, etc. Sometimes less selfish aims may even make the list: “This year I’ll be a better husband, a more forgiving friend, a more understanding parent, etc.”
What is it about New Year’s Day that it inspires so many grandiose resolutions? Perhaps it’s just the air of hope inspired by being able to put all the failures of the old year out of the calendar and start afresh. We should not forget, though, that January is a two-faced month, like the Roman god Janus for whom it was named: it looks forward at what is to come, but it also looks back at what has been. And if, on January 1, 2017, we look back over 2016, we’ll see many of last year’s resolutions lying crumpled and abandoned by the wayside – a daunting sight that may cause our shiny new resolutions lose much of their optimistic luster.
Should we, then, simply resolve to make no more resolutions? Not if we are Christians, because the Christian lives in hope. We should know better than to trust in our own strength, because we know we are frail, fallen creatures. So weak that our most heartfelt resolutions embraced on January 1 are often broken and spent by February 1. What are we to do then?
I suggest we take the advice of a saint who understood very well that it is better to try to carry out a small resolution for a short span of time than to attempt to grasp a large and unwieldy one and carry it the course of a year. This way, when we stumble and fall we will not be crushed by our failure.
The saint to whom I refer was born the son of a poor sharecropper, yet he rose eventually to become the greatest of the Princes of the Church, a Vicar of Christ. He was known for most of his life as Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli, better known today as Pope St. John XXIII.
The Daily Decalogue of Pope St. John XXIII
You and I may never be ecclesiastical dignitaries or canonized saints, but we can grow in virtue if we follow St. John XXIII’s simple program for living well each day. It is called his “daily decalogue,” ten resolutions that we make, and try to fulfill, “just for today.”
- Just for today, I will seek to live for the day (in the most positive sense), without wishing to solve the problems of my life all at once.
- Just for today, I will take the greatest care in the way I present myself: I will dress modestly, I will not raise my voice, I will be courteous in my behavior, I will not criticize anyone, I will not try to improve or discipline anyone except myself.
- Just for today, I will be happy in the certainty that I was created to be happy, not only in the next world but also in this one.
- Just for today, I will adapt to my circumstances, without expecting that the circumstances should all be adapted to my wishes.
- Just for today, I will devote 10 minutes of my time to some good reading, remembering that just as food is necessary to the life of the body, so good reading is necessary to the life of the soul.
- Just for today, I will do one good deed and not tell anyone about it.
- Just for today, I will do at least one thing I do not like doing; and, if my feelings are hurt, I will make sure no one notices.
- Just for today, I will make a plan for myself; I may not follow it to the letter, but I will make it. And I will be on guard against two evils: hastiness and hesitancy.
- Just for today, I will firmly trust that, despite appearances, God’s good Providence is looking out for me as for no one else in this world.
- Just for today, I will have no fears. In particular, I will not be afraid to enjoy what is beautiful and to believe in goodness. For 12 hours I can certainly do what might dismay me if I thought I had to do it my whole life long.
[My translation. Find the Italian original here.]
This year, why not foreswear New Year’s Resolutions, and instead take up these “just for today” resolutions? If we do, then day by day, bit by bit, we can grow closer to a simple sanctity: “To be good, today, always, and with everyone.”