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“Resolutions and Resoluteness” 31 December 2011

On the occasion of ringing in a New Year, the media provides numerous suggestions on how to make effective resolutions, ones that are practical and doable. A series of short videos readily available online treat such subjects as Balance, Making Time, Losing Weight and Financial Matters offer some worth while and common sense approaches on these matters.

For example, on losing weight the psychologist suggest that you ask yourself if you are really ready to undertake a program. If so, then write out a good plan and focus on la short term process to achieve long term results.

On financial matters, we are told not be vague, start with simple goals and don’t give up after failure.

There’s no doubt that many people in our society can profit by making resolutions to improve in one or more of these areas or others that are particularly applicable to their needs. The desire for self-improvement assumes that we humans are weak-willed and need occasions such as a New Year to take stock of ourselves, face our shortcomings and resolve to do something about them. The notion of self-perfectibility goes hand-in-hand with that of making New Year’s resolution.

However laudable and desirous these resolutions may be, for the most part, they do not involve serious life changes. They may, however, eventually lead to an awareness and a willingness to achieve such a goal.

It is precisely at this juncture that Francis de Sales’ understanding of human psychology can be of valuable assistance. As an experienced spiritual guide, he was convinced of the fact that “sin has weakened our will more than it has darkened our intellect.” Many times we know what it is good and necessary for us to do but simply lack the resolve or the resoluteness to undertake life-changing steps.

Of course, he was not a believer in self-perfectibility but rather in placing ourselves in the hands of God primarily through prayer to achieve a certain measure of perfection or holiness. So in his method of the prayer of meditation or “prayer of the heart,” he emphasizes that the intellectual aspect, i.e., the reflections we make on some mystery of Jesus’ life, on virtues or on the lives of the saints must lead to affections and resolutions; otherwise the prayer will be sterile and useless. In other words, our heads must be joined to our hearts so that we will make resolutions that we can carry out the very day we make them. The method is structured to strengthen our will power but joining it to God’s power.

For De Sales, this practice is something to be done daily and not just at the New Year. Hence it takes resoluteness, determination, and commitment. Yes, we will fail often, but he encouragingly assures us that “Perfection consists in struggling against” our imperfections. “How can we fight against them unless we face them? Our victory does not consist in not being aware of them. . . . Fortunately for us, in this war we are always victorious provided we are willing to fight.” As long as “we are willing to fight,” we are winners. Losers are those who stop fighting.

So if we really are resolved to change our lives for the better, Francis deSales’ teachings can provide the practical, hopeful and optimistic guidance that we need to hang in there on a daily basis to make doable and effective life-changing resolutions.

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